Summary: A confrontation in prison in the Sixth Dimension; rather a lot of angst. Quick entry for the May deviantArt fan contest.
A/N: Use of Nattherat's fanon ideas about villain pasts and her OC the Regent, possibly AU.
She'd expected to die rather than be captured. Almost, hoped to die. There was the cold resolution that she would escape this, but for now Lady Illusion was prepared for oblivion.
The energy cuffs fixed her wrists behind her back, painfully subduing her powers. She had woken in the cells from that last, aching blow to her head; had waited and brooded there for-almost a day's turn, probably; infinitesimal compared to the time they expected her to rot there. The Knights-usually-handed death sentences only to those they considered not humanoid. There were things worse than execution.
Three Knights had been sent for her; one with a lightning spear pushing into her back, the other two with wrist bracers. Respect, of a sort. The close-set corridors they took her within turned upwards. Not to an oblivion chamber, then. They said nothing; a taunt from her prompted only the increased pressure of the spear. They dragged her above.
Knights' towers. She'd never been so high in the Citadel before, not during her days of infiltrating it. The repetitive designs were familiar enough; the unchanging cold blue of the walls, set suffocatingly close compared to the open spaces of the Carnival. Steel-grey wires crossed the pale cornices, sparking almost constantly with power. It was far from the wildness of the Carnival.
Other Knights, passing through, saw her a prisoner; she heard isolated whispers. More disciplined, the Knights, than the petty chitchat of the Haunted House. She was alone among them; she knew Lord Fear had been captured; and he must be somewhere, also, in this fortress...
The corridors were widening. A set of great doors were planted upon the opposite end of a tall hallway; vast, gleaming gold with intertwined lightning bolts, set above the dull black and brighter blue heraldry of the knightly order.
She'd, actually, some idea of where they were taking her. No noble of the Carnival ought to give in to fear of any Knight.
A full honour guard, within. Ten; not counting the three watching her. The central figure, seated before a table of polished wood-material one might be more likely to find in the Carnival, though there one would not bind it with shining steel and artificial plasteel, transparent energy screens all about the Knight overseeing it all-
The Regent. A tall man, even while seated; well-muscled; graying dark hair; facing one of the screens set behind him, stone-backed. She'd seen him before, fewer times by her true face than as a false image, at a distance. His power was great; he ruled the Knights; he did not often fight battles himself, but she would not have underestimated him as an opponent... Her own powers, if free of these chains, were not small. She could not attack him in such circumstances; could only watch him, wondering.
He turned slowly, saw her. Had it been Lord Fear, a powerful Knight brought before him, he would have gloated in the victory; but the triumph on the Regent's face was restrained. Closed. She did not lower her head, meeting his dull-grey eyes.
He spoke relatively unimpressive words, perhaps. "Leave her here," he told his guards. She stood, still bound, waiting; there was little more the Knights could do to hurt her. Enough pride left in her to wait.
She was alone with him; but no doubt he had the means to summon his minions again. Escape plans would have to be at a different time and place; he would have prepared for anything she might try-or was it that she would not trust herself to win against him? That would be weakness-
The Regent did not address her by name. "Shifter," he said; she was one of many more. "A lighter green than the norm; malformed ears." As if he judged a beast of burden for purchase. "The skeleton's consort."
Most Knights would have spat that final word, but the Regent's deep tones remained even. She inclined her head, slightly; he would be perfectly aware that she had won the battle for Tergarros, fought at Will's Vale, sabotaged Ginnunghengap.
"It is said that you belonged to one of our homes," he said.
"I have said it." She held no secrets from Lord Fear; there existed no information that would harm or destroy her at the Carnival. It was he who had rescued her from that place. "If your spies cannot be more specific, I recommend that you replace them." The Knights must have guessed, surely, that her own abilities had been used for spying within their territory; highly efficient spying at that. She was not sure if that shot hit its mark in his impassive face.
"We have more information than that. Sit down." A command; she remained on her feet. "Down, I said. Or I will enforce it."
Disobedience. That had caused a slight crack in his iron face; her shapeshifter's eye had her notice such things. She sat, nonetheless; because he had power, because it was the simplest choice to make. There was no pain anyone could inflict upon her that she could not heal in herself, if given time. A plasteel chair facing him, her arms still bound.
He reached for some button upon his desk; an animated cord uncoiled itself and reached up to the thick cuffs that restrained her wrists. It touched a spot that would have been impossible for her fingers to reach without morphing, and fired some form of energy through it; a signal. Her hands were loosened to be able to move; still fettered, but by a longer chain between them. The knowledge of that effect was something, perhaps, she would use later-
"You may wish to examine these. They are duplicates," the Regent said. She flexed her wrists, tingling from blood flowing into them once again. He held a small bundle of items in his gloved hand; and threw them across his table to her.
A rather unimpressive and fluttering bundle. Four digital images taken by an old-fashioned reprograph; an official-looking certificate; three dataprints, black numbers spilled upon them like ants feeding on rotting meat. She looked more closely; and understood.
