A story that takes place parallel to the early Seusea tales, on the island of Seit. Not a place a sane person wants to find themselves.
Jidi was stripped bare, laid flat on his back and chained to the heavy slab, wrist and ankle. The jailers smirked at his myriad of scars and tattoos before tilting the slab horizontally. Muffled screams echoed through the confines of the fortress, and Jidi knew in his bones he’d be making similar noises before too long.
Rather than rue the missteps that’d brought him to this sorry situation, he reflected that he’d led an active and energetic life on the seas. Indeed, as he was wheeled through the hot and dusty innards of the fortress, he felt no regret. If today was to be his last, then that was the way of it.
His company passed cells, from where prisoners pleaded and cajoled fruitlessly to be freed, or be given food and water. Several offered their bodies as payment for food or freedom, but it would’ve been wiser for them to hold their breath. No aid was forthcoming to these wretches, and nothing but a drawn-out death was on offer. Jidi wished his hands were free, if only to block out their pitiful cries and demands.
Jidi essayed a slight tug on his left wrist shackle, and discovered it was uncommonly loose. Had his jailers neglected to fasten it? Not wanting his efforts to be noticed, he desisted, but swore to investigate further if and when he was left alone.
If and when.
Two moments in the future that may be denied to him. Thinking about this opportunity, Jidi began to wonder were his captors were taking him. If it was to be executed, then they had already passed suitable places where that deed could be done. Steel gibbets lined one high wall, and many were occupied by the dead and dying.
Was it to be death for Jidi today, or did the gods have something else in store?
As if reading his thoughts, one of his jailers commented, ‘You picked a fine day to be caught, brother. The Hand’s little sister is on the island, and her needs are considerable.’
‘Your blood!’ one of the jailers hissed. ‘If she gets your blood, brother, you’ll never be free of her. She’s always find you.’
‘The lady’s cranky too,’ said another. ‘Word came in that one of her favourite acolytes got the chop near Rhaelo. Ambushed her, they did, and sliced her up good too, if the rumours are right.’
‘Don’t think that’s the reason,’ the first who had spoken said. ‘Someone the Hand valued was with the acolyte, some highly-ranked prisoner. Escaped along with the ambushers. The Hand is livid.’
‘Yep, you don’t want to run into her today. You can add tomorrow to the list of bad times too. The day after that isn’t looking too good either.’
‘What’s this sister’s name?’ Jidi asked.
‘If she wants you to know it, she’ll tell you herself,’ the jailer sneered. ‘Ah, we’re here. If you believe in Ii’s charity brother, now’s the time to pray.’
The slab was brought to a stop, and craning his neck, Jidi saw a large metal door before them, banded with strips of bright steel. A jailer tapped on the door. It sounded like a knell resounding up from the netherworld of Hjoll.
The door swung open silently, and there was an expectant pause, where nobody and nothing moved. Then he heard the whirring and clanking of a great mechanism, and the slab started to roll forward. The air grew colder and moister, and he shivered as much as his fetters allowed.
In spite of his earlier resolution, fear bit at his edges, and he sweated. Partly out of panic, he tried another pull at the loose binding, and to his relief, his wrist came free. He fumbled at the other arm binding, trying to figure how he was secured. It was a twistlatch, and one of particularly poor make. Within moments he had both arms free. Jidi propped himself on elbows and saw he was a long, gloomy tunnel, the walls made of some elaborate dressed stone. Before him, the tunnel wended away around bends, and a groove in the smooth floor allowed the slab to move.
After watching the slab’s progress for a few moments, Jidi understood that escaping back to this tunnel would be pointless and suicidal. The only egress was the door he’d come through, and there was nothing branching off the tunnel. Logically, he decided to wait and see what happened. He arranged the twistlatches in a pretence of security, and laid himself recumbent, wondering nervously at what would pass next.
His uncertainty received answers quicker than he thought. The tunnel ended in another stout steel door, and this one likewise slid open as the slab approached. Beyond was a high stone chamber suffused in a strange blue glow, as if the walls themselves were luminescent. The air grew warmer, and the dank humidity was replaced by a subtle floral scent, from flowers Jidi couldn’t identify.
