Into the Devil's Eye
Posts : 33
Join date : 2019-07-05
Location : Vienna
|Subject: Re: Into the Devil's Eye Fri Jul 05 2019, 20:30|| |
“Lelith Hesperax is the greatest treasure of the Dark City, and one does not display one's finest emerald amid squalor."
— Asdrubael Vect, on why he gave the greatest arena in Commorragh to the Wych Cult of Strife
LELITH HESPERAX STOOD at the windows of her personal sanctum, on the pinnacle of the arena and overlooked her realm of absolute power, the Crucibael. No one but her was allowed in here, not even Asdrubael, which was only possible because she had kept this place hidden from him. Doing that had involved a not inconsiderable amount of her time, but it had been necessary.
There were two sanctums.
What she officially named her sanctum, were her quarters. Everyone knew about them and only Asdrubael had seen the insides of them many times. She had set a lot of false legends about her quarters into the world herself, calling them her sanctum, making people speculate what wonders or horrors they might hold and whether it was the place where she got her unique skills and powers from. And Asdrubael was none the wiser, since he knew the inside of her quarters anyways and so he did not ask any questions about whether this was her true sanctum or not.
So, her true sanctum was a simple room on top of the Crucibael, which she had installed in secret and only a hidden stairway led to it. Hiding things from Asdrubael was dangerous, but there were times when she needed to be away from it all, even from him. What he thought was her sanctum, were her quarters and this, this very, sacred spot she now was in, was actually what she truly called her sanctum. This was her spot of absolute privacy, her chamber of retreat, if she needed time for herself, to think or simply some peace and quiet. She loved looking down on her place of power and reminisce on how she had risen above everyone else that held her profession. It pleased her greatly.
However, as age and experience had told her, pride will have a fall, therefore, she kept herself from falling to utter hubris. She had seen it so often – young, wild talents rising, only to get old and complacent and getting sniped by someone younger and hungrier. It always happened. But not to her.
Having her own advantage and secrets had its merits.
Nevertheless, the smile vanished from her face quite quickly again, for the message she held in her hands gave her reason to think; in fact, so much that she felt the need to retreat up here.
Of course, the message was from Asdrubael, the only one who could send her messages that made her wreck her head over them, though she knew that most of the time it involved schemes she would never get behind. Also, marching to the tyrant and demanding answers would not do at all.
It was not that she had not noticed, but she had tried to ignore it for a very long time, telling herself that she was getting paranoid around him. He did that to people he was around often and who used their brain.
Asdrubael had changed. Greatly so.
At first, she had been unsure whether she imagined it, but the more often she saw him and the longer the intervals grew he visited her, the more she saw it. Something dire and dark was going on with him, far direr and darker than anything before.
This eerie glow in his eyes.
The amount of rejuvenation he needed.
That strength he robbed from her each time he had her.
Now, these were things that could happen with a Dark Eldar of Asdrubael’s age – Lelith had seen enough ancient Dark Eldar to be able to tell that – but, still, things were different with him. Felt different. Felt… wrong.
All this could only mean one thing: the Overlord was planning something grand. Exorbitantly grand. Grander than anything he had done before.
And Lelith… feared… what it could mean. For her. For Commorragh. For everyone.
Of course, her own hide was her first and foremost concern. The rest of Commorragh could go to hell, for all she cared. But if he planned on dragging her down with him with whatever he was cooking up now, then she would fight him this time.
As much as he thought that she was his obedient asset, she did not belong to the masses of bootlickers he was used to. She found it hard to believe that he indeed had gotten so arrogant to feel safe and to completely trust her, no, that would not have been Asdrubael at all, but maybe it came from the fact that she had been so much more than his ally for so long that he felt a little more careless with her.
Lelith’s eyes flew over the message once again.
Yes, the girl surely had something to do with this grand scheme of his.
It made all so little sense, it hurt her head.
First, he had come to her in person to tell her to treat the girl extra harshly, now this message demanded to give her a longer break before the Carnival, so she was at the peak of her strength, after giving her hell. That seemed terribly inconsequent and the break before the main event was already calculated to be long enough for regeneration. What did he want to achieve with that? And, if the child apparently was part of his plan, why did he risk getting her killed in the Carnival? Why push her extremely hard first, only to pamper her later on?
What also made no sense to her was the remark he demanded her to say to the girl before she left her to her break. That she had not seen him for quite a while and that he was currently busy training his new, disappointing plaything. If the girl was acquainted with Asdrubael’s new pet, it would unsettle her and again Lelith asked herself what purpose all this could serve. Because that his choice of slave for this Carnival was random, was highly unlikely. He had shown to care little about the Carnival in the past, but not this time. He certainly wanted that slave back, which made it even more curious why he had sent her here in the first place.
Lelith snarled, angry at him for not including her in his thoughts, like he had used to in the past and angry at herself, for allowing him to play her for so long. She would have loved to march to the top of Corespur and tell him to shove his plans and plots to where the sun never shone, but, of course, she knew how unwise that would have been. It was useless. He would not tell her anything and she would obey this order, as usual.
Maybe it was time for her to get her own investigation going and if what she found did not entice her, there were a lot of options to consider. The Overlord had all the enemies in this city and only very few allies. Sometimes, all it needed was a little push over the edge.
After all, she was the Queen of Commorragh. Maybe it was time to make use of said title.
To what end, time would show.
"Phantasy is more imporant than knowledge." - Albert Einstein
Posts : 33
Join date : 2019-07-05
Location : Vienna
|Subject: Re: Into the Devil's Eye Fri Jul 05 2019, 20:32|| |
A Favour and a Strife of Skill
"I could take out your eyes whilst you still see out of them, I could add a one-way valve to your lungs so that you breathe yourself to death, exploding from the inside out, I could make you feel as though you are giving birth with every beat of your heart, I could trap you inside your own body and make you my beautiful puppet, if I wanted to…
So I ask you: why would I kill you, child?"
— Haemonculus Salthazar when asked by a captive if he was going to kill her
“MOST FASCINATING." Vlokarion kept from rolling his eyes. Urien had said that sentence for at least ten times by now, since he had read the list of secret enhancements the Overlord had demanded for the child, and had started rummaging in his notes and samples, to gather all that was needed to integrate said enhancements.
To tear his mind away from the greatly annoying Master Haemonculus, he thought back to the session in which he had given her the first row of enhancements – those she had asked for, and some more. Her request had been reasonable, but she clearly had no idea how far it was allowed to go and how much he could do for her. She was so young – it was unsurprising that she had not thought of everything and despite her sharp wits, she clearly also needed some more time to fully understand that stretching the rules was necessary if she wanted to survive – even for a slave, at some times.
Though Vlokarion had been allowed to taste quite some bits of her suffering and had already known that she was mind-bendingly sweet, nothing had compared to the river of mellowness he had drank from her as she had lied under his needles. Vlokarion had forgotten what it felt like to be drunk, but what he had experienced as she had screamed her skull out on his table, was what he imagined it had to feel like. Yes, the process was excruciating and he had not lied to her as he had told her that adrenaline optimised the integration process. It was a complicated balance he had to find here. On one hand, he wanted to draw all the suffering he could get out of her; on the other, he had to be utterly careful not to break her, since the Overlord had made unmistakably clear what would happen if he broke her. The ancient monster surely was picky about her, and it was so unusual, since it was so unlike him. That he had plans for her was apparent and if one knew what kind of upgrades he demanded for her, it made a lot more sense why he was not concerned with sending her into the Carnival.
Those upgrades ensured utter control over her, that much was clear. To what end this level of control was needed, was a riddle.
Vlokarion suppressed a smile when he thought about his ingenious design, which would enable him to tap into a part of Temira's modifications secretly, without the knowledge or permission of the Overlord. It would be delicious and educating, to say the least.
Vlokarion had teeth-gnashing traded with Urien to have him help him, but only because it had been absolutely inevitable. It had 'only' cost him one third of the payment he would get from Vect for his work on the girl that exceeded the Carnival services, since Urien owed him for the botched delivery of the message. This payment, on one hand, was for the ancient mon-keigh samples he had needed to decode her regenerative powers completely, on the other, it ensured Urien's silence and Vlokarion needed that security before he told the tyrant that he had to enlist Urien for the task, for Vect would be displeased, to put it mildly.
Sadly, there was no way around that. Not telling the tyrant was not an option, for if (and, most likely, when) he found out that something so vital had been kept from him, he would be furious. And a furious Overlord mostly led to consequences, which were too dire to calculate with.
Vect would be displeased enough as it was.
Vlokarion was torn out of his pondering as Urien suddenly exclaimed, "Ah! Here we have it!"
The ancient Haemonculus pulled a rack filled with tiniest test-tubes out of the depths of his sample-collection and flourished it in front of Vlokarion as if it was the most precious artefact his colleague had ever been allowed to gaze upon. There was truth to that, though. Mon-keigh samples that ancient were nearly unique in this city, and, of course, Urien possessed most of them.
"Here, this is it!" Urien said excitedly, as he pulled one of the test-tubes with an utterly steady hand out of the rack and handed it carefully to Vlokarion. This absolutely perfectly executed motion mocked his usual, senile demeanour. "This is the key to her regenerative powers, as well as the genetic pointers to the rest of her intriguing upgrades. We should begin immediately, as we have little time on the matter."
A self-satisfied smile played over Vlokarion's face, "I shall start working, you will provide the theoretical knowledge."
Surprisingly calm, Urien retorted, "Do you really think that you have enough time, working all by yourself as it is? One month is painfully short to do the rest of the decoding work, especially considering your insufficient preparations."
The smile deepened on Vlokarion's face. "My preparations might not be as insufficient as you think. I might have… exaggerated that fact a bit." However, he decided to dispense with the games. "Enough of this, Urien! I know very well that you only plot to get your hands on her, for whatever plan you have cooked up now. I can assure you that I won't let it come to this. She is mine and mine alone!"
Now the face of the ancient Master Haemonculus also distorted into a terrible grimace of anger and he spat at Vlokarion, "We shall see whether you veritably will not need my help, Vlokarion. We shall see." His last words were a hiss.
I awoke extremely slowly and arduously. My senses only climbed back to consciousness in a languid manner. Breathing was painful, like a thousand needles stinging into my lungs…
That slapped me out of my dullness.
I groaned, as I remembered what had happened to me, and wished in the same moment that I had not. This torture would never leave me for sure. The fact that I still could recall the feeling of those needles in my flesh and bones all too clearly just made it worse. I tried to repress the memory, like I had done with so many other things around here, but it simply did not work, the image and feelings were just burned into my mind.
Unconsciousness had been my relief eventually, after hours of unimaginable pain. Vlokarion had not deigned to give me an anaesthetic.
I wanted to cover my face with my palms and jumped as I almost miscalculated and slapped myself into the face, as they moved way easier than they had before. Of course, every movement made my limbs throb with pain.
This time, I heard someone beside me before I heard their voice. I heard the gentle movement of well-oiled machinery and the subtle rustling of fine cloth. As he spoke, I almost did not recognise him, for I heard every nuance in his voice, every different tone of his multiple vocal chords, a melody, I had never hearkened to like this before, "Easy, child! You have barely recovered from the procedure and straining your upgraded body too much so early could lead to dire consequences."
I slowly turned my head to the side – it freaked me out how easy this was and that I could feel every little fibre of the bedding I was lying in – and tardily opened my eyes.
This brought the next shock for me.
My vision was thoroughly changed.
I realised that the room I was lying in was actually dark – but my eyes almost immediately adjusted to the non-existent lighting and I perceived Vlokarion clearly in front of me, even though my vision was lacking colour in this utter darkness.
I stared at him in absolute bewilderment – clearly, he had enhanced my senses, I panicked over the thought what he had done additionally – and asked, dragging and weak, "What… have you done… to me…?"
Vlokarion chuckled – and it was a somewhat mischievous chuckle, I could hear the nuance in it – and said, "I… got a bit carried away. In addition to your requests, I gave you dark vision, sharper senses in general and faster reflexes. You are going to need all of this, believe me."
I sighed deeply and turned my head back. As I took this deep breath, I coughed, since I suddenly smelt so many different things around me. Vlokarion smelt of toluene, mineral oil – was it oil crayons I smelt? – copper, iron – I realised that this had to be the mixture of blood – pain – the heavy, sharp musk of adrenaline – and death – the sickly sweet smell of decay – yes, I had not known until now that those smells existed, but somehow, I now realised it. The whole room was drenched in an odour of everlasting despair, suffering and sickness. I ascertained that the last bit of odours came from me. It was unsurprising, but what freaked me out was that I could smell myself. It was usually not possible for humans to do that. And I smelt like I had been close to death, which was probably true.
Pulling myself together, I said, "I guess, a grand 'thank you' is in order, considering that you helped me along so greatly. I am just not sure how I shall adjust to all these new sensations."
This time, Vlokarion laughed in all earnest. "In time, my young one, in time. Also," He snorted with laughter. "I am not done with you."
Now he had my full attention again, and I looked at him in silent horror.
It amused him; that much was evident, the grin on his face did surely show that. "Yes, there are some more bits I want to give you, since they will make you even stronger. Don't worry, it is all well within the limits of the rules, it is just that rarely slaves think about that. From what I have heard though, these season's competition actually uses their brains, so be on your toes for equally upgraded enemies. Considering that I am the strongest favour-giver you have, I make it my responsibility that you make it out alive again. I will upgrade your body in terms of regeneration, which slows down your need for food and sleep, but also boosts your healing capabilities. Handy, isn't it?" Vlokarion was euphoric and he clearly showed me how much he enjoyed upgrading me.
The worst thing about it was that I was not allowed to be ungrateful here, for he was right – I would need each and every advantage I could get. Still, I was not happy in any way to face this torture once more. Therefore, I mustered every ounce of decency and subservience I had left, and answered, "Surely, my lord. May I ask… how… and when... you will commence the rest of my upgrades?"
Vlokarion's grin widened and he tapped the tips of his fanned-out fingers against each other, looking very much like an archfiend, which he certainly was. Staring at me from under his brow, he said softly, "Are you afraid of it, child?" His voice gave me the shivers, with all these new nuances I now heard in it. The way he was using it now, it shot a cold shiver down my spine.
I blinked, barely handling all my overloading senses, and simply answered, "Y… yes."
A malicious, deep chuckle escaped his scrawny frame. I gasped at the intense goose-bumps his next word produced in me, "Good." He stretched the word to infinity, as it seemed to me and his voice was dripping with the satisfaction and joy it brought him to see me frightened. It only now occurred to me how dangerous and evil Vlokarion was. Apparently, seeing me suffer on his table had triggered something in him, something dark, something vile and he now wanted more of it.
After bathing in my fear for some moments, which seemed like eternity for me, he said, "Nonetheless, those upgrades will be commenced in a different manner. You will see when the time is ripe. For now, I need you to relax and regenerate. We will commence the second part of your upgrading in four weeks' time."
In one, fluent movement – which made me dizzy, since I could see every crease of his clothes follow his motion with newfound acuity – he got up, stretching his elongated spine, on which he had sat and looking down on me, he continued, "A servant will bring you food and drink. Eat. Rest. Take it slowly. Your brain needs time to adjust to your new senses, reflexes and strength. I will be with you later again." With those words, he slithered out of the room, which I now recognised as his quarters.
Now I had time to let it all sink in. I had to face the fact that I had strayed once more a bit further from my humanity, from the original being I had been a year ago. The thought was intimidating, but also somehow exciting. I always had longed to be different… well, I always had been, which was why I had only had very few acquaintances. That thought brought me back to Lisbeth. I wondered how she was doing and dearly hoped that she did well, considering the circumstances. Of course, there was a small voice in the back of my head that told me that she was doomed, considering how badly Vect had reacted to her before I had left, but I ignored said voice. Chasing this thought away was way too easy. That brought me back to the notion that I had strayed quite far from my former self…
I silenced my spinning thoughts with an angry huff. Driving myself insane would not do me any good, in fact, there were a lot of people around here that would do this for me anyways.
I jumped as the door opened - I jumped because I heard the door opening; it had been absolutely inaudible to me before – and I turned my head to see who was coming in.
I really was not sure. The only thing I was sure of, was, that it was certainly a Wrack – the mask was distinctive in that regard. But was it Savva? Or another of Vlokarion's probably numerous minions? What also appeared to me once more was its odour. I could smell that this thing was mainly composed of artificial flesh, chemicals and genetic modifications. I caught whiffs of plastic, steel and 2-Mercaptoethanol. The latter was quite a pungent, earthy and sharp smell. Most people disliked it; I always had been fond of it. It reminded me of the days when I had worked protein assays in a laboratory.
However, I got the answer to 'who was with me' almost immediately, as the limping creature said to me, "Savva is here to bring the slave some nourishment."
I forced a smile upon my face, realising in the same second that such niceties were probably wasted on the Wrack, but continued anyways, "Savva, it is good to see you again. You positively have changed. Has the Maester rewarded you?"
Savva set the tray it was carrying down on a small table beside the bed, then nodded frantically and confirmed proudly, "The master has rewarded Savva for helping with modifying the slave. Savva did well."
I now realised that Savva reminded me of a dog, which would jump around happily every time it was told that it was a good boy. I really wondered again at this point, how this broken and utterly humiliated creature maybe would aspire one day to become such a magnificent mastermind like Vlokarion. What was even more disturbing was the notion that Vlokarion also possibly once had been like that.
These thoughts really were crass and unsettling.
What also was disturbing was that I had not realised that Savva had also been there all the time. I only remembered Vlokarion. Then again, I had no idea what Savva's tasks had been during it all. Apparently the Wrack had not been being close to me, for which I was somehow grateful. Though I knew that Savva was nothing but a poor, tortured soul, it certainly creeped me out more than Vlokarion, though I was aware that appearances did not matter around here whatsoever.
"That's… good to hear, I suppose," I said.
"And now, Savva is allowed to take care of the slave while the master is busy," Savva beamed, the hint of its black eyes shining through its metal mask.
I kept from sighing and rolling my eyes. Was Vlokarion punishing me here? I was damn sure that he knew that his minions unsettled me and though Savva was somehow cute in its childish joy, it certainly was unnerving.
However, the next bad news was already coming, as Savva now said, "But now, the slave must eat, to regain her powers! Because she is not allowed to move much, Savva will feed her."
"No… not you… of all the people…" I thought desperately, but as it seemed, there was no way around this. Since Savva seemed like the type which only possessed gross sensory motor skills, this would be a mess, in more than one way.
However, I got completely fazed as Savva started feeding me. It showed a level of delicacy I had not expected. Though I felt humiliated by the act itself, to say the least, Savva was doing a great job. I really had not anticipated that it would have that level of fine motor skills. Savva did not produce a mess, and did not make this whole thing unpleasant for me, though it was awkward as all hell to be fed by a Wrack, who usually only were used for assistance in rather tortuous matters.
Savva seemed to enjoy its task; apparently Vlokarion had made clear to it how precious and important I was and I figured that this portended to Savva how paramount its task in keeping me healthy was.
Though I felt humiliated while it fed me some quite fine, but simple dishes, I took in the nourishment with delight. I needed the strength; that I was aware of.
After it was done, I thanked it, and it retreated with the tray in hand, leaving me all alone once more.
I realised after it was gone that I was still quite spent, and I closed my eyes, giving my mind and body a break from my situation and not finding it hard to fall asleep again.
Urien floated about in his laboratory, radiating with malicious glee. Vlokarion had fallen for his ruse this time, utterly and completely. In fact, that the lad had thought he knew everything he, Urien Rakarth, planned, just played into his hands.
Soon, Vlokarion would discover that the sample he had gotten did not reveal everything he needed. The sample held the key to boosting the regeneration process in a mon-keigh body, but for all the other veritably complicated upgrades and modifications that had to be imposed on the child, it was simply insufficient.
Or, rather, Vlokarion would discover the whole truth once it was too late and he had to enlist his very own help to get the work done in time. And then it would be child's play for him to get the samples he wanted from the child.
To make things seem even more humiliating for Vlokarion, he would secretly introduce another, needed sample into the mix, only to put Vlokarion in his place by showing him that only he, Urien Rakarth, was the master of genetic and bodily manipulation.
He would not trade his help for the samples from the girl, no, he knew that Vlokarion would never agree to that, and besides, it would only alleviate his victory, if he did not take in secret what was rightfully his, only to be able to flaunt another outrageous work later on. No, if Vlokarion knew that he had the child's DNA and tissue samples, then his ultimate victory would not be as sweet as it would be this way.
Now, he again had to wait until three quarters of the month passed. He estimated that Vlokarion would discover the missing information by then.
Why was time crawling along all of a sudden?
He really wondered how everybody managed that annoying feeling without constantly eradicating anyone that crossed their way. He chuckled fondly as he beheld his blood-covered laboratory. It had been time for new servants anyways.
I awoke from an uneasy slumber. I had tossed and turned in my sleep and I had no idea how much time had passed. Drowsily, I opened my eyes, looked around and jumped as I beheld Savva beside the bed, who stared down at me with anticipation.
Not entirely awake, I asked, "What… what are you… doing here?"
Savva, now apparently happy that I reacted to it, said, "Savva is watching over the slave, as the master has told Savva to do."
I still was tired and felt absolutely whacked and annoyed, and asked, carelessly now, "Savva, what gender are you actually? I really can't tell."
It did not seem to mind, "Savva is male."
Male. Huh. Now I had my answer. It made things easier, for when he would have answered with female, I would have been totally confused.
Then it occurred to me that my last toilet visit and bath had been a while ago. Since Savva seemed to be utterly dedicated to making me feel comfortable, I said to him, "Savva, could you show me where the bathroom is? I really need to freshen up."
Savva nodded frantically, stepped to the bed and before I could voice any resistance, he picked me up – without effort, I should mention – and carried me across the room, through another door.
The bathroom we entered behind it was small and frugal, only the most necessary things found in it. The tiles in it were black, as was the entire interior that was in it. Though the sight was somewhat depressing, and it unsettled me that I could only see because of my new-found dark vision, I pushed it all away and directed Savva to sit me down on the toilet. That I was naked made things a lot easier.
I jumped at the thought that I really did not mind the fact right now, though I remembered the time very clearly when my master had forbidden me to wear clothes; the lack of choice had bugged me greatly back then.
Savva did as I had bidden him and sat me down, then remained beside me.
I looked at him askingly.
He apparently did not get what I meant.
I sighed and said, "Do you mind leaving the room?"
"Yes, the master said…" Savva started.
But I cut him off. "There are certain things I want to do alone. This is one of them. I will call you when I have finished and I need your assistance again."
Savva looked at me utterly confused for a second, then he nodded and left.
I took another deep breath and released it with a sigh once he was gone. I dearly hoped that he would only be around as long as I was this utterly weak and I also hoped that this while would not be too long. He already annoyed the hell out of me right now.
After I finished my business and managed with some strain to clean myself – though my muscles worked far more efficient than before, they still were sore and it seemed to me that my brain still had a hard time with moving them at all – I called for Savva again.
He returned immediately, only to ask me attentively what I needed next.
I told him that I wanted to take a bath, and he prepared one for me. Somehow, I enjoyed this power I had over this utterly strange minion. What I did not enjoy about it was that he was hounding me like a dog. He put me into the pleasantly warm water and watched me relentlessly as I bathed. I was not able to get rid of him and closing my eyes only helped so much. Savva seemed to play for keeps, but I needed to have a word with Vlokarion about it. His Wrack took the whole thing too seriously.
After a while, which I had enjoyed very little, considering that every movement hurt and Savva was guarding me like gold, I was back in bed, feeling exhausted and tired of Savva's presence.
Luckily, I got relieved of it pretty soon, as I, ignoring his constant stare, fell asleep.
I was far from being at the top of my game.
I awoke again, feeling pretty drowsy, lying curled-up to a ball on my right side. I winced as I felt that I was no longer alone in bed, but I felt smooth, almost waxy skin against my back and a slender, long-fingered hand that lay on my waist.
I knew who that was before I even looked, as his smell engulfed me. I really had a hard time adjusting to this new, fine sense. As the chemical mixture of Vlokarion's odour shrouded me, I smelt a new nuance in it: paraffin. The obviousness almost made me laugh, as the smell matched up perfectly with the waxy consistency of his skin.
I was grateful for having Vlokarion back, which was, objectively, pretty strange, especially considering the circumstances. But somehow, I had the feeling that he already had done a lot worse things to me, so I did not have to fear his caresses.
The Haemonculus chuckled softly behind me and said, "Now, child, I hope, Savva was good to you?"
I sighed and replied, "In a way, yes. He certainly did his best in keeping good care of me. But, to be honest, he overdid it. There is a certain level of privacy I require. And getting watched when I bathe certainly oversteps that kind of boundaries."
Vlokarion sniggered once more. "I see. It is unsurprising. You see, child, Savva is incapable of judging said boundaries correctly. It is simply not in his programming."
