A Good Servant – Ch. 16
By Laura S. Fox
Copyright © 2018 Laura S. Fox
All Rights Reserved
Intended for Mature Audiences Only
This story contains graphic depictions of sexual intercourse, strong language and it is not meant for readers who are less than 18 years of age.
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"Lord Lucas," the Head Trainer nodded, acknowledging the Ruler taking a seat in front of him.
"Head Trainer," Lucas responded in kind.
The grey hood moved imperceptibly to the side. The long table was made of lacquered solid wood. Bony fingers trailed the shiny surface like they were searching for something. Lucas waited patiently.
"Do you have any idea why I summoned you here?" the Head Trainer finally spoke again.
"I am afraid I cannot go as far as to project assumptions about your intentions, Head Trainer," Lucas answered politely, although he could feel the tips of his fingers turning frosty.
"A perfect answer," the Head Trainer looked straight into Lucas's dark eyes.
Lucas had always had troubles sustaining the direct gaze coming from any of the Trainers. The Head Trainer had a particular way to make one feel uncomfortable. The large grey eyes looked as if they had a life of their own. The gaunt face was ashen, cut in stone, and the receding gum line only made the strong white teeth look as if they belonged to an animal. Lucas had always felt something akin to disgust when watching one of the Trainers so closely.
"Have you ever been unhappy?" the Head Trainer linked his fingers and continued to stare at Lucas.
"Unhappy? I ... don't think I understand the question," Lucas frowned slightly.
"Unhappy, as in experiencing negative emotions, like loss, sadness, melancholy ..." the old man trailed off, and Lucas felt as if the air in the room was gradually getting colder.
"I am a psychologist. My education taught me these are nothing but trivial emotions. I might have experienced them fleetingly, but I've always known how to rise above them."
The Head Trainer nodded approvingly. "My brothers and I have always had regrets for not bringing you up here in Drena from an early age. As a child, you were promising, intellectually wise. We could not envision the ugly duck turning into a beautiful swan later in life. You are every inch Drena worthy in both terms of physical beauty and intellect."
"You are flattering me," Lucas spoke, feeling an unpleasant taste pooling on his tongue.
"We have offered you everything. We have always treated you like you belong here. We have always had trust in you."
"And for that, I want to thank you, yet again."
"Lucas," the Head Trainer's voice dropped to a whisper. "Why are you hurting us, your Fathers?"
Lucas had the presence of mind to look surprised. "Hurting you? I would never ..."
The Head Trainer slid his hand in one of the large pockets of his grey robe. The large gemstone fell on the wooden table with a small thump. Lucas's eyes remained glued to it. The Head Trainer continued on an even tone.
"I must admit I would not have expected an ordinary merchant to be so resilient to torture. It was quite a feat to make him break."
Lucas's stomach turned and twisted.
"There is no point in denying now. Lucas, my child," the Head Trainer spoke softly, "I would like to hear everything."
"Am I going to be put to death?" Lucas eventually articulated.
"Over a little thing like this? And lose your beautiful mind? Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it on impulse that you gave the merchant this precious stone? Your battle with emotions ... is it getting too hard? We know that you suffered greatly after losing your servant. Cory, his name was?"
"I thought that was solved. I gave him up."
"You did. Your decision was more than laudable. He died in the depths of the mines."
Lucas said nothing, his eyes still drawn to the gemstone that right now equaled his doom.
"How is that making you feel?" the Head Trainer scanned over Lucas.
The Ruler shrugged. "He was no longer my property."
"That is not what I asked you."
"I don't feel anything."
"One fraction of a second."
"What?" Lucas inquired, finally raising his eyes.
"You answered too fast. I am your Father, Lucas. Tell me everything. Don't lie."
"A loss is a loss. I will not deny that I used to have feelings for him. But that was in the past."
"All right. That will be put to the test. But, I want to know one more thing. What was the gemstone for?"
Lucas searched his mind for an answer. "Didn't the merchant tell you?"
"I would prefer hearing it from you, not that lowlife who now rests in the ground."
It was a trap. It had to be. Lucas took a gamble anyway. "I wanted to go to Aeria. On a short visit. I miss my home."
The Head Trainer remained unmoved. "Emotions again ..." he said somewhat regretfully. "You can go back to your home, Lucas."
"What will happen to me?" Lucas questioned.
"You will undergo a re-education program. These emotions are really messing with your mind. We need you to be functioning perfectly for what we have in mind for you."
"Can I know what?"
