Fire and Ice Young Adult and New Adult Books

The Como Chronicles #3

Twell

and the Uprising

by Kate O'Leary



"Twell" by Kate O'LearyTwell’s choices have had devastating consequences. She’s broken every rule on Como, and betrayed those she loves. Running from heartbreak, her mission to save her guardian goes horribly wrong, and Twell finds herself captured and soon tortured by the Abwarzians.

With only her enemies interest in harvesting her powers keeping her alive, Twell must use all her wits to survive in a world full of oppression and hatred. But nothing is black and white, and Twell is forced to face that good and evil resides in all, no matter what world or race.

As war erupts between the two worlds, blood is shed and revenge is sought. But with enemies on both sides, Twell’s biggest battle will be facing her own true nature, as she fights for freedom, and for love.


 

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Chapter One

They emerged from the dark of the room like ghosts, their glassy black eyes staring soullessly down at me before two of them seized my head in their thin, bony hands. My mind chugged sluggishly, paralysed with panic in an unfamiliar atmosphere. I could not focus, adrenalin crashing over me like a wave as my mind became saturated from the unfamiliar thickness of heavy humid air. A high and ragged gasping sound echoed around the room, and I knew whatever was coming could not be good. Realisation hit me like a wall of stone, terror making me tremble even before they inserted one of their weapons into the base of my skull.

Click

White-hot fire seared through my brain, jolting my bones against the cold hard metal of the table. A high-pitched scream ripped from my lungs as the stench of burning hair and flesh permeated the air, horror shocking every cell in my body as a deafening ringing filled my ears. My body arched and jolted, my head staying behind as their hands gripped my skull like iron claws. I twisted and thrashed, as I struggled to get away from the pressure building up in my brain. The ringing became a roar, pressing against my brain like a vice, as it swelled against my skull. The metallic smell of blood tinged the air as it trickled from my nose to my lips and filled my mouth, tangy and thick. Through murky vision I saw them smiling over me, their thin mouths splitting open to reveal sharp gleaming teeth. It was too much for my spirit to bear, and a final strangled cry emerged from my chest to fill the darkened room. Silence bore down on me; the isolating feeling of hopelessness crushing my soul before the darkness finally swooped over me, taking me to a blessed temporary escape.

I’ve experienced all types of pain in my one hundred and eighty-eight moons on Como. The pain that comes from a physical accident like a bruise, a cut, or scrape. Fleeting pain that heals with time. I’ve suffered more extreme pain, from another injuring me deliberately. Broken ribs and loss of blood, accompanied by the fear of dying.

I’ve known the hurt of unrequited feelings, and later, the agony of realizing my own people were against me and I against them. The feeling of isolation was a wound in itself.

But the most heartbreaking pain I’ve ever felt was the sensation of hurting the ones I love. The look on their faces, the betrayal in their eyes... pure agony stabbing through me like a blade, clutching at my stomach like iron hands. That hurt lingered on, seeping into my nightmares, and making me feel physically ill.

But still, I had not yet experienced the worst pain of all. The kind produced from being tortured physically and mentally until I could endure no more—until I truly wanted to die.

I woke slowly, like one does when they don’t want to wake up. For a brief moment, I forgot what my reason was, in that tiny fraction of time when one is not fully aware, and feels no threat or fear of anything.

Then the comprehension of my situation hit me, the harsh blow of reality worse than the dull heavy ache at the base of my skull.

The room was hot, like nothing I’d ever experienced. Sweat plastered my clothes to my clammy skin, and my matted hair to my scalp. It cloyed in my chest, and I realised the rasping sound filling the small cell was the air squeezing in panicky short breaths from my lungs.

The metal of the table felt hard under my spine while thick hard cuffs pinioned my wrists and ankles firmly to its surface. Slowly, my bleary gaze travelled around the cell. The room was made of a dark grey substance I couldn’t identify. It looked like rock, yet held the sheen of metal, or polished stone. The ceiling was of the same material, but I could faintly see the outline of large round lights, which were not currently in use. The air smelled stale, like it had been hanging around in this room for too long, and been used by too many prisoners before me.

