I was brought nothing to eat but I don’t feel hungry – they must have this place magicked up the wazoo. The question is does said magic actually nourish you or just suppress your hunger? If you stay here long enough do you die of starvation without ever feeling it? It’s a smart move, if you never interact with the guards you don’t have a chance to pull any kind of shenanigans on them. With them? On them. After my alleged lawyer departed – or at least stopped speaking, he was probably still watching me on the crystal ball or whatever hoping I would get nude – I was left with nothing to do but wait. I leafed through the religious materials briefly – mostly the usual Adariel platitudes about forgiveness and salvation but there was also a small book that seemed to be subtle literature for a death cult of some kind. I wonder how that got in here. I’ve always wondered why they take such pains to try and prevent criminals from killing themselves, seems like it would save everyone a lot of trouble. If you ask me a firmly secured noose should be installed in every cell. I guess they don’t want to rob the people of the pageantry of a spectacular public execution. The poor people need something to cheer them up.
As has become my tradition when incarcerated I took stock of things. On the surface it doesn’t seem like I’ve made much progress, but getting out from under the thumb of the Juosts is significant – that was really holding me back. And I was planning on going to Three Rivers anyway so no big deal right? I would have liked to arrive less conspicuously, that would make overthrowing the cartel that controls the place easier, but we all have to make due right? I need to get back in the habit to disguising myself more, I’ve been walking around as myself too much lately. Keeping track of a bunch of different identities is annoying, but if overthrowing oppressive trade unions and brutally murdering Dukes was easy everyone would do it. There’s only so much stock taking you can stock take though and eventually I went to sleep with a wadded up prison dress for a pillow and another for a blanket. The magical lighting dimmed, which was nice, I wonder if that syncs up with the sunset or if it’s just on a time trigger of some sort. I wonder how much gold went into building this prison and how many people could have been saved with that money. Probably a lot.
I slept like the dead and in the morning the wall opened back up for a succession of expert armed people and magic types to transport me from the cell to a fortified courtyard outside were a coach was waiting – these people really aren’t messing around. You’re not going to escape from here without a goodly amount of effort. I recognized the coach instantly – it wasn’t the exact same one but it was clearly of similar make, looks like my old friends at Lodestone Security are going to be conveying me to my show trial. There was a whole lot of paperwork and general standing around where nothing seemed to be happening for the transfer of one solitary woman so it gave me a chance to reacquaint myself with the tricky fellows from Lodestone. There were five men standing around not in guard uniforms so I took them for the Lodestone crew – I didn’t recognize any of them but I only got a good look at two of them in our first encounter. The two that kicked dirt in my face and called me a whore. I chose a strapping blonde fellow with a tiny triangle of a beard who I think was the driver.
“Lodestone Security eh?”
He nodded shortly “Yes ma’am, how did you know?”
“I had some dealings with your outfit in Charterton, I recognize the modifications to your rig here.”
“You have a very good eye ma’am, we pride ourselves on being able to pass.”
“I assure you that it’s only because I know what to look for based on prior experience. Everything went swimmingly with you chaps before, it’s quite an operation you run. I’m glad to have you lads on my side.”
He raised an eyebrow marginally “Is that so?”
I smiled warmly “Oh yes.” I leaned in a whispered slightly “I’m not actually a prisoner, this is all a ruse you see. I’m actually helping negotiate with the Consortium, I’m an envoy you see. My employers figured this would be the safest way of getting me around – what with those Black Widow people causing mischief.”
He smiled faintly “Seems to be that if you were on a secret mission like that you wouldn’t mention it.”
I laughed prettily “Just so my boy, just so, however knowing Lodestone the way I do I know that I can trust you with my little secret.” I touched his hand and dropped him a sassy wink “You know how to keep a secret right?”
His smile got imperceptible wider, it wasn’t much but it’s a start – establishing rapport isn’t always as easy as I make it seem you know. While we were waiting for whatever we were waiting for I was able to establish that Lodestone is based out of Cathars and have four such elaborate carriages in their “fleet” with two more under construction. They’ve got a rota of close to a hundred “transportation specialists” working on various jobs at any given time. Sounds like business is booming for them. Also sounds like a much bigger operation that I had thought – taking them down is going to be more involved than blowing up a single coach and murdering a couple people. But as some war criminal said, our enemies make us who we are more than anyone else in our lives. I suppose that’s why I’m so great – I have the most deadly enemies.
Eventually it was time to go after a lot of grandiloquent talk between the guards and the Lodestone people with “thees” and “thous” making it clear that the legal bailment had been created or discharged or whatever. One of the other Lodestoners came towards me with shackles and I gave the maybe driver my most harmless and frightened look, with just a hint of “hey sailor” and asked if that was absolutely necessary. He was unmoved.
“Sorry ma’am, its policy.”
He didn’t seem sorry in the least. What a cad. When they put the shackles on me I quickly discovered that it was worse than I thought. The moment they turned the key on the central lock I felt a cold alien presence in my mind. It was like a tiny little worm crawling up my back just out of reach, a worm of ice and anxiety. I don’t mean to brag, but after the many mental assaults I’ve weathered over the past year and a half I’ve gotten pretty damn good at fighting them off. There’s a trick to it but it’s hard to explain – it’s one of those things you have to learn for yourself. You can tell someone how to swim – but it doesn’t mean much until they get in the water. Kick your legs and move your arms? That’s how you swim, that’s also how you flail around when you drown. There’s no substitute for experience. But despite that whatever these shackles were doing was something that you couldn’t fight off. The force was weak, or at least it seemed so at first, but it was constant – kind of like being pressed, the pressure never lets up.
