She desperately wanted to know what they were doing, why she was pretending to be something she wasn’t, but it wasn’t like it was the first time she’d had to pretend. Mélanie let that lazy little smile grace her lips and swept her gaze over the place like she was slightly too good for the sleazy little slave pen and everyone in it.
“Very good,” her new owner murmured, and Mélanie nearly lost the act.
“Sir,” she replied, in the same quiet tone, “if you make me giddy…”
“Ah, my apologies. You’re new, and it’s been a while since I’ve had anyone new. We’re nearly there, just this little crowd of toughs…”
The little crowd of toughs was five very tall, very broad, very creepy looking men and three collared men, all of them smaller than the free men but none a single bit less creepy. Mélanie pretended to consider the collared ones for sale – she wouldn’t have bought any of them, except maybe that one with the handlebar mustache, and he needed a bath – and then the thugs themselves. The shortest of those might have been nice, but he would have fought the collar forever, and she was not generally a fan of such things.
The cart brought her back to herself. It was just that – not a carriage or a wagon but a cart hitched to two big draft horses. She looked it over and did not show anything, because she was practicing not showing anything at all.
“Up on in,” he urged her, and lifted her in just as he said it. Mélanie didn’t have time to complain or even to wriggle before she was sitting on the bench seat of the wagon.
“It’s not a limo,” he said dryly, to – well, she wasn’t showing anything, so she didn’t know what he was responding to, but he did. “But it will get us where we’re going. And it doesn’t stick out.”
“Yes, sir.” What else was she going to say? Well, there was the obvious question. “Where are we going, sir? And… why…?”
“Why were we leaving in such a casual hurry? Because there are people there that think I owe them money, and it behooves me to not be looking flush. They won’t demand you in payment, but they might think if I’d paid for you I must have other liquid assets… you see?”
“I… see. And, ah…” His openness made her brave. “Do you owe them money… sir?”
“No. Well.” He clucked at the horses and got the cart going down the road. “That’s open to a certain amount of interpretation.”
“As in, you think you don’t, but they have reason to think they do?” Oh, returned gods, he was going to turn around and sell her back.
He laughed. “No, no. As in they think that I owe them ‘rent’ for crossing over their property line, and I think if they can’t stand there and collect their tolls, it’s not their land. And the deer wasn’t even on their property…”
“You’re a poacher!” She was horrified to find she was delighted.
“Guilty as charged, although I like to think that mostly I just take things that other people have forgotten or ignored. And certain people do think their borders extend further than they really ought, by any measure except their own pride and arrogance.” He grinned at her. She found that she was looking at his face, that it was a handsome face, if a bit scruffy and with an interesting scar across one cheek, and that she very much liked his grin.
She also found that she was grinning back at him.
“This sounds like a very interesting profession. But… you didn’t poach me.”
Now why had she said that? Oh, for that waggle of eyebrow. “Or did I?”
“… Did you?”
He leaned back on the bench seat and laughed happily. “No.” The laugh slid away. “Unfortunately, it’s precious hard to steal slaves and almost impossible to steal Kept. So, instead, I stole the goods I used to buy you. Some here, some there, but I hope that slaver doesn’t try to sell them in the local market. Well, okay, I don’t actually hope he doesn’t try to sell them, because he’s an asshole and deserves everything he has coming to him, but there’s a possibility I might need that market again.”
“Okay.” Mélanie took a breath. “So. You walked into a slave market past people whose taxes – tolls, extortion – you haven’t paid, bought a slave with stolen goods – did you steal the goods from those thugs? – and walked back out. Right?”
“Exactly. I didn’t steal the goods from those thugs; those came from a different set of thugs altogether. But you have the basics right. So, hello. My name is Jesper Lune. In certain circles, I’m called Fox-Crazy.” He held out his hand to her.
She had to be dreaming. Things this weird just did not happen in real life. “Hello, sa’Fox-Crazy. My name is Mélanie; I’m called Shadows at Dawn by certain people. And… you just bought me. Why?”
“Because I liked the way you looked.”
