Leaving Caan: Part 1
“This way!” Hugo whispered, as he led us up a narrow staircase.
We heard more banging on the house’s main door, which ceased abruptly as we reached the first floor.
“Keep moving.” Hugo ordered, as he guided us to an even narrower set of stairs.
At the top, Hugo opened a small door and ushered us inside. We found ourselves in a low-ceilinged corridor, with doors on either side.
“In better times, Alram used to employ several servants.” Hugo explained, as he pushed us towards the opposite end of the corridor. “They’re all long gone now, but I remain to tend to his needs.”
At the end of the hall we found a tiny door, covered in dust and looking like it hadn’t been opened in decades. Hugo produced a key and unlocked it with little effort.
“Inside now and be quiet.” He whispered. “This is an old storage closet. They won’t think to look in here as long as you’re quiet.”
I looked through the little door and saw nothing but darkness beyond. I glanced at Hugo, who urged me on.
“It’s fine.” He said. “Go on.”
I clambered in through the door, into darkness. I turned to see Uksem following me in, and then Hugo closed the door. The light disappeared and left us in musty darkness. The air was thick and warm. Dust tickled the back of my throat, but I resisted the urge to cough. I reached out with my hands. I could touch the walls on either side of me, with no effort. Uksem shuffled about, I presumed he was looking for somewhere comfortable to sit. I felt, uneasy, my skin felt tight and I was breathing like I’d been running.
“I don’t like this.” Uksem muttered, quietly.
I grunted in response.
Uksem lapsed back into silence.
I remembered the lessons my father taught me; mental techniques designed to keep the mind strong. Over and over I tried to repeat the exercises, but I kept losing focus.
“Are you okay?” Uksem asked, sounding concerned.
“Fine.” I whispered, sharply.
I reached out and touched the walls, trying to ground myself in reality. They seemed closer. Had they moved closer? No. Walls didn’t move. I knew that much. The air seemed thicker and it was getting harder to breathe.
I felt Uksem draw close. I felt him reach out and put a hand on my shoulder.
That felt better, it felt real. The walls hadn’t really been closing in.
“Taril.” Uksem whispered into my ear. “What’s wrong?”
Down below in the house, I could hear people tramping around. It sounded like they were going from room to room. Searching for us, no doubt. They knew we were here.
I was straining to breathe, I just couldn’t seem to catch my breath.
“Taril.” Uksem whispered, urgently. “Talk to me.”
“Can’t. Breathe.” I mumbled, thickly. “Can’t, breathe.”
“Gods damn it.” He swore, softly. “What did they do to you down that mine.”
Lord Caan’s soldiers were on the floor below us now. I could hear them opening doors. Alram could be heard protesting vigorously, but it didn’t seem to be slowing the soldiers down. The darkness was weighing me down, I couldn’t breathe. The walls were definitely getting closer. I could feel it.
I began gasping. There was no air. I felt like I was being crushed. I tried to push the darkness away and felt Uksem grab me.
“Taril, stop!” He ordered, trying to keep his voice low. “You’re making too much noise.”
I tried to push Uksem off me. I needed to be free. I needed to get out. That was it. I just needed to get out. Everything would be alright then. I felt Uksem release me, and I tried to stand, but I struck my head off something. It felt like someone had just hit me with a fowling blunt. I couldn’t remember where the door was. I could feel some kind of pressure building in my chest, it was going to explode, and I didn’t care. I needed to be free. I opened my mouth to scream, but Uksem was there, beside me, holding me together.
“Easy, Taril, easy.” He whispered.
I looked around and realised that I was lying on the roof of the house, my legs still dangling in an open trap door.
I took a deep breath of cold night air, and everything felt instantly better.
“What happened?” I asked.
“You tell me.” Uksem responded. “You started getting more and more agitated the longer we were in there. You were almost in full panic when I found that hatch and pulled you out. What did they do to you down in that mine?”
I took another deep breath of sweet, cool air, and sighed.
“Not now. We can’t stay here.”
I pulled my feet out of the hatch and Uksem closed the trap door as quietly as he could. I came up to a crouch and looked around. It was a straight run with a drop at the end to the roof of the stables.
“Come on.” I ordered. “While they’re busy inside, we might be able to slip away unseen.”
“Sounds good to me.” Uksem replied.
I took the lead and we made our way over the roof, keeping low so we wouldn’t be seen from the ground.
“What now?” Uksem asked as we crouched at the edge of the roof.
“We jump.” I said, quietly.
“You’re mad.” Uksem muttered.
