Gathering of An Army

What else stirs in the fractured mind...

“Well this is a new place, Loviatar. Are we to play hide and seek so my torment is mental and the anticipation of torture, or is this time physical and he is here to break my body, and he just doesn’t realize you have sent me to him yet? I shall find out eventually, but for now what he can’t find, he can’t torture.”

While the black armored figure was distracted watching a strange image floating in the air, Samuel quickly ran out of the tunnel and to the edge of the island. Looking down from the edge, all he could see was blackness. He knew he couldn’t die, his mind and body had been broken enough times to know that she would just have a minion heal him again if he actually managed to succeed in suicide. He glanced over his shoulder at the stoic figure and knew that eventually, probably any second now, he would turn around and see him, and then the torture would begin. Samuel did not want this and the only other thing on this island was a cage, which he did not particularly want to be stuck in, so he did the only thing left. He jumped.

He seemed to fall forever. He didn’t need to eat or sleep, being dead and all, so the time falling was almost peaceful. Almost. At the back of his mind, he always thought of Her. His eternal tormentor, Loviatar. He was constantly expecting her, or more than likely one of her minions, to swoop down and drag him back to a new torture that they had thought up. While he fell his mind drifted. He thought of all the pains he had been through. The physical ones were easy by now. The psychological ones were much worse. He had been here so long that he couldn’t even remember a time before the pain. Some days he wished he knew why he was here, most days he was happy that he didn’t.

He heard stories from other prisoners every once in a while. Their stories were awful. Most were evil men who made deals for power, and were now serving out the sentence of their horrible bargains. Some were sad stories of decent folk who just didn’t know any better. The worst were the ones who suffered now because they had wanted to save loved ones. Like a man he spoke to from time to time named Samuel. That man had given up his very soul in order to save his wife and children, and before he was allowed to die, he was forced to watch them suffer a terrible and slow death.

No, Samuel was glad that he could not remember his life, or even his name, before the pain.

He fell for what seemed like years, decades even. He saw nothing except utter blackness, though he thought he heard people talking every now and then. Probably that black armored figure torturing someone, for all he could hear were muffled voices and loud grunts. Probably not though. He must be miles from that lonely island in the darkness and the sounds always came from a short distance away. Suddenly a scream pierced the darkness. It startled him so much, and was so close behind him, that for the first time since his dive, he looked up towards where he came from. To his amazement, he found the same lonely island floating just 30 feet behind him. To his utter disbelief, the island ever so slowly moved closer with just him wishing to move closer to it. It almost felt like swimming through water, and for the briefest of moments, Samuel remembered being a small boy swimming in a lake. But the memory was gone before it even fully formed, and did nothing more than confuse him.

As he approached, he heard two men talking, arguing, fall silent for a time, then argue again. He guessed one was his black armored torturer. When he was close enough, Samuel reached up and grabbed the ledge with his two fully functional arms. He could just barely remember a time when Loviatar personally burned off his right arm as payment. Payment for what, he could not remember. He didn’t know if Loviatar had given him his arm back as a reward, which he doubted, or just so her torturers would have another limb to break and bend, but he barely gave it a thought these days. He gave it a thought now simply because he was shocked by what he saw on the island.

The two men argued for quite some time while Samuel clung to the edge of the island. They looked remarkably alike and both were missing their right arm. They seemed to be arguing about the nonexistent arm because they kept looking at where it should have been. It caused Samuel to glance down at his own arm and wonder if Loviatar had taken theirs as well. Nowhere in sight was the black armored figure, but Samuel would take no chances that this wasn’t just another trick so he stayed where he was, hidden from view as best he could. And he was glad he did for suddenly one of the figures, the one named Rusk, formed a glowing blue sword in his remaining hand and, shortly after, the other one, the one called Marian, formed a red hammer in his.

Samuel was starting to get worried. In his experience, minions formed weapons just before they tortured you. He was about to let go and float away, when they suddenly smiled and started swinging at each other. Is this where the minions of Loviatar came to train? Samuel wasn’t certain, but they kept it up for hours. Suddenly Rusk landed a blow on Marian’s side, or at least so Samuel thought. There wasn’t the sickening sound of flesh ripping that he had heard so often, but instead the sound of metal on metal. Before Samuel’s eyes, a black patch spread from Marian’s side to cover his entire body in black armor. And suddenly Samuel knew that his tormentor had never left. As he tried to figure out what was going on, he noticed that the one named Rusk suddenly glowed blue and seemed to move faster than he could follow. They both seemed extremely happy to be able to do this, but did not seem to be surprised when it happened. They laughed and joked while continuing to try to kill each other. Watching these minions train to become better servants of Loviatar made him sick. They enjoyed it far too much. They were probably thinking of all the poor souls that they would torture in the name of their wicked goddess.