“Shivering and terrified?” She wrinkled her nose at him. “I’m not sure that’s a compliment.”
“Not that part. They had to chain you up to make you comply. You weren’t broken, you weren’t ready to be obedient.”
“…you just risked murder or worse to buy a slave that wasn’t ready to be obedient. Are you aware, sir, that you make no sense?”
“You see, that’s the fun part.”
This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/1298583.html. You can comment here or there.
This is Hurt/Comfort so comes with the warnings inherent in that. Also, Dungeon. And Fae Apoc.
I.e., people will be hurt, in a dungeon, and possibly treated as things.
Card is here: http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/1189081.html
There were ten of them in the dungeon, as far as he knew. Sometimes they would count off. They’d whisper their names into the dark, so that they wouldn’t forget them, so if any of them made it out of here, someone would remember who they’d been.
Nobody had any hope that their families would ever know what had happened to them. For the most part, they’d lost any hope that anyone they knew was still alive, any hope that they were ever getting out of here.
Sometimes, their captors would take one of them away. They used prods and tasers and a whip, and none of them were strong enough to fight it, not after a few days in the dungeon.
Sometimes they brought them back, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes when they brought them back, they lay on the floor of their little cage whispering “kill me” over and over again.
Sometimes, when they took him away, it was because someone wanted to use him. Sometimes, it was because they wanted to ‘beat the fae out of him’. Sometimes those were the same thing. He let his mind go away and tried to not be there for those times. Sometimes, it worked.
He didn’t think everyone here was fae, but he could only see the cage to the left of him, and in that one, the girl looked like she was half-lizard. They beat her, too, but the last time they’d tried, she’d taken a big bite out of one of them.
He hoped she’d found it tasty, because they hadn’t brought her food since, and there was only so much of his own food he could share with her. He was starving slowly… they were all starving slowly. Somehow, he didn’t think that would be what killed any of them. Not with the rest of it.
A light came on. They all fell quiet. The light wasn’t supposed to come on for a while — was it? The gnawing in his stomach was still at the mild just-ate-something stage and the pain in his back hadn’t subsided from the last time they’d dragged him out of here. But they liked to change their routines.
“Dead gods.” The voice wasn’t one he recognized, and the curse was a fae one. She sounded, he thought, horrified. Shit, had they found someone else? It’d been months — maybe? Long enough, at least, since they’d last brought someone in. He’d hoped whatever project they had in mind, they had enough of them for it.
“Can you see this? There’s more cages down here. Rows of them. Oh, fuck, Demmond.” He thought she was gagging. Frankly, he couldn’t blame her. “I think there’s something dead down here.”
“How could anything living handle that stench?” The second voice was male, and every bit as horrified as the woman. The stench – he wanted to say you get used to it – but he wasn’t sure, yet, that this wasn’t a trap.
Holding very still and staying very quiet, that’s what they’d been taught. They knew, all of them, what happened if they didn’t do either of those things. So he held very still and said nothing.
“Are they dead?” The woman’s voice came a little closer. He could hear her steps on the old stairs. “Oh, gods, look, blood. Someone hit their head here, I think. See?”
Her name had been Ginnie, and they’d dragged her out kicking and screaming. She’d never come back.
“They dented the stair. They really are sick fucks. I mean, we knew it already – shit. One of them moved. They’re not dead. Caroline, they’re not dead. At least one of them.”
“They’re not?” The steps down the stairs were quicker now. “Oh, fuck, to be living down here, to be stuck in these – they’re not even cells, are they? More like coffins with bars. Oh, shit, another one of them moved, and… Demmond, the paramedics are going to freak out.”
She’d stopped between his cage and the one next to him. She was staring at the lizard girl. Without moving, all he could see was her pants – trousers, they looked like nice ones – and black sneakers, so the staring was an assumption, but her legs were spread and she wasn’t speaking or moving.
“Shit,” Demmond whispered. “No way in fuck they can Mask, not in the state they’re in. Gods and demons. All right. Well, let’s get ‘em out and see how many of them are still alive.” He hesitated. “You start with her, I’ll take this one. I think his rib cage is moving. If not, I can give him a decent burial.”
