Interrogation of the Poisoner
Jorath spat. His body slumped toward the dark red puddle that swam before him as four overlapping, semi-transparent duplicates. His right arm, ringed with a blackish, purple bruise, caught him. He slowly pushed himself back against the wall of the sub-cavern furthest from the Water Tube's entrance. The black underground entrance was little more than size of Jorath's fist if he held it fully extended from himself.
A rhythmic, reverberating conglomeration of male pitches and tones crossed, competed, and submitted in a cryptic Dwarfish song.
The corner of the bar he'd tended before his arrest reflected the forge light, winking merrily at his state with each reflected flicker. His Ogre captors forged weapons, armor, tools, and things of strange make to the beat of the wordless song they sang with the other Dwarves in the massive cavern of the Tube. He sneered back at the offending bar.
An Orca, the smallest variety of Dwarf, looked between Jorath and the corner of the bar with a quizzical frown. His newly filled flagon that was bigger than Jorath's head dripped water foam onto his thick fingers. Jorath groaned. He rubbed his bruised arm and tucked his head between his knees as his vision blurred again. Curse Cephas! Curse all these traitors!
If it weren't for them, their world- their beautiful home- would be perfect and whole as it always had been. The Dwarves' song increased in complexity and speed. Not destroyed by war- an unnecessary war that forced everyone to follow the traitors' path and leave their home. The hammering of the Ogres sped up. Orcas and the Trolls began to jog, stomping across the cavern floor while crisscrossing each other in their errand paths for supplies and resources.
As with his forefathers who had been forced from their world, battle had been his life- along with a regularly painful empty belly.
The Trolls dropped off their heavy sacks of surface-mined material in a deep cave next to the Ogre's three-cave-sectioned forge. The Trolls were gathering finished Ogre product to carry to the surface and trade, adding their countertenor to the mix. Even a Gigant coming from the mine's mouth near the entrance and across the Tube from the forge lumbered with the pace of the music.
Jorath covered his ears with his arms. His head was ringing. This Cephas would provide plenty. Once the others succeeded.
The others. Jorath's head spun. He slowly laid down, disorientedly favoring his bruised ribs. The Tube twisted and morphed in the climatic throws of song. Acidic bile teased the inside of his throat. He shut his eyes.
Jorath smelled basalt and roasted barley.
His neck hurt. Groaning, Jorath raised his head and rotated it to stretch his neck. He tried to rub the soar area, but his wrists were fastened to something.
Jorath was bounded to a chair in a sub-cavern between the Ogre's forge and the entrance. He could see a little up the underground tunnel that lead up the surface of the mountain. The sleeping area of the Gigant was directly across from him. The thunderous snores of a handful acted as strangely discordant drums for the current song.
An empty chair, made for someone much smaller than the massive Dwarf kind, was before him. Two identical Gigants stood on either side, watching him. These had been his only interrogators. He suspected it was because none of the other Dwarves could speak Jotunn. Each carried a large double axes. "Why am I out here?" Jorath couldn't look away from the axe. Was a new torturous interrogation method to begin?
The Gigant on the right hummed before singing in a hard, slow bass. "Commander Crumbs is arriving. He'll be taking over your interrogation." The words rung with each consonant and reverberated in Jorath's head with each vowel, coming across as a rolling and distorted overlapping. The Gigant purposefully adjusted his grip on his axe handle as his hard eyes watched Jorath stretch against his binding.
"I don't think cutting me in half now is going to help your Commander Crumbs." Jorath winced as his ribs protested his mocking chuckle. This Gigant had been restrained by his brothers many times while attempting to interrogate Jorath over the last few weeks.
The Gigant scowled. The muscle on his right eye twitched as he processed Jorath's words. Then humming. "That's not for me to decide. The Commander will get the location of the other poisoners out of you, murderer." His hum waned. His companion looked toward the entrance, scratching at a belly itch under his finely crafted armor.
Jorath shifted, more subtly testing the strength of his bonds. A weary-looking Troll entered the Water Tube with a sack and headed to the bar. His tenor added contrast to the Ogre baritone and Gigant bass. Jorath smelled barley. For a moment, he saw a young pretty bartender with horns the color of the scent instead of the top-heavy, shoulder-hunched troll.
He shook his head and met the Gigant guard's eyes. "I don't hold high hope for him."
The two Gigants simply oo'd and ah'd their part of the overall Dwarf composition. The sound hung in their large, stocky bellies, then rolled smoothly, and loudly, from their mouths.