That clearly was shattering. To-be-Haemonculi got programmed to be exactly that. First, a mindless servant. Then, a cold-blooded master. The process was as confusing as it was appalling. Considering that Haemonculi were involved, it was unsurprising. But that did not take the dread away.
"I… I have to admit, I am not sure whether I understand, but I certainly accept it," I said.
Vlokarion chuckled again, but this time, his chuckle had somewhat of a fatherly quality. It was pretty queer, considering that he was lying in bed with me. "I don't expect you to understand, child. This understanding is certainly beyond your reach." I heard and felt him sit up behind me. "Nonetheless, you are a charming addition to my bed and certainly keep me warm while resting."
I now turned around to face him, came to lie on my back, the blanket only covering enough of me for modesty's sake, and said, "Glad to hear that, Maester. And there I thought you did not have to rest."
Vlokarion smiled down on me, his teeth flashing in pure white, a crass contrast in the black-and-white dark vision I possessed now. "You are right; I don't need to rest. But sometimes, it is a nice diversion, especially considering that I get to have you around when I currently do." With these creepy words, he started examining my body and testing it in terms of reflexes and sensitivity. I had this done to me by his hand before, but this time, it was surprising and frightening. I learnt new things about my body, reflexes I had so far not possessed, intensities of touches I had not felt like this before and I wondered that if I ever got out of the Carnival alive, whether I ever would be able to adjust to the needs of my master.
I had no time for the thought, so I chased it away. Besides, as things looked, Vlokarion would pre-train me for that eventuality anyways.
I stopped dead in my pondering and my eyes grew wide as Vlokarion opened a small case he apparently had brought with him and I saw a set of needles inside it. My fright was apparent, as Vlokarion smiled indulgently and said, "Child, are you conducting belonephobia? You can do better than that, now can you?"
"It is… a bit hard… to overcome," I said, voice trembling. The memory was still fresh and I had neither forgotten the feeling, nor my own screams.
"You are delicious, my dear, but I am afraid I have to tell you that you will have to adjust yourself to them again. Needles are, after all, paramount in my line of work," Vlokarion said and shook his head. "I have to test whether your nerves connected properly. It might sting a bit, but will be in no comparison to what you experienced during the active modification process." He took one of the finer needles out of the box and said to me, "Hold still!"
I closed my eyes this time and focused on my breathing, to get myself under control again. I had a hard time with it as I felt him pricking me with said needle time and again, and I felt very much reminded of the modification process. Only my mental training kept me from jumping up and running away.
That, and the inability of even moving one muscle correctly.
My spinning thoughts were silenced, as he said to me, "Do you actually have a name, child?"
I opened my eyes and looked at him confused for a second, before I realised that he actually never had heard my name. "My name is Temira," I simply said.
He hummed as he stitched another spot on my body. "Lovely. Suits you, child," he said. "Did you know that in most cultures it is said that giving someone your name gives them power over you?"
"I am very well aware of that, Maester," I answered truthfully. That was why I was not comfortable at all with telling him my name, but I did not really have a chance there.
"So, it was even so in your culture?" he asked.
"It was considered occult and ancient knowledge in my time, Maester," I answered truthfully.
"Curious. Something gets lost in the past, and then re-emerges millennia later again. Time is a wonderful thing," Vlokarion mused.
I did not know what to say to that, I just hoped that he would be done soon and not use this knowledge against me.
For now, it did not seem that way, for he said, as he was done, "Not bad at all. Once more, your regenerative powers are working their wonders."
I looked at him, utterly confused. "I possess regenerative powers? I mean, out of the ordinary?"
Vlokarion smirked. "Indeed. Far stronger than I have ever seen in any human before you."
"Is there any evidence as to why that is? I mean, genetically speaking?" I asked, now curious on a scientific level. I was sure that he had already analysed my DNA at some point.
The smile on Vlokarion's features deepened. "I would not be much of a Haemonculus if I told you that piece of information, agreed?"
I sighed. "I am sorry, Maester. I did not want to pry in on your secrets. I won't dare to ask again, Maester."
He gently stroked my cheek. "Smart child. It is always refreshing to see that you know exactly what to dare and what to leave. It is a rare occasion with slaves, you know? Most don't understand that piece of wisdom: you have to be content with simply not knowing and understand that not everything needs an explanation."
"Considering that curiosity is one driving part of human nature, it is unsurprising. Then again, it also killed the cat," I said, smirking.
Vlokarion clearly did not know that saying, for he stared at me for some time, not blinking for far too long, and I could almost see how his gears were grinding. Then, slowly, he seemed to get the point and a broad smile showed on his features and he started laughing. Seeing such untainted joy on these features was confusing at best, unsettling at worst. "I have to remember that one!" he sniggered.
"I really am surprised again and again by the things you find highly amusing, Maester," I had to admit. It was queer, to put it mildly.
"Good. That keeps you in suspense," he purred and laid down beside me again. Showing me his – still – surprising strength once more, he pulled me against his side, wrapping his long, sinewy arm around me. I rested my head on his bony shoulder, again I found that touching his body did not bring me any comfort. I did not dare moving too much, as I did not trust myself yet to control my upgraded body.
However, Vlokarion snapped me out of my pondering once again as he laid his other hand upon my cheek and said to me, "You will have to move eventually, otherwise you will never learn how to control your newfound strength. Let's start with something small." With that, he forced my jaw effortlessly open and pressed his mouth upon mine.
As it did every time, it felt utterly strange to be kissed by him, because he felt and tasted so different.
Tasted. So. Different.
I exhaled sharply as I realised that also my sense of taste had been enhanced greatly. I had not noticed it before when Savva had fed me, because the dishes had been new to me, but I knew what Vlokarion had tasted like before. Bitterness punched my taste buds, with an intensity I had never felt before and I had a hard time with keeping myself from gagging because it was so extreme. After I got used to it, I got to feel more nuances of the taste, metallic components, sour touches and the longer Vlokarion held the kiss, the more I felt that his saliva actually seemed to be slightly corrosive for me now. I felt a mild tingling and burning sensation as his tongue touched mine and it needed most of my willpower to return his kiss without struggling, while fighting with my differently reacting muscles. I found that I wanted to explore my new strength and try and push him away from me, but I knew all too well that this would be a terrible mistake.
Vlokarion let go of me after a while, smiled at me and softly caressed my cheek. "It is still a shame that you are not my pet. I could use the distraction."
Though I really did not feel like it, I smiled at him and said, "Well, then we should use what time we have wisely, Maester."
"Indeed. Still, as much as I enjoy taking in your warmth and essence, I have other matters to attend to, and a lot of things to prepare for you still. Savva will keep you company and see to it that you get exercised again. When you get sent back to the Crucibael, it is paramount that you are not out of practice, as I have gathered that you will be training with Lady Hesperax herself."
"Yes, Maester. I am grateful for all the help you deign to give me."
"Good. Now, have some more rest. When you wake up again, it will be time for you to take your first, literal steps… Temira," Vlokarion announced, and left for the bathroom. Hearing him calling me by name shot an icy shiver down my spine. I felt very uneasy with this turn of events. He came back after a short while again, though, clad in his wide, dark robes once more, and then left the quarters without saying another word.
I somehow was left with the feeling that Vlokarion was keeping something from me, something, that concerned me in particular. I knew that his time was limited with getting all my enhancements right, but he seemed to be concerned with something far greater. Though I knew that I possibly would never get behind it, it nagged at me. Things that made Haemonculi restless certainly were a fatal concern for everybody else.
Though I felt vexed by the thought, I curled up to sleep once more.
I awoke softly and gently; this time, my sleep had been truly regenerating. I even managed to stretch myself without too much pain and wrong calculations about my new strength.
One breath and I knew that I was not alone. Savva was with me.
I opened my eyes and sighed as I looked at him.
"Back to feed me again?" I asked meekly.
"No. The slave has to do this herself today," Savva answered.
"Alright. Give me some time to sit up," I said.
I had not been exaggerating. I needed at least ten minutes to sit up. Carrying my own weight was hard and brought the pain back to my muscles. Also, estimation of my strength was really complicated and I had to be really careful not to overshoot with my movements.
As I had managed, I was handed a tray by Savva, with numerous dishes on it, some of which I knew.
Once more, my enhanced sense of taste rewarded me with overshooting salivary glands. Would I ever get used to it? Besides, handling fine motor skills was a task in of itself; all in all, I could not really enjoy breakfast.
Then I had to get to my feet. I took some deep breaths before I tried, expecting to hurt all over again. I tried…
…and would have fallen onto my face if Savva had not caught me.
I cursed, he laughed. "The slave has to take it slow. Otherwise she will hurt herself," he said as if this was one of the basic truths of the universe.
"I am aware of that," I sighed, noticing on the side how effortless Savva had caught me. I had known that Wracks were really powerful, but now I got a pretty good demonstration how great their physical strength had to be.
I let him set me on my feet, and only as he was sure that I would not fall over, he let go of me. Somehow, I thought this gesture to be touching, but the warm feeling got drowned in the notion that he actually only did it because he was ordered to. I should not confuse his caring for me with affection, because there was none.
He followed me like a dog to the bathroom, but halted in front of it. Almost sullen, he said, "The master forbade Savva to go inside with the slave"
"Thank god," I thought, but just nodded.
Managing only with exertion, I did my daily routine and was also happy that I found some clothing for me. It was a slip and a short tunic. Again, so much fabric covering my body was unusual for me, but I had already felt that it was pretty cold down here, so I was grateful for it.
"Savva will now show the slave around," he said as I had stepped out of the bathroom again.
I just nodded and followed him.
Savva led me through the main room and then through a door I had not seen so far. It was on the far end of the laboratory, almost unremarkable, and it slid aside with a gentle hiss.
Behind it, another corridor opened up, and it was filled to both sides with tanks of different sizes, filled with different fluids, some empty, some holding strange entities I could not name. They seemed to be in different stages of development. I looked around in wonder and Savva explained to me that this was Vlokarion's Grotesque laboratory. The longer we walked down the aisle, the broader the room get and I could see a lot of his creations floating in tanks. It was an eerie sight, as the whole room was glowing with a greenish-bluish sheen, which emerged from the tanks.
We went through another room, which looked similar, only that it also contained some workbenches, which seemed to be primed to add machinery to something. I learned that this was the Talos laboratory. What spooked me most was that I could see some specimen in early stages, which showed how they were made. Different species were used as a basis for these terrible creations, and though it scared me, I also felt honoured, for I knew that Vlokarion was one of the best when it came down to the creation of Talos and his works got appreciated far and wide. I had no means of comparing them, but to me, though terrible, his creations were impressive. I supposed that it was the scientist in me speaking here.
What really surprised me was, on one hand, that we had not met Vlokarion until now, and how quiet it was down here. I knew how it was in the rest of the tower, but in Vlokarion's demesne, everything was actually pretty quiet. I wondered why that was.
The next rows of rooms were the holding cells for Vlokarion's unfortunate test subjects. Some were simple cells; some were covered with force fields. A constant wailing and groaning could be heard around here, and the smell of fear and disease mixed with this horrifying background noise.
I did not like being here, for it reminded me of what I tried to ignore.
As we passed another row of cells – by now I was wondering where Savva was leading me; we had passed a lot of doors we did not explore – I heard someone say, "Pathetic."
I turned around to the cell from where I heard the word. I blinked a few times, confused and not sure what I should feel about being insulted in such a manner, for I was sure the word was directed towards me. "Big words from someone not even courageous enough to show me her face," I spat back.
I had not to wait for long. A woman, who looked like she was at the right end of the forties, stepped to the bars. She was clad in what was left of her armour, and her red-brown hair was tangled. Her grey eyes shone with a strong spirit and a sense of determination. "Good enough for you, traitor?" she hissed at me, while transfixing me with her hard stare.
I was used to much, much worse concerning stares, though.
Savva cut in from the side, "The slave and Savva should go now…"
"No, Savva, she apparently has something to say, so let's hear it!" I stated determinedly and with a dangerous inflexion. Turning towards her again, I said, "What, exactly, makes me a traitor? And who the hell are you to assume of me what I might or might not be?"
She snorted. "Typical. Only a heretic would not recognise the majesty of the inquisition when she sees it before her. I am inquisitor Octia Aureliana Steelheart and you will address me as such!"
I shot her a vitriolic smile, "I will do no such thing. Inquisitor or not, I will give respect when it is due, and right now, you have given me no reason to respect you."
That took her aback, that I did not even flinch at her mentioning of being an inquisitor. I never had liked the inquisition. To me, they always had been a bunch of pompous fools, most of them not worthy of what they are, corrupt as anybody else. Only very few, in my opinion, were noble enough to truly bear the title of inquisitor.
"Spoken like a true heretic!" she spat, "You want to know why I think you are a traitor? Look at yourself! Following an abomination of the enemy around without any restraints, looking well-fed and well-preserved. Tell me, what did you do to become so privileged? Licked enough boots?"
I snarled back, "You have no idea what I had to go through to survive as well as I do."
"If I had met you back on my ship, I would have burned you without asking twice. Pray that I don't get out of here to show how little mercy I have left for traitors like you!" she hissed.
"Well. Let me break this to you: this is Commorragh. No one walks out of here ever again. And as for your lack of mercy," I really had to laugh at the thought. "I think you will quickly find out that what you thought is merciless is actually just child's play around here." I lowered my voice to an angry snarl. "But thank you for making yourself known to me. I will ask the Maester whether he allows me to watch when he tears you apart."
Sadly enough, if I scared her, she did not show it. She just shook her head and replied, "May the Emperor have mercy on your soul, lost child."
I scoffed at her, "Please. Spare me your sermons." Then I turned and stormed out of the room, in the opposite direction of where Savva wanted to lead me.
I only stopped as I had brought a door between me and that arrogant bitch of a woman. My mind was racing. What the hell had just happened? Why was every human I met so unbelievably narrow-minded?
Savva caught up to me quickly and scolded me, "The slave should not run around alone here."
"I… I am sorry, Savva. Can we go back? I need some time to think," I said.
Savva nodded and brought me back to the quarters.
I still felt like someone had hit me in the face.
Vlokarion followed the conversation between Temira and the inquisitor with a slight smile. This was going better than expected; if that imbecilic excuse for the "crown of humanity", as they liked to call themselves, kept walking down that path with her words, his task would be significantly easier. Temira was not taking this well, which was unsurprising, considering the amount of brainwashing she had been subjected to. However, what indeed was astonishing was how much she had retained of her original personality. Most changed greatly under the pressure; in case of Temira, it was only her emotional landscape and her values that got reshaped. A masterpiece in of itself, but Vlokarion had seen Vect doing this time and again. Before, it had been recreational distraction, in case of Temira, well, Vlokarion did not know what the tyrant was up to precisely, but he surely understood that there was more to her than to the rest.
Vlokarion also knew that it was time to bring Savva a bit closer to his final goal, which was becoming a Haemonculus, as was clear. He had been a formidable student as of late, and he was playing the part of the dim-witted and simple servant magnificently. Of course, he still understood his position perfectly and that he was nothing more than that to Vlokarion, but he was a lot sharper than he let on towards Temira. However, Vlokarion wanted her to believe that Savva was stupid. It was just a minor thing, but a card of his hand that he did not want to reveal. Still, he enjoyed watching this masterpiece of acting Savva displayed; this one would be a magnificent manipulator one day and all would be none the wiser about his actual wits. It was a feat necessary for a successful Haemonculus – never show what you can really do, otherwise you became boring too quickly. Surprising and keeping clients on their toes while not seeming haughty about it, was the real masterpiece to be achieved here. If only Savva could match his acting skill with his biotechnological skills…
Vlokarion tore his thoughts away from his most promising Wrack and back into the here and now. He had to report back to the Overlord considering his progresses. One was the progress of subtle intrusion into Temira's mind, the other the sufficient deciphering of her genetics. And, with that highly unpleasant talk, he would also receive instruction on what to say to Temira to make her react to the inquisitor's ramblings in the right way.
Vlokarion sighed. He started to sense that he did not get paid enough for his services.
I was sitting on the rim of the bed, staring into nothingness, as I heard Vlokarion enter. The sound of his elongated spine rustling over the stone floor was distinctive.
I still had not processed entirely what I had seen and what the presumed inquisitor had said to me. I had known that humankind in this time was zealous at best and fanatic at worst, but this kind of lunacy I had not expected. There was no reasoning with my own kind, as it seemed.
Vlokarion's hoarse voice ripped me out of my pondering, "Savva told me what happened." It was a simple statement, but I knew that there was much more behind it. It would have been wrong to say that Vlokarion felt sorry or remorse for what happened, but I sensed that this had not been planned and he had wanted to avoid that I talked to the inquisitor.
I did not answer. I could not; I was not able to think of something fitting.
So, Vlokarion sat down on the other side of the bed, continuing, "Though I figure that it might be somewhat traumatic to you, seeing one of the most despicable specimens of your own kind, I have the feeling that this was also somewhat eye-opening to you. Am I right?"
I closed my eyes and exhaled audibly.
"Not yet ready to talk about your feelings, hmm? Let me try it for you: you feel disgusted by your own kind, yet try to reason with her behaviour because of the things she might have gone through. I can help you with that part, though. I have not touched her so far. She might have heard some of the things that had happened to others, but she was untouched when she arrived here and she had remained untouched. So, as an inquisitor, as puny as their organisation is, she should be beyond such quick judgement, agreed?" He made a short pause, to let the words sink in. "So, I suggest you cast your doubts in that regard aside. She hated you for what you have done, Temira. She rejected you for what you are. Therefore, let me ask you: who is the imbecile in this scenario? The one in the cage or the one walking free and receiving honours the other can only dream about? Isn't the mindset of mon-keigh just… disgusting?"
I stared silently into thin air for a while, but slowly, I started to tremble. It was not because I was crying, or because I was afraid, but because I was… angry. And this time, it was no helpless anger, but I had a clear focus and I would have an outlet for once. I had not survived this long and fought so hard, just to be rejected by my own kind with such disgusting words. Yes. Vlokarion was right. They were disgusting, all of them. One part of humankind despised me; the other consisted of quivering fools and cowards. There was nothing in between. There were no decent people to be found in the human race.
I was the only one left.
And I would not go down, oh no!
I turned around to face Vlokarion and I growled, "Yes. And I will destroy them for what they are. I will show them all in the only way I can: I will win the Carnival and I will vanquish them all!" Hatred spoke out of me. I hoped that I could nurture it long enough so I would be able to truly do what I just announced I would do. But I would at least leave my mark on history, and if it was the last thing I did around here.
If humanity rejected me, then I would give them a damn good reason to do so.
Vlokarion flashed an evil smile. "Well, if that ain't a new tone! Finally, I have missed that stalwart determination in you, child! With that thought in mind, I suggest you start sparring with Savva tomorrow, to keep those muscles exercised. The second round of modifications is due only in quite a while and it is best if you are in top shape by then."
I nodded, feeling no longer like the whining weakling I had been the past months, and said, "Thank you, Maester. My time down here has given me much more than modifications."
The smile stayed on his features. "Seems as if, child. Now, I think you should get some rest, for tomorrow will be straining for you."
I nodded and lay down to get some rest.
My dreams were sweet again.
I felt new determination as I awoke the next morning. The hatred still burned in me and I was eager to finally get going with my training again. I found Savva beside me, and today sitting up, eating and doing basic things was a lot easier than yesterday. I had no idea whether I adjusted so quickly or if I just pushed myself with my renewed willpower through it.
Savva led me through all the corridors and rooms again we had visited yesterday, but I found that the inquisitor was no longer there. Maybe Vlokarion already started to have his fun with her. Served her right. I felt no remorse or pity for her.
Finally, we reached a round room, where Savva halted and said, "This will be the training room for the slave. She will train her body with Savva and her mind with the room."
"What do you mean with that second part?" I asked him, confused.
"The slave has to learn how to adjust to her new senses. The room will stimulate her senses and help her adjust," he explained.
"I see," I replied, not quite happy about that. It would be uncomfortable, to put it mildly. Of that I was sure.
But, for now, I had to make due with Savva anyways. Basically, he was a living punching bag for me. I quickly found out, no matter how hard I punched him, he did not seem to feel my assault whatsoever. Savva seemed to be a lot tougher than I had expected. But that was the idea of the whole training session: me being able to try out my strength and speed on an intelligent, moving target. Savva let me hit him without resistance in the beginning, but, of course, things did not stay as easy for me all the time. He then started defending himself, forcing me to do complex manoeuvres, to test my new agility, and more than once he let me taste the sand floor. It was good for me, tough. It pushed me to work harder, and I knew that I would need all the training I could get. Also, I got to feel that Savva was not as stupid as I had thought. He used a lot of wits in combat, clever manoeuvres and outsmarted me time and again. I even learned some combinations and counters from him. Also, what I had sensed earlier now also showed: Savva was unbelievably quick, mocking his massive stature. His looks certainly were deceiving when it came down to movement; that he was, after all, Eldar, showed clearly.
The other part of my training was far less fun. The training simulation for my senses started out with exposing me to extreme sensations, so I learned how to handle my newfound senses and their new limits. In the second step, the simulation had me do tasks like solving basic maths or pushing a row of buttons or aligning shapes correctly under maddening circumstances, like loud noises or strong smells, so I learned to concentrate even when my senses were overloading.
I threw up more than once and even fainted a few times, as it was that much to handle. It was not pretty, but it was necessary. Those training sessions left me with terrible headaches most of the time, and each time a different sense was tested… or more at once.
I hated it, but I knew it had to be done.
So, my days were filled with training, and my nights got mostly spent with Vlokarion, who shared the bed with me, exchanging occasional caresses and kisses. It took me some time to get used to him again, especially his kisses, but I managed alright, as I could handle those things quite easily by now.
Thus, my time before the second round of modifications passed slowly.
Vlokarion was glad that he currently had Temira occupied with Savva in the back of his premises, far away from his genetic laboratory, where he currently was steaming with anger. He did not want her to know what was actually going on and that there was a play of powers currently engulfing this whole place that endangered her a lot more than anybody else around here, considering that it all happened because of her. If she caught wind of it and so much as breathed a word of this to Vect, he was in a lot of trouble. The tyrant thought her safe down here – well, as safe as anyone could be in Commorragh – and showing him that he, Vlokarion, was actually unable to guarantee her safety, would impose penalties too dire to calculate with.
Urien had fooled him again.
The samples he had gotten from him were incomplete; this was not the entire information that was necessary to install all the upgrades on the girl.
The worst thing was that he could not prove it. Now, it looked like he was not skilled enough to integrate the templates into her DNA, for transcription of RNA and translation of the necessary proteins to alter her body to give it enhanced regeneration power and reduced food consumption and to make the off-the-charts implants work correctly. There was just a tiny, tiny bit missing, small enough to be introduced later on elegantly, without being forced to reveal that indeed something was missing, and he knew exactly that Urien was playing at that. Still, the missing part was small enough that it also could have deteriorated over time, since the samples were ancient, and rebuilding it was impossible, if one did not have extensive knowledge over the DNA structure of primal mon-keigh.
Again, Urien was the only one possessing enough of that knowledge.
Vlokarion gritted his teeth and his breath came in hard, sharp bursts. It needed all of his considerable willpower to not burst out in a fit of anger that would most likely destroy most of his premises. How he hated this old bastard! One day, he would destroy him. And he would make it slow. Very slow. A death so slow and agonising that the whole Dark City would tremble before his expertise. He would make it something Commorragh had never seen before and with this, he would finally take his rightful place as Master Haemonculus.
Alas, time was of the essence now.
After he had taken enough time to calm down again, he resorted to silent plotting. No. He would not let the old monster see that he knew what was up. He would play the game of this old bastard, humiliate himself by admitting that he could not do the job and invite Urien over.
But not before he had finished some preparations.
Because when Urien would come here, this whole place, not only his main laboratory, would function as his eyes and he would immediately know when Urien tried to steal some samples. He would turn the tables and then would impose all the humiliation upon Urien by foiling every attempt of getting some of Temira's DNA. Maybe he even would slip Urien false samples and then watch with malicious glee how the old bastard tried to decipher what he had been given and find no evidence of Temira's specialness. Those secrets were his and his alone.
However, that also meant that the second round of Temira's modifications would be considerably arduous for him, as he would have to watch out for Urien's sleight of hand attempts and commence the upgrades, for he knew that the old bastard would not come around any earlier. They would operate on her and craft the genetic vectors in one go, as Urien usually worked. And since he needed his help, he would have to bow to this modus operandi, even if he disliked it.
Still, Vlokarion smiled. There was a lot to be done and he felt that the odds were finally in his favour.
Ever-smiling, Archon Nuscul walked down the corridors of Zuol's domain in Corespur. It surely had been annoyingly hard to convince 'his grumpiness' – Nuscul's mental description of Zuol – to have a word with him in private. Nuscul knew that the old Archon despised him, since they could not be any more different, and saw him like an immature child, which had risen to power just because of its connections. Nuscul was aware that Zuol knew that he was a formidable foe in combat, but also their styles made clear how different they were. Matters in which Nuscul was playful and overbearing, Zuol treated with belligerence and efficiency. What Nuscul found entertaining, Zuol considered a waste of time. Sometimes Nuscul thought that Vect had only put him in the Circle to watch that eternal tit for tat. The Overlord was known for his sometimes pretty peculiar sense of humour.
