tagMind ControlTristan's Tale Pt. 10

Tristan's Tale Pt. 10


A week's ride from Nys and June was riding for her life. She had never felt anything like this. The drum of hooves on earth, her heart like a hummingbird in her chest. The thrill of being chased by people that would skin and eat her alive. And all because of her own damn decisions.

Honestly, it felt fantastic.

Riding so fast the air whipped at June's loose clothing to make it flap like a flag. She wore white, for the heat of a sun intent on scorching all beneath it. Perhaps not the wisest choice of color for traveling alone. Behind her, Efreeti yipped and howled in hot pursuit. Three of them. They'd probably seen her from a mile away.

The dust kicked up by her horse was a fine red mist. This far south of the Wastes the land was rust red and bare. That made it easy to see the rock from a distance. A pillar of gray too tall and too smooth to climb up. She was almost there.

"Come on," she urged her horse.

The beast was implacable. Like most horses it was both as obedient as a trained soldier and as stubborn as a spoiled child. It didn't give a hundred and ten percent, no matter how dangerous the situation. But it was fast, and it was looking like it would get her there in time. But with time enough to dig for the dagger she'd buried there, moons ago?

June saw movement out of the corner of her eye. More bandits? she complained mentally. I'm barely pulling this off as it is...

But the movement was resolving itself into something much stranger. A red mass moving across the landscape. Behind it, a bright colorful buzz streaked through the air in pursuit.

What, am I back in the Wastes? Was she hallucinating? She had grown up a city girl, working at the palace since she was old enough to sweep a floor. She had heard the myths and stories: blood-sucking vampires, vicious Stone Giants, little imps a thousand times more vicious than an Ifrit that crept through the soil from the other side of the world.

She'd never been much of a believer in stories.

Oh, how the times have changed me. Whatever was careening in her direction, she wanted no part of it. A gut sense told her to turn back, now.

But that was a luxury reserved for those not being chased by Efreeti.

The gray pillar was seconds away. She could do this.

Closer now, she saw that the large red shape was actually a wolf big enough to eat a horse and have room for dessert. And not so much red as...crimson. Bloody smoke more inky than gaseous bled off its body and evaporated shortly after meeting the air. Shedding wisps and blots of itself as it pounded across the ground faster than she had ever seen anything move.

Welp. Her life had long since taken a turn for the insane. She'd come here to retrieve a dagger said to be crafted by Angels; it should hardly have been surprising to her that she'd casually meet something undoubtedly born on the other side of the world.

But what was that stuff trailing it? It was being chased by a colorful swarm of...she had to squint. Birds? No.


There was something wrong with them. They reflected light as if they were made of stained glass, dappling the ground beneath them with color. June was so astonished she forgot to slow her horse before arriving at the column of gray stone.

Shit. "Slow down!" She yanked on the reins. Horses take forever to slow down. She didn't have time to turn around, so she leaped off of its back. She stumbled in the dirt and ran her shoulder into the pillar. That was going to bruise. She shook her head clear and said to herself, "This could be going better."

She knelt. She dug, and checked behind her. Thirty seconds until the Efreeti arrived? If that. Her fingers scraped at the parched earth. Then she remembered the trowel at her waist. "What if I remembered to use my tools?" she said to herself. "How intelligent would that be?" Using that, the earth parted easily.

I knew you'd come back, whispered the dagger.

She shivered involuntarily. That voice... There was something so high and mighty about it. Like someone smiling and opening their arms to greet you in a way that forces you to meet their embrace. Warm and inviting yet somehow definitely evil.

"Go away," said June as she dug. "I'm not here to talk to you."

And yet, here you are.

She bit her lip and craned her head past the pillar, still digging. The wolf was closer now. A snarling beast swerving alarmingly in her direction. Then away again. It alternated between going in the direction of the pillar and swerving as far away from it as possible. She could see that it was muzzled by a mass of iridescent butterflies coagulated at its mouth. More trailed behind it. The wolf was enormous. It could step on her.

And yet simultaneously its fur was mesmerizing. Like you could dip a writing quill into it. Shreds of inky crimson were falling from the butterfly-covered mouth, evanescing after moments in the air. The eyes of the creature were clotted with butterflies, and she was glad for it. She did not want it to see her.

