What actually happens to our heroes in Anuket City is crystallizing around a coupla chunks of text. That’s mostly how I write–I get a chunk, I write it and dump it there, and then I kind of write around it, a little before, a little after, until all the bits grow together. Every now and then a bit turns out not to fit, and I have to chop it out, but that doesn’t actually happen all that often.
I generally hold off on writing the climax until the end, though. Gotta have something to look forward to!
Also, there appear to be gnoles. I didn’t quite expect gnoles, but there they were. (They aren’t hyenas, but they’re definitely called gnoles.) If I’m already trying to wrestle D&D words back from the abyss, might as well go for broke, or at least Dunsany.
In this chunk, which may or may not actually occur–we’ll call it an outtake or a deleted scene if I wind up being wrong about it happening–a portion of Slate’s past has finally caught up with her, and she’s tied to a chair and waiting for the worst. (Now, if I just knew the boss’s actual name…oh, well, it’ll come to me.)
Slate had absolutely no illusions about her ability to withstand torture. If anyone so much as pointed a sharp object at her, she’d sing like a robin in springtime.
The only problem was that she didn’t think she knew very much that the boss would care about. They had to know that the Dowager would be trying to stop the Clockwork Boys—as state secrets went, it wasn’t exactly a surprise. Slate didn’t know anything about troop movements or plans, and the big mystery of how the Clockwork Boys were made was unlikely to impress the boss, who presumbly knew anyway.
The only information she had that anyone would care about were the identities of her cohorts. Sure, she might try to hold off spilling her guts—might even resist for a good thirty seconds—but there was just no way. Slate’s allergies were legendary. Foremost among them was an allergy to pain.
Sorry, guys. Sorry, Caliban. We’re not all tragic heroes. Some of us are just tragic.
It probably wouldn’t be enough to buy her a quick death. The boss was really sore over that missing annulment. She hoped her friends had had the good sense to relocate as soon as she’d been caught.
And if not, I suppose my guilt can keep me company while I’m hanging over the Grey Church in a crow’s cage.
Heck, the man probably wouldn’t even believe anyone was stupid enough to try an assault on the werkblight factory with only four people and a pack of gnoles, and he’d likely kill her trying to extract information about the army that she really ought to have.
Which spares me the crow’s cage, anyway, for what that’s worth.
Her only consolation was that she’d bitten her fingernails so short, they’d have a devil of a time pulling them out.
As consolations went, she’d had better.
The torturer waved a device under her nose. It was silver and had pointy pinchy bits, several serrated holes, and a spring. Slate hadn’t the faintest idea what it might do and was afraid to find out.
“Are you going to talk?” he asked.
“Almost certainly,” Slate said, eyeing the device. It was the sort of object confined in kitchen drawers and liberated once a year to make chutney. She could easily imagine it doing vague but unfortunate things to various orifices, or appendages, or both simultaneously.
“Now,” said the torturer calmly. “I am going to hurt you. Then I’m going to ask you a question. If you don’t answer it, I’m going to hurt you again.”
“You know, I’m pretty sure I’m going to tell you everything I know, so we could just skip to that part and avoid the hurting altogether.”
He cracked her upside the head with the silver thing. Slate yelped.
Well, that was actually sort of anticlimactic, even if it did hurt.
“Ow! Goddamnit, I said I was going to talk!”
Her head hurt, and there was something tickling the back of her neck, which probably meant she was bleeding from the scalp. The pointy bits had been sharp. Someone was very serious about their chutney.
“Does your mother know you do this for a living?”
“You’re starting to annoy me, lady.”
Slate did a brief mental calculation of whether annoying one’s torturer was a bad idea, or whether you were going to get tortured anyway and you might as well go out on a defiant note, and decided to err on the side of caution. “Sorry. I babble when I’m nervous. I’m very nervous right now. You probably guessed that. Hey, did I already mention that I’d tell you everything you want to know?”
The torturer folded his arms and frowned down his nose at her. “Was someone in here before me to soften you up?”
“No, I’m very soft to begin with.” She considered. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance I could seduce you out of this? I mean, not to be insulting, I’m sure you’re a man of principle, just figured I’d ask, in case you were a lonely man of principle—“
“I’m sure she’s lovely.” Slate sighed. She rolled her shoulders. Her elbows were getting stiff from being locked behind her, and the back of her neck had started to itch dreadfully, which was almost worse than the sting in her scalp.
He smacked the silver widget into his palm. Horse chestnut peeler, maybe? Slate tried scrunching her head back and scratching with the back of her head, which didn’t help at all.
“So are you going to ask me any questions, or are you just gonna smack me with your candied apricot shucker or whatever the heck that thing’s supposed to be?”
“I’ll have you know, lady, this is a—“
The true identity of the mystery widget remained a mystery, because the door opened again, and one of the flunkies came and murmured something to the torturer.
“Hmmph. No cockroaches? And the eggs are rotten? Very well.” He turned back to Slate. “I shall return momentarily.”
“Take your time.”
He set the widget down on the table in front of her, where she couldn’t help but stare at it.
“You might consider…thinking things over. Like your cooperation.”
“I already offered to tell you anything I know!”
The door slammed.
Slate, who had a pretty good understanding of the criminal mind—you didn’t hang around Brenner for too long and not start to pick things up—was pretty sure that they were actually waiting on the boss to show up. This was his petty vengeance, after all, and he’d certainly want to watch. Otherwise, the efficient man with his edible cactus descaler would have reduced her to a weeping heap in short order.
There was also almost certainly nothing planned involving either cockroaches or fresh eggs. They were under orders to wait, and were simply letting her stew in her own imagination while they did.
“Joke’s on you, you bastards,” she muttered. “I’m an accountant. I don’t have an imagination.”
Although I would have liked to know that that thing actually was. Not knowing is going to drive me nuts.
So there she sat, tied to a chair in the middle of a mostly empty room, her wrists and ankles tightly bound, with blood leaking slowly down the back of her neck.
It was, Slate reflected, the first thing that had gone right all goddamn day.
(My apologies to accountants everywhere, I’m sure some of you are fantastically creative people, but I needed at least one cheap shot somewhere.)
Ashely Sucharzewski ,
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