This chapter comes with an additional content warning:
While I’m dancing around it quite a bit in this chapter, there is body horror in what Ctirad and his former Owner find in the basement.
Ctirad leaned against Timaios again and focused on his breathing. “Can I…” What was he doing. “…Sorry, nothing, sir.”
“You may ask for anything you want without punishment, Ctirad, especially while you are here, alone in my room, and someone is doing something as intimate as searching your memories.”
“It’s all right, sir. It’s nothing.”
“Ctirad. You don’t need to tell me, but you also don’t need to pretend it’s nothing.”
Ctirad flinched. Now he’d done it. “Can I – can I not be ‘kitten’ when other people are here? Sir? Sorry, Sal.” He looked away.
“The man’s got a point, boss.” Sal’s voice had a chiding tone to it. “Keep pet names to the bedroom, mmm, and let the man be a person when he’s dealing with the rest of your team?”
Oh, he was in for it now. He didn’t flinch, but he did hold as still as he could.
“Ctirad, you are right and I was wrong. I apologize, and it won’t happen again.”
“I won’t call you kitten around other people. Now. I’m sorry I pushed honesty out of you, and I’m sorry that I called you by a private name. Do you want to be done for the night?”
Ctirad shook his head. “No…no, sir. I’m good. I want to get this done.”
“Thank you. All right, Sal. You can continue when Ctirad says he’s ready.”
“All right. Ctirad?”
He shifted a few times, trying to get comfortable again. Let the man be a person. After a moment, he sat up found a position where he felt like he was being serious, and nodded. “Ready.”
He thought he saw something like a smile cross Sal’s face. “Good. All right, here we go.”
They moved into the darkness. For a moment, Ctirad could see nothing. His vision cleared as his memory did, and they were in a stone room with a heavy vault door. The shadows seemed to leak out from the door, and they seemed to stick to the walls.
“Whatever you do down here, don’t shoot anything. It won’t do any good and it will only draw attention.” Ermenrich inserted two keys into the door and spun the combination vault left, right, left. The door swung open.
There was a blank in the memories. Ctirad had his gun out and his finger was straining at the trigger. He stared straight ahead. There had to be some—
“Wastebasket,” Sal warned, and a moment later there was a basket between Ctirad’s knees. Just in time.
“His body’s remembering better than his mind is. You saw the way he reached for his gun. And this.” Sal gestured at Ctirad, who was losing the contents of his stomach over violent cramps. Somewhere in the back of his memory, Ermenrich muttered “fucking useless. Can’t even look at the thing, how are you going to help me with it?”
The memory of the humiliation forced Ctirad to sit back up straight. He swallowed down a little bile and accepted the glass of water Sal handed him as if he didn’t need it. “Keep going.” He gulped the water and held on tight to the glass. “Come on.”
Sal’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not going to ask if you’re sure, because you are, but you’re being a fool.”
“I’m always a fool. Keep going. Please.”
Sal muttered something sotto voce that sounded like swear words. “All right, all right. Here we go. Hold on.”
Ctirad held on to the glass and to the garbage can between his legs. “Ready.”
His gun was pointed at the thing. No. He forced himself to look at it down the barrel of the gun, down the metal. Metal he understood. The trigger he understood.
That thing was. He vomited off to the side and went back to looking.
It was wrong.
“This, this is my secret weapon.” Sir was proud of himself. He was grinning at – at the thing. It had once been three people, Ctirad thought. At least, he could pick out five arms. “See,” Sir Ermenrich explained, “there are forces which the purebloods have no idea about – oh, you probably don’t know what the purebloods are, do you? They’re the high-and-mighty ones who think they’re better than us, that’s who they are. And they don’t have this power.”
He hadn’t asked what power. He had kept his gun pointed at the thing. Four legs. Three heads. Something like a tail. And it kept writhing. Like it was trying to get away from itself.
Ctirad didn’t blame it. He wanted to get away, too.
“The problem is, some powers, they have some pretty shitty side effects. This thing – this is one of them.”
He cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows but had no words to ask questions with. Questions like this is a side effect? and what’s worth this?
“You’re wondering what I’m going to do with this thing, I see.” Ermenrich smiled slickly. “That’s a very good question, little pet.”
Ctirad, in his memories, felt the strange wash of pleasure-distress at being praised for something he hadn’t done, praised as a little pet. He sat a little straighter and closed his eyes a little more firmly.
Sal made a noise that he couldn’t determine. He thought it might be a laugh.
Ctirad-in-the-memory nodded. Good enough.
“I’m going to take over the damn city. And from there I’m going to take over the damn world. The elder gods think that they can just sneak in, rip open portals and walk through, but the thing is, they’re morons. We’re the ones who have the power. Now. What we’re going to do is use this nice little power-pack here. They can’t leave here – look over on the back side.”
Ctirad didn’t want to. He didn’t want to remember looking. But he did. It was an order, and his new master wanted him to remember, no, needed to know what he could remember.
The creature was part of the wall. They were fused with the wall.
“They can’t leave. So I have to own this building, and, since they are a part of the building, I’ll own them.”
Ermenrich was very proud of himself. Ctirad in the memory swallowed bile into an empty stomach. Ctirad in the real world bent over the garbage can once again.