30 July 2012

Part the Nineteenth: In the Belly of the Beast

I was never able to decide if it was a very wise or a very cynical man who first said, “No plan ever survives contact with the enemy.”  I tended to settle for assuming it to have been a very cynical, wise man, given my experience with how true those words are.  I say this because I woke up tied to a small, rather uncomfortable chair.  My ankles had been tied to the front legs and my arms had been tied straight down and to the back legs of the chair.  Not only was this amazingly uncomfortable, something I’m sure my captors were excessively concerned with, but it very effectively immobilized me from taking any kind of action to free myself.  I suppose I could have rocked the chair about, but it was a rather sturdy chair and I suspect that the only result that would have had would have been to add more bruises to my already impressive collection.

Those were the first things I noticed.  I must have been bashed about the head but good to have taken so long to get up to speed mentally.  My head throbbed as if I’d just spent a week-long, all-you-can-drink bender in Booty Bay.  Still, it didn’t take too long for me to notice the cold clamminess of the air or the fact that I could feel a lot more of it than I am normally accustomed to.  A quick glance confirmed that, yes, I was indeed naked as the day I was born.  Either the Twilights were trying to humiliate me or my legend was more impressive than I thought.  Personally, I was betting on the humiliation.

The fact that my skin felt cool and clammy was a pretty good indicator of how long I had been out and stashed in this…well, where the nether was I?  There was enough light for me to be able to see that I was naked, not that my healthy pallor made that very difficult.  I practically glow in the dark anyway.  Occupational hazard of working mostly at night.  I couldn’t see much beyond a few feet around me, though.  What little of the floor I could see was dressed stone, which would tend to indicate a basement or underground complex.  That didn’t narrow things down much, since both the Defias and Twilight’s Hammer like to operate out of underground areas.  I was reasonably certain I was dealing with Twilights here, if for no other reason than they had been the ones staking out my apartment.  I could hear the faint, slow drip of water off in the echoing distance, which led me to believe I was in some sort of converted cavern.  Again, didn’t narrow things down much.

There was little else I could do at this point but wait, so I did my best to relax and get as comfortable as possible.  I was still alive, so that was a plus.  I figured they had some use or need of me, else I would have been killed rather than lug me out of the city and into this place.  Since they had no obviously pressing plans to kill me, that gave me a little wiggle room if and when I finally saw someone.

I’m not sure if I’ve made this clear before or not, but I really, really dislike mages.  Really.  A lot.  Setting aside the fact that most of the mages I’ve ever met tend to worry less about whether or not they should do something and more with whether they can.  Normally, I applaud that sort of behaviour, as one never knows what one can do unless you try.  Now, when the individual in question is capable of hurling massive apocalyptic fireballs about like toys and warping the very fabric of reality to obey their whims, I get a little less forgiving.  This goes double for mages opposed to my goals and triple for mages that know that thrice-damned polymorph spell.

Maybe a little explanation is in order.  There was a mage back in the SAS.  Well, several mages, actually, but one in particular.  Burnfingers Bolander.  He did not, as his name suggested, specialize in fire magic.  Rather, he was a student of the arcane school.  My understanding is that “arcane” is really a catch-all that covers everything from pure theoretical magic to the basic utilitarian spells like creating food and water.  Burnfingers’ specialty was polymorph.  And he thought it was the funniest joke in the world to cast it on, say, a sleeping assassin who’d just returned from two months in the field deep behind enemy lines and hadn’t seen so much as a camp cot, let alone a real bed in that entire time.  Or, more often, said assassin’s favourite medick and lady-friend sleeping beside him.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pull my share of pranks on my fellow soldiers.  Everyone did, it was just another way to blow off steam.  And sure, once was funny.  Ha ha, you got me.  Twice, okay, you got me again, ha ha.  The joke quickly wears thin after the third through sixth time.  By the eighth, knives were being sharpened.  Honestly, I would have killed Burnfingers myself, but a patrol of ghouls backed by one of those creepy-ass Nerubians beat me to it.  Strangely, it’s hard to cast a useful spell when tomb beetles are devouring your body from the legs up and ghouls are munching on the rest of you.  I almost wish I’d been there to see it, if only so I could have had the satisfaction of putting him out of his misery, but you can’t always get what you want.

I’d like to say Burnfingers’ behaviour was an abberation, but unfortunately, almost all the mages I’ve ever met have been very similar.  Maybe they didn’t have the sheep fetish that Burnfingers did, but they all seem to be possessed of the same massive personality defect: a burning need to prove how much more powerful they are than the average schmuck.  Personally, I think it’s all the time spent with their nose in spellbooks.  Interestingly, I’ve found they suffer the same sort of weakness everyone else does, though.  A sharp knife delivered between the left third and fourth ribs kills them just as dead as someone without incredible cosmic powers.

