When two celestial beings meet and converse, it isn’t like a conversation between two people. Mortals use words – noises projected from their throats and mouths in mutually identifiable patterns – to share abstract concepts that they interpret to have concrete meaning. Deities mimic this when interacting directly with mortals, but have no need for such basic biological limitations when interacting with each other.
The interaction with other deities is not something that mortals could comprehend with their limited minds. The gods see and know all in their domains of influence with no limitations. Communication with each other is less of a conversation and more akin to an instant sharing of advanced thought patterns. What would take two mortals hours to discuss is known to both deities in a fraction of a second when they choose to interact.
So when I tell you that Indrin – the god of individualism and democracy – and Dagan – the goddess of farming and fertility – had a conversation… you aren’t intelligent enough to actually comprehend such a thing. What you read here is a very loose translation.
Indrin looked down in amusement at his would-be followers, the so-called “Libertine Sect.” They took his tenets of individuality to such an extreme that they were no longer worshiping him, but rather the goddess of chaos – Lotan. They were far too absorbed in their own cognitive dissonance to actually understand that, however.
Dagan was overseeing the harvest on several worlds; the homeworld of Hamuvtakat being her primary focus. This put the attention of the two gods quite close to each other and the two had their… “conversation.”
“Your followers are weird.”
Indrin was amused by the comment. “They only think they’re my followers. They follow Lotan.”
“Those poor sops. Do you know how many harvests that bitch has ruined?”
“Do you have any idea how many democracies she’s destroyed?”
“In all fairness, she also brings down tyrannies.”
“And in all fairness, she causes genetic variability.”
“Yeah yeah… What are those mortals doing, anyway?”
“My wayward followers seem to think that they can eliminate any and all kinds of groups. They want to start a colony with no governing body on a planetoid. They aren’t even sending currency, just tools and resources.”
Dagan rolled the celestial equivalent of her eyes. “Mortals can’t hold any kind of society together for more than a century; they think that they can do it with pure individualism? Are you sure they’re not your followers?”
“Just because the individual is akin to divinity doesn’t mean that the group doesn’t exist. Even individuals require some societal structure. I don’t hear their prayers, no matter what they may believe. Well… except for one.”
“Yes. A deep elf girl – barely an adult. Goeneth Aesatra.”
Dagan sent a minute piece of her vast consciousness to study the girl that Indrin had indicated. Tall even for an elf, dark and beautiful even by deep elven standards, perfectly white hair that flowed to her shoulders and silver eyes that contrasted with her skin. She was a happy girl with several would-be suitors of both sexes, and Dagan could feel Indrin’s pity for her.
“Her parents are dragging her along on the project,” he explained. “She doesn’t believe in any of it, but she loves them too much to leave.”
“Are you going to do anything about it?”
“I’ll help her stay alive long enough for her to learn how to take care of herself. But in the end she’s her own person. She’ll either fight or she’ll die.”
“And you’re afraid of Lotan.”
“And I’m afraid of Lotan.”
. . .
“Beat it, darkelf. No beggars.” The racial pejorative hurt Goeneth more than she cared to admit.
It had been two years since her parents had brought her to Indrin’s Utopia. Just as her grandparents had all warned it would be, it was an utter disaster. The initiative had fallen into chaos in a matter of months. After initial success in hollowing out the planetoid along ore veins, idealism broke down. Greedy and charismatic leaders split the populace into dozens of factions, all vying for control of the asteroid. The thirty thousand still loyal to the original tenets of the expedition – her parents among them – had been forced into a small area with little in the way of tools and resources.
After the breakdown of the sect’s original plan, currency had made its way into Indrin’s Utopia to replace the donation and bartering system that had existed prior. Goeneth’s family, and those like them, had no money anymore. Their disparate and leaderless faction was collectively referred to as ‘the poor district’.
In order to survive, Goeneth had been forced to become a capable thief. Had the shopkeeper sent her on her way with some kindness, she wouldn’t have stolen from him. But being called a darkelf hurt. The shopkeeper wouldn’t notice the missing seeds and vegetables until after inventory that night, not that he would ever figure out who took them (though he had his suspicions).
She made her way back through the winding passageways lined with power conduits and vents. Power and ventilation were some of the few things that the factions agreed had to be maintained as a public service. It likely had far more to do with self preservation than any kind of goodwill.
