by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: Characters belong to Marvel. No money. Don't sue.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story sort of stems from my True Believers backstory, but there's nothing in it that can't stand purely on its own. A little disturbing in places, not too much so.
There were no guards outside Daysprings cell.
The man known as Stryfe noted this with a raised eyebrow, a gesture hidden by his helmet. There should certainly have been guards. Parridian Haights most valuable prisoner had been guarded day and night since his capture and the defeat of the Clan Chosen at Anikia. Even during his interrogation, there had been guards.
Stryfe smiled to himself sardonically. For the victorious Tribune of the all-powerful Canaanite Order, Haight was being quite amusingly fearful of a defeated enemy.
An enemy that HED defeated, Stryfe reminded himself wickedly. Maybe that was the problem.
Chuckling to himself softly, he walked down the corridor to the door of Daysprings cell, and listened for a moment, relishing the muffled sounds from within, the tendrils of pain and rage and shame that somehow managed to penetrate the psi-shielding.
It was very close to intoxicating. Not for the first time, he regretted the necessity of the shielded cell, an added security precaution to go with the dampening collar that had been locked around Daysprings neck days ago. It would have been so very pleasant to be able to stand here and savor this.
Then again, there were benefits to the personal approach. Whimsically, he knocked on the cell door. Anyone home? he called ironically.
There was dead silence from inside the cell, replaced in an instant by frantic cursing. Before long, the cell door slid open, and two rather flustered-looking guards emerged. One paled at the sight of him; the other simply took up his place on the other side of the door and stared fixedly at the floor.
Stryfe nodded at both of them, trying to keep a straight face. Amusing yourself, brothers? he asked, inclining his head towards the cell. It stuck in his throat to call such nonentities brothers, but the formalities had to be observed. At least for now.
Uh, yes, my lord, the one brave enough to keep eye contact said ashamedly.
Stryfe gave him a lazy smile. Delightful. I trust you wont mind extending me the same courtesy?
It was a risk either way for them, he thought humorously. Either they let him into the cell, against Haights orders, or they told him no. Which was the far more dangerous choice, really. It would be interesting to see if they realized that.
C-Certainly, my lord, the guar d said, obviously uncomfortable, and stepped aside.
Stryfe smiled beatifically, and laid a hand on the mans shoulder. Youll go far, he said pleasantly. *Probably right to security duty on a sanitation barge when Haight hears of this, but life isnt fair, is it?* He stepped into the cell, trying very hard not to laugh.
The smell hit him first. Blood. Sweat. Other, more unpleasant odors. The door slid shut behind him, and it took his eyes a few minutes to adjust to the dimness. The only light came from one panel beside the door. More than enough to see by, though.
Well, he said to the crumpled figure on the floor, still clad in the bloodied remnants of the uniform hed worn at Anikia. Hed been stripped of his armor, of course, but unlike other prisoners, they wanted him to remember EXACTLY who he was. Youve looked better, Nathan. He leaned closer, catching the glint of metal at Daysprings wrists as well as his throat. Not just a dampening collar, but energy shackles, as well. They are still quite terrified of you, arent they? he asked with a chuckle.
He didnt expect subtle insight from Haight, of course. And Haight hadnt been there at Anikia. He hadnt met Daysprings eyes across the battlefield and seen something shatter there as the Clan Chosen fell.
He didnt know there wasnt anything more to fear from their worlds most infamous rebel.
Youre nothing without your Clan, are you? Stryfe murmured. Less than nothing.
Dayspring stirred, opened his eyes. Or one, rather. The other was swelled shut from a blow. He could still manage a quite passable glare, Stryfe reflected. It might have fooled someone else, anyone who couldnt sense the paralysing shock behind the facade.
One day, Stryfe said with a slow smile, keeping his voice low. Just one day, and everything youve worked for, for fifteen years, is dead. Has it sunk in yet, Nathan? It was a rhetorical question, of course. He knew it hadnt. He could see past the surface, to the emptiness beneath, the part of his old enemy that was missing, left behind on a battlefield where a dream had died.
A dream hed killed. He grinned at his own metaphor.
Dayspring pulled himself up to a sitting position, biting back a gasp of pain. Go flonq yourself, he said dully, his voice thick.
Surely you can come up with something better than THAT. Stryfe waited a moment. Dayspring continued to glare at him. After a while, he shrugged cheerfully. I suppose not.
Give. . .me a minute.
Stryfe threw back his head and laughed. Oh, Nathan. I am so very glad to know that youre still in such good spirits. I should compliment you. Our esteemed Tribune has been doing his best, and yet youre still retained your sense of humor. Truly an accomplishment.
Dayspring swallowed painfully, his head sagging sideways for a moment before he raised it again. What do you want?
Stryfe was listening for it, so he heard the edge of desperation. It was barely perceptible, but it was there. Why, I dont know what you mean, Nathan, he protested, wide-eyed. I have everything I want.
Dayspring was silent. Choke on it, he finally grated. And the old strength was back in his voice, the old fire in his eyes.
Even now. Even here.
