Region: The Bleak Lands
Location: Huola – Planet VII – Cerra Manor
Time: 04:00 Local time
The manor house could have been described as a shining example of Amarrian nobility. Its dark wooden floors flowed into expansive living spaces, furnished with stairs which twisted upwards in perfect spirals to the rooms above. Stunning hand crafted carvings, etched with both precision and love, sat atop every table and mantle and paintings welcomed guests at every corner, the faces of Lords and Holders organic and vibrant.
It could have been described as the symbol of wealth and power that every Holder should enjoy, if it wasn’t for the dried blood that had stained those polished oak floors a deep carmine, if the carvings were not made of sculpted flesh and bone, or if the faces of the Lords did not protrude outward from the paintings in a grotesque display of artistry once only attributed to the Blood Raiders.
The putrid air made her gag as she stood frozen in the doorway, trying to comprehend the macabre scene. A girl no more than ten years old sat chained to the ground in front of her, malnourished, filthy, and barely alive. Her lips opened, producing a broken voice so scarred that it was barely able to form the whisper for help. The once beautiful canopied bed beside her was now littered with the deformed corpses of her parents, laying beheaded on the sheets, while another body, its face unidentifiable, hung from the ceiling in tattered satin.
The girl stared at her with terrified eyes, seemingly in unison with the lifeless gaze of her four year old sister that had been left slumped beside her, the red gash across her noble neck crusted with dried blood. Streaks of dirt ran down her face, displaced by a constant sobbing that paused only for brief moments of sleep as she had faded in and out of consciousness. All Sahriah wanted to do was to reach out and cradle the girl, to whisper that she was safe now and promise her an end from this trauma, but she couldn’t move.
Despite her best efforts her body seemed frozen in place, bound by a fear that permeated her so fully, she had lost the ability to press forward. The distinct laughs of Minmatar echoed through the room in an eerie chorus, seeping through the walls to taunt and mock her as the girl began to cry again, looking down at her arms as rounded bumps began to move under the surface of her skin. The cries soon turned to screams as Sahriah watched helplessly, a thousand tiny fangs piercing through her flesh as the voices faded away, drowned out by the deafening hiss of Shiksi as they ate the child alive.
Sahriah’s eyes flashed open as she jolted upright in bed, gasping for breath and covered in a cold sweat. The cottage was dark and silent, save for the hushed sighs of her slaver hound, Ja’tek, sleeping on the floor beside her, but her eyes scanned the room several times anyway until she was satisfied she was alone.
She pulled her legs up to her chest and rested her chin on them, reminding herself that the girl, Tara, was safely asleep on the other side of the Cerra manor, under the care of Lord Reginald and that the Minmatar rebels were dead…well most of them. There was still one that remained, one that lay bound in the medical facilities only a few hundred feet from where she sat, and she couldn't get his voice out of her head.
"Sleep well?" The Sebiestor taunted, running a blade over her skin. The room smelt stale. A rancid underground chamber with a single light illuminating her and the myriad of gleaming tools set neatly on the tables beside her.“Why are you bothering? You know how this ends."
"Oh, I just want to make sure you know we're serious about what we believe in.” He knelt down next to her, inspecting the cybernetic arm, its components torn open to reveal the advanced wiring beneath. “Let's see just how much you can feel."
Sahriah looked down at her arms as she moved from the bed and began to dress, trying to push the memories away. She could still feel the burning of the electrical current that had scorched her veins despite being in a completely different clone. She grimaced, wondering if the sensation was just some kind of twisted phantom pain or if Dionee was right, and there was something seriously wrong with her brain.
Knowing there was no more sleep to be had that night, she nudged the Ja'tek awake and moved over to the table, taking several items from it before opening the cottage door and stepping into the night.
"Was that so bad?"
The Sebiestor traced his fingers across the insulated wiring that ran from her shoulder to the battery, and flicked the power off, allowing her body a brief moment of reprieve from the current. Without waiting for a reply, he moved over towards the table, picking up a long silver instrument.
"Now, where should we continue?"
It had been days, or so she guessed. There was no natural light to judge the time by. She had stopped replying to his questions now; merely looking at him as her body involuntarily recoiled at every touch of the cold steel. She had not expected him to be so meticulous and thorough, taking great care to not nick a vein or cause infection as he worked. He was a man that clearly had experience with Capsuleers, a man that knew the body was only a conduit to the real prize.
The blade sliced open her upper arm and he laughed softly in her ear as she flinched, his head lowering over her shoulder as he whispered in her ear.
"You're going to know what it means to be a slave, little flower."
Crisp night air penetrated her cloak, attempting to take credit for the chill that ran up her spine as she tried to push more memories away. Small patches of light lit the cobblestone path, emanating from the beautifully engraved gas lamps that could found throughout the Cerra estate. The walk felt longer than usual and the dark silhouettes of trees stretched over the path like tendrils, as if some invisible force was trying to reach out to her. She hesitated, moving her hand down to stoke Ja’tek’s head, as if the action would stir a fresh confidence, before taking a breath and continuing towards the building ahead.
"We have quite the surprise for you, Miss Bloodstone."
She couldn’t see the bucket, but she could hear the sounds emerging from it.
"Are you familiar with this species?” He wrapped his fingers around a pair of tongs and lifted a wriggling form up in front of her.
“Shiksi, they're called. Fascinating creatures. The Ardishapurs and the Sarums loathe them, but Zon Mada keeps them as pets. This one is a pregnant female."