She was in a decent mood despite the situation. The stolen seeds were enough to kickstart a new hydroponics bay, something the poor district desperately needed. The carrots and potatoes in her bag were enough for her family to eat well that night.
There were a lot of people in the passageway. The population of the planetoid numbered over three hundred thousand, most of which were crammed into the interior. Only the faction elites lived in buildings on the surface. Making her way through the crowds, Goeneth picked the occasional pocket of those wearing newer and fancier clothes. Most people didn’t carry much money on the untraceable credsticks, but a few hundred credits could go a very long way when you had nothing.
There was a small crowd in front of the doors to the poor district. Goeneth’s gut told her that there was something wrong. Her height let her see over the crowd; two technicians in red coveralls were working on the life support systems. She forced her way through the throng of people. “What’s going on?”
“Life support failure in the poor district,” said a female half-orc working on the equipment. “All doors to the area are sealed until we get it fixed.”
“What about the people inside?” asked Goeneth. They didn’t respond. “What about the people inside?” she demanded more frantically. But neither technician would respond or look at her.
Goeneth realized that the other people in the crowd were also from the poor district. They cried, paced, and rocked as they waited for the doors to open; waiting to learn the fate of their loved ones.
Minutes ticked by like eternity before voices came over the technician’s radio stating that the systems were ready at their location. One by one, the reports trickled in until the half-orc finally closed a panel and radioed in an all clear. “System rebooting,” said a voice on the radio as the life support whirred to life.
“Let me in,” Goeneth demanded. The crowd began pressing forward behind her; people desperately demanding that they be allowed to pass.
“Oxygen levels are still low,” said the half-orc technician. “I can’t open the doors until it equalizes.”
Goeneth was beyond reasonableness. While surface elves were light and agile – adapted for moving equally well through trees or on the ground – deep elves were heavy and strong from fighting for survival in Hamuvtakat’s vast cavern and tunnel networks. Goeneth was as tall as any elf and as strong as any orc; something that the half-orc was reminded of the hard way. Holding her by her coveralls, Goeneth had the technician off the ground and pinned to the wall. “Open. The. Doors. Now!”
“Okay, okay! Take it easy!” said the other technician. He input a code into the door controls and they slid open. Goeneth dropped the half-orc and was through the door before she hit the ground.
Dozens of bodies clogged the passageway beyond. Most were sitting against the wall or laying down with their heads on their arms or hands. Peaceful, like they had just gotten tired and fallen asleep. The crowd followed behind her; parents wailing and children crying. Goeneth wouldn’t admit it yet, but she already knew her parents’ fate.
She stumbled through the corpse-filled passageway in a daze. She recognized all too many neighbours and friends. Even a boy that she had been flirting with for the past several days, another deep elf like her. His face was almost serene, like in a peaceful sleep. But his chest didn’t gently rise and fall with the rhythm of his dreams. It was a slumber from which he would never awaken.
Goeneth entered a cavern that had been turned into a small neighbourhood. Small makeshift homes had been built from rocks stacked like bricks. Sheets of fabric acted as doors and roofs. But with no mortar, anyone could just peer into the cracks and see straight through the walls.
As with the passageways, the cavern was filled with corpses. They lay in the lanes between buildings, halfway through the doors in their homes, and on chairs and benches. As she made her way home she passed a makeshift playground – and the bodies of dozens of children.
Coming upon her home, she already knew exactly what she would find. She pulled back the curtain and entered. Her parents lay on their mattress, face to face and their hands clasped together in a final embrace.
Goeneth dismissed the whispered, disembodied apology. She shed no tears. She didn’t fall to her knees and wail or weep like the handful of other survivors she could hear – their voices echoing off the cavern walls. Something inside her had broken.
It started as a soft giggle, getting louder and bolder until she was laughing harder than she ever had in her life. She sat down in a chair and held her stomach it hurt so much from the laughter. Maniacal. Insane. Laughter.
Her parents had proudly proclaimed their absolute certainty in the success of Indrin’s Utopia. They had gotten into fights with her grandparents, insisting that only the Libertine Sect’s path was the true following of Indrin. Her grandparents were devout followers of Indrin as well, but they saw the Libertine Sect as extremist and dangerous. They had begged Goeneth to stay on Hamuvtakat with them. Her parents had made it clear that if she didn’t come with them, she was dead to them. She loved her parents too much to stay behind. “And now you’re the dead ones!” she managed through the laughter.
