I... am...Mahid... That was the first thought. The second was What is Mahid, now? He was restrained. There was an ache in his jaw where his poison filled tooth had sat but he was effectively gagged and could not move his tongue to probe the spot. A Mahid gag, too that filled the mouth with rubber that one could chew upon and never bite a piece loose to choke with. If he opened his eyes he would see the handle of it sticking out from between his lips.
A headache. He recognized it. It was residue from the most fast acting stun-drug... and from the feeling, quite a bit of it. They would have wanted to be sure of me.
Muunas... My most high God... my senior is incorrect. 2nd Amitzas is incorrect. Most High... you have showed me...
He shut those thoughts behind the wall in his mind. They were incorrect thoughts. But images of the Gods and the – he had to force the caveat now – Foreign Imperator kept burning through his mind, obliterating years of Mahid training in the conflagration.
My mind and soul are a city under siege by the Ten and by their conquering Son. He could not forget that now. The truth of what he saw... they were flames... they burned the dried-up tinder of painful learning. His mind was on fire, pain and confusion, as long-held beliefs charred and blackened, a far worse agony than a mere stun headache could give him.
I am a Mahid, trained to be fessas. Mahid is meaningless now, I have only the fessas to cling to. They will truth-drug me, and find that I have nothing to give them. I know only where to send my letters... to the postal office here... from that box they vanish and I do not know where they go or who picks them up. They might catch someone emptying my box but I do not believe they will. I have nothing to hide. Except... the worst... I am a failed Mahid of a failed Imperator. The Spark of the Son’s Ray was correct to defy 2nd Amitzas.
I do not like this sensation of failure. I am used to frustration. Anger. Rage. Pain. I am not used to failing in my duty. It is correct that I be executed. I... liked... being the glassman... I had enough training in watching the glass flow from solid to liquid, transmuted by fire. I had enough apprentice burns on my hands as if through my gloves to be credible. Glasswork... is beautiful. I am like a glass rod, and the second Ten Tens is the flame applied to me.
He noted absently that the current Mahid... or Sereniteers... or Irefas... had not seen fit to use either the knife gag or the penetrating rods built into the table to immobilize him completely. They had not even fastened the head restraint. Joras Mahid lay in almost complete restraint and attempted to resist melting.
They did not wait for the enforced stillness to soften him up. They didn’t need to; on several levels but they did not know this. He did not bother to open his eyes when they came... four men together who did not speak to one another.
They were not terribly rough when they pushed up his loose sleeve and inserted the needle. What do I least want them to know? I don’t even know that now. I shall be curious to find out myself when they begin.
They removed the gag and he closed his mouth and ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth. It was a physical relief that he indulged himself in and was surprised when a glass tube was offered to his lips. “Drink,” one man said. A soft Aitzas accent. Did he warrant attention from the Minister of Internal Serenity himself, Rafas Izan? It didn't matter. He drank. There was no reason to see the men truth-drugging him and he didn't bother to open his eyes.
There was no shame to feel as he lost his control, the fessas drinking song he began humming, the bawdy poetry he recited, “Finger Licking Good”. It was all part of his other self... the not Mahid part that was not injured or dead yet. They listened without comment amongst themselves. He said it out loud, there was no stopping it.
“...this part of me isn’t dead yet... That’s funny. I’ve been fessas long enough that when the Aitzas dies it is keeping me breathing...” He laughed again, an almost hysterical sound, painful and long drawn out as he laughed as he hadn’t for years. It was so intense he was vaguely glad he wasn’t in full restraint since that would have injured him as he writhed with laughter. “Tell us your name... lie to us.”
“Tirias Firen, fessas.”
He was, at last, far enough into the truth-drug to cease assaulting his own and everyone else’s ears. They waited, and finally there was truth down to his core and no struggle any longer. This was Selestialis... no fight at all. Only Hayel waiting when he came out of it, but that was a distant thought.
“What is your name?”
“Joras Mahid, Aitzas.”
“What would you least like us to know?”
There it was. “I’m turned.” Some part of him wished to weep but that was as impossible as screaming.
“You’re turned? You don’t want us to know that?”
“You won’t kill me.” An odd shift in the room.
“You want to die?”
A whisper from one man, too low for him to catch. “Do you feel you deserve death?”
“I am Mahid.” It was a curious comfort to realize he still believed himself to be Mahid, even in the midst of all the confusion.
“Are you willing to swear to Ivaen Shefenkas Shae Aranoeas as rightful Imperator of Arko?”
Joras was absolutely shocked, down where he still could be shocked, to hear his own mouth open and say “Yes.”
“Will you be entirely loyal, body and soul to Ivaen Shefenkas Shae Aranoeas?”
He almost missed the four men talking amongst themselves as his own mind flailed around inside his skull. Yes? Yes? I’m sworn? Yes? How? Oh my great God... yes?
“Do you know where Minis Aan is?”
“He left his Mahid guard?”
“And you were sent after him?”
“Do you believe he is in the city at this time?”
They ferreted out every nuance of his thinking, every turn he took from Haiu Menshir to the city, one word at a time, since under truth-drug he was incapable of explaining. Then they went away. They just went away and left him and it was a mercy. They just let the drug wear off after they ran out of questions and did not take advantage of the drug to hurt him. He was faintly surprised at that but it made sense that if the Gods wanted the current Imperator... and thus by extension the men questioning him... they would do good and not ill.
Some part of him wailed and thrashed and longed for punishment to expiate his sin but that did not happen. They left him alone after they had wrung out everything they could out of his drug-lax mind.
When at last he opened his eyes on the Mahid space, ungagged this time, he found himself looking at the Imperial Pharmacist standing over him.
“You are sworn.”
“Yes, Senior,” he said quietly.
“You wish to die.” It was not a question. He answered it anyway.
“It is not allowed. Your punishment is to endure and understand the current Imperator.”
The Imperial Pharmacist unlocked him with the usual ‘clack’ as the restraints snapped back. “We will see to your re-training,” was all that was told him.
“Thank you, Senior.” And then, the most astounding, astonishing thing. The Senior answered him.
“You are welcome, Mahid.”
Joras sat upright on the table, frozen in the act of rubbing his wrists, staring at the Pharmacist. You are welcome, Mahid? I am truly going mad.