Ana learned how to play cards when she was younger, but Dzhate seemed to have more experience by far. They kept the betting relatively low – neither Ana nor Korel had very much money – but that didn’t stop Dzhate from playing like a fiend. She’d whipped them out of their pocket change with the last game. Today, they were playing in the kitchen while she continually, ceaselessly attempted to talk philosophy with them. Korel seemed somewhat exhausted by it; Ana felt amused.
“Well, here’s the interesting thing about the works of Yanda – she made this proposal,” said Dzhate, “She said, ‘No man can ever be compelled into slavery or freed from, because freedom is contained within the thought-form; freedom is the capacity to make a choice independent of another man, and a person can only give up that capacity in the mind.’ Or to be more accurate, she described freedom as consisting of being free mentally, and being free materially. I raise.”
She shifted over two shining coins to the center of the table, above which there was the board. Two cards. A simple depiction of a queen holding a sword; another still hidden. They weren’t low-quality, in spite of their simplicity – the ink was very carefully placed into the thick, stiff paper in a way that reminded her of an old fresco or statue. It was a strange art, but certainly an art nonetheless. Quietly, Ana looked at her hand. Another queen bearing a cup, a queen bearing a heptagram and a page holding a wand.
“Raise,” said Ana, throwing three coins of her own to the pile, “What if someone’s threatening their life or limb? Sure that could never be freedom.”
“Ah, that’s the trick according to her,” said Dzhate, “Human beings are always imprisoned by their material circumstance. There is no true freedom so long as we are constrained by the material world. You say the threat of death constrains freedom, which is in some senses true, but we are all under the threat of death sooner or later. Our existence in this world is thus a sort of prison as well.”
Ana thought about this for a long while as Korel looked at the cards. It was a strange, disquieting thought, as many pagan beliefs were. She certainly wasn’t perfectly happy with how her life was turning out – she was playing a game of cards with a criminal element, she didn’t have much money, and she still didn’t have a place to sleep outside of Sol’s couch – but nonetheless there were some small pleasures that she could take comfort in. There was occasionally some good food that she could afford, but then again that was constrained by her access to money, so she wasn’t totally certain if she could say that she had a true freedom in that. Likewise with other pleasures. She had a few friends now, but as she analyzed it a little further it occurred to her that they could refuse her friendship on any number of grounds, arbitrary or not. Nonetheless, they did also give her pleasure.
The principle that those pleasures of life were a sort of slavery felt inaccurate to her. Not technically incorrect in some philosophical frameworks, perhaps, but inaccurate to the actual experience of her life.
“Fold,” Korel said, revealing a mostly-worthless hand, “I always have rotten luck at this game. And this Yanda woman sounds like a crock of shit. Life isn’t slavery.”
Korel looked at Dzhate in an absolutely puzzled fashion.
“Slavery is like slavery.”
“Well, there is the theory of forms,” said Ana.
“You are familiar with Tetsa’s Commentaries?”
“Well-enough,” said Ana, reading Dzhate closely. She held her hand close to her body, the cards in a small fan, “The imperfect form is a prison of the perfect form, the soul. I guess life, then, is a material condition that is imposed on us, and the Godhead frees us from that at our appointed time.”
Dzhate slid four coins of her own to the center of the table, and revealed a king of cups with a dramatic flourish.
“I raise. That’s where you and Yanda diverge,” said Dzhate, “She says that the imposition of life on humans as a material condition was also a failure on the part of the divine.”
“You really believe that life is some kind of torture?”
“It is a quality often defined by its anguish, is it not?” Asked Dzhate.
“Well, I can’t disagree on that count,” said Ana, “But it has its pleasures too.”
Ana quickly threw another set of coins onto the pile.
“Playing cards, for one,” said Ana.
“Speak for yourself,” said Korel, eyeing what he had added to the pot.
“As for whether I believe it honestly – no, not really. I quite enjoy living as well. But isn’t it a fun idea to entertain?”
