By Paul Smith.
Comedy Locks (To Walk the Path 10)
Copyright 2014 Paul Smith
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to people, places or events is purely coincidental, and bears no malicious intent.
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‘Jail birds rock.’
To Walk the Path is the final instalment in my cyber-fantasy series The Star Plague Journals. Anyone who enjoys this chapter and wants to keep up to date on future releases (or who fancies trying some of my other work) should check out my galleries on Shakespir or DeviantART:
Barran woke to darkness.
This in itself wasn’t a surprise, but the hard floor beneath her cheek was.
Her body, veteran of many a tavern brawl and a handful of military actions, promptly brought her up to speed.
Groaning, she heaved herself to a sitting position, groaning at the ache this sent shooting through her shoulders and the jab of nausea that followed it. This level of damage and pain in itself was worrying: one of the joys of her new incarnation was its robustness, the way it would soak up so much of the minor damages one encounters through life with nothing more than a slight spasm. Yes the weird sense of vertigo the first couple of times she’d felt her new physiology drawing on the surrounding grid to repair itself had been somewhat disconcerting, but it was worth it for skin that knit itself back together like the finest Imperial seamstress at work.
So, they’ve done something to me.
It was hardly surprising, really. If they had Wraethi helping them then logically they had means of controlling said Wraethi. The Houses had been powerful, but their dominion had not been absolute. How else would the House/Family symbiosis have lasted so long amongst a people so prone to violent disagreement?
Right from Islan’s time the secrets had existed of how to hurt her kind (Her kind… she shook her head at how odd that sounded still) though they had been kept just that: a secret, guarded jealously by the Myson.
As she cast about she realised where the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach was coming from. The walls of her prison had been doctored, covered in a sea of glyphs that swam before her eyes when she tried to look at them too closely. They had, at least, left her some freedom, though the chains bound to her wrists were (likewise) decorated with the same delightful iconography. She pulled her gaze away, shivering at the fresh wave of nausea this induced. Stealing herself, she tried the next obvious thing, reaching for her fires.
Racking pain shot up her arms from the cuffs at her wrists, feeling like it was melting the flesh from her bones as it lapped towards her shoulders and breasts. She extinguished her efforts quickly, panting through the pain as she waited for it to recede once more.
So, won’t be trying that one again.
A creak announced there was somebody at the door. A panel slid back, revealing slatted bars, the light briefly eclipsed as someone peered in. Then the window was closed again.
She thought for a moment that might be it, but then a thud announced bars being lifted, the clank of chains and an almost comical succession of locks being undone preceding the final creak of the handle as the door was opened.
Barran raised her head, pushing matted hair to one side to take in the figure that stepped over the threshold.
“I’d get up, but find I really can’t be fucking bothered.”
A chuckle from beneath the hood of those Daiku robes. It was the Wraethi again, the one who’d taken her back at the warehouse. He pulled the hood back (there’s a drinking game there, some irreverent part of her mind noted with grim humour), cocking his head at her. The skin of his bald crown glistened in the lantern light from the passage outside. Neither of them needed it, of course, but she suspected it reassured the very human guards who stood to attention beyond him, on either side of the door.
“So, you here to demand answers?” Best get on with it bastard.
“Oh this close to the final hand I think such things are a little superfluous.”
Gambling metaphors. So, a local man. Barran eyed him poisonously. “Yeah, why not kill us then?”
Thick, muscular lips curled in sardonic amusement (give me a fucking break, does this guy find everything funny?!) as he took a step further into the room, moving to let the light spill in. Presumably so the guards outside got a better view of the exchange from the corner of their eye.
He wants this leaked. Wants the gossip to get out. I bet these two are the most unreliable sots in the whole barracks. Can’t understand why they’ve been dragged down here to stand post…
“Killing you would have been a terrible waste my dear. Come, has your campaign taught you nothing about politics?”
“Not my thing,” she replied with an easy sneer. She’d always held those who sparred with words in natural disdain.
“Hmm, yes, I gather that was rather more the boy’s talent.”
“Don’t worry, he’s quite safe… for now.”
She almost laughed at the camp comedy of the situation. He really did seem to be enjoying hamming it up. “So, what, you know everything already? Is that it? No point torturing us because Marielle’s got an itinerary of counter moves drawn up in her chambers next to her Book of Tine?”
“Oh no my dear. Though we do know enough to work out the broad strokes…” he grinned evilly “…it’s amazing what people will do for eternity.”
“Let me guess: they got their wish after they spilled, but you forgot to mention the concrete boots?”
He laughed. “Oh I like you! Why are we on different sides? Really… you won’t consider a defection?”
She looked at his outstretched hand and spat on it.
His lips curled ever so slightly, but he contained any other reaction, straightening to clean the spittle from his fingers with the hem of his robe. This show of discipline stood completely at odds with the stage villain of a few moments before. Their plans might, she was coming to realise, be in serious trouble if the Imperials had this guy at the helm of their counter offensive.
“So, what’s it to be?” She decided it was her turn to be glib. “Eternity in a box?”
But he was shaking his head. “Oh no my dear, you are far too valuable a symbol for that. Which is why you will burn at dawn on Solstice Eve, by the light of the rising sun.”
It took a moment for what he had said to sink in… in part at least because she was still coming to grips with the mechanics of her new nature. When you’ve had the best part of forty years thinking of the sunrise as nothing more than something to be avoided when you had a hangover, it was difficult to attach the sort of dread her current state of existence warranted to the event.
Then it hit her in the gut, twisting like a fist amongst her entrails.
The word was out before she could help it, the shock written across her face before she could clamp it down. This is what he came for, she realised. He’s one of those sadistic bastards who gets off on other people’s fear.
“Oh yes. One more turn of the world and you will meet your maker in flames. Your original maker that is, not the charlatan now walking our shores.” He was stepping back through the doorway, motioning to the guards to secure it once more. “Best make peace with whatever God you hold sacred my dear, as you’ll soon be meeting him face to face.”
Dimly she was aware of the bolts being fastened, the comedy locks clicking back into place. But it had lost its humour, everything had. The world suddenly become a grey place.
I’ve got to warn them, she thought, resolve burning through her fear and anger. We’ve worked too hard to let them fucking win now!
But how? Her position was impossible. She could see no way out.
Shivering, Barran laid her cheek back against the cold floor, mind working furiously behind her shuttered eyes.
'Comedy Locks' is part 10 of 'To Walk the Path', the final book of the Star Plague Journals.