CAST OF PLAYERS:
Debora Silkotch…………..Casey Gavin…………………………Human Psionic
Aron Head……………….Story/Setting/Everything Else…….Game Master
The interrogation went on. And on. And on.
Until finally, Casey was slumped in the chair, head bowed and not a finger left on either hand. Through the process Mardmor burned her wounds to slow the bleeding.
She was chilled, shuddering, battling shock.
But she never talked. She never gave it up. Her choice. Her choice.
In fury, Mardmor flipped the cartful of bloody knives. It exploded against the far wall. The Goblin King exited the room, leaving a worn and abused girl to attempt to gather herself.
The only sound in the room — a ragged, beaten sound — was Casey’s wet, near hysterical breathing. Tears, blood, and terror were her companions. Well, those and the reanimated severed head of a vampire she’d aided in the rescue of the night before.
She flinched, then vaguely recognized Houseman’s voice. It was a distant, unimportant sound; not real enough to draw her focused concentration from the one question on what was left of her mind.
The head’s voice was tentative. “Casey, we can get out of this…”
The words echoed her own crippled thoughts. I can get out of this. I can just…go.
The question is, can he follow? Is he out of range now?
Is that even a place he can go at all…?
After everything I just went through, would I be leading him to his answers?
She didn’t know. There was no way to know without trying.
Someone just said something…what…?
Oh, yes. Houseman’s remains were speaking to her. Something about getting out of this. It felt like too much effort to reply. But then, it felt like too much effort to keep breathing, and her body seemed to be handling that chore with damnable regularity. “I’m listening,” she mumbled quietly without looking up. Her throat was raw from screaming; the words come out as a hoarse croak.
“Look at me, girl.” His voice was soft, but commanding. “Look at me, and tell me what you see.”
For a long moment she didn’t show any sign of having heard him.
Then, with a painful slowness, as if every movement brought fresh torment, she straightened and turned her head to look at him. “I see a dead man,” she said distantly, “denied his rest and clinging to the delusion that he still has a say in what happens to him.”
The head frowned.
The night hadn’t been kind to Casey. She wasn’t feeling particularly kind herself. Looking at the blood on Houseman’s face and her own drained fingers and thumbs littered about him, she did manage to resist a bitter impulse to ask if he’d enjoyed the snack.
Then, because it occurred to her that his request might have been an actual plea for information, she added bluntly, “I see a vampire’s severed head impaled on a Necromancer’s spike.”
He squeezed his eyes shut, mouth pressed in a grimace, horror forcing his lower lip to tremble. It was a long moment before Houseman’s strained voice said, “I… thought so. I achieved some clarity. And remembered… Remembered the axe.” His eyes were dark, cold with hatred, frigid with hellish rage. “This Mardmor thinks I’m done,” Houseman’s voice was ice. “I can’t do a damned thing for me. But I can help you.” He focused on her right wrist. She could feel invisible fingers tugging at the band there.
She stared blankly at Houseman, then slowly lowered her gaze to the restraint.
The head strained, but didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.
Comprehension filtered slowly into her battered mind.
It hurt to move. It even hurt to hope. But Casey gathered what was left of her strength and pulled with all her trembling might against the band holding her right arm.
The strap of metal shuddered under Houseman’s intense concentration, but even with Casey’s assistance it failed to give. “Dammit!” Houseman surrendered, his eyes bloodshoot and bleary. “I… I can’t do it. I can’t do it.” His face softened, looking upon the abused girl across from him. “Oh, Casey… I am so sorry.”
She didn’t reply. As painful as the reawakening of hope had been, it had stirred something back to life that Mardmor had nearly succeeded in crushing out of her. This new sensation demanded her full attention.
Unexpectedly, she realized that she wasn’t quite ready to die yet after all.
For the first time since her powers had been blocked, she found herself with the time and opportunity to test the exact nature of the muffling effect. She knew that there was at least one ability that Mardmor hadn’t been aware of, and so hadn’t thought to interfere with. She wasn’t ready to risk using that one again just yet, but there might be others…or, just maybe, his presence was required to maintain the blockage?
Just as she was gathering focus to attempt an assault on the wrist restraint herself, it hit her.
“Casey, you’re an idiot,” she muttered under her breath, even as fresh hope leaped up. “Talk about going at things the hard way.” She turned to look at the remains again. “Mr. Houseman, there’s something on my head. I don’t know what it is, but I can feel something there.” Or I used to be able to, before my hands became the sum total of my sensory experience. “Can you lift it off?”
“I… I’ll try.” He focused on a point just above her eyes. Suuddenly a silver band flung off her head, tumbling to the floor. At once she felt her psionic abilities return.
Relief, hope and determination surged in alongside the overwhelming pain. She might be able to do something about that pain now … numb the nerves, muffle the signals to her brain … but that wasn’t quite at the top of her list.
She glared at the silver band, telekinetically crushing it beyond recognition, just in case Mardmor returned before she made her escape. Then with a simple thought the bonds flew from her wrists and she was free.
She sprang from the chair that had been her prison…
…And stumbled to her knees, head spinning and stomach churning. The spirit was willing, but her trembling body was appallingly weak. She was drenched in her own blood, and her hopelessly maimed and burned hands had begun to throb with a hellacious new ferocity in time to the revived pounding of her heart.