He held his breath and held still as his cage opened. He knew what happened if he moved. He still had the bruises from the last time he’d tried.
“Hey. Hey, can you look at me?” The man’s voice – Demmond’s voice – was gentle.
He still didn’t move. He knew a trap when it was in front of him.
“Shit.” Demmond muttered something under his breath. A Working, magic. Idu – oh, no, oh, no, no. Not Idu Intinn.
“I’m reading his mind, Caroline. This is going to be tricky. He’s panicking, but he’s panicking ‘cause they’ve been fooled into believing things like us before, and they’ve turned out to be ‘traps’ to test their behavior. He’s scared to move without – without, oh, there we go. Forward.”
That was the word. Slowly, he crawled forward out of his cage.
“And – sorry, kid, I don’t like to do this, let’s see. Stand.”
He couldn’t. He got as far as his knees, but he couldn’t make his legs unbend. A keening sound came out of him that he couldn’t stop, and he flinched, waiting for the strike.
“Belay that last order. Shit. Okay, Caroline, you want ‘forward’. And then maybe… ‘wait?’ ‘Cause I don’t think they can stand. Shit, shit, fuck, damn.”
Suddenly the man was kneeling, looking him in the eye. “Do you remember your name?”
That was a trap. That was the worst trap. He shook his head no, no, managed to croak out a no, sir, but the name was there in his mind that wasn’t fair…
“Adamas. That’s a good name. Car, careful. They’ve been told not to remember their own names.”
“I know. But remember, we already got them. Hopefully the whole thing, root and vine. Now… now we have to help these guys.” Demmond’s voice was careful, calm. He sounded soothing.
He, Adamas, no, no.. shit. Adamas didn’t know whether the soothing was a good thing or just another trap. He stayed where he was, watching Demmond – who turned out to be a very tall, very broad man with very dark skin – and Caroline – who was probably only short and light-skinned in comparison to Demmond.
They were opening all the cages, coaxing all of the prisoners out, one at a time. Someone had called down the paramedics, and Demmond was murmuring a Working very softly.
A Mind working. Adamas tensed. That could be bad, that could be so bad – no. No, he was making sure the paramedics didn’t see anything but humans.
“But her tail…” the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. Adamas cringed back as best as he could without actually moving his legs.
“It’s all right. We’re going to have the paramedics stabilize her and record all of her… recordable injuries, all right? Then once she’s settled in the hospital, we’ll get a proper healer in for the rest. For all of you. But we want to be able to prosecute these assholes to the full extent of the law, and that means letting the human techs do their jobs. Okay?”
Adamas nodded slowly. Why was Demmond telling him all of this?
“The paramedics are going to have their hands full. Can you handle being down here with them without freaking out?”
“I…” His voice was barely a croak. He tried anyway. “I won’t freak out.”
“All right. All right. You don’t look like you’ve eaten in a month, but believe me, son, you’re in better shape than most of them here.”
“I…” he nodded slowly. “I’m tough.”
“I bet you are. All right. I’m gonna go get the EMTs. You wait here, and if you can, answer any questions Caroline has. Okay?”
Obeying he could do. Adamas nodded his head.
“Good. Good. All right, hold it together.” He was gone up the stairs, sprinting. Adamas didn’t watch . He didn’t like the stairs.
“Okay, Adam… no. Adamas. I’m Caroline.” She squatted down in front of him. “We’re talking to you because you’re in better shape than most of them here. If I give you water, can you drink it?”
“I-” He was allowed to drink what he was given. He nodded mutely.
“Good. Here.” She handed him a soda cup with a straw in it. He sipped cautiously, and then, finding it cool water, more eagerly.
“How long have you been down here, Adamas? You, and the rest of them?”
“I-” he sagged. “I don’t know. Some of them were here before me. The lizard girl, she was here before me. And the one in the back corner… Edwin. And one other one, but he doesn’t talk anymore. Marcel.”