Nuscul's grin widened as he walked to Zuol's private audience chamber, as the way was lined with things just suiting Zuol so perfectly. It was a long row of achievements and tokens from great foes he had slain, collections of finest weapons and armour and, as a grim and gruesome reminder, the whole display was crowned with the head of his very own father, preserved in fluid, mounted right over the entrance of Zuol's quarters. Nuscul shook his head. "Typical," he murmured to himself.
As he and his bodyguard arrived at the door, he motioned them to stay outside. Secrecy was of the essence now.
Nuscul could not hold a small chuckle in as he stepped into Zuol's private audience chamber. The Archon was awaiting him on the head of a long table made out of ebony, sitting in a throne-like chair, arms crossed and staring at him from under his brow. Slightly behind him, to his left, stood an Incubus, hands resting on the hilt of the impressive Klaive, which he had set down before him. In here, apparently the most precious of Zuol's achievements and weapon-collections were displayed and Nuscul could not help but notice the fact that those things grew bigger in size.
Without any form of greeting, Zuol growled at him, "What's so funny?"
He could not keep it in. "Compensating for something?" Nuscul chuckled.
He had not thought it possible, but Zuol managed to draw his face into an even bitterer scowl than before and barked at him. "If you came here to make fun of me, insolent brat, you can turn around right now."
"Phantasy is more imporant than knowledge." - Albert Einstein
Last edited by Akularz-Shâtî on Fri Jul 05 2019, 20:33; edited 1 time in total
Posts : 33
Join date : 2019-07-05
Location : Vienna
|Subject: Re: Into the Devil's Eye Fri Jul 05 2019, 20:32|| |
It took all of Nuscul's composure not to answer that with another quip – Zuol made this too easy, really – but rather to walk up to the seated Archon in a casual manner, seating himself to his right without asking and saying, again the lopsided smile on his face, "My, my, it surprises me that you thought that this would go without me teasing you, old chap. What's with your fan boy here? I'd rather keep this between you and me only, as it involves parties that, ah, are known to have eyes and ears everywhere."
Zuol, who had followed Nuscul's every movement with the attention and intention of a hawk ready for swooping down for the kill, let out a low growl, but gestured to the Incubus, who moved out of the room without making a single sound. Nuscul shuddered on the inside. He never had liked Incubi; they were too quiet and sincere for his taste.
Now drawing his face into a fierce smile, Zuol said, "Now that you don't have to be any longer scared by being outnumbered, pretty boy, what do you want? Considering the urgency of your message I thought that you could at least for once drop that stupid attitude of yours, but it seems as if you can't, and I am wondering whether you are not just here to steal my precious time."
"Awh, you hurt my feelings, Aaryn!" Nuscul stated in an overly theatrical tone. But he understood by the slow narrowing of Zuol's eyes that he had to stop trying the Archon's patience, lest all of this had been for naught. However, it was impossible for him to help himself – Zuol made such a perfect target for his quips that he just had to exploit the fact that he for once could talk to the old warrior without Vect breathing down his neck. Dropping the jovial demeanour all of a sudden, he said, "Well, since you are in such a great mood, I'll make it short. Varys is trying to frame you."
Zuol barely kept from rolling his eyes. "As if I did not know that. I am aware that I am his current target."
That was a little more knowledge than Nuscul had hoped Zuol had, but one did not hold the second highest position the Circle with being an ignorant fool. No matter. He had a lot to bargain with still. "Sure, he tried to frame us all time and again, but here comes the fun part: this time, there is proof," Nuscul said.
Zuol was not convinced, "And what should this proof be? And why, by the Muses, would you bring it to me and not rather use it to take me down?"
A smile flashed on Nuscul's face, "Oh, Aaryn, because I would miss your grumpy behaviour during the meetings so much!"
"Cut it," Zuol growled.
Nuscul sat straight up and leaned a bit in on Zuol, "Because this time, if I don't share with you what I know, you are done for. What is this worth to you, hmm?"
"That entirely depends on what you believe to know," Zuol snapped.
"Do you really think I would come to you with just a belief of something?" Nuscul's smile showed a viciousness that was rarely to be beheld on his features. "I want you to make sure that I rise in rank in the Circle once Varys is gone and not have someone else sat right before my nose. You know more about the closest candidates for a Circle position than I do and I want you to make sure that it is I who gains power and not someone else. Also, I get seven eighths of Varys's domain when he falls."
"You must be joking!" Zuol grated. "Putting in a good word for you with the Overlord is one thing but seven eighths of Varys's domain? Stop dreaming, kid!"
"Three eighths for you," Nuscul hissed, dead serious all of a sudden.
"Six. You are three ranks below me and you want to make me stick out my neck for you. You have to do better than that. Besides, I am quite sure that you need my troops and leadership when you want to take Varys down," Zuol insisted coldly.
"Deal!" Nuscul beamed, now instantly jovial once more.
Zuol, aware that he should have bargained for more, harrumphed, "Either you tell me details about this grand knowledge of yours or I'll have you thrown out right now!"
"Easy now, old-timer! Do you really want to be responsible for the death of Vect's new favourite toy? I think that even you possess enough social intelligence to see, even though he has sent her to the Carnival, that she entertains him more than any slave he had in – at least – the last millennia. Do you think he will take kindly to that? Of course, not officially, a slave is a slave, but you know it will always be easy for Vect to find an excuse to have your head."
"What?!" Zuol's voice came like a gunshot. "Varys, that little snake, it's always the same with him. But that is low, even for him."
"Pretty low, I agree," Nuscul commented.
Zuol sat brooding for a while, obviously extremely annoyed and concerned. Then, through clenched teeth, he said, "Alright, seems as if I have to agree to your still outrageous terms, considering that torturing and murdering you right now is not an option."
"Oh, lucky me," Nuscul stated without smiling, for once. Still, he was pretty sure that this was Zuol's attempt on a joke. But he did not need to know that he saw through that.
"So, what do you know?" Zuol asked.
"Quite recently, Varys moved some greater sums around, all running into the very specific direction of a certain bounty hunter corporation, which happens to be associated with the current Carnival. Of course, all those things are running through your accounts. Need I continue?" Nuscul elaborated.
"How very elegant," Zuol sneered. "Hesperax will be backing the case against me, then."
"Indeed. She doesn't like to be disrespected. But wait! It gets worse," Nuscul continued.
Zuol sighed. "Go on."
"It also has to be said that you are, as of now, associated with Vect's favourite antagonist," Nuscul said.
"Why the hell has she any interest in that petty matter?" Zuol asked.
"Do you really want to ask that question?"
"Spare me." Another deep sigh escaped from the old Archon. "Very well." He straightened himself in his seat. "I think we should bring the matter to the Overlord's attention, as soon as he deigns to give us an audience. After all, this is a major scheme against him and who knows how long the two have been working together. I take it that your research is well-founded and that you will not share it with me beforehand so I can't claim it for myself?" Annoyance seemed to ooze out of every of Zuol's pores by now.
Nuscul smiled coldly. "Make me look good and I will make you look good, Aaryn."
"Of course… Yevhen," Zuol growled.
"Oh, my! That familiarity! I feel ennobled!" Nuscul burst out with a roar of laughter.
"Don't overdo it, pretty boy. You get paid enough for your cordial assistance," Zuol grated. He got up, snatched his Demiklaives and a Splinter Pistol from the side of his seat and readied himself to leave, possibly to convey a message to the Overlord that he and Nuscul desired an audience with him. Before he did, though, he turned around and said in a falsely sweet tone, "Oh, there is just one thing, Yevhen: we all know that our Overlord can only be swayed so much for rewards, so there is no guarantee that you will get what you want, if your evidence is not good enough. My hands may be bound after all."
Nuscul's smile now was icy and he said in an equally frosty tone, "Go to hell, Aaryn."
"Not if I can help it," the old Archon smirked. "And certainly not alone," he added with bared fangs.
Nervous did not even cover what I was when the day was finally here on which my second round of modifications was due. I was terrified. I had not forgotten what the last time had felt like, and though I had not only regained my strength and senses, but had them advanced significantly, I still was unsure how I should stand a second round of the needle-horror without snapping.
Yes, I remembered that Vlokarion had said to me that the second round would be commenced differently, but I always reminded myself that he was a Haemonculus and lying came so natural to him like breathing to another being. I had not forgotten how much he enjoyed my horror about having to face a second round of modifications and he could be very well lying to me, just for the thrill of tasting my fear once more. I was not naïve enough to even believe for a second everything he told me.
I paced in Vlokarion's quarters for quite a while; I had no idea how long I still had to wait, the Maester had left me before I had woken and Savva also had not come around for his usual rounds. I had not eaten today and I remembered very well why Vlokarion had also prevented that the last time he had modified me. I was dead-sure that he would do the same thing to me this time too.
I almost jumped because I was that tense as the door finally opened and Vlokarion slithered in. He noticed my fright, of course, but deigned not to comment upon it – his smile was all the reassurance I needed that he enjoyed seeing me terrified. "Come!" he ordered.
I nodded and followed him into the main room of his demesne.
My heart almost stopped as I saw who awaited me there additionally. It was no one else but the Master Haemonculus himself, Urien Rakarth.
I shot Vlokarion a panicked look, but then remembered my manners, bowed and said with a trembling voice, "Greetings, Master Haemonculus!"
"Oh, how delightful that the duckling is still retaining its formality!" Urien croaked. "Even when being so very scared," he added with his deep, smooth voice.
Several things struck me at once as I heard him speak for the first time with my enhanced senses. His croaking voice was so terrible for me to hear because he used layers of his vocal cords which clashed harmonically with each other. And I also realised that he was using a different set of vocal cords for each of his voices. The level of control he had over his body was astonishing. I wondered how much more he could do.
Also, his scent engulfed me, as pungent as I had thought it would be. I smelt sharp chemicals, like used for tanning hides, ether, mould and the earthy smell of leather. The mixture was hard to bear for my nose and I needed a few seconds to get my roiling stomach under control.
Nonetheless, he being here meant for me that this round of modifications would be even more terrible than the last one. However, I knew that I had to be very careful here, so I said, "Thank you, my lord. I feel honoured that you will be working on me." It was only half the truth. I knew that I should feel honoured, but I was petrified right now. I did not want to feel his hands upon me.
"And how smooth the lies flow from its lips…" he answered in his crooked voice. "It has been well-trained indeed by its master." He floated towards me.
"I… I am sorry, Master, I did not mean any disrespect!" I pleaded.
"Urien…!" Vlokarion started in a warning tone beside me, but the Master Haemonculus waved him off in a reassuring manner.
I did not dare to move as he halted in front of me, laid one of his numerous hands onto my cheek, smiled at me – never before had I seen such a horrible facial expression – and said in his bass voice, "Of course, you did not, little child." With a whisper, which made his words so much creepier than any other inflexion he could have used, he said, "Onto the table with you! We have much work to do!"
I nodded and with the posture of a beaten dog I did as he had bidden me. I was slightly shivering as I lay down on the cold metal. What I found disturbing and reassuring at the same time was that this time there were no needles above me. Though I was relieved that I would be spared at least that experience a second time, I was also not really reassured what they would do to me instead.
They both also came to the table, Vlokarion right of me, Rakarth left of me. It really was not a reassuring sight.
I looked at them confused as Vlokarion drew a translucent liquid up into a syringe and none of them made any efforts to bind me down in any way. My confusion had to be apparent on my face and was seemingly highly entertaining for the two monsters, because they both chuckled. "The duckling is confused about the lack of restraints," Rakarth rasped sardonically towards Vlokarion. "How quaint!" he added. Looking at me, he said, "Does it really think that physical restraints are the only means for us to immobilise it?"
Horror engulfed me completely and I barely kept from crying. I knew what he meant.
As Vlokarion sunk the needle into my arm, he said, "You won't feel a thing this time, child, considering that open surgery is too much for you to bear and we don't want you to break… yet."
The anaesthetic almost immediately took hold of me and pushed me into an artificial slumber…
"Shame," Rakarth stated as the girl had been narcotized. "She would be a treat. So sweet."
"Indeed, she is," Vlokarion gloated. He enjoyed that Rakarth would not get more than just some drops of her fear to drink. Temira was his to relish. "Enough musing. We should get to work!" Vlokarion stated.
"True…" Rakarth agreed, lost in thought, and it was evident on his face that he still enjoyed what he had gotten to taste from her and was musing about what he was missing.
Thus, they indeed got to work, to a very complex operation for both of them, and definitely more straining for Vlokarion as he had to watch out for Urien trying to steal samples of Temira. The battle that got fought here was conducted on a level only the fewest of beings could comprehend, let alone recognise. It was not only that Vlokarion had to foil all of Urien's attempts to steal from him, but also to do it so subtly that no offence could be voiced by the Master Haemonculus.
Vlokarion found that his preparations had been sufficient, he was as sure as he could be that he caught Urien every single time; investing into a considerable amount of additional eyes proved to be useful, along with all his preparations of fake samples he almost willingly presented to Urien. He seemingly let him win, let him have samples the old monster thought to be from Temira, and kept completely from showing any knowledge or concern over the topic.
As Urien left after hours, in which they had worked on Temira, Vlokarion stared at the door which had just closed behind the Master Haemonculus with a broad, gloating smile. "This time, I got you, old bastard," he hissed to himself.
All he had to do now was to strain his ears to enjoy Urien's screeches of defeat, which could be heard pretty quickly thereafter.
I almost had gotten used to the feeling of awaking slowly and arduously around here. The last round of modifications had refreshed that memory, many occasions before it had conditioned me to it.
The first thing I sensed was that I was not alone. Someone was beside me; one consciously drawn breath and I knew it was Vlokarion. His scent was unique.
I groaned as I slowly opened my eyes, but closed them again quickly, for everything was spinning around me.
"Easy, child! This was a complex operation – you will need time to adjust, like the last time," Vlokarion's voice echoed in my ears.
"What… did you… actually do?" I asked, again I had to adjust to the fact that speaking was hard and forming words was arduous.
"Your new upgrades took surgeries all over your body, mostly micro-incisions, and the biggest and most delicate part was brain surgery," Vlokarion explained.
"I… I see…" I commented.
"Take your time with waking up. I will be back in a while, then we will see whether everything works as planned," Vlokarion stated.
"Yes… Maester," I said.
Vlokarion got up and left his quarters.
I was grateful for the silence in his quarters right now, because my head was pulsing with exquisite waves of pain; it felt as if my brain wanted to burst my skull. I lay quite still for a while, taking the changes of my body in, and slowly I tried to move again. With relief, I found that I could – I had not lost the ability of using my muscles correctly and as I managed to open my eyes and look down on me, I found that Vlokarion had not been lying – there were several, small cuts all over my body, covered with gel-patches, and I noticed with surprise that they already started closing, slowly but steadily. Vlokarion had not been lying about my regenerative powers.
I was happy about the generosity he showed me, but it also left a bitter taste in my mouth when I thought about the possibilities for punishment my master would now have with me. Stronger healing powers also meant that I could stand far more punishment than before. It was a double-edged sword.
I had no idea how long I lay there, slowly regaining more and more of my composure and strength – far too quickly, as I realised – but as Vlokarion came back, I was already sitting up.
He smiled as he beheld me and said, "Feels good, doesn't it?"
"Yes, Maester, it does," I agreed.
He sat down beside me on the bed and attached a small, metallic patch on the side of my neck. "This is a cortical monitor. It will give me data about your brain while I conduct the tests, so I can see whether everything works as intended."
With that, he started testing me, in terms of motor skills and cognitive skills. As far as I could tell, I did well and also Vlokarion seemed to be satisfied.
"As expected," he commented as we were done. "Everything seems to be in order. Let's see how you do in the next few days," he said. "However, you should now rest again. You need some time to regenerate still."
I half-expected him to now lie down beside me, but he did not, just shot me a somewhat curious look and then left again. I was puzzled by his behaviour and could not make heads or tails of it, since he had enjoyed lying beside me until now very much, but there was no telling what an enormous load of tasks he still had on his hands.
Therefore, I took his advice and laid myself to rest again.
The next days were marked by mind-shattering headaches. They came out of nowhere – in one second, I could be completely fine, walking around with Vlokarion in his premises and assisting him with some of his tasks, in the next second I had dropped to the floor, writhing in pain that almost blocked out my vision as my whole head was hammering and felt as if it was about to burst. Vlokarion explained to me that it was normal after the changes I had gone through and that he was positive the problems would fade after a while.
I sincerely hoped that he was right. However, challenging a Haemonculus about his expertise was really unwise, therefore, I kept my doubts to myself.
The headaches stayed until one week and a half had passed.
It was an agonising while.
Vlokarion observed Temira's healing progress with a lot more concern than he let on towards her. What had been done to her had never been done to a mon-keigh before, so there was no telling how it might affect her. He had not lied about her headaches though – it was unsurprising that she experienced them, considering what she had been put through. Nonetheless, he had lied too, because Urien and he had done much, much more to her than what he had told her. As things looked now, she possibly would never know. The Overlord wanted it that way and he had every reason to.
Vlokarion sighed as he stepped into his communication chamber, from where he always contacted Vect. He just hoped that now everything would work just as intended. Though he was as sure as he could be, it still was a bit of a leap they all took there.
He sent his calling sign to Vect, who most likely awaited his message with the uttermost impatience. The communication they had established had been tested against the best decoders, both man and machine, and all had failed, most of the living ones had gone insane while trying it. If there was something like a safe connection in Commorragh, it was this line.
"I take it you have good news for me," the Overlord's voice boomed through Vlokarion's com-bead.
"Yes, Overlord, indeed I have. She is ready, though there were some minor complications," he stated.
"What kind of complications are we talking about?" Vect demanded to know.
"Massive headaches, but nothing more. Her cognitive functions and motor skills are flawlessly restored," Vlokarion explained.
"I see. That much was to be expected. Very well. When shall we start?" the Overlord asked.
"Give me time to get back to her, about five minutes. She should be fast asleep right now, so she will not feel a thing," Vlokarion said.
"Good. Until then," the Overlord agreed.
The connection got severed.
Vlokarion sighed, got up and slithered back to his quarters, where he knew the girl was sleeping. He just hoped that everything went just as expected. With all the trouble he had went through with Urien, he really could use a break for once. He almost chuckled at that thought. He had never imagined that he would actually wish for a break, with him most of the time being constantly under-engaged. It had been a refreshing change of pace.
Quietly, he entered his quarters, only to find Temira sleeping deeply in his bed, just as he had predicted. She had been put through a lot and it was unsurprising that she slept as deeply as she did. Her body needed every ounce of strength and regeneration it could get. Vlokarion halted beside the bed, attached the cortical monitor to her neck and then stared down at Temira, observing closely what transpired next.
All of a sudden, the whole body of the girl curled itself up to a ball, all muscles strained, and a pained groan escaped her throat. The whole spectacle only lasted for some seconds; afterwards, her body relaxed, she lay still again, breathing fast, covered in sweat.
Then, slowly, she opened her eyes, blinking several times, carefully moving her head.
Vlokarion, equally carefully, asked, "Temira?"
She screwed up her eyes, rubbed them slowly and with an utterly sharp inflexion that so far had never been heard out of that throat, she said, "Not… quite."
Now Vlokarion smiled fondly. "Ah, Overlord, I am pleased to see that everything worked just as intended."
"I would call it… differently," the thing that looked like Temira, but was not, said. It rolled onto its back, lifted its hands before its face and slowly moved its fingers while staring at them. It reminded of a puppeteer testing out the strings of his marionette. "This is… considerably arduous. So… dull… imprecise."
"It is a mon-keigh body after all, my lord," Vlokarion stated.
"True. I expected as much," Vect in Temira-form declared.
"I guess it will take some time until you adjust to her body, Overlord," Vlokarion said.
"If all goes well, it will be both ways. Mon-keigh bodies are quite adaptive, I think it is safe to say that it will also adapt to my demands, though I am aware that it will be, after all, just a mon-keigh body," Vect stated determinedly. Hearing Temira's voice used in the manner Vect used to speak certainly was unsettling. She immediately seemed far more menacing than before. Also, a maliciousness shone in her eyes that never had been seen in there before and an indifferent expression of contempt was displayed on those soft features.
With a grunt, he sat up; it was evident that Vect was struggling with controlling the imprecise muscles of a mon-keigh body. He shifted to the rim of the bed, stared at Vlokarion out of Temira's viridian eyes and said, "Now that we have established how pitiful mon-keigh motor skills are, let us have a look at the next step: their insufficient senses. Cut me." He offered Vlokarion Temira's left lower arm.
Vlokarion did as bidden and drew a small, yet rather deep cut down the inside of the arm.
Vect frowned, yet seemed to be lost in thought.
"Interesting," he said after a while, in which he had watched the blood billow from the wound.
"My lord?" Vlokarion asked.
"I now see why mon-keigh can stand so little in terms of pain. They only feel one nuance of it, never delving deep enough into the feeling to understand it truly. On the other hand, it is laughable how little they feel and how much they are hurt by it," the Overlord stated and shook the head. "Very well. We have little time, and I have to explore a lot in this body."
"Is the division of your mind actually working as intended?" Vlokarion asked.
"Yes, that part works quite nicely. However, considering that there is not much to fill in here, it is not hard. I think it will not be a problem to control her if needed and still concentrate enough on my daily business," Vect stated. Then, he got her body to her feet; it was visible that the mon-keigh body could not follow the commands of an Eldar brain as desired. It probably would take some time until Vect could dumb down his commands enough to make her body comply with them like he wanted.
For a while, he walked around in the quarters, and it was remarkable to watch how quickly he actually adjusted. Soon, Temira's body moved with an unknown grace, but Vlokarion's masterful eye also saw that it was a lot of strain that was put on the muscles. A single look at the monitor, which showed him the data of the cortical device, was enough to make him understand how much strain the procedure put on her brain and mind as well. Temira most likely would feel the repercussions of Vect's ventures into her body afterwards, both mentally and physically. Also, Vlokarion was aware that it would be an unsettling sight for most, as he knew that what was walking around in front of him was the Overlord himself, but others would not. What made it so strange was that Temira's body looked and felt completely different when 'possessed' by the Overlord. She radiated a confidence that had never been seen on her so far – Vect's confidence, as it stood – and had an almost queen-like demeanour.
For a moment, Vlokarion caught himself wondering what Temira could have been if she had not been captured. However, he dismissed the thought with an internal grin again. She was a mon-keigh. What a stupid notion to think that she would have had any better purpose elsewhere than being the perfect tool for the Overlord.
And for him, too. But that little secret he kept to himself. She would be his eyes and ears in Corespur, if she survived the Carnival, without ever knowing, which was perfect, because this way, no one could question her about it. This way, he at least had a chance of finding out in time if the Overlord's favour towards him had decayed.
Vlokarion was ripped out of his pondering as her unusually sharp voice pierced his mind, "Very well. That is enough for now. The next night I will try and do some more complicated things than walking. I can only stand this dull confinement for so long," Vect stated. "Although I have to say, the broadcasting of her senses works just as intended. I can sense everything she experiences, which will make for some delightful perspective when she is in the Carnival. And I am looking forward to trying out the mental communication between her and me. It will aid me nicely in manipulating her."
"I am glad that you are pleased with my work, Overlord," Vlokarion said.
A cruel smile showed on those youthful features. "Quit the submission, Vlokarion, I am not buying it. Your pride is oozing out of your every pore." The puppet walked back to the bed.
Vlokarion took another, quick look on the small monitor and said, "If you had not suggested it, I would have advised that you retreat now. The mental strain is getting too much for her to handle. I suggest taking this venture exceedingly slowly."
"I agree. I think we have strained dear Temira enough for today. Until tomorrow, when I will stay a bit longer." With these words, he laid her body down, her eyes closed and with another spontaneous spasm his mind left her body.
Vlokarion grinned widely. Everything was working just as planned.
Now all he had to do was collecting his overdue reward.
Unbelievably straining did not in any way describe my next awakening. I felt as if I had run a marathon while I was asleep. All my muscles were sore and I felt terribly cold inside, as if I had been filled up with ice, as if a cold fire had burned me out completely from the inside. Cold, sick and empty.
With a groan I opened my eyes, and beheld Vlokarion beside me, who sat on the rim of the bed and looked down at me. "How do you feel?" he asked.
"Terrible. I am sore all over and I feel as if I had been filled with ice cubes," I said.
He nodded. "Alright. That was to be expected."
"Expected? From what?"
"First, your mind had to adjust to your upgrades, now it is your body that has to do the adjusting. It will take about two weeks still, I am estimating. After that, you will go back to the Crucibael," Vlokarion explained.
"I see. Well, nothing to do but push through it, right?" I asked.
