tagMind ControlTristan's Tale Pt. 09

Tristan's Tale Pt. 09


Hey, everyone. Hope you enjoy the latest chapter! Many thanks to my Patrons for their encouragement, and to my wonderful editor John Smith.
If you're new to the series, I recommend starting from the beginning.

All characters in sexual scenes are over 18.


The old woman gave us a toothless smile, handing over a loaf of bread and a small sack of apples. I thanked her and passed them to the young kid who my half-teacher, half-crazy-old-guy Rinzai had assigned to me. Aidin's skin was peeling from near twenty four hours of merciless sun. He picked at it idly.

Rinzai had plucked him out of his life in an inn to be my guide in this world, but the kid had never left Sicil in his life. This was as much an adventure for him as it was for me. Which made me wonder: why had Rinzai stuck him with me?

Aidin tore a piece off the bread. "Rinzai told you not to do that." He chewed noisily as he packed the rest of the loaf in our saddlebags. The bags had held up well over the course of our journey. Rinzai had shaped them out of Clay, meaning their scuffs and tears were just for camouflage.

"Do what?" I asked nonchalantly. I bit into an apple. It was crisp and juicy.

"She didn't ask us for money," said Aidin. "People normally ask for money when they sell you things." I glanced at the merchant—the old woman was still smiling at us.

Sidekicks suck. You can't sneak anything past them. "I guess she had a charitable soul," I said. "Lucky us."

"That's the fifth time in two days that people have given us free food, Tristan."

I smiled, showing my teeth. "Thank God for charitable souls!"

He sighed. "Whatever you say."

I took another bite of my apple and walked toward a nearby hill. True, Rinzai had been very, very clear: I was not supposed to mess around in people's heads unless my life was in immediate danger.

The thing is, he never gave me a good reason for it. I'm sure he had one, but put yourself in my shoes. My Art and my Chi are my only weapons and I'm in a world with like, literal demons. A few weeks back I rode down a road that ate my soul. I regularly walk past Droll so tall and muscled they could crush my chest with a single meaty hand. Without my powers, I was just a decent swordsman.

So, yeah, I was using the Art. Sue me.

Ascending the hill put us in one of the small stationary camps you sometimes came across in the long migratory line that trailed behind the army. The Caravan, they called it. Turns out the Eastern Kingdoms pay their soldiers well, so there's a lot of money to be made hanging around the army. It's like a moving town. Some people had been at it their entire lives, hawking wares to the small armies of each of the Eastern Kingdoms. Others were new, smelling the opportunity the newly united Eastern army offered.

A nearby merchant in purple robes shouted at a large, off-duty soldier. "I'll tell you once more before I call a Judge: you break a mug, you pay for it. What about that isn't clear?"

Being close, I picked up some resentment on the surface of the soldier's thoughts. I'll break your face if you talk to me like that again, he was thinking.

My Art senses were a low hum I noticed in the same way you notice the sky. You know it's there, you know some vague and immediate things about it (like whether it is cloudy or not, late or early) but you don't pay attention to it until something noticeable occurs (like when the sun pinwheels out of the sky, bringing the night in a matter of minutes).

In this case, the soldier's anger was a metaphorical rain cloud in my metaphorical sky. Just for some practice, I took away his rain. In other words, with nothing but the power of my mind, I made him chill the fuck out.

His shoulders relaxed and he rubbed the back of his neck, mumbling an apology. He tossed two dulled bits of silver (about half a full coin) on the counter, and left with his hands in his pockets.

It still gets me how cool that is.

See, I had been trained in Caer'Aton. And sure, it prepares you to fight against other Art practitioners, but it doesn't tell you anything about Haerth—the outside world. Its customs, its foods, its geography. Shae doesn't teach you how to be a diplomat. She teaches you how to bend people to your will with nothing but your mind.

I was not going to rely on my notorious good looks and charm to get by, and I swear that has nothing to do with the fact that a month of hard travel had turned my looks to shit and ground my charm to a bitter, paranoid paste.

No, I was going to use the Art. If it had really mattered to Rinzai, he would have done a better job explaining the reasons not to use it. Besides, I was doing good: taking away someone's anger? People shell out thousands for that kind of stuff. And I just did it with nothing but my mind.