I would equate it to a trial amongst certain Kostelos tribes. Being the primitive savages that they are, sometimes to settle a dispute where they have a “trial” where the differing parties each hold out a basket full of rocks at arm’s length. It only weighs ten pounds or so, but you can’t hold it forever even if it seems easy at first. You have a limited amount of strength, gravity does not. The magic of the shackles was like that – at first it was easy to shunt it to the side with sheer willpower. But as the minutes and then hours went by its like holding up that basket – your arms start to shake. You get worn down, the attack stays the same as you get weaker. Then you start resorting to tricks – talking to yourself, breathing techniques, summoning up strong memories to help you focus – but eventually that runs out as well. Your defiant thoughts grow silent and the tendrils of the enchantment start creeping in.
At first there was confusion, my vision seemed to swim, and then everything “clicked” into place. I didn’t want to escape. Why would I? Escape would be improper. I wanted to do whatever my captors told me to do, they knew what was right and safe for me. And there was fear, fear that not doing what they told me was wrong. Fear that thoughts of escape were unnatural. You can say what you want about the things I’ve done (and will continue to do) that you think evil, but this to me is what evil really is. In my book there’s no greater violation than bending someone’s thoughts to your will. And you might be thinking “but you hang out with someone who does it” and I say to you – well it’s different when it happens to someone else. They deserve it. Probably. Because they’re bad people. Most likely.
In this compliant mind-destroying haze I was loaded into the coach and happily went along my way to my doom in Three Rivers. You’d think the bastards that made this would at least make the effect be pleasant, like being high on qat or some similar substance letting the day just drift by in an agreeable fog, but it was nothing like that. It was more like an out of body experience – you see yourself sitting there smiling and doing nothing while “you” are screaming for yourself to move. Honestly it’s one of the cruelest things that’s been done to me. I’m going to find whoever made these things and I am going to do something to them. Something bad. Real bad.
But wait, because the day managed to get even worse! If there’s one thing I know it’s that things can always get worse. At some point the door to the carriage opened and one of the Lodestoners poked their head in to tell me to go to sleep. And I did so, sighing contentedly to be following orders. It seemed like I had barely gotten to sleep when the dream attack began. I was laying naked on a stone slab surrounded by grey-skinned women that had a second gaping tooth maw on their throat. It looked they were walking around with slit throats until those horrible mouths opened. One hand looked normal and the second hand appeared to be a legless spider – with two large vicious curved fangs functioning as “fingers”. Their upper human mouths didn’t move but a bizarre chirping and clicking emitted from their lower slash-mouth filled with shark-like teeth. For a moment they just stood looming over my but soon enough they started using their spider-hands to pinch and stab at my most sensitive areas.
I don’t know how this dream shit all works or what it means – I’ve told you before that when these attacks happen that it feels real. I don’t know if it is real somehow or if your mind experiences it as if it’s real but nothing can actually happen to you or what, but the pain I felt that night was very convincing. I screamed and thrashed and kicked at the vile women but they clamped down on me with merciless strength and held me still on the hard stone. I heard a commanding voice tell them to stop.
“That’s enough for the moment ladies.”
I craned my neck and was able to see my visitor – the imperious looking woman with the ivory skin and the bright silver eyes. For once she wasn’t reclining and smoking and luxuriating, she looked angry. And I could feel her anger like a low note in the pit of my stomach. Somehow beholding her angry look was worse than the vile creatures attacking me at her command.
She pursed her perfect lips “You’ve been hiding from me, that doesn’t make me happy. I wanted us to be friends.”
“I wasn’t hiding from you Your Imperial Majesty, there’s a creature that haunts my dreams and wishes me ill – she’s the one that I was hiding from.”
“I’m aware of that creature, I told you that her power was nothing compared to mine – I could crush her with a thought. Why didn’t you ask for my help? Why did you hide?”
“I was confused, dreams are bewildering to me, I have a hard time understanding what’s real and what isn’t. My mind isn’t strong like yours. But I understand now, I want us to be friends. I want your help.”
“Yes well, given the circumstances that doesn’t mean much now does it? You’re like a thief that is repentant after they get caught. You’re lucky that I am merciful and we can still be friends.”
“Yes very lucky Your Imperial Majesty. Could you see it in your heart to have your servants release me so we can talk?”
She continue as if she hadn’t heard me “You must be punished however for hiding from me, for refusing me, it’s only fair – if the thief’s hand is not cut off what is their motivation to learn? What would make you remember this lesson best? Taking your youth? Your beauty? Your voice?”
“If I may be so bold Your Imperial Majesty, rather than just punish me why not also reward yourself? As I understand it you’ve long been denied the pleasures of the flesh, why not take my body for your own? To feel the air on your skin, to taste real food, to live again – that must be something that you would enjoy. In the meantime you can leave me here in whatever format you choose to reflect upon my failures and how I can better serve you going forward.”
“An interesting proposition. You were vehemently opposed to this transference before, one must wonder what has changed.”
“I’ve realized the errors of my way Mistress, I wish only to serve you now, if inhibiting my imperfect vessel for a few hours will please you that is what you should have.”
“So it shall be.”
Inventory: Whiterock family signet ring (Ring of Binding)
Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane,
Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “ Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis, Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee, Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company, maker of the manacles