"That information will become available when the moment is right. And, Lucas, do not plan to run away from home again. Drena is your home. It will always be until your last day."
The Head Trainer's words sounded ominous. Lucas felt dread washing over him. They were going to make him wait, feed on his own suspicions and fears until they would cull him, ripe for the taking.
~A Good Servant~
"Strange," Edgar commented.
"What is?" Cory inquired, peeking his head from behind a huge stack of old books. He was not used to reading so much.
"I was expecting a message from Lucas. The usual messenger hasn't arrived."
Cory felt a short pang of pain knifing his chest. "Do you think something's wrong?"
Edgar shrugged. "The desert can be tricky at times. Maybe he is just taking longer to get to Aeria. Now, we must prepare to attend a party."
"A party?" Cory asked confused. "I thought you guys never partied."
"Well, we're supposed to take a break once in a while. But I doubt a party in Aeria can ever rival to the lavish happenings that are a fixture in Drena. Now, excuse me, I need to get ready. I left your attire on the back of that chair."
When Edgar came back from the other room, Cory smiled, a bit amused.
"May I say that you look quite dashing, Edgar?" he giggled.
His host had chosen a black velvet suit with a matching hat. The shirt was white, but the tie was black silk. The attire made the bookworm suddenly look like a beautiful butterfly.
"You think?" Edgar blushed slightly.
"Oh," Cory said all knowingly. His blue suit was not as elegant as Edgar's, but it looked good on him. "At this party ... will a certain lady be present?"
"A certain lady?" Edgar blushed more this time.
"C'mon, Edgar," Cory teased. In the short time, he had spent with the man, he had come to like him. Edgar was witty, easygoing and even funny, although sometimes that happened without any intention to joke. "Lena will be at this party, right? Will you introduce me to her?"
"And lose her to you?" Edgar faked outrage and then started laughing. "I must say, Cory. You should be prepared. The ladies will really be all over you. You are very aesthetically pleasing. Now, I must warn you. Their requests may be ... quite strange. Nothing dangerous, and you do not have to worry, as you well know, about any sexual advances. But their scientific interests can sometimes be peculiar, especially in regards to attractive men, like you."
"Now you're making me nervous."
"Don't worry. But do try to keep a low profile."
"Maybe pretend I'm mentally challenged, so everyone leaves me alone?"
"Nonsense. That will make you their lab rat in an instant. They will want to know what's wrong with your brain," Edgar warned. "Just be yourself. So far, you proved to be a very manageable guest, so I think you know very well how to behave in polite society. Actually, I'm afraid I might embarrass you; I basically have two lefts of ... well, everything," he concluded and gestured for Cory to follow him outside.
~A Good Servant~
Everything looked austere. The men and women at the table wore beautiful clothes, but they were basically covered from head to toes. Especially the women were practically swimming in frills and lace, with their small heads peeking over large and convoluted collars. Large hats were covering their heads, so, although he was a bit curious to see them from up close, he quickly realized that there was not so much to see.
"Hello, Edgar," a small woman sat next to them and nodded briefly. "I see you brought a friend," she inspected Cory with her sharp, intelligent eyes, the color of amethyst.
"Hello, Lena. This is a friend of mine from Bluesilver. Hector, this is a good friend of mine, Lena."
Cory, now going by the name of Hector, inclined his head. The woman continued to stare at him.
"Can I feel your skull?" she suddenly asked.
His jaw went slack. What kind of a strange request was that? He turned to Edgar, only to see the man smiling devilishly at him. He straightened up.
"Of course, please be my guest."
Lena didn't wait for another invitation and rose from the table, to come to Cory's back. She removed his hat and placed it on the table. He felt her small hands feeling his head like they were searching for something.
"Magnificent," she commented. "Edgar, are you sure your friend is from Bluesilver? It is so unlikely for commoners to exhibit such perfect anatomy, down to the smallest details."
"Lena is an expert in phrenology," Edgar explained.
"Oh, Edgar, you're exaggerating," the woman laughed softly, and her hands stopped their strange explorations for a bit. "And it's just a side hobby, nothing else. The Trainers do not think phrenology is real science. I'm afraid I still need to deal with boring math on a regular basis."
"What is phrenology?" Cory eventually asked.
"I can tell certain things about you, just by studying your skull," Lena explained.
"She can even predict the future," Edgar intervened again.
"Really?" Cory felt excited about such a possibility.
"That's nonsense, dear Edgar," Lena's voice turned a bit deeper. "I am just playing with concepts and ideas, nothing more."
"Please, tell me my future," Cory demanded.
