“For you.”

Sitting on the hard concrete, bloodied and sweating, Athellus looked up at her, then at the lid of her canteen. It formed a cup which was filled with water.

Adree offered it, secure in her position as captor. “You must be thirsty,” she said. “Here.” She crouched down and held the cup for him to drink. After a moment, he bowed his head and drank thirstily, as she slowly tipped it back for him. He drank all but the last mouthful – that, he swished around and then spat on the ground, away from them, washing out the blood from the beating he had received.

She pushed the lid back onto her canteen. “Don’t I get a ‘thank you’?”

“You’re taking me to be executed, Adree,” Athellus replied. “I’m not quite sure what the etiquette calls for.”

Adree shrugged with feigned nonchalance. Those dark brown eyes held her gaze, steady and even. “I guess your stoicism is worth more than your courtesy. Good. You’re going to need it.”

This close, she could get a sense of his thoughts – sharp and clear as moonlight on the edge of a blade, but softened somewhat with the compassion and cheerfulness she could just about remember from years ago, brightened with keen intelligence. That was what infuriated her. Unlike her men, who only saw him as a traitor to their people, Adree saw Athellus as a traitor to the Evinthei themselves, a man who could have – should have! – done so much more, had he made a better choice.

Which made her even more confused as to why he would dare set foot in Nones, ever again. And if she could find out, maybe -

“Stop trying to get inside my head,” Athellus told her, sharply. “Don’t think I can’t feel it.”

Adree’s eyes narrowed. The Evinthei occasionally came across the telepathic gene in their children, but it was rare and unusual, even amongst the Aeslins. Adree’s gift had manifested around puberty, but as often happened, it wasn’t strong enough to be useful other than in brief flashes. Fortunately, the medical sciences unit had, in their research division, an implant that heightened and sharpened telepathic ability, developed using records salvaged from the Archive.

After careful testing Adree had received the implant, learned to use it, and never looked back. Now her talent was an asset in combat instead of a distraction, she was unmatched as a scout, and whenever she took command of a unit, the soldiers in it knew their commander would sense their welfare and guard it as carefully as her own.

But so far her attempts to read Athellus had been unsuccessful. He knew about her gift, and was blocking her with a simple trick – running a song through his head over and over. He had been an accomplished balladeer before his retraining as an assassin for the Evinthei, and he could keep it up for days. He would never let her in.

She stood and turned away. “Fine. I’ll not waste compassion on you.”

“What’s it going to be, Adree?” Athellus called after her. “String me up in front of the headquarters? Firing squad? You’ll have plenty of volunteers. Or will you just tattoo the Evinthei crest on my face and throw me to the Taugen?”

Adree clenched her teeth against the anger in her chest, like cold fire – anger, and sorrow she would not acknowledge. She turned back to him. “The Taugen would be too quick for you. You don’t deserve mercy. You don’t deserve to live!”

“If I had killed to save Evinthei lives instead of the other way round,” he replied, almost gently, “you’d be calling me a hero instead of a traitor. You don’t frighten me, Adree. I face death every day.”

She dismissed that, scornfully, with a wave of her hand. “Bravado.”

“No,” he told her. “I’m banru. I’m as good as dead anyway.”

 

 

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