With a mixture of fascination and apprehension, I casually jogged towards Lord Samdi’s complex. Fascination, because I was curious what he would do to turn the servile, broken-spirited people huddled in the wagon up in the fortress into the automatons he used, and apprehensive for precisely the same reason.
Over the months that I had been here people, some people had gotten to know me and occasionally I received a wave as I ran. The runners were the mascots of a lot of the troops. Our youth reminding the older soldiers of their family back home. Usually, I would wave back, but today was different. The fate of the Twice-Lived weighed heavily on my mind.
Eventually, I made my way to Samdi’s rooms. He was not in the front office. That was expected. I did not wish to interrupt whatever work or perversion he was engaging in behind closed doors, so I rang the bell that he’d left out front for visitors to announce their arrival.
The air was musky with the smell of stale smell of sweat and semen. I still refused to sit down on any of the furniture.
A few minutes later Samdi entered the room. He was dressed which was good. Half the time I arrived to give him messages he was completely naked, which didn’t bother me. But when he was naked, he often tried to insist that it was only fair that I will be naked too, which was irritating.
“Lynx, my darling boy. So good to see you. While I know your rudeness knows no bounds, I in the spirit of hospitality insist on your sharing this outstanding vintage with me. The grapes of this wine were grown on the south side of a hill in an area of the empire known for its sunshine and moderate temperatures. The year this particular vintage was harvested is especially prized. And it has only become better with age. Come, share a glass with me and we will toast your successes and mourn your losses.”
“Thank you, my Lord, but as much as your kind offer humbles me, I am afraid that I must decline your offer,” I said. Keeping in mind that no matter Samdi’s friendship with my father, the wine or the glass might be drugged and that I didn’t want to never wake up again living the rest of my life as one of Samdi’s toys.
“You fill me with so much sadness, a tender young thing such as yourself could stand to loosen up and relax for a bit. Well, what small bit of excitement or ennui brings you into my demesne today.” Samdi said bored already.
“I was sent to tell you that there is a cartload of Twice-Lived that arrived in the fortress a little while ago. The coach people are resting briefly before they make the trip down the escarpment.”
“I see. I see. My current batch was getting low. It is good that They are sending me fresh livestock to work with.” Said Samdi. “Well thank you for the message, special boy, I have a busy day ahead of me. A busy day.”
Looking at him, hesitating, it was horrible and yet… yet I had to know….
“Lord Samdi, I am curious how you deal with Twice lived. I saw my father execute one once. In my position as a member of the Inquisition, I would like to know more about the different ways Twice-Lived are used and why the differences.”
Samdi paused for a moment and thought. “keep in mind that what I am about to show you is considered High Treason in our order for you to know.” Samdi giggled. “Thought I don’t know why. The process is marvelously simple and yet completely incomprehensible. Still,” Samdi winked at me.
“This is just between us, my boy. Just between us. Your father would undoubtedly hang me from the gallows for letting you see this, and would then take a red-hot iron hook and slowly pull your entrails out while a healer kept you alive for weeks simply for the asking.”
I was shocked. “If it is that secret Lord Samdi, why are you considering showing me?”
“Life is short, so why deny yourself any pleasure you desire, dearest Lynx Elm. Pleasing you, pleases me, so why shouldn’t I do it? Who will tattle on us? Besides, I want something from you. Beyond the inevitability that one day you will give in and let me show your tender young body pleasures, it has never dreamt itself capable of. Are you sure you don’t want some wine by the way? This vintage is remarkably exquisite.”
“No thank you,” I said. “What is it that you want?”
“Just your help with a little project that has been plaguing me for years. I hear you are an able healer, and I am in need of your healing abilities. You are asking to see something that could get us both tortured to death in the most painful possible way. I am simply asking you to consider giving your assistance in a personal matter that your father once helped me with himself.”
“I am not my father, I said, but if it is only considering the matter, I can at least give what you have to say a listen,” I said. “I can’t promise any more than that.”
“Fine be that way. You are so tender and sweet, I just want to eat you up before being an Inquisitor hardens you."
