PRISON BREAK (III)
Lucky, Hannah and Alison had spent two weeks by now nestled inside their small pothole, silently observing, looking, seeking. However, even after full two weeks, all they had to show for it were mounting levels of frustration and restlessness, especially so for Lucky. She had always prided herself on being able to get into and out of any place undetected, yet she also found herself completely stumped. The entire fortress seemed to be a locked room; nobody got in or out through conventional means, the guard shifts occurred naturally without creating a potential window for something to go athwart, and virtually every entrance she could think of seemed off-limits.
She stood once more behind the looped rock, her brows furrowed, as she gazed into the distant, cold stone. It was no longer a matter of completing a mission for her, it was personal; she had promised herself not to call Lino, or anyone else for that matter, and to find a way to sneak into the place on her own. She hadn’t even noticed that the man had joined her on the side. Even after two weeks, they were unable to pry open a name from his lips, though not for a lack of trying.
After all, potential eons had passed since he was thrown into this hell; it was a miracle he could still foster a thought or even command a movement, let alone anything else.
“... hello.” the man jostled Lucky out of her thoughts as she glanced sideways; he had recovered somewhat, regaining faint blush on his cheeks and luster in his eyes, though his body still remained skeletal.
“Yo,” Lucky said, sitting down and leaning against the rock, taking out a bottle of mead and pouring two cups full. “You ate yet?”
“Yes,” the man nodded, taking a cup. “You figured out a way?”
“... no,” Lucky sighed in frustration, heaving her head up and locking eyes with the high, ashen clouds. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear there wasn’t even a way in, that there never was, and that the entire fortress was built from inside out.”
“... do you know anything about formations?” the man asked suddenly, his expression somewhat pained for a moment.
“A little bit. Why?”
"I can't explain it, but... whenever I look at the fortress, if I really focus, I can see these thinly veiled threads bouncing off of one another, weaving into a strange web. And, each time, I get a feeling that something is wrong, or isn't where it's supposed to be... I'm sorry... I wish I could explain it better..."
“...” Lucky thought for a moment, scrutinizing the man deeply. Alison’s Master, after all, had told them to come after this man specifically -- there must have been a clear reason for it. “Can you pinpoint where it feels wrong?” Lucky asked.
“... no, I’m sorry.” the man shook his head. “It’s... too vague.”
“Don’t worry,” Lucky smiled faintly. “That still gives me hope. Unfortunately, I don’t know nearly enough about formations to locate their flaws... and I don’t think those two do either. Would you be comfortable if we tried to jostle some memories back into you?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, I’m hardly an expert in the field,” Lucky said as she got up, walking down the slope toward Hannah. “But, there might be a way to forcefully make you remember some things.”
“If there is, I’d be more than happy to do it.”
“Don’t get excited just yet; I can’t imagine consequences being anything to scoff at.”
“... it doesn’t matter what they are.” the man replied with stone-cold determination, surprising Lucky. “I... I want to remember. Who I was... why I wound up in this place... when... no matter what happens to me now.”
“Hey, you two found anything?” Hannah asked as she spotted Lucky and the man approach.
“Just a big old piece of nothin’,” Lucky sighed. “Can I ask you something that might make you uncomfortable?”
“... are any of your questions anything besides that?” Hannah fired back.
“Fair point,” Lucky chuckled. “Anyway, he just told me something that leads me to believe he might be the key for us to get inside. There’s a catch.”
“A catch?” Hannah asked with clear interest; after all, hardly a soul would love spending days here, locked away from the rest of the world, living in the hollow woods.
“He’d have to remember first.”
“What do you--ah,” Hannah exclaimed softly, frowning. “And you think I can somehow magically make him remember?”
“Not magically, but yeah, in essence.”
“I’m willing to do anything,” the man suddenly added, spotting Hannah’s reluctance. “And even if something goes awry, so be it -- it simply wasn’t meant to be.”
