Chapter 8 Captivity
They stood in a black and featureless place. There was no up or down, no light - though they could see each other just fine - and no horizon.
"Now what?" asked Carolin.
Jian shrugged. "There's not exactly a lot of lore on this part, milady, and I didn't exactly finish my Squire's training in the first place," he said. "It's better than death, I suppose."
Carolin turned to him, and he noticed that her hair was out of its habitual tight french braid. Instead it now spilled loosely over her shoulders, ran in red rivers down her back. "There is nothing here, Jian. If we're here for long, we really will go crazy."
Jian grinned. "I said there wasn't a lot of lore," he laughed. "That doesn't mean I know nothing about this place."
She raised an eyebrow. "Care to share?" she asked archly.
Jian laughed again. "Milady...we are one. In this place, it's not as complete as it might be - and for that you should thank whatever god you pray to - but you can see anything in my mind you want to see."
Carolin frowned and stared at him a moment, and then nodded. "Yes, I do see. So we can do whatever we like here?"
"Except leave," said Jian - somewhat sadly. "We have absolute control over this place, but until your made thing is broken, we can't leave." To demonstrate, he wished himself a new crimson tunic - one that outlined the red sword-cross of the Knights in gold thread on the shoulder. Then he wished himself a comfortable chair to sit in. "We can make or destroy anything we like here - and that includes any visitors we might get."
Carolin wished herself back in the regal raiment she'd worn when he found her in the jungle - even a diadem of emeralds and diamonds in her hair. "I suppose if I'm Queen of this universe, I'd better look the part," she said. "But I don't know if I like the eyes. Will our eyes always be like this?"
Jian grinned; she'd seen her reflection in his mind, just as he'd seen his reflection in hers. So she knew that both of them now had eyes that were a solid glowing field of pale yellow-gold. "As long as we're joined like this, Lady Carolin, yes," he said. "I'm really more surprised at our shape. I'd have thought something more...majestic, I guess."
Carolin chuckled then, a wry and slightly bitter sound. "Ah, now that part didn't surprise me at all, even as uninformed as I am on how all this works," she said. "When you opened your mind to me - what did you think? What did you feel?"
Jian frowned. "I wanted to tear Leonhart to shreds," he admitted. "He shouldn't have moved to condemn so quickly. Damn it all, he was wrong!"
Carolin summoned herself a long couch and reclined on it. "You see? And I was thinking more or less the same thing. I think our basic purity of intent overrode whatever usually determines shape. I rather doubt people are usually thinking 'I have to tear so-and-so to shreds' when they undergo the change. Do you?"
"Hyne, I hope not," said Jian. "But then...I don't really know much about what happens to people after they change like this. I just knew it was possible, and that it would keep you from dying, Lady Carolin."
Carolin frowned. "I suppose it's better than dying," she said. "But if I didn't know you were trying to do what you think is right, I'd swear you set me up to land me here." She blew out a long sigh. "Jian...you're getting more out of this than I am. I just wish I'd never laid eyes on any of you Squires. Or that Leonhart had decided to come to another town besides Timber."
That stung a bit. "It is said in the capital that a true friend is rarer than a true love," he remarked quietly. "You hid what you are from me - not without good reason, milady, I know that - but Leonhart saw the truth before I did. Only natural, I suppose - he's been a Knight longer than I've been alive, and he still knows ten times more about it than I do. I've done my best to keep you alive, Lady Carolin. I'll understand if you want to separate as soon as we're freed. I never meant to cage you."
She could feel the truth of that. Even as he spoke, she felt his thoughts in her mind. But speaking mind-to-mind was just... eerie. There was no reason not to speak here, so that was what she preferred to do.
"I know, Jian," she said sadly. "But caged is what I am, now. Better than dead, but not by much. I'd have let the bastard kill me if I hadn't known that was exactly what he wanted. Now, I won't give him the satisfaction. I'll live just because I know that it'll infuriate him." She laughed a little, bitterly. "What a reason to live."
