Chapter 5 – The Want of a Nail


Again with the weird dreams.

I had enemies reaching into the deepest parts of me that no one – not anyone who had ever tried to hurt me, or anyone who would claim that they loved me – had ever seen and doing whatever the hell they wanted. They tore out great dark chunks of me and exposed them all to the glaring sun. And Mikey was pointing at it all and laughing hysterically, but I was worried about him because his eyes were wide open and streaming and terrified. I tried to tell him he needed a check-up but Donnie was busy helping the cow escape out the window. I knew I had to get up and get Mikey out the window too before his laughing woke up Splinter, but I couldn't move. And beyond that, I was worried that all this was gonna look bad at my job review and I was probably gonna get fired.

At least this time when I woke up I didn't feel sick. I felt fine. In fact, I felt so strong and energized that for about two seconds I forgot the dream and the trouble me and Mike were in. Those were a good two seconds. Then I went to leap out of bed (as opposed to my usual lurch out of bed - I ain't exactly a morning person) and reality gave me a good smackdown. Hands and feet chained and my face down on a rough wooden floor. I remembered all at once where I was.

Ah, fuck.

"Raph! You're up!"

That was from Mikey. I hate when people stupidly state the obvious. I didn't bother to reply as I got myself up to my knees.

"How you feeling? You okay?"

"I'm fine." I shrugged my shoulders and moved my body around a little, but I couldn't even feel where the wounds had been. "Doesn't even hurt."

"Damn, bro, you came close," Mike went on, his words pouring out in a rush of relief. "I really thought, you know, this is it."

"Well, I'm okay now."

Mikey never did know when to quit. "Right at the end there, before that sorcerer came and put her hands on you-"

"Shut it, Mike!" Goddamn, I didn't need to be reminded of that. The second he said it I could feel her crawling inside me again. "I said I'm fine!"

"Okay, okay!" he backed off, but he sounded hurt. " Jeez, bite my head off, why don't you? I'll remember not to be glad you're alive next time. I'll be like, 'Aw, damn, Raph's alive. That blows. I had dibs on all his porn'"

"Alright," I said, "I didn't mean to snap at ya."

"You know you really had me scared for a while, there."

"I know, I'm sorry." And I actually was a little. It must have hard on him, if I really had been that close to dead. I know if it had been the other way around, I probably would have gone out of my fucking mind.

"I was just about shitting myself."

"Heh, glad you didn't." I made myself smirk and motioned with my chin to the guy in the corner. "We don't need two people down here doing it."

That worked to snap him out of his funk a little. He grinned back at me. "Yeah, that guy adds enough to the atmosphere."

"Fluke." Newlin said helpfully. "They call him Fluke."

I looked at him blankly for a moment. And I was supposed to care, why? I turned back to Mike. "So how long I been out?"

"About a full day since you were stabbed," Newlin supplied. "And nearly a full day again since the Lady Lyris healed you. You're probably quite hungry."

"Starving, as a matter of fact. Don't they feed us in this hole?"

"Oh, yeah," Mike said. "We get the finest gourmet concrete bread and dried mystery meat. Your guess is as good as theirs."

"I don't even care. I could eat leather right now."

"And gruel, too!" Mike added. "They call it soup but they're not fooling me. I know it's gotta be that gruel shit."

"They should come to feed us shortly," Newlin put in. "It's about the time they usually give us breakfast."

"Alright then," I said, "we gotta come up with a plan. Mike, you been topside yet?"

He shook his head. "I haven't left this room. Two of them come down three times a day to feed us. They don't unchain me, they don't let us out. That's about it. We even gotta pee and shit these in little buckets. You got one behind you, too. Try doing that in shackles. It's a whole new skill set." He glanced over at Fluke's little section of filth. "Of course, some of us don't even bother."

I took a look around the room, trying to size up the others. There were seven of us all together, but we could pretty much write off Fluke and Finch the naked chick. "What about the rest of these guys?"

"Uh, they all seem pretty cracked," Mike answered, "except for Newlin. I don't think they'd be much help."

"Just you and me, then. Luck's running true to form."

"But on the bright side, I found a nail," he said hopefully.

"A nail?"