The slab stopped. The was a grunt of approval from nearby, and a head bent over Jidi’s face to gain a better look at him. It was a young woman, her intricate white facial tattoos making a salient contrast to the duskiness of her skin. Her eyes were widely-spaced and deep-set, her irises as orange as the ripest tangerine. More notable was her star-shaped pupils, mutated from the norm through the use of sorcery.
She grinned in response to his surprise, showing a row of pearly-white teeth. ‘No doubt you are questioning the wisdom of sailing The Belly.’
‘No doubt,’ Jidi echoed, trying to take in more of his captor. She was kneeling at the side of the slab and all he could see was her face.
‘And no doubt you are wondering why you are here, alive still, rather than the worm fodder you’d serve best as. That’s simple. You knew the Societor woman, Seusea. You travelled with her from Rhalia to Rhaelo, while employed as a guard, and you’re going to tell me all you know about her.’
‘Not much to say. She kept her own counsel.’
Something cold brushed up against his manhood, and down along his scrotum. He gasped as she pricked the skin there. ‘If you’re finding words hard to come by, I could motivate you with an emasculation.’
‘I didn’t help her escape, if you think that,’ he said.
She leaned in closer to him, the floral scent becoming stronger. ‘Oh, I know that, as you were at sea when she was so graciously liberated by a gaggle of pale northerners. Steps are being taken to recapture her, and the vengeance I and my sister will wreak on those who freed her will be legendary. If you are compliant, maybe you’ll live long enough to learn something of that legend.’
‘You’re the Hand?’
‘I am Crysa, her sister, and now that pleasantries are over, slake my curiosity. Especially tell me about the time you were assaulted by agents of the Attuned Wind just out of Hujman.’
‘Sounds like you know all the answers,’ Jidi said. He stared at her odd eyes, naively wondering why such an apparently youthful, fresh-faced girl would embrace ruthlessness. He put aside that callow line of thought mere moments after his brain dreamed it up.
‘I know the bones, so to speak, but not the meat. Tell me.’
‘They tried to take her with magic, but she evaded it. Though she wouldn’t tell me, I knew she was resistant to sorcery. It fell off her like rain off an oilskin.’
‘An interesting comparison. Did she tell you why she was captive?’
‘She said it was due to her father,’ Jidi said, aggrieved with himself that he was spilling his guts so fluently. Did Crysa bewitch him in some way? ‘She inherited a magic immunity from her sire.’
‘We believe her father is an Oloii sorcerer that makes his home in Myre. Maybe you’ve heard of him? Littleplay of the Money, the Societors of Myre name him. Few know his true name, and alas, I’m not among that number. Not yet.’
‘Oh fie, you can mock, my man, but I must warn you I hold grudges.’ She scored a thin cut in the skin between his testicles, and a trickle of blood dripped on to the slab. Jidi’s eyes began to water. ‘It’s a failing of mine.’
‘A powerful witch like you admitting to having failures,’ Jidi said. ‘That puts a dent in the façade.’
‘You are intent on losing everything today, aren’t you?’ She smartly slapped Jidi’s face, her rings slicing into his face. ‘Witch, by Hjoll! I am no fucking witch.’
Jidi decided then and there he’d best put his pertness away. An opportunity to escape would present itself in time, and hastening his demise through repartee with this woman was idiotic.
She was still a witch by his reckoning though.
‘Did you sleep with her?’ was the next question.
‘Yes, several times.’
‘I see, and nothing was revealed to you during these frantic moments?’
‘Nothing, except the mere fact you were screwing a woman you were paid to keep watch over. She is an accomplished thief, you moronic fool. It’s a small wonder she didn’t slip out of your lusty grasp and decamp.’
‘I had her chained to the wagon.’
‘Chained? Like I have you chained?’ Crysa stared at him dispassionately for a moment, then turned away. Something was activated, and the slab was tilted upward to forty-five degrees, affording Jidi a solid view of his environment, and his captor. The chamber was a laboratory, of the kind sorcerers were so wont to dwell in, and Jidi saw little he understood among the paraphernalia and appurtenances. Of more interest was the closed wooden door at the far end of the room. Where it led, he didn’t know, but whatever was beyond it put him further away from the Hand and her sister, and one step closer to freedom.
