Stronger Than Death

“Tell me!” Garrick leaned in, his face red, his teeth clenched. This close, Leylan saw the small shaving cut on Garrick’s chin.

Leylan would have smiled at the thought of Garrick making a mistake, but that would have reopened the wounds in his own face. He’d tasted too much blood already.

“No,” he said through unmoving lips. Tight bruising had closed his left eye, and the vision from his right was blurred and watery, but he met Garrick’s gaze as best he could.

The man shook with rage. He turned and bellowed, “Hurt him!”

One of Garrick’s thugs stepped forward, fist slamming into open palm. The manic grin on the thug’s face was brutish, the scar across his lips turning it monstrous.

Leylan tensed himself. Tight cords bit into his wrists and ankles, and the wooden chair splintered into his naked body. The thug walked round Leylan, disappearing from view. He felt pressure on the little finger of his left hand, a pincer grip. Then red-hot pain shot through his arm.

He screamed, wounds opening on his cheeks, tasted copper once again.

Garrick’s cologne was cloying, almost effeminate. “Tell me what I want to hear,” he said.
Leylan spat, a trickle of blood running down his chin. He shook his head, even though the room span and white-hot light burnt in his mind.

Garrick signalled to the thug. Leylan tensed again, and this time he forced his lips closed, kept the scream inside as another finger was snapped like a twig.

But it was only pain. It was nothing. Everything hurt, and so nothing hurt.

“You think you can hold out forever?” Garrick stepped back, regained his composure.

Seeing the man almost lose it had been a small victory, and Leylan relished it. Moments like that would help, until this nightmare ended.

“You think you can do anything to make me talk?” he said, his voice cracking. The words sounded stronger in his head.

“No,” Garrick said, in a quiet voice that dripped confidence. “I don’t think I can make you talk. I know it.”

“I’ll die before I tell you.”

Of course, in any way that mattered he was already dead. When they took her life, they took his too. This pain was only fleeting existence.

He felt Garrick’s eyes travel his body. Leylan knew his face was swollen, there was a deep rend down his right arm where the blood was already black, his chest was bruised, shards of white peered through the gory mess that was his shattered knee, and his feet were crushed and mutilated.

“You’re in pain?”

Leylan didn’t answer. He pulled in a breath, his ribs rubbing harshly, his lungs wheezing.

Garrick shook his head, barked an ugly laugh. “This isn’t pain. This is‌…‌just an appetiser. I see unmarked flesh, and bones in their correct alignment. I see a spark of sanity left in your eyes. I see how you contract your muscles still. So there is a great deal more work to be done to your body.”

“It’s only a body.”

The man nodded, slowly. He raised a hand, flattened his hair back. “Of course it is. A body, just like that of the woman. What was her name? Leath‌—‌yes, Leath.”

Leylan couldn’t stop the surge of memories, so he welcomed them, witnessed again the blessed moment when she’d passed, when Garrick’s men no longer violated the real Leath but merely used her empty carcass.

Garrick leered. “Ah‌—‌reaction! But maybe you’re still holding back. Maybe we need to mention others‌…‌like the girl.”

Leylan’s heart twisted in his chest. He clenched his eyes tight against this monster’s intrusion.

“What was the name your woman cried out, when my men had their pleasure? Kheela, that’s it. Sweet name.”

Garrick laughed. The sound cut through Leylan, sharper than any blade, deeper than any needle. It twisted his muscles, snapped his bones, inflamed his mind.

“You want to die,” the man said. “You want your physical pain to end. You want oblivion. But you can’t expect me to give you what you want. No, I’ll keep your memories alive, force you to relive your woman’s final moments every waking moment. And as for Keelah‌—‌so much potential, don’t you think?”

“What have you done to her?” Leylan spat between clenched teeth.

Garrick waved a finger. “Tell me what I want to hear, and I might let you know. I suggest you think about your position here.” And then he signalled to the thug, and they both walked away, into the shadows. A door slammed, leaving Leylan alone with his memories.

He knew how Garrick operated, how each prisoner was tortured, forced to divulge more names, more enemies for Garrick to capture and torture in turn. The cycle would continue, because a monster like Garrick thrived on enemies.

But he’d learn nothing from Leylan.

Let Garrick believe he could use Kheela’s name as a weapon. It was all a bluff‌—‌there was no way the man had the girl, or would ever lay a finger on her.

Kheela. The contours of her name were a balm to his mind, and the memories soothed his wracked body. Wonderful Kheela, perfect in eternity.

Someone like Garrick would never understand, of course. Leylan had done what needed doing, had performed the damnable deed, the only way to save the girl. From that moment, nothing else mattered, and Leylan welcomed the inevitable.

Leath understood. When she’d cried out Kheela’s name, it was an incantation to ward off the pain. It gave her the strength to endure those final moments.

The same was true for Leylan. The memory of Kheela was his impenetrable shield against anything Garrick could throw at him. And when that monster grew tired of these games, when he allowed his thugs to complete their work, Leylan would be with his family once more.

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