"All right, but please be aware that this has more to do with personality traits and the most likely things that will happen in your life, based on these traits. There is nothing set in stone, and what I am about to tell you will sound pretty vague."
"I don't care, I'm curious," he insisted. "I mean, if you're not busy," he remembered his manners. He found Aeria a strange place, but the people here were certainly fascinating.
"Well," Lena's fingers descended over his ears and started trailing invisible lines, stopping in places, as if the woman wanted to read something deeper in there. "You are a very balanced person, Hector. Yet, it looks like you are very passionate, too. What science are you specializing in? Since you're here in Aeria, I suppose you want to specialize in a certain discipline."
Cory pondered for a second. "History," he breathed out.
"History?" Lena seemed surprised. "That's nothing but dead science. Who cares about the dead anyway? Once someone is no longer functional, he or she must retreat right away. There is no progress to be obtained from there."
"Oh," Cory spoke, not really knowing what to say.
"Never mind, if that's your cup of tea, that's ok," Lena concluded for him. "Now, take what I will say with a grain of salt. It looks like you are destined for great things. Who knows? Maybe history will become an important science again. That, or you'll change your specialization," she joked.
Cory was all ears. He liked this game. "What else? Don't worry. I think it's very entertaining."
Lena's small hands descended on his nape, feeling the base of his skull. "Strange," she whispered.
"What?" Cory and Edgar asked almost at the same time.
"It's nonsense. It cannot be," she eventually spoke.
"Please, Lena, don't leave us in the dark. It's not like we believe this fortune telling thing, anyway," Edgar insisted instead of Cory.
She hesitated a few more seconds. "What I feel at the base of your skull is mentioned in a few old books. But I've never seen such a thing, and I've never believed it anyway."
"What is it?" Cory now felt a bit uncomfortable.
"It looks like ... you have two life lines."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Well, a loose explanation would be that you have to die once, to live a second life. Have you gone through any near death experiences?"
Cory's mind flew back to the moment back in the mines outside of Drena. "No, I cannot say that I have," he murmured.
Lena's hands disappeared. "I'm really sorry. I should know death is not exactly a great conversation subject at a party. If that makes you feel better, the two life lines can also mean something else. It's a more common explanation."
"What?" Cory's curiosity was piqued.
"That there is another living inside you. You know, like when you experience strong feelings for someone else. Or ... another for you."
Cory could tell without looking that right now, Lena was staring at Edgar and the man was staring back. He thought of Lucas, and his heart grew small.
"Well, enough of this hocus-pocus," Lena was the first to break the awkward silence. "I heard the chef really outdid himself today. Let's enjoy other things besides the usual food for the mind we regularly indulge in."
Like on cue, servants pushing trays of food entered the room. Cory remained thoughtful. Lena's words had hit a bit too close to home.
~A Good Servant~
"Are you still thinking about what Lena said?" Edgar asked him, once they were back home.
"She's quite an exceptional person," Cory said.
"I know," Edgar's voice was filled with regret.
"Edgar ... would it be that bad to get close to her? I mean, you know, to become romantically involved?" Cory was trying hard to pick the right words.
"I could never do that to her. If anyone does such a thing, they are not the only ones punished. The subject of their misplaced affection is punished, as well."
"What does this punishment consist of? Who will know, anyway?"
Edgar frowned. "The Trainers have eyes everywhere. I mean, not exactly eyes, but affection levels can be detected."
"Detected? How?" Cory wondered, confused.
"It's difficult, and it's hard to explain. If two people come together, they will be exposed rather sooner or later. The punishment ... well, the sublimation machine can be used as an execution device."
Edgar really had a pitiful expression when he spoke. "I would not want anything happening to Lena because of me. I would not stand it," he shook his head energetically.
"But Lucas said ..." Cory spoke softly, "that he wanted to take me here. How would have our lives turned to be?"
"He said that?" Edgar was surprised. "That's strange. Maybe he knew something I don't?"
That question was more addressed inwardly than to Cory.
"About what Lena said ..." Cory changed the subject, his heart heavy. "I did have a near-death experience."
"You did?" Edgar showed his surprise.
"While I was escaping. I felt really cold, and I had no direction. But, then ... you'll laugh if I tell you."
"No, please, I promise I won't," Edgar grabbed a chair and took a seat.
"I thought I was dying but then I had this ... hallucination. I saw a woman in a casing inside the wall. She was floating in mid-air."
Edgar didn't laugh. "How did she look like?"