Jian nodded. "I know what you mean. I want him to know he was wrong - I can't bear the idea that he could go forever and never know what he's really done. Lady Carolin - would you object if I set a call for him? This world of ours...we can't leave it, but other people can enter it. And we can pull people in if we choose. I'd like to set a trap for him - the minute he enters a state where he could come here, I want him to be here."
"We can do that?" asked Carolin - then flicked through Jian's memories to confirm that yes, they could. Their world bordered on an eternal realm, where some people could come in their dreams, and others could only come when they died. Leonhart might have to die first, but eventually he would come within their reach. "Yes - do that. It will kill a few centuries, preparing a hell just for him."
Jian frowned. "I agree he should be punished, Lady Carolin," he said, "but I have no taste for torture. I'd rather drop him in a private hell and just leave him there, than stand around watching. Or better yet, make him our eyes and ears outside this place - so that we aren't completely lost when we're released."
"He would do that?" She frowned. "Okay, I can see why you think he would do that. But I don't have quite your faith in him. I suppose it'll be better for him than what I have in mind, though, so he'll probably agree. I'll agree with you that we could use some way of keeping track of time. Hyne...I will miss the sun by the time we leave!"
Jian could only agree with that; the featurelessness of their prison was very depressing. He raised his head and threw one arm straight up - palm up and perpendicular to the arm. A great black sphere took shape, and eventually launched itself upward - quickly becoming lost in the overall blackness around them. Then he lowered his arm.
"I've sent the call," he said unnecessarily. "He's made a mistake, milady, trapping us here. It's set our power - we can pull him to us with it. Pull anyone to us. That sphere will wait for him until he enters the eternal realm - and then it will have him, and bring him here."
Carolin's golden eyes narrowed. "Until then, it should kill a few decades - preparing the perfect hell for him. I like your idea, actually. He trapped us here, and probably didn't give us a second thought once he did. Let him learn, then, what it feels like." Immediately she began creating a place within their realm just for their captor. From what Jian could see, it looked like red-hot pokers were just the start of it.
There was no sense of time, in the featureless prison. They were a force now, no longer mortal, and grew neither hungry nor tired. That meant they couldn't even measure time in terms of sleep and waking, or eating and drinking. So they were quite surprised when, after an undefinable while, Jian's sphere returned - carrying the trapped soul of Leonhart within it.
By this time, Jian and Carolin had abandoned words - thoughts flickered between their minds much more quickly than they could be spoken, carrying greater meaning than inflection or tone alone could do. Carolin decided that Leonhart would never hear her speak - nor would any human but Jian. He understood why; it was not haughtiness, but rather that she could not trust her voice any longer to say what she truly meant. And she had no desire to spend time explaining things to people who would not understand why she did not revel in the power she was given. Jian, she trusted. Jian was her friend. The rest of the world could quite literally go to hell for all she cared.
When the sphere faded and Jian's former master stood before them, they got a second surprise. No longer did he look like a man even in his late forties, as Jian had known him. Instead he was a young man of about nineteen or twenty, with features sharp and fine, unblurred by age, and almost hauntingly beautiful. His hair had no gray in it, being instead a rich maple-brown, cut thick and fine. He cut a breathtaking figure in his black clothes, with his black-and-silver surcoat embroidered with a lion's head. The red Knight's Cross stood like a bleeding wound on his shoulder. It was easy to see why he'd caught a Sorceress' eye. Where Jian stood like a sunrise, Leonhart stood like a full moon night. Only the eyes were unchanged. Silver gray, piercing eyes...with not a single hint of mercy or leniency in them. It took Jian only a moment in meeting those eyes again, to remember his fury in being imprisoned here.
But no one, ever, had accused the Lion of being stupid. He took one look at Jian, and the blackness all around, and dropped to one knee, kneeling as a paladin kneels before a relic of his god, head bowed with one black-gloved fist over his heart.
The pose was rather ruined by Jian's well-connected punch, which almost dropped the black-clad Knight out of sight in the surrounding blackness. He did not move from where he landed, only returned to the kneeling pose.
