Chapter eighteen: The Trifecta of Truth
“Libby, there’s no other option. You have got to find a way to kill me.”
The prisoner paced his cell madly. The pink iridescent potion the Queen had given him was wearing off, and he was having trouble holding his thoughts in his head, but he fought the deterioration. The world was resting on whether he died tonight, died in a way that he could never be brought back. He had less than five minutes to convince Libby, otherwise, all his previous efforts would be spoiled. He had at first entertained the faint hope that the Queen was bluffing, but he knew that she wasn’t.
The Trifecta of Truth.
With a yell, he slammed a fist into the stone wall, wanting to do it again and again when he felt next to nothing. His body was already losing sensation. His sense would soon follow, and then…the end.
The trifecta of truth—or trimexothine-endromolide monocistephate—was a complex truth serum that simultaneously hijacked the brain to shatter one’s will and unlocked the unconscious mind. It left recipients supremely enslaved to the power of suggestion, and it was impossible to think enough to resist. The prisoner knew from experience. You did whatever someone wanted you to, answered truthfully to whatever question that they may ask, even things in your subconscious mind that you didn’t think you knew. No way around it, no way to fight it, because you wouldn’t have the will.
The only thing the prisoner had at the moment was his will, and he could not let it be taken.
He had to convince Libby of the gravity of the situation without telling her the details of what the situation truly entailed. Libby knew the basics of what the Queen wanted, but the prisoner could see that it was more of a radical theory than the hard future. She couldn’t know more, because he couldn’t trust that she could keep the secret. He wouldn’t wish the burden on anyone. He wasn’t sure that someone else wouldn’t discover it, given enough time. Had it been a fluke that he had found the formula? Or, if he could do it, could someone else, eventually, if the conditions were right? Well, the odds seemed incredibly low, and the only thing he could control was himself.
“Libby, I know you don’t understand, but you have to understand this: there is no way to stop the Queen from finding out what I am hiding in my head if she gets to me tomorrow. This is our very last chance.”
She closed the door and stepped into the cell. No one ever came to this part of the Queen’s castle, but it gave them some measure of privacy. She looked uncertain. “Well—”
He growled. Suddenly, he could feel something in his head slip, and it was like he was falling down a deep dark well; there was a sense of fear, a sense of foreboding, but no explanation to go with the choking feelings. He had to get out, out out out out. He clawed his way back to the top, and found himself in a dim cell with an auburn-haired woman in military—
Shaking his head violently to keep it clear, he took a death-grip hold of Libby’s shoulders. “Commodore Givlenen, I am loathe to give orders to a commander of your rank, but this is a matter of world annihilation—”
“Would you just shut up for a minute?” Libby snapped. “I do happen to understand the gravity of the situation, thank you very much! I am just trying to figure out what I am supposed to do. Dying didn’t work for you the first time; won’t they just revive you again?”
No time to be relieved. “Burn me and spread the ashes. Chop me into pieces and—” he struggled to remember, but couldn’t. Where was he? “Just do it…you have to…to…”
His mind shattered.
* * *
Hours and hours later, the commodore fussed and struggled with the weight of the sackcloth bag, unable to make it easier to take through the musty halls of the old castle. She carried it in her arms, dragged it behind her, slung it over her shoulder, but impossibly heavy it remained. She had little time, and she wished she had a wagon or something. The moon was bright and high in the sky, but the night wore on, and she didn’t know how long it would take to get as far away as she could, how long it took to burn a body. She had to remind herself why she had even agreed to help the prisoner, all those months ago: she wasn’t blind to the Queen’s intentions anymore. But she knew that there was a difference between wizening him to the Queen’s tricks and blindly pursuing this madness. She had told herself before that she was contributing to the plan she had set in motion a few months back, the question always remained how? How would this help to save her people? How could she know that he was telling the truth?
She just had a feeling. Having always been respected for her instincts, she hoped they didn’t fail her now.
