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Acies ab Vesania

Abolition: Chapter 2 (The Circuit)

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Vensen meets Rainza’s defiant stare, his icy blue eyes unblinking and soulless. His gaze is expressionless, not a line creased along the edges of his face. He snatches her by the hair, pulling her face closer to his own, so close she can feel the heat of his breath on her eyes and cheeks. The bloodied razor used to remove her breasts is pressed against her scalp, a silent threat whose implications were deafening. A moment passes, and then another, the blade biting into her flesh and adorning her hair with a ribbon of blood. Vensen presses harder, digging it in as his lips spread into a wicked smile, but instead of cutting away at her prized locks, he pulls the blade away, tossing the Aldrak to the floor.


“A deal is a deal. I have not broken you yet, but when I do, your hair will be the prize I keep.”


Vensen closes the razor, tucking it into his pocket. He waves at his men, the naked brutes still fawning over Stupple and Starthos.


“Clean their wounds, see that they are properly bandaged, and then put them into the tomb.”


The men, their wicked smiles the only indication of what is to come, put all three into weighted shackles and drag them away, taking them to a room filled with medical supplies. Their wounds are cleaned, cauterized, stitched and bandaged with expert care, their touch as talented as a skilled medic or practitioner of medicine. Once each is seen to, one by one the prisoners are taken to a new room, a room with only enough space for the prisoner to sit. Their hands and feet are put into restraints attached to the ground, holding them in place with limited ability to move about. Surprisingly, the restraints are padded, but not for comfort, its purpose is to prevent unwanted injury.


Each of them are put into this room, and when the door is shut, they are in perfect silence and impenetrable darkness, their new abode resembling exactly what Vensen called it- a tomb, a place for them to sit alone with nothing but their thoughts (or in the case of some, the voices that never cease to speak). Here, they will sit with no stimulus, no answers, and no means of communicating with others. They sit and wait, wait for the two times per day that door is opened, when they redress the wounds, and then shove a tube down their throats and into their stomachs, putting a pureed slime into their gut. This goes on for three weeks, until their wounds are healed and the trapped are ready to face torture again. By now, their minds would begin to feel the full effects of sensory deprivation and isolation, their sanity slowly unraveling.


Pulled from their isolation, they were hung from chains linked to the stone ceiling above, left to dangle like meat in a butchery. The same group came again, their rough hands grabbing and groping, first taking liberties with their prisoners bodies before letting Vensen have his way with his knives, making beautiful work on their flesh, carving intricate designs and removing the pieces. He breaks fingers and toes, rips away nails and slowly drives a pick through their bones, pushing and twisting, digging deeply. He pushes Rainza the most, working to break the spirit of the stubborn Aldrak, but not this time, another session gone by without making her give in. Closer yes, but not quite to that breaking point, one he promises to reach “next time”.


Another three weeks in the tomb, their minds fraying, sounds unheard and sights unseen the focus of their senses. Another three weeks of silence filled with noise and darkness with invisible lights, the minds of the victims turning against itself, doing more to break them down than even the torture. After three weeks, their wounds healed and their bodies restored well enough to go through the same awful treatment, they are brought back out and hung from the ceiling again, undergoing new forms of torture. Vensen is surprised by the toughness of all three, the Aldrak especially, though he expected as much from one of her kind. He comes closer to breaking their wills, and this time after letting the men have their way with Stupple and Starthos, he lets them nearly beat them to death, letting Rainza watch helplessly.


They go back to the tomb, six weeks of healing this time, six weeks of unending isolation with nothing but the imagination to provide company. By the time they are pulled out, little would hold them together, and certainly the voices of one would be at an all-time level of influence. This time, they are not left on hooks, but put back into their cages, put into a cages each with the corpse of an adolescent mutilated beyond recognition, their mouth frozen in a twisted scream, their unseeing eyes forever open wide and staring into the abyss. The men call them “the company of slaves found lamed and worthless.”


After 12 weeks of isolation and torture, the three are finally left within reach for a single night, each crammed in a cage meant for dogs with a body belonging to some poor youth found unfit for slavery after all, used and then put to a violent end, now serving as a prop or decoration. Before the lights go out for the night, Vensen stops by, rattling the cages, laughing at each of them as they lay in their confined spaces.