"Indeed. You best get going. Savva is waiting," Vlokarion explained. Then, he left.
I obeyed and got up, though it was arduous. I thought to myself, "Let's hope that you haven't frak up this time." Yes, I really hoped that Vlokarion had not botched one of the upgrades or even Rakarth tried to introduce something to torment me. I could never know, but if things did not die down once I was back at the Crucibael, I was done for.
With those gloomy thoughts, I went on with my day.
Vlokarion monitored Temira constantly, to be sure that he estimated the strain on her body correctly. It was a tough business for her for sure and she was walking on the rim of maximum strain, but he was confident that she could bear it. During the day, she trained with Savva and her senses, at night, Vect did his exercises with her body. Her body got very little rest these days, but Vlokarion was vigilant that it did not get too little. He watched the progress the Overlord made with surprise and astonishment. He had estimated that it would take longer for Vect to master her body, but it only took him some days to transfer his skills to her body. Still, the strain he put her body under was at the maximum levels it could take, but this mode was only meant for rare occasions and emergencies, not to be used constantly on her. Her body would withstand it from time to time.
Three days before Temira had to go back to the Crucibael, they stopped the nightly invasions of Vect into her body, so she got some time to regenerate, before she faced her training with Hesperax.
Though Temira did not feel too confident about her new upgrades, since she suffered a lot as it was, he knew she would get her confidence back once her weakness was over.
When I had lost all hope concerning my strength, I finally felt better. It was only shortly before I left for the Crucibael again and I was really glad that I got at least three days left in which I had time to gather my strength. I hoped that Vlokarion never had to work so invasively on me again, as it clearly was a lot of strain that I was put on me.
I spent the last days training and regaining my strength, and boosting my confidence again. I somehow felt sad that I had to leave Vlokarion again so soon, as I had enjoyed the time with him together. Going back to the Crucibael meant that I went back to getting pushed around again. I expected that Hesperax would make it all even worse for me and that my upgrades just had made me somewhat usable for her.
On the day I left, I was to go with Savva again, who would bring me back to the Crucibael.
Vlokarion said to me, "Don't you dare go dying in the Carnival! I don't want to have wasted all those hours working on you, though I have to admit, I enjoyed them."
I smiled as he caressed my cheek and answered, "I am not planning on it, Maester. I am looking forward to seeing you again."
He smiled widely, "As am I, Temira, as am I."
With that, I left for the Crucibael again.
In front of my room, also Savva said his goodbyes to me. "Thank you for training with me, Savva. You really helped me along," I said to him.
"Savva was happy to assist. Now the master will reward Savva!" the Wrack cooed happily.
I smiled. I could not help but like him. "Well then. I shall not be keeping you any longer!"
Savva had not to be told twice. He scuttled away.
With a heavy sigh, I observed him until he was out of sight. Somehow, I would miss him too. Then, I turned and entered my quarters.
What immediately leapt out at me was the metal box on my desk, as well as the note attached to it. With a heavily beating heart and suddenly trembling hands, I took the note and opened it.
I swallowed heavily as I read the lines the message held,
"Hello my dear,
Kind regards from Yaelindra.
I allowed myself to upgrade your favour a bit. That vial of poison was a cute idea, my sweet child, but not good enough. See for yourself what I turned it into.
Nonetheless: you owe me.
You know what that means.
I put my hand before my mouth and collapsed on the bed, breathing heavily, as I had read those lines. That insufferable bastard! It seemed as if Ea'nash would go to all the lengths just to get me a second time into his bed. Once really had been enough. And now that he knew what I could stand the least, I was sure he would use it again on me and make this second night a living hell for me.
I shook my head and pushed the thought away. Right now, I had other things to worry about and there was no telling whether Ea'nash would really get me, if my master did not allow it. Besides, if I died in the Carnival, all of this worrying I did right now was for naught.
I put the message aside, as reading it over and over again would do me no good, and opened the metal box carefully.
My eyes grew wide as I saw what was inside. It was a pair of finely crafted daggers, and I read from a note that was inside that the daggers could be poison-coated by pushing a small button on the downside of the hilts. I took the daggers out and gave them some testing swings. They perfectly fitted into my hands, were absolutely immaculately balanced and had just the right weight for me. It really was a great upgrade of the favour Ea'nash had prompted for me. I had to be grateful for his intervention, but I was not grateful for what he was imposing on me with that again.
And I had to tell my master about it. He would not be pleased that I had needed help, to put it mildly.
With a heavy sigh, I placed the daggers carefully back into the box. Then, I went for a shower and went to bed. Sleeping seemed like a terribly hard task right now, but I knew I would need every ounce of strength tomorrow, when I would have my first training session with the grand mistress of all Wyches herself.
I just hoped that Ailith had not lied to me in that regard and that Lelith would think too I was ready.
This night, I rested uneasy.
Lisbeth had tried to end it for herself by now – not by her own hand, she had no means to do so whatsoever – but she had already tried to make some critical mistakes in a row, to annoy Vect so greatly that he would annihilate her – and she had apologised silently to Temira for being so weak. However, he had shown his true sadism and composure when she had done that. The Overlord had easily seen through her ruse and all he had done to her was laughing at her for her weak attempt of suicide – which had hurt more than any physical torture. He had not punished her for any of her mistakes in any other manner, just to show her that her life would end when he decided it, but also made clear in the same turn that if she thought of daring him in such a manner ever again, he would truly make her wish that she was dead.
He never stopped tormenting her, and by now, Lisbeth was not sure whether it was the physical pain that was slowly breaking her or if it was the mental torture he subjected her too. She would never forget one of his speeches, which he had given while slowly sinking a blade into her, re-opening one of her numerous wounds, turning the blade in her injured flesh, relishing her cries and talking to her like he was telling a story to a child, "Does that hurt? That is just stimuli. You are just reacting to it. You will get used to that, even if you are quite slow with it. Pain. You can get used to pain, you can adjust to it - you can adjust to pretty much anything, just as long as there is routine. Yes, routine, the human mind, it craves it, needs it. However, if you take that away, that… that is when most of you pathetic creatures break. When you take away day and night and food, no water, no patterns…" Lisbeth could not forget this terrible smile he had flashed at her in this moment, before continuing, "And you know what the best thing about that is? Even though you know what is happening… rationalising it will not save you. Most think that torture is pain, but pain is only a small part of it. Another, far more important part is time. Time, to slowly realise, your life is over." That horrid baring of his fangs. "You and me, we have time."
Though he had invaded her mind with that once more, as it was with all the things he said to her when he was torturing her, he had also opened her eyes with it and had made her understand why she was not able to adjust to what he was doing to her. He had not taken away all of the routine yet, that he had made painfully clear to her, but now she understood why it was so hard for her to resist him. How had Temira stood this for so long without snapping? Had he really treated her so differently? What was she doing wrong that he pushed her so hard?
At this point, Lisbeth was not sure of anything anymore.
It made no sense to Lisbeth, as most things he did made no sense to her, but at least that she had understood by now, that it was impossible to make sense of his actions.
Today was another day in hell, on which she had to serve in the throne room. Though it took all her strength to even walk, she actually enjoyed those days, because she got a little bit away from him when she was serving other Archons. Not that those gave her any kind of break, but somehow, it was easier to bear when she got even the smallest amount of time for herself.
However, she was feeling particularly terrible today and she found her thoughts circling around the topic of suicide once more and how she would not be able to do it. At times like these, she wondered how she actually managed to go on. And why she did. But, as it seemed, the flame of life was not so easily extinguished. Also, the Overlord had imposed on her that she was to coordinate all the other slaves today and Lisbeth was feeling particularly desperate about that, because she had no idea how to manage that, as she had not forgotten what Temira had told her about the incompetence and reluctance of the slaves to obey her. She would not have the strength and guts to hurt them to do their jobs. She would fail and that Vect would probably beat her senseless at the end of this day was a certainty for her.
Sighing deeply, she entered the kitchen, barely hearing the mocking remarks of the overseer down here and went to the other slaves. She tried to keep her chin up, to push through, trying not to seem weak, but as she stood before them, she was not able to get a single word out.
All she managed was to break down and cry.
And what then happened, she had not expected.
Lisbeth had expected that the slaves would ignore her and that the overseer would come around to flog her into doing her work, but instead she found herself surrounded by several human slaves, she got hugged and stroked and shushed. A young woman, seemingly about her age, said to her, "Hey, I know how you feel. It's alright, just let it out."
Never before had reassurance from strangers felt so good. Lisbeth only managed to stutter, "Th… thank… y… you."
The young woman smiled at her and said, "You have to coordinate us today, right?"
"Let's do this together, ok? I'm Novia. What's your name?" Novia asked.
"L… Lisbeth," she answered.
"Ok, Lisbeth. Let me show you around, together, we can do this!" Novia reassured her.
And so she did.
The longer Lisbeth spent time among the other slaves, the better she felt. Still, she was puzzled about what Temira had told her about the others; they were not bad, in fact, they were as desperate as her, but they made her feel like she belonged. And that feeling gave her the strength to continue.
To survive until Temira came back.
Temira would come back.
She had to come back.
Nonetheless, for today, Lisbeth avoided the topic of Temira, since she did not want to start a discussion with the others, who had just picked her up.
So the day went pretty smoothly for her, as far as she could say, and the fact that Vect, for once, did not have her punished in between showed that she had done better than usual. Yes, he even refrained from hurting her afterwards, when she was with him again in his quarters.
However, she did not go completely unscathed. She never did. As Vect had locked her up in the cage for the 'night', he shortly halted in front of it and stared down at her for a few seconds. By now, Lisbeth could at least return his gaze for a while, though it still felt for her like he was piercing her brain with it. After that long stare, he slightly shook his head, a small, vicious smile graced his features and he said to her, "You just made it so much worse for yourself." Lisbeth expected to be hurt after that statement, but he did nothing to her, just let her be and went to bed.
She spent the night with a racing mind what he could have meant by that.
"Phantasy is more imporant than knowledge." - Albert Einstein
Posts : 33
Join date : 2019-07-05
Location : Vienna
|Subject: Re: Into the Devil's Eye Fri Jul 05 2019, 20:36|| |
MISSING FIGHT STATUS: NOT YET DONE (see "Important Note" for info on that)
IMPORTANT NOTE: There is still one fight scene missing, (marked with (...) ) which does not affect the story, as hubby is having a creative block. I could try and write it myself, but I am positive that it wouldn't even be half as good as if he did it, so I will leave it for now and add it later. See the utmost top of this chapter on the status of it, so you don't have to go searching in the chapter.
Also, people who are familiar with the tabletop will probably immediately realise that the matchup Lelith fights against in this chapter, is, in terms of tabletop-rules, not really a matchup. Let's just say it is one-of-a-kind foe, yes? Stay tuned on that!
A Favour and a Feast
“We own this night, just as we own the fear that runs in your veins.
You may think your numbers protect you, but we shall feast upon your souls before the dawn”
— Kilarq Tongueblade of the Lacerated Eye
A HIT IN THE FACE woke me. I was entirely disoriented and dazed, but not given the time to process what was happening, for I got grabbed by my hair and thrown out of bed.
Someone snarled at me, “What do you think you are doing in bed at this hour?! How dare you to disrespect me by being late?!”
I shook my head to clear it quickly, hurried in getting to my hands and knees, and I froze as I saw who was standing over me.
An entirely infuriated Lelith Hesperax.
This. Was. Bad.
I was pretty sure that if I was not to survive until the Carnival, that she would have killed me here and now. Nonetheless, she now would make my life a living hell. Doubly-so than Ailith did, without a doubt.
I bit back all excuses I wanted to make, because I was pretty sure that she would not be interested in any of them, and simply said, “I am sorry, my lady. It won’t happen again.”
“Damn right it won’t!” she hissed and delivered a kick into my ribs that left me without air and got me sprawling on the floor once more. I instantly realised how terribly strong she was.
I groaned, fighting for air, but, of course, the infuriated Queen of the arenas did not give me any quarter. As I was still pushing against my roiling stomach and dim sight from the concussion, she yanked me to my feet and gave me a push out of the small room that almost had me dropping to the floor once more. Only my enhanced body made it possible for me to recover.
“To the training hall with you! And fast!” she growled at me, pacing towards me, one arm stretched out and her long-nailed index finger pointing towards the direction where the training hall was.
I did not want to find out what she would do to me if she reached me, therefore I ducked and ran.
Luckily, after my prior training under Ailith, the way to the training chambers was etched into my memory and I could clear my head while running there as fast as I could.
Heat and cold flashed through me in equal parts as I realised that I had not come to her and asked her to be trained. Apparently, it had been a mistake to wait with that even for one night, and the Queen had decided to speed things up. My heart beat with excitement and fear, but I noticed that the physical strain on me was next to negligible, thanks to my newly acquired improvements and upgrades.
As I reached the training hall, I realised the subtle differences I had missed with my mundane senses the last time. The hall smelt of blood, but also had a sweet, yet bitter note to it as well, which I had noticed by now around here, almost grassy and comforting in a way. I remembered that I had realised it as the cat-in-the-sun-smell before, but this time, there were more notes and fragrances to it. After I sorted the heavy notes out on my palate, which were the ones I could smell before, something more sinister stayed on my tongue, a bitterness, like heavy wooden rot, that soon overpowered any other subtlety. It made me want to spit out, but, of course, that would only make me look weak and given the hall was probably drenched in the smell, it would have made no difference either way. I entered the hall and started with my basic warm-up routine, stretching and trying to be ready when she arrived.
But then it struck me like lightning.
I had forgotten my daggers in my quarters!
I bolted out of the hall, running back for them, only to be met by a heel kick to my diaphragm. I collapsed like a folding knife, hitting the floor of the hallway hard with my upper left leg and hip. I was so surprised by the event, the pain, the lack of air and my loss of balance, that I had no chance in hell to dampen the fall. As I gasped for air, my sight returned and over me stood she, Lelith Hesperax, with an enigmatic look on her immaculate face.
She sighed, shaking her had, giving her mass of hair a life of its own while I fought back bile and the urge to vomit out my soul. Had her hair always shone so beautifully crimson? Did I perceive it differently because of my new senses? Or had I been too distracted the last time to notice it? “What a waste of my time. The next time, you will be ready when I arrive, or I swear to the Muses, I don’t care whose toy you are! Fetch your blades this instant, before I forget myself,” she growled at me like a predator who was annoyed with a meal. I bowed my head and wanted to get up and run back to my chambers, only to realise that Hesperax literally just walked over my hand, painfully forcing tendons and muscle aside. I gasped, but did not dare to exclaim, pushing myself to endure until she stepped off. I hurried back to my chambers, grabbed my weapons and allowed myself a split-second to think if I had not forgotten something else, but nothing came to mind. I rushed back to the training hall, where Hesperax just seemed to finish her warm-up routine. I was grateful that the pain from the earlier encounter with her had faded mostly. Now I immediately realised the smell of the hall had changed subtly, mingled with Hesperax’s scent. She had a note that was almost spicy, but headstrong, intoxicating, yet light. I had never noticed it before, but she even smelt of danger, her scent was like a warning, similar to some animals having a strong colouring to warn off predators. Her smell was doing a good job of that, but not as bluntly. It promised death, but also was so inviting, almost daring, taunting for someone to try come near and answer the challenge. It was as mesmerising as it was horrifying.
Hesperax was done after a few more seconds and looked at me while she inquired, “What did that cackling heap of walking insanity Rakarth do with you? Or to you… can’t be that much, given you seem as useless yet sane as before…”
I swallowed and focused, trying to keep my mind from wandering to the events that I knew made me a quite less sane person and then answered, “Improved senses, agility, strength and regeneration. He also said he essentially optimised my metabolism so I need less sustenance and sleep.”
“Figures. Though I am not sure it was worth his time, we can at least agree upon the fact that he made you borderline capable to follow even the easiest lessons that I have to offer,” she said, like an afterthought, as if I was not even here.
I never noticed before, but now that I could also hear more nuances in Eldar voices, I realised that there was a constant hissing and growling in her voice, even more underlining her predatory nature, faintly shadowed by a deep vibration that tingled my instinct to run away and abandon all hope, crowned by a weird mixture of a motherly, deep voice and a lascivious mockery of the same. Again, it seemed like a predator warning me off and inviting me at the same time.
“Very well, Ailith told me of your minimal abilities, so let’s go ahead and figure out what you are actually worth, shall we?” she asked mockingly.
I did not wait, I attacked her, I knew she would not tell me again.
I closed the distance as fast as I could, aiming low, for I knew that trying to strike for anything but the center of mass, would not yield any results, for she would be too quick. I had my daggers shearing towards her from opposite sides, expecting her to dodge out of the attack any moment, but instead, she met me halfway, blocking both my arms with her long, slender hands, while she repeatedly kneed me in the ribs. I did not even feel the impact at first, but then it felt like my ribcage’s left side was on fire. The pain was excruciating, but I knew I had to do better than giving up now, so I gritted my teeth and tried to fight through it, feeling the same anger when Ailith had defeated me and mocked me, welling up inside me. If she kicked me, I could do the same, so instead of trying to twist out of her incredibly powerful grip, I aimed my strongest heel kick at her stomach, using her grip to pull her harder towards me while I extended my kick. Alas, I only met air. She had moved aside, still clinging to my left wrist, tugging at it while I stood there on one leg, overextended, and I knew what was coming next. Helplessly, I realised how she kicked my remaining leg away from under me, throwing me belly first to the floor, but I anticipated it, negated the largest part of the impact and tried to turn around, but she was already on top of me, her foot between my left shoulder and my neck, her left hand still on my wrist and she tugged at it really hard. I screamed. It almost felt as if she was taking my arm off. She let me go and sighed, “Why are you not even trying? Why do you give up immediately?” There was anger in her voice, the hiss that had been subtle before was now loud and furious, the growl even deeper and even the slightest refuge of comfort gone from her voice.
“My lady?” I asked in confusion, unable to see what else I could have done. Apparently, this was not what she was waiting to hear. I was almost up when her fist crunched into my cheek, sending me back to the floor again.
“Seriously?” she snarled, voice filled with contempt. “A fight is not over unless it is, meaning it is only ended until one of the participants decides so. Why do you give up as soon as you are hit? Why do you seek comfort and strength in anger, before the fight has ended? Discipline yourself! Emotion is for after the fight, after you have triumphed or you have been beaten, but not before!” she growled at me. The Queen was not even becoming loud, apparently I did not even merit her raising her voice, and still the urge in me to cower in fear was overwhelming.
“I tried to fight back, but you were just too fast!” I said, trying to analyse the fight in my head. I was expecting to be beaten furiously, but she just looked at me, actually surprised.
“Unbelievable. When I thought I had seen all idiocy in your pathetic kind, one of you manages to still outdo themselves. Do I really have to spell it out for you? You could have jumped out of my leg sweep, used your kick’s momentum to twist out of my grip, reposition yourself, cut at my damn hand with your free hand and a hundred other things, but instead, you decided to be forced to the ground and only then you would defend yourself? You mon-keigh are really slaves to your prey-instincts…” she said a lot calmer than before, but still obviously disgusted, “of course, you were taught movements, manoeuvers and attacks, but be creative, you stupid child. Do you really think that anybody will stick to clean, nice moves? Be efficient, be on your toes and adapt to the situation. An experienced enemy will kill you with swift, efficiently executed strikes and counters and use that thick skull of yours against you. Instead of becoming angry at yourself for failing an attack, you should adapt and first of all things, pay attention!” she continued, returning to her former, calm but distanced demeanour. “If you let your enemy do with you what they want and only partially react to that, you will never win against somebody of equal or higher skill than yourself. Stop training to fight the weak and untrained. Look up, if you aim to become better than you are!” she closed, shaking her head while turning around. “Again!” she snarled, looking at me over her shoulder.
Days passed, in which training and pain were my sole purpose. Hesperax became insistent about me learning to adapt to her, switching tactics and combat style every other fight, before she even considered refining my technique or teaching me something new. She was merciless and pain was only one tool in her repertoire to punish me. Food, water, warmth, sleep, all of these were only granted as a reward, for success, discipline and obedience. Hesperax was a lot calmer than Ailith, but also a lot more creative in her cruelty. She punished me with pain only in the heat of the moment, but took her time and resorted to crueler, longer lasting methods of torture for real failure. Though she put me through a kind of hell I had not faced before, I respected her and unlike Ailith, she never resorted to cruelty without reason. It was always clear that it was my failings that merited me torture and deprivation of basic needs, not a mood of hers, which did not mean that she did not enjoy punishing me.
And I was punished a lot in my first week with her.
She would correct me often about my attitude in training, telling me to discipline myself and not resort to anger. I did not get any sleep for days, nor did I get any food and barely enough to drink. I had to sit at the table while others ate, had to look at them, feeling the ever-growing hunger, while having to fight back tears of rage. And after that, instead of sleeping, I was afforded the honour of being subjected to extensive, tormenting training and another round of sleep-deprivation. That was her way for me to learn discipline.
“If you have that little control over yourself, you will learn, in your quarters, at the table, and in the training chamber. That usually gets results quickly,” she explained to me, not a shred of compassion or patience in her voice.
This horrible time made days stretch into years and giving up crossed my mind more than once, but I knew it meant nothing short of dying, one way or the other. If Hesperax did not completely lose her temper over me giving up and ending it in a fury, then my master would hear of it and I did not want to know what would happen to me then. Or, rather, I was all too sure what would be up for me then. If he did not tear me apart personally, I would meet Vlokarion again - and he would show me how well integrated the upgrades he got me were and how skilfully he could use them against me.
Yes, the upgrades.
I felt that they were rather a curse than a blessing right now.
I noticed that I did significantly better whilst the deprivation, I still was able to follow Hesperax and fight back after the fifth day, which I never would have been able to beforehand. Also, my regenerative powers helped me through that time. Any small cuts or blunt bruises healed in the few hours the Queen let me be, even though I was not allowed to sleep, which was a lot faster than beforehand. In fact, in the hours she let me rest up, she made me sit on the cold floor in my quarters, all comforts in plain sight, but woe to me if I dared to indulge them.
With the Overlord and Lisbeth on my mind, my two reasons to live, I pushed through hell once more.
Nuscul was uneasy as he arrived at the top of Corespur, since the upcoming audience was organised by Zuol. He did not trust the old beast to even have included him to the meeting with the Overlord. For all he knew, he could be marching to his death, but so it ever was in Commorragh. No smile was to be seen on his face today; he was far too concerned with this audience, and what it would bring for him. For once, he had to take matters seriously, as hard as it was for him, because if he ruined things today, he knew that he would have passed up an opportunity he would not get again. Taking down a Circle member, especially one that was higher ranking than him, was an incredibly rare and precious occasion.
As he arrived in front of the throne room, surrounded by his lifeguard, a view was presented to him that turned his unsmiling expression into a sinister one.
He had expected to meet Zuol up here, in front of the gate, but the other Archon was nowhere to be seen. Instead, he was greeted by a shivering slave, whose expression clearly showed that it wanted to be anywhere else than here, which said to him, “Archon Nuscul, the Overlord awaits you in the Scrying Chamber.”
Nuscul barely held back a feral growl, pleasing images of bloody murder flashing through his head, however, he reminded himself of his manners and instead he resorted to directly taking the slave’s soul through a soul trap. It was only a small sip of soul energy that flashed through his body as the slave dropped dead on the floor in front of him. Nonetheless, it was just the tiny refreshment he needed right now. He felt his senses sharpen and his mind felt just a tad clearer than before. It was this infinitesimal shift away from death and towards youth that provided for the sharpness he needed right now. Subliminally running one hand through his hair to fix it, he nodded to his lifeguard, who followed him silently, up the smaller winding stairs right of the throne room.
Pleasantries aside, this was bad news indeed.
Talks in the Scrying Chamber usually were those of true gravity. Vect liked to use the room to voice serious reprimands and it was known that important orders to Archons that obeyed him were given there.
So, what did it mean for him? Had Zuol indeed framed him and taken all the credit for himself? Was he truly marching to his death? Had Vect already known about Varys and was about to scold him for only realising the situation so late?
Running seemed like a wise choice now. But Nuscul knew all too well that no matter where he ran, the Overlord would get him anyways. Besides, this was the choice of a coward, and if he misjudged the situation now, it could ruin everything he had worked for so far.
No. He would face the Overlord and see what it would bring for him.
He was so exquisitely vexed by the sudden change of meeting rooms, because the last time he had been in the Scrying Chamber, the Overlord had led a very serious talk about his behaviour, one, that had made clear to him how close he was to take a long fall down in the hierarchy. This was the reason why he had played so nicely with Sythrac, as he had been very well aware that if he messed this mission up, he was done for. And because of his knowledge how close he had been to biting the dust, he knew how important this opportunity was for him. He was a lot more anxious about Zuol finding a way to stab his back then he let on, but masking one’s true thoughts and feelings was a required skill in his position.