This training went on for a long time, days it seemed to Samuel as he still clung to the edge of the island. Suddenly out of the corner of his eye, he caught the same floating image that Marian had been watching when Samuel first arrived. It had a startling effect on the two combatants. Weapons fell from numb fingers. All thoughts of combat seemed to stop as they both turned and stared at the image. It looked different to Samuel, blurry. Then he noticed the tunnel suddenly appear. The tunnel! He had completely forgotten about it, hadn’t even noticed it had been missing. Rusk and Marian shared some words, something about hand holding, a snake attack. Some of it made less sense to Samuel. Something about being a whole person. Looking at them and their surroundings, he almost laughed. The laughter never came though. He thought he heard something about honor. That froze him. What did the servants of Loviatar, that sham of a goddess, know about honor? He didn’t know anything about his past life, or even his name, but he knew more about honor than any of them.

After a quick handshake, Rusk ran off towards the tunnel, and Marian walked towards the cage. Samuel watched as Marian sank down inside the cage as the tunnel disappeared from view and, as the image became sharper, Marian whispered something that Samuel could barely hear. The only word he definitely heard was “son”. Samuel looked back at the sharpening image as he heard a voice float down from it, “You’re awake. Welcome back to the land of the living, Private.” Samuel’s eyes snapped back to Marian at the mention of those words, but all he saw was black smoke being blown in to nothing.

The land of the living?! The same thought reverberated through Samuel’s mind. If that tunnel led to the land of the living, he would be free finally. It was gone now, but it returned once before, and Samuel was patient. After what seemed like hours, the tunnel suddenly spiraled into existence once more. Samuel didn’t care if it was a trick or not, if there was even a chance he had to take it. He pushed himself up on to the island and slowly stepped forward. Still not seeing any sign of Marian, Samuel started sprinting towards the tunnel, his only thought on freedom. He took one last look back at the cage and when he turned around he saw blackness starting to form near the mouth of the tunnel. It was still only smoke when he ran past it, but suddenly a chainmail covered hand shot out of the smoke and threw Samuel back.

“And just where the hell do you think you’re going? And who the fuck are you?!”

Samuel looked up from the flat of his back to see Marian standing over him wielding an impressive red hammer. He had seen enough of that weapon to know what it could do, but he had also experienced every torture that an immortal goddess could think of, and that tunnel was his one chance of escape.

“….Get….out….of…my..way!”

They were the first words he had spoken in longer than he could remember. They started slow, but sped up quickly.

“I need to get out, and you better call more of your brethren because one servant of Loviatar isn’t enough to stop me this time. Do your worst, filth, I’ve had worse.”

Marian looked at him curiously. “I have no idea who Loviatar is, but I know that I’m no servant of his. I ask again, who the hell are you?” When there was clearly no verbal response coming, only this unnamed intruder trying with all his might to get past him, Marian grabbed him by the arm and dragged him, kicking and screaming, to the cage of black smoke. “You may have had worse, but that doesn’t change the fact that you aren’t getting past me. I failed him once, it won’t happen again.”

After a few hours of questioning, Marian finally gave up. His prisoner would give no information, no matter how nice or how angry he was. All he did was slam his body against the bars, or sit idly in the cage staring at him. He had a glimmer of insanity in his eyes that Marian could not get past. He would break eventually, but in the meantime, Marian would not waste any more time when he could be more enjoying himself watching as his son lived his life.

As time passed, Samuel grew used to his new cage. He wasn’t tortured per se, just stuck in a cage with nothing to do and nowhere to go. His new tormentor must be new and didn’t seem to have all the tricks that his old ones did. He spent his days staring up at the image of the living world. The people in the image kept using the name Rusk, and Samuel eventually learned that what he was viewing was the world seen through the eyes of Rusk. The tunnel was still there, and he was patient. He could wait. Marian seemed distraught by how much Rusk wanted him to come back. Marian was distracted. He would falter. And when he did, Samuel would have his chance.

The day was as any other, Samuel sat calmly in his cage, staring at the living world. Marian sat with his back to Samuel and the cage, also watching the living world. Marian was done with Samuel. He never spoke anymore, simply sat in the cage. There was no way to get information out of a person who, according to him, had been tortured by all manner of creature, including a god. That cage was impenetrable, Marian himself had spent enough time behind it to know that much. So until he wanted to talk, Marian ignored him. So this is how they spent their days, both watching the window, neither saying anything to each other.

Marian didn’t much like what he was seeing today though. Rusk had been trying everything in his power to get Marian to show himself, and recently had located an alchemist’s shop. Rusk bought a good number of fireworks and was burning them in the shape of a hammer, in order to simulate Marian’s own hammer and tempt him to come back. It wasn’t working. Marian would not come back. Rusk needed to live his own life. And then it hit him, literally. A balled up fist hit the back of Marian’s head, knocking him to the ground. He hadn’t worn his armor for a while, didn’t quite see the point really, and that was his downfall.

He rolled on to his side as his prisoner ran past. Instinctually, he kicked out with his foot catching Samuel in the shin. He leapt up, forming his armor as he went, and fell on Samuel. Keeping a firm hold on Samuel, Marian started back towards the cage, but stopped when he noticed the large gaps in the bars.