“I’ll catch you.”
He rolled off the edge and dropped.
I swallowed back a curse, and reached out with my mind, grabbing him several feet from the roof of the stable.
“A warning would have been nice.” I muttered, straining to lower him the last bit.
I felt him touch the stable’s roof and let him go, breathing a sigh of relief. I was very much out of shape. Taking a breath, I dropped down to land beside Uksem, breaking my fall just as I did for him.
I was about to jump down on to the ground when Uksem pulled me down.
“Wait.” He whispered, as he pointed out to the street.
Several soldiers were milling around, no doubt waiting for those inside the house to return.
“Alram wasn’t kidding.” I whispered.
“No.” Uksem replied, softly. “But that’s a lot of men for a random house search.”
“We can’t stay here, it wouldn’t take much for someone to see us.”
“You there!” A voice shouted from below us.
I grimaced. “Gods damn it.”
We rolled off the roof and sprinted into the stable. I reached out and snagged our weapons from the loft, guiding the bundle to my hands. I tossed Uksem his sword and I whirled my glaive.
“What I wouldn’t do for a shield.” Uksem growled.
I could hear the sound of running feet outside the stable and I turned to face the threat. Three warriors burst in. I didn’t hesitate. I spotted a pitchfork leaning against an old cart and with a surge of mental power, I hurled it, prongs first, at the nearest soldier. He went down hard, his throat ruined. The two men with him, hesitated, giving Uksem and I time to engage them. It was quick and dirty. I feigned a high thrust and cut beneath the warrior’s shield. He squealed loudly, and slipped on his own blood, falling to the ground. I tore his shield away from him, with another burst of mental energy and cast it at Uksem’s opponent. The man saw it coming, and blocked it with his shield, but left himself open to Uksem. He died for it.
“You said you wanted a shield.” I said offhandedly.
Uksem shot me a withering glare. “Thanks.”
“Someone must have heard that.” I muttered, glancing around for another way out, but finding none.
Uksem was already in motion, heading for the door.
“We’ll have to chance it.” He growled. “If we can get back on to the streets, we can find somewhere to hole up. Hunter will find us.”
I followed him to the door and waited as he peered out.
“It looks clear.” Uksem whispered and slipped outside.
We edged around the stable and found ourselves back on the streets. Uksem looked at me questioningly and I shrugged. I didn’t think it mattered which way we went, as long as we left here now. He shrugged and turned right. A slate shattered on the street. I spun and glanced into the darkness. Uksem grunted and fell to his knees, his sword dropping from his hand. I dived forward, and caught him, lowering him to the ground. An arrow was lodged in his chest.
“Uksem!” I whispered, harshly. “Come on, we have to move.”
Uksem didn’t reply. I knew it in my heart that he was gone, but I couldn’t accept it. This latest journey, from Proteshi to here was only the most recent in several years’ worth of adventures.
“Gods damn it! Uksem!” I ordered. “Pick up your sword and get back on your feet!”
I’d never share a drink with him again, never curse at him for being right about something stupid. We’d never set up a mercenary band, although I wasn’t sure if we’d been serious about it, but we could have done. He was my brother in arms, and he was dead. I barely registered when rough hands dragged me away from him and pinned me to the ground. I barely felt the kicks and the punches. Everything was numb and it all just faded away into blackness.
I woke in darkness. At least, I think I was awake. There was something over my eyes, a blindfold of some kind. My hands were chained to, the wall I think, or maybe the ceiling. My feet were secured to what felt like a ring in the floor. In the darkness, I could hear water dripping somewhere. It sounded like I was underground. I could feel panic rising within me. I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to die in the open air. I began gasping for breath, sobbing as I pulled and tore at my restraints. I don’t know when I started screaming, but my throat was raw from it. Water, cold enough to have been chilled by the soul of Alma’at herself, splashed over me and brought me back to my senses, leaving me frozen and shaking.
“There. That’s better.” A familiar woman’s voice declared. “He understands.”
“Understands what?” A man’s voice asked, uncertain.
“That he is powerless.” The woman explained. “I own him, body and soul, a pity though that the second one died. It would have made this somewhat easier.”
I knew who the first voice was now, the Overseer of the mine, Estrith. I felt the panic start to rise again, my heart fluttering in my chest.
“See?” Estrith purred to the other person. “He remembers now.”
“And this will help?”
“Oh yes. I will break him down, and when I’m done, he will be mine, to use as I see fit.”
“Ours.” The second voice corrected.
“How long will it take?”
