33. Shoot Me Up Already

Soundtrack: Download, “Separate”

Inglorion is standing in the anteroom just outside the throne room. Cabinet officials linger here and there, chatting in twos and threes, because the poor acoustics allow them to speak in relative privacy. Clytemnestra is trying to guide Philomela out of the throne room, past members of the Xyrec delegation, who are trying to intercept the Duchess by taking up posts in the aisle and by the door.

Alecto approaches him and murmurs, “Your Lordship, would you be willing to seek further visions?” She’s dressed as some kind of arachnoid demon, including a grotesque mask of hammered metal. Inglorion finds her outfit disconcerting, but is forced to admit that if he had one like it, he would wear it at every opportunity, particularly when persuading noblemen to be injected with a hallucinogen.

“To what end, madam?”

“The gods demand it.”

“Pardon me?” Suddenly he feels deeply tired. The scene seems ominous and bizarre. He dislikes spiders, and isn’t eager to accept spiritual instruction from a creature furnished with four times the number of eyes he expects in an elf. Among other things, he’s not certain which eyes he should look into. Of course, it’s a mask. He should look at the eye-slits above the pedipalps.

“The divination at the temple indicates it, Your Lordship,” Alecto says. “The signs are clear. A channel must be opened up to the gods.”

Aboveground, Inglorion’s accustomed to being an unusually devout man in a secular society. In the Underdark, he has to deal with shit like this. Finally he says, “Very well. Come to my chambers at midnight. I’ll return there after I see Her Grace.”

That evening Philomela manages to eat a bit, and swallows two glasses of water. Normally they sit silently, but tonight he speaks to her softly, at random. He describes the contents of Ajax’s Museum of Aboveground Curiosities. He’s tempted to sing to her, like he would to Rosalee, but still feels some awe in her presence. She settles into trance in his arms, and he slips away.

Alecto appears in his quarters just before midnight. “Have you eaten today?”

“Um. I think so. Maybe at lunch.” They both consider this.

“Ajax and I will turn you over if you start to vomit, Your Lordship,” she says helpfully.

“Indeed, I don’t know why I would feel any reluctance. I’ve spent my career in the Underdark puking from drugs and poison.”

“Are you prepared for this, Your Lordship?”

“Almost certainly not,” he says impatiently. “Every vision I’ve has has been disturbing and irrelevant to the question at hand. I think of it as a way to learn things I don’t want to know at the worst possible time.”

“Your Lordship…”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he says irritably, and swiftly unbuttons his shirt, strips it off, removes his belt, loops it around his arm, makes a fist and extends it towards her. “Just shoot me up already.”

And so she does.

He is Philomela. A priestess, Tisiphone, is by his side, dressed in military garb. They step through a doorway into a farmhouse — the door is shattered on its hinges — and find themselves in a small, crowded parlor. Two Xyrec troops are guarding two bound, unconscious prisoners: Tereus Shelawn and a younger, male elf with similar coloring.  Six more troops clatter up the stairs and down the hall, carrying three more bound prisoners: Two redheaded women, one quite lovely, and a male elf in his early 20s. His face is badly cut up, and he appears to be gagged with a wad of bloody rags bound in place with fabric strips. Two more Drow follow with the last of the prisoners: A girl in her early teens, and a male toddler swaddled tightly in a Xyrec cloak.

The Drow captain, Artemis, says, “Can we take the boy, madam? He’ll be our fee.”

“We have a few days’ work to do here,” says Philomela.

“How many troops do you need?”

“Perhaps six, besides myself and the priestess.”

“Astynax and I will bring him back. The others can follow.”

Tisiphone darts a hard glance at Artemisia, but her tone and expression are bland. She gives a guarded nod to Philomela, who says, “Very well. Help us to gather the dead, then you can be on your way.”

It takes an hour, using makeshift stretchers, to collect the dead and injured Drow. They’re scattered throughout the garden and fields, from the tree line to extreme close crossbow range. Two can walk despite their injuries; three are unconscious. The remainder were killed immediately, or have bled out. They stack the dead and unconscious Drow in the basement. Philomela stands at the top of the stairs with Artemis and Tisiphone. “Do you want to take those two?” Philomela asks, jerking her chin towards the walking wounded as healthy troops lead them through the kitchen. 

Artemis considers. It’s a two-day march back, through wood elf territory. “No.”

Philomela says, “Very well,” and makes a throat-cutting gesture to the troops supporting them. The healthy Drow nod briskly, and one draws her dagger on the spot.

“Walk them down first, unless you want to carry them,” she says.

“Yes, madam.”

The three retreat from the top of the stairs and wait in the parlor. “If that’s all you need, madam, we’ll leave with the slave,” says Artemis. “Will you file a report upon your return?”

“No,” says Philomela coldly. “Neither should you. I’ll handle any necessary communications.” After Artemis departs, Philomela asks Tisiphone, “Should we start tonight? We have four hours of darkness.”

“Madam, the troops should eat and have trance first. I would suggest that we move the prisoners to the barn and begin at nightfall tomorrow.”

“Very well.”

The following evening, Tisiphone and Philomela pace around the stable yard. Tisiphone explains to Philomela how they will proceed. She says, “A stimulant is administered to the captives to counteract the tranquilizer, and to keep them awake and conscious. At the same time, the troops will receive an hallucinogen which disinhibits them and places them in a highly suggestible state. You will issue orders in operational language. You and I will watch to ensure that the orders are carried out as intended. Both injections last roughly 10 hours. They can be re-administered periodically, or the troops can be tranquillized and allowed to rest. 

“You must monitor the troops’ condition and activities, but you need not help to carry out the orders unless you wish to. We will both be armed with tranquilizer guns and poisoned arrows in case they should misinterpret or resist orders, or behave in unanticipated ways.”

Philomela nods. They pace back and forth across the hard-packed dirt. Finally she asks, “I’ll have to watch?”

“You must. I can’t safely monitor the situation on my own. Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

“You know what orders you plan to give and how?”

“Yes.”

Tisiphone does not don full ceremonial robes, but she does put on an arachnoid mask and headdress. She unfolds a red cloth on the ground, arranges the syringes and ampoules. Philomela whistles the troops to lead the captives out, and to lash them to the split-rail fence at intervals. They’re bound at multiple points, arranged so that their weight is evenly distributed, and their arms and legs are spread.

Tisiphone addresses the troops briefly. They stand in a circle, eyes lowered, faces averted. “We will begin with a religious ceremony to consecrate our activities. It’s necessary for you to receive an injection. You may feel odd or ill. Remain still until you receive orders, and follow those orders implicitly.

“We will care for you during and after the ceremony. You may place your trust in your commander and priestess.”

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