Disclaimer: Still not mine.
The truth is often a terrible weapon of aggression. It is possible to lie, and even to murder with the truth.
Adler (1870-1937) Austrian psychologist
The Problems of Neurosis, ch. 2 (1929)
A/N: This is what happens when life is a bitch.
I'm honestly surprised when everything works out as planned. An uncommon occurrence in my life. After downing two more of those mysterious drinks and trading the strange little earring Giciel gave me for one last beer I fall asleep on my chair. At least that's what I infer the next morning when I wake up with my cheek stuck to the table and plagued a splitting headache that would make an orc scream in pain. The plainfaced little man is back with horse and equipment and further orders about what I am to do after dropping off my load.
Sadly he can't be persuaded to sponsor me a bath, which means that despite the annoying feeling that someone is about to crack open my head and dirty clothes that are smelling like a bucket of beer I have to drag myself through the citygates first, before I can search for a river. I hate bathing in cold rivers! Apart from being totally freezing they tend to make so much noise that all kinds of unsavory people manage to sneak up on you, who wouldn't be able to do so under normal circumstances. Well at least I have also been handed the appropriate papers and a nice little bribe to keep the guards from checking me or the contents of my load too thoroughly, so nobody stops me when I slip by, features mostly concealed under the hood of a cloak.
I don't really trust the peaceful atmosphere I encounter on the road, but my desire for clean skin is so overwhelming by now that I don't care very much as long as I can find some water to immerse myself in.
The bath and the journey itself go by mostly uneventful in the end. Only once I burst into tears upon discovering some blackberry bushes, which makes me think of Andy again and our first flight from the Master. The mosquitoes nearly drive me mad of course, but that's nothing I haven't been through before and after a few days I get more or less used to their presence, meaning that I merely slap at my hands and arms from time to time instead of screaming at the clouds of vicious little insects to get the hell away from me and go torture someone else.
After a while I even start to apreciate the beautiful scenery. How single rays of light filter through layers of leaves and dot the ground or the unique way the woods smell just after dawn. All these simple things help to calm me and bit by bit I start finding back to my old self. Being surrounded by so much life force appeals to my elven nature, soothing me and making me feel whole again after spending so much time in cities full of stone. I didn't actually realize until now how much I have missed this, now that I have some time left to actually breathe for a moment without having to run away or succumbing to the distractions of companionship.
When I finally set eyes on my destination I nearly regret having to end this time of relatively peaceful silence. All good things have to come to an end though and therefore I cautiously approach the gigantic, strangely twisted tree with the mage's surprisingly small house perched high up in its branches. The sealed package feels heavy in my hands and once again I wonder what it might be that I've been carrying around with me these past few days. The thought of trying to open it has entered my head of course, but I never dared to follow through, because even now I can feel a faint aura of magical energy emanate from within the tight oilskin wrapping, which warns me that it might be protected against prying fingers and eyes.
"Hello?" I call out feeling very stupid, because there's no chance anybody will be able to hear me up there. There are no steps or even a ladder to be seen though and no other way to get up to the house, but I have no desire to wait down here for an indefinite amount of time until someone deigns to notice me.
A very girlish giggle floats up from a bush to my right, followed by a small, short haired woman, dressed in robes of so many shades of green that I grow dizzy after looking at her trying to distinguish the outlines of her slender body from the undergrowth. She appears to be human and is grinning as if she has to win a contest with it, in the process confronting me with a neat row of pearly white teeth.
"Are you looking for Varjan?"
I think it's safe to assume that she is talking about the wizard in the tree so I say: "Yes. I have a package for him." Waving the bundle that I am still holding in my hands. Her dark brown eyes light up at the sight.
"Great! That must be the powdered dragon tooth. I'll get you up, don't worry. I'm his apprentice. He is a brilliant man, but a bit distracted these days."
After blurting this out in less than three seconds she purses her lips and whistles. It sounds very much like a nightingale, which makes me smile bemusedly. Shortly afterwards a simple rope ladder gets dropped from the door of the house. Must be a bit reclusive this wizard.
I climb up behind her all the while wondering how I'm going to persuade him to contact a Drow. A request which might very well encounter a rather negative reaction, because only few people want to come into any contact at all with a people as volatile and vicious as the dark Elves.
Varjan, a grizzled and slightly hunchbacked old human who is missing a middle finger, only answers with an indiscernible grumble to the cheery greeting of his apprentice, continuing to chew on a tattered quill while poring intently over an equally tattered bit of parchment.
