Chapter 3: The Bloody Baron
04 October 2018 at 01:09:44
Part of For Better or Worse
Karkan, Slave Trader
I kept a careful eye on the guardsman magic testing my slavestock.
Damn oafs were liable to damage the goods.
As I did so, another guardsman confirmed the inventory I gave him.
"Yes, a human. The big one on the end. He's an outsider, not a giant. Now if you just run along and get Baron Tarsk's bounty, I'm a busy..."
My sentence trailed off as the testing staff, pointed at the outsider, began to glow. In moments, it was too bright to look directly at and was emitting a painfully high note.
My jaw dropped as the smoking body of the guard blew backwards, propelled by the exploding staff. As my eyes cleared from the flash-blindness, I saw my property standing there, unscathed, with an almost comically surprised expression.
"I want triple on him!" I shouted at the passing guards at they ran to subdue the outsider.
Just when I thought things couldn't get worse.
I sighed as the advancing guards carefully circled the blast mark smoking in front of me. I figured a show of compliance was my best option, so I knelt with my hands raised as high as the chains would allow. The guards circled me, and one of the original three pulled a familiar looking collar from his belt.
"H-hey now, it was an accident guys..." I stammered as the guard advanced on me, collar in hand.
I am really tired of being knocked out.
I heard a click as the collar was fastened, and darkness consumed my mind.
Karkan, Slave Trader
I was almost giddy with excitement, as I nearly ran down the entry halls of Baron Tarsk's palace.
A human with magic! I'll be rich!
I yanked the chains leashing my slave-mages as they lagged behind. They were apparently having trouble keeping up with my pace. They would have to be punished for slowing me down. As I neared the end of the hallway, I paused to straighten my robes. After I made sure I was presentable, I hooked my slave-mage's chains to a specially marked hitching post. They were much too unseemly to bring before the Baron.
Before me was a massive set of double doors. Easily five meters tall, they were formed of red marble and banded in iron and bronze. Eight armored soldiers bearing Baron Tarsk's house insignia stood guard so the sides of the door. The last set held massive pikes crossed in front of the door. Before I could address the first guard, a black robed and gold cuffed man with a thick ledger in his hands stepped out of an alcove and bowed.
"Slave-Master Karkan. Baron Tarsk extends his greetings. He has agreed to meet you in his viewing room. I will guide you there immediately."
He bowed again, and at my affirming nod, he began walking down a side hall. Before I followed, I remembered my two slave-mages. I turned to find them standing exactly as I left them, still hitched by their collars to the post.
"Lay on your backs and raise your feet slightly from the floor. When you become too weak, roll onto your belly, push your body off the ground, and hold it flat with straight arms shoulder-width apart. When you become too weak again, resume the first exercise. If either of you fail to be in one of those two positions when I return, you will extract a tooth from the other as punishment. When next I am in a hurry, remember this and keep pace."
The wretched slaves immediately began the first exercise, and I turned to follow the waiting steward.
After several minutes of following the steward down several hallways, we came to a translucent red door with gold edges. As we stopped before it, the steward knocked three times and immediately turned around and walked briskly away down the hall. I almost turned to follow him, but a rich baritone voice from beyond the door stopped me.
"Enter, and know that I am pleased, Slave-Master."
I hesitantly stepped forward and turned the ruby encrusted handle. As the room beyond was revealed, I felt my breath catch in my throat. The room was massive, with numerous clear boxes framed with gold lining the central path to the far wall. The contents of the cases appeared to be individuals in various states of imprisonment. The side walls were lined by rows of red fringed tapestries depicting various events in Baron Tarsk's family history. The floor was carpeted in rich red silk, and the stained glass ceiling was twenty meters up, supported by red granite pillars. Finally, the far wall caught my gaze. Painted upon it was an incredibly detailed depiction of a bloody battle between an army of red armored soldiers and animate corpses covered in black veins.
No wonder he is called the "Bloody Baron"...
"Horrifying, isn't it?" a voice whispered in my ear.
"AAHHH!" I yelled, recoiling away. As I turned, I immediately bowed, my face flushing in embarrassment and anxiousness. Baron Tarsk stood there, a delighted smile on his face, as he waited for me to recover.
"My Lord, I apologize for my distraction, the room..."
"Silence, my servant" the Baron's deep voice intoned. "You have caused me no offense. This room sometimes still has that effect on me. I come here often to gaze upon my collection and upon... the future."
"Your collection, my Lord?" I asked, my nervousness fading as the Baron's voice soothed my fear.
"Why, yes, I brought you here to see my favorite possessions. Your contribution is greatly appreciated. Of course, he will be too useful to imprison here, unless he causes too much trouble. Come, and behold!"
The Baron's voice was oddly soothing and hypnotic. I found myself following him to the first clear case without consciously willing my feet to move. Inside was an elf clad in a dirty loincloth, bound by iron bands to a wooden crossbeam set into the top of the case. He had a transport collar around his neck, rendering him unconscious. The plaque before the box indicated that this elf had been found to have magic aptitude in a routine sweep through a small village. He had attempted to escape, and burnt down his master's home in the process.
"This specimen was the first zero-mana magic user that was discovered in my lands. He is not as impressive as the rest, but he has his place in this hall. He has been imprisoned here in this state for nearly six months" the Baron stated.
I shuddered at the elf's fate, before remembering that he was a magic user. My momentary horror disappeared as I remembered that he didn't deserve compassion.
The next was a clearly female creature, but she was shaped oddly, as if she had the worst case of scurvy imaginable. Her bindings were broken around her, pieces of iron apparently shattered with great force. She stared out at me with eyes full of insanity and pain.