He chuckled, slowly lowering it onto her arm where the skin had been flayed to reveal raw muscle. It bit immediately, scampering over her arm as the stinging venom quickly dispersed through her bloodstream, allowing the paralytic agent to take effect before slowing down, its movements becoming lethargic. Using its strong forelegs it began to deepen a gap between her muscles, burrowing directly into her arm and lowering its abdomen.
Sahriah ran her fingers over the blaster pistol beneath her cloak as she entered the Med-bay, her eyes scanning the multitude of rooms branching out from the main lobby. It was empty, just as she had hoped at this hour.
It didn’t take her long to identify the holding cell where she knew he was, the two-way mirror revealing him sitting cross-legged in the middle of the padded cell, arms bound by a white strait jacket. She stood there in silence; watching him for longer then she would have cared to admit, contemplating options as her fingers traced the outline of the pistols trigger.
Control was something she valued. A barrier between emotion and reason, it provided her the perspective to determine her fate instead of letting it define her. But as she stood watching him, struggling with this irrational barrage of emotion, she realized the control she thought she had obtained was still as distant as ever.
Anger, frustration and despair all consumed her as she fought to suppress them under a stony exterior. For years she had tried to convince herself that the cure for these ailments was indifference, to distance herself from the things that could hurt her: Tiger, Jacob, her crew. Things she could lose or things that could be taken from her would have no effect if she didn’t permit them the time. But instead of strengthening herself against them, she knew all she had managed to do was lose them instead, the aftermath of poisoned relationships.
Sadness flooded her as she stared through the window, the reflection of her face overlaid with the Sebiestor as he sat facing the mirror, unaware of her presence. This man, this baseliner who had tried to break her, was closer to his goal now, making her question herself from within the confines of his cell, than he had ever been in the damp underground tunnels of Huola. For all the advanced technology and heightened intellect they possessed, a Capsuleer’s mind was still just as soft and malleable as any other. There was no shutting off emotion, just different degrees of feeling it.
A more intense sensation began to tug at her as she watched him, and that ever-present smile plastered on his face. She didn’t just want to reach out and tear pieces from him as he had done to her; she wanted to deconstruct him, to remove who he was from existence and replace it with something else. If the ability to do so was a real measure of power, or a weakness, she couldn't tell.
The Sebiestor took a deep breath, breaking from his meditative state and reclining his back on the ground, his movement snapping her out her out of her thoughts.
She moved away from the window and into the main medical bay, scanning the equipment for something she could use. A robotic voice answered her presence immediately.
"Good evening, Miss Bloodstone. How may I be of assistance?"
She was momentarily startled, but regained her composure quickly. "The Minmatar in the holding cell. What is his status?"
"In perfect condition."
Good. She thought to herself. He can be moved. She didn’t want to risk killing him now after all, that would be counter-productive.
"Has he been visited at all?"
Sahriah frowned. He had been here for over a week now and they had not even bothered to interrogate him, probably due to the attacks on the manor. She paused, looking at the medical drone as a plan laid itself out in front of her.
"I require 10mg of Ketamine."
She looked at it, waiting for it to request a prescription or some form of authorization for the liquid sedative, but it simply turned around and fulfilled her request, pouring the dose into a vial with perfect dexterity and precision and returning to her promptly. She dismissed it, waiting for it to deactivate itself before moving to a shelf and pouring a quarter of the liquid into a syringe, placing it and the vial back into her cloak before walking back to the holding cell and unlocking the door.
Ludik glanced up, a little surprised, but produced a smile when he saw her face, watching her as she moved into the room.
"Ah. Having difficulty sleeping at night?"
"Not at all.” she lied.
He grinned. “A private visit? I wasn't notified.”
She moved towards him producing a smile of her own. "Well I know you are a fan of surprises."
His attention shifted to Ja’tek, who was still following obediently at her side. "Hello there, boy!"
Sahriah knelt down, raising a hand to gently stroke Ja'tek's course fur. "Do you like him? I raised him myself. Properly trained protection hounds are becoming quite sought after. Much more effective than the rabid untrained mutts the Amarr like to use.”
The Sebiestor seemed unfazed. "Oh I agree, I can tell. He's well-treated by you. Nothing like what Lord Searle used."
"The Amarr seem to lack a proper balance between efficiency and finesse in my opinion." her hand moved into her cloak as she stood again, circling around behind him.
"All armor and attempting to be inexorable" he agreed "No artistry."
She crouched down behind him, her face over his. "Art is all down to interpretation, don't you think?"
His eyes remained trained on her, watching her intently. "In the eye of the beholder, certainly."
"Good. I'm glad you agree."
Pulling out the syringe from beneath her cloak in one swift movement, she injected the sedative into his neck, his attempts to move away coming too late.
"Poison? Or just a sedative? Do what you want... but.... I...." his eyes closed, the large doze she had given him taking immediate effect.
She observed him for a few moments, still smiling, and placed the syringe back in her cloak. She hadn’t expected this to be quite so easy, but it was clear the recent attacks on the manor had occupied everyone’s attention for the time being. She stood and moved towards the door, leaving briefly to acquire a medical gurney and tarp to disguise him as one of the many causalities still on the property, and then deactivated the security drones to delay alerts until long after she was gone.
"No poison for you dear." She looked down at his form as she exited; patting his covered head. “We’re going to be good friends soon.”