“Do you mind leading them here. The wagon usually arrives at entrance 18. I think I must prepare a cheese plate for our guests.” Samdi said.
That was fine with me since I didn’t want to spend my time lounging around with the Inquisitor any more than I had too.
Entrance 18 was only a short distance away, and I didn’t have to wait long until a wagon pulled up. It was an open wagon that was being slowly pulled by four sturdy horses. A large burly man, a more prominent woman, and a young boy drove the horses, while eight figures dressed in cheap weather-stained, badly worn burlap-like material.
The Twice-Lived were shackled together by wrought iron chains which ran between rusted neck-manacles. Each Twice-Lived was also chained by their neck to iron bars that had been welded to the side of the cart.
I walked up to the cart and said: “I was told to have you bring the Twice-Lived with me.”
The man grunted, and he and the woman swung off their respective side of the cart. The woman took out a key and began unlocking the poor boys and girls necks from the metal bar that held them to the vehicle. The man was doing the same thing on the other side.
While none of the Twice-Lived were looked older than seventeen, it was hard to tell, with the layers of grime and filth that covered them. Their bodies were emaciated. There were bags of animal feed laying in the center of the wagon and since I couldn’t see any animals I had to assume that animal feed was all they’d been fed on their journey to this horrible destination.
When they’d been unleashed, the man and the woman each grabbed the end of a chain, while the young boy, presumably their son, jabbed the Twice-Lived with a metal prod and occasionally threw stones at them.
“Come on you lot.” The woman said, “ain’t got all day.”
The. Twice-Lived tried to move, but it was harder than I had expected. Their muscles must have atrophied from sitting for long, and they were having a hard time walking.
There were holes to defecate, built into the wooden seats where the teenagers had been sitting; broken, dispirited, and defeated and many of these Twice-Lived were so beyond caring that they didn’t even push the minimal amount of clothing that they were wearing down as the Twice-Lived stumbled out of vehicle they had been sitting motionless for months.
The group shambled forward into the mountain, following my lead while the man and the woman sometimes pulled, sometimes dragged, occasionally prodded the twice-lived who shuffled their way forward like cattle finding their way into a slaughterhouse.
I had asked to see this so I couldn’t even fall back on the excuse I was merely following orders.
Lord Samdi was waiting for us as we neared his offices and he waved everyone in.
“Welcome, welcome. Good to see you. Good to see you. I hope your journey was pleasant and without incident?”
The man simply grunted.
“Where do you want ‘em,” said the woman.
“Well, aren’t you special. Follow me, Follow me. And bring the livestock. I will need your help to secure them in the laboratory.”
I followed behind while Samdi led the group deeper into his home. Eventually, we entered a large white room, a short distance away from where I kept his remaining Twice-Lived.
I knew from past visits that there were only four of his old batch left. Samdi seemed to be incredibly wasteful with his playthings. I didn’t want to ask what he did with them.
The number of Twice-Lived working on making munitions, however, was one of the things Lord General Aram Heron Sequoia had me report to her on. So over the last few months, I had had to keep a better record than I might have wanted too.
The man and woman began locking the Twice-Lived, still standing attached by their necks to metal rings that had been embedded into the walls. There was a stainless steel surgical table in the center of the room a sink and a hose, and a rubber apron hanging from a hook on the wall.
When the last Twice-Lived was locked up, Samdi said, “Well done, well done. This is marvelous. Come with me. Come with me.”
We walked out to the front room to rejoin the couple’s son again. Samdi said, “You came at exactly the perfect time.” He walked to his wine closet and pulled out a bottle of wine, and four glasses. “This calls for a celebratory drink, and I think a reward is in order. An extra 5 gold coins for the fabulous work you have accomplished.”
Samdi poured three glasses and handed one to the man and one to the woman, “Are you sure you don’t want a glass, Lynx Elm? This is an outstanding vintage.” He looked over at the couple who had delivered the Twice-Lived “Lynx Elm insists on not enjoying alcohol. I believe he is repressed and needs to let loose and live a little, but he disagrees and insists on nurturing his unhealthy inhibitions.”