"Blonde, long hair, really beautiful ... I think. I don't know many women. I felt myself growing warm again."
"Anything else?" Edgar pressed.
"The mark on my shoulder," Cory touched his arm gently. "It flared for a brief second. Oh, she had a lily flower in her hand."
"Like the mark," Edgar continued thoughtfully, pursing his lips.
"Then she disappeared, and I knew the way to get out."
Edgar rose and took one of the old tomes from the table. "You know, these were books we were supposed to burn a long time ago," he said casually.
"Oh, no, we, the people of Aeria. An old man gave them to me, told me to keep them. I thought he was a bit crazy. But he was a happy guy. He didn't have to use the sublimation machine. Not even once. He found his work passionate enough to not care about anything else. Lucky man," Edgar smiled. "He died at 102."
"102?" Cory was flabbergasted.
"Yeap, he saw like five generations of us, or even more. Most thought he was a bit deranged up here," Edgar tapped his right temple, "but they left him alone. Not even the Trainers cared about him. They told us to look at him and see what old age could do to us. He was a cautionary tale. Don't grow too old or something like that. They even made a show of it, undressing him and showing us his sagging skin."
"Poor man," Cory whispered.
"Oh, he didn't care. Actually, if I think about it, he was very content with his own being. When the Trainers came, he got ready to be presented to the crowds. He joked about it, too. I kind of miss him."
"When did he pass away?" Cory inquired.
"We are not exactly sure. We didn't see him for days and went to his home. It was empty. Who knows where he found his end? We didn't find his corpse."
"So how do you know he's dead?"
Edgar stopped his flipping through the pages and stared at Cory. "He could barely walk. Where could he have he gone?"
"And just disappear?" Cory insisted.
"You do have a point," Edgar murmured. "We just supposed he was found by the cleaning crew someplace and taken to the crematory. We didn't give it too much thought. But I still have these books from him."
"What was the old man's name?"
"Hector," Edgar said a bit amused. "I named you after him. I hope you don't mind."
"I hope I get to live till 102," Cory joked.
Edgar laughed while continuing his search. "Aha!" he exclaimed and gestured for Cory to come closer. "Is this her?" he pointed out at the old page on which fine lines, barely visible, showed a woman with a lily flower in one hand and the other placed over her womb.
Cory took a step back. "That's her!"
Edgar seemed surprised. "Are you sure? You barely looked!"
"I am, I am sure," Cory felt all his pores breaking into a sweat. "It is her!"
"All right, don't be afraid."
"Who is she?" Cory came closer. Something more powerful than fear was drawing him to the old picture.
"According to what it says here ..." Edgar brought the tome closer to his eyes, "she is the one who was before the Trainers."
"Lucas mentioned her," Cory murmured. "How did he know?"
"Well, he was good friends with Hector. Maybe the crazy old man told him something," Edgar expressed his suspicions.
"But he had to ask you about the lily flower," Cory voiced his thoughts.
"Hector was kind of crazy, as I told you. He always said something like he gave us little truths, and that it was up to us to put them together. Yes, if I remember correctly, he did speak kind of strangely. Not only to me. To everyone. Then suddenly, he fell silent, like he could not speak anymore. His eyes were kind of frightening. They were so grey and so deep. Like the Trainers' eyes."
"The Trainers are eternal," Cory spoke, as he suddenly remembered one of the lessons taught, as a young boy. That phrase had been like a mantra they had to say every day.
"What did you say?" Edgar turned to him.
"The Trainers ... they are eternal. They do not die, do they?"
"Yes, that's a known fact. From their love and care, everyone is born. They have the power of life and death."
"How are we all born exactly?" Cory questioned. "I know the basics, how the women from Tresalt go to Drena to give birth, but, otherwise ..."
"Oh, it's quite a secret process. The Trainers take care of everything. Pregnancy, as is, is a biological process, but the initiation of the process is entirely in the Trainers' hands. They know exactly what genes to combine to fuel the world with workers, scientists, rulers like Lucas ..."
"... and servants like me," Cory spoke softly. "I wish I knew the woman who carried me in her womb."
"Why?" Edgar was a bit intrigued.
Cory shrugged. He could not pinpoint what he was feeling. Regret? It was more than that. "I am part of her, I think, as I stand here in flesh and blood. It's like she's living through me, but I don't know who she is, and she doesn't know who I am. I think, no, I feel ... it's kind of sad."
