Continued from Part 1. The narrator has just been captured by a leader of the evil organisation, and imprisoned as a spy.
I surveyed my cell. It was a small room, just large enough for a small bed, with a toilet and sink in a nook fitted with a curtain rail, but, unfortunately, no curtain. Not that it mattered – the cell door was solid (except for what was apparently a letterbox), and the security camera dome in one corner of the ceiling was pointing in the wrong direction to see anything – but it was annoying.
Unfortunately, my prospects of escaping this mess alive didn’t seem good. Stowing away on the cargo submarine had been a spur-of-the-moment thing – I’d been trying to track down a box of stolen bullion, and taken the chance to trace the submarine when it came. Properly, I shouldn’t have gone off like this without plenty of preparation, not the least of which was telling someone where I was going. Even if I was listed as a missing person, no-one would be looking for me here.
At least I had come with some preparations. I emptied my pockets and surveyed what equipment I had. After sorting out lolly wrappers, fluff, and all the other junk that accumulated in pockets, I was left with several pens, a notebook, a plastic packet of dried apricots, and a small LED torch. The two smugglers who’d deposited me here had taken the batteries, along with my pocket knife and wallet. Although they’d taken the battery out of it as well, I’d been allowed to keep my mobile phone. Apparently prison cells were like aircraft – you couldn’t take batteries aboard in case they exploded.
Of course, I couldn’t hijack a prison cell whatever they’d allowed me to keep, but the smugglers had forgotten the most important threat. I held my hand out in front of me, concentrated on it disappearing, and watched myself become invisible. From long habit, I took a moment to check all of my body was invisible – I don’t know that it could ever happen to me, but I’d heard of mages somehow forgetting to cast a spell on their toes, or some similar mistake. But an Ioril’s power just works — we don’t have to go through incantations and risk getting them wrong. We don’t have to worry about running out of energy, either.
It ruined my hand-eye coordination, and annoyed people, but nothing else stopped me staying like this unless I fell asleep. Hopefully, I could stay up long enough to take the opportunity to escape when it came.
I was confident I could trick the jailers who had forgotten about my invisibility, until what must have been breakfast arrived. A flat bowl of porridge was slid through the slot in the door, a plastic spoon sitting in it. The guards didn’t even have to enter the room. I consumed the porridge – the spoon was made of some sort of plastic that dissolved in my mouth, falling apart by the time I finished the meal, so no chance of a weapon there – and settled down to wait as long as I could. Before long, of course, sleep took over.
* * *
When I woke, my hands were tied behind me, and a guard with a pistol was standing next to the bed. “Get up”, she commanded. I rose as quickly as I could, and she ordered me to stand still and face the door. Then she took out a packet of glowsticks, and clipped them into rings around my arms, legs, and neck.
“What are these supposed to achieve?” I might have expected handcuffs or chains, but not glowsticks.
“No talking. Now, turn invisible.” I hesitated. The gun swung towards me, and I put all I could into disappearing. “Good”. She nodded, gesturing with the gun towards the door. “Stay ahead of me.”
The door opened, and I walked out into a corridor no different from any I had seen the previous day; the lights had been turned up, and the walls seemed whiter than I remembered, but it was otherwise the same. I started to stride ahead, reminding myself that the guard still couldn’t see me. I could find something to cut whatever was tying my hands, and escape.
“Not so fast, miss.” A hand grabbed my shoulder and spun me around. “You can’t get away from us that easily. It might be better if you went back to being visible again, too. I’d rather know where I was shooting if you tried that again.”
I complied, fading back into the visible realm. As I did, I realised how I had been spotted; the light from the glowsticks gave away my location.
“We aren’t that stupid, miss – most of us, anyway. We have dealt with mages before.”
I marched ahead of the guard the rest of the way without complaint.
After a couple of turns, we stood outside an unmarked door. The guard swiped a card, and the door slid open to reveal an office, sparsely furnished with a desk and two chairs. At the desk sat another guard, wearing a much more impressive uniform. He had a matching helmet sitting on the desk in front of him, and took out a notebook as I came in.
“Welcome, prisoner. Take a seat.” I did so.
Now I could finally find out something about who had captured me. “So, what exactly is this place?”
“We don’t need you to know that. Just because we don’t expect you to get away doesn’t mean we’re going to give away our plans.”
“But what &em;”
“No talking!” the guard behind me interrupted. “Just answer the questions.” She prodded me in the back with her gun, and I nodded hurriedly.