Jorath grimaced against the sound. Since infiltrating the Cephas, Jorath could not understand the pheromones or the oscillations of the creatures here. His antennae communicated the smells and vibrations to his mind, but it meant nothing to him. Besides, a constant headache. Pair that with his head being split open on his capture and, well, sleep was a relief. Before his capture he'd tied his antennae back to lessen the overwhelming environment.
The second Gigant, quieted and hummed. "He's here, Father." Behind them, a narrowly thin Kobold left the internal mountain path and stepped into the entrance of the Dwarves' cavern. The thick fur tuft of his large, slightly humped back fluffed in the whistling air quickly syphoning down the passageways from the surface. The Kobold stepped delicately along the irregular cavern floor with his long, backward-bent legs and small, delicate feet. He took only a few paces before stopping.
Behind him came a young - no, youthful - Ividja with his rising, loose coiling horns, low-hanging antennae, and long, thinner ears. His curled tusks caught the forge light. Even though ten more Ividja followed him, this one was Commander Crumbs. The Jotunn strode with the streamed, fluid movements of one that was in tune with his physical proficiencies. He held his thick and large, wickedly clawed hands slightly away from his body, keeping his cloak wide and his natural weapons the Ividja were known for on display.
Commander Crumbs located Jorath almost immediately. He strode to the sub-cavern. Two of his men kept pace with him and a Norn woman. The other eight stayed with the Kobold. With a brief nod and hum, the Commander acknowledged two Dwarf guards and then moved to take the seat across from Jorath. His men circled behind Jorath's chair. The Norn woman stood just behind the Commander's chair and to one side.
Jorath met Commander Crumb's deep set eyes. "So, you're Commander Crumbs? You sure you're old enough for this, boy?" The Commander did not move. He remained relaxed at the edge of his chair, leaning forward with his elbows on the arms of the chair and his clawed fingers laced in front of him. "Well, if you're here to do as your comrades have done," he nodded to a few of his bruises, "you'll make it the same distance they have." Jorath leaned forward, sneering into the traitor's face. He whispered. "No where."
"I have no intention of harming you in this interrogation." Commander Crumbs's tusks bobbed as he spoke. His voice was rough and slightly raspy.
"You sound like you need a drink, Crumbs. If you untie me, I could fix you one. I was the bartender here after all. I could make my specialty."
One of Crumb's long ears twitched. "I'm here to explain your situation to you."
"My situation?" Anger bubbled in Jorath's empty gut. "I'll tell you my situation, traitor. My people were forced from their home because of you and the cosmic worms your ancestors aligned with. You forced us into a war we didn't want! My situation is that my people are starving and your Cephas will fill our bellies. My situation is your kind who arrested me and gave me this head wound. Which hasn't healed because of the torture and these Dwarves' endless songs. No, I know my situation. Now, I'll tell you yours. The people of North Forge will continue to die. The poison will spread and your Cephas will die. My people will finally have food."
"You're right." The Commander slid his elbows off the arms of the chair and onto his knees, bringing his face closer to Jorath's. In the forge, water hissed at the intrusion of hot metal. "The poison is spreading. But it is slow. We've narrowed down contamination points to the North Pool, the Webbing Networks," Crumbs paused when Jorath's jaw tightened, "and several others."
The Commander's ears tilted apart as he paused. "You care about your people. So, you must see their situation." Crumbs kept his expression carefully neutral. "We will capture them and execute them before the poison can do true damage to the Cephas. Even if it did, you have no guarantee of your survival if you cosmic worm consumes ours. Neither way ends in the survival of your people that are here on Cephas.
Crumbs was right. Jorath'd said as much to the poison runner on the runners last supply drop off. The leader of their infiltration mission had expressed the dangers but returning to their worm seemed possible. It'd seemed less possible with each day even before his arrest. He'd never done this type of mission before, but he knew that the longer it went, the higher the chance of failure. The bonds scratched Jorath's wrists. "Do you come with a better option?"
Crumbs shrugged. "That depends on your information."
"Of course it does." Jorath mumbled. The Dwarves' songs slowed, weaving in and out of a strange ponderous tune. It sank into his heart. He looked passed Commander Crumbs at the bar again. Even though he'd been using bartending as his cover, he'd enjoyed it. Thank to Tira, he'd been well trained. "I'll make you a deal, Commander." The Commander nodded.