Edgar seemed to ponder for a bit. "You're quite an interesting individual, Cory. And not only because of your magnificent skull," he added jokingly. "I've never thought about the woman who gave birth to me. There had to be someone right? And she was not just a vessel ..." the scientist felt his breath stopping, all of a sudden. He caught the back of the chair to regain his stability.
Cory hurried to his side. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Edgar furrowed his brow. "I must have overeaten tonight or something."
Cory shook his head. He felt as he was responsible for the unpleasant switch in conversation. "So, if Lena studies phrenology as a side hobby, what do you do for fun?"
The host's face lit up. "Oh, you'll think it's silly," he waved his hand, but he watched Cory like he was waiting for a reply.
"Try me," the former servant smiled at his new found friend.
"You won't laugh, right?" Edgar warned as he gestured for Cory to follow him to the back.
"No worries, I really find all this science stuff fascinating."
They descended on the ground level and exited in a small backyard. It was surrounded by stone walls, and only the light of a few lamps made the inside yard visible. In the middle of it, there was something tall and large, covered with a huge piece of cloth.
"It's more like a practical ... thing," Edgar said excitedly, as he grabbed one corner of the cloth. "Ready?" he smiled at his guest, and Cory nodded.
That was the only thing the blond could say, as a strange apparatus appeared in front of his eyes. He had never seen such a thing before. He touched the long, slightly twisted blades and started to move around. A cabin with two places lay on top of the apparatus, and just underneath, a huge engine – something he had learned from Edgar, took almost the entire space. Above the cabin, there were some other blades, and as he examined the machinery, he noticed other similar devices, of various sizes to the side.
"Do you like it?" Edgar rubbed his hands with unhidden satisfaction.
"What is it?" Cory didn't hide his admiration and surprise, either.
"It's a flying machine," Edgar said pompously. "Well, err... I mean, this is what I want it to be."
"Does it fly? You mean, up there, in the sky?" It was Cory's turn to show excitement.
"Technically ... yes. But I've never tried it for more than a few minutes. It makes a lot of noise, and I don't want to draw unnecessary attention."
"Why did you make it?" Cory inquired.
"I don't know ... I found the plans, and I started tinkering, and here it is. That, and I have a dream that one day, I will just jump in it and fly over the desert, just like that," Edgar said with something akin to embarrassment in his voice.
"And why don't you do it?" the blond said simply.
Edgar laughed. "And go where? I don't have a plan, although I'd love an adventure."
"Well, it wouldn't be an adventure if you knew your destination, would it?" Cory smiled.
"Good point yet again, Cory," Edgar nodded. "I've never left Aeria, except on very quick trips to Bluesilver, from where we get our prime materials. I have no factual knowledge of the outside world, besides what I know from the books."
Edgar covered his flying machine, and they walked back inside.
"Edgar, the woman, the one who was before the Trainers, how did she die?" Cory asked.
"No one says she died, because the Trainers say she is just a legend, and therefore, she never lived."
"That is what they say."
"Correct," Edgar said a bit amused. "Are you sure you haven't dreamed of becoming a scientist? You do have a way of doubting things, Cory."
The former servant laughed. "Before coming here, I didn't know what a scientist was. I would like to read more about the woman if that's all right with you."
"Please be my guest. Since you've already met her, that might lead us to something."
"You don't think I just had a hallucination?" Cory inquired.
"A hallucination showing you the exact representation of something, in this case, someone, you've never known before? There must be a scientific explanation for such a coincidence. Since you show no sign of suffering from a mental condition, I have no reason to doubt your words," Edgar concluded.
~A Good Servant~
The messenger remained standing. Edgar fiddled through the contents of the box he had just received from Drena.
"Are you sure this is all?"
The thin man pursed his lips. "Are you accusing me of stealing?"
"No, I think you might have forgotten something."
Edgar hesitated. He didn't like this new merchant, and he was a cautious individual, as a common personal rule.
"Never mind, it was nothing important."
The merchant left, but Edgar remained thoughtful. When Cory came into the main room, he was still standing there, the small box in his hands.
"Is there something wrong?" Cory asked, seeing the man's change in composure.
"It was not the usual merchant who got me the new shipment from Drena. There was no personal message from Lucas, either."
A cold chill ran down Cory's spine.
"Something is wrong," he murmured.
"Yes, something must be wrong," Edgar added. "Cory, I don't want to frighten you, but I don't think you are still as safe as I thought you were. The merchant didn't see you, but he was looking around like he was searching for something."
Edgar went to the window and saw the merchant, walking empty-handed, to knock on a different door. The person opening the door conversed for a while with him, then the man turned and proceeded to knock on a different door.
