Chapter Twelve – Punishment
Newly captured slaves are subjected to inspection and disinfection, followed by constant psychic bombardment to ensure that they become docile and willing thralls. Those lucky few who managed to escape from thraldom describe it as a waking nightmare. The slave is always aware of what he is doing and is filled with revulsion at his deeds, but is powerless to resist illithid commands. The hopelessness and horror of this mental captivity bears down on the thrall as a constant weight.
– From Lords of Madness
Charinda leant in the narrow entrance to the alcove, her eyes idly scanning the corridor. This particular tunnel run straight for a couple of hundred feet in both directions and the bard was certain that her keen hearing would note the approach of potential foes. She shifted from one foot to another, her gaze falling onto the two mind flayers.
It was cramped in the alcove, the majority of space taken up by Maslynrensine. It sat pressed against the wall, knees drawn up against its chest, its longer tentacles kept close to its body so as not to come into contact with grimy stone or undead flesh. Through the psicrystal that she carried within her, Charinda could feel the telepath's anger smouldering deep inside it. Even if she didn't have the crystal, the guide would have known by the narrowed silvery eyes that were fixed on their newest companion.
Azathlan was calmly mixing the contents of a pair of glass vials together. Both powders looked grey in darkvision but this did not appear to hamper the wizard in the slightest. Resealing both of the containers, it replaced them in an inner pocket and took a double handful of the mixture. A short chant followed before the lich cast the powder over its own head.
A dim radiance slid over the wizard's flesh and Charinda watched in fascination as the undead creature's white, withered flesh changed, smoothing out, becoming glossy and slick with mucus. Azathlan looked down at its hands, uttering a short gurgle of amusement (the illusion even covering the dry wheezes that usually escaped it) as it beheld the healthy mauve flesh of a living illithid.
Hiding behind your magic? You fear the reprisals of true illithids for your abominable state; the hate in Maslynrensine's telepathic voice was readily apparent. If it were possible, Charinda suspected it would have spat the words.
The wizard held its cephalopod head high. In this position, with Maslynrensine forced to doubled itself up, Azathlan had a height advantage,
Hardly. This is merely to facilitate negotiations with my contacts and to keep the eyes of curious away. Speaking of which, its words became infused with a cruel delight, you are quite noticeable, yourself, Maslynrensine of Hal'carnasas.
It slid a narrow circlet of jade from an inner pocket. The ulitharid's eyes were drawn to it, narrowing further in suspicion.
Shape-shifting spells are normally complex, but this should be quite simple. An ulitharid and an illithid differ in only a few minor aspects-
Charinda took a step back as Maslynrensine rose to its feet. The lich remained where it was.
I am a sacred child of Ilsensine! To assume the form of a lesser creature – the very idea is blasphemy!
Even when it was unable to stand properly, Maslynrensine, with its tentacles thrashing in rage and its telepathic voice suffused with dark rage, was a terrifying apparition. The impassive and collected manner that all mind flayers cultivated was gone. Instead the ulitharid's temper, once known and feared throughout Hal'carnasas by thrall and illithid alike, was provoked.
It has already been demonstrated that you are unable to fight against your mysterious opponent, Maslynrensine. Against the golems my magic was your deliverance.
I did not request your aid and I do not wish it now! I do not need your powders or your incantations, Charinda closed her eyes against a sudden pain in her head when she opened her eyes again there were two illithids standing in the alcove. The illithid that was Maslynrensine, appearing as an almost exact miniature of the ulitharid, lifted its cephalopod head regally; I am perfectly capable of disguising myself and with far more finesse than your magic.
The disguised lich merely shook its own head,
What I presume you have done is attempt to reach into my mind, trying to convince me that an illithid stands before me instead of an ulitharid. It may be effective against lesser minds, but you forget that such tricks do not work against someone of my condition.
The lich reached again into its robes, retrieving a complex mess of gold wire and crystal chips. Manipulating this caused the image of Maslynrensine's illithid form to waver and ripple as though it were a pool of water someone had thrown a stone into. A mere heartbeat later the image shattered and, once again, an ulitharid stood hunched in the alcove.
Do you truly believe that I shall be the only undead creature in Sshamath? Not only are the lesser varieties of undead common within the city but many of the wizards themselves are liches and vampires, perfectly capable of penetrating your disguise and of taking action. Perhaps you would meet your end as spell components on a wizard's shelf or in any number of ways.
Still the ulitharid remained silent, eyes narrowed and arms folded across its chest. The lich shook its cephalopod head and slid its wire-and-crystal device and the jade circlet back into its robes,
If the Most High and Sacred Child of Ilsensine will not consent to shape-shifting perhaps illusionary magic will suffice, Maslynrensine hissed at the wizard's tone but the undead creature ignored it and took out the vial of powder it had used on itself. It tossed a handful at the telepath, whose form shimmered and shifted once more until a miniature version of the ulitharid (minus its two extra tentacles) appeared.
The psion marched out of the alcove – its tentacles writhing as though it had won a victory for itself.
You still required my magic, Maslynrensine of Hal'carnasas. Do not forget that. Remember also that you now enter Sshamath and only wizardry rules here.