A voice brought the laughter back down to a soft giggle. “Hey there, pretty girl.” An elven man – a surface elf with pale grey skin, blonde hair and blue eyes – that Goeneth didn’t recognize had entered her family’s shelter. She continued to giggle as he spoke. “All alone now, I see. I’m alone, too. Maybe we could comfort each other.” As he spoke he slowly walked closer to her. Goeneth remained in the chair, holding her stomach and giggling.
“A little bit of close comfort, right? That’s it.” He put a hand on Goeneth’s shoulder, slid it down her arm, and then to her side. He leaned in and smelled her hair as her mirth continued. The other hand found her left breast while his first hand slid between her legs.
Goeneth didn’t resist as he began kissing her neck. His clothes were tattered and grey from asteroid dust. The stench of his body odour clearly indicated that he hadn’t showered in weeks. The man groping her was a tunnel rat – loosely organized criminals that did nothing but take from others through violence. Apparently, some were graduating to rape.
A dagger on his hip caught Goeneth’s eye. The pommel was dragon horn; ornately carved to look like the neck and head of a roaring dragon. Gold had been poured into the carving and the dragon’s scales shone brilliantly even in the limited light of the poor district. Obviously stolen; probably from the corpse of one of the man’s victims.
The dagger easily slid out of its sheath and into her hand. It felt like it belonged there; like holding a lover’s hand as you walked through a forest by a stream. Her giggling finally stopped as she plunged the dagger into the elf’s neck.
It went in one side and stuck several inches out the other. She placed her hand on the man’s face and pushed it back while pulling the knife out and slicing through muscle, sinew, blood vessels, and his esophagus. Blood spurted from his arteries onto her face and clothes. His body slumped to the floor and his blood pooled on the ground.
She studied the twitching elf – the blood spurts weaker with every pump as his heart failed. He was already unconscious from the loss of blood pressure and died only a few seconds later as his heart finally stopped beating. Solid blue eyes stared blankly up at the ceiling. Goeneth could feel his soul leave his body and get swept away by Mavet.
An emotion that she hadn’t felt in two years came flooding back to her. It had felt right – even righteous – to kill the would-be rapist. The sight of the dead elf flooded her with joy. Pure, unrelenting happiness.
She had excelled in biology class back when she was young and in school. She knew exactly where to strike with the dagger for maximum effect. As she studied the blood on the blade, she realized that she knew every weak spot on the bodies of the Hamuvtakat sentient species. She knew which tendons were most important for mobility; which arteries bled out the fastest. Precisely where to slash or stab to leave someone incapacitated – or dead.
Goeneth took the dagger’s sheath from the dead elf and synched it around her waist. She walked out of the stone shack that had been her home – leaving behind the corpses of her parents and the tunnel rat that had wanted to rape her. They were just dead bodies now. Nothing more than tissue, blood and bone in the shape of people.
A muffled cry caught her attention. The soft shoes that she wore when she went out thieving made no sound as she moved through the shacks. In another makeshift house, she found the bodies of a man and two children. A tunnel rat had a woman pinned against the wall, trying to tear off her clothes. The sight didn’t fill her with anger or disgust. But the feeling of the dagger slipping between the man’s ribs, slicing through muscle and connective tissue before penetrating his heart, filled her yet again with joy.
She threw the tunnel rat’s corpse to the ground and left before the woman could say anything. There were more people to kill.
In another stone shack, a human tunnel rat was stripping the dead of their very clothes. He didn’t notice her soft step. This one she experimented on. A deft slash severed the tendon on his right heel. He tried to stand, but his leg buckled. She grabbed his left leg and severed the other tendon. He yelled for help as he tried to crawl away. Goeneth ground her heel into his knee pit, pinning him in place. Inserting a dagger between vertebrae is no easy task, and her first attempt to sever the man’s spinal cord was messy. He screamed and twisted under the knife and tried to protect his back by rolling over. Goeneth kicked him in the gut and bore down on his neck with her left foot. After several attempts she found the gap she was looking for. The man was now paralyzed from the waist down.
Satisfied, Goeneth turned the screaming man over and drove the dagger through his chin and into his brain.