Also of interest was Crysa herself. She was slight, perhaps barely reaching five feet in height, and delicately proportioned. Apart from a leather loincloth about her hips, she was nude. Her russet-black hair was secured at the crown of her head in a convoluted top-knot.
‘I’m disappointed,’ she said. ‘Not able to keep your slick hands to yourself.’ She sighed and placed her hands on hips. ‘No matter. We’ll secure her soon enough and wrongs will right themselves.’
‘Why do you need to know how she is immune to magic?’
‘Why? I’m surprised you ask. Among many other aspects, sorcery is a tool and a weapon, a means to engender fear and respect from the ruck, and from pirate filth such as yourself. If someone is immune to the power we wield, then understandably they are a threat to us. We wish to know what the mutation in Seusea is, and then we’ll either develop it for our own needs, or if that’s not possible, we’ll ensure aberrations like her never happen again.’
‘You fear people who don’t fear you.’
‘That’s a superficial way to put it, but practically, yes.’ Crysa sighed again, folding her arms under her small, rounded breasts. ‘Your time among the living is drawing to a close. First though, I want something from you. Something I know you’ll have zero difficulty in obliging.’
The slab was lowered back to horizontal. While Jidi watched in mute amazement, Crysa dispensed with her loincloth and crawled on to his lap. She sat there, smiling down at him, those bizarre orange eyes of her smouldering with intent.
‘You will oblige, no?’
‘Sure. Why not?
She guided his now-ready manhood into herself and rhythmically began to rise and descend, chewing on her bottom lip, clearly enjoying events.
While Crysa was occupied, Jidi covertly freed himself from the loose manacle, and flexed his fingers. No point in not enjoying this moment, he thought. Let them both reach their inevitable conclusions. So that is what he did, with his back pressed against the cool stone of the slab while this manic sorceress sated herself, and did so with remarkable vigour.
Then their moments came and went. Breathing noisily, Crysa flopped forward across his chest, her arms splayed out limply by her side. Jidi made his move. Swiftly, he seized the startled woman about the neck and squeezed until she lost consciousness. She almost took one of his eyes out with her struggles, but in the end, Jidi escaped any real harm apart from a myriad of facial scratches.
Pushing the insensate sorceress off him, Jidi freed his other hand, then began to work on his ankles. Finally, he was liberated of all shackles, and he stood by the slab shaking his sore muscles out.
He pondered his next move. He had no idea where he was in this vast edifice, and running into the Hand herself was something Jidi wasn’t keen on doing.
He debated for a time on whether to slay the comatose sorceress. Morally, killing her shouldn’t pose an issue, as she was nigh on killing him once their exercise was completed. She wouldn’t be unconscious for long either: he hadn’t squeezed that hard.
If he wasn’t her mortal enemy before, he was with a certainty now. A grudge-holder, so she had said, and if the Hand shared even a speck of kinship with Crysa, he would be on her to-kill list too.
With one eye on the sorceress, he sought a way out.
There were two obvious doors. One way was his ingress, now locked and immune to his prodding and poking. The other was the simple wooden door at the opposite end of her chamber. This opened up on to a stunning vista facing westward over the hinterland of Seit, with the deep azure of the Belly in the distance.
He estimated the balcony was fifty feet above the base of the edifice, with no plain handholds to be seen. It was smooth, dressed stone. If legend was true, this palace was constructed by the Attuned Wind millennia ago, and what they built was made to last aeons.
Regardless of its provenance, Jidi needed to get down, and safely. If he could make it to the Belly littoral, he believed he had a chance of escaping Seit and the wiles of its resident sorceresses. A quick glance over the side, and Jidi saw nothing to impede his escape from the base to the coastline. Apart from a margin of short, rough scrub at the foot, it was jungle all the way to the sea. Like most folk of the southern Three Rivers littoral, Jidi was born to jungles and tangled forests, and feared neither the beasts that dwelt within, or the impeding jumble of plants itself.
Time was the issue.
Fighting against a tide of rising panic, he sifted through the array of cupboards and dressers looking for something that would serve as a rope. His unease intensified as Crysa uttered a low moan and began to twitch where she lie. Jidi vacillated over killing the woman, and marvelled at whatever modicum of morality stayed his hand.
