22. You’re Too Valuable to Die

The scene at the Lavyryx farm is peaceful and quiet. The farmyard is overgrown, and parts of it have been trampled. The scouts from Liamelia made no particular effort to hide their tracks. The front door of the farmhouse is off its hinges, and the windows-glass is long-gone. Ajax and Inglorion exchange a glance. Inglorion shrugs, climbs up the front stairs and into the parlor. Both he and Ajax choke at the stench. Ajax clamps a hand over his mouth and nose, and Inglorion mutters, “Fuck.”

It’s a small room — no more than 15 x 15 feet.The walls and ceiling are liberally stained with dried blood. There’s a heap of twisted, blood-stained bedding in the middle of the floor, and it’s crawling with flies. Gagging and half-blind, Inglorion and Ajax grab opposite ends, roughly bundle up the dozen or so sheets, blankets and bedrolls, and toss them outside. They gather up a few more random items — pillows, jackets, a pair of boots — and hurl them on top of the pile in the yard. Inglorion fully expects to feel the weight of a body, or at least a severed limb or two, but there’s nothing. Just blood-crusted linens and a random hank of hair with a scrap of dried-out scalp attached.

With no glass or doors to confuse them, the flies disperse in a few moments. Now that the room is cleared, Inglorion notices that someone’s used a dagger to fix a scrap of paper above the fireplace mantle. He pulls the dagger out — it’s Drow workmanship, not expensive, but elegant and well-balanced — and examines the bit of parchment.

It’s a hand-drawn Xyrec calling card: Two rapiers crossed with the basket hilts down, against the backdrop of a black Ace of Spades. Underneath, the Xyrec motto, Aphion Zhah Au.

Ajax walks over, peers at it over Inglorion’s shoulder. “A Xyrec raider. How odd.”

“Exactly. Hand-drawn on fine parchment, too. You can’t get anything like that in the Underdark. ‘Death is Nearby.’ The scouting party from Liamelia just left. They couldn’t have missed it.”

“No, sir. And it can’t have been left by the Drow troops. They wouldn’t carry a raider calling card.”

“No. It would have been a Ten of Hearts, or a Xyrec Ten of Spades.” Inglorion folds up the paper, carefully wraps the dagger in a handkerchief and tucks it in his cloak pocket.

They search the rest of the house. It’s consistent with the descriptions they’ve heard, but somehow smaller than Inglorion had imagined. The kitchen and pantry are bloodstained, while the upstairs is merely dreary: an airless warren of little bedrooms and servants’ quarters, bare of furniture, dotted with piles of trash. They find a cave vent in the cellar, as expected, and Ajax looks at it longingly — he’s more than ready to bolt for the stables. The scene makes both of them wish for the dim, cool Underdark.

Inglorion says, “Hey, Ajax, I need your help with something else.”

“Yes, Your Lordship?” Ajax turns away from the cave vent reluctantly.

“I want to seek a vision tonight.”

“Here, sir?”

“Yes. I’ll need you to stand guard, in case anything should happen. We’ll use one of the bedrooms on the second floor.”

“Of course, Your Lordship,” says Ajax sadly.

The cross-ventilation is poor, even after they’ve thrown open all the interior doors. It’s miserably hot and humid, and they both imagine that they can smell blood and hear the flies in the yard below. Inglorion writes his report while Ajax rigs noise traps at the foot of the stairs and outside the bedroom door and makes himself a nest in the corner. He plays dice, right hand against left, while Inglorion copies the report into the correct cypher, and secures it in a double-locking bag.

By now it’s just after sunset. The clouds are heavy, and the sky is dark. “There’s lightning to the West,” says Inglorion. “Something’s coming off the ocean.” They smell salt and wet earth. The breeze picks up, and suddenly blows cool.

Ajax frowns. He has a feline distaste for rain.

“Might as well get to it,” says Inglorion, unbuttoning his shirt and stripping it off. He removes his sword belt, boots and jewelry, too, as if he were preparing for surgery. He rifles through his pack, pulls out the wooden case Alecto sent.

It’s lovely, actually, with a silver clasp and hinges, and lined with red velvet. The three syringes are tucked inside, cushioned with gauze, wrapped in brown paper and secured with twine. Ajax selects and unwraps one, carefully saving the wrappings. He’ll return them and the syringes to Alecto — even the packaging is precious in the Underdark.

“Each one is a single dose, Your Lordship?”

“I suppose so. She said she was sending three.” The syringe looks dauntingly large, but they always do. Inglorion feels nauseated just looking at it, and his pulse quickens with dread.

“Give me your belt, sir.” He hands it over, and Ajax loops it just below Inglorion’s right bicep. “Make a fist.” He makes a little tsk-tsking noise, flicks a vein to bring it up. “You’re dehydrated, Your Lordship.” Inglorion shrugs. “Hold still.” Ajax slips the needle in, then angles it downward sharply. “Got it. Relax your hand.” He removes the belt, depresses the plunger.