She turned to leave only to find the doorway to the shack blocked by an orange-eyed half-orc in a navy blue business suit. Right behind him were two soldiers in full combat armour, faces obscured by their helmets, rifles pointed directly at her. “So this is it,” she thought. “I can join my parents.” She waited patiently for the inevitable end.
But the end never came. “Any particular reason why you were torturing him like that?” asked the half-orc.
She looked down at the tunnel rat’s corpse, then back at the half-orc. “Tunnel rat. He was stripping the dead. Another one tried to rape a woman. One tried to rape me.”
The half-orc looked over his shoulder and nodded before turning back to Goeneth. The soldiers lowered their rifles and left. “I take it you lived here in the poor district?”
“Yup. My parents’ corpses are a few houses over.”
“You don’t seem overly upset about that.”
“They’re just rotting flesh now. And it’s hard to be upset when I’m having so much fun. I haven’t been this happy since I left Hamuvtakat. Speaking of which, if you don’t mind, I have more tunnel rats to kill.”
“They’re gone. They fled shortly after you started torturing that one.”
“I doubt they’ll be hard to find.”
“Maybe, maybe not. But I have a proposition for you, if you’re interested.”
“Depends on the proposition.”
“How would you like to be paid to kill?”
Goeneth didn’t say anything for a few moments. The factions would begin expanding into what had been the poor district. If she didn’t join one, she’d have nowhere to go. And while she enjoyed killing, some small part of her morality survived. She wouldn’t become like the tunnel rats – only taking from others. “Go on,” she said.
“I lead a small group of factions called The Council. We’re attempting to form a governing body for Indrin’s Utopia. The other factions are resisting our overtures and are preparing for war.”
“I don’t want to be a soldier in your meat grinder.”
“I think your… proclivities… would be better suited to espionage than the front lines.”
“So… theft, sabotage, assassinations?”
The half-orc nodded. “Exactly.”
Goeneth grinned. “Sounds like the perfect job.”
The half-orc extended his left hand. “I’m Thusk Wulgraz.”
She clasped his hand and shook it. “Goeneth Aesatra.”
“Welcome aboard, Goeneth. Your training starts tomorrow.”
. . .
Goeneth waited alone in the padded training room as she’d been instructed. The floor and two walls were covered in red mats, while a third wall opposite the door was a giant mirror. She’d been waiting for thirty minutes. Fed up, she turned to leave.
“You’ll be the dead one if you can’t be patient.” Goeneth whirled back around. She had never seen anything like this creature before. She’d heard that some spacefarers had found sentient aliens, but no governments on Hamuvtakat had made any attempt at diplomacy and neither had the aliens.
It was bipedal with two arms and stood just over five feet tall, but it definitely wasn’t mammalian. Rather, it looked insectoid, though one of its ancient ancestors must have evolved lungs – naturally or with the intervention of a deity. Its chitinous skin was brown and rough. Its head reminded her of a locust, and its large, compound eyes didn’t blink or move. Its hands were clasped together, three fingers each. Unlike her, it wore no clothing – not that it had anything remotely resembling mammalian genitalia. It was terrifying and intriguing at the same time.
“I’ve been waiting for 30 minutes,” she said to the insectoid creature.
“You were 30 minutes late. You wasted my time, so I wasted yours. Do not be late again. My name is impossible for the sapients from your world to pronounce, so call me Joe.”
“Where the Sheol were you even hiding in here?”
Joe faded away before her eyes and disappeared before reappearing several feet away. “There are many tools that you will learn to master under my tutelage – if you can listen and be patient. I’m told that you are already skilled with unaided stealth and have a good knowledge of anatomy, so we will be starting with hand-to-hand combat.”
“Is it going to hurt?” Joe nodded and Goeneth smiled. “Good.”
. . .
She trained for 12 hours every day with only short breaks to eat. For the first two weeks she collapsed into bed immediately after showering and slept for eleven hours. She hadn’t thought it was possible for a deep elf to bruise, and yet much of her skin was tinged with blue so dark it was almost black. And she was covered in tiny and painful cuts; Joe’s carapace had numerous sharp protrusions.
Slowly but surely the training toughened her body. She stopped bruising and her skin turned rough and calloused. Joe pushed her harder as she adapted. After three months, she was sleeping only five hours between training sessions.