“Tomorrow, I have a surprise for you Aldrak. Tomorrow is a special day. Sleep well.”


As he disappears behind the locked door, the lights go out, and there is only silence. Silence and death.


[offtopic]The Hummingbird asked me to go ahead and do a DM post that pushes things forward in time and gets us to a future point. I hope this will help get things on the move again.[/offtopic]

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Pricks of shining light… distorted humans… twisted animals… shapes that made him laugh and noises that made him cry. All this haunted the majority of Starthos’ life, this and pain and torment. As promised, each day he was taken from his restraints and his body used for the pleasure of the men. None of the prisoners had any proper names – Stupple was Whimpers, Rainza was Blue Cunt, and Starthos was Sweetness. They were objects, treated as such, and each day grew worse as Vensen and his best, most loyal men worked to break the prisoners’ minds.


As Starthos grew used to the constant rape and torture, the nights were the worst, nights when all his senses were played upon and warped by lack of sight and sound. He imagined seeing Shade, his master who raised him with love and respect. Shade promising that all the torture would end, that he would free him through a peaceful, merciful death that never came. He saw white birds flying and heard the laughter of children… until the white birds turned into a field of blood and the laughter became the screams of the unholy dead.


Once Vensen took him to a room and hung him from hooks, binding his feet to the floor to prevent any kind of movement. Unable to squirm, able only to scream, Starthos begged helplessly as Vensen took his favorite knife and worked it into his skin, carving designs cruelly into Starthos’ tender flesh. Vensen’s brutal imagination gave form to a dragon that wound about Starthos’ body, beginning from the left shoulder, winding down over his chest to his right hip, spiraling down his leg to the end at the top of his foot. Each scale Vensen carved with loving care. The wounds became infected, of course, but Vensen made sure that the wounds eventually healed. He promised, again and again, that Starthos would live a long and fulfilling life.


Indeed, it was long.




Huffing, the man sighed in pleasure as he climaxed, releasing the fluids of his tense body into the young man beneath him. He collapsed, his sweaty body resting for a moment before slowly rising. “Ah, Sweetness, a pleasure as always.”


Blood caked Sweetness’s thighs, pooling on the floor. Strangely, he felt only a dull ache, no true pain really, from the rape that had lasted for hours. As the man hauled him up and began dragging him elsewhere, Sweetness wondered what would happen next, if today would be any different, before the very idea of anything changing banished itself from his delusional mind. Of course nothing would be different.


Time in the Circuit had changed Sweetness. He looked upon everything with hate and fear. He grew to hate the men who raped him, grew to associate almost every moving body with pain and punishment. Vensen was a figure who inspired bouts of panic and misery. So when Sweetness was stuffed into a cage and Vensen came to visit, he was already begging for mercy before Vensen even finished his promise to no one but the strange, blue-haired girl close by. Blue Cunt – that was her name, though it didn’t sound exactly right.


Nothing here was right.

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“You are weak”




“You’re going to die.”

Stupple shakes his head, muttering to himself, trying to push aside the voices. They echo inside his skull, their constant needling bouncing around and reverberating. He cannot hear the threats of Vensen, nor the begging and pleading by his friend in the cage next to him. What takes place inside his head is too much for him to give any focus to the captors outside the cage, to the monsters outside the tortured hell he suffered from within. Perhaps that is why he received the least of it from the others, still beaten and raped, but less so than others.


He was already numb, a voiceless husk who spent more time engaged with nonexistent entities to give much rise or reaction to the men who tried so hard to make him squeal, or beg, or simply cry out. He was a poor source of entertainment, and so over time, they began to visit him less and less. Here, they sought to break down slaves into shattered pieces, grinding the shards into fine powder. What more could be done to a mind already splintered apart? One left in such useless shambles that his ability to form coherent thoughts depended on the whimsy of his disease.


Now, he contributed less than he did before, a mind so lost that it no longer felt the connection to his gods, that guiding warmth that once existed within reach of his outstretched fingers. He no longer remembered what is was like to bask in that assuredness; only that he missed it, whatever those feelings were. They were once there for him, but somewhere in this deepest darkness, bathed in the shadows of demons, wearing the adornments of his own shit and piss and blood, the gods could no longer reach him, and so he suffered alone. Alone, save for company of his horrid voices. He was all but unaware of the other two still living beside him—if you call their sorry states “living”.

