Alton finally arrives at the prison in the high desert. Revanth greets him at the door, urging him to come inside. Is it really his friend, or something else?
“Where’s Revanth? For you are not he. Firstly, he’d have told me immediately about the girls, not insisted I come inside. Nor would he have complained about my tardiness. He’d have been glad to see me, regardless of how long it took. And not the least, he can stand full sun without being burned. So—whoever you are, you have explaining to do.”
Alton grabbed the Revanth look alike, tugging so that the man’s hand hissed and sizzled in the sun. He watched as the skin blistered and smoked.
“I can stand here all day,” he explained conversationally. “The sun doesn’t hurt me. In fact, my nut brown skin likes the sun. So, unless you want to lose a hand, speak.”
“All right!” The man shook Alton’s hand off his. Putting the blistered skin in his mouth, he licked it. His eyes caught the light, the color oddly muted, the pupils strange.
“You’re the puka!” Alton snarled, cursing loudly. “Where are my friends? What have you done with them?”
“Enough, wood sprite!” an imperious voice rang out from inside the courtyard. “Come inside and see for yourself.”
“I’ll stay out here, thanks. Who might you be?”
“You can call me Marigold. I am mistress here, now. Rialtia is—indisposed.”
“And my friends?”
“Cared for.” The diminutive gnome carried herself with a swagger—as much as a three foot gnome can do that. “Come in.”
“No. Thanks anyway, I’d rather not. Seems that folks go in there, and don’t come out. I’ll take my chances out here.”
“Meanwhile, your friends remain inside.”
“Yep. But soon, I’ll figure out a few things. Then we’ll see if that doesn’t change.”
“You fool, I have more magic in my little finger…!”
His chuckle made Marigold shudder. It was a terrible, mirthless sound. Alton smiled, but the mirth of it didn’t reach his eyes.
“Dear Lady, no one likes a braggart.”
“I speak the truth.”
Alton shrugged. “No one likes smugness either. Is it your power I feel around here? Delicious. Sort of spicy, with an aftertaste of loam. Earthy….” He smiled wickedly. “I like earth.”
As he spoke, the sand crept up her legs, pinning her in place. The fake Revanth also tried to move, but couldn’t.
“You evil wood sprite! Why, I’ll—mpht!” A glob of sand filled her mouth, muffling her words. Her hands were pinned to her sides as the sand rose from her feet to enclose her in an earthen cocoon.
“Do you intend to give me problems?” Alton directed at the puka.
It stepped aside, hands raised. Alton trapped it, too, but left its mouth free.
“But if you try anything, I’ll fill your lungs with sand. Do you understand?”
The puka nodded. “She’s strong.” He tipped his head at Marigold, who was going red in the face. “And if she gets free, she won’t hesitate to kill you.”
“Then she’d better not get free.”
“Do you know how to find a gnome’s weakness?”
“Her secret name.”
It was the puka’s turn for a mirthless laugh. “If you release me, I’ll tell you hers, as I leave.”
Alton paused. To know the gnome’s name would give him power over her. However, if the puka was wrong, he might have signed his own death decree. Easing the sand down, he allowed movement of the hands. From the knees down, the puka was trapped.
“The name first, then I free you.”
“How can I trust you?”
“I’m not the one who captured you, forced you to work, or mistreated you. But I’m holding more cards than you.” He tiled his head. “Well?”
“Topaz,” the puka said.
Marigold’s eyes widened, and she screamed. It was a horrible sound, muffled by the sand over her mouth.
“Excellent. Topaz, when I release you, you will do my bidding. Do you understand?”
She nodded, glaring at them both.
“Good. You can go,” he said to the puka. “But if you come back, the end will be ugly. Hey. Why’d you tell me?”
“As big a bitch as Rialtia was to work for, this one is worse. Don’t release her until you must. And don’t trust her, because she’s a bigger liar than the naiad. Your friend is in the dungeon,” he puka said, taking his own aspect once more. Built like an albino horse, he tossed his head. “And the ladies are held upstairs in the north tower. But they won’t know you. Rialtia took their memories when Revanth imprisoned her. I think, however, if you ask very nicely, Topaz will help you in any way she can. Won’t you, Topaz you iron hearted bitch?” With those words, he disappeared in a puff of fetid smoke.
“So, Topaz,” Alton said, walking a little nearer, but not so close that they touched. “Your magic is very tasty indeed. I imagine that’s why Rialtia held you for so long, and how she became so powerful. Probably, it’s how she found you to begin with. That much raw energy is asking for someone to siphon it. Now, that someone is me.” Smiling nastily, he leaned a little closer. “Don’t worry. I won’t make you do anything worse than she did. In fact….” He winked and leered at her. “You might even enjoy it.”
© 2019 Dellani Oakes