During training one day, Goeneth was certain that she finally had Joe pinned for the first time. Her left leg and knee pinned his shoulder and throat. She had his other arm twisted around in her hands and pinned to her chest. After all the pain of months of training, she felt exhilarated at the prospect of having finally defeated her teacher.
It took Joe meer moments to shatter her sense of triumph. Joe’s left arm split in two, revealing one hard arm that she had pinned and a separate tentacle. The tentacle wrapped around her neck and easily threw her off. In moments, he had her pinned in a way that made her feel like a pretzel.
“Do not allow feelings of accomplishment to overtake you while in battle,” said Joe while Goeneth glared at him through fiery eyes. “Doing so dulls your senses and leaves you vulnerable to that which you do not expect.” He released her and she got to her feet while his tentacle returned to hiding on his arm. “And never be emotional. Emotions cloud your judgement and slow your reflexes. You can be angry before a battle and rejoice after one, but never allow either to take hold of you during. Either will get you killed.”
“If you weren’t a bug, that position would have looked sexual.” Thusk Wulgraz stood in the doorway, arms crossed, while he leaned against the doorframe.
“Mammalian obsession with reproductive entanglement never ceases to confuse me,” said Joe. “It isn’t even unique to this area of the galaxy. It seems to be universal to mammary-based species.”
“Evolutionary, my friend; we don’t hatch from eggs. Childbirth is painful and children are a lot of work. If sex wasn’t so much fun we’d have gone extinct long ago.
“How’s the training coming along?”
“Extremely well,” replied Joe. Goeneth wasn’t certain – even after three months she still had trouble reading the alien’s emotions – but she thought she heard a hint of pride in his voice. “We’re moving onto firearms next week.”
“Very good,” said Thusk. “Then I don’t see why she can’t go on her first assignment.”
“I wouldn’t say she’s ready for the field.”
“It doesn’t involve firearms. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
Goeneth didn’t like being talked about in the third person and she was still angry with Joe for his deception. “What’s the job?”
“Theft. We need updated maps of the other factions’ territories. Goldstone Corporation is the largest and closest, and we’ve managed to access their ventilation systems.” Thusk retrieved a memory stick from his pocket and held it out for her to see. “Insert this into the first terminal you find. Our hackers will break into the system remotely. Get out as soon as you’ve inserted the memory stick.”
Goeneth was visibly disappointed. “No killing?”
“Next time. I promise.”
. . .
As I told you previously, Goeneth was as strong as an orc and as tall as an elf. Humans and their primate ancestors evolved in a state of semi-starvation. Due to this resource constraint, female humans used even less resources for themselves so that they could provide for their offspring in the womb and the early years of life. They are smaller, weaker, have less endurance, and less bone density than human males in order to preserve valuable resources for their young. A smart – if unfair – adaptation.
Elves (and dwarves) had no such resource scarcity and their gods were more involved in their early evolution. Males and females have no physical disparity. Additionally, the deep elves adapted to predatory and dangerous underground life, and strength became favoured over agility. Deep elves maintained their height, but their muscle mass and bone density radically increased.
Long story short… Goeneth was too large for the ventilation shafts.
“Fudge nuggets! Son of a motherless goat!” The string of curses didn’t make her feel any better as she desperately wiggled and inched her way through the confines of the ventilation system. It was an agonizingly slow process, and she could only pray that she wasn’t making too much noise.
An air vent into a room was only a few feet away, but it may as well have been miles. What felt like hours later, after a great deal of grunting and cursing, she finally managed to reach it. The room below looked like it was used for storage. There was no one in sight, and everything was a shade of gray to her night vision; not quite dark enough to activate her infrared receptors.
Joe had given her a burglar’s band; a technomagical wristband that housed numerous tools in a pocket dimension. While a sonic screwdriver was more compact, the tools on the burglar’s band were far easier to use and were much quieter while in operation. Simple mental commands called forth the auto-ratchet with the correct bit already attached.
One at a time, the screws holding in the grating fell to the floor. She grabbed the vent tightly in one hand while removing the last screw, then carefully maneuvered it up into the vent shaft. Luckily, there were several crates stacked up near the opening and she was able to pull herself out without falling. From there, she climbed down to the ground.
Goeneth smiled to herself. As far as she could tell, no one knew she was there. She just needed to find a computer terminal, then she could start the slow process of going back through the vents.