"Why!" roared Jian - and found his voice had changed. It was still his, but it was also Carolin's - and a grating, heavy voice that cracked like an open tomb, or a yawning dragon. "You will tell us that before anything else, you bastard. Why didn't you stop the spell! Why did you start it so soon?"
"I didn't stop it because I didn't know that it was going wrong," said Leonhart calmly, still not raising his head from the pose of reverence. "That ritual hasn't been needed in two hundred years, and the notes I had were fairly vague. I started it as soon as I could because I could not trust that you were sane. If you were thralled then when you arrived the Squires would die - and they would only be the first. I did what I felt must be done."
"If it is any comfort to you - and I don't imagine it will be - I have spent the last forty years blind and alone. I will serve whatever punishment you see fit to mete out, Divine One."
Jian's anger deflated - though he could still feel Carolin's fury. "Are we your god now, Leonhart?" he asked flatly.
"You are a god of this world," said Leonhart, "imprisoned or not. You can force me to suffer whatever you wish, and there is nothing I can do about it. I merely accept the hand that fate has dealt me."
Jian turned his back on him then. It was the Lion's way, he knew, to turn situations around by reacting in ways that weren't expected. Thoughts flickered, lightning-fast, between his mind and the mind of his Sorceress.
"You will suffer, Leonhart," said Jian flatly. "You have earned that, by placing us here unjustly - you, who proclaim your devotion to justice. You do not even know my Lady's name, she whom you gave this choice to. She sees fit to keep it that way; you shall neither see her nor know her name until she feels you have earned forgiveness. You will suffer in the hell that she has made for you, until I fetch you out. You will teach me then, all the things I had no time to learn while I moved to save her, until I return you to your hell again. I imagine you'll probably come up with things to say after a while - my Lady has thought of nothing but her anger for you since we came here. How long did you say that was? Forty years?"
"Yes," said Leonhart quietly. "But I will tell you this now, Divine One. You are a god, but you are a weak god. Your bond was based not in love but in friendship and anger, and it was only new-formed when you were pulled here. If you would survive your prison, you will need to make alliance with other gods. If you would shorten your imprisonment, you must first win over Bahamut. Bahamut can see the futures, all the futures that may be. It can tell you what course to take to shorten your captivity."
Ah, now he had Carolin's interest - Jian could sense it. "And how does one contact a god, when this prison holds us here? If you are asking us to let you go and fetch this Bahamut, I am afraid you are going to be disappointed."
"You have only to call for it," said Leonhart. "It cannot be forced here, as I was, but you can send it a summons. It is one of the strongest of your kind - I would suggest being polite."
"Enough!" snapped Jian, and with a wave of his hand sent the Knight to the hell that Carolin had created. It was so hard to remember that this man was his enemy - he'd spent so much of his time admiring Leonhart that he'd never noticed the man's flaws until they caught him on the chin. Literally. And then he would say something like that...and with the tone remind Jian of who had been Squire, and who Knight...and Jian would have to fight down the urge to flatten him.
He took no especial joy in inflicting pain. Carolin did, with a positively sadistic glee. Especially on this one. He couldn't really blame her - having Leonhart around only emphasized their aloneness in this featureless place. He didn't like to think of his Sorceress inflicting pain, but since the man was already dead there was no other way for Carolin to feel that the Knight properly understood what it was to have an undefined sentence of captivity. She really did take being caged very harshly - sometimes, he caught her thinking it might have been better to die, after all. And those thoughts hurt the worst.
He sent out the call to Bahamut. His lady's energies were better spent than on pointless torture, however psychologically gratifying it might be.
Barely had the dark sphere disappeared against his prison's featureless blackness, than a couple appeared a few feet away from him. The Knight looked not unlike Jian, only with a much, much longer sword. His Sorceress opted for a casual combat look as well, dressing as a swordswoman. Her blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail.
Both of them had eyes as black as Jian's prison, with flecks of light that glittered like stars dancing in their depths. They looked in unison to the set-aside place where Carolin had made her hell, and frowned.