Looking past my bare feet was a long window. Dark and yawning for now, I suspected it was hiding whoever was observing me from the other side.

Gingerly I flexed my fingers, and exhaled in relief as they uncurled at my command. My wrists were still cuffed to a short lead on each side of the bench upon which I lay. I raised my feet and found I was no longer strapped to the table by my ankles, as I had been when they shot the device into my brain.

Panic broke fresh sweat over my skin as I remembered there was something unknown inside me, and that it could definitely do something to me of which I wasn’t yet aware. Raising my head an inch, it felt as though I was trying to drag it up through wet sand.

As I moaned with the effort, the lights above me snapped to life. The light illuminated the three Abwarzians looking down on me, and fell across my body, exposing me to their cold gaze. I froze, willing them not see me if I remained absolutely still. But my heart beat so audibly against my chest it gave me away.

“There is water, beside you,” the Abwarzian in the middle said in perfect Comian.

I blinked in surprise. I hadn’t expected them to know my language. Maybe that was naïve considering my guardian, Shay, was proficient in several world languages, but it was still a shock.

He was tall for an Abwarzian, taller than the others, and broader, as though he had trained for a long time to build such a physique. His face formed from hard angles, and his night black hair was slicked back in a way that emphasised the harshness of his features. Black eyes glimmered as they observed me coldly, with no white of the eye like I possessed around my dilated purple irises.

A raging thirst lit like a fire in my throat, burning with urgency as I tilted my head-on instinct. A dull heavy sensation throbbed at the base of my skull again, and I winced as I tried to raise my head higher. A thin metal vial perched on the table beside me. Water. I was so thirsty I could smell it. I yearned to reach for it, but I remained immobile. It had to be a trick. Or poison.

“It’s only water.” The man sneered as if he had probed into my thoughts. “It will not taste quite up to your Comian standards of course, but it will keep you alive...for now.”

My eyes flicked back to his. I believed him on both counts yet I still didn’t dare to move. If I did it would feel like I was complying, or obeying. I planned to do neither.

“If you don’t drink, I will be forced to hydrate you by other means,” the man said bluntly. “Do not make this worse for yourself by inconveniencing me.”

I gulped, which was difficult given the scratchiness of my parched throat. There was something terrifying about the cultured yet undefinable control in his tone. The others, one female and another male, remained silent, observing me with keen dark eyes like I was a foreign specimen. Which I was. Perhaps they’d never seen a Comian before. Still, I didn’t know what they were waiting for me to do…or what they would do to me.

“Drink,” the man commanded, bringing my attention sharply back to the present.

Against my will, my desperation for water won out. The room tipped, waves of pain thudding against my brain as I slowly lifted myself up. I cried out as my vision swam, gripping the side of the table as I desperately sought gravity.

The cuffs on my wrists kept me from falling, pulling my arms slightly back as I regained my balance. My army uniform gone, I noticed I was wearing a pale grey smock, like a hospital garment that tied at the waist. My boots were gone too, and I felt uncomfortably underdressed and unarmed as my bare feet found the warm floor of the cell.

I remained still, staring at the ground while my heart clattered away in my chest. Once the floor stopped moving I raised my head to glare at the Abwarzians. The faces of the silent two were lit up with sadistic expectation, but the leader’s expression remained impassive, giving nothing away.

I glanced at the vial. Water brimmed to the top, beckoning every cell in my body with the promise of relief. Unable to resist, I stretched my right hand toward the vial. It stopped short, a hair’s space from the water, at the end of the lead. I strained my fingertips forward, my arm shaking with the effort, but I could not get closer. Just within my reach, yet entirely beyond my grasp.

In consternation, I switched my gaze back to the Abwarzians’ leader.

“Go on.” A cold smile twisted his mouth upwards. “Take the water.”

The volume startled me, reverberating around the small bare room. I didn’t know if it was fear shaking my limbs, or anger.