“Good. Thank you. We’re going to get you out of here, and we’re going to have questions.” She looked him in the face. Adamas struggled not to look away. “Two questions. Can you testify? And can you testify without talking about fae things?”
Adamas cleared his throat. “Why me?” It sounded pitiful to his ears, but he didn’t mind all that much right now; he felt pretty pitiful too.
“Because right now, you’re coherent and moving. None of the rest of them are.”
“I’m tough,” he muttered. He’d thought that was a good thing until he ended up here.
“I bet you are. So. Can you?”
“Can I…” He winced. “Can I think about it?”
“Yes. Just – promise me you won’t vanish without giving me an answer, okay?”
Adamas ducked his head. He didn’t want to answer that one. He didn’t want to give her any answers at all.
She’d probably saved his life and he was pretty sure she had saved the lives of most of the other people in this dungeon. “I promise,” he muttered.
“Thank you.” She nodded up the stairs, and paramedics in their white uniforms came bustling down the stairs.
The next period of time was confusing for Adamas. He was almost strapped to a gurney, before Demmond stopped the paramedics. Instead, they moved him upstairs as carefully as they could, and a white-clad woman sat with him in the ambulance.
There were a lot of ambulances. He saw more move around than he thought there’d been people in the basement. Then he was sitting in one while a paramedic took his vitals and spoke quietly to him. He tried to answer the questions, but they seemed to be coming from very far away.
“Sir, stay with me. Do you know what day it is?”
He didn’t shake his head, because he thought it might fall off. “Is it winter?” he tried. “It was winter the last time I saw snow.”
He didn’t remember anything after that, but there was a warm hand in his, and the light was so bright.
He came to with people tutting quietly over him. “…underfed, clearly abused, three unhealed broken ribs and more damage than I can list in any reasonable amount of time. I’ve documented everything. I do hope you put these bastards away for good, but right now, what this young man needs is rest, fluids, and recuperation.”
He wasn’t in the dungeon anymore. He wasn’t… he tried to sit up and found that movement was difficult. He blinked his eyes instead. “The… the girl in the cage next to me?” His voice was a croak. His voice had been a croak for a long time. Edwin? Marcel? Ginny?” One by one he listed them all off – the dead or gone and the ones that had still been down there. “…Cary?”
The detective – Caroline? That was her name – sat down in a chair next to him. “Adamas, there were nine people in the dungeon with you. Two of them didn’t survive. One had been dead for a while; we think that’s Marcel, and a girl two cages down from you died on the way to the hospital.”
Adamas sighed. “At least they’re out of there.” He reached around. “Is there, please, water?”
“Here.” The detective held it out in a cup with a straw. “Drink slowly, all right, not much at once. They’ve got you on IV fluids and about a jillion other things I don’t really follow. But you’re healing up. So… do you have anyone we can call? Family? Friends?”
Adamas shook his head slowly. “No. Nobody. That’s probably how they got me.” He chewed on his lip for a moment. “I might be able to … No. It’s been too long.”
“All right. So… I would offer you my place, but that’s not going to work, because I’m working the case. So I’m going to ask you to trust me, Adamas. They’re going to let you out of here in a couple days, and I’m going to introduce you to a friend of mine. Someone not in law enforcement. Someone who can keep you safe while you recuperate.”
“What about… what about everyone else?”
“Demmond and I are working on it. We’ll find everyone a safe place to go, at least in the short term, and then, if you want, we can help you get back on your feet and independent.”
“If we want?” He was almost whispering. The doctor was still there. There were so many questions.
She patted his ankle gently. “We found paperwork. We have a good idea of how those bastards got at least some of you – and how many there’d been over the years. We can help you find – a suitable arrangement. Once you’re recovered.”
“Detective, he really needs to rest right now. There will be plenty of time for you to bother him later.” The doctor stood up. “They’ve all been through a great deal of trauma.”
Caroline also stood up. “And we endeavor to make sure they’re not going to have any more trauma, I assure you, Doctor. Thank you for your time. Adamas, I’ll be talking to you again. Thank you.”