"What did you find so far, Cory?"
"About the woman with the lily flower? Just a bit. It's a big book, you know," he complained. "There is a city, west from Aeria, as the map indicates, in the heart of the desert. She may be from there, or so the book says."
"West from here?" Edgar wondered. "Only Tresalt is west from here. The city where the women used for procreation by the Trainers live."
"Do you think she is still there?" Cory wondered.
"That would be impossible since you saw her in the depths of the Drena mines."
"She could be," Cory said a bit stubbornly.
"How so?" Edgar inquired, visibly puzzled.
"It's hard to explain, and the book is difficult to read. It's like she can be in many places at the same time."
"Ubiquitous," Edgar commented.
"What's that?" Cory's eyebrows rose in question.
"Omnipresent, someone who is everywhere at the same time."
"Oh," Cory spoke. "Well, she is definitely not here, and not even in Drena, except the mines, and she wasn't except for that time."
"That's a good argument," Edgar praised him. "But your question is if she is still in Tresalt, right?"
"Yes, pretty much."
"That would be hard to find out. Tresalt is closed to visitors, and only suppliers get there, and leave everything at the gates because no one should see or talk to the women."
"That's strange. Although, in Drena, it is a well-known rule never openly to stare at a woman. They always had those black, long clothes that were covering them from heads to toes. I barely saw one or two, I mean, their faces. They were in a store and wanted to buy something, and they lifted the garments from their faces just a bit so they could talk freely. Their guardians told them to cover right away when they saw me standing there."
"Well, there is no other city west from here, so there is no other lead right now. I would tell you to keep on reading, but I'm afraid we should plan to hide you somehow."
~A Good Servant~
Edgar was curious about what the merchant could be talking about with so many people from Aeria. So he left Cory alone for a bit and went on a short visit to his neighbors.
"The merchant? He wanted to know if something strange happened lately, or if someone new is around," the first neighbor, a known mathematician, offered an answer. "I didn't have anything to tell him. Well, I did try to entice him with my new method on solving third-degree equations, but he suddenly had to be someplace else. Would you like to hear about it, Edgar?"
"Maybe some other time, my friend," Edgar hurriedly bid his neighbor farewell. Cory was lucky the people in Aeria were such airheads.
As he went from door to door, he heard about all kinds of new stuff his friends were working on, but, apparently, nobody considered talking about Cory with the merchant. One last piece of information, though, sent shivers down his spine.
"He said the Trainers are bound to visit soon. I didn't know they were scheduled for verification," the last person Edgar questioned said.
It could not be a coincidence. Edgar didn't believe in coincidences. Cory was in trouble, and so was he.
~A Good Servant~
"Cory, we have no more time. I know you still need to learn about the woman with the lily, but the Trainers are expected over the next days, and they have no reason to do so. I think we need to take a gamble and get you out of here."
"And go where?" Cory demanded although he had to admit he had felt equally troubled after Edgar had gotten no message from Lucas with the delivery.
"I have no idea, but ..." Edgar hurried to one of the enormous drawers that made most of his furniture and extracted an envelope from there. The paper was yellowish, and the corners were turned, and Edgar looked at it, scratching his head.
"What is that?" Cory questioned.
"Well, maybe it sounds a bit crazy, but ... since I am no master of escape plans, I think we should try this first," he showed the envelope to the former servant.
On it, a few words had been scribbled, most probably by a nervous hand that had no patience to finish each letter.
"Open in case of trouble," Cory read, not without squinting. "What's this?"
"Old Hector gave it to me. He said something strange, like to use this if I ever needed to escape the Trainers. Of course, I laughed it off, telling him why I should need that, but he looked deadly serious and added something like that a day would come and I would be much thankful for his help."
Cory shrugged. "Let's open it then," he concluded, and at Edgar's gesture of encouragement, he tore the envelope. Just a few other words were scribbled inside. "Travel West. Meet Tora."
He stared at Edgar.
"That's it?" the scientist took the paper from his hand and looked at it. "The old man and his pranks ..." he shook his head.
"Well, the book also speaks of going west," Cory gestured to the big book from the table. "I should probably read more. Although it looks like there's not much time."
"I won't work today. I'll call in sick, and stay here to read along with you," Edgar offered.
Both took seats at the table and started reading. Cory rose his eyes a few times, surprised to see how fast Edgar flipped through the pages written in small, tortured letters.
"How come you read so fast?" he asked.