Behind her, the Efreeti raged and howled. Ten seconds.

Unbidden by her, the hard dirt rattled and shifted and became loose, and the hilt of the dagger now protruded from the earth. As silver and shiny as the day she received it, showing not a speck of dirt from its weeks underground. June looked at it, still for a moment, thinking only, There is such a thing as too silver.

Then she grabbed it, and scampered to put the gray pillar between her and the monstrous beast. She whirled to face the bandits. Three demon-possessed Ifrits riding their stunted, low to the ground horses. One wore a crazed smile and had hefted a spear as if it were a lightning bolt.

The dagger's power flooded through her arms and expanded through her chest and fell into her legs. She changed. She was liquid; quicksilver. She had a chance.

There was a rush of air as the wolf galloped behind her. It surprised her to hear it whining. Pitifully, like a kicked puppy. She heard its claws scrabbling and the whining intensify the closer it got to the pillar. Then she heard a whoosh and the earth-pounding stopped. Shortly after the wolf sailed over head, easily clearing the twenty foot tall pillar and the Efreeti beyond.

Just when she'd caught her breath from that, her eyes were assaulted by a vivid stream of explosive color as the stream of glass butterflies surged after the wolf. Their collective flight made a sound like breaking glass. Their colors were of shades she had never seen, furious reds and searing yellows and blues you could drown yourself in. Pinks that were in and of themselves compellingly erotic.

She'd been so captivated that she would have been run through by the Efreeti's spear, if it had bothered to throw it.

The raiders were paused twenty feet away from her, and they were taking off their clothes.

June blinked.

Spiked shoulder pads fell to the ground, accompanied by the thick belts they wrapped around their chests. They weren't dismounting their horses so much as being thrown off, because the horses had caught the same thing as the Efreeti. They were moving together and nuzzling necks and, um. Lengthening.

June's horse passed her on its way to join the others. She glanced down. "You too, huh?"

It's no wonder the Efreeti are rumored to be possessed by demons. The carvings alone would do it, runes gouged into their skin. But the fact that they pulsed with that freakish purple light...that only happens to an Ifrit who's been touched by Hell.

At this point in her life, there wasn't much that could faze June. She walked toward the developing scene. Experimentally stood next to the Ifrits. There was no way around it: they had weird looking dicks. The veins were throbby and purple and large. Plus there was the barbs. The one Ifrit taking it from behind was screaming, and not all of it was pleasure.

The third was on the ground, furiously masturbating. Its eyes were intently focused on the two having sex. She heard a grunt behind her and did not want to know what the horses were up to.

She was very glad to have been excluded from all of this.

You're welcome, whispered the dagger in her mind.

She nudged the Ifrit on the ground. He looked up at her and he was completely absent from his eyes. Then he seemed to register that she was a body he could fuck. If you've never seen someone try to stand up while masturbating, it looks exactly the way it sounds. The Ifrit made feeble attempts to grab at her.

June simply whacked his hand away from her. "Don't take this personally, but you're not my type." He was so preoccupied that she had no problem kicking him into the red dust. "Actually, feel free to take that personally."

She went to her horse and was relieved to have caught it before it could get too embroiled in the activities. It had been struggling with the logistics of fucking the smaller horses. She slapped it on the flank. "Hey! Snap out of it, we need to get going."

The horse visibly shook its head. It looked back at her and she actually saw its eyes glaze over. Experimentally she put a hand on its skin again, and its eyes refocused.

Imagine what we could do if you didn't fight me.

June rolled her eyes. She hadn't even fought the dagger's influence yet. She knew she'd needed the strength. If the only reason she hadn't been affected by the sexual frenzy was its protection, she conceded that she still needed it. She trusted herself to let go of its power when she didn't need it anymore.

She mounted the horse and made for Nys, to resume her training.

Hours later, when the raiders came to their senses, the sun had set. They snapped out of the reverie all at once, mid-orgy. Their horses too. The looks they gave each other were uncertain and sheepish. They hurriedly disengaged from one another and put their clothes back on in silence. When they were dressed, they felt that they could talk again, and the dialogue went something like this.