The woman doesn't appear to be impressed at all by this show of absorbed absent mindedness and continues to chatter happily, telling him of my arrival and something her mother once taught her about growing vegetables. Whether that is of any importance to him I have no way of knowing. It seems the two are well matched though, one who talks all the time and one who has the gift of being able to concentrate despite the constant background noise.
I am ushered towards the nearest chair and after a short burst of fluttering activity from the talkative apprentice a cup filled with steaming, deliciously smelling tea is pressed into my hands. Gratefully I settle down to enjoy the warm liquid that tastes like strawberries mixed with mint and honey, a strange but nonetheless enticing combination.
When she finally stops talking long enough for me to put forward my tentative question whether my payment might be exacted in something other than gold two sharp, blue eyes snap up from that terribly important parchment to regard me with sudden interest.
As it turns out the difficulty the whole endeavour lies not in the question of whether or not I'll get to send a message, but instead in choosing the right spell for the purpose. When we finally settle on something deemed suitable by both mage and apprentice my mind is practically reeling with all the information on magical communication that I was just presented with. They seem only too happy to share their knowledge with me never mind that I am totally unable to follow the rushed and twisted explanations about the connections between magic, mind and memory, a concept that will apparently serve us nicely in the execution of my plan.
I am told that everything will take place in a dream, because for any other spell we would need something that was in Vergir's possession not too long ago. Since I don't have anything like that most of the usual ways won't work for me. But I do have the necessary vivid memory of the recipient needed for the dream spell. Not that I like thinking about him and the perverted games he enjoys so much, but if it has to be done I will manage.
When they assure me that I won't be in immediate danger of being seized and enslaved again after the contact I decide that don't actually care whatever they want to do. My mind is already made up about how much information I wish to impart, as in fact it has been for the majority of my ride here. Giving Vergir Giciel's name along with the location of his tower and the accusation of murdering the two Drow wizards should be more than enough as long as he can't discern from where it was sent. Everything else he can most certainly figure out and verify on his own should he wish to do so.
The following night is spent remembering some of the most terrible moments in my life. Even though Vergir wasn't quite as bad as my Master he was a close second, going from deceptively tender stroking to lashing out in mere seconds without a hint of predictability. The spell has worked though, as far as I can tell, which I can't really, but the chattering little woman does say so again and again until I start believing her. I'm just happy that she didn't have to witness my thoughts and as I leave a sense of relief comes over me. I have done what I could for now. All that is left is to listen for any rumour of a battle at Giciel's tower. I spend my way back wondering how long it might take until news of such a fight spreads to the nearest towns and villages.
Back at the city, when I give the horse to its owner I am still wondering, but I don't dare asking this suspicious little man who might in turn ask unwanted questions I have no wish to answer. Loath to stay at a place which holds only bad memories for me, I turn away as soon as my business here is finished, resolved to never set a foot inside the walls of this city ever again. If it wasn't for Dai living there I might have been tempted to start a fire in the hopes of burning the whole fucking heap of shit to the ground, but the thought of my friend stays my hand and I merely turn away with a last hateful glance.
During the next weeks I travel from village to village earning a bit of money or food and shelter here and there by doing odd jobs like field work and such. It's just enough to feed me, but doesn't allow for any great luxuries. My real purpose is a different one anyway. Everywhere I go I keep my ears open for rumours about Giciel. As the weeks slowly turn into months, summer reaches its peak and I still have heard nothing I begin to wonder if anything is going to happen at all or if I'll have to repeat my effort to pass on the information. I might even have to try finding a different approach altogether.
Before I resort to such drastic measures though I decide to go and have a look. If I'm careful he'll never notice me should he still be living there. Two weeks later, crawling through thorny, clinging bushes in an attempt to get a clear view of the tower without getting close enough to be detected I curse myself for such a stupid idea. When finally, after acquiring far too many scratches for my taste, I manage to find a decent vantage point the next disappointment awaits me, because there simply is nothing to be seen. Well at least nothing out of the ordinary as I can't detect any obvious sings for a fight, which is basically all that could be seen from this distance. The building seems almost mocking in its tranquil solidity. After four or five hours of fruitless and exceedingly boring observation I decide to give it up for today and come back tomorrow. If nothing has changed then I'll have to find another way of killing the mage.
Softly cursing I make my way back to the small clearing where I left my meagre belongings. My already bad mood drops considerably upon finding most of my supplies gone or spoiled. They were eaten by some animal judging by the tracks I find. It's slowly getting dark though which means I have no time to either hunt or go searching for some berries before the night falls. Deciding that the Gods must surely hate me I spend the evening staring into to flickering flames of my little fire, mourning the loss of the wonderful, spicy bread I had bought only two days ago from a peasant.