“Filthy. You are so filthy. You should die. You need to die.”


Stupple sighs and rolls over, covering his one ear with a bloodied and maimed hand.

“Look at him lying there, such a waste of space. A waste of space!”

“I bet he likes shit. He wants to live in shit. What a shit-whore.”

Stupple smacks at his ear now, willing the voices to die down, to retreat into silence, as they were so apt to do when the men tried their hardest to hurt him. The men never knew that physical pain often served as his retreat from his personal hell, that the wounds they inflicted provided him with another form of relief. All of it was pain, any way you looked at it, be it at the tip of a knife or alone here in the darkness with his only company the sobbing on either side of him or the abuses slung at him from the wretched living inside of him. He floated in an existence of misery and pain, his only comfort coming when he finally managed to sleep, or in those few moments between when the voices died down and before the work of a blade or other insidious assaults began to overwhelm his senses, giving way to white hot pain. In those brief lulls between the two, Stupple found his peace, his quietude.

A life of bliss found between two extreme points of depravity and terror.

Now was not that time. Now was where he lied in squalor and filth, listening to the presence within comment on how filthy he had become and how worthless he was. Had he the means, he would have taken his own life by now, but he neither had the means nor the drive to pursue it. That, and that lingering sense of wrongness found in that back of his mind. A distant memory, something important, that told him he could not seek the solace of self-inflicted death. It felt tied to that feeling of warmth and comfort he once knew when he communed with his gods. He knew it was somewhere in there, but he could not remember why, or where to find it.

Anymore, everything felt like a distant fragmented memory, even the events from a moment before. All he knew was what happened in the immediate presence, such as fresh pain or newly given wounds. He heard the shrill abuses given to him by the others within, but even the dialogue of just a moment ago began to feel like a distant memory. Stupple was fading, and somehow he knew that to be a bad thing. He knew that should he fade away completely, all would be lost. Should he become nothing more than a shade and shadow, he would be lost forever.

He didn’t want that. No matter how bad the pain had become.

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The Aldrak stood on a cliff-edge. The eternal drop of madness was millimeters away, a well of infinite darkness eager to swallow her up and never let her go. A place Stupple knew well. Rainza had lost all sense of time and reality, dreams and nightmares. She was trapped in an airtight box that was filling with her own blood. The flow never ended, and soon she would drown. The isolation wasn't so bad, she was used to being alone. Preferred it even. But even her wrought iron mind couldn't handle absolute sensory deprivement. She longed for the sun just as her body did, longed to hear the wind caress the greenery of the earth and to smell something other than the filth of her tomb.

The rush of feeling from Vensen's knives invigorated the Aldrak. Pain let her know she was alive, that she wasn't in some hellish nightmare or lost in purgatory. She almost longed for his touch, as his torture was one of the things that held her together now. Struggling to keep a steady supply of energy was the other thing that kept her kicking. The food forced down her throat wasn't enough for her metabolism. She nearly starved during the first week before she was able to find a way to funnel ambient sourced into her body even with the collar on. Rainza's grip was loosening, but it refused to break. She'd long stopped caring about the other two. Their real names she could no longer remember. She'd forgotten the objective she'd set out to achieve in this place. Her convictions were smothered, and but one flame was left flickering. Her life, her freedom. She would preserve it at any cost. Rainza would crush infants underfoot to escape now, her morals forced back into a selfish corner. She no longer cared for the other's imprisoned here.

"Rainza...Rainza...Rainza...Rainza will escape. Rainza. Rainza will not drown. Rainza. Rainza will not disappear. Rainza...Rainza..." The girl's cracked lips mumbled ceaselessly as she stared at the corpse sharing her tiny cell with unblinking eyes. She refused to join it in death. She would not become a mere decoration for these cells. She couldn't die. Not here. Why not? She must have a reason why she didn't want to die. Why not embrace death? Why indeed. Why did she go on. She hated the world, she had no place in it. It seemed to hate her just as much. Just stop intaking energy. No amount of food they give you can stop death then. Indeed, suicide was still a viable option for her. 