Samdi took a sip of his wine, and then got up and went over to a desk he had positioned by the door. As he was rifling through one of the drawers, first the woman and then the man slumped down on the couches they were sitting on, dropping their glasses of wine which spilled all over the carpeting.
“Oh dear, little fellow, it looks like your parents are tired from their trip and fell asleep.” Samdi walked over to the young child, who looked lost and maybe a little bit like he was about to cry. “I know. The perfect thing. Would you like some candy? I have some over here somewhere.” Samdi walked over to a closet that was hidden behind a push cushion in the all and pulled out some sweets.
“Would you like some candy little boy? I won’t tell your parents.” Samdi said.
The boy nodded, and Samdi handed him a handful. A few minutes later the child was lying unconscious on the floor as well.
Samdi, winked at me “The wine and candy, they were drugged,” he said.
“And you drank it and offered it to me?” I said.
“Dear boy, I would have let you go eventually and think of all of the fun you would have had. You know you want me, you just haven’t realized it yet. As for me darling, I have indulged myself with nearly everything recreationally for so long that even the exotic pharmaceuticals and alchemicals barely affect me anymore. It is a sad and costly state of affairs that brings me much despondency.”
I followed him into the room where he kept his automaton Twice-Lived pets.
“Number 4, Number 23, and Number 17 we have three guests in the front room gather them up and chain them in the lab with the others.”
Samdi turned and then walked to the Laboratory. “You wanted to see how the whole process is done my little darling. The lure of the forbidden, if there is anything I can understand it is that.
“Just keep in mind that I am only showing this to you like thanks to your father and because you are already a member of our order and will undoubtedly learn these things eventually. Darling boy, for both our sake, act surprised when you do.”
Samdi walked over to a drawer and pulled out a small vial. There was a black chemical inside. Grimacing he pulled the cork, and as the room took on a stench of fetid rotting corpses, drank the liquid in one gulp.
“Ahhhhh, that’s good. Terrible taste. But hits the spot. I would offer you some, but at best it would probably kill you, and at worst it would undoubtedly drive you insane. You have to work up to Chandra Root. Besides, you would only say no. Such a lovely boy for having no spirit of adventure.”
Putting the vial down, Samdi walked over to another drawer. He pulled out two amulets that looked like they were made from platinum. Putting one on, he handed the other to me.
“These are called relays. I will want that one back.”
I hung the amulet around my neck, and while I was wearing it, I felt a tingle of power rush through my body. Like I now noticed on Samdi’s amulet, the gem at the center of mine began to glow a light yellow.
“Those of us in the eight main orders of the empire have secret secondary functions beyond what is known widely to the public. The public knows Inquisitors as those tasked with hunting down and bringing Twice-Lived to justice. In reality, we merely evaluate and use the Twice-Lived resource.
“Those that are useless to the Empire are either killed outright or made to serve our glorious nation. Those Twice-Lived that have uses… well, I honestly don’t know what happens to them. My fondness for the forbidden has always been my downfall, dearest lad. Alas child, I was shuffled out here before I could find out.
A tear fell from Lord Samdi’s eye. I wasn’t sure if it was for his fate at being sent to one of the furthest reaches of the empire, or at not learning some secret knowledge, or only at a fond memory of some forbidden activity from his sordid past.
“What you have around your neck,” Samdi continued, “they relay is kind of a control amulet. I don’t know how it works. Talk to Order of Urges, they make these things. All I know is that there is something inside of both of us. A hidden affinity. Something that all the orders keep very secret. It is something that we test for in all children at every birth, and during every naming, and even during ever status change just in case we missed someone.
“Without this affinity, you could not become an inquisitor, or join the house of status or any of the other Imperial order, because you would not be able to use our control amulets.”
The three automata twice lived came in dragging slowly dragging the unconscious cart drivers behind them into the room.
“Ah… thank you. Number 4, Number 23, and Number 17 just leave them on the floor. Now Number 4, Number 23, and Number 17 lift the male onto the table and secure him with the leather straps face down to it.”