So. Freaking. Cool.

The top of the hill gave a spectacular view of the area. I could see my destination: the bulk of the Eastern forces were amassed maybe a half mile or so from where I stood. It took me some time to notice they were divided into two camps. I perked up—were there two factions of the army? That would make my job way easier.

The amassed central force buzzed with restless soldiers. "But how do I get you guys moving again?" I wondered.

The Eastern army was at war with the Kingdom of Aartur. Peace talks were underway, and I was supposed to stop them. Rinzai needed the army to crash onto the Aarturian capital, Cammes. Allegedly that would give us the cover we needed to ferret out the location of the Liberator: a mythical figure who had scoured Shae's people from the land. We needed his help to finish the job.

It wasn't going to be easy getting this army back on track. Sure, I could cloak myself in an invisibility Field, sneak up on the generals, and zap them all with "go to war" commands. But that was risky.

My biggest but least likely worry: what if they were immune? The Liberator had taught rituals that helped combat Shae's mind-magic. That was ages ago; and Shae had sent the Odieh to make sure those practices were well and gone. But the Odieh can't cover a whole continent. It was a risky move.

But I'm not normally opposed to a little risk. The more true and more embarrassing reason for my hesitation was simple: my Art was rusty. I was no longer the god I had been in Caer'Aton—I suspected Shae had been helping me more than I thought. The range at which I could touch a mind was significantly shorter. The subtle differences between people's Beings was lost on me, causing their presences to blur together and require parsing.

And, plain and simple, I was weaker. I couldn't control five people at once, much less a whole room. I didn't trust myself to have my Suggestions take root deeply—they needed a little real-world oomph to center themselves around.

Formulating a plan, I rested my hands on the hilts of the short swords concealed under my thick cloak. I thought, Every good lie has a kernel of truth in it, right?

The swords marked me as a member of the (recently deceased) High Jassan's secret police. That would get me in with the Eastern leadership, hopefully. Once there, I just needed to know what to say.

I heard a woman's laugh, and I turned my head. A mostly in-uniform soldier was chasing her, trying to hoist his pants up from his thighs. "My purse!" he shouted. "Get back here!"

My heart was thudding in my chest and it had nothing to do with concern for the soldier's money. Though it was cut short just below the ears, her hair was red. A white mask over her face marked her as a member of one of the more reputable escort services of those that followed the army. Her lack of shirt left her small tits free in the open air. I stared.

Then I reached out to the soldier's mind and stopped him dead in his tracks. It was a clumsy but powerful override. He tripped, and fell onto his face.

See? Sloppy.

The girl glanced over her shoulder and her smile widened. I reached out to her before I could stop myself.

Come over.

Unconsciously she started walking in my direction. My heart rate quickened. A name formed on my lips.

Here, my martial training kicked in. Fighting teaches you that you can't follow your heart. You have to put your feelings to the side and get done what you need to get done—like, you know, winning the fight. She was looking at me now, expression hidden behind the mask. Her hair...

I had been on the precipice of something, looking over at a long, long fall. But I martialed some willpower and stopped myself from mucking further in her head. I let go of the Suggestion.

She was disoriented for a minute, wondering why she had walked so purposefully toward me. Her brain took over and, to protect her, did what brains do best: lie.

"I came over here to ask you a question," she said. Her voice was light but hoarse, like a cat-scratched sunbeam.

"How funny," I replied, "I've been waiting here to give you an answer."

She took her mask off—so she was just feigning belonging to Enigma. Enigma courtesans never removed their masks. Beneath it, her face was the one you wear when you know you're playing a game with someone. "I happened to fall into some money recently. I was wondering if you knew where I could fall into some more?"

Behind her, the soldier finally stood up and got his pants up. "You there, citizen!" he addressed me. "Hold that woman before she gets away. Ancients above, where's a Judge when you need one?"

I capitalized on the latent urges in his head and sent him a powerful Suggestion to go fuck a pile of dirt somewhere far away.

His next sentence died on his lips. He looked baffled as he tied his belt. He cocked his head, regarded us for a moment, and then walked away with the confused expression of someone who is wondering why they want to fuck dirt so badly.

