The interrogation was not going well. Not at all.
At this point, we’d captured close to a hundred of the Lighters alive. That was more than enough for my minions to be trying a broad range of interrogation techniques, everything from the soft sell to the very hard one.
I hadn’t asked for details on what they were doing. I didn’t want to know. I’d never had any taste for torture, and some of what was being done was torture. I knew that, and I didn’t want to know any more.
It wasn’t an attempt to salve my conscience, or pretend that what was going on wasn’t wrong. It very much was, and I damn well knew it. It was my responsibility, regardless of whether I did it myself or even knew it was being done. I’d given the order, knowing what it meant. I’d made the call to do this. I was well aware that what was happening was on my head. I was even conscious of the hypocrisy inherent in not wanting to know what was being done on my orders.
But still. I didn’t like this. I didn’t want to do it, to be a part of it. And knowing all the grisly details wouldn’t help anything at all.
In the end, it really didn’t matter. None of the approaches had worked, at least not on a meaningful level. A surprisingly large number of the Lighters weren’t yielding to inquiry, either Selene’s soft touch or the more brutal methods employed by the genuine psychopaths in my employ. Of those who did talk, most were either making things up to try and make it stop, or else simply didn’t know much.
In the end, after several days, there wasn’t a single usable scrap of information to be had. Nothing.
Which meant that unless I wanted to start from scratch entirely, it was pretty much down to getting answers out of the mages we’d taken in. Which was not a place that I was happy about being in. Particularly given that at least one of them had played an active role in basically killing me. That was not, as a general rule, an indication that someone wanted to help you out.
But it was the only lead I had, and that meant I couldn’t just ignore it.
It had been almost a day since I fought them. I kind of had to wait. As much as I hated to think of it this way, these people were important. They had connections, they knew people who mattered politically. With how skilled they were, I’d be very surprised if they didn’t have some degree of connection to the Conclave. In short, they were people who could potentially cause a lot of long-term problems for me if they wanted to. And that meant that I couldn’t do things like let the proper treatment of prisoners of war slip.
That was a horrible line of thought, that led to me torturing naive kids that didn’t even realize who they were working for and treating the masterminds of the plan like honored guests. I hated that, hated the way it perpetuated the same broken systems I’d been resenting my whole life, hated the way it enforced a set of attitudes that was fundamentally wrong.
But at the same time, I hadn’t forgotten the stakes involved here. Somehow, these people were related to the amateur mage who’d summoned something out of the void. From what Loki had said, that meant the potential area of destruction was, at a minimum, the size of a continent. That kind of scale made it…hard to justify not doing whatever was necessary to prevent it.
It’s easy to argue against morality by the numbers, against the greatest good for the greatest number, when the numbers in question are small. It’s easy to say that killing one person to save two, or five, or ten, is wrong, that the ends never justify the means.
But if this went really, really wrong, the potential death toll was in the billions. That was…impossible for me to conceptualize. It was just too huge, too far outside the realm of anything I could hope to experience.
And next to that, it was hard to argue against anything that might help. However abhorrent I might find it, however unlikely it was to work, it didn’t matter.
No matter how dirty it left me feeling.
Around a day later, I walked up to the door of the cell and nodded to the guard. He nodded back, crisp and professional. When it comes to mercenaries, there are very definitely times when you get what you pay for.
Aside from my personal feelings on the whole situation, capturing someone like Reese had a lot of very immediate, practical difficulty associated with it. Keeping someone imprisoned when they had fundamental control over space was hard. It might even be impossible.
In the end, I’d settled on the same general approach as I’d used to capture him in the first place. I’d exploited his mental vulnerabilities rather than physical ones.
There were three cameras in his (very comfortable) cell, which were being watched at all times. If he left, or the cameras stopped working, the person watching the feeds would notify three other groups of my minions, which were scattered across the city. They would promptly start filling his associates with bullets. And he knew it.
I was trying not to make an enemy of him, though, at least to the extent which that was possible. So I’d made sure that he also knew that his associates were, in the meantime, being treated pretty well. They had the best medical care money could buy–even the girl who’d lost two limbs was going to live, since Aiko had stuck around long enough to get her to the surgeons before heading back to Faerie to deal with another issue. They had good food, pleasant accommodations, entertainment.
It was still living in a cage. It was still a pretty appalling thing to do. But it was better than it could have been, certainly better treatment than was strictly required.
Once all of that was set up, once I’d had a chance to rest and deal with the routine management issues that had been slipping over the past few days, it was time to go and have a chat with my captive.