"Quaint-childhood memories-?" She tried to keep indifference upon her face. Doubtless she was not as successful as she ought to have been; she ought not to have moved her hands to turn them over, ought to have let them lie where they had fallen- The images-one in a spike-walled garden, the twenty or so children, green skin turned to brown by the preserved image-twenty-two, there'd been, ten in the girls' dormitory and twelve in the boys'-the second informal, five visible on the bare asphalt, disorderly in the recreation demicycle-the third, dressed carefully in the white uniforms pressed for the outing to the semicycle's sermon-the fourth, a simple headshot, probably clipped for the natural form identification card- The dataprint, words she had not looked upon in years; designation half judgment unfit to breed- The Knights usually kept good records.
"Registration E-15P374, we found. The Shepherd's Home," the Regent said. She hadn't heard those words in long years; and felt almost unable to speak. In long years she hadn't been afraid-
The brightly coloured recording played. The Founding of the Knight Citadel; the child knew the words of the digital film by heart, but looked at it with wide eyes and careful attention: she had only recently discovered how to read.
"And triumphing over the darkness in the victory cycle the great Founder-" The narrator's voice continued. The child watched for the image she was expecting; there it was, flashing across. The yellow banner, blue markings upon it; dots and dashes. Sir and Ma'am used the symbols, spoke from them. The dots and dashes on the outside lintel were Serve the righteous and obey; because that was where they pointed when they said the words; and when Sir and Ma'am noted the numbers of order marks on their datapads the symbols spelt the registration numbers. Put them together and you could slowly find the secret meaning.
Dot-dot-dot, on the unfurling banner; the first sound of Service. Dot-dash; the uh sound. Dot-dot-dot-dash, she didn't know; single dot-in her registration, ey; dot-dot-dash-suh-ed, Saved, she realised-
The image changed before she could decipher more. Her arms resting carefully upon the bare desk, she dared a glance at the other shifter children; surely at least one of them also knew her trick? But the faces of those next to her were unmoved, watching the film for the-hundredth time, at least. The same narrow set about the Lightning Knights, about proper conduct and service, about the laws. On one of the films, there were fair-haired Knight children shown at their own Academy, glimpsed, writing on datapads of their own with shining styluses. They did not use bare desks and sitting still, the pointer ready to slam across any who moved in their seat or flexed an arm from the stiff position across the cold plasteel.
More writing in these images, she thought, absorbing it as if it were air. She could read and the others could not. That was the, she knew it by heart, the righteous, that second part said-and the secret hers-
"The Knights protect. Since the Citadel's founding, all races have their role in society-" the narration continued to drone.
The dataprints. The first of them familiar, ripped and damaged in its copied form, though these days she could make more sense of it. She'd convinced Pamda to come with her on the expedition to the secrets. P-23...whatever her full designation had been. They had all abandoned such names when returning to the Carnival their people had come from. Registration number; disciplinary record; status; instructions.
She'd understood it vaguely when she had picked open the lock with the filched card; Pamda not at all. And then they'd been caught-both whipped for the transgression, the records falling to the floor torn-
The second of the dataprints on the table before her seemed a duplicate. E-15P374. Birth 90.15.5004. Place of birth Villashock. A small eastern town. Wealthy Knights, she knew now. She hadn't remembered seeing that line the first time she had seen this record, but it had been a long time ago. Perhaps there had been a shifter birthhouse there once. If they post you there, Pamda gossiped, the food is better and there is real grass; or that's what I heard, but you won't ever be- Other details similar, a longer record: Disciplinary infraction: deliberate vandalism of records, a date that sounded close enough. Disciplinary infraction: disrespectful language. Disciplinary infraction: attempted truancy. Disciplinary infraction: violence. She'd attacked some of the boys on various occasions, for calling her different; it was obvious there wasn't only shifter blood in her, and there it was on the record: Designation: half. Judgment: unfit to breed.Half shifter: it made her powers different, stronger than others.
The third dataprint record seemed another duplicate. Why look? Once she had been miserable trapped in that grey house until the Knights had forced them to the form of human children and she had chosen to run to the Carnival attackers above remaining with them. That was all she cared to know. The Knights protect you; you exist to serve them. Lord Fear's fight had changed so many things.
E-15P374. Designation: halfbreed with powered mortal-
Even a certificate. Repeating that information; mother given a name instead of registration, Etti Surge-a common surname, common first name; father-unknown shifter...
"Fascinating," she said, trying to shape composure to her voice; "Reminiscent; all terribly fascinating but I am sure you have other-"
"We know you a halfbreed," the Regent said; "born of a male of your kind corrupting our women, as you do; it is rarely the other way, through the abhorrent practices of your females. Most of you are born sickly, a punishment for consorting with inferiors." A flat monotone, as if he spoke to give a public lecture on genetics. "Your powers, doxy-"
Crystal balls; chemical manipulation; teleportation. Powered mortal, the very definition of what a Lightning Knight was. If it were true some of what she was had been rooted in these; if she was born of Knight rather than simple human-
"Half of Knight family. You belong to us; and I ask the location of Sanctuary-" the Regent said.
A weakness in her. Yet she would not reply; must escape-
Would escape the prison of the Sixth Dimension, she vowed in pain.