The interviewer gestured for her to step back. “Okay. First things first. What is your name?”
“Your full name. We don’t have a right to remain silent here, whatever things may be like where you came from. And we are prepared to use violence if you don’t cooperate.” The interviewer drew a sword I hadn’t noticed I was wearing, and tapped it on the table.
I swallowed. “Ivy Ferraglin, sir.”
He wrote that down. “Thank you. And how did you find out about us? How much do you know?”
“Not much, sir. You deal in smuggled goods on submarines; you live in this base, which is underwater; you
have a large organisation, and have been here for a long time; you employ Zighierain; you aren’t stupid. I only got here by sneaking onto a submarine; I didn’t know where it was going at the time.”
“I see.” More notes were taken. “You certainly know more than we would have liked.” The guard raised her gun, but the officer shook his head. “Not yet. We don’t want to leave a gap in our security because we didn’t finish the interview.” He turned back to me. “One last question, prisoner. Why did you come here? What do you do that has you sneaking onto random submarines?”
“Why should I tell you? You’ll just kill me anyway.”
“We might not. Any mercy we have will saved be for those who cooperate. And we can certainly cause you pain without killing you if you aren’t going to help. Just giving you fair warning.”
It was certainly nice to be warned — not. “I’m a reporter.”
“Right. I see how that could have brought you here.” The interviewer took more notes. “Take her back to her cell.”
Was that all? “Sir, aren’t I allowed to have my case hea—”
“Silence!” The guard cut me off.
The officer, on the other hand, kept his voice level. “Heard before a Captain? I am a Captain. Your case has been heard; wait for your sentence. Take her away.”
The guard marched me back along the corridor, refusing to talk any further. After a few attempts, I decided not to push my luck.
* * *
It was some time before I was sent for again. I ate the bland meals I was given, stared at the blank walls, and tried to think of some plan that could get me out of here. Nothing came to mind; the door was never opened, and there wasn’t any way to control it from this side.
Eventually, another guard came to take me to another interview; she put me through the same rigmarole of glow-sticks and turning invisible, and marched me to what might have been the same plain room.
This time, though, the interviewer was a woman, with a wave of auburn hair and a fashionable suit. She had an armoured laptop in front of her, and a knife and pistol in holsters.
“You’re here; good. First, I should give you the bad news. As you’ve probably realised, we have you captured. We can’t send you home without breaking secrecy, so the best you can hope for is probably living out your life trapped on this base.”
This didn’t sound like a sentence, of death or otherwise. “Okay. So, are you going to kill me, or not?”
“Not yet. I’m trying to see if we can find some way of dealing with this that doesn’t involve killing you at all. Now, what sort of work was it you did?”
“I was a reporter. I reported on evil overlords as they rose and fell.”
The interviewer typed that out, and took a moment to look at her screen before asking another question. “Okay. Were you involved in defeating any of them directly, or did you just report on them?”
“I just reported on them.”
She looked through something else on the screen. “What about Igisil ean’Arteal? Didn’t you publish plans of her base that the Isikyus used when they attacked? What about Relativity Ousarn?”
I should have realised they could look up my past work. “The public had a right to know.”
“Did they? Who was it who actually used the information?” The woman sighed. “I can see why you would have done that, but it doesn’t exactly help your case. There are other possibilities, though. Ever heard of the Sanguine Press?”
The Sanguine Press published media for the evil overlords as they arose; a lot of what they printed was borderline pro-‘evil’, and they allegedly distributed illegal material through less-public channels. “I’ve heard of them, but I wouldn’t have touched a contract.”
The interviewer nodded slowly. “I see. This doesn’t look good to me, but I will do what I can. Dismissed.”
* * *
It was only a few more days before I was summoned again, but they weren’t easy to endure. I found one of my notebooks in the dust under the bed – everything else had been taken the first time I fell asleep – and, after a futile effort to find a pen, decided to try and teach myself origami. After my first few attempts brought to mind crushed and lacerated bodies, I gave up.
Finally, the guard came, and this time the patter was broken. I was led along corridors and up and down stairs, through the passage between buildings, and finally down to one of the doors on Level 3. The lobby on the “Combat Arenas” floor only had four doors leading off from it, each one plastered with posters of duels and executions — and other, less bloody, public events — to come. I tried to spot mine among them, but there was no time to read names before I was hustled on.