The woman, seeing this, looked a little confused herself. She had been tense, ready to run again. I answered the question she'd asked. "That depends. What kind of talents do you have?"

To her credit, she transitioned with grace, for all intents and purposes appearing to have forgotten the soldier completely. She took a few sultry steps in my direction, and casually adjusted her hair. "Oh, I don't know. I'm a woman of many talents."

"You have sex with people for money." Aidin's young voice came from behind me. It was a testament either to how distracting she was or to my lost powers that I hadn't felt his presence approach.

She glanced at him and gave him a deeply disdainful look. "Your parents ever tell you to speak when spoken to?"

"My parents are dead," he said. "So you can go fuck yourself." He cocked his head. "If you did, would Enigma rules force you to pay yourself? And would your leader take a cut?"

'She rolled her eyes. To me she said, "So? Last I checked, I made a proposition."

But now that I'd taken some time to look at her, she couldn't have been more different from Jade. Her whole body was wrong. Her waist was too skinny and her hair was too short—and dyed, if her roots were any indication.

But most importantly I just couldn't keep lying to myself. Because that's what it is, projecting perceptions all over someone. It's just lying.

If I was being honest, I didn't care about this person. I missed Jade. I missed the quirk of her smile, how you never felt like you could really touch her because she was so composed and sure of herself. I missed her wit and her faith in me, I missed her musical laughter, and after spending the last few days thinking about starting a war, I missed feeling like I was doing the right thing.


"Hello?" she said.

"He gets like this with redheads," said Aidin. "You should probably leave."

She could tell that the game was up. That was probably fine by her, as she hadn't wanted to come over in the first place. She left, humming a lighthearted tune, counting her newly acquired coins.

"Thanks," I said to Aidin.

"That's a big army," he replied, looking out at the central force.

"Yeah." It sprawled across the land, engulfed it. Soldiers like ants, striped pavilions like hives.

Aidin looked over his shoulder. "What did you do to that other guy? The soldier?"

I coughed. "He was overcome by a powerful urge to fuck a pile of dirt."

Aidin looked at me. His expression said, You're kidding me.

I lifted my hands defensively. "I had nothing to do with it. That's just who the guy is. Don't yuck his yum. Some people fuck dirt and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, let this be a lesson unto ye about non judgment, or something."

Aidin sighed. He did that a lot. "You're the worst master..." he mumbled.

"Don't call me master," I reprimanded.

"Then teach me how to make people fuck dirt!" Aidin exclaimed. "You said you would."

I looked around us to see if anyone had taken note of his outburst. But being in the heart of the Caravan was like being in Times Square. You could take your dick out and it would take five minutes for anyone to notice, and thirty for them to say anything about it. "Making someone a dirt fucker is a time-honored tradition, young grasshopper." My heart wasn't really in the joke, and it landed flat. Changing tack, I said, "Have you completed your first assignment?"

He kicked a small rock and it went skittering down the hillside. "I told you. Dad could never just talk to the Spirit, and neither can I. I don't even know if he's there anymore. It doesn't feel like it did at first."

It definitely was there. I could feel it. "If you knock on a door enough-"

"You'll realize it isn't a door at all," he mimicked me. "I know."

I frowned thoughtfully. "What is knowing, really?"

"Oh my god. You suck."

I let a moment pass. "What is sucking, really?" I pondered.

Aidin sighed. We were quiet on the hill for a moment, and the sound swelled onto me all at once. The space was filled with the boisterous clamor of soldiers and the feral hawking of merchants around us, and the wails of those who had lost their loved ones and the anxious rumormongering around every corner, and the rare laughter of children and the sound of dice rolled on hard wood and you could always find a Droll beating out a rhythm in all of it if you listened hard enough.

If you want to know the sound of all human experience rolled into one, go to a warzone.

There are at least six types of groan that mean a person just wants you to hold their hand. There are five types of laughter that mean a person is deeply afraid. There are an infinite amount of silences. Silences that mean a person is looking out onto a world at once cruel and beautiful and more impossibly cruel for being beautiful. Silences that mean ancients fucking above, when will it end? Silences like ellipses, silences like exclamation points, silences like the space between a word and the next. Silences that leave space for a bigger story than could ever be filled by pages.