Vensen had promised something special. Something new. Impulsively a hand went to her breast. It had grown back, oh so slowly. Rainza no longer defied Vensen for her companions in suffering, nor for her hair. She defied him as it was the one core part of her soul that remained untarnished, unbroken. Her stubborn, defiant will stood to the last. Broken toes and missing flesh, mental torture and the defilement of her womanly parts would never change that. Even if her body and mind gave way, her spirit never would. Is that your reason? Yes. She was Rainza. She would continue through this suffering just to spite her fate and those involved. That's not a very convincing reason. Surely there's more? Was there? She must have some purpose deep down inside. Something beyond mere survival. Yes, yes she did. Not just the Aldrak. Slaves. Prisoners. She would bring abolition to this world. She would not suffer the thought of this horrid concept existing. The absence of freedom, she would eliminate it from this world until she ceased to draw breath. The soul that burned in her chest wouldn't let her fade to nothingness, and she would drag those that lacked the strength along with her.

"Stup...ple. Star...thos..." She said softly, slowly. Desperately grasping through her memories for their names. "Stupple. Starthos. STUPPLE. STARTHOS." She yelled, looking at them in the eyes. "Say it. Say your names. Say my name. Speak the proof of who we are. Speak of the beings who are not mere slaves. Speak...please, speak. Don't give up, not yet. Fight with me until the end..." Rainza lost a bit of her momentum, nearly being swallowed up by the hopelessness. She realized she needed them. Needed them to motivate her. She wouldn't have dragged herself back out of despair if the responsibility of keeping them afloat didn't weigh on her consciousness. Their weight and the weight of all slaves. If they were already gone, she didn't know if she could find it in her to truly fight rather than simply endure.

Rainza stared into the abyss, and the abyss stared back. Eventually one would blink, and Rainza would be damned if it was her.

Edited by Avvercus

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Darkness closed in on him, sweeping black tendrils both seen and felt, entrapping his body and mind. Sweetness shivered, hugging himself as the darkness crept over him like viscous slime. His eyes flickered, taking in his surroundings once again, the cell that was the only home he could ever remember, the torches the only light he could ever see, the blood and the skeletons a far cry from a beauty he never knew.

Die, a voice whispered in the back of his mind. Die. Die. You want to die.

Yes, he wanted to answer back. Let me go. Let me die. It would be so easy. It was so easy. To simply let go, to let the clutches of death grasp him and pull him into its perverse embrace…

And yet, something held him back. Something that refused to let him go. The atrophied muscles in his body grew into spasms as his mind and body fought to endure the pain that was never-ending, here in a hell that should not exist. Why shouldn’t he want to die? Why shouldn’t he go? And yet, there was that hand that held him up, a suffering will that buoyed his spirit up, just enough that kept him teetering on the edge of death… yet did not let him fall.

“STUPPLE. STARTHOS.” Blue Cunt was shouting.

Oh, be quiet.

"Say it. Say your names. Say my name.

“Whimpers. Sweetness. Blue Cunt,” he whispered, tears seeping from the edge of his eyes.

“Fight with me till the end.”

Fight. What did it mean, that word?

Starthos. Why did that sound strike within him a chord so cruel and harsh?

Starthos. Starthos. Starthos. “Star… thos…”

The darkness began to recede.

“Star. Starthos.” Suddenly he laughed, laughed as the darkness shrank back, not entirely gone, but no longer covering the whole of his weak, shivering being. “Starthos. My name. That is my name. Stupple,” he said, looking at the mage beside him. “Rainza,” he whispered, looking at the Aldrak.

He reached through the bars of his cage, his hand stretched out to grab hers. “When… they take me again…” he whispered harshly, hoarsely. “I will fight. I will… find keys. Get us out.”

He remembered. The man who always raped him last. He had keys. Maybe they were the right ones, maybe not. But it was all he had to believe in.

“Believe in me,” he begged Rainza. “But… Vensen. Tomorrow… don’t let him break you.”