There was also the feeling that she was tearing the plan apart by the seams. Don’t do anything stupid, she had told them. Not until it’s time. What if she ruined everything? They wouldn’t trust her, and who would save them then? Anarchy. She was doing nothing but catalysing chaos and anarchy.
The bag thunked against the foot of the stairs, and she stopped for a second to catch her breath before beginning the inconceivable upward trek.
If she had simply continued on, maybe the lieutenant wouldn’t have seen her.
As it happened, he rounded the corner in quite a hurry and stopped short when he saw his commander hunched and breathless by the stairs, a full sack large enough to hold the body of a man at her feet. He was surprised to see her at all at this time at night. Under any other circumstances, he would have quietly slipped away and left her alone, but tonight he caught her attention and saluted, back straight, eyes steady.
Rarely would you find a woman commodore, but no one would dare tell Libby that. The Queen’s kingdom had a known population of only fifty or sixty people, and even they were only there because she had something over their heads. Other than the Dark Soldiers, few were willing members of the military, and some members refused to do anything at all. Libby was recruited not only for her loyalty to the Queen, but for her fierce determination, infallible intelligence and exceptional leadership skills. Her womanhood was overlooked in favor of a strong leader for the Queen’s military. Her independence, however, kept her from being considered a Dark Soldier. Unlike the Lost Ones, her intentions were true.
For reasons that had grown in number since the Queen began experimenting on the prisoner, Libby’s loyalty was seguing away into loathing. Conspiratorial plotting.
Libby straightened and fixed her eyes on Sihilan, not a trace of guilt on her face. She and Lieutenant Sihilan had become something like friends during their service together, but at the moment, she was all business – to hide her unease.
“What’s in there, Commodore?” he asked quietly, nodding at the bag. Libby shifted, blocking it from his view.
“None of your concern, Lieutenant,” Libby snapped.
Undaunted, Sihilan stepped around her and gazed at it thoughtfully. “I was just wondering. Anyway, I must tell you something important.”
“What is it?” she demanded impatiently, wanting to ignore him completely. Time was wasting away!
“Well…I had a most—interesting conversation with our old prisoner this evening. Apparently this business with the trifecta thing is quite serious indeed, and the secret knowledge could really be catastrophic if our Queen got a hold of it. He said that the only way to avoid disaster and save the world would be to kill him, really kill him, and after some thought—”
“Get on with it, Lieutenant! I haven’t got all night.”
“After giving it some thought I realized that he probably knew what he was talking about and this is bigger than us, like he’s been saying, but when I went to his cell he was no longer there.” He tilted his head pointedly down at her, crossing his arms over his chest. He nudged the bag gently with his boot.
After a moment of consideration, Libby allowed herself to relax.
“You’ve got more guts than what I give you credit for, Lieutenant,” she muttered. He smiled humourlessly, hazel eyes obscured by his stringy, too-long black hair. “Alright, don’t just stand there. Help me haul this up. At least it won’t take me an hour now.” She hid her annoyance when he easily slung the sack over his shoulder and took the stone steps two at a time.
“What’s in here?” he asked, grimacing as the contents bounced on his back.
“Wood. Lots of it, from the special stock. I forget which tree it comes from, but it’s the hottest, longest burning wood there is. It’s going to be one beauty of a pyre.”
He looked taken aback. “Really? When I first saw it I thought it was….Never mind.”
“Now, Lieutenant. I wouldn’t just throw him in a bag and drag him across the stone floor. That’s not how you treat heroes and martyrs, you know.”
Halfway up, they stopped at a landing. Libby stopped him from continuing, and reached behind a large tapestry hanging on the wall. There was a click, and she slipped behind it. Sihilan moved it to see a small door leading into the moonlit night. He was hardly surprised. The old castle was as full of secret passageways as it was of secrets. He followed her through without comment, emerging onto the soft, springy grass. Looking back, he saw only the smooth stone wall. Along the wall was an enormous pile of chopped wood, enough to supply every fireplace in the castle for a year. Libby began pulling out blocks, and by the time she had piled ten or fifteen on the ground another small door became visible. The wood had been stacked around a small building, more of a box really, chest-high and an arm span wide and long.