“I suppose it brings into question the matter of free will,” said Ana, “I can’t speak for Sondi philosophers, but there is something to the matter of providence that is a little captivating to me. The way people collide and re-collide in the course of life. I see it as more of a comforting thing, myself.”
Dzhate nodded, and swiftly raised once more. She didn’t have any real tells. In general, she was quite an austere girl, rarely showing emotion beyond a generally dour contemplation or playful debate. She made for an interesting interlocutor, but at the same time there was a certain absurdity to her that Ana could not quite place. There was something plainly dreamlike about how fully-grown adults treated her with the respect and fear of a dangerous woman. Korel seemed equally incredulous at the state of affairs, though he never said it.
Ana threw down the rest of her stock.
Dzhate stared at her.
“You are too.”
“If I’m bluffing, you can always just call it,” said Ana.
“I’ll see you.”
Dzhate reluctantly put down her hand. Two aces, and a page. Ana smiled and put down her hand as well, showing it off. Korel whistled.
“Lucky,” he said.
“Rare hand,” noted Dzhate as Ana collected her winnings.
“I’m out,” said Korel, “Can’t be wasting all my money like this.”
“Alright,” said Dzhate, “Could we play some chess then?”
“You can’t play chess with three players,” said Korel.
“I have two boards,” said Dzhate, “I could play you both at once.”
“And win?” Asked Korel.
“Want to bet?”
“I just told you that I don’t want to waste any more money,” said Korel.
It was just as Ana finished putting her winnings into her pocket that one of Dzhate’s proteges entered. She was a short woman with brown eyes, seeming out of breath from running in the summer heat. She looked to Dzhate anxiously. Ana carefully collected the cards and did her best to mind her own business.
Unfortunately, it seemed that Dzhate’s business minded her.
“What’s the matter, Kitra?”
“Thought you ought to hear this. You know how you’ve been looking for books from the Inquisition?”
Dzhate nodded. Kitra looked at Korel and Ana for a moment.
“Don’t mind them,” said Dzhate, “They’re friends.”
“Pretend we aren’t here,” said Korel.
“Well, it’s not exactly – I still haven’t found a way to get them out, but the whole city is talking about the ruling.”
“One of the inquisition was just found out for breaking oath,” said Kitra, “Had her appeals denied for clemency.”
Ana’s heart stopped for a moment.
It isn’t her, thought Ana, It can’t be her.
“Edamosfa-Iforfit Miaza,” said Kitra, “Uh, sorry, I have it written down here, they sent out a crier and everything.”
Saints and Tros damn it.
The woman hastily pulled out a piece of paper where a dozen marks had been scrawled.
“Uh, for the crime of adultery within the oath and sexual impropriety, they’re giving her a death sentence.”
“That’s odd. Don’t they normally keep that sort of thing more private?”
“Yes, that’s why I thought you might want to hear. Get this – they’re executing her in public. Uh, and not only that, the details of her case seem pretty strange. According to the crier, she declared her love on the stand, outright confessed it.”
Ana stood stock-still in her chair. She felt as if she were a wild animal in the sights of a hunter. Edam had confessed. She had confessed when it meant her life. She wanted to believe it so badly, and yet some part of her couldn’t. It was providence. It was providence of the worst kind. Suddenly she was very keenly aware of the sensation that Edam had told her about – the distinct feeling that the Godhead was finally punishing you for what you had done.
The full name echoed in her mind. Her hand trembled as she collected the deck and set it to her side. The enormity was not lost on her. Edam had chosen to be honest to the court about their relationship. She had said that she would have died for Ana, and now it seemed that she would at the hands of the Inquisition. Her chest began to ache.
“In public?” Asked Dzhate rhetorically, “How strange. I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“It’s a trap,” blurted out Ana.
All of the eyes in the room turned to her.