The three Twice-Lived dropped left the people they were dragging on the ground and then proceeded to lift the burly man onto the surgical table. Underneath the table were leather belts that went around the unconscious man’s torso, neck, feet, legs, arms, and shoulders. I also noticed metal chains and manacles that could also be used, hanging from under the table.
While they were tightening the straps, Lord Samdi filled up an enormous syringe with liquid. “Number 23 be a dear and go get Number 9. Bring her back here. Number 4 inject a bit of this into all the cattle chained to the wall. The rest of you secure the woman and the boy. When that is done remove all the clothing and burn it, the begin washing and cleaning the livestock. The smell is revolting in here.”
Samdi turned to me and said, “The first thing, is to make sure that the livestock is incapable of moving. This is a very delicate procedure, and if they squirm too much it could fail, and you can lose your cattle. I have a moderate mind control affinity Lynx Elm, and I sometimes use that to calm them. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I use alchemy like I am going to do now. Often it is fun not to use anything and to simply listen to them beg and plead and scream. This will not be one of those times.”
He walked over to the hook where the rubber apron hung and put it on. “This is a messy procedure. I suppose that with your healing skills this whole thing would be as simple as magic, sort of like the process of the House of Status uses to give Status Magic, but alas I am constrained by the old-fashioned way.”
“The first step, beautiful boy, is to prepare a control crystal. Normally I recycle them and use one that I’ve already prepared on another Twice-Lived. But for educational purposes dear boy, we might as well begin with a completely new dungeon core and start from there.”
From a drawer, Samdi pulled out a small box. Inside he removed a small gemstone. “This fantastic toy is called a matrix. It is 0.5 carats of dungeon core from an at least 10-year-old dungeon. The older the core it comes from, the more useful it is, of course.
“I have heard that some of our highest noble families pass down parts of a thousand year or older core to their children and go to great lengths to recover the head when one of their lines dies. You would know more about this than I do though.”
“Normally, the people in the House of Status use a matrix to embed high-status magic into a lovely boy or girl who becomes a Platinum Status citizen. We are not going to do that. This livestock was already tested and given a Status during the ceremony. Since they are all low-born none of them were given a matrix during the process.”
I looked at him then I said, “so only Platinum Status nobles have something embedded in them? Then how does Status magic work?”
“Short answer, I don’t know. Longer answer, during the ceremony Nobles, get part of an actual dungeon core while Lowborns there is actually a small, weak fragment of an artificial core that acts similar to a matrix to give them their status.”
“Artificial core? Like what they grow in Larkin. I saw the dungeons there.” I said.
“No. No. Nothing like that dear boy. The House of Urge has come up with a way to grow dungeon core using magic. I don’t know how to do it. The Urges keep their secrets just as we Inquisitors do. But supposedly these cores never gain consciousness, and are useless for most things except basic Statuses other elementary magic.”
Touching the glowing relay amulet around his neck, Samdi said, “The first thing we need to do is to connect this core matrix to a relay amulet. Each relay amulet is connected to a much more powerful core somewhere… I assume it is in a House of Status or in a House of Urge somewhere, but I don’t know for sure.
Holding the amulet in one hand and the cut matrix gemstone in the other Samdi brought the two clear-cut stone together until they touched. Then he said. "Relay load functions twice-lived Samdi. Upload files to Matrix. Label Matrix Number 25. Save.”
The matrix gem started to pulse and then glow in the same color as the amulet. The crystal lit up and then dimmed down until there was just an internal glow deep in the center of the stone.
“I realize that someone with as tender and as beautiful a body as you was not meant for such deep thought and that none of this makes much sense to you. I just keep this in mind. The words seem simple, but they are as complicated as these things get. Say them in the wrong order, and nothing goes wrong. They are a strange kind of magic that I have only been taught bare minimum of.
“Dear boy, I should also point out that anybody who isn’t authorized to know about these spells or this process or who shares any of this information without permission is declared to be a Twice-Lived by the empire. What I have shown you here is for some inexplicable reason considered one of the deepest secrets of our Empire. Our functions as Inquisitors was first made to hunt down people who shared this information, we only added the duty to find the Twice-Lived a century after our Order’s founding.”