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It had been more than two weeks since Stupple made a sound. More than two weeks ago, he simply shut down, his eye glazed and his mouth slack, drool steadily rolling down his chin. The worst the torturers threw at him elicited nothing in response. Not even when the stripped the flesh of his left pinky down to muscle and bone. Vensen called him, “adequately broken” and spoke of sending him back soon. Despite this, and despite his lack of response, they still took their turns with him, perhaps the act symbolic in nature. Stupple disconnected from the world, and now only followed the simplest directions.

Inside, even the chaos in his mind has quieted. None of the voices speaks anymore, snuffed out and relegated to the deepest recesses of his mind. The cleric’s conscious mind is gone, shattered swept up in the winds of cruel fate. Where the pieces had gone, and whether they were too far-gone- well, that is the question. Did enough remain of the once heroic priest of The Three Brothers? Perhaps his too far gone now, beyond the point of salvage.

Sitting in his cage, legs sprawled out, a small pool of blood and saliva from his latest split lip coagulate at the bottom of his cage. Stupple absently runs his finger through it, swirling the two together into a pale pasty solution thickened by the dust from accumulated shed skin. There seems to be no purpose, no aim to his motions, just random circles that draw nothing more than occasionally coincidentally symmetrical shapes. He has done this for many minutes now, and he continues even as the Aldrak shouts and Starthos swears to take action. Back and forth, aimless and slow.

The finger strokes, but only by squinting the eyes and using one’s imagination could you discern anything at all. Perhaps a faint resemblance to something familiar, but probably not.

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Bruised and broken though they may be, two hands joined in the suffocating darkness, a secret hell the most paranoid of evangelists would shy from preaching. It was the first contact either had experienced in what must have been thousands of years. It had been that long, right? Surely, that was accurate. Well, regardless, it was the first that didn’t send what skin remained on their hides crawling in revulsion and misery. Her misanthropy was forgotten in this moment hidden from the world. Rather than abhorrence, Rainza felt a critical flow of hope and strength fill her to the brim, almost to tears.

“Don’t...break. I believe. We will have…” a raspy whisper responded, as loud as a shout in the deafening stillness. Gone was the energy from before, now being reserved for the trials ahead. Absolved, was the crutch of third person. Rainza would no longer cling to it. Her ego was strong, her identity wouldn’t be forgotten, never.



Quiet. Why? Normally, the air was a hum with the rasp of Vensen’s knives being sharpened, his ever-placid voice whispering sweet promises of the hours to come. Her arrival in the chair, a brand new thing of dark leathers and straps, had almost been gentle. The burly men that had escorted her strapped the woman wrists and ankles to the furniture that was now bolted to the red-rusted floor before taking their leave with disappointed huffs. They didn’t get to play with Blue Cunt today, it seemed. Vensen wanted her all to himself.

As the door swung shut, in strode him. Her eternal torturer. The literal face of all that tested the Aldrak’s seemingly iron bound will. The infuriatingly false smile and lightless hazel eyes she’d come to be sickeningly familiar with grew close with slow, casual steps that echoed the chamber with a cold, mysterious menace.

Yet, there was a hint of some small satisfaction on that face now. As jagged, angry, and red as Rainza’s fury, the scar was a loud reminder of her defiance. It was practically a symbol of hope she had carved for herself. Even a god, for Vensen was certainly little less than such in her life at the moment, could bleed at mortal hands.

Without a word, he slipped a new collar around her neck, mindful of gnashing teeth, and removed the old. It was tossed off to the side without a care while his gaze bore into his stubborn subject’s. He would never grow tired of whittling his playthings down by the knife and whip, but today held an interesting opportunity.

“How rare, it seems you actually obeyed and slept well last night. Good. I have a new toy, made just to make my old toy fun again…” his voice promised without an ounce of emotion. A leather wristband was wrapped around his left arm, identical in appearance to Rainza’s new collar.

Vensen took a seat in another leather chair a few feet across from Rainza, though this one lacked the straps. His legs crossed, and his hands came together in his lap with a straight back. Perfect poise. Today, he would get to ply his craft not on his doll’s flesh, but her mind itself. Directly. No more fighting that raging spirit by proxy, through her muscle and bone that gave way so easily. Now, he could snuff the flame with ease. The question remained, however;

Would it be fun? Entertaining? She would not bleed, her skin would not mix in the dirt where her tears she refused to give him should lie. He had as much time as he wished to find out.