“... even if I could pull something out of you,” Hannah said, sighing. “I can’t be certain what that something would be. It’s easy to make people forget things, but to make them remember something...”
“Hypothetically,” Lucky said. “How would we go about it and what would we need?”
“... hypothetically,” Hannah scoffed. “I wouldn’t need much -- just a simple formation would do. Most of the heavy work would fall on his shoulders.”
“Let’s do it!” the man quickly exclaimed, his fingers bunching up into a fist.
“Do what?” Alison suddenly wriggled out from between the trees, returning with a stack of logs in her arms.
“They’re going to restore my memory!” the man answered before Hannah and Lucky had a chance to think up a lie, causing both of them to groan. Alison’s expression instantly changed as she looked at Hannah and Lucky.
“Absolutely not. It’s too unsafe.” she said firmly.
“I don’t care--”
“But I do!” Alison interrupted the man, putting the logs down. “There has to be a better way than to dig through your mind in vain hope we might find something useful. There’s a greater chance we’d simply either drive you to madness or outright kill you. I won’t take that chance.”
“There might not be other chance,” Lucky added. “But this one, Ally.”
“Memories are too important!” she exclaimed somewhat painfully and angrily. “It’s... unclean to temper with them.”
"... what memories?" the man growled lowly, his nails digging into his palms, his gums bleeding from the clenched teeth. "I don't remember anything!! There are no memories to temper with! What does it matter if I live or die?! Not remembering who I am makes me half-dead already!"
“T-hat’s not what I meant...” Alison mumbled meekly, startled by the man’s outburst.
“Alright, let’s all take a breath and relax,” Hannah said, getting up. “You know the formations better than me, Ally. Is there a way we can combine a few or modify them to lower the risks?”
"No," Alison shook her head, sighing. "They were drawn up after countless years of research, and they're the best we got. Even if I was ten million times more knowledgeable when it came to formations, I wouldn't dare tamper with them."
“... can you quickly draw one up?” Lucky suddenly thought of something, drawing attention to herself.
“Huh?” Alison exclaimed quizzically.
“Draw one up on the ground, or a paper,” Lucky said. “Just to see it.”
“Just trust me.”
“... very well,” Alison said, taking out a somewhat sized canvas and slowly beginning to inscribe the formation. As she wouldn’t use it, she was relatively loose with lines, mostly focusing on the intersections and overall flow. “Here.” it took her less than ten minutes to draw it, putting it down on the ground in front of Lucky and the man.
“And?” she glanced at him. “Do you see anything?”
"..." instead of replying, the man took the quill from Alison's hand, startling her, and got on his knees, looming over the canvas. His hand suddenly began speeding through the paper, line after line appearing and countless more disappearing. A few minutes later, the canvas in front of them looked entirely different, and eons more complex; from roughly two thousand lines, it jumped to over thirty, bound together through four hundred intersections and eight sources of initial flow that never touched, rather powering entirely separate parts of the formation. "That looks about right..." the man mumbled, putting the quill down. The three women stared at him in wonder, as whether he was right or wrong, they certainly couldn't tell.
"You sure?" Lucky asked. "You do know we'll be using it on you. If something goes wrong, it'll basically be just a long way around committing suicide."
“... uh, I’m fairly certain,” the man scratched his head. “The formation miss Ally drew could certainly work, but it was too simple. I imagine it was done so to lesser the seepage of energy, but it also meant it couldn’t process as much energy as necessary for what it was designed to do which, in turn, meant it would sometimes fail.”
“... and yours won’t?” Hannah exclaimed in wonder.
“Eeh... I’m not too sure,” the man shrugged helplessly. “I don’t quite understand it myself, to be honest... I just... it feels right.”
“... alright,” Lucky said. “Come what may, then.”
"Come what may." the man said, nodding; in his heart, he felt fire rekindle, a desire he believed had long since vanished from his bones. But, right now and here, it appeared anew, like a phoenix rising from the ash. There was a chance, however slim, that he would finally know... finally remember... what had he done to deserve a punishment worse than death.