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Her Instruments, Book 1
He stepped out into the corridor; the searchers were still four doors down.
“Down here,” he said.
They stopped and aimed their rifles at him.
“Presumably your employers prefer me alive to dead,” Hirianthial said. “Which suits me fine, since I’m not up to running.”
—set us on fire like he did that building—heard he can read your mind from fifty paces—looks like if you pushed him he’d fall over—
“Poor mortals,” Hirianthial said. “Any more afraid and you’d miss me if you shot.”
That sent sparks of anger shooting from them both. That the sparks were more real to him than the men gave Hirianthial cause for concern. Fortunately his tenuous hold on consciousness required so much energy he had none to spare for worry.
“You just come quietly,” one of them said.
“I had no other intention,” Hirianthial said. “Lead the way.”
He shrugged and started down the corridor, concentrating on setting his feet on the approximate location of the floor and bracing himself with a hand against the wall. The river of suspicion and resentment flowing past him felt so solid he kept trying to lean on it and surprising himself by beginning to fall.
“Are you drunk?” one of them asked abruptly.
“No,” Hirianthial said. “Just very, very sick.”
That gave them both unwelcome images of him vomiting. —shouldn’t rush him—boss’ll kill me if he keels over on our watch—yuck—
Hirianthial smiled grimly and kept going.
“Here,” one of them said finally. “In the mess hall.”
The Eldritch stopped at the door, barred by the miasma of black and sickened yellow, the smell of gagging bile and the sound of wailing. The distress was so real he couldn’t even see the door.
“Come on, pastehead, we don’t have all day.”
He grasped along the wall until he found the edge of the door. Even then he questioned his senses. Was that ridge the rounded molding on the wall or the softened edge of a halo-arch?
“Oh for—” The man behind him shoved an elbow into the small of his back with all the violence of a spear. His thoughts, edged like razors and raw as wounds, punched through the slight grip Hirianthial held on reality and shattered it. Was he on the floor? Standing up? Was the man looking down at him real or a construct formed out of Reese’s anger and Irine’s fear and Kis’eh’t’s numb horror?
He was fairly certain the blow to his ribs was real. Booted foot, his training supplied. He’d have a contusion, but the bone was fine.
“What did you do to him?”
“Nothing!” a voice exclaimed.
“You didn’t do nothing. You pushed him.”
“Well, he was just standing there at the door like he couldn’t find it! What was I supposed to do? Let him hang there?”
The voice above him hissed like water on hot metal. “You touched him? Are you an idiot?”
“It was just my elbow.”
“Get out of my sight before I show you what I can do with an elbow.”
The hot voice and monstrous presence hove near. Hirianthial tried to see it past the phantasmagorical mask painted on the face and failed.
“Still with us, spy?”
To talk would only give the man ammunition… but beyond his spiked body Hirianthial saw the huddled shapes of the others. His friends. When had they become friends? That didn’t matter. What did was how their shapes had been distorted by a terrible dread. Their thoughts wove them glittering halos, made of partial phrases: what-did-they-do-to-him and he’s-going-to-die-for-certain and better-dead-than-tortured.
Instead of talking to the demon, Hirianthial addressed those rattled thoughts. “Nothing is certain.”
Consternation shot through their auras. Maybe-he’s-already-dying—this-wasn’t-how-it-was-supposed-to-work-out
“It hasn’t finished working out yet,” he continued, and then added reflectively, “I could die here.”
He meant that to reassure him, but it failed. It also aroused the incredulity of his captor, who said, “You absolutely will not die. I’m scheduled to deliver you in one piece, still breathing.”
“You’re doing a poor job,” Hirianthial said conversationally. He simply could not take a satyr with a demon’s face seriously, even though his rational mind insisted that he was simply re-interpreting the detail he was receiving into images he could understand. Strange how that worked—like most Eldritch, he’d been controlling his mental talents since the moment of manifestation. He’d never experienced them unfettered. He’d never allowed himself. Particularly given how much stronger his talents had been than those of the average Eldritch, who needed touch to evoke the ability to sense thought and feeling. Perhaps this is how the fabled mind-mage Corel had always felt, and that was why he’d gone insane.
More likely this was the danger of his own broader-than-average ability, untrammeled. His brain could not process the wealth of information and began blurring the line between truth and hallucination. He’d never heard of esper synaesthesia. Someone should commission a medical study.
“Are you even listening to me?” the demon demanded, kicking him again. A new bruise. Too close to the fragile bones near the center of his chest, though. Hirianthial imagined the xiphoid process cowering.