With an unhappy sigh I finally curl up under my cloak, resting nestled between the roots of a large oak. Despite the grumbling of my stomach I finally manage to fall asleep after an hour or so. My dreams are troubled though by sinister laughter, my old Master's laughter to be precise. Sadly the haunting sound doesn't stop when I wake up in the morning. My eyes tightly closed I lie there listening, desperately trying to deny what my ears are telling me until the voice that I fear more than anything cuts through the air.
"Stop pretending. I know you're awake."
Fuck! It's him! But it can't be. I saw Ayren shooting him! Unable to stay still any longer I open my eyes and look up. There directly next to me sits my Master in all his splendour and glory. It must be him. Nobody else can reproduce or copy this aura of vicious amusement. Instantly I can feel my stomach turn into a large icy knot.
"But you're dead!"
The almost accusing tone of my voice has me wincing as soon as the words spill out of my mouth. To speak out like this has earned me some severe punishments in the past. Instead of reprimanding or hitting me though he smiles the horrible smile I have come to know far to well, the smile that is most often accompanied by terrible pain and humiliation. He says only two words, but these few syllables send my whole world tumbling down around me.
The satisfied sound of his voice rings through the clearing, destroying the last of my hopes that this might be a dream, despite all evidence on the contrary.
"Cont…" I break off, too overcome by pure dread at the prospect of having to return to the hated life as a bed slave. "No." Moaning this I curl up, half surprised to find that this time too nothing happens except for him to continue talking. Even though I don't want to listen I can't tear my attention away from those taunting, soft-spoken words, words that can only bring doom to me.
"I couldn't have foreseen your cousin's failure to die or her sudden bout of courage of course, so I was quite unprepared for that." In spite of the admittance of a mistake I can practically hear him smiling, which makes me fear that this experience might have cost him his sanity, but the next sentence alleviates that concern. "When the stupid Elf burned my corpse with magic fire though he acted in the confines of my spell, thus bringing me back, alive and able to exact revenge."
I flinch as I feel his hand running through my tangled hair and try to curl up even tighter although I already know that there is no way of escape.
"And this time my beautiful pet, I made sure that she was really dead before I left her corpse to the vultures. It was quite entertaining to watch them peck out her eyes."
So all this time, he was alive! A wave of nausea wells up in me. Does this mean that all my efforts to contact Vergir were absolutely unnecessary and I was happily running around in the countryside while my cousin suffered through a horrible death? Ok maybe I wasn't so happy, but certainly better of than I am now! Confusion is clouding my brain as I mentally try to reconstruct the train of events that must have transpired during my absence. Given that I'm almost fainting with dread and fear I don't do very well. In the end all I can think of is to ask: "And what of the mage?"
The omission of the proper address earns me a sharp tug on my hair and the cutting remark: "Your manners are lapsing slave. I don't think your time away from me did you any good. We'll have to work on that."
Falling back into old habits so quickly and with such ease that it frightens me I cower and say very meekly: "I'm sorry Master."
Another tug. Lighter this time, but still slightly painful.
"Get up. We're going home."
His words, so matter of fact, so assured that I will do whatever he orders. And what hurts most is the knowledge that he is right in his arrogant presumption of my obedience. This is the moment where I should try to run away, try to do anything worthy of being called resistance, but in my mind I find only the cold certainty of defeat. If I put up a fight I'll suffer for it, that much is clear. I have tried to run, he's found me. I have tried to be stubborn, he has broken me. I'm simply too scarred by past experiences to dare making even the slightest attempt to escape. Why can't I be brave? Why does he have such power over me? I hate this!
Fighting my tears I do as he has ordered and get up. The weight that has suddenly settled on my shoulders seems intent on dragging me back to the ground, but I manage to force myself upright by a huge effort of will. When I finally stand he grabs my hands, mumbles a few words and in a swirl of darkness we're gone, all the worldly possessions I have acquired during the last months left there for anybody who might happen to stumble across the clearing. Not that it was much in any case.
I wouldn't have thought it possible, but when we arrive in a room I can clearly recognize as being situated inside Giciel's tower my level of terror soars to new formerly unimaginable heights.
"Master?" I croak wide eyed, remembering only now that he never actually answered my question about what happened with the Elven mage. My eyes become even bigger when next a widely grinning Vergir steps into the room.
"Ah I take it your little venture was successful then." He remarks and scrutinizes me with an appraising look, as if trying to determine whether I have changed much in but a few months. "Too bad that Andy died. They made such a nice set."
He just had to remind me didn't he? Behind me my Master shrugs lightly.