With an angry huff, he passed the Overlord’s quarters – Nuscul was very well aware that these rooms were just the official version of Vect’s quarters and that the tyrant surely resided elsewhere – went through a secret door only very few knew about, along a well-ornate corridor and into the antechamber before the famed Scrying Chamber. This chamber made one feel very much like being on the inside of a cage, because it possessed many slit-like windows, which cast long, narrow shadows into the room. In here, Zuol was already waiting; they had left both of their lifeguards outside.
Zuol greeted him with a sardonic smile and mocked him, “Why so serious, Yevhen? Are you not feeling well?”
The old beast was way too cheerful, which indicated that something was amiss. Nuscul forced a brief, vicious smile onto his features, swallowing down all the feebleness, and snapped, “How come you are so cheerful all of a sudden? Did you get some, for a change?”
That swept Zuol’s jovial attitude away, because he immediately turned back into the fierce warrior Nuscul knew so well, and growled, “I don’t expect a Halfborn brat like you to understand any of that in the slightest.” He huffed disdainfully. “Now is not the time for such useless banter. I already had a talk with the Overlord, take after me and we might get this over with favourable for us.”
The younger Archon was satisfied that he had ruined Zuol’s mood, yet understood that the older Archon probably had conjured up another topic to get an official audience and that he should keep it down to get what he wanted. Nuscul knew that a betrayal of a Circle member was no small thing, but not important enough alone to merit an official meeting, which was why he left the organisation to Zuol, as little as he liked it, because he knew that the older Archon would have more interesting things to talk about than him. He had no time to ponder the pros and cons of this situation any longer, because at this moment the door to the Scrying Chamber opened and they had to go inside to face the Overlord.
Nuscul disliked the ever-shifting, greenish light in the chamber, which came from the numerous crystals that were aligned in this room. He always wondered how Vect stood this annoying mode of lighting for hours – it always had him on edge, as he expected to be jumped at from the shadows, because for some reason, his dark vision was not entirely working in here. Through these crystals, the Overlord could observe the whole city; they functioned like cameras, only far more complex and giving a much broader view. How they worked and how they were controlled only was known to the Overlord.
In the midst of all these crystals – the Scrying Chamber was a circular dome – a throne was placed, an intimidating piece of furniture, at least for those not accustomed to such sights. And, as expected, on this throne Asdrubael Vect sat, giving them a stare that pierced their minds. Today, the Overlord was clad in ornate robes, and no sceptre was by his side, but woe to those that thought he was unarmed and not wearing any kind of protection in this rather simple apparel.
On the side, Nuscul noticed a slave chained to the throne and recognised her as the replacement for the one that got sent to the Carnival. She was not much of a replacement, and judging from how she looked, the Overlord thought the same.
Now came the part that Nuscul despised the most and which, especially this time, had his heart pounding faster. He cursed himself for his lack of restraint; all this would just weaken his position and might make the Overlord think that what he was about to present to him was nothing but an elaborate hoax, something he could not afford. As it was expected from every Archon that came in here, he had to kneel before Vect, until he either was allowed to get up or he found an untimely death through a hidden blade. Not even the members of the Circle were spared this highly unpleasant experience, but no one was ever safe in Commorragh, especially the highest-ranking Archons, such as himself.
Though it annoyed him immensely that he alone was the one to kneel right now, he understood that Zuol probably already had paid his respects.
“Yevhen. Now that you are finally here, I hope for your sake that what you have to say is worth my time,” the Overlord uttered, obviously not convinced.
Though, initially, relief washed over him that seemingly Zuol had not betrayed him, Nuscul felt his palms getting slightly sweaty, yet was very glad that his gaze currently was directed towards the floor. Even though his immediate death was out of the question now, this was no good. Vect already being so disdainful with not even one word uttered from their side usually indicated that he was in no mood for weak auditions.
He had to keep himself from releasing a relieved sigh, as Vect finally said, “Fine. Let me hear it. Get up!”
As he had gotten up, Zuol started by saying, “My lord, we have proof that Varys is trying to betray you, or, to be more precise, Yevhen provided it, which is why I wanted him here.” He kept it as concise as he could, while reducing the whole matter to the part that was interesting to the Overlord.
Nuscul disliked Zuol’s play at himself being the one holding the reigns in this whole ‘investigation’, but there was little he could do about it right now.
Slightly raising one eyebrow, Vect replied, “Is that so? If it is true, it is troubling news indeed. What is this proof we are talking about?”
Zuol slightly nodded towards Nuscul, who straightened himself, resisted the urge to clear his throat and said, “Overlord, I have written proof of Varys’s betrayal. He moved great sums around, bribing a bounty hunter in the Carnival to kill your slave against the rules, and was aided by Archon Malys in this endeavour. Furthermore, he tried to frame Aaryn for it, to cause a major disruption in the Circle.” He produced a data-pad, suppressing the slight trembling of his hands with all his might. Nuscul cursed himself on the inside because he was so damnably nervous, even though his proof was perfect, and as he stared into the Overlord’s eyes, he knew that he did a terribly bad job in hiding it. He could feel that the ancient monster was feeding off his emotions. This would be an expensive day concerning the souls he would need to refill his lost strength.
Vect flashed a smile that could turn blood to ice and took the data-pad. To Nuscul’s unending surprise, the Overlord actually had a look at it himself. Nuscul thought his head had to explode from all the concentration he brought up to get the slightest glimpse at what the Overlord might be thinking, but it was just impossible to deduce anything from his expression. It did not take long until he was finished. Vect neither said a word nor portended with any expression what he might be thinking as he passed the data-pad to one of his numerous servants. The sheer suspense of not knowing whether this was good or bad for him, tore Nuscul apart.
As the servant had left, possibly to have the data analysed, a move, which Nuscul had expected, Vect declared in a sardonic tone, “My, my, I never had dreamed that my spymaster would be brought down by the eternal farceur.”
While proclaiming surprise, Vect looked so bored that Nuscul had the distinct feeling that Vect knew a lot more than he let on and he felt the dreadful notion that he was running into some kind of trap. He could not tell how this trap would end for him, if it was just a cruel hoax from Vect’s side to teach him a lesson or whether it was something far direr. However, there was nothing he could do about it, he had to tough it out and make the best of it. Also, though the statement sounded somewhat favourable for him, he still could not be sure about the Overlord’s view on the situation. Since playing it safe without sounding too subservient was the wisest decision right now, he gave back, “Thank you, Overlord.” He felt like someone was crushing his spine.
“Hmm, you might even learn some manners after all,” Vect quipped, his tone slightly belittling, yet his facial expression made clear that he was not making a quip at all.
Well-timed, without cutting the Overlord off, Zuol interjected from the side, “Might I offer to hunt Varys down, my lord? After all, he managed to make it personal.”
Vect directed his stare towards Zuol, for which Nuscul was grateful. “Considering that a younger Circle member had to provide the proof you could not produce, I think it would be only fitting to leave the hunt to Yevhen.” Nuscul slightly held his breath as Vect looked at him again. “I presume you are up to the task?”
Nuscul nodded and replied calmly, “Yes, Overlord.” Though undertaking this task alone would prove to be severely complicated, it gave him immense joy to see that Zuol was steaming beside him. Zuol was, after all, the second most experienced warrior of the Circle members, and taking that task away from him certainly spoke a very clear language, showing that Vect was displeased with Zuol’s failure to expose Varys himself.
The Overlord seemed to contemplate that for a minute, his gaze absently cutting the air, but then declared, fixating Zuol once more, “On second thought, you, Aaryn, should participate in that hunt too, considering how slippery Varys can be and you certainly can teach Yevhen a lot in those matters. Make plans together and present them to me when you are done. Since Malys is involved, I want to have a look at this myself. A reminder is in order, as it seems.”
Since Zuol prided himself with always looking completely emotionless, it was hard to tell, but Nuscul noticed that Zuol did not like one bit that he now indeed had been ordered to work with him. Malicious glee embraced him warmly. He rarely received the opportunity to have his fun with ‘his grumpiness’.
Zuol, keeping his composure almost perfectly, nodded stiffly and added in a neutral tone – which, probably, was the best he could muster right now, “Also, if I may, my lord, I would like to suggest that Yevhen should move up in ranks after this is over. He is, after all, the one that pinned down this treason.”
“Are you feeling adventurous today, Aaryn?” Vect grumbled, making it clear that he disliked Zuol’s intrusion into what was within his power alone. “I will decide this. The outcome will depend on how good your combined plan will be.” He turned towards Nuscul. “You might want to give that strategy a good, hard thought, to produce some usable input. Go!”
Though Nuscul despised that Zuol was to stay and he was not, he was wiser than voicing any resistance, bowed to his Overlord and left the chamber. This had gone alright, but not too well. But, at least, Zuol had held up his part of the deal. Whether Vect would deign to give in to it, was in the stars, and as it stood, those stars were not too well-aligned for him.
Heart beating fast and brooding, he returned to his part of Corespur. Though his mind was already set on producing a sound strategy, the hunger dimmed his thoughts. Vect had torn quite a lot away from him, he was always ravenous for the slightest shred of soul energy. It was high time for a meal.
Besides, he could only hope that Zuol would not betray him now.
As soon as the young Archon had left, the tension between the two remaining ones was still palpable.
Zuol bit back all those emotions of weakness that were coursing through his body, and while being much more adept at it than Nuscul, he was well aware that his level of self-composure was not enough to fool the Overlord. Though Zuol had been in his position for a long time, since subtly beating Sythrac in any way was far too arduous and dangerous, and dethroning Vect a fool’s errand, he never had mastered the art of deciphering what his lord actually might be thinking. Then again, nobody had mastered that so far, so the shame was not too great. His senses told him that he was in slight danger, but then again, something was off, as his instincts told him.
He was about to directly ask Vect what kind of trouble he was in for his bold suggestion, as trying to flee from responsibility and its repercussions was not in his nature, but in this second the Overlord started to laugh darkly.
Releasing his slightly held breath slowly and inconspicuously, Zuol bared his fangs for a fierce smile. Good. So he had not lost his edge entirely.
“Just when I start to ask myself why I allowed young Yevhen into the Circle, he manages to remind me how entertaining I find toying with him. So bold on one side, so scared on the other. I wonder which side will win, eventually,” Vect mused.
“He lacks restraint,” Zuol grated.
Vect grinned. “Indeed. I know how much you hate working with him. However, this time, you brought this on yourself and you deserve some penalties for letting Varys frame you so expertly.”
“Of course, my lord,” Zuol gave back, taking the scolding without the slightest flicker of fear.
“After you are done planning, let me know what Yevhen contributed to the plan. If the cub is not doing his part, then he will not move one millimetre further in ranks,” Vect stated.
“I shall, my lord. But, if I may ask: who would be a candidate for the open position, then? Ea’nash certainly has not been interested in much else than his bedchambers as of late, I am pretty sure that Alactel would be wildly unsuited as spymaster and Tahril simply lacks the experience in these ranks to function properly,” Zuol wondered.
“Every master has a student,” Vect simply said.
“Cor’ech, then,” Zuol nodded. It took him only a second to understand what this meant. “I see. You’ll make an example of Varys, while making very clear to his former Hierarch what will be his gain if he should follow into his footsteps,” Zuol replied swiftly.
“Precisely,” Vect concurred.
Zuol smiled. “I am looking forward to it.”
Vect nodded. “Since this is settled, now to something entirely different. I want to talk about our bet.” His tone was absolutely sincere and his stare as cold as ever.
Zuol once more kept a blank face, though he did not feel like it, and retorted, “I sincerely hope that it was understood as it was meant: a means to put pressure on the slave.”
Vect had toyed with him again, for he smiled, “After all this time, you still manage to jump head over heels into such an obvious trap. If you only were as half a politician as you are a warrior, Aaryn…” He shook his head. “No matter. I was perfectly aware why you did it and that even you, with your lacking political skills, would not be stupid enough to challenge me in such a dim-witted manner. It was a quaint idea; she ate it up nicely and it certainly made her work hard.”
“From what I’ve seen, she is actually using quite a lot of brains in the preparations and hides her skill,” Zuol added.
“Which is exactly why I have chosen her. Brains will be needed in this contest,” Vect said.
“Why are we actually playing for winning this time? So far, the Black Heart has not had any interest in winning the Carnival,” Zuol wondered.
Vect smiled. “Today, I already enclosed enough of my thoughts to you, Aaryn. This I keep for myself.” That, of course, meant that he should not dare to ask again.
Zuol, however, found that Vect was in a rather peculiar mood today, very playful and strangely generous. The Overlord being too benign usually was reason to be concerned. Zuol had been surprised that Vect was inclined towards being lenient with Nuscul, as he had not rejected his proof and claim for the seat immediately, as the latter had angered him on several occasions in recent times. The old warrior could not shake the feeling off that there was far more to the Varys situation than Vect let on, and that there would be some reckoning to be had before this was over. He had to tread carefully.
“Is there anything else you need of me, my lord? Otherwise, I’d like to suggest that I get to planning. Outmatching Varys and Malys is no small feat after all and I expect little ingenuity from Yevhen,” Zuol stated stiffly.
“No, you may go, Aaryn. I am looking forward to your results,” Vect declared.
“Of course, Overlord. It shall be done,” Zuol replied, bowed and left the Scrying Chamber with a sinister expression.
Devising this strategy would be exceedingly taxing, to put it mildly.
The first meal after five days felt like a feast, although it was the same bland, basic, mushy mess I had every single time and I was extremely careful to eat as slowly as possible, or else Hesperax would find it as a lack of restraint and a good reason for her to prolong my ‘discipline training’. After five more days, I earned back the basic comforts that even a slave would miss, should they be stripped off them, so I washed myself the first time after ten days into training with Hesperax, and finally slept after two more. By now, it truly felt like ages since the last time I had some proper rest. I realised with confusion that apparently three hours of sleep were enough for me in that time, even though I was sure that not even a beating could have woken me up in the first night. Also, going without sleep for such a long time had done something to my circadian rhythm, because I always was awake when I was supposed to and never overslept ever again.
Hesperax was… adapting to my ‘progress’, saying she was happy about it would have been a bold lie, but at the very least, she was acknowledging the fact that there was actual progress.
To my great surprise, after what was a month since I had started training under her, she started to correct my posture and technique, teaching me subtle tricks to shift my weight around enemies, not allowing my momentum to be used against me. She called it ‘skindancing’, essentially reading your opponent’s movement and never going out more in terms of strength than was needed to deal significant damage, rendering even a skilled opponent’s defensive movements largely useless, while simultaneously focusing on your own defensive manoeuvers, goading your opponent into overextending themselves. It greatly reminded me of videos of boxers and martial artists from earth, who had learned to dodge so efficiently, that even hitting them might lower the impact of an attack to such an extent, that no damage was dealt while opening the opponent’s guard.
The Queen taught me how to stab, cut and twist with a dagger that even an opponent with superior reach could be bled out while trying to defend themselves. Also, the visceral, ugly, closer-than-skin side of dagger combat was taught to me, which meant a lot of grappling and simply trying to find a way to push or pull a blade where it would yield maximal results. It was not pretty, it was not clean and it was not easy.
Also, Hesperax found a very mean way to test whether my discipline training had been adequate. As I came into the hall after quite some time under her supervision, I found her not alone in the hall, but I met someone I had hoped to never see again, yet somehow also wanted to meet again, just to finish one thing: killing her. Of course, it was Ailith, who greeted me with her sardonic smile. Immediately, the anger flared back up in me and the urge to jump at her and slice her open was almost overwhelming. However, as little as I liked it, if I showed that lack of discipline, Hesperax would surely find another way to torture the hell out of me for being such a terrible student. Therefore, I bit back all the emotions, kept my face blank and greeted them both as it was appropriate.
A short, rare smile could be seen on the Queen’s face, enough pointer for me to understand that I had passed her test. “Ailith will be watching today, to see how you handle a distraction whilst fighting,” she said.
And so it happened.
I could not deny that I wanted nothing more on this day but to ‘accidentally’ tumble in the wrong direction and give Ailith some wounds to remember me by. But I knew that this was the nature of the test and I did not intend failing it.
Hesperax had Ailith come back in irregular intervals, just to have her presence nag at me, but this time I stayed strong.
Just when I thought I had escaped her creative torments, I arrived in the training hall one day, where I found twelve slaves lined up against the wall on the side of the chamber and next to them, once more Ailith, yanking their chains. I tried to convince myself that there was another reason for these slaves to be here, but I guessed the terrible reason why. They were old, scarred, broken and pretty much useless in terms of currency or enjoyment here in Commorragh. At least that was what I assumed, I never had completely understood at what point nothing more could be gained from a tortured human, even though my master had explained it to me. Hesperax did not say anything to me, she smiled, had Ailith free the first slave and toss a dagger into the middle of the room.
“Whoever kills her, goes free,” she said to the slaves, who were wide-eyed with fear and disbelief. The first slave, an old man, with skin so thin as if it were parchment and dread in his bright blue eyes, stumbled for the dagger.
My mind was racing. I tried to convince myself that they would die soon anyway, even with me refusing to be their executioner and that my punishment would be severe to a degree I could not even anticipate if I did not comply. As soon as the old man reached the dagger, Ailith laughed her wicked cackle and Hesperax shouted, “Go ahead, show what you have learned! Put everything to good use with enemies that are afraid for their lives! And don’t make it quick! Try everything!”
With sweaty palms and fast-beating heart, I tried to mentally settle with the fact that I would kill for the first time. Right here, right now.
How to prepare for such an occasion?
The answer was simple: it was impossible.
I did as I was ordered, out of sheer terror what would happen if I disobeyed. I was trying to keep myself from showing or feeling any emotion, knowing that she would punish me even for that, but how could I not feel sorry for them? They were nothing but afraid, and I had to make their ends miserable and cruel.
Would they not do the very same if our places were reversed? I had nothing but my survival and I would be damned if I did not fight for that last thing that was mine!
Here I was a good slave.
In the Imperium, I was a useless traitor.
Yes, my survival was the last of my possessions.
No, not mine.
Filled with hateful determination, the hatred I had nurtured over the course of the last year, I rushed the old man, used my left arm to lock his elbow and keep his dagger away from me and then rammed the dagger in my right hand between his shoulder and collarbone, twisted it, and pulled out, kicking him sideways into his right knee, tearing tendons and dislocating his kneecap. His dagger clattered over the floor while he tried to scream, clawing at his throat as he was suffocating, mewling instead. I knew I had popped his pleural cavity, the panic and the pain did enough for him to black out, but I knew I had to make sure he was dead. I stepped closer again, overstretched his neck with my left and cut through the entire front half of his neck with the dagger in my right, allowing him to bleed out in a matter of seconds. It was done and I felt this cold sensation sinking into my belly that someone got when they knew something horrible was about to happen.
I just wanted this nightmare to end.
Before my mind could latch itself onto the fact that I had just ended a life, I heard Ailith’s cackle haunting my thoughts, realising she was already freeing the next slave. I took a deep breath and steeled myself.
The nightmare had just begun.
I maimed, gutted, exsanguinated, tore, ripped and shred broken, burnt-out slaves for the next two weeks, and was punished - extensively as well as creatively - for not displaying my entire repertoire, just to learn how to kill and lose any and all inhibition for taking a life.
No, not taking a life.
It was losing all second thoughts for creatively taking a victim apart, concentrating my entire existence on the bringing of pain and torture. I learned to cut into them, to know every structure, every tissue and how it behaved under my hand and blade. Even though I did not get punished, I did not get much necessary sleep as my dreams were reigned by exposed viscera, pleas for mercy and horrid screams of maimed slaves that I had to murder by the dozen for over a week now. I knew why this had to happen. I knew I had to be able to swiftly and without hesitation or mercy kill anybody by the cruelest means necessary, as, in the Carnival, others would do the same, and my life depended on it.
I wanted to throw up when I thought about how very much Hesperax and Ailith enjoyed my torment, I saw it especially when I looked at Ailith, she relished it every time when a small part of me died with every one of my victims.
But the training had to continue. I had to carry on.
Eventually, I was instructed on how to handle multiple opponents and with it, I got the permission to use the poison on my daggers for the first time. Then, they threw multiple slaves at me, who fought with pure desperation. They watched me as I cut my way through them, covered in my own and their blood, sliding through viscera and innards, and burying all the anguish deep down in my soul, as there was simply no time to face it.
As expected, the first time the poison connected with a living being, it tore yet once again more away from my humanity. Apparently, it was a toxin that induced intense pain. Though most of the slaves I fought were crippled by it, a few, probably those left with a shred of strength and restraint, were merely quite slowed down by it, and I figured that a healthy, strong enemy also would not be entirely incapacitated, but probably slowed down for that amount that made otherwise impossible fights manageable. I guessed a stronger poison would have been too much of a favour, but it certainly was something that would work for my fighting style, especially because I was not limited to a finite amount of doses. Yaelindra, and, unfortunately, Ea’nash, had done well for me.
Finally, me murdering others had merited me everything there was to learn from feeble burnouts, so my training consisted solely by fighting Hesperax again, trying to learn from my mistakes, becoming faster every week, but still unable to even nick her immaculate skin. I got punished less and less, it only happened when I was not focusing. The weeks flew by and eventually, months, in which Hesperax corrected me less every week. I guessed she had taught me everything I could learn as a mere human, so the rest of my time with her was merely used to improve agility, speed and reflexes and to cement everything I had learned, to apply it subconsciously and at a moment’s notice. I became a killing machine, all that I learned eventually was converted to muscle memory, ready to be employed at the slightest threat, no matter if I was aware or awake, without hesitation or remorse.
Yet, it never was enough to even scrape the perfect beauty of Lelith Hesperax.
Hyperventilating, heart pounding and head spinning Lisbeth awoke. As she opened her eyes, she realised that she was lying on the bed. Senses only awaking distressingly slowly, she hazily thought that there were only very rare occasions she was allowed in the bed.
As she awoke fully, she winced, as she realised that she was not alone. Beside her sat her master and prime tormentor, Asdrubael Vect, smiling viciously down on her, as he did so often. He was clad in a black robe.
“Well, well, well,” he said, “someone eventually understood what it means to be obedient.” He stretched luxuriously, like an overly-agile cat. His smile deepened as he was done. “About time.”
“M… my lord?” Lisbeth asked confused. She was not sure what he was talking about.
“Do you remember what you dreamt about, my child?” he asked her, his tone relaxed, something that confused her greatly. Also, it was a rare occasion he actually called her ‘child’.
“My dream?” Lisbeth mused and stared into thin air for a while. It took her some time, but then she remembered some bits of it. What she remembered, she did not particularly fancy, as it involved a lot of scenes of submission and obedience towards him. “But… that was just a dream.”
“Just a dream, hmm? Think again, child,” Vect said. Lisbeth was highly confused by the missing edge in his tone.
Lisbeth’s mind was racing. She was so afraid to fail him now. Slowly, it all came back to her, and though she was safe for now, the dread of it came back to her too. Yes, her dreams, the last, tiny shred of privacy she had had, and he had taken it from her too, inducing artificial dreams with drugs and somehow tapping into them and watching them. He now was with her all of the time, even when she was sleeping.
Now she understood why he was pleased.
She had succumbed to him in her dreams. The final threshold. Her subconscious.
And though the thought horrified her, it was good this way, the occasions when she outright pleased him, without any kind of bitter taste, were rare enough. Therefore, though she felt like ice inside, she continued her streak of obedience, smiled faintly and said, “Of course, Overlord, I remember now.”
“Good. Now, where were we?” He pretended to recollect his memory, slightly raising one eyebrow, a thing, as Lisbeth knew, he had no need of, he just liked to do it for effect. “Ah, yes! Your deferent, subservient dream. I have to say, if you manage to make this behaviour reality, you might even get more than a slight break in a while, my little one. Is that not a pleasing notion?”
“I… I guess so, my lord,” Lisbeth answered. What was wrong with him? Why was he so gentle all of a sudden? She enjoyed that he was not fierce for once, but it confused her greatly and made her wary. Still, she direly needed the break, so she would take what she could get.
“Very good, my pet. I am intrigued to see what you will make of that lesson,” Vect stated and got out of bed.
Lisbeth got out of bed too, frightfully remembering what he had done to her the last time she had dared to stay in bed when he had gotten up.
Smiling like a cat that just had found a bucket of milk, he stated, “Would you look at that! You even start remembering the rules!” His words dripped with mockery.
Close to tears, because she was so happy that she finally managed to do some things right, she replied, “I am trying my very best, Overlord.” Lisbeth jumped at her last thought. It was not like she had failed all the time, in fact, there had been quite some occasions when she had served him to his satisfaction, but he made it sound like it was the bare minimum that kept him from outright killing her. Since she had no one else to turn to, or too little occasion to do so, she now frightfully realised that she started to believe it herself. However, the realisation now strengthened her resolve. She forbade herself to fall to insanity. She would use every break he gave her. Feeling strong for once, felt good.