“I mean, obviously,” Ana said, “The Inquisition doesn’t do public executions as a matter of course. So it stands to reason that they’re trying to draw someone out, to try to rescue her off the chopping block.”
Ana did her best not to sink down into her chair. The bastards were drawing her out, and she could already feel it working. It felt terribly wrong that Edam might be punished for something half her fault, and she could already imagine the scene; the dramatic arrival, the swift fight against her former comrades before they would disappear into the crowds. Of course, in practice it would never go that well, but she could fantasize about it. They would cover every alley, cut off every line of escape. She wouldn’t put it past them to trap the sewers even. There was no way that it could function.
“And where is this so-called execution happening?”
“Just off the ecclesiastic court, in the square,” said Kitra.
“Mm,” said Dzhate, now deep in contemplation, “See what else comes up about this Edam, if you can. Thank you for bringing it to my attention first. You are dismissed.”
Kitra ran off almost as quick as she came. Dzhate leaned forward in her seat, cuffing her hands together and placing them on her lips.
“Merya,” she said, “What’s with the suddenness?”
“Listen,” she said, “If you were allowed to vivisect me for a game, I find myself thinking it only fair if I on occasion vivisect you. People don’t take that tone unless they’re somehow involved with a matter.”
Ana shrugged and sighed.
“Involved? Sure, I guess you could say that.”
“Tell me,” said Dzhate, “Or don’t. I’ll find out eventually.”
“Fine,” said Ana resentfully, “You want to know? That confession was for me. I’m the one she fell in love with.”
Dzhate leaned back very suddenly. Korel shifted uncomfortably.
“Er,” she said, “Not what I expected.”
“So that’s what that matter at the party was about,” said Korel.
“Aye,” said Ana, “So, what’s your angle here? Satisfied that hearing that my lover is going to her death?”
“I should apologize. I assumed this was going to be some kind of economic corruption or something like that. My angle was that I needed books from the Inquisition that wouldn’t otherwise be available. An execution where their security was focused elsewhere would be… well, it wouldn’t be ideal, but it could provide a brief window of opportunity.”
“I’m very happy for you,” spat Ana.
“I apologize again. I can’t imagine your loss.”
Korel shifted uncomfortably.
“You’re really thinking about it, aren’t you?” He asked. Ana understood what he meant.
“Even though you think it’s a trap.”
“Are you even sure that they’re actually executing her? What if it’s just a ploy?”
Ana shook her head.
“If it’s a bluff on their part, it is a terrifyingly accurate one. It’d mean that Edam – what she’d be pretending to do – it doesn’t make sense. Not with what she said to me before. The confession does, unfortunately. They want me to come to them, since they can’t come to me.”
Even if it was a ploy, Ana felt obligated to it. She wanted the confession to be real. She wanted it desperately.
“Hold on,” said Dzhate.
Dzhate burst from her chair and ran down the hall. When she returned, she was carrying a thin paper map. She packed away the cards and swiftly revealed a rather complete depiction of the upper areas of Kallin from above. With a swift tracking gesture, she indicated a large, blocky building. Beside it was the square.
“The ecclesiastic court,” said Dzhate, “Oh, dear.”
She quickly produced a charcoal pencil and began marking. There were three main ways out of the square, plus a few side alleyways. She closed them off with the marks. Then she started to mark up the buildings by it with lines extending outwards.
“Oh, that’s not good at all. Putting it there, you’ve got several tall buildings where you could put gunmen, and easily cut off any way out. It’s a perfect little rabbit-snare.”
Ana nodded solemnly. Gunmen were the least of her worries, but she figured that Dzhate was being obtuse as always. The worse option would be a skilled Inquisitor. She had heard that they had a particularly fearsome bow-woman who worked out in Kallin. The versatility of a bow and arrow as a focus put into the hands of an inquisitor with years of experience was something Ana never hoped to be on the wrong side of.
“As expected,” said Ana.