"Oh, some of these pages I've read before. Unfortunately, this method of fast reading doesn't allow the memory to retain much, except for short periods of time. And my mind is enhanced because I've used the sublimation machine so many times," he blushed and squirmed in his place.
"You read fast because of the machine?" Cory pondered.
"Yes, it augments your brain so that you can process information faster. The downside is, of course, that it makes your head explode at some point."
"Can I use it?" Cory asked, a determined look on his face.
"The machine?" Edgar stared at him, confused. "Cory, I don't know, it can be dangerous ... you are not from Aeria, and there is no way of telling ..."
"Do you think I'm too stupid to use it?" Cory demanded on a tone that bore no contradiction.
"No! No, no, Cory, please, it's not like that! Lucas entrusted you to me; I really don't want to do something that could lead to your injury, or worse."
"You are still alive, as is everyone who has used it, so far, and you have used it multiple times. I only need it once, to help me before the Trainers come here."
Edgar pursed his lips in displeasure. He eventually sighed. "All right, Cory. Let's get you there once the night falls. Maybe you should rest now, so you have the entire night to read the books."
Cory nodded in agreement. As he rose, Edgar looked at the page he was on.
"I don't remember seeing this here," he pointed at a picture on the page.
"It looks like your flying machine," Cory said.
"How could it be here? I only found a sketch, and it was definitely not in this book. This, however, looks like ..." Edgar picked the book and dragged it towards him to see it better. "I cannot believe it ... it's like it's the spitting image of my machine."
"Really?" Cory leaned over the table and placed his hand on the page. When his hand connected with the paper, the apparatus started moving slowly. Frightened, both he and Edgar took a step back.
"What on earth ..." Edgar murmured.
"Have you ever seen anything like that?" Cory asked, slightly aware of how his hands were shaking, trying to find the table so he could hold on it.
"Never," Edgar shook his head very slowly, while his eyes remained glued to the paper. "Do it again," he urged Cory.
"Yes, it doesn't react when I touch it. Touch it now, Cory," Edgar regained his steadiness, the scientist in him winning over his initial surprise.
Reining in his emotion, Cory touched the paper again. The apparatus moved, and this time, they looked at the moving picture in front of them. Lines representing desert dunes moved below the device, and slowly, the silhouette of a city appeared in the distance. The picture stilled and remained like that.
"Touch it again," Edgar frowned.
Cory obeyed, but this time nothing happened.
"That is so strange," the scientist mumbled.
"I really need to read these books," Cory sat again at the table. "I feel like I have to do it. Edgar, is it possible to use the machine now?"
"Well, it's almost lunchtime. Even scientists are taking a break to let food break down into fuel for their brains. There's almost no one in the streets. We could try then."
~A Good Servant~
The building looked damp and gloomy. Cory could barely suppress an unpleasant sensation as he touched the old stones in passing.
"Does the machine really need to be in a place like this?" he asked, mostly rhetorically.
"Well, I guess the Trainers don't want it to be a pleasant experience for either of us. They probably count on our disgust to come here, to suppress our emotions on our own, before ending up here. There it is, the good old lady, killer of all things nice," Edgar gestured to what looked like an iron throne, fixed with large bolts into the floor.
Despite feeling his heart growing small, Cory stepped up and sat on the ominous chair. Edgar helped him fix what looked like an iron helmet over his head.
"Are you ready?" Edgar asked cautiously.
"Go ahead. There's no going back now," Cory said to himself.
As Edgar pressed a switch just under Cory's hand, a feeling of dread and hopelessness invaded the blond's brain.
Memories of Lucas flooded him, then drew away, like waves on a shore. Lucas's smile, his dark eyes, his warmth started diluting, bright colors washing away in a colorless pool, and Cory saw himself standing on the edge of this endless pool, staring down.
"No," he whispered, "I'm sorry, Lucas."
Edgar took the helmet off his head gingerly.
It was cold, so cold. Cory just grabbed at his own arms, trying hopelessly to cover the imaginary hole opened in his chest. He howled like an animal. Not even when he had gotten beaten and branded, had he felt so utterly hopeless. Even during those dark hours, he had still had Lucas's memory, and that had been his light. Now, there was nothing but darkness all around.
Slowly, he started getting back to his senses. Edgar was shaking him gently.
"I'm sorry, Cory, I should have told you ... how it feels. I guess I've grown so emotionally numb that I didn't realize what it could mean to someone who has never used it."
"Is it ... always like this?" Cory eventually gathered his wits.
Edgar just nodded. "Let's hope it's for a good cause. We should get back home to our reading."