To teleport directly into the City of Dark Weavings was punishable by confiscation of magic items so it was traditional to first arrive in the entrance cavern, high in the ceiling of Sshamath. As many had before them, the two mind flayers and one thrall made their way to the city proper by way of the long, spiralling ramp that wound its way around the great pillar of Z'orr'bauth.
Maslynrensine was kept between Azathlan and Charinda, much to its displeasure. It was, however, necessary as the illusion that concealed the psion's true nature was strictly visual in nature and the road down to the cavern floor of Sshamath was busy. Foot traffic joined the road from one of the many stone bridges that connected Z'orr'bauth to one of the many other columns that stretched from the cave ceiling to the floor. Merchants eased vast caravans down the slope, beasts of burden complaining loudly. A dark elf necromancer dressed all in black and in a sedan chair supported by two zombies passed the trio. Even the mind flayers had to move for a massive golem, emblazoned with the crest of the College of Abjuration.
Charinda had been to Sshamath before. She knew that, unlike most drow cities, arcane might and not divine ruled here. The city was ruled by mages – the Conclave of Sshamath made up of representatives of the colleges of magic. But the drow of the City of Dark Weavings valued power gained through study – her bardic magic was considered far inferior to wizardry. She did not know what the citizens here thought of the Invisible Art but she feared that her master's temper would soon be riled.
She shook her head, fixing her gaze on the city spread below her. Her goals had been temporarily diverted by the disasters that had befallen Ched Nasad but here in Sshamath she could try once more.
The Guild of Underdark Guides did brisk business here – leading college-sponsored exhibitions to study interesting areas of the Underdark; being hired to locate a rare spell-component, their commissions were many and varied in the City of Dark Weavings. She was certain that her guild thought her dead for the past twelve years – all members were required to send word via a sending spell regularly whilst in the field and the messenger medallion that the bard had used for this had been taken from her by Maslynrensine. But surely, they would understand this breech of protocol.
They'd reached the end of the ramp and the two mind flayers had paused in private communication, the traffic flowing around them. Everyone gave them a wide berth, the reputation of mind flayers serving them well – there was less chance that someone would walk into Maslynrensine's concealed bulk.
She stepped closer to the two mind flayers, head bowed like a good little thrall. Her master turned its cephalopod head (or what appeared as its head; the illusionary skin that the ulitharid wore would have only reached its chest) and after a moment its voice appeared in her head,
You have the chance to redeem yourself for the trouble you caused me in the slum camp, thrall. Fail to obtain valid information, the psicrystal within Charinda's body gave a warning quiver, and the consequences will be dire, it turned back to the lich, dismissing her curtly, I shall summon you if required, thrall.
Charinda joined the crowd, making her way to a side-street that was less packed with Underdark inhabitants. Once there was sufficient space she broke into a run, her feet taking her down a familiar path and hopefully away from her servitude.
The Guild of Underdark Guides was prosperous enough that that its Sshamath branch had a hollowed-out stalagmite to itself. The door was carved with the map-on-scroll symbol of the guild and a banner with the same symbol picked out in glowing thread hung above it.
The interior was the same as Charinda remembered it, the round room with the staircase hugging the back wall, the small shrine to Grumbar the Earthlord, with offerings of semi-precious stones laid out in front of it.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a sharp intake of breath and a voice,
"Fuck me! Charinda! Long-shanks, is that you?"
A male drow had been sprawled over one of the many chairs in the room, but was now hanging onto it for support, an expression of shock across his face.
Across Charinda's face the first genuine smile in years was spreading.
Lymeyrr Szoratar was a slim male, with the typical red eyes of a dark elf and a rare shade of blonde hair that he grew long. He had some small skill at wizardry but his main talent was in the stealthy arts. He had come into the guild at the same time as Charinda and the pair had worked together on many an occasion.
"No one's heard from you in twelve years, Long-shanks. We thought…" Lymeyrr trailed off. Charinda fixed the other drow with her piercing gaze never ceasing to wolf down strips of cured rothé meat.
"You look thinner," the blonde drow smiled sadly. His hand went to the discrete symbol of Grumbar pinned to the inside of his collar, "and you've grown out your hair."
"I need help, Lymeyrr."
"I know it's slavery you're running from. But freedom from the illithids is not easily gained, Long-shanks."
A strip of meat fell from the bard's fingers,
"How did you know it was the mind flayers?"
The male guide rummaged through his pockets,
"This was being handed out. I sent the servants out to get some Sending magic so I could reach the Council," he extracted a tight roll of parchment and passed it over, "Now that you're here, I can arrange negotiations between the Council and your captors. Even illithids need our services from time-"
"Who gave you this?" Charinda looked with horror at what was written on the parchment. Lymeyrr shrugged,
"A thrall, I assume. Another drow but not one of ours, don't you worry. I'd have remembered one with a tattoo like that," he tapped his cheek with one slender finger, "Right across the face."
The parchment and the image of her face and sharp profile crumpled beneath her fingers. They'd known that Maslynrensine could disguise itself but she was recognisable herself, wasn't she. If they were hunting her to get to the ulitharid…
"Charinda? Long-shanks?" Lymeyrr's brow creased and he reached out to her.
