As we walked to Lord Samdi’s offices, I asked Red Panda “You mentioned brothers, what’s your family like?”
“They’re completely horrible. I’m the youngest kid and the only girl. My mom died in an accident when I was three years old. It was just my father, my six brothers and me. They picked on me all the time. What about you?’’
“I have a brother and a sister that I barely know. They went off to the capital when I was young, and a mother and father that well… the less said about them, the better,” I said.
Red Panda looked at me for a moment, then she said, “One of my brothers is an officer here, do you want to meet him? I’ll admit, as long as I show him who’s boss, he’s not a complete doofus.”
“Maybe,” I said.
Red Panda led me towards a single door that was away from most of the other main exterior facing buildings. Assuming this was the inquisition’s office if this world had fire inspectors they would probably be either up in arms or well bribed over the lack of obvious egress from this building. Instead, the only thing that distinguished the location was a single black door hewn into the rock face and a few air vents for circulation.
“I’d hate to get stuck in there if there was a fire in front of the door,” I said.
“Why?” asked Red Panda.
“Only one entrance or exit.” I pointed to the door.
“Dumb ass, there’s a whole network of tunnels in the back that connect everything. There is even a central indoor road that I was going to show you later. What do you think the runners use when it is raining? Where do you think the troops sleep when they are off duty or on leave. They aren’t always neck deep in the dirt and shit you know. This is just the furthermost entrance. I brought you here to get perspective.”
She was right, the direction that I thought she had been taking us to, was not to an office building, but instead, the door led into an open hallway, that was well lit with full spectrum daylight balanced mage lights.
The ground in the hallway actually tiled out of a kind of slate that was different from the natural rock of the mountain, while the walls and ceiling were done in a white material that looked suspiciously like drywall. Though where even with the use of magic this type of culture would get that much calcium sulfate was a mystery.
Curious, I walked over one of the walls and tapped on it. The material felt nothing at all like drywall to the touch, more like a kind of extruded and shaped cellulose.
I looked over at Red Panda.
“Don’t look at me. I’m not some plant mage. I don’t know how to make that stuff. All I know is that I’ve tried lighting it on fire a bunch of times and it doesn’t burn worth a crap.”
“Pyro,” I said laughing.
“I’m a fire mage. I like to set things on fire. Fires get me excited. The bigger the fire, the better. Is that such a bad thing?” She said.
“I’m having a hard time coming up with an answer to that,” I said.
“Meh, some girls want sparkly rocks, some girls want a pretty boy singing love songs, some girls want expensive clothes, but all this girl wants is a massive pile of wood against a clear night sky and the time to watch it burn. I think the most beautiful thing I ever saw in my whole life was when my dad took me to see 200 miles of old growth forest burn down after a thunderstorm. I peed myself a little.”
I looked at Red Panda again, then sighed. Hers wasn’t the worst issue I’d run into in this world.
“Where is Lord Samdi again?” I asked.
We walked for about 10 more minutes, generally heading back the way we’d come from and towards the keep. The corridor we were in opened up into a large hallway where people in uniform were running or walking back and forth. More than anything, the whole atmosphere seemed to be like a really long mall, except nobody was shopping and the entrances to either side weren’t stores but were different essential services.
There were even ornamental plants and fountains that had been strategically grown in spots, and overhead faux skylights emulated a clear blue sky that was entirely at odds with the overcast day and bleak grey towering rock faces that Red Panda and I had just left a few minutes ago.
Thankfully there was no elevator music.
Finally, we got to another door which had the Lanta symbol for the inquisition featured on a sign prominently beside it.
“Why don’t you go in. I’ll just wait out here. Samdi gives me the creeps.” said Red Panda.
“People keep saying that. Over and over again.” I said and pushed my way into the office.
The best way to describe the offices of the Inquisition in this war zone would be swinger chic. Everything was polished wood surface, velvet seating, or erotic statuary. Furs of rare monsters carpeted the floor. Rare and exotic fruit sat in bowls on the tables. There was a wine cellar just off the main room, and I could recognize some of the labels as the very same rare and delicate vintages my mother liked.
A pleasant tinkling chime sounded with the opening of the door and rang again as the door closed behind me. I heard a deep voice coming from the side room saying, “just a second, I’ll be right out. Why don’t you have a seat? I’ll be with you in a minute.”
