Keys rattled with the clunk of iron, a dull, sturdy thud that felt like a reminder that this was a dungeon, all solid stone and metal and thick wood. A moment later, the massive door, four-inch-thick oak except for a steel grill for viewing and a slot through which a food tray could be passed, swung open.
"Get up, Beammest," barked the familiar voice of the guard. He added in sneering tones, "Seems you've got yourself a visitor."
Runcifer James Beammest, former master thief, current occupant of his own private chunk of the hellhole called Bastion Donjon-Keep, or more colloquially "the Pit," looked up with vague interest. Runce had no idea who would be visiting him.
"Oh," he said, rapidly losing even that slight curiosity. "A priest."
"At least someone thinks your soul's worth something," the guard said, then hawked a gob of phlegm onto the cell floor. "Me, I can't see why you're worth the trouble."
"In the eyes of God," said the priest archly, "all are equal, be they saint or sinner."
Runce looked at the guard and rolled his eyes; captor and prisoner were in complete agreement on that point.
"Do I have to put up with this sermonizer?"
"Perhaps you do not take the condition of your soul very seriously, Mr. Beammest, but I can assure you that I do. I know my duty, and I will not be swayed by your flippant attitude." The priest turned to the guard, looking down his arched, patrician nose. "Please leave us now, so I may minister to this poor sinner."
"Yeah, fine. Just holler when you need me to let you out." The guard looked from Runce to the priest and back again. "Don't know which of you two to feel sorry for."
The lock grated as the guard refastened it. The priest just stood, staring down at Runce while the man's footsteps receded down the hall.
"So," Runce said, making no attempt to conceal his disinterest, "are you going to say something or just stand there staring at me?"
"Be silent, fool," snapped the priest. "I bore even myself with these games and have no wish to continue them unnecessarily."
He'd finally said something that attracted Runce's interest.
"You're no priest."
"Who sent you?"
"That's hardly important."
The false priest opened the front of his cassock. Something moved within the black fabric, causing it to flex and shift, and then something leapt out onto the palm of the priest's long-fingered hand. It was, Runce noted at second glance, a nasty little black rat, with a pointed, twitching nose and tousled fur.
"What the hell?"
"Quite apt, Mr. Beammest. This is my associate, Tempell. Tempell, please meet Mr. Beammest."
"Don't waste time," the rat spoke in a low, growly yet hissing voice that sounded entirely unnatural. But then again, what is natural about a rat speaking?
"I suppose so. Go on, Tempell."
The rat sprang from the false priest's palm to Runce's shoulder. Runce flinched and started to swat the creature away, but his hand froze in mid-slap.
"He's mine now," the rat said. Runce found his body moving without his will, sitting up straight, folding his hands in his lap, and looking up at the priest's face. He tried to resist, then to move in some other way, but was completely unable, not even so much as to make a finger twitch.
"What the hell's going on?" he cried, finding that he still had the faculty of speech.
"Isn't it obvious, Mr. Beammest? Tempell has taken control of your body. He now decides when and how you move."
"Quite right. Magicians and sorcerers perform feats that defy physical law by commanding spirits, be they of nature or hell or the dead, to use their supernatural powers on the magician's behalf. These spirits are called familiars, and of course, Tempell is my familiar."
"I didn't ask for a lecture."
Runce raised his right hand and, to his horror, slapped himself across the face.
"Don't try to be cute," the rat threatened. "Just listen up and answer questions when you're asked."
"Still," noted the false priest, "the demonstration was an effective one. A man such as Mr. Beammest isn't inclined to just spill his secrets to any curious bystander. He requires an incentive, something to convince him that it is in his best interests to do so."
"Who are you?" Runce couldn't resist asking.
"That isn't important for you to know. Tempell?"
Runce's hand came up and slapped himself again, hard.
"Let's stop wasting time, please. You're going to tell me about the crime that landed yourself here, your attempted theft from the royal palace."
"Wait, is that all? You could have gotten that story from the guards, the judge, the spectators at the trial, all kinds of people."
"Ah, but what I want is the pure, unadulterated truth, Mr. Beammest, shorn of any of the dramatic embellishments of second- and third-hand accounts. Those sources were fine to pique my interest and raise questions, but now I require answers. You broke into the Royal House of Magic in the palace, did you not? How did you accomplish that?"
"I'm a Master Thief, aren't I? It wasn't hard to slip past a bunch of overpaid, underworked royal guards."
"And what of the magical defenses? Surely no royal family, or even less a group of magicians, would rely only on physical security?"
"I don't know what there was. I had an amulet that let me get past magical wards and symbols without triggering them."
"Really? The Hidden Eye? Those are quite rare, Mr. Beammest. You are to be congratulated on your good fortune."