“And you’re still thinking about doing this?”
“If it was fast enough- no, that wouldn’t work, they’ll account for any sorcery done for movement. You’d have to- to make a switch,” said Ana, “Or get a double to-”
She shook her head.
“There’s no way.”
Dzhate cocked her head at the map, considering it, before pointing at a neighboring market square.
“What if you set off a bomb in the crowd a few blocks down?”
Korel and Ana both stared at Dzhate.
“What, it was just a suggestion!” Protested Dzhate, “Probably wouldn’t work anyways.”
“Right,” said Ana, “It’s like a hostage situation. They know I want her life, so they’re making a demand. Show your face or she dies. The thing is that they also already want her dead – they have an obligation to see her dead – so if we make them panic or set things off wrong, they might execute her on the spot before intervening against any distraction I might send.”
Ana leaned back in her chair and fumed. They were going to kill her. They were going to kill a sweet woman who had done so little wrong. It wasn’t just.
“Fuck,” she said.
Then, quietly, a new idea occurred to her. It was a stupid, crazy, risky idea.
At least, it might have been if she was anyone else.
“What if I just broke her out of jail before the execution?” Asked Ana.
“That’s impossible,” said Dzhate, “I’ve been trying to get agents into that building for months. They either don’t come back, or things get too risky and they have to leave early. It was only a few weeks ago that I managed to get blackmail on a clerk, and he isn’t willing to give up the sort of thing I need.”
Ana smiled. Being a former Inquisitor had its merits. So did being a witch.
“Edam was in love with me, remember? I learned a few things from her. Most Church-made quicksilver-fueled jails are fundamentally based on the same basic principles. If someone tries to enter an area without proper permissions, they should either raise an alarm or be severely hampered by a foci-based defense, or both, but never neither. The fortunate part is that a lot of those foci-based defenses and alarms come from a standard set of designs. I don’t know all of them, but…”
She trailed off. A decent number of the standard designs were based on locks that would injure or curse those that tried to pick them. Luckily, she could bypass that problem. The other kinds of defense would be more of an issue. Hexes, curses, surveillance and patrols could all be expected. Dogs were also probably going to be a feature somewhere in the building, if not integrated into the patrols. That would complicate their escape and their entrance. Getting a bloodhound on their trail was the last thing they needed.
“You’re talking about breaking into the most secure building in the city, with dozens of highly-trained killers and sorcerers inside,” said Korel, “Are you sure about this?”
“I won’t have to fight them if I do it right,” said Ana, “And you could help!”
Korel cocked his eyebrow. She was fairly certain he was trying to look incredulous and tough, but he looked just a bit too boyish to pull it off.
“You know how.”
“You think that would work?”
“A lot of jails aren’t wholly prepared for the kind of thing that you bring to the table. When they are, they’re usually only prepared for it when someone is already inside a cell. You could probably slip away unharmed.”
“I feel as if I have missed something,” said Dzhate.
“It doesn’t concern you,” said Korel.
“Frankly, it concerns me greatly that my new friend is racing towards her death.”
Ana sighed, and looked at Dzhate.
“If I die doing this, trying to save Edam, then I can at least be satisfied in doing something right for once in my life. Just know that Korel here is an expert in reconnaissance.”
She said it with conviction. She had been running and saving her own skin for a long while now. It had been enough for a while, too. But Edam – simply hearing her name again reignited something in her. She could not stand for the idea that Edam might die for her faults, and she almost felt certain that if she sat idly and let Edam be executed, she would not have it in her to truly live anymore. If she didn’t try to save her – the one she gave up her immortal soul for, if only for a short time – then what was she but a hypocrite and a coward? That alone was enough to make her certain.