I looked around the sheer hedonism of the room, and wishing I had a UV light, I decided to forgo sitting down. Eventually, I was surprised when a man, barely taller than four foot eleven, dressed in the official robes of an inquisitor came into the room.
He seemed surprised to see me, but he looked me up and down, taking special care to evaluate my own uniform, and then unexpectedly he ran over to me and hugged me.
“A colleague. I have been so lonely.” He said in a silky smooth baritone that belied his height.
It was an extraordinary experience being so lovingly hugged by a man so many people I had met in my two days here had told me to avoid. I looked down, and Lord Samdi was even crying a little bit and dribbling tears and blowing snot on my tabard.
I could only pry him away by sitting down and even, so he sat next to me with looking at me with eyes filled with curiosity.
“Tell me everything,” he said.
I didn’t really know what to say to this so instead I just said, “I am Seeker Scout Lieutenant Lynx Elm of House Lysturgus and the Clan Naato, I was sent here to report to Lord General Aram Heron Sequoia and to be assigned to the position of being a runner for a period of time. Lord Cham felt that because of my position in the Inquisition that I would make an excellent go-between for the runners and yourself.”
Lord Samdi was nodding like a chicken pecking at a feeding trough through my brief explanation.
“House Lysturgus, Clan Naato? Your father wouldn’t be Harrion would it?”
“Yes, it is.”
Before I could stop him, Lord Samdi was hugging me all over again. “Oh, Lynx Elm, it is so wonderful to meet you. I am such a fan of your father. When I was just a young Lieutenant like yourself, I served under him.”
Lord Samdi got up off the velvet cushioned couch and walked over to his wine cellar where he pulled down a bottle, uncorked it, and poured himself a glass.
“Would you like some?” he asked.
“Thank you, but no thank you.”
“Your loss, this is an incredibly rare vintage. There were only 20 bottles left in the world. 19 now, I suppose.” He said as he drank his glass and then refilled it.
Then he brought the bottle and glass over, put them on a nearby table, and sat back down next to me again.
“Anyways, when I knew your father I was a bit of a hell-raiser. Not like now when I have for all intents and purposes calmed down. I had caused some sort of ruckus or other. Nothing serious. The kind of youthful indiscretions people do. Anyway, there several thousand people at the gates of the inquisition with pitchforks and burning torches demanding that I be led out in chains and face punishment.”
“Your father Lord Harrion Wolverine Oak took me aside and told me words that I have lived by to this day. “Neither the Empire nor I care what you do in your free time. But never overreach and always make sure you have the clout to clean up your own messes,” he said.
Lord Samdi took a sip of his wine, “Oh, this is simply exquisite. Are you sure you don’t want a glass? No? How sad.”
He put the wine glass down again. “And then I remember asking your father, ‘you’re not angry?"
“To which he said, ‘of course I’m mad. I’m furious. Now I have to make this go away. Idiocy. Some say we give them too much freedom, but if there is one thing I know, it is that people will die fighting for an illusion."
“That night I watched out the window as someone who looked and sounded and acted just like me was led out into the crowd by your father. I watched as your father said, “Let it not be said that the Inquisition is not generous.” And then I watched as he turned around and walked back into our headquarters.
“From my window, I watched as the person posing as me, with no guards or weapons to defend him, insulted the crowd. He called the mayor and impotent cocksucker, and then he dropped his pants and began masturbating in public while staring random women in the crowd.”
Lord Samdi stopped for a moment and then giggled, “I watched from my window as the mob surged and then attacked. They tore the person pretending to be me apart. It was delicious and gruesome and awe-inspiring. One of the most brilliant things I have ever seen in my life.”
“The next day your father smuggled me out of the Inquisitor’s keep. To this day I don’t know how he did it. Mind magic and Illusion if I had my guess. But I was looking with my mage sight, and I saw no runes. All I know is that as I was sneaking out, there was a rumor going around that one of your father’s enemies had disappeared the night before. He’d been one of the people leading the mob against me.”
Lord Samdi turned and looked at me. “Your father is a great and brilliant man. A great man. I am proud to be working with his son. If you are a tenth of the man your father is, I would be proud to call you a friend and a colleague.”
