Here’s the next piece of my story cycle. June has been exceedingly busy, and July will be a test of my sanity. I just started grad school, I have to finish a Pathfinder project by the end of the summer, and there’s still a wedding to help plan. Not a lot of time for pleasure writing, but, it’s still pleasurable, so who knows.
Entry the fifth, the 12th day of Poldoure, 738th year of the Sanguine Reckoning
Here we are. Obviously I survived, in some form or another. Obviously I am now back at Swantopelk Manor, a prisoner once again. Why bother to relate this part of the tale, concerning my upbringing and that first taste of freedom? Why bother when it doesn’t concern itself directly to my Great Work? I shall endeavor to answer this question, but first I must finish the tale, and relate my conversation with the Doctor. I remember it very well indeed, and have listened to the wax cylinder recordings to fill in the gaps in my (usually) crystalline memory.
And for the Demiurge Deck today, we draw The Pillory. The exquisite Sanguine Era illustrations feature a poor fool in stocks, surrounded by disapproving authority figures. Reflecting on the circumstances after my return to the Manor, I believe that lucky bastard had no idea how very fortunate he was.
I awoke. What I first noticed was a numbness below the region of my neck. This was unexpected, as the memories of my escape from the Retrievers flooded back to me. Perhaps having my body slammed against every support structure holding up Harrowgate had not done as much permanent damage as I had thought. Still, I couldn’t move a muscle except for in my facial region. A numbing agent in all likelihood. I focused my eyes from their initial blurriness and looked around. I noted, with a twinge of disappointment, that I was back in the Doctor’s workshop. There were the familiar cluttered tables, the mewling specimens imprisoned in their bell jars, and the gently bubbling vats. I was home.
The Doctor was there as well, sitting in a high-back tufted chair and smoking a damp cigarillo. The look she gave me could have withered the weeds out of our summer garden. There were only two occasions on which she smoked: when she was in deep thought regarding a problem or conundrum, and when she was unspeakably angry. The thought that she could be both at once was unsettling. She spoke in her dry, reedy tone-
“You awaken at last. Welcome back to your home, my dear creation. We have had quite the little adventure, but it has now come to an end.”
I tried to speak, but found I could only produce gurgling noises. The numbness I felt was so total and complete that I couldn’t even squeeze a puff of air from my lungs. Dr. Swantopelk smiled in a way that was unpleasant by anyone’s standards.
“You will find it is quite impossible to speak. I wanted to have your full undivided attention as we have this little discussion, free of your usual flippant remarks.”
I settled for sticking my tongue out.
“You have been a disobedient and willful creature since the moment of your genesis. More so than any other project of mine, you have confounded me with your love of mischief. And now I’ve been forced to use those miserable antiques to apprehend you. I’ve payed out of pocket for the damages you have indirectly caused, and been forced to pen a letter of apology to the Office of Gatekeepers and the Council of Plutocrats in Harrowgate. And poor Albadore had to have stitches! You have humiliated me, as well as yourself, with these wild escapades of yours.”
I rolled my eyes in the most dramatic fashion possible. Even with limited tools at one’s disposal, I find that impressive effects can still be achieved.
“I see that my admonishments fall on deaf ears. And I know that your great fall did not damage your hearing mechanisms. Perhaps when you come to understand the nature of the punishment I’ve devised for you, you will learn to be a bit more contrite. Observe.”
The Doctor slowly rose from her chair and walked over to me. She gazed into my eyes, still smiling, and stroked my hair. She then gripped my temples, and lifted me up! At first I thought she had gained some ungodly strength in my absence, but the truth was far more dreadful. She tilted her hands and swung my head down, and with dawning horror I understood why I couldn’t feel my body. My body was nowhere to be seen at all. I had been reduced to my most basic form, my head.
She had been keeping me comfortable (and alive) with a drip solution fed into my cranium through rubber tubes. These now trailed beneath me onto the table, where I had apparently been resting in a petri dish. I gurgled and spat, my eyes likely bulging out of my head with outrage. I imagine this experience would drive a human mad, but remember that I had once been nothing but a head in the Doctor’s laboratory, meant to observe and nothing more. For me this was rather like being transformed into a baby. Still, having enjoyed the use of a body for many years, it was frustrating to say the least. The Doctor chuckled with sadistic delight.
“Yes, you understand now, don’t you? This is a consequence of your actions! This is what happens when we are impatient! And look at what has become of that wonderful body I made for you!”
She carried me over to a gurney, where a lumpish form was concealed beneath a dirty sheet. With one hand she pulled it off, and there was my poor frame. It was bruised, battered, and betrayed. One of the arms had been lost, a leg hung on by a mere thread. It looked pale, and everywhere had blackish bruises and sores that oozed a viscous oil of the same color (my “blood” for lack of a better description). I did feel remorse then, not for the Doctor and her silly pride, but for my poor, dear body, which I had subjected to such strain on my adventure.
“It’s quite a miracle that we recovered it, and you, at all. When I read the Retrievers’ report I couldn’t quite believe it. You fell, nearly 500 meters. You broke every bone in your body, and then you sank into the Strait. Thankfully what was left of your body went into torpor while the Retrievers fished you out of the mud. The carrion fish did a number on you of course. I’ll have to give you some rudimentary gills for next time…”
This was a positive note, at least she hadn’t decided to destroy me. Then, as if anticipating my thoughts –
“I’ve put too much work into you to allow you to go gallivanting around, and ruin your precious body every time!”
She carried me back over to my tray, and dropped me unceremoniously on my side. After a few gurgles of protest, she thought better of it and set me upright once again. Facing me in her chair with steepled fingers, she seemed to be struggling with some sort of problem.
“Surely you understand that you would have had your chance to see the world? With your Great Work, I imagine you would have seen more of it than you cared to. But we must follow procedure! There are tests, measurements must be taken! In spite of your arrogance, you must know that you are not ready for all that!”
I regarded her coolly. I was no longer angry with her. I was curious. I wanted to know at last why she had made me. I think she saw that look, that spark of curiosity in my eyes. Had I summoned tears, or had I continued to defy her, it wouldn’t have moved her one bit. But that look of wanting to know, I think it broke her. She removed her spectacles and rubbed her forehead.
“Yet, you performed rather well, didn’t you? I’ve received reports from the authorities as well. You impersonated several people, with impressive accuracy. You conducted yourself with foolishness at times, but cunning and charisma as well. I certainly didn’t train you for any of that. And the Retrievers. No one has ever given them the slip, but you certainly gave them a good run, didn’t you? I seem to have crafted a savant.”
It should be known that I have a great weakness for compliments.
“Time is against us, always. We never have enough, and now, less than I thought. I grow old, as you can see. And your purpose must be carried out before it’s too late. When I saw you had escaped, I was furious. I wanted to have you destroyed, and to start it all over again. That was foolish, I admit. I am still too human it seems.”
At that she stood, and adopted her old expression of mild annoyance.
“I have come to two decisions. The first, as a continuation of your punishment, is that you shall languish here in the laboratory, fully conscious, while I work to repair your body. I will not allow you the comfort of torpor. You will think on your stupidity and rashness, and when I am finished I will re-attach your head, IF, you can convince me that your are remorseful.”
I tried to look as much so as I could, although it’s difficult without body language.
“Second, we will enter a new phase of your education. Your Great Work is to begin ahead of schedule, and for that, we must prepare you adequately. You will have reading to do, and when you have the use of your digits again, you will practice your writing. That is all. For now.”
She left, slamming the metal door of the laboratory. I felt many things then: elated, frightened, a bit confused, and desperate to know more. I felt all of those, in the phantom of my gut.
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