World of Dusk: The Desperate
The winds altered the landscape surrounding the Desert Settlement that evening. Rowena had to cover her mouth and nose with her wavy brown robes as she navigated through the maze of huts that existed long before the skyscrapers of any of the city-states were erected. Most of the earliest humans either moved or lived in this settlement which, after thousands of years, contained only a little more than a hundred or two hundred huts in all.
 
The Elder’s Temple stood in the center of the settlement. The Temple was a large pyramid structure what dwarfed the huts in size and was made of solid crystal. It looked as though it belonged in the city-state of Kalia, and that was exactly why this building was erected the way it was. The secrets born in Ancient Kalia were taken to the other side of the world and kept in the Elder’s Temple. Some of these secrets were left for only Elder Bowii and Rowena to know. Others weren’t even entrusted with the Elder.
 
A circle of large crystal spires three-to-four times her height surrounded the temple. The gaps between the spires were easy to slip between, and the Temple guards stepped aside as she approached. They could tell it was Rowena just by looking at her striking eyes and the wisps of blonde hair that escaped through the hood of her robes. The whistles of the wind were cut short when the doors were closed behind her, she threw her hood back and let herself breathe the clean air while letting the rest of her hair escape.
 
Crystal pebbles tickled the bottoms of her feet while she cast her eyes around the torch lit room at the statues of Mashinian creatures all around. Hovering above a crackling fire in the Temple’s center was the statue of Ormyra, the Mashinian Queen. Rowena exchanged glances with the stone figure for a moment, then walked across the empty temple over to the stairs that led up to the Elder’s chambers. Halfway up, the temple entrance opened and closed behind her. When Rowena saw who’d just walked in, she slowly walked back down the steps.
 
“I figured you’d be looking for me,” Elder Bowii, a man of sixty, with a pair of the most youthful eyes Rowena had ever seen, said as he met her in the middle of the room.
 
“We have to talk about this,” Rowena replied. The two stood by one another; half of their faces were glowing in the bonfire’s flames. “He is beginning to make some of the others very nervous. He’s been asking questions about… he’s asking them things that only I can answer.”
 
“I’ve already reached an agreement with them: we cannot show him the Projection of the Past,” the Elder said. “It is and it always has been meant only for those that grew up here. Rexus Poloray might know as much about the first race and the Transcendence Theory as any other resident in this settlement, but he’s come to us as a scholar of Mashinian and Ancient Kalian culture. This settlement, and our positions within it, cannot be compromised by giving him further knowledge about either.”
Rowena nodded aggressively. “He already knows much too much! ‘The Finality’ is not something that should be in any text or taught somewhere beyond our sands. If they’re teaching that in schools now, then someone from here has broken the oath.”
 
“That is highly implausible. Everyone that’s seen the projection also knows of its importance. To talk about ‘The Finality’ or the Transcendence Theory—”
 
“And yet he knows of both,” Rowena crossed her arms and looked upon Elder Bowii as if the escaped knowledge was his fault. “This is precisely what our settlement has been worried about ever since we learned of the fate of the Mashinians. Transcendence was attempted once and look at what’s happened! All that remains is a memorial in Kalia and the knowledge that we’ve collected in its wake. No one can know of the Transcendence Theory beyond those who know already.”
 
“Yes,” Elder Bowii said with a slight smirk. “The only one who actually knows.”
 
Her blonde hair was beginning to look white and gray in the fire’s light, and wrinkles that were usually absent from her face formed lines that weren’t there before. “I’m starting to think that I should leave this place.”
 
“Don’t be rash. We don’t know much about this man yet.”
 
“We know enough!” Rowena let out a sigh along with her steam. “We know that he’s curious and that he knows more than he should. We also know the precautions that we need to take any time we feel that our information is being threatened.”
 
“I will talk to him,” the Elder replied, aging just as quickly as Rowena seemed to have been. “If I don’t like what I hear, then I would be in agreement with you. I think that if you fled to Kilelick Falls now, Mr. Poloray would only grow more inquisitive.”
 
Rowena shrugged. “He could be as curious as he wishes then. It wouldn’t matter.”
 
“It would though,” the Elder said, looking upon Rowena like a father would a daughter. Given that most of the settlement’s inhabitants were married with children by the time they were sixteen, they could have very easily been father and daughter, if arrangements were different. “You cannot hide there forever. There are only so many resources that you can fit into an air shuttle to take with you.”
 