Sometimes when you're at the top of a hill like this you look out at all these tents and these half-metal horses pulling shitty wooden carts and all these people, nearly every one of whom wears clothes and you wonder where the clothes come from, and you wonder how long this many people can stay in this place before all the food is gone, and you wonder how the army came to be so bloated and why it needed to be that big and the world kind of smacks you in the face with the sheer fact of itself, its own improbability wielded unconsciously in the way you might hurt a friend with a casual observation that means nothing to you but devastates them.

But at a certain point you're not allowed to sit your ass on a hill and feel things. You've got to get going.

A horn blew. It was loud, reverberating a-la Gimli at Helm's Deep, resonating from the army's core.

"I feel like we should probably check that out," I said. "I feel like that kind of horn just can't be unimportant."

"What?" asked Aidin.

"I mean, ask yourself. Would you blow that horn if it didn't mean something?"

Aidin hesitated. "No?"

"Of course not. It's a loud-ass horn." I stood up and brushed the dirt off my uniform. "Time to get going."

"Are you going to reveal yourself?"

The million dollar question. "I'm not sure yet." Revealing myself as a Wraith could be advantageous, but I just knew I was setting myself up to say "not much, how 'bout you" when I was supposed to give some coded "I am doing well on this fine summer morning" type of secret answer to someone.

That being said, if the High Jassan was as much of an egomaniacal tweenager as Aidin had painted him to be, odds were he wouldn't divulge the identity of his secret police to even his cloest friends. Maybe the short swords would be proof enough for them.

Aidin gave me advice on the way there. "Remember to be super mean," he advised. "The Wraiths are always rude, always. You're not allowed to help anyone. But you don't want to just advertise yourself. Wraiths like making people dig their own grave before revealing their identity."

I grunted. "So then they can ask them to hop in and bury themselves?"

Aidin nodded vigorously. "I literally saw that happen once."

I glanced at the kid. "O...kay." So that's the type of person I had to be to really sell this. I could do that.

I got into character.

The Art made it easy. I can't imagine the kind of movies that would get made if actors had access to this kind of self-manipulation. I could literally change the way I saw the world, but at a fundamental level. Forget acting, I could become entire other people. I could shape my identity as I pleased and tell Time-me to remind me I had done that in five hours.

Yeah, I wasn't holding impeccable control over hundreds of people any more, but I could still do some pretty cool shit. I stuck my hands elbow-deep in the mechanisms of my selfhood and started playing with the gears.

People around me became peasants. No—rabble. Unmotivated idiots that were both wastes of space and in my way. I saw people as their roles—the Ifrits as possible candidates for stealth units in the army or possibly cooks, the Droll as time-keepers and messengers and fighters, the humans as crossbow fodder and planners.

I saw myself as about as self-important as you could get. My pace quickened, and I found myself straying slightly off the path so as not to dirty my boots too much. Aidin had to hurry to keep up.

A guard leaned on a sharpened wood spear on the side of the road, plainly dozing. A chance to test out my new self.

I snapped my fingers in front of his face. "Hey! Wake the fuck up!"

He startled awake, then looked at me like he wasn't sure if he was allowed to be angry at me for interrupting his nap. "Who're you, then?"

I stopped my walk, irritated that he was questioning me. "Dozing on the job?" I said. "Not even bothering to check these miscreants for weapons? I bet you were the one on guard duty when the High Jassan was murdered."

The guard stuttered. "I-I was across camp guarding the perimeter." He swallowed. "And that's just a nasty rumor, begging your pardon m'lord. His Holiness is alive and well." He said it like he'd been told to say it by a superior.

Interesting. Two pieces of information somehow gleaned from this doofus. The first: they want Mr. H.J's death to stay a rumor as long as possible. More interesting, though, is that for this soldier to assume a snotty plainsclothed civilian was 'm'lord'-worthy, there must be a class of non-military people in the camps with power over the soldiers. Good to know.

I smiled wryly. If you ever fear that your life is meaningless, don't worry: odds are your life's purpose is to inform someone more capable and interesting than you about something whose value is beyond your ken.

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