“Wait.” They were leaving. He didn’t want them to leave. “Could – it’s lonely in here. I haven’t been alone in a long time. I-” He cringed. He was being very demanding; their tolerance wouldn’t last long.
The doctor’s expression softened. “I’ll see if some of the others want to share a room, how’s that? Many of them are worse off than you, though. You’ll have to keep that in mind. A couple haven’t spoken at all.”
“We were punished for speaking,” Adamas explained. “Or for moving. Or for – well, anything. We learned to be quiet.”
“And you? How come you’re willing to talk.”
He blushed and ducked his head. “The detectives told me I could.”
“The… and that worked because they were authority figures?” the doctor guessed.
“I think so. And they opened the cage. I figured that if they were going to open the cage and use the command words, they could tell me I could talk.” He ducked his head. Part of his mind was still waiting to be proven wrong, to be punished all over again.
“That’s… all right. Detective, do you know what the right command words are?”
“I know some of them, Demmond knows some of them. Do you want me to see if I can get the others to cooperate with you?”
“Cooperate,” Adamas whispered. “That’s one of them. It’ll work, but um.” He ducked his head and fell quiet. “Cooperate” was not a word that came with “talking.”
He could feel their eyes on him. “Is there a word that comes with less negative connotations?” The doctor sounded surprisingly gentle. “Adamas? What can we tell you to do that won’t hurt?”
“Rest,” Adamas whispered. “Rest is a good one.” He hadn’t heard “rest” very often; he didn’t think any of them had. “The… gentle? one, she used ‘rest.’”
“The gentle one?” Caroline asked. He could tell that she wanted to be sharp. He appreciated she was trying not to be.
“There was one. I mean. I thought she was supposed to be the good cop. But I think she was…. better. Better than the rest. I don’t know. Some of us, we thought she used to be in the cages, too, in the dungeon. But people who were in the cages, they didn’t walk out.” He swallowed hard. “They left, you know. But they didn’t walk out. I didn’t think any of us would.” He barked out a little laugh. “Guess we didn’t, after all.”
Caroline patted his shoulder very gently. “All right. ‘Rest.’” She looked him in the eye. “Rest, Adamas. I’ll come see you when you’re ready to go home.”
There were five of them in the hospital room. They still spoke in whispers, because none of them could quite believe that there was no punishment coming, that they were free – or would be free, when they were healed. They whispered their names, and what they’d been told.
“The women,” whispered Cary. “She said ‘rest,’ and then she said we didn’t have to serve again. I asked… how long.”
“You asked?” hissed Kari. “Are you trying to get punished?”
“She didn’t punish me! She said ‘rest’ again, and said I could rest as long as I wanted.”
“She told us all to rest.” Edwin had managed to pull himself up in his bed. “Guys, I think maybe this is for real. But – how did they know the words?”
“I told them,” Adamas whispered. “The doctor, he wanted us to cooperate, so we didn’t get healed.” He stopped talking while the other four hissed and twitched. “I told him that was a bad word.”
“You told them?” Don hissed. “Told them?“
“I… I think this is really not a trap. I think we are really being saved. I don’t know why. I don’t know how they found out about us. But I think they are really the law – the human law,” he added, so much more quietly “-and I think that they caught the people.” Their tormentors had never been anything but Them or the people, as if giving them a name somehow would give them even more power. “I think that they really will take them to trial. So we will need to testify, so we can hurt Them back.”
“Human law?” Kari breathed. “That won’t hold Them. Not all of them.”
“It will hold them for a while, especially if human law is enforced by people who’re like us. It will hold them while we heal. While we get stronger. While we remember how to stand,” he murmured, and he meant both literally and figuratively. “That’s long enough. We can be ready when the human law can’t hold Them anymore. And you know what will happen then.”
The hisses settled into quiet murmuring. They nodded, one of them – Edwin – and then the rest of them. “We can testify,” Edwin agreed. His voice sounded almost normal, if tired and bitter, when he added: “none of us have anything to lose anymore.”
This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/1298061.html. You can comment here or there.