“It has already begun. Strip him.”
“Yes mistress.” A third voice replied.
A hand grabbed my shoulder, to steady me and a blade sliced through my wet clothes, cutting them from me.
I felt a smaller, calloused hand slide across up my back and rest on my shoulder. A tongue licked my right ear and I could feel the person breathing.
“I must admit.” Estrith whispered, so softly that I was sure only I could hear her. “The thought of having you enslaved, excites me.”
She nipped my ear lobe and I felt her step back.
“Take him to the table.” She ordered.
“I’ll leave you to your, work.” The second voice announced, sounding a little disturbed.
“Shall we dine together later?” Estrith enquired.
“No, you have work to do.”
I felt the restraints on my arms loosen as they were released and I waited, until my leg shackles were likewise released. Then I acted. At least I would have, if someone hadn’t kicked my legs out from under me.
“Be assured.” Estrith said, matter of factly. “That won’t be the first time you try something stupid. You’ll try again and again, but I will always know. All this resistance does is weaken you and hurry the inevitable end.”
I spat blood from my bitten tongue in her general direction as I was hauled back to my feet.
“The table.” Estrith repeated.
I was pushed up against a low, sloped surface, cold and made of stone.
“Get on the table.” Estrith ordered.
I shook my head. I had no idea what was coming next, but I wasn’t going to make it easy for her.
“I should know better.” She said to herself.
A boot caught me square in my lower back and I lurched forward, trying to catch myself, but only succeeded in sprawling onto the cold stone surface. The third person, a guard I assumed, hauled on my restraints and then secured me to the table. I wasn’t sure whether it was by intention or not, but the table felt as though it sloped, so that my head rested closer to the ground than my feet.
“Is he secure?” Estrith asked.
“Yes mistress.” The third person responded, gruffly.
“Good. You know what to do?”
A cloth was suddenly draped over my face and held down tightly. What sort of madness was this? I heard water sloshing around in a bucket close to my head.
I came to, gasping for breath. Fingers were pinching my nose closed, while soft lips pressed against mine, their mouth blowing air into me. My throat ached, my wrists and ankles were rubbed raw from the restraints, and my chest felt like someone had been punching me. The lips withdrew, leaving me feeling weak, but I was sure I had caught a hint of a perfume, something floral.
“That’s enough for now I think.” Estrith said, thoughtfully, from close by.
A hand patted my cheek.
“You did well, for your first time.” There was a hint of a chuckle. “I’m excited to see how well you do next time. Sleep well.”
I heard her and the other person with her walk away. A door opened, then closed, and I was alone, in the dark. I felt the panic rise in me again, but I refused to give in, burning it away with my anger. I was my own. That one-armed degenerate would never break me. I’d die first. I shook my head slowly. I could hear the lie in my thoughts. I couldn’t hold out forever. Sooner or later I would snap. I would promise to do whatever she said, just to get free. I’d need to free myself, but how.
The cloth snapped over my face without warning.
“You see?” Estrith said, matter of factly. “I told you.”
Once again, I awoke to feel the press of soft lips against mine. My throat felt ragged, as though I’d been screaming. My head was pounding, the pain threatening to split it in two.
“Well.” Estrith purred. “I had expected more endurance from you, but I guess it is true what they say of youth. All talk and no stamina.”
“May Alma’at turn her eyes on you!” I cursed, my voice breaking.
A hand slapped my cheek, hard. Hard enough that I saw stars.
“Ungrateful boy!” Estrith hissed. “How dare you give name to She who is darkness.”
I felt a sudden molten agony as something sharp was driven through my left nipple.
“Maybe this will give you something to think about.” She hissed.
And then they were gone.
I don’t know how long I lay there. I think I might have slept for a while, but if I did, I found no rest in it. When Estrith returned, I was still as wrung out and exhausted as I had been when she’d left.
“My sweet.” She whispered, somewhere close to my head. “Come, let me tend to you.”
I shied away from her touch, but restrained as I was, I couldn’t move far.
She shushed me and began cleaning me with warm water and what felt like a sponge.
“There, there.” She whispered, sadly. “I’m sorry I had to do that, you made me do it, but it’s okay now. It’s okay.”
I couldn’t even begin to understand what she was doing. Was she truly mad? The warm water was easing away some of my soreness, making me sleepy.
“This will hurt.” She warned me, softly, gently.
I felt her grasp whatever pierced my nipple, and carefully pull it out. I groaned in pain as it was removed, and she kissed my cheek.