"If you would be free, you would be wise not to do that," they said in unison. "What the old lion has captured, a young lion may free. If this one is also free to influence events."
Jian frowned, and in a moment Carolin appeared at his side. "What can he do now? He is dead, isn't he?"
The couple that made up Bahamut smiled. "We foresee a time where he will be able to have an influence upon the holder of your prison. You will not be able to force him to exert his will on your behalf. You may only persuade him."
Carolin frowned. Jian picked up the impression that she was quite enjoying giving the Knight who'd ruined her life a little payback.
"Thank you for your advice, Bahamut," said Jian politely. "If we do this...will we be released sooner?"
Bahamut laughed, two throats making three sounds. "Diablos, if you do not do this, you will never be free at all."
That prospect sent Carolin running to destroy the hell she'd made. Not without a little grumbling at the necessity, though. Jian turned to them, and said "Thank you."
Bahamut nodded. "We understand her feelings, but we have no desire to see a corrupt Guardian Force arise. We serve ourselves as well as you, by warning you. But your imprisonment will be long, very long yet. Conserve your strength, and do not waste it in frivolity. You will be needed, in years to come."
Jian turned his head and watched Carolin freeing Leonhart. She still refused to speak to him, a small spite taking the place of a larger one he supposed. "It will be nice to be needed, I think," he said a little wistfully. But when he turned his head back to where Bahamut had been, the couple was gone.
Leonhart kneeled before them, in the pose he'd been in before. One of the rules of this place seemed to be that you could control your own appearance - at least to an extent - so he didn't look as though he'd been through hell. But both of them knew he had. Leonhart's thoughts echoed in the prison, readable by both Jian and Carolin, and those thoughts echoed with pain and shame.
But, as yet, no thought of vengeance. Either Leonhart was very good at masking his true thoughts - something Jian considered unlikely, given the circumstances - or he was if anything judging himself more harshly that even Carolin had. Hell wasn't really a punishment if you truly believed you deserved worse - and it seemed that Leonhart did.
Thoughts flickered between Jian and Carolin, determining what should be said and how it should be said. Finally, Jian bade Leonhart rise.
"Leonhart," he began, "Do you feel we deserve this place you have imprisoned us in? Had you known the truth - had you been willing to see it - do you think we would be here?" Jian knew the answer already, floating in the Knight's mind, but they needed to make him say it.
Which he did. "No," said Leonhart sadly. "Your Sorceress is an angry one, but she is sane and there are reasons for her anger. You were - are - no danger to the Empire. You do not deserve what I have done to you."
"We have spoken to Bahamut," said Jian. "You can undo what you have done, if you choose."
Leonhart looked up at that. "Then tell me how, Divine One. Your Lady's fires and pains are nothing compared to the magnitude of my mistake."
Jian smiled then; exactly what he'd been hoping for. He dared to hope, just a little, that his original respect for the Lion had not been misplaced. "We can release you back into the eternal realm," he said. "Bahamut tells us that you will one day be able to manipulate events so that we can be freed from your prison. If we release you - will you work toward that end?"
Leonhart blinked. "The dead cannot influence the living, Divine One," he said, slightly puzzled. "What does Bahamut think I can do?"
Jian shrugged. "Bahamut says only that you can do it, Leonhart. It did not say how."
"Then I will do my best," said Leonhart, and bowed. A little part of Jian - and a larger part of Carolin - was thinking I could get used to this.
"Then go," said Jian, and threw a dark sphere at Leonhart. The sphere carried him out of the dark realm, out of sight.
Carolin turned to Jian then, moved to speak. "What do we do now?" she asked.
"Bahamut said we must conserve our energy, for we will be needed when we are freed. It also said we're going to be here a long time - and when Bahamut says things like that, I'm thinking it means centuries rather than decades. Perhaps we should just...switch off or something. Work on increasing the bond's power, maybe."
Carolin smiled. "Always with you it is the bond. What if I'd like to just be me again when we get out of here?"
Jian frowned. "Bahamut said we will be needed, milady. I think it meant needed as Diablos. It has told us how to get out of here - if we can return the favor by being where we are needed, that's more than a fair trade in my book."