Rage suddenly blazed up inside Stryfe, and he made an imperious gesture. Dayspring didnt even grunt as Stryfe picked him up telekinetically and threw him against the wall, holding him there effortlessly. After all, the psi-shielding was only designed to forestall any teleporting in or out, or any telepathic communication.
Maybe you neglected to notice, Stryfe said, with some effort managing to keep his voice pleasant. But I BEAT you, Dayspring. I crushed your pathetic army and dragged you off the battlefield in chains. He threw his arms wide in mock supplication. Doesnt that earn me at least a LITTLE respect?
The anger was fading. Temper, temper. No need to lose it.
Pinned against the wall, Dayspring struggled feebly. Im not. . .giving you ANYTHING, you bastard, he rasped weakly, laboring for each breath. Anything you want from me. . .you have to TAKE.
Stryfe dropped him, and he hit the floor hard. Havent I done just that? Stryfe asked, patiently. Inwardly, the implicit challenge delighted him. Your precious Jenskot. Your son. Now your Clan. And Im not finished yet, Nathan. Not anywhere NEAR finished.
Dayspring pulled himself back up, in obvious pain.
And got to his feet.
Stryfe blinked at him, momentarily nonplussed. They were the same height, of course. And those eyes that were so damnably, intolerably like his own, stared right back at him, blazing with hatred. Those hatefully similar features, set in an expression of purest contempt beneath the blood and bruises.
It was like looking into a mirror. Hed never imagined seeing that expression on any face but his own.
Oh, I know what youve done, Dayspring almost hissed, and then swung his shackled hands up and around with violent speed, catching Stryfe across the jaw and sending him staggering.
Reeling, Stryfe barely managed to keep to his feet. Red fury swamped his vision and he lunged forward as soon as he regained his balance, grabbing Dayspring by the throat and slamming him against the wall again. Physically, this time.
I hope that was worth it! he snarled, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth with his free hand. I see I need to talk to your guard detail about the proper definition of teaching you your place!
And Dayspring smiled. Even as he fought for air, he smiled.
#More. . .than worth it,# came the contemptuous whisper in his mind, somehow projected despite the collar.
And Stryfe understood. Trying to get me to kill you, eh? he growled. You think Im going to make it that easy, Nathan? DO YOU? He lashed out viciously with his telepathy, slicing through shields weakened by the collar and the days of captivity and torture.
They buckled, and Stryfe heard Dayspring moan. He struck again, knowing exactly where to hit them. Sanctity had taught him. Every vulnerable point. Every weakness.
Once more, and they shattered, leaving only remnants behind. This time, Dayspring screamed, and then went limp in his grasp.
Stryfe paused a moment, his worst enemys mind laid bare and bleeding in front of him.
It would be so easy to kill. A dagger of psionic energy there, and there. . .
Ruthlessly, he reached down and pulled Dayspring out of the comforting shelter of unconsciousness.
#Do you see, Nathan? What I can do? What I WILL do?#
He projected the images of settlements, cities. In flames. Daysprings people screaming, hurting, dying in a dozen different ways. His imagination supplied him with ample detail, and he made a mental note to remember it all for later.
#I will see you on your knees, BEGGING me for mercy!#
#Never. . .# Daysprings mental voice was barely audible.
#Because of your pride? What a pitiful excuse!#
#Wont. . .give you the satisfaction. Youd. . .do it anyway, you murdering. . .#
#Are you so certain?# Stryfe snarled. #When it comes down to it, when youre there, kneeling in front of me, and there are children screaming at you to save them? What will your pride matter then, Askanison?#
#Stab your. . .eyes. . .#
Stryfe took a deep breath and let go of him, withdrawing from his mind in disgust. Dayspring slid to the floor bonelessly, eyes wide and glazed with pain.
Good luck at rebuilding your shields with that collar on, Stryfe growled. I wouldnt hold out much hope. Haights ordered me to begin erasing evey trace of the Protectorate. Beginning tomorrow morning. And youre going to be right there, Nathan. Seeing it all, sensing it ALL. . . Stryfe gave him a bright, brittle smile. Wont that be fun? Ive always had the nagging desire to figure out how many deaths an unshielded telepath can be exposed to before their mind implodes, but Haight would never give me a telepath to play with.
Dayspring lifted his head weakly. The defiance was gone. How much blood, Stryfe? he croaked, nothing but anguish in his voice now. How. . .much until youre satisfied? Anger, like courage, had its limits, and Stryfe knew with a viciously accurate insight that his old foe was reaching his. How much, burn you. . . His voice broke, and he seemed to sag in on himself, those last reserves of strength failing him.
Stryfe considered the question. Why, I dont really know, Nathan, he said cheerfully, his smile growing wide and savage. Maybe Ill go swimming. Maybe we both will. He leaned over slightly, staring into Daysprings eyes. Maybe Ill drown you in it. Now THERES a thought.
Dayspring stared at him for a moment, and then closed his eyes, turning his face away. Not a surrender, not quite. Almost. Closer than before.
Hed see him break yet.
Stryfe chuckled and straightened, turning towards the door. Sleep well, Nathan, he tossed over his shoulder, and left.
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