“Fine,” she said sharply. “Talk to him, then. Figure out his intentions and let me know if I have reason to worry. I’ll wait in your office until you do.”
 
The Elder cocked his head. It wasn’t like Rowena to dole out orders—especially since Elder Bowii was the leader of the settlement. Rexus Poloray must have made her really nervous if she was demanding that he speak with him now. She must’ve pondered Poloray’s intentions for quite some time before addressing him.
 
The two diverged with Rowena going to the Elder’s office and Elder Bowii returning outside. Both of them knew that it was going to be a long night.
 
 
Rexus Poloray was easy to find in the storm that night. Elder Bowii knew that there was very little chance that he would be outside or visiting one of the other residents of the settlement. He rubbed many of them the wrong way with the amount of knowledge he acquired before even setting foot in their community.
 
Rexus spent that evening in the guest hut that he paid for in goods and supplies during the month that he determined he’d spend in the settlement. Several books on the history of the Desert Settlement and the Mashinian race were stacked atop of one another on the coffee table. He was nose deep in another one on the couch when Elder Bowii walked in. The settlement’s guest put the text down and rose to his feet in the presence of the Elder, then bowed as if the leader of the settlement was a monarch and not just the leader of a couple hundred people.
 
“It’s quite a storm out there,” Rexus said, scratching his short brown hair while he stood a head taller than the Elder. “The worst I’ve seen since I’ve been here.”
 
Elder Bowii nodded, but had no interest in small talk. Rowena wanted an answer from him as soon as possible. She was rarely authoritative, and he wasn’t keen on disappointing her.
 
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look so serious,” Rexus said. “What do you wish to say to me?”
 
“We need to know why you’re here.”
 
We?” Rexus slipped around the coffee table between them and approached the elder with a more aggressive look on his face than Rowena gave him.
 
The twinkle in Elder Bowii’s eyes dimmed in Rexus’ shadow. When he spoke, he did so with a stern voice that emphasized each word very slowly. “You’ve come here with a purpose. You wouldn’t have acquired the knowledge you did beforehand if you didn’t have one, and I’ve no doubt that you’ve learned that there are secrets here that you cannot unlock anywhere else in the world—and that is for good reason, I assure you.”
 
“I agree,” Rexus replied. “Unfortunately, I’m in need of those secrets now.”
 
The Elder crossed his arms defiantly, feeling as though he turned to stone. There would be no way for Rexus Poloray to get the information he claimed to need. Rexus should’ve known that only Rowena had such information anyway, so harming the settlement’s Elder in any way wouldn’t be any sort of solution for their enigmatic visitor.
 
A wave of gray floated onto Rexus’ face. His eyes shrunk in a somberness that overcame his size and solemnity. It wasn’t Rexus’ intention to harm the Elder, whether Elder Bowii believed it going into the guest hut or not. “I have come here because I have run out of places to turn. I am in need of your help, but there is only so much I can tell you.”
 
“I cannot be of service to you if I do not know what ails you.”
 
“It is not me who is ailed.”
 
Elder Bowii thought to respond, but stopped himself and let Rexus go on.
 
“There is someone very dear to me that is hurting. I acquired information about an order of people that can help, but I haven’t been able to find anything on them besides what my source has already told me. Unfortunately, he refuses to say anymore on the matter, and I can no longer communicate with him.”
 
The Elder absorbed Rexus’ words. “The only information that we have here can be read in those books or told to you by the members of this settlement.”
 
“Yes, because they’ve been ever-so-helpful. From the moment I set foot here all of you have given me the same pensive and wary stare. You’re wearing it on your face even now! Deep inside, you are questioning the real reasons for why I’ve come but you’re scared to say something that you’ve been taught to conceal. I am the outlier in your land of order or community, and none of you have been nearly as welcoming as I was led to believe.”
 
The Elder knew that he couldn’t show Rexus weakness. He crossed his arms over his chest in a combination of defiance and defensiveness, and forced himself to alter his expression so that he didn’t appear how Rexus told him he looked.
 