The room I was led into was large in comparison to others I’d seen, but still only the size of a small classroom. Chairs and folding tables were piled against the walls, and the floor was covered with varnished wood; it smelled strongly of cleaning fluid.
One of the tables had been set up opposite the door, with four chairs facing me. As we came in, the guard bowed, pushing me to the floor as she bent down. Another guard stepped out from the wall and announced the panel, in tones that suggested he had had little opportunity to practice. “The Lady Clarisa da’Fenl, Lord Jim Jenkins, Lady Bethany Hughes, and Lord Bartholomew Jenkins, Commanders of the Black Fist”.
The four of them were apparently sitting in that order; each one nodded as their name was mentioned. Clarisa I recognised, although she was now in some sort of mage’s robe made of starched panels. Her seat was apart from the others, against a fish tank in the wall. Jim wore a black suit and polished top hat, with a strangely bulging glove on his left hand. Bethany sat closer to Bartholmew than to him; she wore an Asonian suit, like several of the better-dressed minions I had seen on the way here, but her head was covered by a plain white paper mask, surrounded by black hair. Bartholmew was the other one I recognised; the officer who had interviewed me the first time.
The masked one, Bethany, was the first to speak. “Let her stand up. Whatever happens here, she isn’t a prisoner any longer.” My guard complied, and I got to my feet carefully, then the mask addressed me. “Ivy Ferraglin, we have an offer to make you. We can’t allow you to return home — we’ve depended on very good secrecy to survive this far, and I’m not risking that for mercy’s sake. However, we may be able to let you live.”
Clarisa broke in. “Basically, your choice is this. If you aren’t brave enough to let us kill you now, you’ll live out the rest of your life working under a magical compulsion, never seeing those you left behind, working with people picked from what your society didn’t want, and likely to die by violence before you reach old age.”
The masked one looked at her.
“It’s true,” the elf insisted. “Look at our statistics — violence is our foremost cause of death. But you were making an offer.”
“I was,” Bethany agreed. “Ms Ferraglin, we are offering you a job as our official historian. We think it is time we had someone tell our side of the story.”
I could see where this was going. “So, basically, you want me to write your propaganda.”
Jim — the one in the top hat — shook his head. “Not exactly. It is already the case that people write what propaganda we need — little as that is, when we are as secret as we are — and we would not let you live just for that. What we are asking you to produce is a record of our actions, sympathetic without being false, that would perhaps allow the ages to remember it in a more balanced light. Naturally, this would remain confidential between yourself and us; others might know your duties, but not what you wrote. A record for the future.”
Bartholomew nodded. “Also, we might sometimes want an honest voice raised against us. We’ll let you know when we need it, though.”
It might not be that good a job, but it certainly sounded like a better option than dying. However, I still had one question. “What about this magical compulsion? How is that supposed to work?”
The other three looked at Clarisa, who took out a smartphone. She took a moment to look something up, then explained. “We can’t afford to make you a mindless slave – it’s not exactly that easy to do, and I don’t think this job is worth the effort. Basically, what we do is put a block in your mind that makes it impossible for you to disobey certain rules – you’ll be trapped in our bases as securely as if we’d chained you to the wall, and we’ll be able to knock you out with a word if we think you’ve overstepped something. Even then, you’ll have to keep to recording things as they come for some time. Basically, we don’t trust you, and we probably never will, so you won’t be treated like anyone we trust.”
Maybe it wasn’t much of a choice, but I didn’t exactly want to choose death instead. “I accept. I’ll record your story. It’s not as if I have much choice, is it?”
The masked one nodded. “Good. Clarisa, if you would?”
The elf stepped forward, and I felt the same vague tiredness settle over me as she put her hands over my temples and began to recite her spell. “Gealdil Almanathin. Oe’peldar des Adeloeas an’Thearil. Gastioge dleadnin Oleath …”
My hearing trailed off as the spell took over, and I felt the rules burn themselves into my mind as they were stated, unable to hear anything else.
“You shall not leave the base without permission honestly obtained.” Letters of flame spelt out the commands as my vision faded to black.
“You shall never set foot on dry land, by choice or compulsion.” I felt heated bands encircle my brain.
“You shall drop into sleep at our word.” I finally, relievedly, blacked out.
* * *
I woke lying on the floor, the vague discomfort of the bonds having faded into the back of my mind. A white mask swam into focus above me, and I saw a smile in the human eyes behind the mask. A hand reached down and pulled me up. “Welcome to the Black Fist, Ivy Ferraglin.”