Rainza felt something tickle her ear, distracting the girl’s vigil of glaring unblinking at Vensen as her head snapped to the side searching for the source of the sensation. Suddenly, her gut depressed. A fist had slammed into her abdomen with unreal force.

“Gack!” her voice gasped reflexively as her breath fleeted. Vensen had not moved, and there was no one else in the room. Her stomach remained unbruised, Rainza noted as she straightened her back with a snarl.

Vensen’s smile widened into a beastly grin full of teeth. It worked, it seemed.

“Blue Cunt, has anyone ever boiled your heart as it beat in your chest? Pierced your eyes with red-hot needles...thousands at once? Have you ever had your teeth ground down slowly with a stone file, all at the same time, over and over again?”


“Well, you do now.”

Rainza’s head lulled, hanging limp and loose while drool pooled into her naked lap. She had never experienced anything that came even close to the agony she’d just been subjected to. Misery physically impossible to receive pounded through her skull. Anything Vensen’s mind could conceive became her reality. He was most definitely her god now, ruling her mind and body. All that yet remained to conquer was the spirit.

Her chin was grabbed, her face forced upward.

“Beg. Plead. Prostrate. Surrender your ego, you disgusting Aldrak, and today ends.”

Her entire visage shook. If Aldrak could urinate, she’d have pissed herself. If they could puke, her guts would have been emptied. Her pretty little mouth gaped open. Flapping like a drowning fish, she tried to form a word. Her teeth grit finally, and her eyes refocused. Rainza’s nostrils flared, and she became the epidemy of defiance.

“Fuck. You.”

It was stupid. It was pointless, worthless. Her tattered pride fluttered futile like a flag flying over a clearly conquered fortress. She provoked suffering while gaining nothing. She was inviting this man to literally destroy her mind and body.


Vensen’s eyes reflected how unimpressed he was. This toy was defective. It didn’t break when it should. Perhaps he just needed to try harder.

As Vensen willed yet another wave of inhumanly cruel and unusual acts to etch into Rainza’s mind, something shifted. Rather than the Blue Cunt feel it, Vensen felt his own mind suffer for a fraction of a second, and with it came the flash of a memory. The first sweet taste of a warm meal as a free woman. A bed to sleep in, ale to drown her woes. Solitude in a quiet room. Rainza’s first stay at an inn after her escape. Bittersweet joy nearly accompanied by tears. Such a simple thing she’d been denied for so long. How dare the gods, fate, destiny, whatever you want to call it, how dare the powers that be subject anyone to the horrors of slavery. If no one else would, Rainza would make them pay. Rainza would march upon the pantheon and crush its pillars with her own hands. Such an intent couldn’t be accomplished with anything less the most powerful of will.

Was it this considerable will that caused the malfunction in the new collar, or a design flaw? No one would ever know, but Vensen now found himself sitting across from the Aldrak where he had stumbled, fighting for control. Her ego was a looming mountain, threatening to crush him and make him the toy.

Edited by Avvercus

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The man was dark of skin and eye, with a hood drawn up to conceal any telling features. All Vensen could see was his teeth, pale white and glinting in the shadows. Silently, the man reached into his cloak and withdrew a circular piece of leather. A collar, with a metallic lock and a key dangling from a string knotted around it. In quiet words, the man told him that this was a gift and a favor. Vensen was to have it, free of charge, and test it, sending back reviews and reports on it performance. He was told to be careful, because it had never been used in earnest before.

That collar was now tight around Rainza’s neck, and its counterpart controller bound around Vensen’s arm, with the key dangling around his neck.

At first, he had thought it as the grandest invention he had ever had the pleasure of using. Anything he imagined, anything his perverted imagination could come up with was made real to the defiant Aldrak he’d held at the cusp of death. It was a delightful game. Not as fun as using a real knife, of seeing her truly mutilated at the hands of his men or his own, but possibly more effective. Though proven to be quite resilient, her body could only take so much. The collar did not touch her body, leaving him free to break her mind in a million different ways.

But now, the game had changed.