“Don’t bother to pretend otherwise now. I have no tolerance for people who aren’t being themselves. The stares that all of you give me are the same looks that I’ve received my whole life. I got them as a child in class because of the rags that I wore and because the slums that I lived in didn’t have showers. I had to bathe in the public fountains and pools, and was often ridiculed by others and taken out by authority figures who told me that I was ‘offending the public’,” he said with air quotes. “I can tell you what is really offensive—the constant disregard and ignorance of those that have nothing and are continuously put down when they try to better themselves. Only two people in my life have ever cared about me. One of them abandoned me when I was very young to pursue a better situation for herself. The other…
 
“Your stares; your looks of disgust and indignation are meaningless to me. I couldn’t give two shits about bothering you or anyone else with the inconvenience of asking questions that I want the answers for. I’ve been staring into the dead eyes and pursed lips of those that despise me my whole life. I will not see the same look in her eyes. I will not tolerate being kept at a distance again for something that’s not in my control. You people—your settlement—can help me, and all I’ve gotten thus far were weeks’ worth of uncomfortable stares and empty words. I’m through with it. It is time that I get my answers, and its times that you give them to me.”
 
“To which answers are you referring?” Elder Bowii asked, fighting a furious battle with the muscles in his face to avoid giving Rexus the same look he’d just gone on a diatribe about. “You’ve yet to ask me what you want to know, or even why you wish to ask it. Who is this woman that you speak of? Is it a loved one—a lover, perhaps? And who told you to come here of all places? We are not in the business of remedies.”
 
“But you are in the business of the Transcendence Theory.”
 
“Everything we know is in those books,” Elder Bowii shot back. “They have been for thousands of years.”
 
Rexus shook his head nonchalantly. “That is woefully untrue. I know of the projection that you will not show me. I don’t know the full story, but I have an idea that it would fill in some of the blanks.”
Elder Bowii took another long moment before speaking. He was surprised that Rexus didn’t fill the silence with more frustration. Despite his scathing tone, the settlement’s visitor remained composed and quietly waiting for the Elder to reply. “Whatever information there is to acquire in the projection, that we have never shown another soul aside from those that were born and raised in this settlement, will not help you learn of the Transcendence Theory. The Theory represents exactly what we in this settlement’s residents are meant to remain cautious about. We cannot allow what happened before to happen again. The Transcendence Theory can never be attempted. The results would alter the entire world and make the years of the blackened skies look like a couple of billowy white clouds floating by in the distance. Even if this person you speak of is ill and the Transcendence Theory can somehow help—which has nothing to do with curing one’s illness, the risk of achieving Transcendence is not worth the bettering of one’s life.”
 
The Elder expected Rexus to show frustration, but their guest remained eerily calm. His stillness was more intimidating than if their visitor had actually attempted to be menacing towards him. He wondered if Rexus knew that he was putting him on edge. Was this all a mind game for him?
The blowing wind was louder than either of the men for a moment. They could hear the sand splashing across the hut’s walls like millions of tiny pellets coating the exterior while continuing its cyclonic movement. If this storm continued, it would no longer be safe to step outside. Elder Bowii couldn’t imagine someone he’d prefer to be stuck with less than Rexus Poloray until the storm subsided.
 
Rexus waited until the whistling died down for a moment to respond. Melancholy overcame his eyes, burying his anger and frustration deep behind them. “I am a human who has only felt humanity twice in my life. One is lost to me, and the other is sick. If I lose the last person in this world who has shown my kindness, I may also lose my last shred of humanity. Can you imagine what thirty-two years of boundless disappoint does to somebody? I am here because I am desperate. I know very little of this theory, but I know that there are those who can use it to help. In order for me to receive that help, I need to know whatever you can tell me.”
 
Rexus was met with a prolonged stare and an arched eyebrow from the Elder. “Who are these people?”
 
The Elder waited for Rexus to reply. While the visitor struggled to figure out what he could tell him, he saw more humanity in that man than he’d seen from him from the moment he approached them about the Theory. “I only know of one by name: Jaiden Lefendos.”
 
“I have never heard of him.” It was a quick response, but also the truth.
 
Rexus frowned. “It is possible that someone here might?”
 
“No. I have lived here for all of my sixty years. Never once have I stepped beyond these dunes, and I have met every soul that has passed through here. Again, the Transcendence Theory will not help your loved one. Whoever told you otherwise is either mistaken, or wants you to learn of it for their own benefit. I pray for you and all of Noreis that it’s the former rather than the latter, because if someone is looking to achieve Transcendence, it is not to make the world a better place.”
 
Rexus was shaking his head the entire time. “If you will not tell me the truth, then I will have to find out some other way.”
 
As dangerous as the storm outside was becoming, the Elder preferred to weather it and rush back to the safety of the temple rather than stay with this man a second longer. “There is no other way.” The Elder turned around and started walking towards the door.
 
“Be careful out there,” Rexus snarled as the Elder reached for the handle. “The storm is only going to get worse.”
 