"Well the next time you blast through a door you might want to check who's standing behind it." He says dryly, suddenly increasing the confusion that has already settled in my mind. The reference to a door in the matter of Andy's death kindles a small flame of suspicion to grow inside of me, making me doubt and wonder whether there is something important I have missed in the whole picture. I expect I'm going to find out sooner or later though, depending on the whims of my newly resurrected Master, who is now taking hold of my shoulder to drag me along as they move on towards some unknown destination.
"Has the other one been fed yet?" He asks with a moderate amount of interest, causing Vergir to grin maliciously and shake his head.
"No, but I could go fetch something. I thought you might wish to do it yourself."
My Master gives a slight, thoughtful nod saying: "Yes, go. Maybe this time he'll be a bit more compliant. It's almost been a week after all."
The other one? Who are they talking about? Another slave? Where is Giciel? To see these two roam around freely in the home of the mage lets me come to the conclusion that he is quite probably dead. Like Ayren. I shudder. This is what I wanted isn't it? To have Giciel defeated and killed, the death of my favourite Drow avenged. Why then do I feel so guilty? I wonder if Vergir has even told my Master about my attempt to contact him. Seeing that they were obviously going to attack anyway he could have decided to keep this bit information to himself in order to gain something which would enable him to put pressure on me if he wanted to. My quick glance in his direction is met by a sly wink which makes me fear the worst.
As Vergir wanders off in the general direction of the kitchen my Master continues on his way and I follow silently, all the while trying to put all the facts together and still achieve a result with some semblance of logical reasoning behind it. To say I'm not doing well would be an understatement though. The nagging question if I could have been wrong all the time is one I don't really want to have answered, because I'm afraid of the possible result. We are still moving steadily downwards and when I notice my Master's red eyes on me, alight with something akin to entertained amusement I begin to suspect that I won't like at all what the next hours will hold in store for me. He does not remark on that though and instead says: "You're scratched and dirty pet. I expect you to take better care of yourself from now on."
I give a resigned nod.
"Yes Master. I'm sorry Master."
The sense of foreboding which creeps up on me when he stops at a heavy, wooden door is hard to shake off, but I try to keep all signs of my feelings inside as much as possible. I'm not really prepared for what I see though after he draws a complicated rune of unlocking on the dark beams and motions for me to open it. The fact that it is indeed Giciel who is huddled down there near the cold, damp wall is not so surprising in itself, but the state he is in makes me wince in sudden empathy.
He's terribly thin, with circles under his eyes so dark that it almost looks like someone has smeared coal in his face. Broad, black rings of some strangely glittering material wind tightly around his wrists and throat, over abrasions that are inflamed enough to hurt at the slightest movement. Other than that I can see no restraints, which leads me to believe that these black things are somehow magical or rather anti-magical, blocking his ability to cast spells. The laboured, rattling sound of his breathing tells me that he must have spent quite some time down here, enough to become sick. The usually neatly braided hair is tangled and matted now and appears to have been partially cut off in some places, enforcing the ragged appearance of the Elf before me. To see the healthy, self assured being I knew before transformed to such a picture of suffering misery forces a helpless gasp from me.
It must be this small sound, so unusual for somebody like my Master or Vergir that prompts him to finally look up and freeze with a horrified grimace on the drawn features. I can see him swallow, but he stays silent, only watching, waiting for my Master to make the first move, which he does by shoving me forwards until I almost lose my balance and stumble into the captive mage.
"I brought you a friend rat wizard." My Master proclaims cheerily. "And to celebrate this happy event I have decided that you'll get to eat today."
I can clearly see the hungry glint in those starved, unnaturally large eyes, but it is accompanied by an expression of angry, hateful defiance. How he can still dredge up the will to show any kind of obstinate reaction after weeks spend in the power of these two is beyond me, but a part of me admires him for it even as I feel guilty again for having gone past this point a long time ago.
"If you don't behave he'll suffer for it." Giciel gets told calmly, an announcement that has me turn and stare in shock. To be punished for another's mistakes… that is a prospect which makes me very nervous. On the other hand I must admit that, with his usual efficiency my Master has managed to find Giciel's weak spot and now that he has me back he will surely exploit this knowledge. I can only hope that Vergir hasn't told him about my betrayal.
The shaky nod which follows this threat comes as a huge relief to me. A feeling that is gone just as fast as it came when the Master suddenly pulls me close again to wrap his arms around me, fingers snaking under my shirt to roam over sensitive skin, with the crouched figure before us watching his every movement. I don't dare to resist or make a single noise. I do move a bit to give him better access though, a behaviour that has been impressed on me early during the first days of my first with him.
