Cameron collapsed on the floor of the jail cell, unable to comprehend the last two days. He had finally managed to escape from prison, only to be recaptured and sent right back. Only this time, he didn’t have any companions. Josiah and Idriys had left him. The White King’s Warlocks had bound and gagged him and dragged him back to Castle Whitefall. How could this have happened? He shouldn’t be the one to be back in prison! If anyone should be back in prison, it should be that thrice-damned madman Josiah. He was the one who tried to bring Evelyn back from the grave, after all. And hadn’t he killed all those people in Gavin’s Wold? Then how is that he walked free while Cameron was stuck back in a cell?
This time, there was no giant troll guarding the prison, either. No, instead there were two seasoned Warlocks stationed to watch him at all times. They rotated out every few hours, but they all looked the same to Cameron, their faces all hard angles and deep lines, and cold dark eyes. They did not speak, except when Cameron did not obey their orders quickly enough. Then they punished him.
“Look who’s back in a box!” Rhys’s voice taunted. “I always knew you’d end up back here. Just where a no-good maggot professor like you belongs.”
“Shut. Up.” Cameron cringed. He’d started hearing Rhys’s voice talk to him yesterday morning. He didn’t know where it was coming from, but he couldn’t make it stop. He ignored it as long as he was able, but it always eventually got to him. Rhys always knew his weaknesses.
The voice continued: “That’s no way to speak to your big brother, Cameron. You know I was always looking out for you! You were so fragile as a boy…”
Cameron clenched his fists tightly and tried to shut out the voice. He began thinking of his parents; they had always been proud of him. He wondered what they would think of him now.
“Oh, I’m sure our parents have probably disowned you by now,” Rhys said. “I know they never did care for me much, but they would have no sympathy for a criminal jailbird traitor like you.”
“I am not a traitor!” Cameron protested. “I was just trying to save her life…”
“Evelyn hated you. You know that, right, little brother?” Rhys’s mocking voice continued. “She thought you were scum. She never would have married you; you were a worthless Tao-barren fool.”
“Evelyn was my friend,” said Cameron. “She told me herself.”
“She was lying. You were nothing to her, nothing at all, especially not compared to Josiah. Now there was a man I could get behind… if you catch my drift,” Rhys’s leering voice said.
“SHUT UP!” Cameron yelled. “Leave me alone!”
There was no response; Cameron looked up, surprised. Had it really worked? He looked around the cell, and realized that there was a tall, black-robed man in the cell with him, just inches away from him. He slowly looked up into the man’s face, and saw a cruel, malevolent smile leering down at him. “Excuse me?” the man said, in a dangerously soft voice. “What did you say to me?”
Cameron scrabbled away from the man, trying to put as much distance between them as possible. Something about the man terrified him. He hit the hard granite cell wall, and cowered into a ball. “I’m sorry…” he simpered. “I wasn’t… wasn’t talking to you.”
“Then, who, pray tell, were you talking to, Cameron Seamus? It seems that there is no one else here to speak to. And such harsh, hateful words, too.” Cameron looked around in surprise; the two Warlocks were no longer present. “Come with me, Cameron,” the man said. “We’re going to have a conversation, you and I.” When Cameron didn’t move, the man’s grin widened; “I said, come!” he ordered. As he spoke, he flicked his wrist, and Cameron felt his body jerk painfully upright, and he did a herky-jerky marionette walk towards the man. Cameron’s muscles cried out in protest, and he fought to control them, but there was nothing he could do.
The man turned and strode out of the cell, and up the stairs to the courtyard. Cameron followed in his strange, stuttering gate. On the way up the stairs he tripped twice and fell; he tried to catch himself, but his arms wouldn’t obey his brain, and the second time his nose smashed into the lip of a stair, and crunched, spouting blood. The man he was following just laughed, and Cameron was forced back to his feet.
In the castle courtyard, an enormous white pavilion had been erected, and it was towards this tented dome that the man and Cameron headed. Around the outside of the pavilion stood thirty fully-armored knights, each wearing glistening-white armor. Interspersed with the knights were a large number of Warlocks, each wearing differently-colored robes, but each with a thin white circlet around their temples. It was the pavilion of the White King.
As the black-robed man led Cameron inside, the knights snapped to attention and saluted, and the Warlocks bowed their heads reverently. The black-robed man ignored them. Cameron was forced to follow behind him; once inside the tent, he suddenly felt the control of his muscles return to him, and he dropped to his knees. The black-robed man said in a deep voice, “This is the prisoner, Cameron Seamus, Sire. He was the one that we recaptured after the others escaped.”
The White King was seated on a large throne in the center of the pavilion, surrounded by more troops and Warlocks. He gazed stoically at Cameron’s kneeling form, before saying, “Bring him closer. Let us have a better look at the man.” The black-robed man flicked his wrist again, and Cameron jerked to his feet, tottering towards the king. His head was yanked backwards as though an invisible hand had grabbed his chin and twisted upwards. Cameron found himself gazing into the unrelenting eyes of the White King.