She walked to the door and held her ear against it, listening intently. There were no footsteps or voices. After several minutes, she decided it was safe. The latch turned easily in her hand and she slowly pulled the door open a crack.
The barrel of a longarm pointing directly at her was the last thing she wanted to see.
“Open the door and step out with your hands up,” said a commanding female voice from the other side of the door. Goeneth sighed and did as she was told. In the corridor beyond the storage room, five soldiers in combat armour had their longarms trained on her. A human woman in what looked like an officer’s uniform regarded her coldly while pointing a pistol at her head.
“I guess you heard me climbing through the vents?” Goeneth asked with a smirk. “Straight to execution, then? Make it quick; I have to pee.”
This brazen comment seemed to enrage the officer. Instead of pulling the trigger, she returned it to her holster and grabbed a stun baton off a soldier’s hip. The baton arced to life. “You’re not that lucky,” she snarled before jabbing it into Goeneth’s chest.
Even with all the training she’d received in the previous three months, Goeneth still screamed before blacking out.
. . .
The bucket of cold water jolted her back to consciousness. She was in a chair in a small interrogation room with the officer and a soldier holding a now empty bucket. Her hands were cuffed behind her back, the handcuffs chained directly to the chair. The chair was anchored to the ground; even though her feet were free, she was going nowhere.
The officer flicked a switch and a bright light shone in Goeneth’s face, partially blinding her. “Who sent you?”
“I’m one of Nick’s elves. I was looking for naughty boys and girls. You’d better let me go or you’ll be going right onto the naughty list.”
The soldier’s fist struck her in the abdomen. She exhaled at the last moment and was able to absorb most of the blow.
“Who sent you?”
“I’m a proselyte for Marqod. I was just looking for a dance partner.”
The next fist struck her across the jaw and she snapped her head to the side with the strike. Her jaw didn’t break, but it was still enough to make her see stars.
When her vision cleared, the officer was inches from her face, staring directly into her eyes. “Who sent you!?”
Goeneth licked her. She laughed uproariously as the officer recoiled.
The soldier moved behind her and put an arm around her neck and squeezed. Only a few seconds later – the blood flow to her brain cut off – she passed out.
. . .
When she awoke the room was empty and her feet were now tied to the chair legs. She spent an unknown amount of time pondering her predicament, her abandonment by Thusk and Joe, and the last two years on the gods forsaken Indrin’s Utopia. She got so bored at one point that she began thinking about the meaning of life.
Finally, the door to the interrogation room opened. A halfling man in a white lab coat pushed a small workshop cart into the room before closing the door.
“Hey little man. So what’s next? Lunch? I’m getting hungry.”
The halfling pushed the cart up next to her and opened a drawer to reveal various knives, pliers, probes, and various other tools and instruments. He selected a small knife, pliers and a nerve clipper, placing them on top of the cart. “These are my favourites,” he said to her. “Torture is a wonderful art form. I have to find just the right balance between maximizing your pain and keeping you alive. The nerve clipper only causes pain – no permanent damage – so it’s a safe start.”
“Sounds fun,” said Goeneth. “Maybe you can teach me some tricks some day.”
“I suppose that depends on what they do with you, doesn’t it?” He picked up the nerve clipper and pressed the head to the skin on her shoulder. He looked up at her and smiled, then turned it on.
Goeneth’s vision literally turned red. It was all she could see. The pain was so intense she was amazed that she didn’t black out. She didn’t even realize she was screaming until after the pain ended.
The reprieve didn’t last. The torturer selected another spot – this time on her chest – and again activated the nerve clipper. The time alone with her own thoughts became a mere moment of bliss compared to the time spent being tortured.
Through it all, the halfling asked her no questions. He just probed her with the nerve clipper, testing its efficacy at various points on her body. At one point he cut open the front of her pants and used it on her labia.
“Wilkin! Enough!” came a voice over an intercom. The pain finally ended. Goeneth slumped in the chair, breathing heavily, as the halfling packed away his tools and wheeled his cart toward the door.
The door burst open to reveal a deep elf woman with blue eyes and red hair in casual clothing. “I told you that I would speak to her, first! Go play your games on a fucking criminal that actually did something heinous you cocksucking rat!”
“As you wish, madame homophobe.” The halfling wheeled the cart past the woman and disappeared.