A sickening cold spreads rapidly from the injection site, and Inglorion looks away. “I hate that so much,” he mutters.

“Almost done, sir.” Ajax uses a bit of the gauze to press down, then slides the needle out.

As Ajax binds it up, Inglorion feels the drug hitting. It’s as if the world around him is a wet oil painting, suddenly smeared, then gouged with a palette knife. Ajax says something that Inglorion can’t make out. He turns his head to retch. The motion feels wrong, disproportionate somehow. He’s spinning, and the taste of bile fills his throat.

Then he’s spreadeagled on his back, wrists and ankles bound. His father is sitting before him, between his spread legs. It takes a moment for him to grasp that this time he is Philomela. 

Tereus looks angelic. His expression is humble. He’s got a tray covered with little dishes of various foods, much like what a child would select to feed a strange insect: meat, greens, root vegetables, bread, cooked rice, milk, tea, all in small amounts. 

He’s wearing civilian clothing: A white linen shirt and breeches. He’s removed his sword belt. They’re in a small, windowless, stone cell. Tereus has lit a single votive candle, which rests on the tray. 

“Are you sure you don’t want something?” he asks softly. “Just tell me what you want. I can’t untie you, but I’ll feed it to you.” He smiles sweetly. “I know you’re hungry.” He waits. She’s silent.

Inglorion has never felt such a violent, choking sense of anger as he feels now, in his mother’s body. She glares at Tereus, refuses to look at the food he’s brought. It horrifies Inglorion to stare down that dark-eyed doppelganger. Bad enough to hear that almost teasing tone in his own voice. 

He cocks his head, and loads a spoon with stewed greens. “I swear it’s good. I made it myself.” 

She clenches her jaw, averts her face.

“I won’t force you.” He seems genuinely distressed. “Perhaps if I leave it here? My dear, you have to eat. You’re too valuable to die.” He watches her for a moment. “I hope you’ll drink something, too. There’s tea and mead and milk. I’ll untie one hand. I can’t leave any utensils, of course.” He pockets the knife and fork and spoon, loosens her bonds so that she can reach the food. He leaves, taking the candle with him. 

She can smell the herbs and vinegar in the salad, the cooked meat, even the fruit. She is badly tempted. She would like to put her face down close to the meat, smell it, hold it in her mouth. But she cannot. She must remain entirely pure and strong. Bad enough that she’s a captive. She loves the smells, revels in them, but makes no motion towards the food, exactly as if he were there, urging her to eat it.

After an hour or so he returns. She’s fallen into a kind of swoon from hunger and thirst. She dug her nails into her palms, hit herself once, twice. But she did not touch the food or drink her enemy offered. He seems genuinely disappointed and concerned.

He murmurs, “Look, darling, we can’t have this. You’ll make yourself ill.” He eyes her for a moment. “Very well. I can’t let this go on.” He grabs her hand, and though she struggles grimly, he ties it up again, cruelly tight. “I apologize — You’re not going to like this. He looks at her one last time, almost pleading. “Last chance. No? OK.” He tackles her, slams his full weight down on her, almost 200 pounds to her 85, and binds her upper arms and throat to the cot she’s lying on. He grips her jaw firmly. Steadily, remorselessly, he feeds a flexible plastic tube up her nose. She struggles in earnest terror now, whimpering with rage and fear. When she tries to bite him, he says curtly, “I wouldn’t. You’re bleeding already. You could be seriously injured.” 

And so she lies there, shivering with revulsion, as he threads the tube into her stomach, and begins to drip some nauseating, viscous liquid in. Her eyes and nose are streaming. She gags.

He gives her jaw a little shake. “Hold still. I’ll hurt you if I have to.”

She has a sensation of drowning. She can smell the sickly sweet, violet-flavored liquid. 

“Almost done. Hold steady, honey. Shh.” He strokes her cheek. “There. I won’t say it wasn’t that bad. I’m sure it was.” He tapes the tube into place, leaves her hands bound. As he loosens the straps on her forehead and neck, she tries to head-butt him. A flash of pure rage crosses his face. He slaps her once, firmly. “Don’t ever, ever do that.” He waits. “Are you done?”

She snarls at him and tries to spit, and he slaps her again, hard enough that she sees stars. She hears real anger in his voice: “Don’t try me. I will fucking pound you.”

She doesn’t try him this time. But soon she will.

Inglorion snaps back to consciousness. Ajax is slapping him, struggling to turn him over. Inglorion rolls onto his side, vomits violently, hears Ajax say, “I was afraid you would choke.”

When Inglorion’s done retching he gasps, “Good call. Oh, God —” More violent heaves. He realizes he’s still very high. He keeps graying out, and time contracts and stretches unaccountably. He feels Ajax cleaning around him, wiping his face and hands, saying something soothing. Inglorion finds himself struggling without meaning to. He means to curl up quietly on his side.

He cannot find trance. He’s submerged again instead.

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