 
The dust storm forced the Elder to cover everything but his eyes as he squinted to find the direction of the temple. Through the cyclonic winds that blew stands on their sides and turned huts into dust mounds, he found the outer circle of spires that were threatened to be ripped from their bases several feet beneath the sand. The tiny settlement that he spent all of his days in was barely recognizable in the whirls of sand and bright bolts of thunder and lightning from above. The sounds they made were louder than if air shuttles were to collide at full speed.
 
With each step the sand tried to envelope his feet as it swirled about, threatened to trap him like quicksand if he didn’t move quickly. He closed his eyes as much as he could and trudged forward, catching glimpses of the spires and the temple beyond every time the sky grew bright and roared. He clenched his lips shut in fear of choking on the grains and held his breath to avoid inhaling it. The wind did its best to blow him sideways, but he kept pushing forward, using the spires as markers and fighting the gusts whenever he could. 
 
By the time the sky exploded again, he moved between two of the spires and was suddenly grateful to know that the temple was just twenty or so feet away. He was closer to it than Rexus’ hut. He quickened his pace without worry and, as the thunder clamored and the lightning brightened again, he was able to see the double-doors to the temple in view. The guards left their post for the evening, but that was to be expected. There would be no more visitors tonight.
 
The Elder felt five years younger when he reached the handles and focused all of his strength on trying to open one of them against the wind as it threatened to tackle him to the floor. Rexus was right: the storm was only getting worse. As he struggled, he envisioned himself being knocked to the ground and covered with several feet of dirt in a matter of seconds. He could dig and dig as furiously as he could, but there would be no emerging from a sandy grave. He threw open the door and rushed inside before that vision could ring true. The wind slammed the door shut right after, trapping him inside the temple until the storm subsided.
 
Inside the thick crystal walls, the wind was muffled to the point where he could barely hear the storm at all. The fire pit in the center, the Mashinian statues, the ground, the walls, and everything in-between remained unscathed. The Elder threw the hood of his robes back and several layers of sands coated the floor. He spat out the grains that forced their way into his mouth and picked his nose until he could breathe clearly again. He felt that it would be days before he got all of the sand out of his crevasses, but at least he was no longer trapped with Rexus Poloray. He could weather the rest of the storm in peace.
 
Or so he thought.
 
Rowena emerged from his chambers and stood at the top of the stairs with her arms crossed, looking just as frustrated as she had before. “What have you to tell me?”
 
Elder Bowii crossed the temple as more sand continued to fall from his robes, leaving an easy trail for anyone to find him. He reached the base of the stairs and Rowena turned around, stepping back into his chambers. He followed her inside and shut the door behind them.
 
She stood on the other side of his desk with lips as tight as his had been during his journey back to the temple. He ignored her expression until he sat back in his chair and allowed the cushions to absorb his suddenly exasperated body. He let out a long, deep breath, and envisioned himself getting buried in the storm again.
 
Rowena wasn’t about to let him feel grateful for long. “Do I need to leave for Kilelick Falls or not?”
 
The Elder shook his head, then pondered nodding. “He was very cryptic. Someone, I’m assuming a woman that he loves, has fallen ill. He was told by a source—he wouldn’t say whom—that the Transcendence Theory can help her, but that doesn’t make any sense. There’s nothing about the Theory or ‘The Finality’ that would be even remotely helpful, and given that he’s a scholar of Ancient Kalian and the Mashinian race, he should know that.”
 
“So he made up a bullshit story to make you feel sorry for him?” Rowena asked. “It makes sense. You are a softy.”
 
“Yes, but you would think that someone as smart as Rexus would concoct a more believable story if he was looking to fool us. He might not know as much as we’re led to believe.”
 
“That’s good.”
 
“But someone does.”
 
Rowena scoffed. “What does that mean? Should I head to Kilelick Falls or not?”
 
“I don’t know,” the Elder replied. “It’s complicated… if he told me the full truth just now, then someone has reached out to him and is trying to get information about the Transcendence Theory. My guess is that they would want it in exchange for information about whatever sickness this woman has.”
 
“None of that makes any sense,” Rowena barked. “If she’s sick, she can see a doctor. The Transcendence Theory can only do harm, and everything you’ve told me is speculative. I think he was just sending you in circles. I’m going to head to the Falls.”
 
“There’s a little more,” the Elder said before Rowena could storm out and try her luck with the tumultuous winds. “He didn’t tell me the name of his source, but he did mention that a group of people might be able to help this woman. One of them is a man named Jaiden Lefendos. Have… have you ever heard of him?”
 
