Vir's Archive

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Precipice Part 2: In The Face of the Enemy


Jarious allowed his center of gravity to shift forward, placing even more weight on his knee to add acute pressure onto the sternum of the Thrall he pinned to the earth.  The Thrall shifted wildly as the discomfort increased.  Jarious kept his balance.  There was no real threat of the Thrall escaping since the leather manacles binding his hands and feet ensured his movements were minor thrashings and acts of defiance rather than any meaningful attempt to run.  Still, Jarious had no desire to have to endure the snickering of his mates were he to fall off the prisoner, especially as he was trying to look menacing in advance of the interrogation. 

Jarious, the rest of his wolfling unit, and the elf-slave prisoner were all secluded in a copse of woods that dominated a low hill.  The woods were thankfully thick, giving the unit a good amount of cover.  The thick underbrush and heavy canopy would muffle the screams as well, if it came to that.  Two of Jarious’ men, Fovreh and Torrain, stood nearby in the opening where they had secured their prisoner.  The others, Arrious, Grawfn, and Morrow were all out of sight and, presumably, staying busy. 

In the distance carrion birds landed amidst the burning carts – the remnants of an imperial supply convoy Jarious’ crew had successfully ambushed. 

He brought his head in close to the Thrall’s while maintaining eye contact the whole time.  We both know where this is going, he thought.  Deep down, his crew knew just how much Jarious detested these interrogations.  While necessary, he hated being the one to have to do them.  He constantly flirted with the idea of giving over the process to either Fovreh or Torrain, but he knew their personalities were not suited for this type of work.  Fovreh, the mage, had a bone to pick with his former slave-masters.  Torrain, the stalker, was just plain angry.  Sure, they would love to take over, both of them, but they would enjoy making their prisoners hurt.  They would lose focus, and the focus had to be on useful information, not trying to right past wrongs.

The problem was, even with Jarious’ high minded ideals about the necessity of violent interrogations, he found himself straying, and as often as not concentrated more on venting his frustrations through his prisoner than with the mission.  If he couldn’t avoid allowing his emotions get in the way from time to time, then there was no way he would allow Fovreh or Torrain to take over. 

There was also Arrious, Morrow and Grawfn, but they too didn’t have the personalities to do the job.  Arrious hated torture and interrogation even more than Jarious and was much more vocal about it.  Morrow, the unit’s shaman, outright refused.  Further, Jarious was reluctant to force his big brother to do something that distasteful.  Grafwn… well, interrogation by a dwarf was a laughable and losing proposition no matter how he looked at it. 

So, that left him to do the deed.  Again. 

Great.

To make matters worse, Jarious had to get what information he could as quickly as possible.  Imperial reinforcements were likely on the way.  He had Arrious on lookout outside of the copse of trees they currently hid inside watching for signs of battle-troops.  Grawfn fiddled with the unit’s packs, balancing out provisions and poultices in an all-too-transparent effort to make busy work.  Fovreh and Torrain looked on, just a few steps away. 

Jarious looked the Thrall up and down, it was a standard example of the human slaves that served their elven masters.  The Thrall was clean-shaven and bald, which showed off the many whorl tattoos across his body, arms and head.  Stripped of everything but his pants, the tattoos swirled and arced across every bit of exposed flesh.  The markings indicated the Thrall as the direct personal property of an elven house, and not just a mere nameless slave.  Normal slaves didn’t have the tattoos.  Fovreh, a former slave himself, had informed the unit that the tattoos were a form of Siandar, the elven script.  The tattoos named the thrall, indicated his owners, and his duties.  There was a lot more to it and the color of the script also conveyed information, Fovreh had once informed them, but no one other than the mage had any desire to learn the “letters” of the Eternal Empire. 

On close inspection, small raises, scarring and regular imperfections on the Thrall’s skin communicated the tell-tale signs of abuse to Jarious’ trained eye.  Like rings on a tree, Jarious could read the scars and get an idea of how long the Thrall had served directly rather than just as a slave, and just how torturous their service had been.