"...Well, shit."

"I've been hard so long my dick feels like it's gonna pop."

"I can't believe we lost that girl. That was easy prey. What kind of Efreeti are we?"

"Maybe we got lucky. She might've been like that other human. The boy."

"Enough about the boy. You're obsessed."

"He beat us with one arm, and a stick. Made me feel like a little baby Ifrit."

"Too horny to kill a random girl...Prairies and pastures, how did this even start?"

"Really hit us all of a sudden, didn't it?"


"Oh thank fuck."


"My dick's deflating."


"Thank the Throne, my dick's deflating."

"Maybe we should go home."

"And we'll pay the toll...how exactly?"

"We'll figure it out. All I know is that if I'm too horny to chase down a lone traveler, I'm in the wrong business."


"Especially if that lone traveler winds up being some young boy skilled enough to fight three-"

"Pack your bags, boys. We're headed for blacker pastures."

"And with one arm!"


I've danced around saying it. It's like the thought of writing it down will make it happen again.

But I did what I did, and that's that.

God. I just hope this reaches you in time.


The covered wagon trundled into the woods on a path that only a handful of people knew about. The King's hunting grounds, two days from Cammes. The trees were as wide as an ox and as tall as a tower. The wagon came to a halt beneath one in particular that was marked with an emblem of a palm circumscribed by a sun.

From behind this tree, five men emerged. Strong men in dark clothing. Their boots crunched the underbrush as two went either side of the wagon. The fifth waited at its end, inspecting the canvas cover. He sniffed it, not expecting to smell much.

From the front a tall woman emerged and went to greet the lone man. They hugged fiercely, and then spoke in complex hand signals.

Do you have it?

I do.

Any problems?

None. But be careful. We've seen what it can do.

The atmosphere was tense.

After a moment the men were instructed to remove the wagon's cover. Two of them removed the cover while two others aimed their crossbows.

The tarp was removed off the back of the wagon, revealing a large cage. All eyes were on the person inside. He was a young man. White. His skin bearing old bruises just starting to yellow and fade. He sat upright with his legs crossed, and his eyes were closed. He breathed meditatively. The newcomers hesitated upon seeing their prisoner.

I wasn't the monster they'd been expecting.

A boy? signed the man.

The woman raised her eyebrows as if to say, Do you really need me to answer that?

Does it speak? signaled the man.

Not since capture. Before, yes.

Make the transfer.

Bird calls were made softly into the forest. Moments later, another cart emerged. They had done this several times now—transferring me from one escort to another. Like they were trying to shake someone off our tail.

Little did they know, I had no allies in all the world. All my friends had probably been brainwashed the minute Shae returned to power. So...joke's on them: there was no one to shake.

Ha. Ha.


They unceremoniously dragged my cage off the wagon and picked it up. The first few steps went fine, but it was a stone cage; someone stumbled just a little and the cage lurched. A sudden drop, like tipping over backward. It shattered my concentration instantly.

Still half-in my mind, I tried to grab the shoulders of my Chi to stop myself from falling. But I was in the real world now, so...from all outward appearances, it just looked like I was reaching out to grab someone who wasn't there.

"Gah!" I looked around wildly, then let my arms drop, suddenly aware that they were out. Forest. We were in a forest. Surrounded by unfamiliar Palm of Dawn people—I was in the middle of another transfer. "Well if it isn't my favorite group of misinformed cultists." I mopped my face of sweat and looked at the blank faces of the people carrying me. "Where are we? Still en route to Cammes?"

No one was saying anything. Par for the course around these parts. Some people, the minute they get it in their heads that you're a supposedly extinct mind-controlling monster they give you the silent treatment. They don't even have the open-mindedness to wonder if maybe instead you're just a very lost kid who was abducted from Earth to serve as a ninja warrior-slave to one of the monsters.

Some people.

I examined my nails, bored. "That's cool. I would read your minds to find out where we're going, but..." I lifted the heavy stone necklace weighing me down. Too thin to take off, too strong to break. No clasps or thread—just pale gray stones fused together somehow. "Don't suppose you've changed your mind about this thing? I did promise that I'm the good guy."