Rowena’s bottom lip parted from the top one. Her jaw didn’t drop, but there was something about that last bit of information that caught her off-guard. It might have pertained to the scraps of knowledge that the Conservators of the Mashinian secrets passed down to one another that were kept from even the settlement Elders.
 
“Is that at all helpful?” Elder Bowii asked, hoping that she would answer him.
 
“Maybe,” she muttered. “A group of people that might be looking to achieve the Transcendence Theory… you don’t think that he could be referring to…”
 
Elder Bowii cocked his head. “To what?”
 
“Nothing,” Rowena replied immediately. “I am sorry, I was just recalling a myth in my head. It’s nothing important, just a story that was passed down to me—more of an urban legend, really.”
 
Elder Bowii was commonly a jolly man, free of woes or frustration. However, between Rexus’ enigmatic words, Rowena’s foul disposition, and risking his life to return to his temple, his patience was waning. “If it’s an urban legend, then you can tell me what is going on.”
 
Rowena paused, pondering whether or not she could speak to him about things that were never to be told to anyone (or at least so he assumed). “There are rumors about a group of people—an order that is similar to ours, but doing the exact opposite. While we long to prevent knowledge of the Transcendence Theory from spreading, they’re actively looking to achieve it. If someone reached out to Rexus Poloray and asked him to go looking for it in exchange for something in return, then… no. No, no way,” she said defiantly. “The story is thousands of years old. If this order ever existed, they are extinct now.”
 
“Do you really—”
 
“Rexus was deceiving you,” she said, looking more certain than ever. “All of this was a ruse in order for you feel bad enough for him that you would try and convince the others to let him see the projection of the past. Whatever reasons he has, its best that he leave us—and more importantly, it’s for the best that I leave, too. Thank you for the information you’ve given me. I think it’s time that I go to Kilelick Falls.”
 
“Tonight?! In this weather?”
 
Rowena looked him in the eyes and nodded slowly. “Someone is either playing a trick on him, or he is playing a trick on you. Either way he is desperate and desperate men do desperate things. I am safer flying out in that storm tonight than I am if we wait to see which of those possibilities is the true one.”
 
Elder Bowii watched as Rowena left quickly without saying another word. As the door to his chambers shut, he was able to hear the storm continue to roar on. It was the worst storm the settlement had in months, but in light of Rowena’s words, it was also the least of his concerns.
 
 
Rowena spat out the sand she’d swallowed while fighting with her front door in the storm. It took all of her strength to open it and, when she was inside, it slammed shut behind her and rattled the entire hut. She wiped the rest of her sand off of her face with her brown sleeve, but she knew that she’d be shooting it out of her nostrils for many days to come. She pulled her hood back, where her hair was mostly concealed and avoided getting mounds of sand stuck in it—to which she was very grateful. The last time they had a storm of this magnitude, she was washing it out of her hair for a week!
 
She slipped out of her robes, wearing a dress of the same color underneath and placed a hand on each hip. If she was to leave, she needed to pack everything she had. Rexus wouldn’t expect her to leave in the middle of the storm. Only a crazy person would. Crazy, or desperate.
 
Rowena should have started by packing her meats, breads, and clothes. Her air shuttle was only so big and she needed to pack necessities first. The Conservator’s heart, however, thought differently. The first time she’d ever gone to Kilelick Falls on her own, she made extra copies of the photos and video images of her family—the family that left her long before when she and her husband realized that they were meant for different things. The pictures of him and their son, and then pictures of them and her grandson in their homes, the Tri-City forest, and wherever they went together, remained in a box beneath her bed. She once thought to leave them in the Falls, but she never did. Personal belongings were never meant to stay there.
 
She entered her bedroom, where a silhouette was waiting for her. Rowena tried to scream, but the figure was quick and leapt through the shadows like a demon and clutched her mouth shut as the back of her head slammed against the wall.
 
“I’ve spent thirty-two years struggling to find my path, and another twelve trying to understand what happened to her,” the man scathed as he towered over her. She could see nothing but his deep, intense eyes and the large hand blocking her mouth from making a sound. He continued to speak calmly, but sternly. “I had a feeling that Elder Bowii didn’t know everything. He hides his secrets in his eyes and I peered through them so determined to find something that I reached the back of his skull and found a lack of answers. But you… you just told me everything I needed to know.”
 