But I digress.  I bring up my hatred of mages because that’s what landed me in this basement-cavern-place.  I was all set to assault my apartment.  I’d taken out the three watchers necessary to make my brilliantly stealthy approach to my front door.

Yes, I said the front door.

It’s not like I was getting in through the windows, they were all barred to prevent people sneaking in through them and I never felt the need to install any sort of secret entrance on account of keeping a very low profile as to where I lived.  The very few times I have been accosted in my own home were purely by chance and turned out very poorly indeed for the accostors.  Of course the front door was designed with security in mind and can easily withstand a small battering ram.  There is a quite impressive array of locks on the door, only half of which are locked at any given moment and the other half are designed in reverse so anyone trying to pick them will end up locking one set while opening the others.

Of course, I didn’t need force or lockpicks to open the door.  I have the key.

Just to be really difficult, the key doesn’t actually fit any of the locks, at least none of the visible ones, and the one it does fit opens all the others at once.  I should have hired a dwarf or gnome to design an actual mechanism for this, because, in retrospect, getting a tame mage to tether all the locks together with magic probably wasn’t the best plan, even if he did guarantee his work.  He would be getting a very strongly worded letter as soon as I got out of here, let me tell you.  I think it will be carved into his door with a very, very sharp knife.

Anyway, once I unlocked the door, I prepared a handful of flashbombs in one hand, always useful in a situation like this, and my sword in the other.  With my sword-hand, I opened the latch and pushed the door open just enough to disengage the latch completely.  One swift kick later, the door flew open, the flashbombs went off, I leapt into my apartment and landed with a very sudden desire to graze something.

The problem with being sheeped is that you tend to view the world as a sheep, so the large man with the very large, very knobbly stick coming toward me didn’t really strike me as threatening.  At least not until my legs turned to jelly from being wacked on the noggin with said large, knobbly stick.

Then I woke up here.  So now we’re all up to date.

I considered calling out, just to see if there were any guards who should have been paying attention for when the prisoner came to.  I discarded the idea almost as quickly as it had occurred to me.  I didn’t have anything like a plan yet and didn’t want my captors to know I was back in the world of the living again if I could help it.  The ropes securing me to the chair were tied very well, tight enough to keep me from using my hands and feet but not so much to stop blood from flowing.  They weren’t cheap hemp, either.  They felt like silk or possibly mageweave.  So.  I wasn’t going to wriggle my way out.  The chair was too sturdy to break by rocking about so that was out, too.  At this rate, I was going to run out of options I didn’t even have.

Well, nothing else for it, then.

“Hey!”  I yelled at the top of my lungs.  I waited a second while the echoes quickly faded.  I tried a second and a third time.  No one came running and there didn’t seem to be any response.  Anxiety started to set in.  It was entirely possible that I’d been left down here like this to slowly die, alone and in the dark.  Ha!  Shows what they knew.  As cool as it was and without any water, I’d be dead in just a day or two.  Somehow, that didn’t make me feel any better.

That slight chill was rapidly becoming very definite cold.  Before too long I would begin shivering.  Once that started, thinking would start to get difficult, nothing much at first, just a general sort of fogginess that would make it hard to concentrate.  It would quickly get worse from there, though and if something didn’t happen before that point, escape may well become impossible.

Perhaps that was what they were waiting for?

Well, no point waiting for whoever to show up.  Things weren’t going to magically get any better.

See what I did there?  Never mind.

I had just about enough wiggle room that I could shift my weight slightly forward.  It wasn’t much, but it was a start.  My feet were flat on the ground and my legs were tied about mid-shin.  If I could rock just enough, I would be able to lean forward and shuffle about.  It would be slow and painful, but I would be mobile.  I wasn’t sure how much of an improvement that would actually be, but it was better than nothing.

As plans go, it could have been a lot worse.  It could also have been so very much better.  Still, as I lay on my side, realizing just how cold the cavern floor was, I was able to comfort my bruised ego in that I had at least given it a try.

It was while I was nursing the latest set of bruises to my poor ego when things got worse.  The cold was really starting to set in when I heard the very distinctive tak-tak-tak of booted steps in the distance and getting closer.  There were two kinds of people who made that sound when they walked.  The first were usually soldiers or soldiers-turned-thugs.  In order to help keep their footing over loose or slippery surfaces, soldiers would put specially designed nails in the soles of their boots.  The added benefit of this is that the nails would come between the ground and the sole of the boot, making the sole, and thus the boot, last longer.  The second type were martially-inclined nobles, who would add a small strip of metal to the heel of their boots.  This wasn’t for any practical purpose, rather so that, when walking around, their steps would ring out with a clear, sharp crack, not unlike the sound of a horse’s hooves on stone.  Most of them probably thought it made them seem more intimidating, though any dog-faced soldier would tell you that it just made it easier to know when they were coming so they could clear away anything said noble would disapprove of.  Which was more or less everything that solders tended to get up to.

