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Episode 7: Bound by Fate
Auren's best friend was captured during the Galvadi invasion, and her rescue attempt goes awry. Now Auren finds herself in the hands of an enemy who knows her true identity…one who has the power to be either her destroyer or her salvation.
Episode 8: Broken
Auren doesn't succumb to Makari's torture, so he decides his father was right about her being the delohi-saqu. Now he resorts to more sadistic methods to extract information, which could doom the Coalition if Auren fails to resist.
Episode 9: Turning Tides
Now that Makari knows the truth about Auren, he has sworn to protect her and help her escape. But when the other guides become suspicious, Makari's loyalty is tested, and he is forced to do something he swore he'd never do again.
Episode 10: Separate Paths
Auren finally meets Shai, Kado's daughter, but she is too weak from her months of torture to escape the reconciliation center. Makari takes over Shai's cleansing sessions, but that means Auren will face daily torture again. To make things worse, Makari disappears and Auren is given a task that means taking the life of someone she loves.
Episode 11: Escape Part 1
Auren and Shai begin their escape, but it doesn't go as planned, and they are forced to adjust their plans. They are pushed to their limits, and Auren has to put her untried abilities to use or risk being recaptured.
Episode 12: Escape Part 2
Makari has decided to stay with the Galvadi for Auren's protection. Auren and Shai are on their own, and nature seems to be against them. After being seriously injured, Auren falls ill and it starts to look like they will never reach their meeting spot with Kado on the southern shore.
Excerpt from Shadow Stalker: Bound by Fate (Episode 7)
I was tempted to travel to Appolia City through the shadow world. It would save me a three day journey, but Kado's words played on a loop in my head, "...do not travel again through the shadow world if you can help it." So I stayed to the forest for as long as I could. I left after sunset, just north of Wallanby, the suburb where Kado and I lived mere months ago. Before the Galvadi had invaded Luten Isle and changed all of our lives forever.
Though my foster father had warned me to stay away from our house, I had to see it. I needed the familiarity of it—hoping it would strengthen my resolve and give me a renewed sense of purpose. Some warmer clothes and maybe food wouldn’t hurt either. Traveling for days in the freezing cold, even with a snow suit, did nothing to boost ones morale. The street was darker than before, because none of the streetlights were lit, though it wasn’t so dark I couldn't make out the shapes of men scouting the area. Kado had been right—they were guarding the house on the off chance we returned. Without hesitating I turned and headed back to the forest, making sure to cover my tracks. I had no choice but to focus on getting to Jade, though my detour only made me feel worse.
It was almost morning by the time I reached the outskirts north of the city. I couldn't risk traveling into the city during the day, so I climbed higher into the foothills to find a place to rest and eat. I only had one ration pack left so I had to split it, hoping it would be enough to get me through the next day. My plan, if I managed to rescue Jade, was to take her to one of Kado's hideouts. It would mean a day and a half of hiking, but once we were safe and warm, it would give Jade the chance to heal. From there I intended to take her to Deakan. It was simple enough, though my plans never worked out the way I wanted them to.
Sleep didn't come easy. Even though I was relatively hidden, the slightest noise woke me. I felt safer having Kado nearby. I still had to choke back a sob whenever I thought of him. It didn’t help, knowing he was alive, because I couldn’t be sure what condition he was in. He was still blocking me, likely because he didn't want me to experience his pain or fearing for his life. He didn’t seem to understand my inability to sense him only made things worse. I would rather know he was hurt, but safe, than not know what was happening at all.
Finally, as dusk set in, I gave up on sleep. I ate the last of my ration pack and headed into the city, just as the sun was setting. The streets were eerily quiet. Thankfully the street lamps were on in the city, so there were plenty of shadows to hide in as I made my way closer to the Council Hall. The fact I didn’t see the Dansig Troops Deakan mentioned made me a little wary. Either they were stationed near the Council Hall or they were well hidden.
Unfortunately, the area around the Council Hall had fewer shadows with which to conceal myself. I still didn't see any guards or patrols, but I knew they were there, so I had to tread carefully. I was tempted to risk a shift through the shadow world to the top of the building, but I rejected the idea when I caught movement from above. They were likely watching from every angle, which made it extremely difficult to sneak past them.
"Don't move, girl," a man said from behind me.
Several things went through my head at once. My first instinct was to run, but I knew I would never outrun them. I considered the possibility of fighting and dismissed the thought immediately. They almost certainly had weapons. If I disappeared into the shadow world, they would identify me as a shadow stalker, and my cover would be blown. The only option, if I wanted to stay alive, was to give myself up.
I obeyed, coming face to face with two soldiers. The one doing the talking was the older of the two, and though I wasn't familiar with the Galvadi's rank insignia, I got the impression they ranked higher than the others I had come across. There was something subtly different about his uniform too. It appeared a darker shade of gray, though that could have been because we were standing in the shadows cast by the buildings across from the Council Hall. The style was different too, and there was a thin white stripe down the side of each leg.
"Now, put your arms straight out in front of you."
"Please, don't hurt me," I said, knowing it was what they expected to hear. Hiding my fear would only make them suspicious.
"No one will harm you, as long as you do as you're told," he said in a calm, gentle tone, as though speaking to a scared child.
I nodded, though I didn't miss the fact he had said harm, not hurt. Of course, his definition of harm was likely a lot different from mine. He slipped two circular black metallic cuffs over my wrists. There was a small bar attached to each, with a matching hole on the opposite cuff. They slid into each other like puzzle pieces. The bars went directly through each cuff until they were digging, almost painfully, into my wrists. The soldier didn't release them until they clicked into place and, though they were metal, they felt unusually light.
"Ouch," I said, wincing.