The cell, once I was inside, looked fairly benign. It looked like a moderately expensive hotel room, anonymous and fairly nice. In a sense, that was exactly what it was; I’d started out with the assumption that I couldn’t keep him here if he really wanted to leave, and I hadn’t bothered to try. The only hint of security, the only suggestion that not all was as pleasant as it seemed, was the blinking lights of the cameras.
Reese was sitting on the edge of the bed when I walked in, reading a car magazine. I found that more than slightly amusing, given that he could literally bend the fabric of space to his will. The notion that he needed to look at cars was hilarious; he could travel far more quickly and efficiently by just wanting to. Though I supposed that magic and personality had a very strong connection between them, and it was entirely possible that his ability with space was because he had a fascination with speed and travel.
“You made it,” he said as I walked in, tossing the magazine carelessly aside. It landed half-open on the bed, pages instantly crumpling. “I was starting to wonder whether you were just going to leave me here.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” I said. “When I want someone dead, I don’t get all passive-aggressive. I just kill them.”
“Getting right to the point,” he said. “So why didn’t you kill us? We both know you could have, there at the end.”
“I don’t particularly want you dead,” I said, leaning against the wall. “I don’t have anything against you. Hell, I think I might like you, given the chance. No, I just want you to tell me where I can find Jason.”
“And you couldn’t find a better way to ask than this?”
I sighed. “Reese. Come on. He basically killed me. He slit my throat and watched me bleed on his shoes. I think he probably knows that I’m not looking to deliver him some cookies and a fruit basket, you know?”
“So you admit you want to kill him,” he said, in a vaguely accusatory tone.
I shrugged. “It’s not off the table,” I admitted. “It’s certainly something I’ve considered. But honestly, that’s fairly secondary. I mostly just want some answers.”
“To what questions?”
“Mostly? Why he’s teaching total chumps how to call up an abomination from the void”
Reese reaction was interesting. He froze, and his face turned some interesting colors. “You’re mad,” he said at last, in a rather strangled tone. “That’s…you…how? How could you think he would do that?”
“Well,” I drawled, “let me put it this way. The group you were meeting with, these Light of Reason people? They’re well-equipped, and extremely well-informed. Too much so to just be a bunch of lunatics with a common cause. That kind of organization doesn’t just happen. Someone has to be supporting them, and the best guess I have for who is your boss. Now, the first time I ran into these guys, they had a mage with them. This guy was a dweeb, had no idea what he was doing. But somehow, he knew how to summon something from the void.”
“That’s impossible,” he said.
I shrugged. “That’s what I thought, too,” I said. “But it happened. And when I try to come up with someone that could have shown him that trick, the only person coming to mind is the same one backing the organization he was working for.”
“If this had happened,” Reese said, “you would be dead.” There was not a hint of uncertainty in his voice.
I snorted. “Who says I’m not?” I asked dryly. “You were kinda there when I died. Remember?”
“I wish I could forget.” His voice was markedly sour.
“Yeah, well. More seriously, I had a lot of help, and I still took some hits putting that thing down. More importantly, though, I have an idea of what happens if one of those abominations gets loose. I have an idea of what the response would be.”
Reese shuddered. His expression said more about how he felt at the thought than words ever could.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “That’s about my reaction. You see why I want to talk to Jason now? I don’t know for sure whether he’s where the problem started, but he’s the best guess I have. And this kind of thing…there’s no room to take chances with it. Not with the stakes this high.”
“It’s odd,” the mage said after a moment. “I get the idea that you’re telling the truth. And I find myself very much hoping that I’ve just been suckered. The alternative is much worse for the world.”
“Believe me, I’d love to be lying right now,” I said. “For one of these situations to just be a bluff on my part would be wonderful. But this time it isn’t.”
There was a long moment of silence after that.
“All right,” he said at last. “I still don’t believe you…but you’re right. This isn’t something you can take chances with. Ever.”
“You’ll tell me where to go, then?”
“Two conditions,” he said. “One, I’m there for this meeting. I want to hear Jason explain this himself. Two, we’re alone.”
“I bring Snowflake and Aiko,” I said instantly.
“You want to bring the Lady of the Midnight Court,” he said incredulously.
“She’s my wife,” I said. “And I guess my boss, these days. And we’ve been working together for a long time. If you’ve got a problem with her coming, I’m a little dubious about your motives in luring me out for a meeting alone with, oh yeah, the guy who killed me.”
“I…suppose that isn’t entirely unreasonable,” he said after a moment, with obvious and extreme reluctance.
“Cool!” I said brightly. “So when do you want to go?”
“Immediately,” he said. “This isn’t something I’m willing to wait for.”
“All right, then. Follow me. I’ve got some things to pick up before we go.”
The guard nodded to me again on the way out.