Jorath tapped his fingers quickly on the chair arm's edge. His weary muscles were tense. The others would likely never forgive what he was about to do. A young woman appeared at the bar, offering him a drink with a small, brilliant smile. Her curly brown hair fell over one shoulder. Not that he'd need their forgiveness before they were executed. "I'll tell you what you want to know, if you promise to keep one of them alive."
Crumbs sat back in his chair, sitting tall. His head tilted slightly and his eyes softened. "Just one?"
"Promise not to kill her." Jorath pressed. The Gigants and the Norn who had been rigid, loosened their jaws and their shoulders lowered. They studied him with the same concern as Crumbs.
"We've had trouble feeding your extra mouth." Crumbs was quiet.
"But you've managed. She'll just take my place." Jorath gripped the arms of the chair. His muscles were starting to ache.
Crumbs folded his arms over his chest, his eyes distant. The Dwarves song paused. A lone, long whistle began a new tune, this one picking up pace and voices as it went. "I will keep her alive." Commander Crumbs stared at Jorath with his head tilted down slightly and his eyes intense.
Even Jorath could feel the unmistakable resonance from the Commander's horns. It was a frequency of a promise made and a word that would kept. Jorath felt the same vibration from the two Ividja males behind him, though less intense than their Commanders. It seemed even traitors attributed the same honor and gravity to their word as Jorath's people.
"What's her name?"
* * * * *
Jorath was transported to Commander Crumbs's tribe. He was kept under the watchful eye of the matriarch's mate in a small wooden hollow well over halfway up a gigantic tree. After a week, his head was near splitting with the buzzing and barking of the tribe's Beowulf pack. They should've interrogated him here. The Dwarves' songs were soothing compared to this.
It didn't take long for Commander Crumbs and his men to capture the other poisoners. They were kept away from where Jorath was being held. Jorath had asked the matriarch's mate, who shared the same eyes and thick hair as Crumbs, if Tira had been captured. The Ividja had offered no answer.
A month after giving the Commander all the information on his fellow infiltrators, Jorath was visited by the Commander. The younger Jotunn strode into the prison hollow. He knocked horns with his father, then stepped to the side. Tira stepped into the rounded entrance.
"Jorath?" Tira's cheeks were slightly more sunk and her eyes darted anxiously around the hollow. Jorath rushed to his feet and to her.
He embraced her tightly. "I'm so glad you're alright." She returned the embrace just as tightly. Then she leaned back, giving him a small, tight grin as she scanned him. Her eyes lingered on the wound on his forehead.
"What's going on? How did they find us?"
Jorath pulled her to him again. "I told them."
She stiffened. Her fingers dug into his back a little. "What?" Her shaky breathe brushed his ear, stirring his guilt.
"He did it for you." The Commander stood next to his father. His cloths were still slightly disheveled from travel
Tira pulled away. Her gold eyes flicked between Crumbs and Jorath uncertainly.
"He's telling the truth." Jorath kept a hand on her back.
Crumbs stepped closer. "The deal was your life in exchange for information."
Tira's eyes shot to Jorath for a moment before returning to her stare down. Her jaw was tight.
Jorath leaned closer to her. "We were running out of time. The plan was taking too long and... I just wanted you to survive this even if the rest of us don't."
"You shouldn't have done it."
"I know I betrayed us. I-"
"You betrayed me." Her voice caught. "You're going to leave me alone." Tira's eyes shone. Jorath's words caught in his throat. Her words hung heavily in the hollow.
"I'm changing the deal."
Jorath's blood went cold. He snarled, stalking up to Commander Crumbs. "You promised!" The matriarch's mate's deadly claw poked into the soft flesh between his jaws. Jorath stopped.
"She won't die. I'm not going back on my word." The Commander frowned at Jorath disapprovingly. "I'm expanding the terms. You both shall live in exchange for telling me about the poison you used and how it was made." The Ividja looked between Tira and Jorath. "Do we have a deal?"
Tira stepped next to Jorath, pressing herself into his arm and squeezing his hand in hers. "We don't know how it was made."
The Commander nodded. "I know it was supplied to you, but your supplier fought us and unfortunately perished. You will help me convince the others to help recreate this poison and its antidote." The claw was removed from Jorath's jaw.
"Yes, we will help." Jorath emphatically nodded. Tira grinned, her shoulders relaxing. The Commander's ears rose as he offered a half smile. He stepped toward the door.
"I'll tell the matriarch of your acceptance." Crumbs paused in the entranceway and looked back at them. His eyes lingered on their joined hands. For the first time since Jorath had met him, Crumbs's face softened. A corner of his mouth lifted. "Enjoy your reunion with your mate."