This Thrall, a man, hadn’t served too long.  Fovreh said the tattoos indicated the Thrall was in service to House Vilandallaril, a House known for its brutality and excesses with human, orcish and dwarven slaves.  The many irregular scars across the Thrall’s back and face reinforced the belief that he was a Vilandallaril Thrall -- they tended to hold to the old ways and use blades to motivate their property rather than whips or magic.

So, this guy is used to physical pain, Jarious surmised.  Fair enough. 

Fovreh once told Jarious that Vilandallaril didn’t allow their Thralls to learn arcane magic.  Most elven Houses did, but Vilandallaril disdain for their servants went deeper than most.  The Vilandallaril elves kept magic exclusively to themselves, and used it to awe and frighten their slaves. 

We break his mind, then. 

He pushed his weight even farther forward bringing his head in close to the Thrall’s face, staring into the prisoner’s eyes the whole way – never breaking contact.  The pressure on the prisoner’s sternum finally yielded results as Jarious could detect wheezing and labored breathing.  Not coincidentally, the Thrall’s thrashings slowed considerably. 

This battle was won.  The Thrall just didn’t know it, yet. 

“Where were you headed?” Jarious asked in as level a voice as he could muster.  He was speaking human, not the Imperial tongue nor Siandar. 

No answer.  More thrashing.

“Where were you headed?”  Jarious paused.  “Look, this can go easy or it can go hard.  Personally, I want it to go easy.  I am tried and angry and am liable to take it out on you.  From the looks of it, you are pretty used to physical abuse so I figure you are thinking that you can outlast me.  Trust me, slave, that’s not the case.  You are in my world.  In my world, I sleep cold.  I don’t eat enough. My compatriots are sarcastic jerks and way too good at dice.  As hard as you think you may be, I am harder.”

Still nothing.

“This ends one of two ways and you have the power to decide how it goes down.  In the next few seconds you answer my questions and we let you go.  We’ll probably beat the living daylights out of you just before hand, but you will live.  Otherwise, I let the former Thrall over there do very bad things to you with magic.  You don’t want that to happen.  He’s depraved and an emotional disaster due to his time with your masters.  He’s unstable and unpredictable in his use of magic.  There is no doubt you will not be the same when he finishes with you.  This is not physical torture we are talking about.  Worse, I’ll make sure he doesn't kill you, so you will have to live with the things he is going to do.”  Jarious paused for effect.  “Long story short, your life will be miserable.  Your mind will break.  You will hurt for the rst of your days.  Your masters will not have you back.  Your people will shun you.  You will have nowhere to go.  I expect your life will end in some sort of pathetic suicide, probably in your own feces.  Its going to be that bad.

“Know who you are dealing with, slave.  We are the children of the great Kandarod kingdom, the legacy of the Car’had Hadad company.  That’s who we are.  Even when our forebears were legitimized, they didn’t play by the rules.  You weren't lucky enough to have been captured by the Sha’at Hadad legacy, you got us.”

With the mention on the Car’had Hadad the Thrall’s eyes reacted, growing just a little larger at the mention of the historical military company with the unfortunate tendency to ritualistically eat their prisoners after a successful campaign.  Other than the ever-so-subtle reaction, the Thrall tried to remain stoic. 

Jarious nodded over to Fovreh.  Fovreh acknowledged the order and bent over to put down the pack he was holding, drew out two skinning knives, wiped his bald head once, and stood back up.  The look on Fovreh’s face was the epitome of greedy joy, the same look a starving man would give to a well prepared meal.  His smile was unnaturally wide, and his eyes positively sparkled with anticipation.  He walked over to Jarious and the prisoner, picking a piece of food out from his teeth with the larger of the two skinning knives. 
If Fovreh’s eyes didn’t convince the Thrall to talk, nothing would. 

“Tai Droon Nar,” the Thrall said in Imperial through gritted teeth.  “Tai Droon Nar.  The Imperial Manse.  We were going to the Manse.” 

Jarious stuck with the human tongue despite the Thrall’s answer.  “Wrong.”  He slapped the thrall using the back of his hand with as much force as he could muster. 

Fovreh slowly bent over the Thrall and let the point of the largest blade rest in the middle of the prisoner’s forehead.  Despite Fovreh’s light touch he drew blood.  He held the blade steady. 