"This is one of my favorites. She once was a nymph of almost ethereal beauty. After I imprisoned her, she slowly grew insane. She tore her own bindings to pieces screaming at me to stay out of her head. Unfortunately, her bindings were enchanted to cause her great pain and deep damage if they were forcibly removed. Sometimes she musters enough strength to attempt to break her cell with what parts of her body can still move, but little does she know that the cell is magically reinforced with enchantments powered by her own vitality." The Baron shook his head in mock sympathy.
As the Baron continued to show his prisoners, his deep voice lulled me deeper and deeper into a state of buzzing numbness. I awoke with a start as the Baron rested a hand on my shoulder.
"I apologize, my servant. I forget sometimes that others cannot handle my vocal weight. Come now, I have showed you my collection. Let me now show you your reward."
The Baron led me to the red quartz door. When he opened it, the steward stood outside holding an ornate chest secured with ruby encrusted clasps and banded with gold. He opened it, revealing solid gold coins and several cut rubies.
"The bounty I promised for a human outsider, tripled as per your demand for his magical aptitude, and you may choose a new slave-mage from my stock." Baron Tarsk then returned to the viewing room, closing the door behind him.
"Right this way, Slave-Master. I am sure we can find a more suitable slave than the two wretched fools you brought with you", the steward said as he led me back down the hall.
For the umpteenth time I awoke from forced unconsciousness. I felt a metal band being pulled away from my neck as I groggily opened my eyes. In front of me was the ugliest elf I had seen yet. His face was red and puffy with white ropes of scars crisscrossing his face. It reminded me of a balloon wrapped in string and then forcible blown up until it bulged between the threads. He was wearing silver cuffs and carefully hanging the collar from a rail lined with many identical collars.
"Morning Beautiful, how much did I drink last night? I joked. I tried to rub my eyes, but discovered my arms were fastened under an iron band attached to the arms of the chair I was in.
The Ugly looked at me and began to speak in a voice so rough, it sounded like he had eaten razor blades and sandpaper for breakfast.
"You will not speak unless spoken to. You will not resist your confinement. You will obey all commands given to you by anyone not wearing iron slave cuffs. You will diligently attempt to learn any information taught to you. You will be taught more rules as you come to understand your situation."
He paused, waiting to see if I would speak. I decided to wait.
"You will be severely punished if you break any of these rules. You will be given every chance to obey without resistance. If you are determined to be untrainable, then you will be determined breakable. Try NOT to be untrainable, because you will certainly not be unbreakable."
I need time to form a plan.
Continuing to listen to the Ugly's orders, I began to access my situation.
[Startup, Authorization: Erin go Bragh.]
[Audio Playback, Aug repair status. Nanomachine supply status]
A flat synthetic voice began dictating:
Retinal Interface repair: complete Nanomachine Factory 0: 2% Nanomachine Factory 1: 0% Nanomachine supply: 1%
Not enough to do anything with, I'll have to wait it out until one of the factories is repaired.
[Disengage Audio Interface]
I turned my attention back to the Ugly as he continued to enumerate my orders and potential punishments.
Things are pretty bad, but I suppose they could be worse.
After what seemed like hours the Ugly finally finished listing my instructions. I was expected to remember all the different ranking indicators he described, and be able to show the proper level of respect to each. I now knew how to identify different levels of slaves, and identify a slave-mage from regular ones. Apparently regular slaves actually had rights. They were actually treated better than citizens of the United Conglomerate. Unfortunately, mage-slaves were a different story. A mage-slave literally had no rights. My owner could do literally anything they wanted to me.
At least I'm not a female. That would be hell.
"Now, I've shown you slave cuffs, but as a slave-mage, you'll wear a slave collar too."
As he said this, the Ugly produced an iron collar of slightly different make to the one that had put me to sleep.
"This collar has some magical effects. Like the cuffs, it is unnaturally strong and has some secret surprises for those who try and escape. It will greatly lessen your intellect and make you more compliant to orders. You will not wear this during your training, as it would slow your learning. You will sleep in it when not being trained. You will have a permanent one fitted when you finish training. Do not resist the collar. No one has ever escaped one. Any evidence of file marks or other attempts to remove it will result in you being determined untrainable. Remember, do NOT be untrainable."
When he finished, Ugly reached forward and tightened the collar around my neck.
ERROR, AUGMENTATION INTERFACE NOT FOUND
Flashing red letters stood in the corner of my left eye's vision and my breath was oddly constricted. My thoughts felt fuzzy, and I couldn't quite place why the letters shouldn't be there. I struggled to make my brain settle on a thought, but every time I gathered enough attention to try, it slipped out of my grasp.
Those letters are so annoying.
With a shudder of ice running down my spine, I heard a click as the collar was removed. The letters disappeared and were replaced by a green check-mark, which also disappeared after a moment.
What! The collar interferes with my Augs!
"See, Slave, there's no hope. You cannot even think of escape with one of these on" the Ugly sneered at me.
[Enable offline mode]
Setting my augs to offline mode would cause them to continue their last command in the absence of my input. Specifically, I needed to be able to breath using my Oxygenation Aug, and the repairs to my nanomachine factories had to continue. It would take time, but I could check on the repair status and issue updated orders every time the collar was removed for "training". I resolved to act compliant and wait for my chance to escape.
The Ugly began to fasten the collar back on. "Now, Slave, we are going to go to the Baron's pet enchanter and see about dealing with your pathetic excuse for a lifespan. Can't have you escaping through old age!"
Dealing with my lifespan? As in immortality?
I was still confused as the collar clicked shut and my thoughts dissolved to mist.