“Can a person be broken?”
The man approaches me with much more confidence than I would have in his situation. His self-righteous demeanour reminds me of a certain person. A weakling who only thinks that he is strong because he is a skilful manipulator of social relationships. As long as he has the group behind him, he will do anything to gain a little more power. Such people think that they can get away with anything as long as the law protects them.
I don't even try to defend myself against his accusation, since I am far too angry for that. I snarl like an animal and strike out with my leg, just as he steps into reach. My shin follows a perfect arc and makes contact with his holiest place. It feels soft and I could swear that I felt something pop!
The man is still pointing at me, a unique expression on his face. The problem is that my lower leg is now caught between his thighs. I hop on my remaining foot, trying to keep my balance. “Let go! Pervert!”
He coughs, but doesn't react otherwise, so I shove him away from me in order to free myself. Somehow, I manage to reclaim my shin and he falls backwards. Once on the ground, he curls up into a foetal position and coughs again. There is no screaming, no tears. He just lies there and stares at something that's visible only to him.
That's when I realize that this isn't exactly the superior impression I wanted everyone to have of me. I look around, which confirms that I've fucked up. Everyone is looking at me as if I did something wrong. “What!? You saw that he was coming at me! What was I supposed do?”
Oh, great! Now they are looking away. Just grow a spine!
Kiara clears her throat. “Healers? I think they should take a look at him. Joyce got him really good.”
I decide to change the subject. “Why was he even speaking to me? Where is Edmund?”
One of the scholars steps forward. It's a woman with brown hair. “I am afraid that the First Scholar is among the missing people.”
I raise an eyebrow. They have ranks? Does each of them get a number? “Then what about the Second Scholar?”
She shakes her head. “She is also missing. And before you ask,” she looks down at the man who accused me, “he is Third. I am the Fourth Scholar, Amanda. A- a- a- and I am afraid that I've to protest against your treatment of one of ours. You definitely overreacted!”
But she didn't say that I was wrong. “Okay. I am sorry.” Totally not!
She winces. “That didn't sound sincere...”
“What do you want me to do? Should I kneel down and give him a blowjob?” I ask.
The man on the ground starts keening and tries to crawl away from me. It doesn't really work since he is trying to keep his legs close to his body while his hands do all the work. It's a pitiful sight and I wonder why nobody is trying to help him.
“I don't think that he would appreciate that at the moment,” Amanda whispers. Then her expression brightens up. “Why don't you try to help us? It's a great way to clear your name.”
“I am sure that she was about to do that when you interrupted us.” Fae steps to my left and grabs my upper arm.
“Yes! Joyce doesn't have anything to do anyway!” Kiara links arms with me from the other side and together, they pull me towards the narrow path which leads to the monument.
“No! Wait! What?” I try to protest, but Tristen shuts me up.
“Just be silent. We are trying to help you. The situation has to be diffused. Normally, we would be under obligation to protect our contractor and attack you.”
At least Brian tries to defend me. “Though I think that a kick to the private parts is a somewhat grey area. We aren’t paid to assist our contractor in harassing women. Our contract only covers wildlife, bandits and direct attacks on life, freedom or property. The guy would have a hard time to make any accusations stick in a courtroom.”
Fae turns around to look at him. “And it would be great for our reputation! Look! Those are the guards who allowed one of their charges to be castrated in front of their eyes!”
I really want to protest, but they are so caught up in their conversation that there isn't a single moment to add my own opinion. Although, I have to admit that I lost control when that man charged at me. That wasn't what I planned to do, but his vehemence surprised me. The sudden outrage at my mere presence also reminded me strongly of Nemus.
It was normal for my former master to switch within moments from cool and collected to brutal and sadistic. Did my enslavement cause some sort of mental issues? Did I turn into a nutcase? I thought that I managed to come out relatively unscathed, but what if I am only now starting to learn about the long term effects of a slave collar and mental suppression?
I am still lamenting over my past when we reach the monument. My escort places me in front of a large pit which wasn't there yesterday. The hole is at least two metres deep and about five metres in diameter. At the bottom of it is a large stone. The exciting thing about it is that there are glyphs all over its surface.