Vect chuckled softly. “Of course, you are,” he said. He moved over to the well-laid table, leaving her standing somewhat lost beside the bed, and poured himself a cup of wine. Lisbeth realised in those moments that it was the first time in god-knows-when that she could watch him without any nagging feeling of dread – and found it actually pleasing.
He took a sip from the platinum-lined metal cup and looked at her over his shoulder. “Then again…” he started, his tone still soft, his expression unreadable.
Lisbeth looked at him, completely out of sorts. As so often, she had no idea what he would do next.
Vect took a deep breath through closed teeth, sounding very much like he was regretting something – which he certainly was not. Regret was not a feeling that was found in his emotional landscape. “Then again,” he repeated, “all this reviewing of your dreams made me feel quite peckish…” He trailed off, staring into nothingness, all of a sudden looking like his age. Lisbeth was not sure whether it was the light that now drew deep wrinkles and shadows on his face, or if he really had aged since the last time she had the opportunity to look closely at him.
Lisbeth smiled nervously, all of a sudden not so sure anymore if she really was safe. “Then, perhaps, you would like to eat, my lord?” she said, her voice sounding very thin all of a sudden.
The Overlord slightly wagged his head, without moving his trailed-off gaze. Something of the picture gave Lisbeth a cold feeling in her stomach. “Oh, child, it is not a hunger any physical food can still,” he patiently explained to her, “additionally, it will take some hours until Vlokarion has prepared a satisfying repast for me.” His gaze fell unto her; the look in his eyes now had the fixating quality of a hawk’s stare. “Which only leaves one convenient option.”
That was a lie, and they both knew it. He had a lot of slaves to torture at his immediate disposal.
Lisbeth’s eyes widened and she wanted to back away from him as he walked towards her. However, in her panic, she forgot about the bed in her back and fell clumsily onto it. As he towered over her, his cold stare promising her nothing but torment, she pleaded, tears in her eyes, “My lord, please, spare me! I have been good!”
With an abhorrently cruel smile on his features, he said, “Indeed, you were.” However, that did not stop him from letting his long, elegant fingers slide into her copper mane and continuing, “Now, come here, my little morsel.” Abruptly, he pulled her upwards, dragging her to her feet again. Lisbeth received this treatment with a pained yelp. Without paying attention to that, he forced her to follow him into his private torture chamber, coldly ignoring her struggling, crying and begging.
It did not take long until her pleading was stopped by screams.
“This is it,” the Queen smiled, “I taught you everything I could. Our time is up.”
“Thank you, my lady. I don’t mean to sound preposterous with that, but I am now a lot surer that I will bring the usual victory for the Black Heart and to please the Overlord with it. I am grateful for how well you have taught me,” I said truthfully. Though she certainly had put me through a special kind of hell, somehow I could not despise her as I did with Ailith. She was the mistress, the Queen, the absolute, concerning the arts of the blade, and therefore, she had every right to do to me whatever she saw fit to educate me.
Hesperax tilted her head, her eyes slightly narrowed. “Usual victory? What are you talking about?”
I blinked in confusion. “Well… um… I’ve been told that the Black Heart usually wins the Carnival and it was doubted that I could live up to those standards.”
The Queen started to laugh full-heartedly at that. She needed a while to calm down again, while leaving me standing in utter confusion.
“My… lady…?” I asked carefully.
“Who told you that nonsense?” she asked, still smiling widely.
“Archon Zuol mentioned it, whilst being concerned that I might not live up to it,” I answered.
“And let me guess… the Overlord has done nothing to disturb that notion?” she questioned me further.
“No, my lady,” I gave back.
Hesperax chuckled once more. “I hate to break this to you, little one, but you have been hoaxed. The Black Heart usually cares very little about the Carnival, in fact, they send slaves in that prove to be entertaining for the crowd, but not fit to win.”
My heart pounded faster at her words. What did that mean for me? Had my master just sent me here to die? Had all my efforts been in vain? Had I done something to anger him so severely that he wanted to get rid of me in this very elegant manner? Why the lies? It made no sense!
The panic had to be apparent on my face, and I was sure that my feelings were quite delicious for her, because she watched me silently.
I closed my eyes and shook my head, calming myself down again with some deep breaths. This train of thought would lead me nowhere but to possible, final punishment for my lack of discipline. I had to ponder this for myself for a while.
“Huh. Seems as if my training has come to fruition after all. Most would have lost it at the thought of being just an expendable asset,” the Queen stated.
I smiled coldly. “I have come so far, I might at least try it for real.”
She let out a contemptuous grunt. “Still, if you think that this victory will be something to truly please the Overlord, you are in for a nasty surprise.”
Now my smile grew confident. “I’m aware that it is next to nothing to him. But it might just be that minimal advantage, that slight pleasing quality in me that will give me some more time of survival.”
Hesperax’s expression was quite placid all of a sudden. “You certainly have learned your lessons.” She stared into nothingness shortly, then said, “Oh, speaking of the Overlord – it is a shame that I haven’t seen him for quite a while. Seems as if your replacement requires a lot of attention. From what I gather, she is not doing too well.”
Did everyone in this goddamn city know about Lisbeth and me? However, I bit back the questions I wanted to ask; I wanted to show as little as I could how much I cared. Therefore, I tried to change the subject by asking, “My lady, since our time is up now, if I may ask, what will happen next?”
She seemed to care as little as she let on, because she instantly climbed in on the topic. “You are going to…” she enjoyed drawing out the pause and leaving me hanging, “take a break, until the festivities start.”
I looked at her, doubting the truth of her words, expecting a trap.
Her smile deepened. “So suspicious, little one? I guess I can’t blame you.” She shook her head. “But suspicion is ill-placed this time. All contestants get a break before the festivities and the Carnival. We want you to be well-rested and at the peak of your strength before we watch you bashing each other’s heads in.”
“I see,” I commented.
“Alright, then. You will be picked up once the time is ripe for the preparations. Go and enjoy your break! You’ll need it,” the Queen said.
I bowed to her. “Thank you, my lady.” With that, I left my training lesson for the last time.
The moment I was back in my quarters, I banged my fist against the wall and cursed wholeheartedly.
It was how I had feared it – Lisbeth did not do well. She was doomed, I had felt it all the time! She simply was not fit for this kind of pressure and it did not surprise me. That Hesperax now had confirmed it, willingly or not, tore me apart. Yet, as so often, there was nothing I could do about it. I just hoped that I would see her at the festivities, that I at least there could support Lisbeth somewhat.
Could I even support her anymore? I had changed so much the last year. I had lost so much of my humanity, I had gained skills most humans would deem terrible and it had cost me dearly. When I closed my eyes, I saw the faces of those I had killed, torn in agony, the life leaving pleading eyes, the dead bodies I had stepped over,...
I ran away from the painful memories once more, and once more found that it was far too easy to drown the emotions. Either I had become exceedingly good at it, or my emotions were slowly dying. I had no way of knowing. Everything felt somehow… numb.
The next thing that greatly bothered me was the truth about the Kabal of the Black Heart and its relationship to the Carnival. That I survived the Carnival was not entirely likely, and now that I knew that the Black Heart usually just sent entertaining slaves into it to die, just made me a lot more unsure of myself, though I knew I had gotten the best out of the favours. It made me feel much worse and confused, because I did not understand why I had been lied to in that regard. What had Zuol tried to accomplish with it? And why had the Overlord done nothing to dismiss the lie? What had I done so severely wrong that I deserved extra pressure?
Why - it was the question of losers and the one slaves only at the rarest of occasions got answered around here.
“You have to be content with simply not knowing and understand that not everything needs an explanation.”
Vlokarion’s words echoed in my mind. They had so much gravity, it hurt my head. And yet, once more, he had done me a favour with saying them.
As it seemed, I got the break I needed. Yet, it would still be filled with worrying, fighting my own demons, so many things to dread and so many questions left unanswered.
I realised that the hardest test in this break would be not to let doubts overwhelm me.
Archon Aaryn Cra’ozamahr Zuol marched through the corridors of one of the transports, that ferried citizens between the main city of Commorragh and the satellite realms. His face was drawn into a sinister scowl, his stare cold as dry ice. He was adorned in his armour and surrounded by the two Incubi, who were the best of his lifeguard. Though he was one of the most capable warriors in Commorragh, it was always wise to have reinforcements and it also was a sign of status that he would not hide. He did not have a hard time keeping this bitter expression, for two reasons.
One was the place Nuscul had deemed appropriate to talk to him. Zuol was aware that he had chosen the place just to spite him, as the ship he was on was not only a transport, but also a pleasure palace. Every indecent proposal was made here, be it sex, alcohol, drugs or other, more exquisite desires. Zuol felt thoroughly misplaced, as he had lost his interest in such things a long time ago. Age made one of his kind absolutely jaded, and the things that enticed him could not be found in a place such as this. This was another thing that spoke for his lifeguard - any unwanted advances were shut down before they could even come to fruition, in form of lethal punishments. It was better this way, otherwise, he would have left a trail of writhing, broken bodies. The longer he stayed here, the more his urge to go on a rampage grew.
But, rampages were for the undisciplined mind, and that he was not.
Teeth-gnashing, he also had to admit that, though, of course, the place was undoubtedly chosen to annoy him, there was also some tactical thought behind it. Just hauling him onto a pleasure transport without any reason would have made massive suspicion arise, so Nuscul came up with an official justification for it. Nuscul had invited most of the Circle members to one of the Satellite Realms which belonged to the Kabal, to discuss a big-scale raid with massive opportunity for slaves and riches. Things had worked perfectly for him, since, of all people, Sythrac had agreed to come, which gave Zuol the perfect reason to be there as well. Where his biggest rival tread, he had to tread too, if Vect’s word did not prohibit it. The transport just led to their meeting place, and, since an official reason for their presence was given, a small meeting between the two of them would surely be of no concern.
That Sythrac and Nuscul had grown so close, figuratively speaking, over the course of their last raid, also was something Zuol took notice of, since it was a reason for him to be concerned. That the old general suddenly leant towards the youngster could mean future trouble for him, but also confirmed that what he thought about Nuscul was accurate. Sythrac had always had an eye for talent, and if he showed interest in someone, that one was usually worthy of keeping an eye on. Zuol knew he had to be wary and stay alert. If Sythrac backed Nuscul at some point against him, it could have dire consequences. He would carefully observe Nuscul and call Sythrac out about it at some point. That was how he always had done it with the Soul Hunter and so far, they had settled their score directly, without the need for subtle backstabbing and without the Overlord needing to know it.
The other reason that made him glare with murderous intent, was that he did not look forward one bit to what he now had to do. But, as it was expected of him, he would obey without a word of defiance – he had dug this hole for himself, now he had to face the consequences. Anything else did not befit him as the fiercest warrior of the Kabal of the Black Heart. Without a doubt, the Overlord just made him forge plans with Nuscul together, because he knew how little he liked him, not because he would need Nuscul’s help. Still, thus were the small, humiliating games the tyrant enjoyed so much, therefore, it was best not to spoil his fun.
"Phantasy is more imporant than knowledge." - Albert Einstein
Last edited by Akularz-Shâtî on Fri Jul 05 2019, 20:39; edited 1 time in total
Posts : 33
Join date : 2019-07-05
Location : Vienna
|Subject: Re: Into the Devil's Eye Fri Jul 05 2019, 20:38|| |
Nonetheless, there was something neither the Overlord nor Nuscul knew. Zuol was fairly sure about both. That the Overlord was none the wiser was convenient; that Nuscul was oblivious, was important. He disliked the young Archon far less than he let on, and he would do everything in his power to keep it that way. Sure, Nuscul’s eternal jovial and frivolous attitude certainly was annoying, but he was far less infuriated by it than he showed. The young one should think that he had him on the brink of frothing rage all the time, so that he underestimated his clarity and calmness of mind. It was necessary, because Zuol knew what a capable warrior looked like. After him and – as little as he liked to admit it – Sythrac, Nuscul was the third-best warrior in the Circle. His style was different and he lacked experience, yes, but if he survived up to his age, he would be a force to be reckoned with. Therefore, having the youngster underestimate him, would be one of his biggest advantages.
Having the training of an Incubus certainly had its merits. A rare, satisfied smile could be seen on Zuol’s face.
Also, there was still the issue of what Vect was planning, and, as usual, it was the most dangerous variable of this whole situation. Of course, the Overlord was planning something all the time, but in this particular case, Zuol could smell the rat, but could not point out what it looked like. There would be some kind of reckoning before this was over, surely for Varys and most likely for Malys too. He himself already got to taste that there was a deserved scolding at hand, apart from the one he already had gotten. He just wrecked his head over the question of how Nuscul fit into the picture. What the young Archon had found out had been awfully resourceful – not a trait which he had shown before – and he had handled it very well, which showed surprising instinct. Yes, he was a member of the Circle, those were skills that each and every one of them had to display anyways, Zuol was just surprised by the level of those skills Nuscul had demonstrated, even though that he held the fifth position in the Circle. So far, Zuol had attributed Nuscul’s relatively high position to his close ties to the Cult of Strife, but this incident had taught him otherwise. Underestimating an opponent was always a stupid mistake and he was angry at himself for letting it happen in this case.
Then again, for all his instinct, Nuscul had been so terribly nervous in front of the Overlord, so unrestrained, so vulnerable. Zuol suspected that he was desperate for this chance; apparently, he had made one jest too many in the Circle meetings and displeased the Overlord. A foolish and dangerous mistake. Well, that he had been summoned to the Scrying Chamber alone, not too long ago, spoke its own language.
That fact could make this all too enjoyable for him, even if he had to be wary. He just had to see how well Nuscul bore the responsibility.
Now he had reached the main hall of the palace, and with it, the place where they would meet. A mixture of all the sins provided could be found here, and it made Zuol sigh deeply. Finding Nuscul in here would be arduous…
A soft, melodious voice touched his ears and immediately caught his attention, “Archon Zuol?”
He turned his head to see who had talked to him, and found that it was a Drukhari slave girl, which had, as it was custom, bowed down, and now remained with a downcast look. “What is it?” he barked at her, unmoved by her beauty.
“Archon Nuscul sends his regards. I am here to lead you to him,” she said.
“Very well,” Zuol gave back and motioned to his lifeguard.
The girl led them to a calmer corner of the room, which was composed of booths and private rooms. She halted in front of one of the rooms, but it was unnecessary, as the warriors that waited around in front of it were easily recognisable as Nuscul’s lifeguard.
The slave made an inviting gesture towards the door, and Zuol rushed by her, storming the room in his usual, stern pace.
The chamber itself was – as expected from such a place – luxurious, well-decorated and comfortable. The room was fitted with all kind of different furniture, to accommodate all kind of different needs and the air told the story of past, numerous excesses. Nuscul received him, of course, smiling, lounging in one of the armchairs found in here, arms crossed in front of his chest, feet crossed over on a small stool, which seemed to belong to the armchair. His smile widened as he beheld Zuol and he quipped, “Ah, the most venerable Aaryn Cra’ozamahr Zuol! About time you showed up, I have so much to tell you!”
It did not escape Zuol that Nuscul had left out his title on purpose, but he decided to not give him such an easy victory. “So good to see you too, Yevhen, though I question the choice of… accommodations,” he said with a falsely sweet tone.
“I knew you would! However, after this, I am going to need a break before the next meeting, and this is the perfect place for it,” Nuscul chuckled cheerfully.
Zuol narrowed his eyes and, ignoring Nuscul’s last remark, he hissed, “Also, just because I have been ordered to work with you does not mean that you can command me around like one of your lackeys. I will come when I want to come, and not a second earlier.”
Nuscul bared his teeth with a broad grin, swung his feet from the stool, sat straight up, held up his hands in a calming gesture and said, “Calm down, old-timer, I was not questioning your skills in the bedchamber.”
Of course, Nuscul would take the bait. Letting him win, Zuol rolled his eyes, huffed and said, “Can we cut the usual banter for once? I think even you understand that if we mess this up, we are both in trouble.”
Nuscul sighed deeply and nodded. “I suppose you are right. Let me show you what I have thought up so far.”
Zuol seated himself and looked intently at Nuscul.
The younger Archon straightened himself and said, “Anything to drink? Or does that clash with your weird code of honour?”
Smiling at Nuscul in a placid manner, Zuol gave back, “No, it doesn’t.”
Running one hand through his hair, Nuscul signalled his guards outside to let the slave girl inside. They ordered their drinks, Zuol observed Nuscul intently. His joyless smile deepened. He was right. Nuscul was still nervous. Terribly so. He needed this to succeed.
Now it was his time to have fun. “Tsk, tsk, Yevhen… why so nervous?”
“Nervous? You should either stop taking whatever you take or do a lot more of it,” Nuscul retorted, just a tad too quick.
Zuol decided to acknowledge his own victory with a knowing stare and a fiendish grin. “So? You said, you have something to tell me? I am waiting.”
Nuscul put a small holoprojector on the table between them, with sharp movements, yet still smiling – Zuol could tell that he was angry – and when he pressed a small button on the device, a tactical holo-map grew out of it, which showed Varys’s demesne of Corespur. Zuol instantly could see the work Nuscul had done so far and understood his reasoning, but he let him explain.
It was a good plan, unexpected manoeuvres, a lot of traps and it forced Varys’s forces perfectly into a corner. Of course, he would not show that to Nuscul in the slightest. He would let him squirm.
Zuol said, after taking a relished sip from his cup, which had been delivered in the meantime, “Not an entire failure. At least for a completely oblivious beginner.”
Nuscul snapped, the smile wiped from his face, “What?”
The older Archon shifted delightfully in his chair. He had hoped that he could school the youngster, and now he got his chance. “Oh? I thought I was clear? My bad,” he said, letting all the enjoyment vibrate in his voice. Gesturing with the hand that held the cup at the projection, he explained, “Well, the tactical plan itself is not too terrible, but you missed one major thing.” He drew out the pause with pleasure, leaving Nuscul to stew. “How will the punishment of Malys be commenced?”
“I figured this would be the Overlord’s business, considering that he already had a talk with her,” Nuscul answered, muscles tensed up.
Zuol scoffed. “Wrong. He had that talk to make clear to her that she better plays nice. Now it is up to us to execute his will.” He smiled sardonically, taking another sip. “So, think, pretty boy, and think fast, because we don’t have a lot of time to do so.”
“What are you here for then, anyway? So far, you have contributed nothing to the plan, you have only bitched about it and your head is on the line as much as mine,” Nuscul snarled.
Zuol smiled complacently, as he knew all too well that his head might be on the line, but by far not as much as Nuscul’s, and got up in one fluent movement, stating calmly, “I just saved you from running into a trap. If that is not enough for you, then I will take my leave and wait for you to come to your senses.” He turned to leave, taking his time, giving Nuscul enough time to think and react.
As he had almost reached the door, the young Archon said, “Wait! Listen to this, I think I have the perfect idea.”
As so often in my life in Commorragh, I was on the brink of freaking out. The festivities were at hand, and, soon after them, the Carnival. I noted with a sour mood that I still did not know when exactly the Carnival would start. This secret was kept closely and it worried me what it could mean. But at least they had been generous enough to warn us three days in advance before the festivities were at hand.
Though it now had been two weeks of free time, I had found myself quite often in the training hall, refining my skills, going through my lessons and keeping my mind and body sharp. I would need every ounce of it. I would have loved to train some more with the daggers I had been gifted, but soon after the start of the break, they had been taken away from me by a Wych, who had told me that I would find them again in the Carnival. I did not like the cryptic undertone of those words. What would it entail to get my weapons again? The answer probably was nothing good.
Deep down I also knew that I trained so much to keep myself from thinking, as there was a lot I had to process. And though my exercises reminded me of the horrid slaughter I had commenced in the hall, it still was better than sitting around and waiting for the madness to settle in.
As to the festivities and the Carnival, I did not know of which I was scared more. I was not naïve enough to think that the festivities would be in any way joyful for me, as I had a vague concept of what Drukhari parties looked like. One might be thinking that I had gotten used to screams and torture by now, but those were things a human mind never fully adjusted to. Also, I was nervous because I would see my master again.
No, nervous was not the right word.
I was… excited.
I really was looking forward to seeing him again, but yet I also knew that I had to confess some things to him, which would bring me punishments. If I was lucky, he would keep them for me if I came back, because weakening me so shortly before the Carnival was not in his interests – or was it? I could use it as a pointer, though, I realised. If he punished me right there and then, then I could be sure that he had just sent me away to die. If he refrained from it, I could deduce from it that maybe it had been Hesperax who had lied. I was not sure what to think anymore.
Thinking about the Overlord, I also remembered that I had called him ‘master’ before I had left. Though I was scared of his reaction, I needed to ask him whether he had taken offence in the addressing or not.
However, with that realisation the fact also hit me that it very well could be the last time I would be seeing him.
I shook my head, tossing the thought aside. I had to concentrate on the matters at hand… and these were to get mentally and physically ready for the festival. As to the physical part, it would be taken care of. I had already been informed that two slaves would come around to style me for the event. As to the mental part… well. Though I had seen, dealt and felt my share of torture, I was quite sure that my knowledge in that regard would be pretty broadened once the evening was over.
I jumped as I heard a knock on the door. Because I was so on edge, my bidding the visitors inside came out as a snarl, “Come in!”
I could not help but raise my eyebrows in surprise as I beheld the two slaves that came in. I knew them. It were those two that had already styled me several times. Bloody hell, they reeked of fear.
“Hello! I did not expect to see the two of you here,” I stated, without much emotion, though. They were, after all, insignificant.
The older one gave back with a slight bow, “Apparently, the Overlord was pleased with our work the last few times, therefore, we were chosen to work on you once more, my lady.”
What I realised with confusion, was that I did no longer mind the addressing. I caught myself thinking that it was right how it was – after all, I had come a lot further than they ever had. I could not explain why now, all of a sudden, it did no longer matter to me, but then again, I really had other things to worry about.
“Very well. Let’s start then, I don’t want to be late!” I said.
And so they started working.
It was a long process. They started with crimping my hair, which gave it a lot more volume. Then, they braided the top section of my head in a French braid, starting from the crown of my head, going to the front. After that, they flipped the tail over and braided a Dutch braid over it, using the excess hair from the sides. The braid got fixated in a ponytail at the back, and to finish things off, they plucked some strands out of the braid around my face. Once more, the hairstyle, and the amazing make up they applied afterwards, fitted my features perfectly. What surprised me, was that I got to wear the clothes again that I had been wearing for the introductory ceremony. I had wondered back then why I had been given so glamorous clothes for such a short occasion. Now it made sense. With my enhanced senses, I also realised how fine the clothing actually was. The sportswear I had had whilst training seemed like rough linen against this exquisite silk. It was like someone gently stroking my skin, it felt soothing and relaxing.
I bid the slaves farewell after I received the info that I would be picked up by a squad, later on, to lead me to the festivities. Though the festivities took place in the heart of the Crucibael and the way there was short, I knew why. At this point, too much time and currency had been invested into me to leave me unattended, open for an attack, though I was a lot less defenceless than a year ago. Still, there were enough threats around here to be had which I would easily be no challenge for, especially unarmed.
However, I knew where I had to go now. And I dreaded it.
I let my mind wander for a bit, but only towards what was happening currently outside. I knew that right now a hunt was commenced, for the Archons that had a competitor in the Carnival. Pure entertainment, nothing more. From what I had heard, it had to be a gigantic arena they hunted in, and I knew that the start and end of the hunt would be commenced in the Crucibael. I wondered whether my master attended too or not.
I guessed that I would find out in a minute though, because the slaves had been ‘asked’ to observe the end of the hunt, when they were prepared for the festivities. Which, of course, meant, that we damn well better did if we did not want to get punished.
So, I paced to the observation room, plucking at my hair, checking my makeup, setting my clothes. Rarely had I been that nervous for something around here. I hated how sweaty my palms were.
The observation room was guarded by two Kabalites. I did not have to say anything; they let me pass. As I entered, I found with distaste that I was apparently the last one to arrive. In here, I met the slaves I already knew so well. I saw that they all had been styled like me, equally glamorously dressed, and the notion hit me how well subtle makeup could improve every face. We just exchanged nods - probably the reality of the nearness of the Carnival hit us. At least it hit me. So far, I had been able to shove it all aside, ignore the fact that I would, most likely, kill some of those in here very soon - or they would end me. I could not wrap my head around it, no matter how hard I tried.
The observation room was a closed balcony, whose front was made out of glass, so we had a good look down into the arena. Though I dreaded it, I took a deep breath and stepped to the glass, looking down.
It was in these moments that I saw an Archon of an unknown Kabal lifting some kind of humanoid prey over his head, in a suggestively victorious pose. The dead body was fouled up beyond all recognition, I could not say what kind of creature it once had been. With the sight, I also noticed the enormous amount of wailing and screams that welled up from the bottom of the arena; somehow I had blanked it out. I saw that it was nothing short of a slaughter down there. The Archons had their way with their helpless prey; the arena, which had been redesigned to offer some kind of forest-like biotope, was soaked with blood. Though it turned my stomach, I took a wider look around, searching for my master, but I could not spot him.
