I start talking. I can’t see. Can’t move. My arms and legs are bound. There’s no blindfold across my eyes. I’m strapped into a chair in the dark.
I hear voices. They’re speaking to each other, not to me. They sound so close, but they’re not in this room, wherever it is.
They’re in my head.
I’m done for. I almost puke, but I know it won’t save me, won’t make me feel any better, just show weakness, so I swallow sour bile and wait.
The voices keep going. I try to ignore them, but can’t. I wish I’d offered more blood at Incartu’s shrine—maybe he’d have let me die earlier, spared me the pain to come. The voices are insistent. I can’t block them anymore. My throat is dry, my tongue coated in grave dust. What are they doing to me? Fear shivers through me, prickling my skin with its icy touch, stomach quivering as my jaw keeps moving, my mouth shaping these words, the words of my captors…
“Listen to this man’s story. It is illuminating. You will each write a report based upon what you hear. Pay attention. The three of you who produce the weakest analysis of his tale will be culled.”
“But, master, his dialect is all but impenetrable and every third word an obscenity!”
“I have modified his language so every apprentice can understand him, Devhilas. The alteration wrought in his speech pattern should have been obvious to any but the most careless listener. Such inattentiveness does not bode well for you. It is imperative that we possess the skill of translation. Should you survive this lesson, acquire that ability as a priority. If you cannot understand their language, you will never rule their minds.”
“Yes, master.” My voice tries to sound like the crowd saying those words in unison. It gives me the creeps. I never knew what ‘unison’ meant before.
They fall silent, but I’m still mouthing words. Am I talking different? I am: no swearing, no Mirespeak. When did that change? I can’t remember. Has this been going on for hours? How many times have I begun? I can’t tell. Why is this happening? Even though I know it’s useless, I thrash about in the chair, staring wildly all around as I strain my arms and legs against the leather bindings. I burn my skin and see nothing but darkness. I wonder if I’m in one of the Necropolis tombs, but it’s not so cold here, and there’s no smell of old earth and ash.
A feeling takes hold of me, like a warm hand over the back of my skull. I try to…clamp my mouth shut. Huhgnnk. But…huhgnnk…something…forces me to keep talking, the words tumbling out in a rush, a tingling pressure I can’t resist. I…fight harder…my whole body rigid, locked in place and shaking with the effort, all except this traitor mouth that keeps blabbing on. I hate talking. I’d rather die than keep talking, but I can’t stop. Warm hands under my clothes make tightened muscles relax. I’m not allowed to die, not yet. My body falls slack, and I start telling my story.