Judging by the rapid pace of the steps and the snatches of self-important echoes, I was pretty sure we were dealing with the second type.  I’d like to say I was pleased to be correct, but once the steps got close enough and I could actually make out the voices I was anything but.

Of course it would be Arkenhill.  The laws of the universe wouldn’t let it be anyone else.

“Well, well, well,” he sneered, “The one and only Khol Drake, brought to heel at last.”

I couldn’t see him from where I was laying, but that really didn’t matter much.  I put on my best bored expression and said, “‘Brought to heel?’  Do you people really talk like that?  I thought that sort of thing only happened in tawdry bard’s tales.”

“Ah, yes, the famous wit,” I still couldn’t see him, though I could hear him moving around behind me.  There was at least one other person in the cave, but they hadn’t done much more than breathe so far.  If the long, slow breathing was any indication whoever it was was quite large.  “We’ll see how witty you are once I we cut out your tongue.”

I rolled my eyes and sighed heavily, “Oh.  No.  Please.  Don’t do that,” I put on my most bored and put-upon voice, “Anything but that.  I’ll tell you anything.”

That earned me a swift kick in the ribs.  Arkenhill leaned down next to my ear in what was probably supposed to be a threatening manner but since I’d actually seen the man before, I really couldn’t be intimidated.

“Go ahead and laugh it up while you can, thief.”  He tried to growl, but it came out more like he had a sore throat and his voice was hoarse, “Once I’m through with you, your own mother won’t recognise you and you’ll be lucky if you can steal a crust of bread from the midden.”

“Oh?”  I asked pleasantly, “Are you going to talk me to death or choke me with your breath?  Seriously.  It smells like you’ve been eating Tauren pies.”  Before he could do anything else, I leaned forward and much as I could and slammed the back of my head into his nose.  There wasn’t the satisfying crunch I was hoping for, but he did shriek like a little girl and bounce backward.

“Greklar!  Set this…this…” he flailed for a word, his nose already clogging with blood, making his shrill voice even more comical, “Set him upright and fetch my tools!”

I didn’t particularly like the sound of that.  That sounded like it would going to become painful for me, very quickly.  Maybe the crack about his breath was a step too far.

I have this theory about nobles.  See, people who don’t have to worry about things like food or working or, really, even dressing yourself, there’s a certain amount of time in the day that must be filled with…something.  A decent human being might turn to working to improve the lot of others not as fortunate as themselves.  Nobles, on the other hand, seem to take it as divine right that they much indulge in every base impulse that skitters its fetid way across their putrefied little imaginations.  As a thief, I’ve seen the horrors that most of the wealthy and the nobility hide in their closets while presenting a public illusions of being decent human beings.  You come across a lot of that sort of thing while looking for valuables.  It would almost be a mercy to the rest of humanity, nether, to all of Azeroth to be able to exterminate the lot of them like so many roaches.

Wait, where was I?  Oh, right.

It hardly came as a surprise that Arkenhill had implements of torture.  I would have been more surprised if he hadn’t.  I didn’t expect them to have the tell-tale blue-green sheen of thorium or for them to be as ornamented as they were.  You can tell a lot about a man by the kind of tools his uses, no matter what his profession.  Low-quality tools that aren’t cared for and you can see his heart just isn’t in it.  Well-made, hard used but well-maintained tools are the mark of a dedicated professional.  Shiny, flashy, ornamented tools usually indicate that person regards themselves as an artist.  More often than not, a very poor one.  A proper artist knows that a ten silver iron hammer pounds nails just as well as a twenty gold thorium one and costs a whole lot less to replace.

Greklar turned out to be an orc and a rather large one at that.  He was naked from the waist up and his grey-green skin was a twisting mass of old scars.  Some, the older ones, were clearly battle scars.  Others, though, more recent, were very obviously the marks of a whip.  If I needed any more evidence he was a slave, the iron collar fastened around his thick neck would have cleared up any confusion.  He sat my chair upright without a word and about as easily as I might lift a small book.  I really hoped I wouldn’t have to tangle with him when I made my eventual escape.

If I made my eventual escape.

First I had to survive Arkenhill and his shiny, shiny tools.  Then I could work on escape.



LifeDeathSoul said...

YAY! between this, Warhammer high and emprahsque on /tg/ I'm full on wonderful writings this week :D

Khol Drake said...

I get the feeling I should know what you're talking about, but I have no idea...

dotsandhots said...


You sir just made my day!

Khol Drake said...

If that made your day then when I say the next chapter is already ready to go should really make you happy.