~A Good Servant~
They both remained silent on their way home. Cory sat without a word at the table, and his eyes started dancing over the pages, sniping important information, with incredible speed. From his side, Edgar sneaked glances. Cory could feel the man's eyes.
"Edgar, please, don't worry, I'm fine," he tried to help his friend get over the recent experience.
"It's not that. It's that ... you're fast; you're really fast."
Cory raised his eyes from the pages. "Faster than you?"
"Definitely. Faster than anyone I know. What have you found out so far?"
"The writing is very difficult to follow. There are mostly myths, but it looks like the world is bigger than we think. There are islands far from the continent, and there are all kinds of animals and birds living there. The people left them for the main continent. The book says they wanted to grab more than they could chew. The continent is mostly covered in desert, but they were helped by the woman with the lily."
"Is her name mentioned?" Edgar asked. "No matter how much I tried to find this information, I never managed to find it. It felt like going in circles all the time."
"No name. She is just The One, and nothing else is said. Variants of something like an adjective are presented, but that could not be a name. It's more like a function, rather than a name. She is said to be matr, mitera, mut, and, as far as I can understand, it's like she gave birth to the first people, the ones who wanted to go to the continent."
Edgar was looking at him in unhidden fascination. "I've gone through these books, and never found this info. Or I've always forgotten it somehow. Did any pictures move?"
"No, not yet."
A sudden gust of wind made the window frame hit the wall with a smash, taking both by surprise.
"There was no sign of rain," Edgar rose quickly to close the window.
Cory returned to his book. What he saw moving on the page made his heart stop.
"Edgar," he whispered, "they're here."
Edgar remained still, frozen in front of the window.
"Yes, they are. And they are coming here."
He turned like an automaton towards Cory. "To the flying machine, now," he said in an even tone.
Cory fell silent and obeyed. He helped Edgar fuel the machinery, and he took a seat next to the scientist. Loud noises could be heard like someone was trying to break through a door.
He looked up. The machine had enough cover to protect them from the heavy raindrops that started to fall. The sky was grey and menacing. Edgar's machine started rising while making an even louder noise than the ones coming to get them and the storm in the making.
Cory knew they were there, below them. He didn't have to look to know. But what he knew, as Edgar and he started flying west was that the Trainers, standing there, in Edgar's backyard, their grey eyes following them, came to Aeria on a single simple mission. How he knew, he had no idea; but he knew right now, with sudden clarity, that he hated them, with all his heart.
~A Good Servant~
Dion watched John as he sat down at the table, a morose look on his face.
"What is it, John? Hard day at work?"
It was so seldom for John to complain about work. He had always left such problems there, never willing to take them home.
The big man fiddled with his fork.
"I'm going to change workplaces," John eventually said.
"All right," Dion sat next to him. "Why is this bothering you?"
John buried his head in his palms briefly. "I'll be working the mines. I am at that age, I know, but I hoped they would just let me be a little more."
"Is that really hard work?" Dion questioned. "I'll work hard, too. I'll do everything around so that you can rest," he offered.
John caressed his lover's fiery strands and smiled. But Dion felt the man's smile never reaching his eyes.
"What are you talking about, baby? You're already doing everything," he kissed Dion's forehead briefly.
"Why are you so upset?"
John stopped for a second like he was trying to find his words. "I'll see you less, that's all."
No, that's not all, Dion could swear. But he had to be patient to let John talk about it, in due time. He forced a smile, too, as he kissed John on the lips.
The man grabbed him suddenly, and there were plates and food flying everywhere. Dion clutched at John's shoulders, as his lover started kissing him desperately. Their coupling was fast, rough, but Dion was not scared. He felt his big man needed him that way, at that very moment. As John lay there, his dampened forehead resting in the crook of Dion's neck, he caressed the man's short hair.
"Everything will be fine," he spoke softly, although he knew somehow his words sounded hollow.
~A Good Servant~
Lucas stood there, in the middle of the room, looking around. His own house felt strange, hostile. He chuckled bitterly. It had to be. It was a prison. Every step he had tried to take outside the home, he had been under close supervision for days now.
He sat at the small table in his living room. He leaned and stared at the seams in the old wood. A little thing he had brought to Drena from Aeria. It was far from being perfect, and many times, Lucas had looked at it, to find comfort in its imperfections. Now, his mind focused on a single seam and started following it. His thoughts were carefully gathered and concentrated, poured into the same river, following the seam.
There was no luxurious feeling, no victory. But there were ways to use prisons, and walls could be built to keep the world outside, not only to keep one inside.
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