And then he reached over and hugged me again.
Letting me go, he stood up and said, “come, let me show you around.”
We got up, and Samdi led me back into a hallway and then into the room he must have just come out of. Unlike the tacky lavishness of the first room, this room was merely a long workroom. There were at least thirty people hunched over a long metal table working on something.
“They are making armaments right now,” Samdi said. “Isn’t it marvelous.”
I looked closer and saw that every person at the table was single-mindedly focused on what looked like oversized metal arrowheads in front of them. None of them spoke, and each and every one of their movements was mechanical and precise.
“Who are they?” I said.
“Twice-Lived of course,” said Lord Samdi.
I looked at him shocked. “I saw a Twice-Lived drawn and quartered once when I was young.”
Lord Samdi nodded, “What fun. Still, we don’t do that much anymore. Only when we need to make a point. Twice-Lived are far too useful. Take a look at these.”
Samdi turned to the group of Twice-Lived and said “Number 7 and 8 stand.” A man and a woman who had been working at the table put down the metal item and stood to face Samdi.
“Number 7, beat Number 8 to death” Said Samdi.
The man began punching the woman all over her body. His fists left blood and torn skin and a broken arm and leg, and she fell to the ground. The man didn’t stop, he continued to hit her body on the floor.”
“Number 7 Stop.” And the man stopped.
“Number 8 get up and have sex with Number 7.”
The woman, ignoring the pain of apparent broken bones, forced herself upwards. She began peeling off the man’s clothing. The man stood unmovingly and ignored the woman who was now fellating him as blood rolled down her face and her eyes turned black and blue.
“Number 8 Stop. Number 7 and Number 8 get back to work.”
The man walked back to his spot and began working again, the woman took a bit longer because she had to crawl there, and once she was at the table she tried to keep up with the synchronous timing of whatever they were manufacturing.
“See! See! Total control. They have a range of actions they can do, and as long as you have the control mechanism, you are their absolute master. There is nothing else left in there. They are my pretty little puppets. My toys love me and will do anything for me.
“Lynx Elm, since you are the son of such a great man, if you want them for anything just ask. They are all beautiful, I have lots of pleasure programs that I can run, and the Inquisition keeps sending me new ones when these ones wear out. Or if you see anybody you fancy around the base or one of your runner friends, just bring them here, and I will make them into a pet for you. As long as I tell people they are a Twice-Lived the rest of the army doesn’t care.”
“But what are you doing? Why are you here? I don’t get it.” I said.
With a twinkle in his eye, Lord Samdi said “Making magic!” he walked over to one of the steel arrowheads that his brainlessly programmed Twice-Lived had already finished with, and picked it up. Carefully carrying it, he brought it over to me.
I looked at the metal work with my mage sight. There was some sort of magic going on, but it was unlike any that I had ever seen before. It was far more intricate and patterned than rune magic, and yet… it occurred to me… I had seen something like this before. The same type of magic had been used in the mysterious Orb in the house of Status.
“Weird yes? I can’t make heads or tails of it really, but it works.” Said Samdi. “We have that set up so that as soon as the missile gets past the halfway point on the battlefield, it activates. And when it lands. KABOOM!
“What we lack in firepower compared to that damned pyromancer over on the other side, we make up in volume. My team of little pretties here can enchant 20 missile heads every day. Fired from the Ballista on the walls, that’s a lot of KABOOMS. And some people say the Inquisition isn’t useful for anything other than hunting down Twice-Lived.”
“Oh. And speaking of which.” Lord Samdi, walked over to one of the cabinets against the wall and opened a drawer. He pulled out an amulet and threw it to me.
“Put that on. It is a ward against magical fire. It will last through one direct hit from that Pyromancer bastard’s fireballs. My team makes them for the high officers, but since your father is one of my heroes, you can have one too.”
Reluctantly I put the amulet over my head, and when nothing horrible happened, I sighed in relief. Lord Samdi came over and hugged me yet again.
“It is really great to meet you, Lynx Elm. Drop by any time. And remember if you want to play with my pretties, come over any time. If you break them, I get new replacements every couple months, so no big deal, and you can try out any fetishes or fun things you want or can think of.
“Ummm… Goodbye Lord Samdi.” I said and then got out of there as quickly as I could.