Rexus withdrew his telecom. The 4×4 inch screen cast an eerie white glow in the room and gently graced his face like a thumbnail of the moon. In the center was a control screen with a large red button. He pressed it, and Rowena’s face paled to the same color as the screen.
 
“I am sorry,” she heard herself say, “I was just recalling a myth in my head. It’s nothing important, just a story that was passed down to me—more of an urban legend, really.”
 
He bugged the Elder’s Temple…
 
Elder Bowii replied. “If it’s an urban legend, then you can tell me what is going on.”
 
“There are rumors about a group of people—an order that is similar to ours, but doing the exact opposite. While we long to prevent knowledge of the Transcendence Theory from spreading, they’re actively looking to achieve it. If someone reached out to Rexus Poloray and asked him to go looking for it in exchange for something in return, then… no. No, no way. The story is thousands of years old. If this order ever existed, they are extinct now.”
 
Rexus clicked off the telecom and the room went dark again. “You know about the Ravens of Dusk. I wasn’t certain until you told me yourself. I’m surprised that you even let that much slip about them to the Elder.”
 
Rowena grumbled through his hand. She tried to speak, but his hand was pressed so hard against her mouth that she felt her lips merging with her teeth.
 
“You can scream all you wish,” Rexus flashed his teeth with a sinister grin. “No one will hear you in this storm.”
 
Rexus was probably surprised when she didn’t attempt to call for help when his hand left her lips. Instead, she kept her calm and stared into his dark eyes surrounded in an abyss. “How do you know about the Ravens of Dusk? Who is Jaiden Lefendos?”
 
“I figured that you would know less about their order than I.” He sighed and placed a hand in his robes, putting away his telecom and playing with something else. “But that’s fine. I don’t need information about the Ravens of Dusk. I just need to know about the Transcendence Theory.”
A flash of silver flew from his pocket and rushed toward her neck, stopping right at her jugular, tickling her with the sharpness of the blade. She had to hold in her breath so that the knife wouldn’t dig into her skin.
 
“If I kill you now, there will never be another person to conserve the Mashinian secrets. Only one at a time… you are the only person to know the secret entrance to Kilelick Falls, and everything that is meant to be confined from the rest of the world may only be known by those of the Ravens of Dusk.”
“You can kill me now then,” she replied with every ounce of courage she could muster. “Because I will never tell you about the Transcendence Theory.”
 
His head cocked and his grin widened in the darkness. “This blade isn’t meant for you.”
 
In an instance, the entire world fell silent. The winds stopped whistling, her heart stopped beating, and her breath bottlenecked in her throat and refused to escape her lips. She thought she was about to pass out before he even elaborated on his statement.
 
“I’ve learned in the last few years or so that everyone has a way of talking. You are too strong of a woman to not sacrifice yourself, but would you sacrifice the life of your grandson, little Riles Arias, in order to keep the Transcendence Theory a secret?”
 
“You… Don’t you dare—”
 
“Riles Arias of thirty-two Daven Way in Malysai would just be the beginning of the pain that I would inflict upon your family. See, I wouldn’t kill him right now. He would just disappear into the nothingness that I’ve lived in my whole life. I would take videos of him being tortured and you would never know from where. Then the rest of you will start getting pieces of him in the mail. A finger here, a toe there… I’ll send you his eyes so that you can look upon them and recall the moment that you refused to tell me what I desperately need to know. This is what happens when a man has nothing left to lose; he no longer gives a shit about anyone else, because even at eight that boy has lived a much fuller and happier life than I can even fathom. Too bad all he’ll remember of it is the pain of this knife pressed against his scrawny little neck, and then all you or your ex-husband and son will ever be able to remember is the screaming…”
 
Her tears made it harder to see the smirk on his face, but she could feel the hate radiating from him like the heat of a million Helas. There was nothing in his tone that gave her any indication that he wouldn’t do everything that he said he would.
 
“I could make it go on for months… and if that’s not convincing enough, I’ll move on to the next person you love the most. And then the next… I will make you regret ever learning the secrets you refuse to tell me until I then take this knife and do the same to you. So, Conservator, what will it be? Are you ready to let your whole family die for your secrets, or will you help a man who has desperately needed it, but not as much as another needs mine?”
 
The words were caught in her throat. She wasn’t sure how much time passed by or if she was bleeding, or sweating, or crying, or a combination of the three. All she knew was that, at some point in the delirium and the desperation, her lips started moving, and Rexus Poloray followed her every word…