I swallowed and looked away. If this was just the prelude of what was to follow, how should I ever survive it? And if I survived it, how would I survive it? How much would be left of me if I emerged victoriously?
My slip of attention almost cost me another grave mistake.
A voice cut through the nausea I was experiencing, “You are doomed, and you know it.”
I understood the words, though they were not spoken in the human language.
In the millisecond I wanted to react, I remembered that I was not allowed to. How often Vlokarion and his upgrades had saved me! With a normal, human reaction time I would have failed.
Of course, it had been Pychus, who, apparently, had tried one last time to test whether I understood the Dark Eldar tongue. And I almost had failed. Too close. Far too close.
I looked at him - boy, I had been way too distracted, to not notice him until now - and said, forcing a scornful smile on my face and saying in a belittling tone, “Pychus, I believe you are a smart guy.” He looked at me, raising one eyebrow, clearly not knowing where I was going with this. That only made it far more enjoyable. “Then why the hell are you too stupid to remember to speak your own language?”
He snarled at me and paced away from me. Good. Once more, he had eaten it up. I could not help but snigger. This had gone well.
However, this had been all the conversation I got while we were waiting around, occasionally looking down on the slaughter that happened several hundred metres below us. As usual, I tried not to think too hard about Cadriel and Josmina and nurtured my hatred for the rest.
As the hunt died down, one by one, we got fetched to be brought to the Carnival. As usual, I was the last one in the room. It did not surprise me anymore - apparently, as the slave of the biggest Kabal of them all, I was to show more patience than the rest. It had been a theme around here that had been played several times, and by now, I had gotten used to it, though I still disliked it.
Finally, my escort arrived and I was confronted with a face I knew.
“Dracon! I am honoured to be once more received by you,” I said with a small bow. Once more, the Despair Bringers had been assigned to pick me up. I really wondered whether it was still a gambit played on Zuol by the Overlord, or was just done to confuse me.
“You remember me. Impressive. I was expecting that most of your memories from last year had been beaten out of you,” he said.
I smiled warily. “Luckily, my head had been spared most of the time.”
He scoffed. “Fine. Come! I don’t want to be late.”
We marched through the Crucibael at a harsh pace, but I had no problem to follow. I very clearly realised that we took the scenic route. I knew that there were several gangways and corridors around the enormous round of the Crucibael, most tucked safely into the belly of the beast. Today, we used one of the corridors that had windows which faced down into the mid of the gigantic arena.
I did not bother to look. I knew what I would see down there, though I noticed that the screaming definitely had died down for the most part. It probably had been not too challenging prey, which constituted a swift ending of the slaughter, even when counting that interracial, non-raid killings always were drawn out on purpose.
Since I had little idea of the layout of the Crucibael, I had equally little idea of where we were going. However, that was not necessary, I could hear it all too well. What did not surprise me, were the crescendoing shrieks I heard. What I had not expected, was the music. So far, all I could hear were bass lines. And even from here I already understood that they had to be dizzying and trance-inducing.
The realisation hit me hard.
It had been over two years since the last time I had heard actual music. The notion left me with a cold feeling inside. There was so much I had forgotten or forced myself to forget. But to be remembered of one of the things I had loved most in my previous life… broke… something in me. I felt extremely sad all of a sudden, barely able to fight back the tears. The feeling was overwhelming, never had I felt such encompassing sadness. What the hell was wrong with me?
I only noticed that I had halted in my pace as I got nudged forward by one of the warriors. I winced hard, instinctively taking a small jump forward and murmured, “I’m sorry…”
With all my might, I tore my mind off the topic, burying my feelings once more under… in… emptiness. Down with it into the black void! It would do me nothing good. Weakness was fatal. I was better than this embarrassing feebleness.
Once more, my pondering got completely wiped from my mind. I welcomed it.
Because now, we entered the main corridor, and with it, I felt like I had entered a different world.
The main corridor was filled with Dark Eldar, all lavishly dressed, clothes shimmering in all the colours that ever were to be, swooning decorations, polished armours, dazzling makeup, awe-inducing hairstyles, faces so beautiful and perfectly staged that it hurt. A million different scents, which induced excitement, euphoria, aggression, arousal… too many feelings to be named. The music was much louder in here, yet not unpleasantly loud, though I still knew I was not at the source, it was almost impossible for me to grasp. I was not sure whether I heard different genres coming from different places, or if it was a mixture of everything, like too many notes and sounds laid over each other. It gave me the urge to run away and hide.
Sweat was on my forehead. My heartbeat had a hard time keeping its rhythm, since here the bass lines were so intense. I tasted bile on my tongue. My whole body was confused by the zillions of different stimuli it got.
I had to blink several times and take deep breaths to not get completely engulfed in vertigo because of the sensory overload. My enhanced senses now were a curse, not even the training at Vlokarion’s had been able to prepare me for that.
I was not given the time to process; two of the warriors grabbed me and dragged me along, until I found my composure somewhat again. By the time I came to, we already had left the main corridor and had gone into another hall.
Processing did not get one bit easier in here.
More sensory overload.
The hall was filled to the brim, divided in one main floor and many private lounges, filled with ever-shifting lights, pedestals, on which scantily dressed Lhamaeans lolled around at poles, movements and shapes so beautiful to behold that they mesmerised me, music, which was not per se loud but… intense… and a choir of wails. It made sense, loud music would only hurt sensitive Eldar ears. Yet, the music was perfectly composed to be stupor-inducing when one listened long enough to it. Sharp overtones, numbing bass lines, soothing middle tones. And the screaming.
Oh yes, the screaming. I found with great dismay that it fit the music. I looked around, and what I saw once more made me see that I had not delved as deep into the Drukhari mindset as I had thought.
I had always believed that it was something sincere, since it was so essential for them. But in here, I got taught that it was not. I found many, many forms of torture in here. Slaves of all kinds of races were strapped down on tables, bound to poles, mounted on walls, hanged from the ceiling, suspended in mid-air… the possibilities were endless. No matter what was done to the slaves, it was done as a sideline, the Drukhari had casual conversations, drank, raised their glasses to each other and gave little attention to the writhing bodies and bloodcurdling cries. As if the visual imagery had conjured it up, I now also noticed the heavy, metallic musk of blood that hung in the air. Since many different races got tormented in here, it not only reeked of human blood, but also of chemical compounds I had no names for.
As we passed, I also took notice of a particularly nasty contraption. It was an alien which I had never read about, I could not say what it was - some weird humanoid mixture with insect-like limbs and head - but it was half-suspended in a stasis field, while its neck and head were sticking out of the field. A group of Dark Eldar were lounging around the contraption, talking to each other, drinks in hand, while they took turns in cutting the pitiful creature open. The stasis field prevented fast blood loss, prolonging the suffering almost forever, while the screeches of the slave were perfectly audible, since its head was not inside the field.
Though I had seen my share of torture, I forced myself to look away. My mind had been invaded enough, there was no need to expose myself even further to the horrors.
We left the hall again, and I was grateful.
The longer we walked through the enormous festival, the more sensations and inputs I gathered. I found out that halls seemed to be dedicated differently. I saw mixed halls like the first one, pleasure halls, dancing halls, dining halls… the possibilities seemed endless. I was proud that I was now closer to understanding the Dark Eldar spirit than ever before. It would surely make me a better slave.
When I thought I had seen and processed it all, we entered the main hall.
Immediately, I noticed that this was the hall for high society, for the Archons, once more divided by their status.
It was enormous and oval.
The air was filled with a scent that calmed the mind, yet heightened the senses… and, of course, ever-underlying: blood. It was by far the best-organised hall, in the shape of an amphitheatre, but the ranks were not open, rather composed of a multitude of lounges, the signs of the Kabals mounted on them. The higher up in the amphitheatre a lounge was, the higher ranking it was. They also seemed to be organised by their loyalty to the Black Heart, because, on the far, short end of the oval, I could make out something like a gigantic pillar, embedded in the amphitheatre, which had the sign of the Black Heart finely engraved, adorned with jewels, on it. The pillar was filled with lounges; the biggest lounge of them all was at the top, above the highest level of the amphitheatre. I had a good guess where the Overlord was. I had the strangest feeling that I felt his gaze upon me. Closest to this pillar were the ten Kabals, whose Archons I had met and whose competitors I knew all too well by now. I looked at the lounge of the Poisoned Tongue and wondered whether Malys was staring down at me. Surely she knew who I was and probably had heard enough details about me to be suspicious. Damn Pychus to hell. It reminded me again that I had to tell the Overlord about my slip-up concerning my origins.
We had entered the hall at the short end, which was opposed to the pillar of the Black Heart. My synapses got once more fried by the sheer data they had to process. The lighting in here made something in my brain squirm, as many different colours were overlain in a mind-numbing manner, ever-shifting, never letting me fully adjust. Was this how the beginning of an epileptic seizure felt? In the middle of the arena, an enormous number of Lhamaeans currently fulfilled the strangest dance, between wailing slaves that were hanged upside down from the ceiling, and somehow, the Lhamaeans’s movements matched the strange lighting perfectly.
Oh hell. I knew what they were doing. I had read it somewhere once.
With every move they did, they drew the tiniest of cuts into the skin of the unfortunate ones. Their nails were covered in neurotoxins, which paralysed the slaves, so they could not utter more than a soft wail, but induced unimaginable pain throughout the whole body. The upside-down position ensured for prolonged consciousness. Slowly and gently, they were killing their victims and through the sheer numbers of slaves that got tortured to death in here, they provided for a light meal for the Archons.
Once more I wished that I had more time to process it all, but I was not given time. The Despair Bringers ushered me immediately to the right, through a small door, which led to a corridor under the sides of the amphitheatre. We followed it, several doors, stairs and small hallways branched from it – I quickly comprehended that those were the entrances for the Archons. Our journey led us upwards – no surprises there.
My heart beat faster.
My palms were sweaty.
My throat was dry.
Not long now.
I could not wait.
Though I never had walked in here before, I knew this stair was the last one. I could feel it. The stair ended in the biggest lounge, just like I had figured it would.
I could not see my master yet, just the tip of the obsidian throne he was on, as I was still surrounded by the warriors, and I simply was a lot shorter than them. I had to keep from hopping excitedly, I had no explanation where this extremely childish notion came from. I just was so glad to finally see him again.
As we had reached the throne, we greeted him, as was appropriate, but as was expected of me, I did not get up when the warriors did. That this mistake had not brought me severe punishment the first time I had met the Overlord, made me wonder in hindsight.
The Dracon took another step forward, bowed once more slightly and said, “Supreme Overlord, your competitor, as ordered.”
Warm waves of happiness, mixed with hackles-raising awe and fear washed over me as I beheld his thunderous bass voice for the first time after one year. However, it sounded even more intimidating, now, that my hearing was so improved, and I got an understanding of why this was. There was a frequency in his voice, which touched the infrasound level, like the dangerous growling of a predator. It was what made my skull vibrate and induced sheer fear just by hearing it. This voice could move mountains. The Overlord said, “Very well, Dracon. You may leave.”
With that, the squad turned on their heels and left the way they came in, which left me kneeling alone in the middle of the lounge.
“Temira. Get up and come to my side. Let me see whether you chose your favours wisely,” he said to me. It did not escape me that he most likely knew that. It mattered little.
I loved that he called me by name. “Yes, my lord!” I replied happily, jumping to my feet with ease, locking gazes with him for the first time after what had felt like a hellish eternity. No… it still was incredibly hard to meet his gaze. But this was how it should be. This was him. Awe-inspiring. Overwhelming. Terrifyingly magnificent.
What also hit me at this moment was that I perceived his armour now completely different. The slight, iridescent colours I had seen before, now were painfully clear to me. I could make out colours I had no names for, and yet, it was not too much, it was subtle in a different way, and I realised that the patterns the colours drew underlined the shape of each plate. I was glad that he was not wearing his helmet today, since processing those hypnotic shapes was not easy, and I had enough to do with facing his eyes without having to concentrate not to get dizzy from swirling colours at the corner of my vision. Never before had I noticed such a difference in my colour vision. Sure, Hesperax’s hair had looked richer in colour, but it had not been so much of a difference.
I wondered what more I would see today.
I flinched, as his next words ripped me out of my pondering. “Simply obeying will suffice,” he scolded me. How nuanced he used his vocal cords! When he spoke in a relaxed manner, it was just tones that fit well together. When he used his voice in a sharper way, he added some tones to it that slightly clashed with each other, making the listener feel uneasy, yet it was not enough to make his voice sound shrill or imbalanced.
Nonetheless, my understanding of it did not help me in the slightest with resisting its power. “Forgive me, Overlord,” I replied meekly, feeling intimidated. I had forgotten my manners. How could I?!
However, my sheer happiness got frozen in place as I looked around and Lisbeth was nowhere to be found. Only now the realisation hit me that, until now, I had completely forgotten about her today. I tried not to let it show, but, of course, hiding something from him was futile.
I came to his side, as ordered, and I expected for him to touch me, like he used to. Yet, he did not. He just followed my movements with his gaze, never taking his piercing stare off of me.
As I neared him, the next new sensation hit me. I could now catch his scent. What I got to sense, confused me greatly. At first, I could not discern it, as it was quite subtle, and yet something I knew I had smelt before. It took me some moments to remember. His scent reminded me of the one of ice. Not like snow, but like icicles or ice cubes. However, that was not all. I caught whiffs of frozen pine wood and cold iron, mixed with something sharp, chemical and pungent. It was very faint, and I could not tell what it was, only that it was there. Also, the longer I remained beside him, the more I caught a faint, herbal smell, which grew stronger the longer I inhaled it. I felt it accumulating on my palate and I immediately discerned the taste: blood.
So much to take in and all that while I stared into the two endless voids that were his eyes.
The slightest smile showed on his features as he was done pinning me down with his gaze, and he said, “Seems as if you have chosen your favours well, my child. Having your senses enhanced and not bleeding out of your eyes, ears and nose, due to the circumstances, shows that your modifications were integrated well.”
I was not entirely sure what he was referring to and why it should be the case, but I would not ask. I had not forgotten what he had done to me the last time I had asked him about a why.
He slightly tilted his head. “Even though, for all the training you had, for all of your enhanced senses and for all the skills you acquired, you still do not let go of the foolish thought about little Lisbeth. You wonder why she is not here, yes?”
I just nodded. I needed to get used to his presence again. My mouth was dry.
“I am sure that you know the answer,” he said ominously.
Hot and cold panic flared up in me and I blurted out, “Is she… gone?”
The Overlord chuckled softly. “Ah, Temira… Still so much to learn. No, she is alive, but let me put it like that: I did not deem her fit to be here.”
That could mean anything and it was for me to decipher. Either she simply was not good enough at service, or it meant that she was physically not capable of doing so, because he had hurt or maimed her so much that she simply could not walk. I had to fight hard not to clearly show my fear on my face.
“Enough of that! Lisbeth is taking up too much of my attention anyway, no need to bring her up additionally. After all, we have different things to discuss and this evening should be enjoyed,” Vect said. He caught my gaze once more, slightly raised one eyebrow, and added, “I get the feeling that there is something you want to ask me, yes?”
This was the biggest trap he had ever set for me.
There were a million things I wanted to ask him, but most of those things were terribly unwise to ask: details about Lisbeth. Why the lies? Was I destined to die? Where had I failed?
I would have to restrict myself to those that would - hopefully - not bring his wrath down on me, “Yes, my lord. There is something I wanted to settle since I left.” I had to push myself. “I recall calling you ‘master’ for the first time shortly before I left, and ever since, I have been wondering if I offended you by doing so.”
He did not answer immediately, but looked at me with an unreadable expression for a long while. “How intriguing,” he finally said, slightly tilting his head, “it seems as if this carries great gravity for you. Others might use it as an addressing without a second thought, but for you, it is more than that. Am I correct?”
I just nodded. I would not have been able to say a single word now.
A rare smile was seen on his face. “Well. Then I think you know the answer, am I right, Temira?”
I returned his smile weakly, but relieved.
Still, something bugged me. At times like these, he would caress my hair or cheek, or anything of the sorts, but he denied me the physical contact. I wrecked my head over why, though I knew I would not get the answer. In the best case, he was just avoiding it because this was an official event, in the worst case it had something to do with me failing.
“Nonetheless, I am sure, that…” the Overlord started, but did not finish his sentence, because one of his messengers entered the lounge, from the official entrance to the left.
The messenger fell to his knees before the throne, without making eye contact, and said, “Supreme Overlord, Archon Malys requests to enter your presence.”
“Ah, about time she showed up,” my master said, obviously annoyed. “Let her in.”
My heart beat faster. This was the first time I met Aurelia Malys. I was really excited to see what she looked like. As I knew it was expected of me, I dropped to my knees beside his seat.
When she entered the lounge, alone, her lifeguard left outside, I immediately could understand why one could fall for her physically, though I knew that those things were insignificant to my master. She was dressed in a breathtaking gown, which combined belligerence and elegance in a fashion that made my jaw drop. It had two layers. The lower layer was the elegant, yet coy one, consisting mostly of deep blue and turquoise lace, enclosing her neck like a choker, barely covering the cleavage and her breasts and wrapping her arms, where it was fixated on her middle fingers. It underlined her every curve, making her alabaster skin shine through. I also noticed here that I perceived the colours differently. I always had thought that they were a questionable choice in terms of combination, but now I understood that Eldar apparently saw more of the colour spectrum and to them, they matched perfectly. This satisfied me greatly, because I always had complained about the choice of colours back in my time. Now it all made sense. Something making sense was a rare treat around here.
Her delicate undergown was covered by an ostentatious wrap, which started at her head with a black standing collar, which looked like a spiderweb, that perfectly matched her complex updo, which was filled with gems and blades. Then it fell over her shoulders, ending in long trumpet sleeves, around her waist the wrap was fixated with an underbust corset, and it slightly connected with the floor. What really made the wrap so astonishing, was that it was made of thousands of small blackish-iridescent metal scales, which swayed with her every move, making for a very dazzling sight to behold. On her legs, she wore light armour, and boots with high heels. The standing collar complimented her delicate face and dainty features perfectly, and all that only underlined the profound stare of her pitch-black eyes, which beamed with cutting intelligence.
Yes, this woman surely was the closest thing to a match Vect had, and that was clear even without knowing who she was and what she had been to him a long time ago.
As it was custom, Malys curtsied to Vect, ending the movement in a short drop to one knee and then rising again. I found once more that her gown underlined her movements perfectly and gave them a dizzying elegance.
“Supreme Overlord. It has been a while,” she greeted him. Even the way she used her voice showed her genius. She generally had a higher pitch to her voice, but I realised that she used the highest tones on purpose, to sound innocent. An untrained and unwary listener surely would fall for the façade. However, in the deeper tones, there was a gentle purr, on one hand underlining the innocent tone, on the other sketching the picture of a cat lying in wait for the kill.
I really adored my new auditory senses. It was fun to explore them.
“Indeed. I take it you came to tell me that things are moving along as planned?” Vect replied. I strained all my senses to get anything from them, after all, they had quite the rich history together, but I could deduce nothing at all. There was no emotion between them, just plain, cold business.
“Yes, I received the plans, yet I have a suggestion to make,” she said, and it did not escape me that she did not ask whether she was allowed to or not.
“Why did you even assume that I am interested in your suggestions?” Vect replied sharply.
She smiled confidently. I doubted that there was another emotion than confidence in her in these moments and it probably was necessary when facing the Overlord so boldly. “Because I know that you will like it,” she gave back.
Vect scoffed. “Let me be the judge of that.” He slightly shook his head, then turned towards me and said, “Child, fetch me a drink. It seems as if my patience is about to be tried.”
I got up, bowed slightly and made my way to the official exit, which meant, that I had to go around Malys, as I was on the right side of the throne and the exit was on the left, and leaving behind the throne was not an option.
Of course, I did not get away so easily.
As I passed her, she said, “You must be Temira.”
I flinched slightly as she said my name, afraid that it was my fault that she knew, but then I remembered that it was unsurprising, considering that I had told it to Beltis, while most of High Commorragh had been watching.
“Yes, Archon,” I gave back courteously. Even if she was Vect’s biggest rival, I needed to be cautious.
She nodded, her cutting stare upon me, then gestured me to go.
Profoundly confused, I left.
What had that been all about? She had already known that. Why ask me who I was?
Riddles. How I loved them.
I shook it off and realised, as I stood all alone in the broad corridor, that I had no idea where to go to get my master’s drink. Ah well. As usual, I would manage.
I followed the corridor, happy that all the sounds were dulled in here for a bit, until everything got louder again. It seemed as if I was on the right track.
It did not take me long, and down a staircase, to reach my destination. It was yet another, big room, with a bar in the center, but I immediately realised what was different in here.
Here, I was in high society.
I saw a lot of Archons with their lifeguards standing around, their armour revealed that, though I could right now not make out any familiar faces, and they were entertained by several Haemonculi that commenced the torture on some unfortunate souls.
As I made my way to the bar, I looked around, wary of my surroundings, and suddenly I saw something, or, rather, someone, that caught my eye. I almost had missed him, as the hall had a lot of alcoves and booths, and he stood almost completely shrouded in shadow. The shifting lights in here made it hard to perceive in the dark for me.
I went up to the tall, slender figure, clad in wide robes and a black mask that just left the eyes uncovered, and said, “Maester! I had not thought to meet you here.”
What additionally had thrown me off was the fact that he once more looked completely different. In addition to the mask, he had altered his exterior once more drastically. His frame was still slender, but almost no skin was to be seen anymore, as - from what I could extrapolate under the wide robes - his whole body was covered in thick, heavy plates of bone, without trading that for agility and manual dexterity from what I saw, since his fingers were as slender and flexible as ever. Though his face had somewhat retained its shape, it was, of course, now a lot broader than before and he looked quite heavily armoured. It seemed like a wise choice considering that wandering about in the city always proved to involve a quite realistic chance of getting attacked. Also, recognising him was barely possible in this form.
The hoarse chuckle I knew so well escaped Vlokarion’s scrawny frame. “Astutely spotted, my child, even though I found that mingling with a crowd like this is quite inspiring. However, as much as I enjoy conversing with you, I have to keep this conversation short, as I have some things to prepare still.”
“Prepare? Are you conducting business today?” I asked him curiously.
“In a fashion. You will see,” Vlokarion gave back, the smile apparent in his voice. Because of his heavy features, the slight facial movement the smile took up, was underlined around his eyes and it gave him the fierce expression of a wild animal. “I take it you fared alright with your upgrades?”
“Yes, Maester. They certainly proved to be very useful,” I said.
“Good, good. I see that you have adjusted even better now. Already excited to try them out for real?” he asked me, not hiding that he was anxious to see exactly that.
“I… would put it in different words, but… yes, I guess. Maester, if I may ask, is there any particular reason why you are not... engaged right now?” I gave back, waving in a motion that encompassed the hall.
His eyes narrowed with a deep smile. “Let’s just say that this would be a waste of my expertise. I leave that to younger, less talented colleagues. I will show my craft later in a more… dramatic environment. However, now I…”
“Well, well, well. What do we have here?” a voice cut in from behind.
I closed my eyes in silent torment. I knew that voice all too well.
I turned around with a fake smile on my face and said, “Archon Ea’nash. I was wondering when we would meet around here.”
He grabbed me at my chin and made me look into his eyes, with a broad, wolfish smile on his face and said, “I would not miss meeting you for the life of me, my sweet child,” he stated, then his stare wandered towards Vlokarion, “though I have to question the company you are currently in.”
Something was wrong with him. His eyes had a feverish sheen to them and his movements were a bit… jittery.
“My apologies, Archon. I shall take my leave now, I am busy anyway,” Vlokarion gave back with a slight bow. I could not shake off the feeling that there was a slight, mocking tone vibrating in his voice. Ea’nash probably was no match for him, but saying that to an Archon’s face as a Haemonculus was not a wise choice.
However, Ea’nash seemed to ignore or miss the inflexion, because he just gestured Vlokarion to leave, who did as told and merged with the shadows completely.
I stood the deep kiss and bite I received now from Ea’nash with cool composure, though I hated it. Had it not been enough that he had humiliated me so for one night? Also, I realised what was wrong with him. He was intoxicated in some fashion. He smelt extremely chemical and his breath was heavy with the taste of alcohol and other things I had no names for. I was surprised that it did not show in his articulation.
“Ah, I see that someone got enhanced. I had not thought it possible but you are even more delicious than the last time. I take it the Haemonculus you just talked to upgraded you?” Ea’nash demanded to know.
Oh, this was dangerous! I now realised that it had been unwise to talk to Vlokarion, as his survival was a well-kept secret. But I had lied to Ea’nash before and I suspected that his intoxicated state would make it even easier.
“In a way. He assisted the Master Haemonculus,” I lied fluently. Half-truths were easier to sell, after all.
“Well! Enticing. That you came out of those clutches so healthy, surprises me,” Ea’nash gave back. Though his words sounded like he was doubting mine, his inflexion showed me that they were said in jest.