They were interrupted by a sound like a whip and the table creaking under a sudden weight.
Maslynrensine of Hal'carnasas glanced down at his thrall, easily sensing her horror. She would recognise it, even with its disguise, by the brain canister tied to its waist. The other drow was filled with revulsion and fear and hate, even with his limited intellect the male could guess that it was the owner of the female thrall.
Even without its own formidable intelligence and its telepathic abilities Maslynrensine would have known why its thrall came here. She had tried to escape its service and return to her guild.
"Sir, that female is a member of the Guild of Underdark Guides," the yellow-haired dark elf had a hand on a hidden wand and was inexpertly trying to conceal that fact in his mind, "I must ask that you step away from Guide Elvanisstra. Negotiations will begin with the Council and you will be compensated-"
The psion allowed an amused hiss to escape its throat. Its thrall's mind flooded with terror and the ulitharid purposely held back for a heartbeat, allowing the first panicked syllables to escape the female's throat.
The mind blast tore through the male's meagre defences, sending him flying backwards. Its thrall let out a scream of rage and went for her swords. The telepath's only response was a brief glance, sending out its intelligence to connect with its psicrystal. Another scream tore its way from the female's throat, this one of pain. The swords fell to the ground and the dark elf collapsed, curling into a foetal position, sobbing and shrieking all the while.
Maslynrensine knew how its psionics were manipulating the female's nerves causing pain to surge through her body. Any observing mind flayer would have been impressed with the artistry involved, the way that no harm came to the physical body but the mental pain…
Tentacles coiling with pride, the ulitharid stepped closer to the female, watching her body shudder and shriek,
You cannot hope to appreciate the work involved in these sensations, thrall, it knew that the thrall could comprehend its words, even through her pain, but you shall come to understand how I have shown mercy towards you today. There are far worse fates that I could bring about.
There was the hum of magic in the air and a magic missile struck the ulitharid's psionic protections. The illusion it wore rippled and warped under the blow and the aberration dispelled it as it turned towards the yellow-haired drow.
The male was gaping in horror at the sight of a sacred child of Ilsensine, but still managed to draw a small hand crossbow. It crumbled into splinters in his hand and Maslynrensine sent a bolt of pain through his head.
Its thrall's mind had been full of memories of this yellow-haired creature. A more efficient punishment could be found here.
Had you remained a loyal and obedient thrall and never fled to this place then this would not have occurred.
The male drow was lifted bodily into the air with telekinesis. Crimson eyes met and were held by the blank silvery orbs.
A knife fell from a suddenly slack hand with an incongruous musical sound. The light fled from the guide's eyes, replaced with a far-off look of horror. Maslynrensine let the male fall to the floor and he began to shake and whimper.
I have sealed this male's mind into a false reality of my own creation. The one you call Lymeyrr Szoratar will live out the rest of his days amongst the most exquisite horrors that the illithid race has invented. You should not have brought him into this; the ulitharid broke off telepathy with its thrall, rising above her tortured screams and the whimpers of the mentally-trapped male. Perhaps its psionics would reveal a lesser being trying to conceal itself in a hidden corner, something with an appetizing brain.
Maslynrensine was brought from its contemplations by a hand gripping the material of its robe. With a keen interest it watched its thrall, still suffering under the unabated ministrations of its psicrystal, shakily try to pull itself upright by the ulitharid's skirts. It was still deliberating what the punishment should be for this hated physical contact when the guide began to speak,
"P-p-ple'se," speech was nearly beyond the female, "N't… n-not 'im."
You are not in a position to negotiate. This is the natural conclusion to your rebellious tendencies.
"B-b-but 'e k-knows…" the female's speech trailed off into an incoherent scream. Maslynrensine watched with disinterest. Instead of waiting for the slave to force the answer from her lips it dove into her mind instead.
What it found there was interesting.
So they are tracking me by trying to find you, it eased its thrall's pain and she moaned in relief, though the remaining agony was enough that she still had to cling to the aberration to remain upright, I could indeed release your companion to question him, it allowed the joy to spread through its slave's mind before continuing, But what would I receive in return? You would hardly cease your rebellion this way.
The dark elf released its robe and slid to the floor. She took the hem in her fingers and began kissing the dark cloth,
"Please, please, my Master."
This is a pleasing attitude, my little thrall; a tentacle brushed her head in a calculated parody of affection, and Maslynrensine watched the disgust and self-loathing arise in the dark elf's mind. It stepped away from the grovelling drow, noting with some revulsion that saliva glistened on its clothing; Remove your fluids from my apparel and you shall assist in my questioning of the male.
Charinda shuddered as the agony finally ceased. Her body still trembled in the aftermath but she still crawled forward to where a tentacle indicated. She began to remove the evidence of her kisses, holding the robe away from her face so that her angry tears did not fall onto the rich material.
Jessi: Ah, I hope Maslynrensine was evil enough in this chapter. I do like writing it when it's acting like this - it's a lot of fun. Also I've noticed that I've started to write Mas as a kind of germ phobic character. I think it works well for illithids when they live in a society without much in the way of physical contact.