"Yeah, there's one right here that wasn't flush with the floor. I've been picking at it all yesterday and last night. I'm thinking I might be able to pick the locks if I can get it out."

I looked at the nails in the floorboards around me. The heads were almost half and inch across, which meant the nails themselves had to be pretty thick. "I dunno, Mike," I said. "These look big to me."

"Yeah, but this one's not that big. It's like, just some stray odd nail that got pounded into the floor. I got my fingers around the head right now. It's small."

"Worth a shot," I said. "We can't do nothin' till we're out of these chains, anyway."

"Look around where you are. Maybe there's a bunch of these scattered around."

I scanned the floor while Mike kept working at the nail he found. Newlin watched us silently. Around us, the rest of the freaks started to get a little livelier. Fluke talked to himself, but what the hell he was talking about, only he knew. "In the brackish water. I'm in the brackwater. All over all over…" Finch took up with the moaning again - a soft, constant, bloody irritating sound. Moan for four point five seconds, pause, moan for four point five seconds, pause, moan for four point five…Man, I had to get out of there.

"So the sorcerers," Mike said as he dug at the nail. "There's two of them, man and a woman. They're gonna be the most dangerous. We'd have to take them by surprise. They can grab hold of our bodies and jerk us around like puppets. Who knows what the hell else they can do."

I turned to the guy most likely to have info. "Hey, Newlin, what about these sorcerers? What can you tell me? What's the extent of their powers?"

"They can…" He hesitated. "Well, practically anything."

"That don't tell me anything. What exactly can they do?"

"Well, wait, first off, you need to know – you've just been healed through sorcery, and –"

"Fine, I don't care."

"You'll care," he said huffily, "when you get yourself into another violent confrontation, as it seems you're planning, and fall dead asleep in the middle of it."

Now that little tidbit of news took me aback a little. "What the hell you talking about?"

"It's an after effect of healing." Newlin explained. "You probably feel quite strong right now, but you're not fully recovered yet. Healing draws a lot of energy from the one being healed. For some time after, you'll be feeling perfectly well and energetic one moment, and then you'll suddenly be overcome with exhaustion. It won't matter what you're doing, you won't be able to resist falling asleep and sleeping for hours. It happens to everyone."

"Alright, alright." I said. "So how long am I gonna be like this?"

"It depends. On the person. On the extent of the injury. I can't –"

"Just give me a guess!"

"Maybe a week or so."

I had to snort at that. "I ain't waiting a week to bust out of here."

"I don't see where you have a choice. Frankly, I don't think you realize what you're up against. No offense intended."

"Yeah? And I don't think you know shit from a shingle. No offense intended."

"It's just," Newlin continued, "you think you're going to somehow pick your locks with a nail and then somehow defeat two sorcerers, not to mention a ship full of men. It's – it's just folly."

I really hate when people just go belly up when they're in trouble. Newlin was starting to push all the wrong buttons in me. "So – then what? What the hell are we supposed to –"

"Don't sweat it, Newlin" Mike jumped in, interrupting before I got a chance to really go off. "We've been up against sorcerers before. We handled it just fine."

"But not sorcerers from this world." Newlin protested. "This is First Earth. The very heart and wellspring of magic." There it was again, that superior tone as if he thought he was in the middle of the greatest show on earth, no matter how miserable this world had made his life. Incredible.

"Jesus, you know what?" I said. "You're fucked up. You sound like you're proud to have those assholes chaining you up in here like some freak."

"No, I'm not proud. I'm just aware that you're being incredibly foolish and naive."

"And you're a deformed pussy freak loser afraid to-"

"I got it!" Mike shouted, snapping our attention to him. He looked from me to Newlin and back to me. "The nail, I mean."

"Alright!" I shouted back. "Good job."

"Heh, go me." He turned himself around so I could see his chained hands behind his back.

"Help me out, Raph, where's the lock?"

"There's a keyhole right in the manacle," I told him, "on the left side of your wrist."

He twisted his hands around as far as his restraints would allow and prodded at the manacle with the tip of the nail. "How close am I?"

"Up a little."

He strained his hands a little more and found the keyhole, just barely able to work the nail with the tips of fingers. "Alright, it goes in," he said. "Now let's see what I can do. Kind of an awkward angle."