Still, this was bad. I had dawdled long enough by talking to Vlokarion, if Ea’nash now kept me any longer, I was in trouble.
“Now, child, let’s have a drink, yes? After all, this night is for you,” he said and I could not believe my ears. Ea’nash had always been unrestrained and unconventional, but I was pretty sure that this was just outright stupid.
That he not only wanted to talk to me, but to have a drink with me, was even worse, in terms of time-management. “My lord, I am pretty sure that I am not allowed…”
“Nonsense! Every participant of the Carnival is allowed to drink today, after all, for most of you, this is your last meal,” Ea’nash enlightened me. Oh no, he really let go of himself!
“But, Archon, I am on d…” I started.
“Will you stop contradicting me!” he snarled at me and grabbed my arm, in a sudden rage. “Now, come, before I…”
“Tahvyn! There you are! Have you forgotten about our meeting?” a melodic voice cut in from the side.
Boy, was I happy to see her!
“Ah, I see, you are at it with Temira again, hmm?” she said playfully, touching his cheek gently and making him look at her. Then, she shook her head and sighed, “My, my, have you overdone it again? Come, I'll get you something to sober up, I want you to perform later and you are no use in this state. Besides, the girl surely is engaged for the Overlord’s sake. And you don’t want to interfere with that, hmm?”
“She was just leaving anyway,” Ea'nash smiled and let go of me.
I did not let the opportunity go to waste, but bowed to them and fled.
As I went away, I locked gazes with Yaelindra and she winked at me, while Ea'nash had resorted to kissing her neck. I now was pretty sure who the dominant one in this weird relationship was and it made it even stranger. I nodded to her and flashed a short, grateful smile at her in answer to her wink.
Luckily, I did not have to hazard a guess about the Overlord’s drink, all had been apparently ordered beforehand and I just had to receive it.
This time, I was in luck, I was able to leave the hall and get back to my master’s lounge unhindered.
However, before I could enter it, I was the witness of a quite delicious scene. Malys just left, and Hesperax just came. I watched them with held breath.
The two probably most prestigious women in all of Commorragh, and those two that were closest to the Overlord on different levels, met each other’s gaze and I swore that I could feel the temperature dropping as they did. Never before had I seen such cold stares.
“Aurelia,” Hesperax said, her inflexion somewhere around absolute zero.
“Lelith,” Malys gave back, in an equal fashion, now sporting a voice that was much fuller and deeper than before.
The slightest nod could be seen from both of them, and more duelling of stares, until they could no longer hold it. I realised they tore their gaze off each other in the very same millisecond.
Now, Malys came towards me, a meeting I had dreaded. She halted, smiled coldly and said, while she reached for my face, “So, you are the famed slavegirl I have heard so much about. You really must be special, considering how little he has destroyed you over such a long time, speaking in mon-keigh terms. And yet, when I see you now, I wonder what it is with you. What he has planned with you. Make no mistake, child, you are only still sane and alive because he has some plans for you. Make of that what you will.”
I wanted to shiver as she ran her fingertips over my left cheek, but I suppressed the urge with all my might. I would not give her an ounce of weakness, even though what she said unearthed a truth I had always known in my heart, but always ignored.
After that, she left me, her ominous words lingering on my mind.
For now, I shook them off. I had to hurry.
With a queasy feeling, I entered the lounge, only to find Vect and Hesperax talking to each other. I was glad that I was not immediately the center of my master’s attention, therefore, I quietly came back to his side.
It was weird meeting her like this again, while she was in a situation where she clearly not had the upper hand. I had spent so much time with her whilst viewing her as the one with total power over me and everything else, that I had almost forgotten that even she had to bow to the Overlord. However, I did not even merit a gaze and as usual, being in the same room like these two giants of Commorragh made me feel uneasy, yet somehow charmed.
It was a short meeting - as it seemed, Hesperax had only come by to inform the Overlord that the main event was about to start. Today, there was no familiarity, no gentleness between them like I had experienced it before, just official professionality and cool respect. She left soon again.
As she was gone, Vect looked at me and said coldly, “That took you long enough. You are not getting sloppy, are you, Temira?”
I lowered my gaze and said, “Please, forgive me, my lord, but there was a Haemonculus and three Archons who delayed me.” Damn, this was exactly what I had feared! And him already being annoyed did not help with the things I had to confess still!
However, he had been toying with me, because he smiled and gave back, “Do not worry, Temira, I just like to keep you on edge. Nonetheless, it is intriguing how much you pique general interest around here. No matter. Hold on to that drink, child, I was not entirely truthful with you - it is actually for you.”
So Ea’nash had not been lying. Still, this was bad. I would take it very slowly with that drink, because the last thing I wanted was to get drunk. “Thank you, my lord. I will be careful, though.”
“I had not expected anything else. Now, Temira, let us move to a different venue, the main event is about to start.” With these words, he got up, and like ghosts, his lifeguards came to his side. I had somehow managed to not notice them until now, they had been lurking in the back of the room.
I followed him, as expected of me, and to my surprise, we did not walk for a long time. We left through the official exit, went down a corridor, up one set of winding stairs and arrived in the lounge that overlooked the Crucibael so well and which I already knew from our last visit. Today, a pile of cushions was laid out on the right side of his throne, and I welcomed not having to sit on the floor for once.
As I did, I had a look at the drink again and could not help but wonder if there was a hidden thought in it that I had to decipher and whether it was another test. While I was musing about it, my master got served his drink too, and it surprised me that today things were so different, that I was treated so special today. It was suspicious. Or was I overreacting?
Suddenly, a piece of knowledge from my time floated back into my mind. I remembered “The Torturer’s Tale”. It was a short story about a torture-slave named Gideon, who had the honour to get visited by Vect. The Overlord had then told him the story of his rise to power. Gideon got but a short break from all the horrors of Commorragh, as he sat and listened, sharing a drink with the Overlord, without ever knowing who he was with and whether the story was true or not. What happened in the end, was that Vect left the ending open and Gideon got betrayed, because what he had drunk had been poison for him and he was left to suffer again. Of course, the poison did not kill him.
“Let’s hope I don’t end up like Gideon…” I murmured and flinched as I realised that I indeed had said it aloud.
"Phantasy is more imporant than knowledge." - Albert Einstein
Posts : 33
Join date : 2019-07-05
Location : Vienna
|Subject: Re: Into the Devil's Eye Fri Jul 05 2019, 20:38|| |
“What was that, Temira?” Vect cut in from the side.
I got myself into this mess, now I had to deal with it. “I am wondering, my lord, whether this,” I slightly raised the glass, “is yet another test or really a courtesy. I just know a story in which a particular slave you told the story of your life to and shared a drink with ended up with terrible indigestion. I would hate to face the same fate so shortly before the Carnival and fail because of it. I hope you forgive me if I am overly suspicious with that, but I made it my policy not to fail tests.”
That he laughed at me now, relieved me quite a lot. “It is intriguing when you mon-keigh are suspicious of something and always manage to end up with the perfectly diametrically opposed answer. I remember what you are talking about, yet at the same moment, I have to ask myself whether I have overestimated your sense of logic. The questions you should ask yourself are: what would it gain me? Was this fellow in any way in the same position you are now? Ponder this, child, and let me know to what conclusion you came,” he said with a chuckle.
I could not help but smile and answer, “Of course, if you put it like that, it sounds pretty stupid of me. I am sorry, Overlord.”
A fanged smile. “Very good, Temira! Now, let us drink to the Carnival.”
I nodded and bowed my head while toasting to him, then took a careful sip from my drink. With closed eyes and overfiring salivary glands, I took the taste in. It was very intense and a lot of nuances were in there, which mixed perfectly together. However, it was hard to discern them, as I had to concentrate not to drool because of sheer sensory overload. I tasted a variety of berries, finely composed together, exotic fruits in subtle nuances and dark chocolate, as the bitter foundation. Each of the notes in itself was not a problem, but the mixture proved to be a challenge. And, boy oh boy, as I had already feared, I would have to be very, very careful concerning the alcohol. But, I guessed, weak drinks were not to be found in this city of endless excesses.
As I came to, my master stared down at me and said in a sardonic tone, “Still adjusting, hmm?”
“To be honest, yes, my lord. I had little opportunity to adjust to my new sense of taste,” I gave back.
He ignored my remark and continued, “Before the shows start, there is another thing I have for you. Consider it my favour. There are some things you should know about the Carnival and who better to tell you than the one deciding upon the design of the competition. Listen carefully.”
I nodded, excited about what he would tell me.
“The layout of the arena is an upside-down pyramid. Your goal lies at the tip and, of course, you start out on the edges of the other side. There are many ways down, some longer, requiring a lot of strength and stamina, some shorter, in need of a sharp mind. The arena is separated in compartments, that only have specific exits and specific areas in between, that get sealed shut once someone is inside them, to allow for a safe resting place. The exits of the compartments will only be open for a limited time and not every exit leads to a resting place. Also, you will only find a very limited variety of Commorragh’s predators in the arena. However, if you dare to dawdle, things will get... complicated for you. Observe closely, when an enemy turns their back on you. And, lastly, if I were you, I would make sure that I am the first one to reach the prize, and if not, I would not let it be taken out of the room it is in by anyone else than me. And once I did, I would make haste to the exit, which will be at the center point of the base of the pyramid and be quite wary of my surroundings.”
I just nodded once more, already starting to decipher what he had said to me. The part about the ways and compartments was clear, and I already understood that if I dared to take too long with advancing, I would have to deal with a bunch of dangerous beasts. I also would try and go for a shorter way that required some brains, as, for one, I was sure that would help me greatly and for two, that my master expected exactly that of me. The resting places surely were important, I would have to be on the lookout for them. What he meant about observing my enemies closely when they turned their back on me I had no idea, it was all very cryptic. And though his words about the prize and the room it was in were quite explicit, they made little sense right now. I was sure that I would see it when I would be there. Nonetheless, what he had told me was vital. I knew where to go and where to leave and I suspected that to be able to leave, I would have to hold the prize in hand.
“Thank you, my lord. I shall use your generous favour wisely,” I said, truly grateful.
“You better will,” he said.
With that, our conversation was cut short, because the shows were about to start, which was marked by a fanfare.
I was not too happy that I now had no opportunity to further talk to my master; after all, there were still some things I had to confess to him. I wanted to go into the Carnival with a clear conscience and it would be important that he knew that Malys probably was informed that I did not hail from the Imperium. That Ea’nash had helped me with my favour towards Yaelindra was inconvenient to tell him, but better that than him finding out and punishing me for keeping it from him.
The longer the shows progressed, the more I was grateful that I had considerable to drink, for once being able to numb the experience a bit.
It all started out with a menagerie of different monsters, that got paraded around in the arena, and an announcement done by a fierce, female voice, “Welcome, Commorragh, to the main shows of our feast! You will find them becoming more delectable the longer the evening progresses. As it is custom, we start out with a menagerie of the predators that will hunt in the arena once the time is up for the contestants, to take care of the slowest in a most amusing fashion. After you had a good look at them, the assigned bounty hunters will show their skill. Slaves, take a good look! It will be educational.”
I noticed with surprise that the arena had been redesigned once more, now mimicking an urban environment with lots of cover and spaces to hide. After parading the beasts, they were let loose, and three Drukhari in vantablack body gloves entered the arena. As I looked at them, I got painfully reminded of the time I almost got killed. The assassin that had done away with me back then had been clad in the very same attire. I swallowed, took another sip of my drink and tried not to remember too closely.
Then, the bounty hunters demonstrated their skills by killing off the monsters that were skulking around in the arena, and their efficacy and skill were astonishing to watch - but also a very clear warning to all of the competitors that trying to go against those skilful killers was a very bad idea.
It was awe- and fear-inducing, but also beautiful to watch, in a twisted kind of way. I doubted that many of my foes could appreciate the beauty of it, though.
Whilst the arena got rebuilt by a multitude of slaves, my master said to me, “I take it you understand?”
“Indeed, my lord. However, for me, this impressive display would not have been necessary. I know that there is no way out of this but through it,” I gave back.
“Good,” he simply replied, then added, “I think you will be quite surprised about the next act.”
“Is it the one performed by the Maester?” I asked.
Vect nodded. “Indeed. Why do you know?”
“He was the Haemonculus I mentioned earlier. I had a short talk with him and he hinted at being here for a particular reason,” I replied.
At this, Vect snorted forcefully. “I am disappointed, Temira, you should do better than that and he should know better than talking to you, I cannot have someone asking prying questions why you were able to have an amicable chat with a Haemonculus,” he growled and shook his head.
I ducked subliminally and shrunk a bit deeper into the cushions. “I am sorry, my lord, it was a stupid mistake and I shall not do it again!”
“Feel lucky that I need you in top shape right now…” Vect started, his face drawn into a sinister expression that promised me pain - but not now, as he just had made clear. Woe to me if there was a later for me, then. The Overlord would not forget this. He took a deep, annoyed breath and continued, “No… you are not the main culprit here. It is foolhardy to expect from a mon-keigh that it keeps subtle machinations in its head…”
I was very well aware of the word he used this time and that he dropped the gender altogether, expressing his low opinion of me better than any curse could have done. I really had failed him this time and I had to keep myself from crying and vigorously begging for his forgiveness, for I knew that both things would just annoy him further. It just hurt so much seeing him so disappointed in me. All I could do now was to keep quiet and sit it out. I decided it would be wiser to wait until I confessed. Adding on top of his bad mood surely was not a good idea.
Then again, the fact that he refrained from hurting me right now, revealed the fact for me that he was indeed not touching me today because it was an official event and he wanted to keep his distance, not because he was so displeased with me. If he had been, I was sure that he would not have stayed his hand and would not have given a single thought about my shape.
“If he thinks that he can outplay me with hoaxes like this, then it is probably time to invoke some penalties on him. Someone needs to be reminded of his place,” the Overlord snarled and his words bode very ill for Vlokarion.
So we sat there beside each other in silence and I watched what happened next in the arena. The urban environment got removed, and a stepped pyramid with a round bottom got built up in the middle of the arena. On each of the steps, a multitude of slaves got strapped down, different races mixed together, and they got fitted with strange hoods made out of cables and hoses, that got connected into their spines and brains. This was done by a hoard of Wracks. I never knew Vlokarion had that many.
At last, as the whole pyramid except the topmost floor had been built up and the slaves connected properly - to whatever they were connected, it was a riddle - Vlokarion floated into the arena, accompanied by an impressive amount of Talos and a Wrack I knew all too well. Savva scuttled behind his master, and he dragged along a female Eldar slave, who fought against the Wrack with all her might. However, it was pointless, I knew how strong Savva was and even Eldar muscles were no match for the bulky mass of Savva’s body. As I looked closer, I could also see that her whole body - she was naked, of course - was covered with marks of different kinds. It looked like a strange assortment of weird tattoos.
“Behold one of the few direct apprentices of the renowned and infamous Haemonculus Vlokarion! From the courtesy of the Overlord and the Prophets of Flesh, he will grace us with a particularly special treat: a Talos-amplified pain organ. He will torture one of our weak cousins in so many ways that each of the other slaves, which will be neurologically connected to her, will perceive the torment differently and will produce a different output in the Talos engines. As an additional treat, most of the ones singing for us today are losing competitors from previous Carnivals. Enjoy this masterpiece!”
While the announcer did her thing, Vlokarion and Savva climbed the pyramid and fitted the Eldar onto a torture rack, that left her hanging upside-down and open to access from all sides. A circular table emerged from the sides platform, enclosing Vlokarion, Savva and the slave and I could see numerous torture instruments on it. I now understood what the markings on her body were there for. Apparently, the areas of different torture methods had been marked beforehand and her whole body was laid out like a map. The Talos arranged themselves on the various steps of the pyramid and they too got connected to the slaves.
Without showing it on my face, but feeling utterly queasy, I took a big sip from my drink. This would be something I would not want to remember too closely. Time to get a little bit tipsy.
I had seen Vlokarion torture someone before, but now I got to understand that it only had been casual compared to what he did to that poor woman now. I had not thought it possible to inflict so many different torments at once onto someone, and I quickly realised why it had to be an Eldar. A human could never probably muster the amount of emotional and sensory capability to really feel everything he did. He used every method to hurt someone that was imaginable - and more. He started out slowly, with the uninspired classics of cuts, burns, blunt injuries and the sorts, then went on to intensifying the agony with using the wounds he already had caused, drugging her, making something as light as a feather stroke pure agony, and terrifyingly slowly, he took her apart, bit by bit. He did not use a stasis field as I had seen before. This is what really showed his skill, because as he inflicted injuries onto her that should have killed her, she did not even faint once, keeping her agony and screams alive for all the time he tortured her.
The eerie choir the connection of the slaves produced should be something I would never forget. What I got to hear were a multitude of screams, each one sounding slightly different, expressing different kinds of pain. It ranged from desperate sobs and slight twitching, over shaking and mewling, to helpless howls of sheer agony and thrashing in the shackles, which made me understand that not all of them felt the same intensity of pain. All that was underlined by different sounds that got output by the Talos and everything worked somehow together, produced a somehow melodic, ululating, swelling and decaying choir of screams, underlined by tones that made it almost sound like some kind of twisted, nauseating song. It was ineffable, but it surely held a new kind of atrociousness for me and tormented my ears with a fierceness I had not sensed before. What I had listened to in the halls had been child’s play compared to what this was now.
And I could see that even the most jaded of the Dark Eldar enjoyed it, namely, the Overlord. He did not show it much, but I had learnt how to read his face at some times, and I could see the satisfied sheen in his eyes and the slight relaxation of his ever-disdainful expression.
Even I could feel the emotions of pure horror, numbing fear and unimaginable agony.
What scared me even more than the display, was that, again, on some twisted, basic level, I could understand the beauty of it.
What had I become?
I had no idea how long that gruesome demonstration of skill lasted, I was just sure that without a bit of a fogged mind I probably would not have been able to bear it so bravely, and I had seen and felt my share of torture around here.
By now, I did not know anymore what to do with myself in the Carnival. I felt the obligation to win, not only to please my master and to get back to Lisbeth, but also not to end up one way or the other if I lost. However, the thought of just jumping into the jaws of one of those monsters had also an appealing quality…
I shook my head at my own, foolish thoughts. I knew that even if I thought I had ended it, I knew that bringing people back from nigh-death was, after all, the specialty of the Haemonculi. And after watching this impressive, terrible display, I understood yet still a bit more of what kind of master Vect employed.
Over the course of the show, the quieter specimen constantly grew louder in their expressions, giving the - in lack of a better word - ‘composition’ a direful crescendo. The grand finale of Vlokarion’s performance was the simultaneous death of all those slaves he had driven into madness on these steps. Crying out once more in unimaginable pain at a deafening volume, the voices suddenly got silenced, as the last bit of suffering and life got drawn out of them.
As Vlokarion had finished, he earned thunderous applause. I found it weird how much he seemed to enjoy the limelight. It seemed so unfitting to the being I knew that loved his privacy and secrecy.
“Are you again doing the thing you are worst at, Temira? Thinking?” Vect’s voice cut into my thoughts.
“I assure you, my lord, if I could stop it, I would,” I gave back.
He chuckled. “Ah, but I find your stupendously limited musings always so entertaining, my child. What is it this time?”
“I can’t help but wonder - and I hope you excuse that question - why he is allowed to perform if he should keep to himself? Wouldn’t it be easy for someone to analyse his frame and look for it?” I know I took a shot with asking about a why.
I felt lucky that Vect was still amused. “It is simply a show of power, of the quality of the Haemonculi I employ, showing the masses that reaching my echelon is impossible. Also, do you think that he chose this form just for fashion? This is ablative, scattering plating. Scanning and saving this frame will not work,” he patiently explained to me.
Though he seemed docile for now, I did not trust this peace and decided to keep my mouth shut for now - not only because of the growing dizziness in my head and knowing what kind of mistakes would come from that - and rather watch what transpired further in the arena. If my master was in a chatting mood once more, he would let me know anyway.
The bodies, contraptions and pyramid got cleared away, again partly manually, partly automatically, and the arena got covered with the white sand I already knew so well. I had a good guess about what would happen next.
The announcer confirmed my suspicions, “Before we reach our grand finale, some of the finest combatants of the Cult of Strife will grace us with their combat skills, something light to recover before the final show, which you will want to enjoy with your head clear.”
I had a good guess what, or rather who, the final show would be. The only question that remained was against which foe she would fight. I looked forward to it. Considering that I now knew a lot more about her style of combat and that I now had senses able to follow the battle a lot better than beforehand, it would be really interesting and educating for me. Now I had to be careful with my drink. As the announcer had put it so astutely, I wanted to keep my head clear for that.
Soon after, the Wyches started their destructive dance down in the arena, and even their display was delicious to watch. Even the worst of them were at a level I could only dream of, and I saw some manoeuvres I had also been taught. Being able to understand them made me happy.
While the Wyches showed their skills, my master and, to my everlasting surprise, also me, got served some heavenly dishes. Though Vlokarion’s performance had left me with a feeble feeling in my stomach, I also felt how hungry I was as I smelt the dishes and I did not find it hard to eat. I was grateful for my indestructible appetite. Once more, I was somewhere between mouthwatering bliss and nerve-overloading oblivion, considering my fine senses and the first time I really came to try them out in this regard. If I lived through the Carnival, I looked forward to delving deeper into my refined taste buds. It made one of my favourite things even more enjoyable.
As we had finished eating, I said, “My lord, I would like to thank you for your generosity. I had not expected for this evening to go so… pleasantly, in so many aspects. And I would also like to thank you for staying your hand for now, even though I failed. I certainly don’t deserve your patience.”
Vect showed a sardonic smile at that and replied, “Good to see that you have not forgotten your manners entirely, Temira. If you come back, I will enjoy listening to your screams once more. But for now, it would be impractical.”
That certainly was a very cold answer, but what had I expected?
We returned to our cold silence once more and watched the performance of the Wyches.
At some point, they finished, and the arena got cleaned and prepped once more.
I was desperate for a conversation by now, but there was little I could do against the silent demeanour of my master today.
Unexpectedly, my master indeed broke the silence once more, with a statement I had not expected, “Using the loophole to get to Yaelindra was clever, a move, that certainly pleased me.”
That was my chance. He seemed to be benign towards me once more, the shows were almost over and there was little time for me to do my confessions now. If I did not dare it now, I was sure I would not be able to do it at all before the Carnival. And I already hated the thought of going down with a guilty conscience. “Thank you, my lord, I am happy to please you.” I swallowed. “About that, I need to tell you…”
However, I got cut off, for the announcer’s full, female voice sounded through the arena once more, “Commorragh! Now is the time you have all been waiting for! The Queen of the arenas will show her unique skills once more! Give it up for the one and only, Her Excellency Lelith Hesperax!”
What I had already witnessed once before now happened again. The whole arena broke out in thunderous roars, loud enough to deafen anyone and the Queen entered the arena.
I had blown my chance. I hoped that there would be still some time after the fight. I needed to tell him that I let something on about my origins and that I was in Ea’nash’s debt. Especially the first one was crucial, the second one could be revoked and ignored by him whenever it pleased him.
Something was wrong. I had felt it the longer the fight had lasted. At first, I had attributed it to Hesperax’s lightning-fast movements and my sheer concentration to follow them properly, but the longer the fight had lasted, the more I had felt it. This was more than drunkenness I was feeling right now.
What was going on? Had I at last been poisoned for my mistakes?
Vect looked at me, and once more gifted me an evil smile. “What is the matter, Temira? You look quite pale.”
“My lord… I think, I have been poisoned,” I gave back, fear ringing in my voice.
He chuckled darkly, never altering this terrible smile and I began to understand. “One might call it that, yes. I can assure you, though, that you will emerge from this kind of poisoning perfectly healthy and in top condition. After all, anything else would make little sense in the Carnival, agreed?” he mocked me.
“So… the drink…” I started, but it got incredibly hard to speak as my body went limp and numb and my mind started to shut down.
“Very good, Temira! You seem to find some wit after all!” he purred at me sardonically.
I tried to fight against it, but I already knew that it would be a battle I would lose. My sight slowly grew dim, my thoughts got number and simpler. I tried to speak, but it was impossible, as I slowly sunk down onto the cushions, torn between fear and forced relaxation.
The last thing I saw was the face of my master floating somewhere over me, staring down at me with his merciless gaze and the last thing my retracting senses picked up were his mocking words, “Ah, yes, I see the narcotics take their full effect now. Sweet dreams, my child. Do entertain the crowd tomorrow, will you?”
Then, everything went dark.
I would really, really, really appreciate feedback of any kind on the story! The only way to improve is to get feedback! If you are too shy to post an offical comment, feel free to write me a PM!
On to the Carnival, then.
Stay safe, everyone!
"Phantasy is more imporant than knowledge." - Albert Einstein
|Subject: Re: Into the Devil's Eye || |
Into the Devil's Eye