It was hard for me to pick out the details of the people around me, but I noticed a man and a woman furiously making hand signals at each other. I couldn't understand it.

Well gee, thanks, Shae. You magically give my brain the ability to understand most languages on Haerth, but you forgot the secret sign language of the cult trying to kill you? Just let that one slip through the cracks?

Then it hit me. The way to get the Palm to trust me. I cleared my throat. "Do you guys have pinky promises here?"

I let that hang for a moment.

"That must have carried over from Earth," I said. "Look, I'll pinky promise that I'm a good guy."

Silence, and more silence.

I threw my hands up in mock despair and was startled when they hit the ceiling of my cage. I chuckled at how out of my body I was feeling. "Come on, guys! You've got Angels and Dragons and a whole province ripped from the Chinese knock off of Sword in the Stone, but you don't have pinky promises? Who decides what carries over? I've got a stern e-mail to send them."

A tarp was thrown over my cage from behind me. The thick canvas plunged me back into darkness. I glared at it. "Good chat. Let me know when we get close to Cammes. Oh, and do me a favor?" I called. "Could you stick to the main roads? I can't concentrate worth a damn driving over these goddamn tree roots."

I re-crossed my legs and closed my eyes. "So...where were we?"

"Not where..." replied a voice in my head, "but who."

You're such a snob, I replied. Part weapon, part person, part me, my Chi was worse than Rinzai when it came to pithy wisdom.

With an effort of will, I brought myself back to the scene I had crafted in my mind.

Tall blue columns, clustered together. The ceiling hundreds of feet away, hidden by a network of beams. Platforms connected by bridges, a giant blue pyramid in the distance.

Yup. The Course, Caer'Aton's one and only biggest obstacle course in the world, recreated in my mind with a slight twist to it.

Let me catch you up.

After waking up in the cage I noticed one main thing: while I was sleeping, they (The Palm of Dawn; an anti-Arasit group and headliner for the annual Convention of Poorly Named Cults) had loaded a heavy-ass necklace onto me that blocked my Art.

You might think that this was bad news for me. But the silver lining of losing my Art was substantial: blocking my Art one-hundred percent purged me of my Wraith self. I was myself again.

Thank God.

But, uh. The thing is, after being somebody else for a few days, I was now seeing myself with fresh eyes. And the first thing that my new perspective afforded me was an important observation: I was fucked up. Like, I'd left home for two days and came back to find it had been run over by a tornado.

How do I say this?

You ever have it where you're alone, and you're so there with yourself that it feels like your skin is crawling? I get that sometimes when I'm going to sleep. Especially out here, away from Jade. Head on whatever's passing for a pillow, alone with my thoughts. But now, alone in the rattling cage with nothing to do...I couldn't not confront myself.

And I guess that's what was so terrifying. That I wasn't allowing myself any escape. That I wanted to face my broken, lonely, shitty self.

But despite being more terrified of being alone with myself than I had ever been, there was a part of me that was even more scared of who I'd been the past few days. Of the darkness I'd embraced.

So it's not like I was drawn to the light. More like I was scared shitless of the dark.

Maybe that's how it always is. There is a point where you just can't stand being the person you are for another second, where all you can do is just try confronting who you really are because you know that continuing with the present course will kill you.

Point being, I dove headfirst into myself. And, uh. It wasn't pretty.

I don't know what I was expecting. Something solid, I guess. But pretty soon after I committed myself to near-constant meditation, I saw how badly I had broken myself.

It's hard to talk about this kind of thing. But I guess we all have a sense of when we're working well and when we're broken. It was just harder for me, because I could see it.

In my mind I was a tableau of discordant, jagged shards. Like you'd broken a vase in zero-g. It might have been some comfort to see each piece of myself for what it was, but I couldn't. Each piece seemed to signify something on a primal level. Like when a friend tells you a cloud looks like a person, and you can't quite tell what they mean? I looked at these floating, broken shards of myself, all of them differently colored, all of them feeling different to look at, and I knew that they might mean something to the person that I had once been, but in this moment I could not see the person they had once composed.

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