He did the next best thing. With torn strips of cloth, he bound and gagged Crysa, securing her to one of the metal posts of the slab. By the time he was done, she was awake, and from the crimson flush in her cheeks, very unimpressed with her current status. Still, Jidi failed to see the knowing glint in her eye, and after double-checking her binds, he went in search of material to make a rope with.
Her large bed provided exactly that material. Gleefully, he dismembered the sheets and counterpanes, to where he had a serviceable rope he believed would get him safely to the foot of the palace.
In truth, it left him a good twenty feet short of his objective, and after gauging his luck, let the rope go and fell the remaining way, aiming for a small patch of shrub.
Irtys, the goddess of luck, was not watching him that day. He fell heavily on the turf beside the shrub, and twisted his left ankle, spraining it badly.
His eyes crossed over in pain, but he got to his feet and gingerly put his weight on the rapidly purpling foot. The agony was legendary, and if there were any guards within five hundred yards, they could not have failed to hear his bellows.
But the sea and freedom beckoned. After a last, swift glance upward, Jidi hobbled off westward and into the jungle, using a length of fallen cane as a prop. Once he was back on friendlier shores, he would seek out an obair, a practitioner of blood sorcery, and have his ankle healed.
Calamus canes and stinging nettles assailed him as he forced his way through the forest, but he ignored these inconveniences. Leeches attached themselves to his calves and feet, but he disregarded them too. Minor things to brush aside once freedom was at hand. He could smell the sea, and there would be vessels nearby he could barter for passage, or failing that, simply stow away. Any destination was better than this one, and he wanted nothing more than to put leagues between himself and Crysa.
The bare fact of his hurt ankle slowed Jidi down, despite his eagerness. He tripped over on tree flanges, buttresses, hanging roots, and low lying woody vines, things had he been in full vigour, would have bypassed with ease. Before long, his face was filthy from smacking the moist soil of the jungle.
An hour later, and with the shore in sight through the green of the forest, Jidi would’ve gladly severed his foot in exchange for a clean getaway. His ankle throbbed abominably, and when he pressed down on the injury, he could feel and hear bones shifting.
He had done worse than merely sprain it. Not only was his ankle discoloured garishly, it had swollen. When the jungle gave way to yellow sands, he cried with both pain and relief. He dispensed with the cane and half-fell, half-rolled down the beach to the edge of the surf, He sighed noisily as the cool water washed over his ankle, and he sat down, relieved beyond measure this ordeal was nearly at an end. There Jidi sat for a full hour, letting the coldness of the sea water cool his inflamed ankle, and likewise cool his racing thoughts.
There was the distinct blur of a moored ship some distance to his left, and he thought to see the hint of another farther out on the azure waters of the Belly.
So, as Jidi was thinking, escaping from Seit could be a simple thing.
He finally rose to his feet, and to his joy, discovered that the pain had relented, and he began a hopping stroll toward the moored craft.
He got no further than twenty feet when his volition left him. No muscle would work, not even those that powered his lungs. Fear rose like a black noose to strangle his reason, and he fought to overcome whatever had taken hold of him.
What that was walked merrily in front of his vision moments later. Crysa was dressed in her scant loincloth once more, her hair disordered by the strong sea breezes. Her bronze skin was glistening with sweat, and a sparkling ball of red energy pulsed in one of her palms.
‘Not nice of you to leave me like that,’ she said, her eyes dancing with amusement. ‘It takes a great power to flee my clutches, and you lack that power. Before your assault, I was deciding whether to make you an offer. In exchange for bringing the woman Seusea to me, I’d give you certain privileges. Oh well, there will be others after you’re gone.’
Jidi was not paying her words any heed. His sight was starting to darken from the lack of air and his heart beat like a bass drum out of fear. Only wretched sounds came from his throat, and spittle ran freely down his chin.
Crysa stared into his eyes for a long moment, then chuckled. She gestured with her enspelled hand, and the sand beneath Jidi’s feet became liquid. She calmly watched the doomed man sink slowly into the sand, then turned away, lifting her thin arms up to joyously catch the wind.