The man’s lips pressed into a hard line while his eyes flashed in warning.

“Then you will learn to obey.”

The threat in his tone was undeniable as he turned to the female Abwarzian, giving a curt nod of his head.

Smiling in response she turned back to look at me, her expression morphed to one of such eager anticipation it froze the blood in my veins.

Moving her hand over something unseen in front of her there was only a heart beats delay before I arced back on the bed, my head filling with agony so consuming I felt I’d explode. Clutching the base of my skull in terror my fingers scrabbled at my flesh, trying to discover the source of the agony. Yet I couldn’t seem to relieve the sensation as it burned hotter through my brain. Losing all sense of myself I fought wildly against my restraints, but the blinding pain stabbed my brain with such intensity it knocked me back onto the table.

My desperate screams bounced off the walls of the cell as the pain burned hotter than fire, until I could bear no more. My body collapsed onto the table in defeat, shuddering involuntarily as my cries exhausted to a small pitiful wail. Just as quick as it had come on, the pain stopped.

In that moment, I felt such hatred toward them, any compassion I’d ever felt for their race died a quick and violent death.

My body exhausted of any strength left; it was all I could do to raise my eyes and glare at them.

The leader gazed back, his features twisting smugly. He’d won this round.

“Do you feel like a drink now?” he suggested as though I were a guest being offered refreshment, and not a prisoner he’d just tortured.

Traitorous tears ran warmly down my cheeks as my courage slunk off the table and slithered away into a shadowy corner of the room. The stupidity of the situation I’d put myself in hit me so hard it was a good thing I was lying down.

“Drink.” The leader’s eyes glinted with promise of more torture to come if I disobeyed again.

I didn’t bother to sit up, I didn’t have the energy to do that as well as muster my powers. Afraid they’d fried my brain and destroyed my abilities, I gasped with the effort of concentrating through my distress. But slowly, shakily, the vial lifted off the table at my will.

The side kick Abwarzians gasped, the first time they’d made a noise. Their eyes shone with excitement as they looked at me in a new way. Like I was the answer to a problem they hadn’t been able to solve. Until now.

I refused to look at the leader as the vial wobbled uncertainly toward my mouth. Without even smelling it for poison, I tipped it against my mouth and drank greedily. Not sweet like Comian water, it tasted bitter, and slightly off somehow, not quite quenching my thirst.

“Unsatisfying, isn’t it,” the leader commented as I pulled a face. “A travesty your world has forced us to endure for decades of course.” The resentment in his voice was palpable, and I raised my head just enough to give him a filthy look.

“Where’s Shay,” I rasped, wishing there was more water. My throat still burned.

“She is alive and, well...not so well.” The man smirked as he watched me carefully.

My anger reviving me, I struggled to sit up. Leaning toward the spectators as far as my tethering would allow, I wondered how I must appear to them. My hair fell in thick sticky tangles around my face, and my skin was damp with my sweat. My aubergine-colored eyes brimmed with rage, and I probably looked as primitive as they believed we were.

“Take me to her and I’ll show you what you want to see,” I offered as I looked the leader in the eye.

“Trying to negotiate with us again, Comian?” His sharp teeth reappeared in a sickening grin. “Have you forgotten already what happens when you try to negotiate with us? Shall I remind you once more?”

Biting my lip hard to contain my hysteria, I tasted blood as my teeth pierced through the skin.

“If you want your guardian to live, you will do exactly as I tell you.”

I noticed he didn’t say ‘If you want to live.’ Although it was the price I’d been willing to pay when I allowed the soldiers to take me, his words still had a physical effect. Fear stung my heart as every muscle in my body tensed in dread.

“Silence!” he barked. “You may rest, for now.”

One only needed rest in order to regain strength. I shivered, the implications of his words clear in this ice-cold tone.

The light switched off, plunging me back into darkness. I held my breath. Were they still watching? Waiting to see if I’d try and escape? Silence filled my ears but I sensed they were still there, watching me from behind the safety of the glass.