In the far corner, Fluke suddenly turned up the decibels on the conversation he was having with himself. "Can't see me I'm covered! Put this on and I'm up like the moon! Oh yes..." Not to be outdone, Finch started moaning louder.

"I did it, you know," the guy on the other side of Newlin piped up. Like everyone except Mike and me, he was restrained only with a single manacle around his leg with the chain bolted to the floor. He crawled out now as far as the chain would allow and began talking to me. "This is all my doing. I dreamed of you coming and I brought you here."

"Ignore him," Newlin said. "He thinks he's a mad sorcerer-king who died a thousand years ago."

"Not mad, Newlin," the mad sorcerer-king guy corrected irritably. Then he winked at me. "I'm just trying to help you out, lad.

"Fascinatin'," I said. "Who cares?"

"Personally," Newlin announced to no one in particular. "I believe he knows quite well he's not Durriken Lon. His particular insanity lies in that he refuses to give up the act, even though it's brought him to this."

"Oh, I am Durriken Lon," said mad sorcerer-king guy. "I am the power behind this ship. I envisioned it all. It's all planned."

Newlin rolled his one visible eye. "If you are really Durriken Lon then why don't you save yourself from this misery?"

"My time is not yet come. I await my time."

"Then I wish you'd tell your time to hurry it along so you can stop vexing me with your presence."

"Dammit." That came from Mike, still working at the keyhole. "I can't get it."

"It's alright, take your time," I told him.

"Hard to concentrate," he muttered. He let out a frustrated growl, jerking the nail around in the hole.

"Just try to block 'em out," I said as soothingly as I could. "Take it slow. You'll get it." I thought it was kind of funny, the hot tempered and impulsive trying to school the hyperactive and distractible in patience. Leo should see this.

"Oh yes you like that?" Fluke suddenly shouted. "Oh yes oh yes!" Sonaofabitch…now the guy was sitting there frantically whacking off in front of all of us. "Put it on me! Oh little pig put it on me!"

"You mock me, Newlin. Polyp." Durriken Lon sneered, still harping on him. He sounded like he was trying for his best threatening crazed sorcerer voice, but falling some ways short. "If I choose, I can call demons from the vast depths-"

"Why, so can I," Newlin replied dryly. "So can this turtle here. It doesn't mean they'll come when we call them."

"You wait. Just keep chattering, Newlin. I'll see you regret it when my time comes."

"Oh, I'm quaking with fear."

"I'll see you dead!" the mad sorcerer-king shrieked. "I'll see you begging me!"

Mike looked at over me and grinned wearily. "I'm starting to like that one guy who doesn't say anything."

"Will you all," I said, "SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

Surprisingly enough, it worked. The din turned itself off as if someone has flicked a switch. All except for Finch, who jumped from automatic moaning to genuine cries of panic. I don't know my own strength sometimes.

"Ahhhh! Ahhhh! Ahhhh!"

Mike took her into his own hands. "Finch. Hey, Finch," he said gently. "Look up a minute. Look at me." He kept talking quietly, and gradually her cries lowered in volume to a soft whine and she dragged her eyes to him. Maybe I scared the hell out of Finch, but nobody could be scared of Mikey, at least not when he's working his wide-eyed and sincere act. "Don't be scared, okay?" he said. "It's just bonehead Raph blowing off some steam. But I need you to quiet down a little for me, okay? Think you can be good and do that?"

She considered him in silence for a moment, then went, "Brrrrrrrr," vibrating her lips together. She curled up on her ratty blanket and continued making weird little noises at herself - little blips and chirps, every now and then throwing in some sounds I could almost make out as words. Mike and I just watched her a minute – not that we were all shocked and bothered by any of it, we've seen too many crazy people on the streets back home for that, but it was just so freaking – odd.

"Beats the moaning, anyway," Mikey eventually said, shrugging.

"Hey, I ain't complaining," I replied.

Right then the door to the hold flew open. "Okay, freakies, show time! You got people waitin' to see you!" Some of the crew came in – a bunch of men, and one woman. Even though I'd never laid eyes on her before, I knew exactly who it was. I'd know her anywhere. If I had been blind and deaf, I still would have been able to feel her presence. I'd felt her inside me, felt her deliberately force her way in deeper when I'd wanted her out. I even knew her name, though I'd never heard it spoken. Lyris – my newest and definitely my permanent enemy. While the men went about unlocking everyone's chains from the floor, she smiled at me – a full on, warm smile like we were some kind of goddamn lovers sharing a secret.