"Yeah, it all turned out so well for me, didn't it?"
He knew the blow was coming before his hand even moved, only it wasn't a slap but a clout from his closed fist. Colors flashed, blurring his vision as pain spiked through his jaw.
"Do not be flippant. You entered into the room of one particular magician and attempted to steal a certain flask, did you not?"
Runce's immediate reaction was, Well, if you knew that, then why are you here? The pain in his jaw and the coppery taste of blood from where the inside of his cheek had been cut on his teeth gave him the incentive to suppress it.
"Now, why did you pick that one flask to steal?"
"It looked valuable. It wasn't in an ordinary stand, but in a carefully braced and padded one so it couldn't be accidentally broken. I figured that made it worth something."
The false priest nodded.
"Indeed, I would have reasoned similarly. Did you find out what the flask contained?"
"I don't know."
Runce's arm started to come up, but the priest raised his hand to forestall the blow.
"Not just yet, Tempell. Please explain yourself, Mr. Beammest. I would think you either did or did not learn what was in the flask."
"It was weird. It was almost full of this yellow goop, right? Then the girl who owns the room came busting in. She got all panicky when she saw I had the flask, begging me not to drop it, to put it back, and so on. That meant it was some big, important deal, so there was no way I'd let it go, even after she offered to let me walk away free."
"She offered that, did she?"
"I asked her what was in it, and she started to say 'my love,' so I figured it was some kind of love potion. But then, I swear the goop came alive and crawled out of the bottle! I freaked out so much I dropped the flask, and the magician girl went diving across the room to catch it. She did something then and I went out like a snuffed candle--at the trial they said it was a sleeping spell--but I swear to you that yellow stuff turned into another girl, right in front of me!"
"Did it, now?"
"Maybe it was just a dream from when I was under the sleep spell, 'cause believe me, she looked like the kind of girl a man would dream about."
"But you don't think so."
Runce would have shaken his head if he could move his neck.
"No, I'm sure it was real, at least as sure as I can be under the circumstances."
The false priest nodded gravely.
"I, too, believe what you say."
He reached inside his cassock again, and took out a crude knife. It was nothing more than a strip of thin metal, a piece off a banded door or something similar, that had been honed by rubbing it against some hard object. In other words, the kind of shank that one might expect to find among a prison population. Runce tried to scream, but he found that his vocal cords had been frozen, so he could only look on in terror as the false priest handed him the shank and his body took it.
"Guard! Guard!" the priest called. The footsteps returned. "I'm ready to go now, guard." To Runce he added softly, "You really should have taken Miss Blan's offer."
The guard's face appeared at the grill, and seeing Runce apparently sitting on his bench in a non-threatening posture and well away from the door, the turnkey unlocked the cell.
"Any luck converting the faithful?"
"I believe that he feels genuine remorse for his sinful actions, and is plagued by regrets for the evil he has done. I can only hope that over time he accepts God's mercy and forgiveness."
The guard snorted.
"Begging your pardon, Father, but I'll believe it when I see it."
"I'm certain that Mr. Beammest will surprise you with the depth of his remorse."
The men left, and the guard re-locked the door.
"He plays too many games," Tempell complained. "Ah, well, at least now I can get this over with." Runce's arm brought out the shank, and in the next instant he'd thrust it home up under his ribs, piercing the heart with surgical efficiency. The thief toppled forward off the bench, and died on the filthy stone floor. Tempell surveyed the work, decided it was well-done with a satisfied squeak, then scampered up the door, squeezed through the grill, and scuttled up the passage to rejoin his master.
NOTES: This story falls not long after "Thief of Hearts," as those of you who read that story will realize from Runce's appearance here--not so much a true sequel as a natural progression on a theme.
One thing I've been dissatisfied about in my previous GrimGrimoire fiction is the fact that, to put it bluntly, Lillet appears as a bit of a watering pot. That's largely a function of the plots--she's being caught up in romantic angst and worry, and so therefore she isn't at her best. But I also wanted to see the Lillet we know from the game, the heroine who feeds Calvaros to Grimlet before tricking that devil into imprisoning himself in Hell, then blasts through Calvaros's Runes to shatter the Philosopher's Stone. There's a reason, after all, that Gammel tells her to her face in the Epilogue that there's nothing he has left to teach her. So in this longer story, with villains and evil plots aplenty, we get to see the magician as well as the lover.
"Thief of Hearts" readers already know the origin of Runcifer James "Jim Beam" Beammest's name while Tempell's name comes from the same source as Margarita's frog Surely in the game: the Shirley Temple cocktail. Since the familiars aren't human, they apparently get non-alcoholic names. ;)