“I trust he is being well-cared for?” the King asked.
“We have a constant watch on him day and night,” the black-robed man responded. “I personally have undertaken to make sure that a fiasco such as before does not take place again. Though I believe it unlikely that another rescue attempt will be made, we are preparing for all possibilities.”
The King nodded slowly. “Good,” he said. He stared at Cameron, stiff and awkward, for nearly a minute before continuing. “Release him,” the King said. Cameron, gasping, found that he was once again in control of his body.
The White King finally spoke to Cameron directly. “Tell us, Cameron. Where are your friends?” he asked in a slow drawl. Cameron made no attempt to reply. The White King’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Do not attempt to play games with us,” he said. “We will find out the information we need to know, whether you wish to cooperate or not.”
Cameron flinched slightly, but said nothing. The White King’s face softened, then, and he said, “It must be hard, Cameron, knowing that your friends betrayed you? Knowing that they abandoned you when you most needed them?” Cameron looked surprised. “Oh, yes, Cameron, we know all about it,” the White King continued. “We know how they left you for dead, riding away on that filthy Chimera. They were too scared of our men to even try to save you, Cameron. So are you still going to try to protect your friends, even after all they’ve done to you?”
Cameron’s jaw clenched. “They had no choice,” he said tightly. “They had to get away.”
The White King nodded. “Of course they did,” he said. “And if you just tell us where they were going, we will make sure you do not return to prison. We know, after all, what being in a box does to you.” The corners of the King’s lips turned up slightly.
Cameron stood his ground with a defiant look on his face, saying nothing.
The White King waited patiently for some time, before allowing his face to droop into a slight scowl. “Allow us to tell you what will happen to you, should you decide to be less than cooperative,” the King finally said. “You will be sent back into that prison, and you will enjoy the company of our most excellent Truthsayer, Baltasar,” the King continued, gesturing at the man in black. “He will find out all of the information we need to know from you, and when he is finished tearing your innermost thoughts and desires from your head, your mind will be like a vegetable. You won’t even know your own name.”
A greedy, hungry expression passed over the Truthsayer’s face as the King spoke. “Such a shame it would be, too,” the King said. “A renowned professor of Tao’lin, mind so damaged that he would barely be able to control his own bowels. Such a tragedy…” his voice trailed off. “On the other hand, if you cooperate with us, we are willing to overlook certain events that you may have participated in. You would be a free man again, free to do as you like. You could go back to Tao’lin and teach; perhaps even become headmaster, if you were a faithful servant to us. And all you have to do is help us, help us seek revenge on the hateful men who betrayed you.”
Cameron said nothing. The White King’s face darkened. “Take him back to the prison,” he said savagely. “Let him contemplate his fate a bit longer. And make sure he is a little less comfortable than before.”
Baltasar bowed low and flicked his wrist again, and Cameron herky-jerked out of the tent. As he left the pavilion, several of the militia pointed and guffawed at his broken walk, and one of them spat in his face. “Might want to think about the White King’s offer,” he said to Cameron as the saliva dripped down Cameron’s chin. “It’s the best you’ll ever get.”
Once back in the cell, Rhys’s voice started again. “Oh, Cameron,” he said. “What did you think was going to happen? Did you think you were going to expose the White King and free his people from bondage? You should have asked me first. I would have told you the truth, that the White King would catch you, and you would die a long and painful death.”
Cameron whimpered. “They will save me,” he said, “Josiah and Idriys will save me.”
Rhys scoffed. “They have long forgotten about you. There is nobody to come and rescue you. You will rot in this box and die.”
In the dim evening light that trickled down into the cell, Cameron saw some small shadows moving in the corner. He stood slowly, and stepped hesitantly towards them, unsure if he wanted to know what they were. As he got closer, Rhys’s voice chimed in again. “It appears I spoke too soon, little brother,” it said. “Some of your old, old friends have come to keep you company. I always knew that the scorpions would make an impression on you.”
As Cameron watched with horror, scorpion after scorpion fell out of a crack in the wall that he hadn’t noticed before, and landed on the ground with a sickly plop, before righting themselves and crawling slowly toward him, stingers held high and glistening with drops of poison…
Baltasar watched with satisfaction as Cameron beat at the empty ground around him, trying to knock off scorpions that existed only in his mind. It was the measure of ultimate power to be able to reach into another’s mind and make them believe in their darkest nightmares. And Baltasar was the master of Cameron’s mind. He hungrily pictured what he would do to Cameron’s head when the White King gave him permission to ravage it and find out its darkest secrets. As he fantasized, his face curled into a thin, wicked mask of pleasure and anticipation.