“So that’s how you got out. Rusk’s desire for us to be together is actually making the cage disappear. Looks like I’ll need to figure out something new to do with you.”

Marian walked Samuel over to the cage, but instead of putting him inside; he leaned him against the remaining bars and forced him into a sitting position. He took a few of the remaining bars and twisted them around Samuel’s arms, effectively pinning him to the cage, for now.

“Here you will stay until you decide to talk. I am no servant of Loviatar, whoever he is. Besides, everyone knows the gods left this plane eons ago.”

“Liar! Loviatar is a goddess. Your goddess. And she has held me prisoner, torturing me for centuries, possibly longer. I do not know my name, or why I am here. That was taken from me, as it is taken from all eventually. I have no information for you to torture out of me that your friends have not taken years ago. I do not know if that tunnel truly leads to the living world, but I will find out. And when I arrive I will torture all your evil brethren until I am certain it is the real world I have finally returned to, and then I will torture them more to pay for what your repulsive goddess has done to me. I have learned patience over the millennia, and nothing you can do will stop me. If what you say is true, that the gods did indeed leave that plane, then she can never get to me again. I will do everything in my power to get there and nothing you, or anyone else, can prevent that from happening, or from getting me to leave once I arrive. I have patience and your cage is weakening.”

Marian involuntarily stepped back. There was nothing he could say or do to make this creature see reason. With Rusk’s resolve, and thus the cage, weakening, Marian would not be able to keep Samuel out indefinitely, but if he didn’t, everyone his son cared about was doomed to a slow painful death by this madman. Whoever Loviatar is, he was glad he at least didn’t have to worry about her. But for now, he must stand as a sentinel. He must never let his guard down again. And must never give in to temptation and view the images floating in the air behind him.

More bars were disappearing all the time. Over the last few months, at least listening to the voices coming through the window since he could not look at them, Rusk seemed to have partially given up on his quest to bring Marian back. But then why were the bars still disappearing? He had already had to move Samuel twice to new bars and if it kept going at this rate, soon there wouldn’t be any bars left.

An explosion caused the image to reappear. Rusk was awake, and Samuel was staring intently at the image. His captor may not be able to look at the window, but there was nothing stopping him. He watched as Rusk raced through the snow towards the village where his precious friends stayed. He would be there if he didn’t bother with that so called goddess Desna. That always confused Samuel. If the gods had all left the plane, why did Rusk follow this supposed goddess Desna? Unless Marian had lied and the gods were alive and well. That must be it. Loviatar was still there. She was simply going by a different name to trick people. So all these supposed followers of Desna were secretly following the teachings of Loviatar. That would make sense. Who else would torture and imprison innocent butterflies? Oh, the village was on fire. This could be an auspicious day. A day Samuel had patiently waited for.

“Your son’s friends do not fare well. The village is burning. Oh and the little one can make water. How interesting. I wonder if she can still do that while she is burning alive. Time will tell.” Come on, look. “Looks like I won’t have many of Loviatar’s admirers to torture once those flames do their job.”

Marian turned for the briefest moment to see what was happening, and if Shai really was in danger. In that moment, Samuel lived up to his promise of patience. The last of the bars gave way and the fire surrounding Rusk seemed to give Samuel strength as he knocked Marian over and sprinted for the tunnel. Marian was on his feet in an instant and did what he never thought he would. He used Rusk’s version of the armor to gain extra speed and race past Samuel. As they got toward the tunnel, Marian reactivated his armor to gain the strength needed to throw Samuel back to where the cage would once again be in a moment, turned back on Rusk’s armor, and sprinted with all speed down the tunnel. He knew he had to get there before Samuel moved. Get the cage back up before Rusk arrived and was over taken by a foe he knew nothing about, or even knew existed.

Samuel slammed on to the ground where the cage was, and knew that he had to move before that retched spawn of Loviatar was able to form it again. He jumped up and rolled forward, right as Rusk was being propelled down the tunnel directly at him. Now was his chance. Marian would never know, and Rusk was too clueless to stop him. As Rusk stumbled forth from the tunnel, he was suddenly grabbed and thrown forward. Being disoriented from the transfer back, he didn’t quite know what was happening but he felt himself get pushed again from behind and then slammed to the ground. When he was finally able to shake his head clear, he found himself back in the black smoke cage he thought he would never see again. When he peered through the bars, his confusion only grew as he saw someone other than Marian on the other side.

“Hello Rusk. I’d tell you my name, but I don’t know what it is! HA. You are now my prisoner, as your fellow follower of Loviatar, Marian, once held me. HAHA! He didn’t have the stomach to get information out of someone, but I do. And since that tunnel won’t reappear for quite some time, you’ll tell me everything I want to know, and more. And then, if you tell me everything I want to know, maybe I’ll spare your friends from the same fate.” A smile slowly spread over Samuel’s face, as a look of fear spread over Rusk’s. Thanks to Marian, the bars were indeed strong.

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