The door closed behind him, and Goeneth heard magnetic locks engage. The new woman approached Goeneth, keys in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. “I’ll see about getting you some new clothes,” she said as she unlocked the handcuffs. “Milken doesn’t even do anything useful around her. He and the warden are just sadists.”
Goeneth’s muscles ached so much that she could only move extremely slowly. Gingerly, she reached forward and undid the ropes tying her legs to the chair. “A man after my own heart. I’ll kill him quickly.” She tried to stand, but the woman placed a hand on her shoulder and easily held her in place.
“Have some water, first.” She handed Goeneth the bottle. Goeneth did her best to drink slowly, but she didn’t know how much time had passed since she first entered the vents. “There’s a toilet behind you if you need to use it.”
“I’ve had to pee since some dumb hobknocker pointed a pistol in my face.” The woman let her rise and Goeneth went to relieve herself. “So tell me; what’s to stop me from taking you hostage so that I can get out of here?”
The woman smirked. “At least you’re smart enough to ask the question before trying. The floor is wired with a shock net. No permanent damage to the prisoner. Part of my daily routine on this job includes a pain suppressing drug, so I barely notice it.”
“And who are you, exactly?” asked Goeneth as she pulled her torn pants back up.
“You can call me Doctor Nodrien, and I’m a psychologist. I was hoping we could have a friendly chat.”
“Oh yeah, I’d love to have a friendly chat with you! I think we could be best friends! We could hold hands and gossip while we walk through fields of flowers.”
“I see that you use sarcasm as a defense mechanism. Can we at least start with your name?”
“Alright. Matilda. Look, all that they want to know is who sent you. There are too few people on this rock to be killing amateur spies that got caught climbing through vents. Cooperate and there’s a good chance you could live as a civilian in Goldstone. If not… well… The warden outranks me, and he has a personal collection of torture holovids. Appears to be a sexual kink.”
Goeneth sat back down in the chair and leaned back a bit, her hands behind her head. “No one sent me. I found an opening into your vents and I went looking for something to steal. Big mistake on my part.”
Nodrien sighed. “Even if that were true – even if Matilda was your real name – you’ll have to give them something or I can’t help you.”
“No one asked for your help.”
Wilken’s voice came over the intercom. “Doctor, I’m afraid that the warden has overruled you. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Nodrien hung her head slightly. “I’m sorry, Matilda. I’ll try my best, but I won’t be allowed back in for a while.” She gently placed a hand on Goeneth’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze, then turned to leave as the door opened and two soldiers entered, followed by Milken.
The soldiers tore her clothes off before cuffing and tying her to the chair. They escorted the doctor out of the room. She was alone with Milken.
The halfling said nothing. He opened up his tool drawer, took out a pair of force boosting pliers and used them to break her index finger.
“Contrary to the good doctor’s claims -” Goeneth interrupted him with a scream as he broke her thumb “- no one cares about who sent you. You’re nothing more than my plaything, now.”
Through the pain and tears, Goeneth managed a giggle. “I do like to play. I think we’ll have some fun together.”
Milken grabbed her nipple with the pliers, then used a knife to cut it off. “Well… one of us will have fun, my dear Matilda.”
“Trust me, half-man. I’m going to have fun killing you. I’ll even make it quick. We’re kindred spirits, afterall.”
“Indeed,” he said as he pulled off the nail on her middle finger.
. . .
Goeneth awoke to someone pouring a liquid into her mouth. She sputtered and coughed but managed to swallow some of the bitter fluid, too thirsty to care about the taste. She felt the pain subsiding, her bones healing and fingernails growing back; a healing serum.
“Thankfully,” said Nodrien, “I have some contacts in upper management. I was able to get you a slight reprieve.” Goeneth felt Nodrien undoing the handcuffs. “I don’t have much leverage, though. Milken will be back in a few minutes.” She walked over to a corner of the room near the door and picked up a pile of clothes from the ground. “All you have to do is tell me a little bit about yourself and I can give you these.”
“I already told you my name.” Goeneth leaned forward gingerly and began untying the ropes around her ankles. “What else do you want?”
“Why did you come to Indrin’s Utopia?”
“My parents.” She leaned back in the chair again, arms crossed in front of her, her right ankle resting on her left knee. “They came on the initiative two years ago and I came with them. Can I have some underwear, now?”