"Not him," she said when one of the men came to unlock my chain.

"Really, Lyris," said another guy, not one of the crew from the expensive looking clothes and the familiar, exasperated tone he used with Lyris. I guessed he had to be the other sorcerer. I glanced at Mikey who confirmed it, gesturing with his head and mouthing "sorcerer".

"He's mine, Eamon, and I don't want him exposed to that," she said, he voice measured and patronizing, like she was talking to a slow child. "Showing yours is more than enough." She gave me another one of those secretive smiles. "I'll see you again soon enough, alone." With that, she swept out of the hold.

"How come you always get all the broads?" Mike asked me, making a good effort at cockiness. I could tell he was trying to act more nonchalant about whatever the hell they were up to than he really felt, for my sake.

And for his sake, I didn't let on how worried I really was. "Hey, when you got it, you got it."

The crew started leading – more like dragging – the other freaks out of the hold. "But I haven't even breakfasted yet." The guy who thought he was Durriken Lon complained as he was hauled out.

"Don't worry, my lord," the crewman leading him said. "You'll get plenty of eats when the show's over."

"Come on, Polyp," said another crewman to Newlin. The guy had to let Newlin lean on him as he shuffled slowly, and it looked to me painfully, along. It was the first time I'd seen him try to move, and I realized that Newlin's deformities must have put him in a lot of physical pain. "You remember to keep your mouth shut, right?" the crewman said as they passed me. His tone was menacing under a fake friendly veneer. "Remember what happened last time? You remember that, right?"

When they unlocked Mike's chain from its ring in the floor, the sorcerer ordered, "Keep his feet bound. I'll bring him." Eamon raised his hand, and Mike's body slowly rose from the floor and hovered in mid air. I saw his hands balled into fists as if resisting, and I knew he was hiding that nail in one of them. They left the hold with Mike floating ahead of them, leaving me alone there.

I couldn't see anything through the open hatch above me except sky and the ship's rigging, but the noises from on deck were carrying down to me pretty clearly. I spent my time scanning the floor for another loose nail or anything to pick my locks with, and trying to follow what was happening overhead by sound.

After a few minutes I heard the voices and footsteps of a lot of people milling around on deck, and the voices of the crew showing off the freaks for them. Finch had dropped the weird chirping and was back to moaning, loudly. The Durriken Lan guy was winging back and forth from sniveling to grandiose proclamations and threats. Whatever Fluke was saying and making noise about made no goddamn sense in any language, and I didn't want to guess what he was probably doing to himself up there. I couldn't make out Mike's voice anywhere.

A woman screamed - the kind of scream a woman makes when she's more amused than scared. "Oh, how horrid!" Laughter. More snatches of conversations. "Not sorcery, sir, born a monster…she don't know, doesn't even care…is he dangerous?…mind's completely gone…no more than an animal now…never learned to speak…nope, brain's complete rot and poison…you, you there, CAN YOU UNDERSTAND ME?…look, you can do anything…I've seen enough…not in front of my wife…later, when the ladies leave, you can…"

There was a collective gasp and a bunch of shouts along the lines of "Oh my god!" Apparently they'd been holding Mike back to make a grand entrance. All the voices converged to one spot overhead. "What is it?"

"This, ladies and gentlemen, is a creature from Second Earth, a world where animals walk and talk like men. After a quest of great peril and hardship we returned triumphant with this creature, and this ship is the only place in this world where you can behold such a marvel."

"So it's intelligent?" "Make it talk." "Is it male or female?" "Male obviously." "Nothing obvious about it!" Laughter. "Look at the muscle" "Must be male." " Not necessarily. Female animals have muscle, too." "Well, ma'am, you could find out for yourself what it's hiding, if you dare." Laughter. "Oh, I couldn't touch it! Berwin, darling, you do it." "As you wish" Dramatic sigh. "The things I do for my lady's love." More laughter.