Carolin nodded. "All right, then. For as long as we are needed. I don't object to having your thoughts in my mind, Jian, you know that. I just...wish I'd had more time to be me first."
"I know, milady. As you know I will miss your thoughts, when you are gone." He wrapped his arms around her then, lightly protective but loosely enough not to cage her, his Sorceress who so valued freedom.
They let their minds drift together in a dream-state, floating mind and body a single spark in endless darkness. Diablos would need to be strong.
Leonhart wandered the world alone for a while, wondering what on earth he was supposed to be able to do. Occasionally one or another of his old Squires would pop in, always amazed and grateful that he had his sight back. Not that Leonhart himself wasn't grateful for that. Being dead had its advantages. He didn't dare call out for Bahamut, though. The oracular Guardian Force never took kindly to summonses by anyone of less than divine power. Still - he had no idea what he was supposed to be looking for. Until he realized he could see Sorceresses. He could see them and hear them, and that gave him an idea of what was going on in the world for a while. He ended up wishing himself blind again when he saw the devastation of the Lunar Cry hit Centra. Human bodies appeared everywhere, generally at least partially eaten, and buildings fell to rubble. His Empire was fallen, and her Empress with her - he saw her die, her magic exhausted as a ... something ... bit her head off. Her death was slow and painful, for there was no one left for her to pass the gift on to.
He fled Centra then, and refused to walk there again. So he was - unfortunately - on hand when the Sorceress Adel arose in Esthar. He did not dare to influence this madwoman towards finding the lamp - what she would do with the power of that Guardian Force was not worth thinking about. But Adel was searching for someone - perhaps that someone would be trustworthy. But Adel couldn't find this girl, and she was looking everywhere even remotely inhabited.
It was lucky she was insane, or she'd have worked out where the girl must be before Leonhart could nerve himself to go there. Centra, again. He was quite surprised to find another Sorceress down there; a sane Sorceress even. Leonhart exerted his will on her - Visit Timber. Go to this place. Bring out the lamp.
It didn't quite work as he'd hoped. She sent someone else for the lamp, and whoever it was took a hellishly long time about it. But in the end he saw the lamp and its carrier - a rather bumbling man. He gave the lamp into the Sorceress' grasp and disappeared again. She knew what it was, of course, as soon as she touched it. She was, after all, a Sorceress. She gave whoever had brought it to her clear instructions that only a powerful fighter attempt to open it - and then smiled and hinted that 'the children' probably would be strong enough eventually.
He had seen the carrier when he held he lamp. Perhaps she would have 'the children' - whoever they were - hold it too. He tried that, but to his surprise she spoke a response.
"I feel you, whoever you are," she said. "I have the lamp you wanted me to have - I imagine you have some connection with it. But I am not going to put children in the way of being harmed by it. There is great power in that lamp, but it is not purely benevolent. If you want them to play with it, you'll have to wait until they are older and stronger." She paused then, and smiled. "You feel familiar - and I think I know why. Leave me alone, spirit, and go down to the beach. I think you will understand when you see."
Leonhart was shocked. This woman was beyond perceptive; even the Empresses of Centra hadn't clearly felt his influence. But this woman, living in the ruins of empire, had clearly proven she knew when she was being manipulated. The habit of a lifetime's training kicked in, and he moved to obey her - heading out to the beach.
He could see a little boy there, sitting on some high rocks watching the sea. He could see the boy - he hadn't seen a living male since he'd left Diablos' prison. But men couldn't be Sorceresses -he mentally kicked himself. He had seen this gentle Sorceress' Knight when he carried in the lamp, so presumably this boy must have something like the lamp about him. But what? Jian's Sorceress had been the last one he knew of to make anything.
He blinked. His ring? His own Griever, on this child? How? He examined the boy closely - used to the fact that the living could not see him - and detected the slight bulge under his shirt that could come from wearing the ring on a chain. Touching skin.
"And just what do you think you're doing with my son?" came a coolly angry woman's voice behind him.