The demon actually wanted an answer. Hirianthial said, “When you say something interesting, I’ll be sure to listen.”
Exasperation grew like twin horns from the man’s head. “Here’s something interesting, then. If you tell me what I want to know, I might let you go.”
“You’re lying,” Hirianthial said.
A blank stare. The halo of thoughts from the others started spreading, bouncing off the walls. he-shouldn’t-do-that-he’ll-incite-violence, what-can-he-possibly-know, oh-angels-if-he-hits-him-I’ll-scream
“If he’s going to be violent I won’t stop him,” Hirianthial said to the voices outside his head. “He’s not allowed to break me into actual pieces anyway. His employer was adamant on that point.”
Fury showered sparks from the demon, who straightened. “Think you know everything, do you, witch? Think I’m stupid? I’m not. I know exactly how to hurt you.” He motioned to two of the guards. “Put him in a closet.”
“And dump him in with the rest of the prisoners. Let’s see how he likes being crammed in with them, skin to skin.”
The wince he heard as a strange combination of a violin squeal and a door creaking must have been visible, because the demon laughed. “Oh, that bothers you, fine Captain? I didn’t mean it literally—”
Don’t relax, Hirianthial thought.
“Until now. Strip them and get it done. The hour it’ll take us to get through to the cargo should reduce him to eager compliance.”
How little he understood. An hour in this state in close proximity to other people would reduce him to complete insanity.
Reese fought for every square inch of her clothes until it became obvious how much the pirates were enjoying her struggles. Then she took off the last few bits herself and handed them over. Irine had foiled their darker thoughts by writhing out of her clothing so provocatively they’d had trouble keeping their hands to themselves. And of course, Kis’eh’t wore only a vest, which she took off without fanfare, and Bryer’s pants were mostly about providing pockets. Why was it that the only person with a decent nudity taboo was herself?
Well, herself and Hirianthial. Except she highly doubted he was in any condition to care. And he was a doctor, anyway.
The pirates chose the smallest closet they could find, which was far too small for Reese’s taste. Bryer went in first, flattening against the back wall. Then Kis’eh’t, making herself as small as possible but still taking up more than two people’s floor-space. Irine solved that problem by straddling the Glaseah’s back.
“Come on, Captain,” Irine said, patting the space in front of her. “There’s room for you here.”
Reese eyed the remaining space. If they scrunched up enough, they might be able to give Hirianthial a little clearance. She sighed and wedged herself in front of Irine, arms crossed in front of her chest. The air on her body didn’t just embarrass her… it gave her the uncomfortable feeling that every part of her body was now vulnerable. How could she possibly protect it when every inch was exposed?
The guards didn’t seem to know where to start with Hirianthial’s elaborate clothes. As one of them plucked at his buttoned collar, Reese couldn’t contain herself any longer. “I wouldn’t.”
“I’m sure you wouldn’t,” the one holding the Eldritch up said.
“I don’t think you understand,” Reese said. “If you strip him and shove him in here with us, he’s going to go crazy.”
They eyed her suspiciously. She couldn’t blame them. She had no idea where her conviction came from, but she was certain. To be trapped in here skin-to-skin with so many off-worlders would drive Hirianthial’s mind away, permanently.
“The boss said… ”
“Your boss said he was supposed to deliver him alive and capable of answering questions. Look at him,” Reese said. “He’s already half-gone. You want to be the reason why he ends up all gone?”
“We have orders.”
“Fine,” Reese said. “Follow them. But Blond and Nasty’s not going to get the axe when the Eldritch dies because you stripped him naked and shoved him in a closet… you are, for doing it.”
That gave them both pause. As they exchanged nervous glances, Reese hid her clenched hands behind Kis’eh’t’s back. Irine’s body trembled behind her.
“Don’t want him drooling crazy when they come for him,” one of the men said finally.
“Just chuck him in,” the other said.
A nod. They were agreed. They deposited Hirianthial in the closet fully-dressed and shut the door.
Irine hugged her tightly from behind. “They listened to you! I can’t believe they listened to you!”
“Well I was right,” Reese said. “Kis’eh’t, can you arrange him so he has a layer of air between us?”
A hoarse whisper. “I can. Arrange myself.”
Why yes! There is a naked scene in this book! It is sort of a romance novel, right? Did I do it right? >.>
Poor Reese. -_-
We are $5 short on this episode but I am posting it anyway. Enjoy! :)