56. Trigger Point

Soundtrack and Video: Ministry, Rio Grande Blood (Adios Puta Madres)

Inglorion knew that cleanup would be difficult. The Theates clan’s water is supplied by a handful of underground springs and one major river. The river is deep and fast-moving, and only accessible from two points, neither of which lend themselves to bathing. The only eligible location is an old prison, used primarily to house long-term captives who can’t be enslaved or released. The prison yard has a long history of lynchings and political beheadings, partly because it’s traversed by a stream that doesn’t feed directly into Theates drinking water.

Inglorion blots his face and hands as best he can, then, wraps himself in an old linen cloak, and traverses a series of abandoned or lightly trafficked corridors, Ajax following behind. A few Drow cross their path, but no one seems to notice the blood caked in his hairline. Indeed, why would they? There’s no ambient light, and no temperature difference to alert Underdark observers.

The prison yard is empty. It’s small — roughly 20 by 25 feet. On the rare occasions when nobility and gentry are flogged, it happens here, privately, with great ceremony. There are heaps of tools and equipment, some apparently still in use: Chains and shackles of various descriptions, implements for cutting, a brazier and set of brands, a rack of cat-o-nine-tails, some knotted, some tipped with bone or metal. There’s an altar to Lolth that appears to be in use. Blood sacrifice isn’t openly endorsed, but there’s a rack by the altar holding an executioner’s axe and set of bone saws. Along with the channels carved into the altar, these tools suggest certain possibilities.

There are places that feel wrong, uncanny, cursed. The old prison yard is one. It’s not just the torture equipment. You could clear the whole place out and plant the square with flowers, and it would still feel like a slaughterhouse.

Inglorion undresses by the altar, leaves his bloody clothes there in a bundle. He plunges into the creek. It’s waist-deep, and profoundly cold. His hair was liberally spattered with blood, so Ajax washes and combs it again and again, striving to remove every trace of the crime. Inglorion finally emerges, shivering. There are no towels, so he wrings out his hair as best he can, shakes himself off, and dresses in the clean clothes Ajax brought. In the damp of the Underdark, there’s no point in waiting around to air-dry. Curiously, now that he’s dressed, his wet hair and clammy clothing distress him more than their surroundings or the crime he just committed.

Ajax returns to their quarters. Inglorion has one more stop to make. He takes the bundle of stained clothes and follows a series of tunnels quite far — two miles, at least — to a distant tunnel that forms part of the city-state’s defenses. He places the bundle roughly 50 yards down the corridor and retreats to the trigger point. If the dwarfish slaves engineered it correctly, he should be able to collapse some portion of the tunnel by pulling a single lever. None of this is too precise — it’s a last-ditch defense to be used in case of a siege.

Inglorion rehearses the escape route mentally — he’s been doing look-backs all along. He peers down the corridor both ways, takes a deep breath, and throws the lever.

At first, it seems like nothing’s happened. There’s a firm click, indicating he engaged the mechanism, then silence. Next, a soft groaning, and a trembling that feels deep and menacing. Inglorion takes that as his cue, and scrambles down the corridor with desperate speed, swearing viciously from sheer terror. He smacks his head hard against some damn cave feature or another, trips a few times in the mud and dust. The whole time, his senses are overwhelmed with roaring and shaking. A roiling cloud of dust and shrapnel engulfs him from behind, and rocks start slamming down from above.

After several chaotic moments, he makes it to a larger, reinforced passage. He can still hear distressingly loud rumbling and creaking behind him, and as he trots down the passageway, a few large jolts throw him to his knees. By the time he gets back to the large cavern near his quarters, the collapse seems to have ended. Within a few moments, Drow and slaves alike are standing around in knots chattering excitedly about what just happened.

Inglorion slips into his own quarters and finds Ajax in the storeroom. He collapses onto a handy box and sits there panting.

“Was that you just now?” asks Ajax.

“Yeah.”

“You’ve created a distraction, sir. Is that what you meant to do?”

“Nope. You know, next time I have to hide evidence, I’ll burn it or dig a fucking hole.”

They sit there for a moment, listening to the agitation outside.

Inglorion asks, “No one’s found her?”

“It’s early, sir. No one has reason to enter her quarters for another hour or so.”

“Fair point.”

“Do you feel like you could settle into trance, sir?”

“I just knifed two people in cold blood and brought half the city-state down by accident. My hair’s wet, and I gave myself a fucking concussion fleeing a cave collapse. So, you know, I’m a little bit on edge.”

“Give it a minute, then. Anyway, your forehead’s bleeding.” Ajax fetches a basin of water and a rag, and tends to the cut on Inglorion’s forehead. “It’s not bad, sir, though the bruise is ugly. No need for a bandage.”

“Too bad there’s no ice.” Now, with Ajax cleaning blood from his hairline for the second time that night, Inglorion realizes that he’s tired. The extraordinary energy of the last few days has ebbed. He yawns. “When will Ancilla be back?”

“In an hour or two, sir. I don’t think they’ll cut the festival short because of the collapse. The Drow are used to such things.”

“I wonder how long I should wait before seeing Her Grace?”

“What did she say?”

“That I should have objective evidence and lessons learned and such.”

“Perhaps give it a day or two, sir. There may be more lessons to come. Do you have evidence?”

“Everyone does. I left calling cards.”

Ajax pauses, blinks, sets down the basin and rag. “You left calling cards, sir?”

“I know. I didn’t intend to, but that’s what I did. Right between the eyes.” He’s very sleepy now, and as the adrenaline drains from his body, the whole thing suddenly strikes him as funny. “Was that a mistake?”

“I don’t know, sir. It’s not usual when committing a political assassination.” Ajax masters himself, resumes his Drow impassivity. “Perhaps you’ll set a fashion.”

“Now that you mention it, I should have just dropped the bundle of bloody clothes on her doorstep.” He sighs. “My sister Sieia says I’m a ‘crazy motherfucker with good luck.’” He says the phrase in High Elvish. “Gray elves don’t have a word for androktasiai.”

“It seems like they need one. What did they call your father?”

“Either ‘sir’ or General Field Marshal. I called him ‘that fucking asshole.'”

“So it was implied in his title,” Ajax says, apparently seriously. “Soon you’ll be Your Lordship. And after that, Your Grace.”

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