Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) – Episode 042
“Prisoner is alert?”
“Ahh!” gasped Jillian, snapping her head and trying to focus in the twilight.
Lady Firebaugh had returned. She was standing beside the glass box, in the dark, peering down at her.
Jillian had given up hope of any relief this day, once Haffaton's turn ended. She’d expected a third night of lying here, her insides gurgling with a magical hunger. (Or was it real? She certainly hadn’t eaten anything since her capture. Perhaps the magic was actually suppressing her real hunger, and the Croakamancer had lifted it.) It had become a routine, and she'd adapted to it. Just a field hardship, nothing new. She had almost forgotten to be afraid.
“Prisoner is alert?” asked the Croakamancer again. Her bony form and limp hair made a uniform gray silhouette against the dim sky. Much like the mannequin, her eyes were the only distinct feature of her face.
“Yes,” breathed Jillian.
“For food, say, ‘Yes, Mistress.”
“Yes, Mistress,” said Jillian, before she could take even a moment to remember the idea of resisting her captor. She surprised and disappointed herself.
More shadows emerged, casting their silhouettes against the sky. Soldiers. Uncroaked. Hers, she thought. It was hard to tell. Several of them drew weapons and closed ranks around the Croakamancer, who lifted her satchel up with one hand, and touched the box with the other.
Jillian twinged, having learned to fear that gesture, but all that happened was that iron chains and manacles suddenly appeared on her wrists and ankles. She didn’t test their strength. There was a promise of food, more tantalizing than escape.
The Croakamancer lifted the lid of the box. Fresh evening air rushed over Jillian’s face, smelling sweetly of grass and nectar. She made no motion. The lid stayed open of its own accord, and the caster rummaged through her satchel. Over the previous days, she’d rehearsed some combat moves in her mind, should she get an opportunity to strike like this. But those detailed plans seemed like an old, unfunny joke here, in the dark, in chains. The soldiers would put a spear through her neck before she could get her legs over the side of this thing.
In truth, she could only focus on what morsel might be coming out of the bag.
“Here,” said the Croakamancer, holding up a flat cylinder, wrapped in cheesecloth. She offered it to Jillian, who sat up and eagerly grabbed at it, but the caster held on to the prize. “Say, ‘thank you, Mistress.’”
“Thank you, Mistress,” snapped Jillian. The Croakamancer hesitated a moment, as if trying to decide whether to take issue with Jillian’s tone, then she let it go. Jillian tore into the cloth, finding something dense and spongy and smelling of the Titans’ own kitchens. She shoved it eagerly into her mouth and chewed.
“Pattycakes,” said her captor. “Made fresh for you. I have more, if you are willing to play now.”
Jillian, in her frantic chewing and swallowing, already was beginning to return to herself again, which meant rediscovering her stubbornness. She said nothing. As she wolfed down this amazing scrap of food, she immediately began to think about the price she’d paid for it. Yes, Mistress. Even that much cooperation felt like a surrender, a slip-up.
The Croakamancer watched until she had consumed every crumb, her chains rattling as she licked at the cloth and her fingers.
“Tell me about Bart, Jillian,” said the enemy caster.
Jillian wanted another cake fairly desperately, but she shook her head.
“It is not important information. Part with it, and you may eat all you wish tonight.”
Jillian’s stomach actually picked this moment to growl loudly, undermining her toughening stance and just...embarrassing her. She sighed, and lay back down on the pillow.
“Close the lid.”
“Until I return, you will freeze,” said Lady Firebaugh in the morning. The hunger was gone now, but Jillian shivered in the sunshine for two days, with frost forming on the walls of the glass cage, before her captor returned with soft blankets and a hot drink that made all things inside her go pleasantly, joyfully warm. This was “chocolate.” Not bad.
It changed nothing, though. In the morning, the Croakamancer told her, “Until I return, you will itch.” Four wretched days of that, and she was taken to a hot spring to bathe. On the start of Haffaton’s turn, her self-inflicted scratches and welts all disappeared.
“Until I return, you will thirst.” Two days. Lady Firebaugh seemed to have places to be and things to do. People to “plant.”
Then she returned, bringing a skin full of icewater from a glacial spring.
“Until I return, you will hear screaming.” Three days. The silence at the end of it was better relief than anything yet. Still, she offered nothing.
“Until I return, you will roll,” said the Croakamancer the following day.
“...Roll?” But the box was already turning. For four days, Jillian lay without rest in a slowly rotating box, sliding and thumping, the cushions and pillows and blanket sliding with her relentlessly.
Somehow, she devised a system to sleep, with her arms jammed in the pillowcase and her head wrapped tightly in the blanket.
“Until I return, you will be deaf and blind,” said the Croakamancer on the morning after that. All the light and sound in the world left her head. For a moment, it was entirely peaceful. Jillian laughed, and rested her head on the (wonderfully stationary) pillow, thinking that she hoped this one would last a while.
But she couldn’t hear herself laugh, even through her own body. The experience was immediately disquieting. It did not take long to get much worse.
First, she had the feeling that Lady Firebaugh had never left, that she was watching her every movement. That changed to the general sense of an evil presence watching her, which began to take form in vivid, disturbing hallucinations. Sometimes she would see things out of her nightmares, things that made her jump and slam into the walls of the box. Sometimes the imaginary sounds that filled the silence were louder than all the screaming she’d endured before.
She did not know how many days this one took, but it was the worst yet. Eventually, the sound of a bird broke through her haze, a real one. She could tell. And she saw the red light of dawn through her eyelids. When she opened her eyes, her captor stood there, whispering.
“Talk, Jillian. Simply talk. It’s not necessary to suffer.”
Jillian screamed. A part of her rejoiced at the pain of real sound in her ears.