The door to my cell slid open, my heart lurching at the sound. Through the gloom, I peered at a small sallow old man, his expression wary as he entered. Right behind him was the young female officer who’d triggered the pain in my head. I fought the urge to shrink back, as they moved toward me, the urge to flee redundant while I was still chained to the bench.

The old man’s eyes were watery with age, and fatigue was etched all over his papery skin. Yet his expression as his gaze met mine was inquisitive.

There was no fear in the woman’s expression. Her eyes were bright, but not with health. They burned with such viciousness my stomach cramped in trepidation. I knew she was enjoying my fear as I squirmed under her callous gaze.

Roughly taking hold of my ankles she re-anchored them to the bench. I was too scared to even struggle as she pulled the restraints tight against my flesh.

The ceiling opened and I stared in horror as a machine of some sort dropped down, just above the level of the bench. Despite my exhaustion, fear rolled over me in fresh waves as the woman seized my arm and placed it inside a long tube in the middle of the device.

I felt a prick as something sharp inserted into my arm, followed by the cool sensation of liquid trickling into my veins. My heart thrummed in time to the machine, panic threatening to overtake me. But my arm held fast in the device, pinching the needle into my skin as I tried to pull my arm free.

The old man glanced nervously toward the window before he bent over me. “Only wa...ter...keep...alive,” he muttered in soft, stumbling Comian.

My eyes met his with surprise. Did they all speak our language? His expression was almost apologetic as the woman turned on him with a face of fury. Her words were clipped and brittle as she gave him an angry push toward the door, and he staggered back, his own expression suddenly fearful.

When she turned back to me I saw in an instant she wasn’t seeing me as another human, but as a threat that needed to be extinguished. Her narrowed eyes pierced mine with hatred, and although she only looked a few years older than me, she clearly believed the propaganda the Abwarzians were fed about our people.

Abruptly she turned and marched out of the room, the door closing firmly behind her.

I was alone again, the moan of the machine slightly overpowering the sound of my rapid breathing.

What had the young woman been taught to make her delight in my fear and pain? Knowing what they’d done to our people had made me want to go to war, but if I were in her position, with a prisoner at my mercy, would I be as capable of such hatred, or of physically hurting someone?

Of course you could, Twell. Remember Raze? A nasty little voice piped up in the back of my mind.

‘That’s different!” I protested. “I was protecting myself, not torturing anyone!”

And yet you took a life to save your own.

Self-defence! I argued weakly to myself.

Violence to end violence…

Even my conscience had turned on me in this room, and I’d never felt more alone. No one knew where I was. My craft had been brought here with me, and there was no reason for the Governing Body to assume I was still alive. Abwazians were not known to take prisoners.

What have I done?

My last moments before leaving Como flooded my memory with sickening clarity, playing over and over in my mind in a revolving montage of horror. Maza trying to bury me and my ideas alive, my friends coming to my rescue…kissing Avin. My heart squeezed accusingly inside of my ribs. I’d kissed him, and then I’d run. Or flown, to be literal. Flown as far away as I could possibly go in the universe. I’d hurt him, there was no doubt. But it was not his pain I had run from…it was from Jonaz’s.

An image of Jonaz pressed upon my mind in a sudden assault. I yearned for the safety of his arms. I longed for the comfort of his touch. I knew he’d never want to touch me again after the way I’d left him. I thought about how he’d react when they told him I was dead. I wondered if he’d still care as much as he would have before I’d betrayed him.

The thought of his pain shattered the last of my courage into fragments, and a small lone sob escaped me. I wanted to wrap my arms around myself, curl into a ball and hide away from this nightmare. But the restraints kept me exposed and vulnerable, and there was nowhere to hide.

Too afraid to use my power in case they were watching, I remained trapped in every way. The excess of adrenaline had sapped every ounce of energy left in my body, and feeling utterly helpless and alone, I saw no way to save myself.

The cell was dark, but my soul was darker. And it consumed me.