They each took an arm and led me toward the Council Hall building. We bypassed the main entrance and headed toward a door at the side of the building. The elder of the two waved a key card in front of a panel, and the door slid open. We passed several doors in the wide corridor, stopping before one of them about midway down the corridor. Again the soldier used a key card to open the lock.
It was a fairly large room, with a simple desk, a small wooden chair and an unusual looking table. On the desk lay the prod-like weapon I had seen in Kado’s vision. It looked even more sinister in reality.
The soldier in charge, lifted my arms and pressed something against the cuffs. The mechanism released, allowing him to remove them. The skin on my wrists was red where the bar had been resting.
"Put these on," he said, handing me a pair of gray shorts and a shirt. "A guide will arrive shortly to begin the process of your indoctrination."
I changed into the clothes when the two soldiers left, thinking about how dangerous it would be in the current climate to escape in my new outfit. I hadn't anticipated the complication, and I should have. It was an obvious tactic, making their prisoners as uncomfortable of possible and preventing escape. Their intentions were evident in the temperature of the room. It was cold, cold enough I had to rub my arms to keep warm.
After neatly folding my own clothes, I put them on the desk and continued my efforts to stay warm, wrapping my arms around myself as I waited. I didn't have to wait long. Within a few minutes, a man came into the room. At least I thought it was a man. I couldn't see his face because it was hidden beneath the hood of a dark gray robe. His anonymity left me feeling intimidated, which was likely the effect they were going for. I backed away, even though my instincts were telling me I should incapacitate him and run as fast as I could. He held out a hand to halt me in my tracks, pointing toward the chair.
"Have a seat."
I obeyed, thankful he didn’t strap me to the table, or use the prod.
"It's late, and we have a lot to cover before you can be taken to your room. So if you want this to go quickly, I suggest you listen, answer my questions honestly and do as you're told. If you fail to do those things, I will have to get an interrogator, and I'm sure you don’t want that."
His tone was calm and placating, but the threat was clear. Either I answered his questions or I'd be tortured. He stood over me, circling slowly—another intimidation tactic.
"I am a guide, so you will call me 'guide'. My job is to make sure people new to the Way of the Galvadi are properly indoctrinated. The first thing you need to understand is everything you have been taught about the Galvadi Empire is a lie. You may not believe me now, but you will be shown the truth of my words. You will learn through a method called cleansing, which will begin when you have been properly prepared." He paused. "You should look at me when I am speaking to you."
I allowed my fear to the surface, sniffling softly as tears filled my eyes. I had purposely avoided looking at him. His circling was meant to disorient me, but he couldn't know I knew that, and hiding tears seemed a reasonable response to the situation. A normal girl my age would certainly be crying in response to being captured. So when the first tears wet my face I gazed up.
The guide knelt before me, running his thumb across each check to brush them away. "That's better. You are safe here. No one will harm you, I promise."
I nodded, taking a deep breath.
"Now, I have some questions for you." As he rose to begin the circling routine, he pulled a data pad from his pocket. "They are simple questions, so I expect you to answer quickly and honestly. What is your name?"
"Silvie Lask," I blurted the first name that popped into my head. I went to school with Silvie when I was younger, but she had moved to Seajewel Isle years ago. I prayed they had no record of her already.
"How old are you, Silvie?"
Should I lie about that too? Yes. "Sixteen."
"You're young to be on your own. Where are your parents?"
I shrugged. "I was separated from them during the invasion."
"I see. What were you doing wandering the city?"
"I was hiding in the mountains just to the north, but I ran out of food and I was hungry. I just wanted to find food," I said, allowing more tears to fall.
"We will feed you well, once you've begun your cleansing, Silvie. There's no need for you to worry about food anymore. When was the last time you ate?"
"Yesterday. In the morning."
"I see. And water to drink?"
"I've been eating snow."
"When was the last time you had a drink?"
"Just before I left the mountain. A few hours ago, I think."
"That's fine. I know you’re scared. You've been told many lies about us, but the truth is, Silvie, we only want to protect you. The delohi-saqu has already begun poisoning the minds of the people of the Serpent Isles. It's his desire to enslave all of us, and the Galvadi have been fighting to prevent that for many years. We will teach you how to keep your mind free of his will. So there is no reason to fear us. Do you understand?"
The guide rested his hand on my head. "Good girl. As long as you continue to cooperate, Silvie, things will go very easily for you. Now I'm sure you’re tired. I will show you to your room so that you can rest."
As he guided me down the corridor, away from the entrance to the building, he put his arm around my shoulders. I shuddered at the contact, wanting nothing more than to shake off his arm, but I knew it would raise suspicion. If things were easier based on cooperation, I would go along with it for as long as I could. I knew what the cleansing meant, and that I would be tortured soon despite my cooperation. Maybe they would go easier on me if I appeared willing to follow their ways.
The guide stopped in front of a door, waving his own key card. When I saw inside, I realized it was nothing more than a utility closet. Everything had been removed, except for a metal bucket. There was barely enough room to lie down. I gazed at him, allowing my confusion to show.
"This is where you will stay until you are ready for your first cleansing session. It's a small space, but it's necessary. You will understand why soon. The bucket is there for you to relieve yourself, if necessary. Someone will come for you as soon as you are ready for your cleansing," he said, gently nudging me into the room.
I no longer had to force my fear to surface. I knew that solitary confinement was part of the torture, but had not anticipated such a small space. As soon as I understood I was expected to spend a prolonged period of time in a box, I began hyperventilating.
"It's not as bad as it seems," the guide said, gripping my shoulder.
"Then this will help you overcome your fear." He gave my arm a squeeze and guided me more firmly into the closet.
I forced myself not to resist. A loud sob escaped as the door closed on me.