He stared at her, the image gleaned from her mind still fading, the intangible mountain of her ego looming over him, casting its shadow around and over his own mental eye. Oh, she was strong. Stronger than he ever suspected before. It explained so much, how she had endured so much and still lived, her mind still whole though her body had been broken, again and again.

He straightened, stepped forward, standing over her before bending, his hazel eyes boring into hers. A pressure, strange an dark and wholly frightening, pressed back against Rainza’s mind.

“So it will be that way, will it?” Vensen smiled. “Let me show you true fear, Aldrak. Playtime is over.”

The last pleasant remnants of the Aldrak’s memory shattered, the tavern, the meal, the warm room and bed gone.

Vensen Kalerus, ten years old, cried, sobbing hysterically on the ground as the woman stood over him, drawing the bloody tail of the whip across her fingers. Blood ran down his back in thin, tickling rivulets, joined by drops running down his chest. Crimson lines were drawn over his shoulders, his neck, even between his legs.

“Do you know why they sold you, Vensen?” the woman asked softly.

“Because they didn’t care, little boy. A bastard, born ta different man, a burden to a mother who never wanted you.”

The woman strode around to his side, kicked him over on his back. Vensen quailed in her shadow, begging for her to stop. But she wasn’t finished.

“You squirmed your way out of her body. You consumed food she needed, time she didn’t have. You took all she had away. You selfish, selfish child. You’re a curse, better off if you were dead. No, no, she didn’t care about you.

“But I care, Vensen. Enough to do this, to teach you and make you learn.”

“Please,” Vensen sobbed. “Please, please.”

“You will do what I say, Vensen. All that will save you, is if you do what I say.”

The fear was crushing, worse than any pain. It all rained down on Rainza, wave after wave of terror smashing into her mind.

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They thought him broken, because his eyes were in a permanent state of glazed listlessness, staring into the nothing that filled every room of that dreadful place.  They thought him broken, because the few sounds he made were unintelligible whimpers and pained gasps—but what they failed to note is that a mind already broken, already shattered, cannot be made more so. Long before he arrived in this hellscape, Stupple hardly had a mind his captors would call “functioning.” In their eyes, he was a useless, already damaged toy they got to have a little fun with but otherwise tossed aside in quickly arrived boredom, taking little pleasure in torturing that which already seemed alien and diseased. Yes, it is was true that Stupple’s mind did not work like the others. It was true that he heard and experienced things that were not there, that he struggled with formulating speech that others could decipher and keeping his thoughts in a neatly arranged order was as hard for him as keeping water in a sieve.

But that doesn’t mean he is broken.

It simply meant his mind worked differently. That when he needed, he could retreat into that cataleptic state, unfeeling, unknowing, just resting. A weakness in the world outside, a vulnerability that put him at risk, supplied an uncanny advantage here. Whereas others would see him as unable to function, these retreats preserved him, letting him hunker down and hide from the men who sought to break him down. It allowed him to go unnoticed, even as he pulled from his sleepy state and finished that drawing of dirt and blood and dust, taking a memorable shape, a sign igniting old memories and forgotten talents. Three intersecting symbols, one for each brother, representing the unity of their bonds, the power derived from their banding.

Stupple’s source of power.

Tracing the lines with cleaned fingers, he felt a familiar tingle, a pulse, an awakening that coursed through his arms and legs and back to his heart. Stupple felt himself pulling out of that fog, that dense miasma of forgetting that let him sleep through these trials. As his clarity was restored, Stupple suddenly remembered their purpose for coming, and how they had forgotten themselves in this dreaded place. They came by choice, to infiltrate, to seek its inner workings so that they could tear the place down from within. Because the best way to remove an infection was to cut away its source. He and his friends were in the heart of this pus-filled, festering wound. And now Stupple suddenly remembered they were the scalpel, and they were here to cut away the rot.

Drawing from that symbol, Stupple used his healed his wounds, sealing shut cuts and scrapes, aging bruises to old yellow marks with only hints of soreness. He drew at the circle again, taking on protective wards while he prepared for one hell of a fight. Because getting himself and all the others out of here was going to take a lot of fighting, and he had to be ready. He would have once chance to overwhelm these slavers and take them down. Once chance before they would just outright kill him, ensuring he never used his magic again.

One chance to do this right.

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