She was forced to delay her escape while she attended to her physical needs. Manipulating nerves wasn’t her area of expertise — her one and only foray into that province had resulted in the unintended but spectacular destruction of the Ogre’s entire optic system — but at this point she was willing to destroy what was left of her hands if only they’d stop hurting long enough to let her get the hell out of there.
She took a deep breath and focused on numbing the damaged tissues of her hands. Her senses turned inward, feeling out the nerves, chasing the pain to its source. “Ahh…” She startled herself, then cried out in fresh pain. “AIGH!”
The pain was gone. The wounds had healed over. She stared at her scarred, fingerless but pain-free hands for a long, befuddled moment.
No time to wonder about it. She rose shakily to her feet, glancing over at the toppled cart and its scattered load of bloody implements. Searching briefly through the mess, she located the heavy blade that the Goblin King had used to remove her fingers. At her bidding it flew to her, then slid with slow, careful precision down between her leather belt and leather pants just behind her hip.
Mardmor might need that back. She intended to personally ensure that he got it.
Stepping cautiously across the blood-slick floor, she approached the head. “I owe you more than you know, Mr. Houseman. What can I do for you before I go?”
“Tell me it’s worth it,” he said in a small voice. “The secrets you’re protecting? They’re worth it?”
“They’re worth it,” she said simply. “Anything else I can do for you?”
“That is enough.”
But it wasn’t his voice. It was Mardmor’s.
And Casey wasn’t standing free, she was back in the chair restrained — headband still firmly on her head. Mardmor stood beside the cart of blades — all of them pristine. Houseman looked on, sympathetic, no blood on his chin.
She looked down to her hands. Miraculously, her fingers were all there.
The Goblin King smiled. “You have confirmed for me now… that you do indeed have secrets worthy of the most precious protection. Now then…” He leaned forward, drawing up a blade. “…If I can work that kind of pain in your mind, what do you think I can do to you for real? Tell me your secrets, Casey, and I will spare you further torment.”
Casey found that, for the moment at least, her capacity for terror had been utterly expended. In its place she felt only a dull fury, kindled by Mardmor’s smug words and fueled by her body’s restored strength and health. It had been one mind-game after another since their first meeting in the Cake & Ale that evening, and still no end in sight.
“Well,” she commented evenly, if rather hoarsely. Apparently all the screaming had been real, anyway. “At least we’re skipping that whole ‘You must believe I don’t want to hurt you’ spiel this time. I don’t think I could listen to *that* again.”
He arched an eye brow at that, an amused smile playing at the edge of his mouth.
The trace of dry humor faded from her tone, replaced by a thread of cool steel. “Listen to me, you psychotic freak. I’ll keep this short, because I have no doubt that five minutes from now I’m going to be gushing blood and begging for death…or maybe I’ll just think I am, who the hell knows. Anyway, there’s nothing I can do about that, so let’s not pretend otherwise. I’m telling you right now, while I can still string words together in a coherent manner: Yes, I have secrets. Yes, they’re worth suffering and dying to protect. Do you think you and I would still be here doing this interminable song and dance if they weren’t? Do you honestly think I would have gone through all of that without talking if there were *any* possibility that I could be compelled to give up my information?” Her blue eyes flashed with ire and disdain. “You might as well kill me now, Mardmor, because I am completely useless to you. Or, we could keep this up for the rest of the night; I’m happy to keep you occupied in here instead of out overthrowing the world. But whatever you’re going to do, just do it already, unless you’re planning on talking me to death. And I’ve gotta tell you, I think I’d prefer the knife thing.”
“And the girl becomes a woman,” he said softly. He pondered her. “Very well then. I believe we will begin with your brain.” He lifted a vicious looking corkscrew device.
Casey blinked, her wrath faltering into startled alarm at the sight of this new instrument.
The Goblin King provided it a crank, nodding with satisfaction.
“We’ll begin…with my…what?” The last of the fierce anger drained away as dismay and fear make a dramatic return appearance. Merciful heavens, what had she been thinking to goad him like that?
“Sire?” The wiry sidhe in the gray business suit that Casey had seen earlier poked his head into the room.
“What?!” Mardmor snapped in irritation.
“There’s been a development, my king. I thought you’d want to be made aware of it soonest.”
“Sir Norfolk is dead, sir.”
Casey’s head came up sharply as her heart plummeted into her stomach. “No…”
Mardmor turned, facing his servant for the first time. A long, chilly silence fell across the room and the sidhe gentleman shrank a bit under the Goblin King’s scrutiny.
“That is unfortunate,” he said at last. “How did it occur?”
“The Lady Jasmine attempted escape. The satyr threw himself into the fight and was struck down.”
Mardmor nodded. “That will leave us one short. Who struck the fatal blow?”
“Then he will take Norfolk’s place.” Mardmor considered. “Still, accommodations must be made. I must see to them.” Setting the skull-screwing device down on the cart, Mardmor says to Casey: “Do not worry, dear. I will return soonest.”
She barely heard him. Pip…!
He turned to the sidhe as he exited. “Stay and watch the girl. But do not touch. Do what you want to the head.”
And the Goblin King was gone.