“You were traveling southwest, and nowhere near the Manse.  Try again,” Jarious demanded.
The Thrall’s eyes were large and fixated on Fovreh.

“Thra Nar!” the Thrall practically yelled in the human tongue.  “We were going to Thra Nar.  Truth!  Our travel was from the city of Su Tavish to Thra Nar, with goods from the mountain city.  It was a simple supply run for the House, that’s all.  Now get him away from me!”

Curious
Fovreh, who was eye level with Jarious, looked at his commander with a cocked eyebrow.

“Su Tavish hasn’t been inhabited for lifetimes.  Its just ruins,” Jarious noted, “why would you be going there?”

“I don’t know!” the Thrall desperately stammered as Fovreh’s knife seductively traced circles on his cheek.  At that very moment the blade started to glow asickly acidic green, heated by a previously prepared spell Fovreh had worked on in anticipation of the moment.  Where the blade touched skin, a fine trail of painful melted skin followed.  The addition of the magical effect was pronounced.  The Thrall started to tear up. 

“Look!  Look at my markings!  I am a retainer.  That’s all, you freaks.  I don’t deal directly with the Lords.  I merely manage their stock.  I don’t know anything.”  The Thrall was nearly apoplectic as the knife burned more skin away.  “Thirty two slaves.  We had thirty two before you attacked and had them run off.  We had ore and building supplies as well.  Nothing special.  Just… just stuff.  Please.  Please let me go.”

Jarious paused, steadied himself, and looked at both Fovreh and Torrain.  They both nodded.  Fovreh removed the knife from the Thrall’s ruined face. 

“Okay.  One more question.  Was this a single drop, or is it going to be the start of a regular supply run?”
“I… I’m not sure.  I think so.  I think we were the second run from the mountains to Thra Nar.”

Before the Thrall was done speaking Arrious jogged into the clearing.  “Jarious, it looks like the follow forces are making their way to what’s left of the convoy.  They are kicking up quite a dust cloud, so I am guessing a hundred or more.  Moving at a good clip.  They probably see the fires and smoke.  Not sure how many are combat forces.” 

“I’d rather not find out.”  Jarious said, still with locked eyes on the Thrall. 

Time to go. 

With what he needed in hand, Jarious unceremoniously leapt up from the Thrall’s chest.  He heard a sharp “POP” with the last bit of pressure applied by his knee– probably a broken rib.  The Thrall’s breathing immediately became significantly more labored. 

Okay, maybe not just a rib, but a punctured lung as well.  He gave a quick nod to Torrain, who got to work removing the manacles and replacing them with old rope.  The Thrall stayed still during the switch, emotionally and physically exhausted. 

Jarious addressed the Thrall as he gathered his things.  “Look, slaver.  You are a disgrace to our kind.  You may have been forced into your life, but you had the freedom at any point to abandon your House.  You willingly put men, women and children into bondage.  Being from House Vilandallaril it is a safe bet that you learned from your masters and did very bad things to our people.  I don’t want to imagine what.  For that, you are no better than the elves.  You deserve to die and we probably should eat you.”

That last bit Jarious threw in for dramatic effect.  He and the boys would laugh about it around the fire tonight.

“But we won't.  Not this time, at least.” 

Jarious turned his back on the prisoner and made a quick circle in the air with his finger and signaled the unit to grab their packs, weapons and supplies and get moving.  Their advantage over the Imperials was speed, and they needed it now.  The wolflings jumped into action.  Morrow, who had been off on his own until a few seconds ago, trotted off to alert Arrious that they were leaving.

“Hey. Hey!  What… about me?  I am… still tied up.  You promised.” The Thrall wheezed after Jarious.

Jarious turned around.  “Yell really loud.  Imperial forces are bound to come by to see what was lost.  You may get lucky.”  He spit on the ground and turned back around to walk away. 

Arrious caught up to the rest of the wolflings as they left the copse of trees and come up beside Jarious.  Jarious waved Arrious away without making eye contact; he was in no mood to talk.  

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I'll post thoughts on this in the next couple days.  Until then, please feel free to comment or analyze.