Nodrien smiled and handed her the clothes. “There. That’s something, isn’t it?”
“Oh yeah, just wonderful.” Goeneth pulled the clothes on. “Like a luxury hotel right now. You wanna go get some grub? I’ll buy.”
“You’re very willful, Matilda. Where are your parents now?”
“Dead. They died when life support failed in the poor district.”
“Why, did you break the life support?”
“No, I-” Nodrien stammered.
“Relax, doc! I’m kidding!” Goeneth laughed at Nodrien’s bumbling response. She sat back down on the chair. “Well, not about them being dead. They are very dead. No sympathy needed though. They did it to themselves.”
“Thank you for sharing that with me. Maybe if I can get you out of here, you can come see me for some therapy? Losing your parents isn’t something easy to deal with.”
“Oh, it was plenty easy after I killed the tunnel rat that tried to rape me. That was a lot of fun. Have you ever killed anyone, doc?”
Nodrien looked concerned. “That’s… That’s not a normal way for people to respond to the loss of loved ones, Matilda.”
Goeneth shrugged. “Meh.”
“Times up, doctor.”
“Damn it, we’re making progress! Give me more time!”
The door opened and in walked two soldiers and Milken with his cart. Nodrien stood in front of Goeneth like a shield as Milken and the soldiers approached. “She’s not a toy! She’s a sapient being! Leave her alone!”
“Not your call doctor,” said Milken. One of the soldiers roughly pulled Nodrien away.
“Just hang on, okay Matilda? I promise, I can get you out of here.”
“It’s alright, Doctor Nodrien.” Goeneth began to hum as she leaned back in the chair and looked up at the ceiling. There was a subtle shimmer, the telltale sign of an invisibility spell according to Joe. “Everything will be fine.”
The gold on the dragon horn hilt of her dagger sparkled as it fell. She plucked it from the air and slammed it through the hip joint in the armour of the nearest soldier. She pulled it back out and stabbed through his neck as she stood up. Propelling herself off the chair, she pierced the other soldier’s side before ripping off his helmet and driving it through his eye.
Deftly tossing the dagger into her left hand, she swung backhand and drove it through Milken’s chest as he tried to run past her. She looked down at the little halfling. “I told you I’d make it quick.” With a jerk and a twist, she ruptured his heart and he collapsed to the ground.
Next, she turned to Doctor Nodrien and slowly raised the dagger to her throat.
“P-p-please,” Nodrien managed in a tiny voice. “Matilda! I tried to help you.” Tears streamed from her brilliant blue eyes down her dark purple face.
. . .
After Thusk had left the training room, Joe had taken her by the arm and pulled her in close. “It isn’t a real mission,” he whispered. “Thusk likes testing the loyalty of new recruits. My last two students switched sides and he had them killed. No matter what happens, you must remain loyal. After three days, I can come get you out. No matter what they do, do not tell them anything.
“They’ll torture you, but not to get answers. Someone else will be there for that. They’ll pretend to be nice, give you gifts, offer you rewards in exchange for information, even innocuous information. That’s the one that’s really in charge and the most dangerous. Give them nothing about the Council. Do you understand?”
Goeneth had smiled. “Should be a nice little vacation. Sounds like I get to kill some people after all.”
. . .
Goeneth smirked at the fake tears of the woman that had been directing the torture the whole time. “Thanks for the healing serum, doc.” She pushed the dagger through Nodrien’s neck and cut off her head. It fell to the floor with a squishy thud.
“Adamithril dagger,” said Joe as he dropped from the ceiling. “Someone must have killed a dragon to get that ancient technology. We’ll have to do something about that hilt when we get back, though. Far too shiny.”
“I never did like sparkly baubles like the other girls. Got my one-shot?”
Joe handed her a wristband and she put it on. “The invisibility should last long enough for you to get back to Council territory. I’ll see you there after I steal the maps. Try not to kill too many people on your way back, it will just slow you down.”
. . .
The two gods watched Goeneth as she left a trail of corpses while escaping Goldstone Corporation’s base. She was brutally efficient, and the invisibility made it nearly impossible for anyone to fight back.
“Does she still follow you?” asked Dagan.
“She thought about praying to me a few times while being tortured,” said Indrin. “But no, she doesn’t want anything to do with the gods right now.”
“Can you really blame her?”
Indrin sighed sadly. “Not in the least.”