Tychen, from where he stood, arms dangling absently through the bars of his cell, could not bring it upon himself to be surprised when the earth began to shake beneath his feet.
It was not like the ancient tremors that were rumored to plague the city when the walls first came to be. The stone of the ceiling and floor did not crack and crumble. Tychen managed to retain his footing, though he would admit that holding onto the bars of his cage certainly helped with that. When he turned he knew what he would see. The green cloaks, the black wood of their masks, that glittering thing that Stell held in his-…
The tallest of the three Aniconists had little patience for Tychen’s curiosity, apparently, as his leather gloved hand closed around whatever the thing was, instantly placing the object inside his cloak as the floor sealed up in his wake. “It is a failing of The City’s slaves that they house their ‘criminals’ underground, Tychen.” The horned mask stepped forward briskly, his hand coming to rest on Tychen’s shoulder, gripping it firmly, more brotherly than threatening. “Their weakness, our strength.” The wood of the mask smiled at him. Tychen did his best to not flinch.
“I did everything you said.” Tychen offered. He had meant the words to sound capable, businesslike, the end of a transaction that he hadn’t wanted to make. Tychen knew that if they were here, though, they were not done with him. For all his rhetoric, he had not known these three to behave wholly altruistically.
“Indeed he did, Stell.” spoke the beak. Tychen was again left with the impression that the two that accompanied Stell were young, terribly so. Why did she speak? She seemed to be cautioning the older man.
“We saw, Tychen. You did as much as you could given the circumstances.”
“Ashren is dead.”
The mask ceased to smile. “We are sorry for that, Tychen. I am sure she was brave.”
Tychen had intended to lead a rebellion. His presence here was not accidental. Nor was Ashren’s. She had believed too. He had not, however, become the leader of those men and women because of coincidence. Tychen still had some instincts, awoken in him when he was young, which let him sort charity from predatory empathy. The instincts that taught him when a lie was told merely out of confusion…and when it was masking something else. Those instincts screamed at him over the whispers in the cell. A strange part of Tychen’s brain wondered if those Inspectors were still nearby…
“You knew she wouldn’t be able to kill them. Or you suspected it.” Tychen said. The accusation only added to the relative silence. Stell’s two companions shifted uneasily. The Horns only nodded, the smile still missing from his mask.
“We tend the gardens that the City tries to choke to death, Tychen. We are the only ones trying to teach the plant to grow free of its pot. Sometimes the plant cannot grow free and we must start over all again…” Stell said. His voice was almost hypnotic now, his mask no longer black, it had gone chalk white. The exaggerated human features seemed to twist menacingly as Stell stepped back. So fixed on it, Tychen barely saw the glint of steel as the tusked mask drew his thin blade, but he certainly felt the blossom of pain and wetness that burst from his abdomen in the next few instants. Stell tried to speak, but the beak had her hand on his throat, choking the air from him as he tried to form the words. He wasn’t sure if the hissing air in his ears was her hushing him, or his own last breath.
“I am sorry that the seed of doubt could not flourish in your care, Tychen. Thank you for planting it anew. Your spirit will not go far. When we see you again, we will apologize.” spoke the horns as his smaller companions settled in behind him, leaving Tychen in a ball on the floor of the Central Periad jails. When the earth shifted underneath them and they sank, as one, into the earth, Tychen still couldn’t bring it upon himself to be surprised.