Suddenly, the joking voices cut off and turned to screams, real screams of pain and fear from both men and women. The sounds of fighting broke out overhead, and of bodies dropping to the deck. Stampeding footsteps of people tripping over themselves to get clear. The crew shouted for Lawler. Lawler shouted for the master and mistress.

I started reflexively struggling against my chains, the tight manacles cutting into my skin as I jerked and twisted and pulled. Everything held fast, but I couldn't stop myself. It goes against everything in me to have one of my brothers fighting for his life and not being in the middle of it myself. It was chaos above me. I couldn't tell where Mike was, or if he was winning. "Fuck this, fuck this, come on, Mikey," I snarled as I fought my own useless battle with those goddamn chains.

The door to the hold burst open and some of the crew poured in, dragging the freaks with them. They hauled them back to their spots and relocked the manacles to their ankles, throwing the captives to the floor any old way and all in a big hurry about it. Lawler and some more men came in next, carrying an unconscious Mikey, with Lyris right behind them, pushing her way into the room.

"Go! Go!" she shouted. "Lawler, weigh anchor!"

"And then what, Mistress?" he snapped. "We're docked in the middle of a crowded harbor. We're going nowhere fast, not unless you want to propel us to open water."

"Fine, then," she said impatiently. "I'll get us out. You see to it that this can't happen again, then join me on deck."

Lawler glanced up from locking Mike's chain to the ring in the floor. "Shall I cut off their fingers?"

Lyris paused a second, as if seriously thinking it over. "No, no," she said. "Just bind them for now. But hurry!"

"Tully," Lawler said to one of the men, "run and get me something to-"

"Already on it, sir." The guy ran from the room.

I looked at Mike, trying to see how badly he was hurt. "What did you do to him, Lawler?" I demanded. "If you fucking hurt him, you're –"

"I'm what?" he cut me off. "As a matter of fact, I did 'fucking' hurt him, as you put it. What do you think you're going to do to me?"

"Come here and find out, you fucking coward."

He could move fast for such big guy. His foot connected with my plastron and knocked me backwards, and then he was kneeling his full weight on me, his hand gripping my throat and half strangling me. "So tell me what you think you're going to do to me," he said.

I bucked my body up as much as I could to get him the hell off me, and craned my head around, trying to reach any part of him I could with my teeth. Hey, a ninja uses any weapon available, and at that point my teeth were all I had. I could see glimpses of the crew behind him, grinning and thrilled to see their captain put me in my place. "Bite me and I'll knock every tooth out of your head," Lawler warned.

"Bring it, asshole!" I growled. I tried to lunge upward to get at his face, just to show I wasn't bluffing.

His hand tightened, cutting off my air completely. I didn't have any options left except to glare into his eyes with pure hatred and not give him the satisfaction of seeing anything else. He glared back at me, matching hate for hate. "Animal," he said, his voice grating over itself like stones grinding together. "Look at you, trying to pass yourself for a man while you foam at the mouth and bite like a rabid dog. Animal. My mistress enjoys her perversions but I don't share them. I'd see your whole foul race dead if I could."

"Captain." Tully's voice. Lawler didn't acknowledge him. "Sir," Tully tried again, more loudly. "I have sacks and twine." This time he got Lawler's attention. The captain released me, reluctantly, and went over to Mike. He took a small burlap sack from Tully and put it over both of Mike's hands, lashing it on tightly with the twine, wrapping his hands with it from his wrists to the tips of his fingers. They did the same to me, with Lawler rolling me onto my plastron and putting his foot on my neck like I was some damn trophy he just shot. He held me down while the crew worked. When they were done my hands were wrapped like a mummy and completely immobile. Neither me nor Mike were gonna be picking any locks any time soon.

After they left the hold I noticed the ship was really moving at a good clip now and a strong wind was howling outside. Lyris, I thought, booking us out of here. I looked over at Newlin, lying face down on the floor, his breathing labored.

"Hey, Newlin," I said, "Talk to me. What's wrong with Mike?"

"He's unconscious," Newlin said through long gasping breaths, "but I don't think…badly hurt….You were worse."

"What the hell happened up there?"

He let out a weird, croaking chuckle. "I assume…he picked the damn lock…He took exception…to being handled…he had one arm free, and then…I've never seen…by all the gods…who are you people?"