The Fourth Scholar, Amanda, was taking the lead. Now, she is pointing down into the pit. “That's what our people are so excited about. This is the first real artefact which we found. We have no idea what it says, but the First Scholar hoped that there is more text on the back, so they tried to dig it up.”
How did they find it in the first place? Do they have some sort of detection spell? It takes a while until I realize that they are expecting something from me. “What?”
Tristen clears his throat. “You are our wizard, so tell us what you think of that stone.”
“Anyone with even a bit of talent can sense the energy which is coming from the thing. Don’t insult me!” I squint my eyes at him. Does he have no respect for me? “I suppose that's why nobody dared to touch it?”
Fae gestures with her hand, urging me to go on. “Anything else? What is it?”
I look at the elf. There is no way that I would just forget that she snitched on me. But not helping them at all also feels wrong. It's hardly Edmund's fault that Fae and I have a score to settle. Though, I can do that once she is hired and has no chance to escape.
I return my attention to the stone and take my mask from my belt. Then I put it on and study the residual energy which was left behind. The whole pit is a single blob of diffuse energies. I take my time in studying every detail. “No idea what the glyphs say, but if I go by the residual energies, then I would say that it's a short-distance teleportation device.” I take off the mask.
Brian grumbles. “Great. Does that mean that it's going only in one direction? Otherwise the scholars should've returned by now. How do we get the scholars back? Or is the thing simply broken?”
“There is only one way to find out.” I use both hands to shove Amanda into the pit.
“Eeep!” She shrieks and falls. As she stumbles over the edge, she turns to look at me. There is a betrayed expression on her face. A light flashes and, with that, the count of missing people has risen from seven to eight.
“It's definitely a working teleporter,” I nod and jump before the others manage to recover from their shock. Surely, the next thing they would've asked of me is to go after the scholars.
There is a bright light and then there is darkness. Pure, pitch-black darkness. I cast a magelight and walk off the pedestal which is located in the middle of a large room. The ceiling is ten metres above me. The room seems to be a cave, but the floor was levelled and paved with marble.
“You shoved me!” Amanda points an accusing finger at me. She was waiting at the bottom of the pedestal. “I almost died of fear! I thought that the great darkness had taken me! Do you know that people can die of shock!?”
I wave her off. “You aren’t old enough. And you were a convenient test subject.”
Four flashes of light announce the arrival of the other four. They glare at me and Kiara is the first one to complain. “Did you already know that it would work? You wouldn't just shove a person into an uncertain fate, right!? Please tell me that you knew what would happen!”
I roll my eyes. “Oh, come on. Which idiot would design a teleportation device without safety features? The simple fact that it's working is enough to tell that it's safe.”
Tristen nods. “That's it guys. I've won the bet. She is a nutso. Just as I told you.” He holds out a hand and the other three place silver coins in his open palm. They grumble reluctantly, but nobody bothers to argue.
I feel a little hurt, but I say nothing and sit down on the circular pedestal while the others search the room. I don't pay any attention to them. Something is wrong with me. Why do I give a damn about what they think of me?
“That's their digging equipment!”
“We wondered why all their stuff was gone.”
“So they just couldn't return?”
Another flash of light. And shortly afterwards another one. “No. It works both ways!”
“So where are they?”
“Maybe down that tunnel?”
A deep sigh escapes me. They are like little children. But then a light appears in the indicated tunnel and Edmund appears. A magelight is floating above his head. “Oh? Why are you guys here? Is it already time for dinner?”
I roll my eyes. “And that's why you don't report a missing person before twenty-four hours have passed.”
“Joyce! I am so glad that you decided to visit.” He rushes over and pulls me to my feet. “You have to see this. The monument was created to mark this cave system. The people of this old civilisation stored all kinds of items down here. There are several little shrines down each corridor, all of them with their own sacrificial offerings...”
And there he goes. His teacher mode is switched on. He doesn't even realize that everyone is glaring at him. Oh, boy. They look like they are really angry. Angrier than they were at me. But nobody says a word. I suppose that they are waiting until we are out of here? Or is it due to the fact that he is their employer?