IPTSF Text 41
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"There is always time for the hard way," said the Croakamancer at dawn. "That is the nature of it."
The Lady Firebaugh had slept in one of the marble sheds, and emerged in the morning with her satchel closed and slung over her shoulder. Most of the former Faq units stood by, mindlessly porting a few odd items for her. Bart, as he had all night, stood guard over Jillian in the glass box. His empty gaze was unrelenting.
"We are patient here,” she said, “as patient as trees. Your end will remain the same, after all. It will wait for you. You may purchase more Life with more suffering, until you tire of it. That is your only choice, prisoner, but it is yours. I have other Duty to attend. Until I return, you will be hungry."
The enemy caster touched the box, and with a churning wave through her abdomen, Jillian felt her insides flush away. Her stomach shriveled to a walnut and then collapsed to nothing. There was a hole in her. She needed food! Now!
The Croakamancer said nothing more, but walked away across the grass. Wait, was she going to leave some food for the day? No, that was a stupid thought. She’d just said, but. Food! Would there be some coming at the end of the day? Was there something she could eat here? Anything?
Jillian twisted, looking around the box for anything at all. She tried to remember the last food she’d possessed. The supplies from Diecast, yes! Did she still... No. And...no, that stuff was poison. But she knew if she had one of the apples that had put her to sleep—and croaked the rest of her people apparently—in her hand right now, she would eat it. Terrifying thought, but she knew she would. Sweet, juicy, perfect apples they were.
She almost cried out to the Croakamancer as she and the shuffling uncroaked units followed a path around a hill and out of sight. Almost. Her captor might have returned, and then what? Beg? Break? She could hang on through this.
It was just need, not real pain. She could do this. With her tormentor not actually there to fill her mind with words, maybe there was a chance Jillian could think of something. Escape, or...getting a message home. Something. But first, food.
No, there was no food. And this is exactly what she’d been afraid of. This deprivation and helplessness. Being a Chief Warlord, Jillian knew something of standard interrogation techniques. She had been wrong to feel relieved; it just hadn’t begun yet.
She looked up at the face of poor Bart Lightrail. "Bart?"
He looked back at her, but only in the same way he had stared at her throughout the night. He didn’t show any specific reaction to hearing his name.
"Bart..." She could hear herself about to ask him for food, and it sounded ridiculous in her head. A wild thought of breaking free and eating him crossed her mind, and she curled with revulsion. She doubled over with the pangs and hid her head.
"I’m sorry," was all she actually said.
--- The sun rose and made her sweat inside the glass box. Jillian did not feel particularly thirsty, but even a drink of water would have been welcome, as something to put in her stomach.
There were birds in the yard, but no other sounds or motion among the grass and stones. She passed through a range of decisions over the morning, sometimes vowing to hold out no matter what else was done to her, sometimes deciding that she would shout "Mistress!" as soon as Lady Firebaugh returned, and say whatever she was told to.
She even planned it out: rehearsing her own collapse, fantasizing about it as a means to earn a morsel of food. First, she would tell her Mistress all about Bart, and Hedda and Chip and the others. She even went over everyone’s story in her head, remembering their names, what level they were, what city they had popped in, their achievements in battle. These seemed to be what her brain-lashed captor was interested in carving into the memorial stones.
And she would not be hungry anymore.
By afternoon, though, the Croakamancer had not returned, and Jillian hated herself intensely. She actually tried making herself feel more hungry, more miserable in the box. She imagined all the tasty foods she could think of, cakes and meat pies, roast fowl and pancakes. She returned to thinking of this predicament as her rightful punishment. What had Lady Firebaugh said about buying Life with suffering? Okay, she would do that, then. With thoughts of hot buttered bread and smoked trout.
Back at home, they ate sushi. Tempura. Sometimes chicken marinated in soy and garlic. Ohhh...
She thought of home. They would know she had been captured. They would know that all of Faq’s best warriors had fallen, and that the mission had failed. They would be afraid, certainly, but Father and the Court would be philosophical about it. That, she could count on. If she was buying Life with her suffering today, then she was also buying a day of Life for them. For Jack and the rest.
She smiled through the gnawing hunger. That’s the whole reason she did anything, she supposed. This was her business, and if you viewed it that way, it was a tremendous bargain, wasn’t it? One day in the box for all the days the others would have.
At home, they would be discussing their doom over nice fish and rice and little bits of fried vegetable. So tasty. Eat up, you pompous intellectual fops. Clean your plates for me.
Once she had that thought to sustain her, the time began to pass bearably. For three turns, she was left there lying in need. The hunger never relented, but it had a purpose now. In her head, the vague thoughts of meals at home grew over time into elaborate, imaginary tea ceremonies. She observed perfect etiquette, and exchanged delightful repartee with each member of the Court. Far from a chore, the thoughts of formal ceremony at home became her comfort, her refuge.
Her...meditation, she supposed.