“This is where I put him,” Libby told Sihilan, pulling open the door.
Sihilan materialized at her side and peered in. By the light of the moon he saw her, curled into the fetal position, her bloodless head resting in front of her knees, facing him. Mivaya. The noble prisoner was nowhere to be seen. Sihilan’s stomach roiled and he wanted to throw up at the acute reminder of the murder he had committed that afternoon. Recoiling, he sucked in his breath and held it, but a tear escaped. He remembered his promise to her before he had killed her: that he would look after her family, somehow. In the same way that he said he would look after his family, somehow. Was the prisoner right? Were some things just bigger than yourself? Would it have been nobler to let the Queen have his own family killed than kill Mivaya? One stranger’s life for the price of six loved ones?
An impossible choice for a man to have to make.
Libby had regained her senses enough to speak – barely. “This… this m-m-means that—”
“That’s right, Commodore!” sang a voice. They both whirled around. Behind them was the Queen, supporting the sallow, yellow, and very dead prisoner, with three other guards flanking her. They were young and shuffled their feet uncomfortably. One of them, Aram, caught Sihilan’s eye and shook his head very slightly with a look of disgust. “My sisters and I see all, Givlenen. Sihilan. Do not think that we are late—I just wanted you to have your fun, and enjoy my little joke, and prove to you that it would never work. I’m surprised you’re even on his side, Lieutenant, after he made you kill poor Mivaya.” She tsked. “I may not be as powerful as I wish I could be—will be very soon—but even now nothing is going to stop me, do you understand? There is nothing that I cannot conquer, our prisoner here”—she jerked the limp man in indication—“included.
“Now, since you don’t have a family, Libby, there is nothing more to do than execute you, but you, Sihilan…a wife, four daughters, and two sons. My joke has put me in a benevolent mood, so I will give you the choice: go willingly with Libby to be locked up, or they all die tonight. I am still deliberating on whether you should be executed as well, but you will know in the morning.” She handed the body to Aram and dusted off her slender hands. The other two—Javan and Tiras—stepped forward and seized Libby. The Queen had known what Sihilan would choose; this arrogance was evident in her choice of only three guards.
He glanced achingly at Mivaya as he followed them through the secret door.
* * *
The prisoner awoke in a dim cell. He sat on a stone floor, knees up and arms wrapped around them in a position that should have been uncomfortable, but he was hardly aware of his body at all. Crisscrossing his body were strange, thin silver chains, and he stared at them, his mind like a blank canvas. He started to unfold himself from his odd stance—how had he managed to sleep this way?—but stopped when his body suddenly came alive in searing pain where the chains pressed into his skin. This confounded him. Such little things, but such fire.
Abandoning his efforts he instead searched for what had woken him up. He was aware that a light was falling on his face, and glanced up to see the door of the cell slightly ajar, and a face watched him with urgent blue eyes. They were familiar, but the reason for it was lost on him. He tilted his head curiously, but the face was not enough to hold his frail attention. The door opened the rest of the way and the blue-eyed woman behind it stepped into the cell. She had disheveled auburn hair and was dressed like pauper, but a scabbard protruded from under her worn coat. She made a motion, and the silver chains unwrapped from around him, pooling on the floor before disappearing completely. He stared at the spot where they had been, but soon they were gone from his mind also. He heard a sound, like someone clearing their throat, and looked up to see an auburn-haired woman standing before him, dressed in a shabby dress and—
“Come on. Come on.” His thought evaporated as she spoke. She held a hand out to him, a hand that he stared at blankly. “We’ve got to go right now.” Impatiently, she pulled him to his feet, and didn’t let go of his hand as she yanked him out of the prison. They fell into an unlit hallway filled to the brim with gyrating shadows that soon resolved themselves into people, a crowd of nearly twenty. Someone took his other hand, and they silently started to run.