There was, of course, a persistent doubt at the back of her mind. Even if the confession of love was truthful and honest, that didn’t mean that Edam truly would want to be with her. There was, after all, a difference between what was said and what was done in practice, and her reticence previously made it hard for Ana to be certain that Edam would want her. But still, the dead Edam perhaps would not want for her at all, her immortal soul having gone to Paradise. The living, breathing Edam deserved a choice in the matter. Edam deserved a second chance, like the one that Ana had, whether or not she wanted to be with her.
“Fine. I’m helping, though.”
“Coming?” Finished Dzhate, “No, I will not be joining you in your jailbreak. But since you’re so convinced of doing it, I might as well aid your chances of survival. Whatever of my foci you need, whatever information you truly need, is at your command. All I ask is a small favor. There’s a book – The Grimoire of Lenan – which I require. If you can drop into the archives to get such a thing… that would be of great help. But only if it’s not too much of a risk.”
Ana grinned widely. The plan was already forming in her head. The archive part was a wrinkle, but it was certainly something she could manage. Archives were generally kept in the lower parts of a complex like that, which wouldn’t be far from where they kept prisoners on the way to being executed.
“Thank you, Dzhate. Alright. Think. We have until next week. First we need to case the place,” said Ana.
“I can try to handle that,” said Korel, “But no promises. I tend to get skittish in that sort of scenario.”
“Alright. Then we execute.”
“Poor wording,” noted Dzhate.
“I’ll be needing you for that as well,” she said to Korel, “If I could use that for a moment?”
She took the charcoal from Dzhate and began to mark it up.
“It could change once we’ve cased it, but I would plan on doing this under the cover of night, that way crowds won’t be in our way and witnesses won’t be seeing us. Once we have Edam, we can proceed down this alley towards the river.”
She marked the intersection of the alley with a cross.
“Here, I want a man planted. If we’re being pursued – we’ll try not to be, but it’s best to plan for the worst – he’ll slow them down, hassle them and then point them in the wrong direction.”
“Smart,” said Korel, “But it’ll be a long run to the bridge.”
Ana shook her head.
“That’s why we aren’t taking the bridge. I can call in a favor, make some payments, and get someone to ferry us across in secret.”
Dzhate nodded slowly.
“Quicker, quieter and less expected.”
She’d need to speak to Sol and Terete about that. She was certain that the two of them could help her arrange it, but it might put some strain on both of those relationships. She hadn’t expected to try to pull this sort of favor so soon, but it was part of why she made that sort of connection in the first place – survival and unexpected circumstances made them necessary, and though this wasn’t about survival, it did warrant their use.
“So, how much do you want to be paid?” Ana asked Korel.
He rolled his shoulders gently.
“Paid? Hmm. This will humiliate them, right? Weaken their morale?”
“The Inquisitors? Certainly.”
This sort of breach of security would be the kind of thing that would get reinforcements sent to seal up the holes, or even an investigation into whoever was in charge of upkeep and security for the building, depending. It felt a little odd to be getting her former compatriots into that sort of hot water, but if it meant Edam’s life then it was a price she was willing to pay. Besides that, most of the Inquisitors involved would be free and clear – they clearly couldn’t have anticipated a person who could bypass locks entirely, and another that could turn into a crow.
“Then I’ll be paid in whatever I can steal on the way out,” he said, “They’re no friends of mine. If it hurts them, then I’ll do it.”
He raised his hand over the table, extending it out. Ana shook it, and smiled weakly. One way or another, she was going to see Edam again. As much as she dreaded it, the thought of her still made Ana feel giddy.
3 thoughts on “All Chains Broken 6.1”
I’m so looking forward to this rescue arc! Quick heads up – at least for me the drop-down table of contents is out of order, and several of the “next chapter” buttons have been broken over the last couple of arcs. Absolutely loving the story though, keep it up ❤
Apologies for the problems with the site – I’ve been meaning for some proper maintenance for a while. It should be fixed soon.
( ﾉ ﾟｰﾟ)ﾉ Rescue. Rescue. Rescue. Rescue. ＼(ﾟｰﾟ＼)