“I’m so sorry my darling, I don’t want to have to do that again, I don’t. Please don’t make me.”
She returned to gently rubbing me down with warm water. I could feel myself drifting off. It felt better just to let go for a while.
“That’s it, my sweet. Rest. I’ll take care of you.” She whispered.
The sponge, wet with warm water, brushed over my face, cleaning away dried bile, soothing my aching head.
“There’s no need to worry. Just rest.”
I tried to resist, but whatever she was doing, I could feel myself relaxing, slowly and surely falling towards sleep.
I woke up screaming in agony as something blazing hot pressed against my chest. I felt the pressure relax a moment later, but the agony continued.
“The other side.” Estrith ordered, from somewhere near my head.
Again, white hot agony consumed me.
Sometime later, the agony lessened to something closer to blinding pain. I could smell scorched flesh, something close to meat burning on the spit.
I felt someone close to my head, leaning over me. Estrith I presumed.
I felt her hot breath on my ear and a moment later her teeth latched on to my ear lobe. I grunted as she bit down, almost playfully.
“Your screams are so exciting.” She breathed, huskily. “It’ll almost be a shame to geld you.”
She moved away from my head and I felt her hand touch my cheek, then slide down across my throat, before pausing over my heart.
“Right here I think.” She said, thoughtfully.
“Now mistress?” Asked a second voice, the same one as before.
Estrith tutted. “Gods, where is my mind. I’ve left the one I want in my chambers. You know the one I had made?”
“Fetch it for me.”
“Are you sure mistress?” I heard the hesitation in the man’s voice. A note of caution.
“Yes!” Estrith growled. “Go.”
There was a slight pause before the man replied.
“Of course, mistress.”
I heard the man’s footsteps recede and a door opened and closed.
“Now that we’re alone.” Estrith purred. “It really will be a shame to geld you, but needs must I suppose.”
Her hand glided lower, over my stomach, and lower. I struggled against my restraints, but there was no breaking free.
“Hush.” She purred.
Her hand slid around me and squeezed slightly.
“Get your hand off me!” I growled.
She released me, but before I could react, she slapped me hard across the face. I tasted blood again.
She grabbed me, roughly this time and she worked me, forcing me to respond to her touch.
“There.” She purred, her lips almost touching my ear. “That’s not so bad now is it. Isn’t it what all men like?”
I tried to kick out, but the restraints held me still. I was helpless, I couldn’t stop her. She licked my earlobe again, and then bit down hard. I screamed at the sudden pain.
“Yes.” She purred. “That’s a good boy. Scream for me.”
I turned my head away from her, but she let me go again and once more slapped me across the face.
“You are mine!” She hissed, in fury, as she grabbed my hair and yanked my head back towards her. “Mine! If I want you to play, you will play.”
“No.” I spat back at her.
She shrieked and grabbed my manhood again, squeezing hard. I groaned in agony.
“I own this.” She hissed. “Soon I will remove your stones. I will keep them in a jar, beside my bed. You will never know children. You will never have a son to carry your name.”
I struggled again with my bindings, desperate to get free.
I felt the woman climb onto the table and felt her kneel over me. Before I could work out what she was going to do, her fist smashed into my face.
“Mine!” She shouted as she punched me.
“Mine!” She shouted again, as her fist slammed into the side of my head. “You are mine, no matter what that fool Elric thinks, and I’ll use you as I see fit.”
I waited, but she did not punch me again.
She slid off me. I could hear her breathing harshly, somewhere nearby, as she regained control of herself. Then she was silent.
I tested my restraints again, but there was no give in them.
Then I heard her step close, and she ran the back of her hand along my cheek.
“You make me so angry, dear one, but it’s okay now.
The door opened and I heard the other person enter.
“You found it?” Estrith demanded.
“Good. Prepare it for me, I wish to use it myself.”
“As you wish, mistress.”
I felt her move away from me, leaving me with my own dull thoughts. I needed to get out of this place. I tried to reach out with my power, but without being able to see, there was nothing I could do. I was helpless, completely at her mercy.
“That’s good enough.” I heard her say some minutes or hours later. “Check his restraints. I don’t want him moving and spoiling this.”
I felt the other person, her servant I supposed, check my restraints.
“He can not move mistress.” He reported.
“Good.” Estrith said, calmly.
I felt her approach. I didn’t know what she was about to do, but I knew that I was helpless to stop it. Something blazing hot pressed into the flesh over my heart a moment later. I screamed until my voice broke, and then continued to scream until it all just somehow faded away into blackness.