"Are you hungry slave?" He whispers in my ear, a question which I can only answer with a slightly wobbly: "Yes Master." All the while cursing my body for its needs, because I'm sure that he'll find a way to play out this situation in the absolutely worst way possible. Lying is out of question though, because somehow he knows. Always. And the consequences are terrible. I so do not want to be here, to let myself be touched and used by him! To be plunged back in a situation like this after a brief taste of wonderful, tantalizing freedom is so terrible it almost makes me weep with desperation.
"Well we'll see then whether you deserve to get something."
With dismay I notice that now there are really a few tears running down over my cheeks. As much as I try to hold them back, the task is impossible it seems. Cool fingers create a path of ice, drifting over the edges of my ribcage and I can dimly hear my Master telling me how much he likes it when I cry for him.
The mood is broken when Vergir enters with a bowl of what smells like stew and for once I am very much grateful for his presence, because it distracts the Master long enough for me to pull myself together and force the old mask of indifference back on my face, that I created during the first weeks of our acquaintance only to have it shattered time and time again, but it is still better than nothing.
Out of the corner of my eye I can see Giciel giving the food with a quick, hungry almost worshipping look before he abruptly turns away. It must be so hard for him to do this in spite of the nearly overwhelming hunger. I can even see him start to shake slightly when Vergir puts down the bowl a few feet away from him.
"Not hungry today?" My Master asks pleasantly when his captive doesn't make a move to take what he's offered, opting instead to look away and clench his fists. "Or would you prefer going back to eating from the floor?"
The last words have a distinctly threatening tone, that sends a small shiver through the huddled form on the ground. He shakes his head, starting now to crawl forwards all movement painfully slow and infused with the raging conflict between his reluctance to humiliate himself and the desperate need for nourishment. The time seems to drag endlessly while I watch him as he makes his way towards the bowl, only to be stopped again when he reaches out.
"Hands on your back." Vergir commands sharply, causing another clenching of shaking fists.
"Be good and I might let Toren clean you up a bit." My Master says in an uncharacteristic show of generosity. I don't really expect that he will actually have me do this, but to hear him speak about it at all comes as a bit of a surprise to me. Or maybe he has something else in mind, one of those games he likes to play so much, something to finally break the stubborn wizard, who is currently doing his best to eat like a dog. He is finished surprisingly quickly, sitting up to wipe his face with a dirty and torn sleeve, which already sports several stains that make me realize that this is not the first time he has been forced to eat like this.
My Master produces a length of silvery chain from on of the numerous pockets in his robe and starts to fasten one end around my wrist. The other one gets tied to one of the black bindings around Giciel's neck. Who flinches at the short contact.
"Go clean up and make yourself fit to spend the night in my company." My Master tells me and adds with a last narrow eyed glace towards the Gold elf. "Take care that he behaves."
"As you wish Master."
With that they leave. The brief flicker of rebellious thought about escape is crushed instantly when I look down at Giciel again. In this condition he'll be lucky if he is even able to walk to the bathroom without collapsing on the way and alone I have no chance whatsoever to succeed. I stand there for a while unsure how I feel about him now, wondering whether I should help him get up or leave it lest he become angry at me and cause trouble. When he doesn't move at all though, simply sitting there staring at nothing I decide to kneel down next to him and try a cautious touch on the shoulder.
"Giciel?" I ask softly, trying not to startle him too badly. I have to bite my lips when he finally focuses on me, eyes filled with such unhappy hopelessness that there seems to be no room for anything else in them.
"I didn't kill him." He says suddenly, his voice unused for so long that I can hardly understand the rough, hoarse sounds. When I do though I have to repress the urge to cry again. "I didn't kill Andy. They did it, when they attacked me." He continues, clearly desperate that I believe. "Please don't hate me."
Ok so much for repressing my tears. Strangely I do believe him, now that it is far too late and the pity I feel for us both is suddenly threatening to choke me. Carefully I draw him into an embrace, feeling the too sharp edges of bones along with the frightening frailty of his body and ignoring for the time being my own pathetic sniffle and the guilt that gnaws at my insides, telling me that I should have trusted him earlier. Maybe then everything would have turned out differently.
"I'm sorry." I whisper.
A/N: Ok, once again thanks for all the support and encouragement. I hope the ending isn't too hard to take...but since Andy is dead now I don't think there will be a sequel.
Oh and for all those who don't know the contingency spell. Let me tell you that it is not just some convenient thing that merely popped into my head. I took it from the book series "War of the spider queen". I must admit though that to me it seems a bit like cheating... oh well just typical for a Drow I guess.