Samdi walked over to the table and put small now dimly glowing gemstone onto the steel surgical table. He then walked over another shelf and pulled out a small bottle. “Healing potion,” he said.
“Like I said, I have no Life Affinity Magic, and even if I did, I don’t know any healing or the secrets of the House of Status. It doesn’t matter. Never underestimate the resources of the Magrithiam Inquisition.”
Samdi reached into another drawer and pulled out a hand crank drill. “Time for a good old-fashioned trepanation. It is really too bad he is unconscious. This is much more fun when the livestock is aware. They can’t actually feel anything, but they can imagine that they feel things. It is so much fun, my dear boy. Your father showed me this technique.”
Samdi used a piece of string to measure a location halfway around the back and the top part of the man on the table’s head. He then used another to measure from the front of the man’s face to the string on the back of his head. Where they met when they were taut, he made a mark.
“String. My idea. Your father just guesstimates. But then he doesn’t care if he kills the subject or not. I don’t like losing playthings. Right now, my boy, we need to find and get access to the livestock’s occipital lobe.”
Samdi put the drill bit of his hand drill to the man’s head and then began to turn the crank. Blood started to flow down onto the table as the cutting edge, and then the flutes of the twist bit dug into the man’s skull. Then instead of blood, clear fluid cerebrospinal fluid mixed bits of white powder began to come out of the hole Samdi was making. When grey matter started to come out, Samdi stopped and pulled the drill bit out.
“The next part is easy. Now that we have access to the brain, we simply put the core fragment inside the livestock’s head. As soon as it finds the occipital lobe, it is programmed to move into the right part of the livestock’s brain.”
“Because it is a core it naturally has the power to absorb territory like it does in a dungeon. This body is now its territory. It still has the capability of creation within its limited scopes, and we have overwritten that instinct to change the livestock's body and mind to make them more useful.
Samdi opened the healing potion and poured a small part of it into the hole in the back of the man’s head, and then poured the rest of it all over the drill and the drill bit. “Remember this Lynx Elm, it is important to keep your work tools clean. The potion will get rid of the filth from the livestock that might get caught in the groves of the blade. I’ll use another bottle to wash the operating table after I’m done with all these Twice-Lived.”
I was curious, “Lord Samdi, are these special Twice-Lived. Do they have some affinity for magic? They are making armaments for the war effort. Do they send you ones with skills that you can use.”
Samdi laughed, “You would think that they would send me the very best wouldn’t you, dear boy. Alas, poor Samdi only gets the dregs. No these are the dregs. Simply normal Twice-Lived that they can spare. Nobody with any talent. Twice-Lived with actual talent is too important to waste on Samdi.”
“No each armament is connected to the Twice-Lived who makes its core, which are connected to a relay, which is connected elsewhere. They have dozens of patterns that they can cast, and I can get more by merely scrying my relay core for a list of useful patterns. Don’t worry, once you get your status magic you will learn all of this.
“Would you like to try doing one yourself?” Lord Samdi said holding a drill. “Your father made me a similar offer once long ago. It was a great honor.”
Of course, I didn’t, I wanted to get out of there, so I said. “Thank you for the honor, but this is a lot of information. I am overwhelmed. Maybe another time Lord Samdi.”
“Of course Lynx Elm. Of course. Before you go, I hope I’m not stepping on any toes here, but have you ever considered joining another Order instead of the Inquisitors, my beautiful boy? It would be hard with your lineage, but the House of Status need Life Mages.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing. I just sometimes think I see a touch of sympathy for the livestock in your face. Nothing wrong with that. I remember long ago when I felt the same way. As citizens of the Empire sometimes the Empire requires us to do horrible things to protect and defend our homeland. Some people don’t have the stomach for it. Some people do.”
“Thank you Samdi.”
“It was a pleasure dearest, Lynx Elm. A true pleasure.”
And I left.