Lorin opened his eyes to darkness. Damp, cold air seemed to be weighting him down, making it hard to move and harder to breathe, as he tried to stretch his arms. He could feel the metal around his wrists; chains were cold against his skin, too heavy for him to move and too thick to break, keeping his arms up and his hands around the level of his forehead. He blinked as his eyes got used to the absence of light, and winced at the throbbing in his head when he turned to look around. Something was slowly creeping down his temple, a tickling presence which might have been both a drop of blood or an insect - regardless the fact it'd mean he was hurt, and in combination with knowing he couldn't move to brush it away, he was hoping for the former.
Something moved across the room, and he squinted in that direction. Vaguely, he could see a man behind bars, surely at least fifty years older than himself, sitting on the floor and leaning against a wall.
"Welcome to the land of the living." His voice was cracked, sounding like steps on old wooden floor, echoing in the dark chamber. "Ya hit your head pretty hard, eh?"
Lorin frowned, closing his eyes for a moment again as he felt dizzy. Hit my head? At least he was sure now that it wasn't an insect - but on the other hand, he was now faced with a hole in place where his memory should be, void of plausible explanation of what he was even doing there.
"They took your tongue out?" The man slowly pushed himself up.
"No.." Talking seemed strange, his voice sounding almost fearful from thinking of that possibility. Perhaps my brain is so used to the way I talk, that I don't even realise that I'm not making a sound anymore. He swallowed, wondering if such action would be possible if he had no tongue in his mouth. "Where am I?"
The man waved his hand around, walking in a small circle before flopping down on his place by the wall again. He wasn't chained to a wall - the bars seemed to be enough protection or barrier for him, apparently, or the architects of the place thought the guards of the prisoners could move more easily if one side of the room was covered in chains instead of cages. "Where d'ya think you are?"
Lorin glared at him. If I knew, would I ask? He parted his lips to say it, then licked them instead as images flashed through his head.
The feeling of the smooth wood against his fingertips, the colours in the dim light. The eyes on the walls, following his every step, the weight of the bag against his shoulder. The figure in the dark, sharply drawn silhouette against the open window and the sky outside. Eyes glowing behind a mask with silver marks, cold voice piercing the silence, and a sharp blow from somewhere in the shadows deleting everything..
He winced, recalling what happened, remembering what preceded those blurred images. The deal he made, job he agreed to do, and whom those masks belonged to.. He tugged at the chains, more eagerly this time, his heart pounding. Nothing miraculous happened; the chains remained as tight around his wrists as ever, equally heavy and clanging against the stone, sending sharp pain through his head once again.
He looked at the man again as the pain faded. "Is this the Palace of Justice?"
"The Palace of Justice?" Another voice, coming from somewhere on the right, a bit further down what Lorin thought was a relatively small chamber. Now, though still as nothing but contours in the darkness, he could see it had to be more of a narrow hallway filled with cages and chains, leading somewhere into deeper darkness. Figures of not quite determinable features seemed to be peeking at him through the bars, occasional whispers getting cut by the sharp song of iron and stone. Lorin was fairly sure this voice was female, and belonged to the person gripping the bars of the cage next to the man's. It was impossible to tell by the shape of her clothes - or whatever it was that she was wearing - but he had a feeling one could spot the attributes of her gender if they went through the trouble of dressing her into anything more ladylike.
"This ain't your Palace of Justice," she said. "Gods know Ledare lords and ladies are bad enough, but you have time till they ship ya off to there." She was silent for a while, maybe waiting for a response.
I can't believe this is happening. Lorin's thoughts were slow, as if his mind was filled with a liquid of some sort. This isn't true, I didn't really get caught..that thrice damned house was supposed to be empty... "A-are you sure?"
She sighed, so loudly that he heard it as if she stood next to him. "Iono what you did, boy, to think you should be there, but let me tell ya - if you were in the Palace of Justice, you wouldn't be able to use that lovely voice of yours right now. They cut your tongue off, and all ya can do is scream as they slowly relieve you of the weight of your limbs."
He was pretty sure that she grinned, but too busy with trying to calm the sudden riot of his stomach to be able to think of an answer.
The woman's next words got cut by sharp clang of metal against metal, followed by a voice sounding almost the same. "Silence, Forty-Eight!"
She growled, echo turning the sound into a roar as she clung on the bars. "I have a bloody name!"
"You might find more of your things getting bloody if you don't shut up." It was another voice, quieter and calmer yet at the same time more authoritative, making Lorin's heart jump and stick in his throat. He heard a key turning in a lock and saw the tall figure walk in as the door opened for him. He got up, leaning against the wall behind him, unpleasantly aware of his legs shaking as that man walked closer to him.
"You left your names outside of these walls, along with the freedom you were stupid enough to lose." The man made a move, and a small fire appeared on a long candle in his hand, casting its light on the mask on his face. It was black and covered his eyes and most of his nose, its silver decorations almost glowing in the still dark chamber. "Fifty." Every glimpse of hope Lorin had that he might just keep walking, now seemed to have gotten shrouded in his long shadow. He dropped something on the floor between them, and it took Lorin a few moments to recognise it as his own bag. "Where did you get this?"
"Yes, your bag." The man's voice was flat. "I'm dying of desire to get one of those, and I'm asking you because I have no other way of getting what I want."
"Ah." Lorin licked his lips. As prepared as anyone could be in such situation, he'd been expecting threats and short, dark remarks about what they'll do to them, orders or just silence and pain - not sarcasm spilling from every word of a stranger barely a few years older than himself. "So then.. the... the content of it?"
"Such wonder you got caught with that intellect."
Lorin frowned. He was caught stealing masks from the house of one of the families closest to the Palace - no matter what he did now, things could hardly get worse. He couldn't tell why this young lord - and judging on the way he was dressed and the tone of his words, even though he was speaking in a way understandable to Lorin's ears, there wasn't anything else he could be - was interested in the papers he had in the bag. But the eyes behind the mask, though shaded by it, seemed to shine with curiosity, and Lorin knew that look well enough. He had something to bargain with.
"I can't explain where I got it," he started carefully, then finishing the sentence in a breath; "but I can take you there if you let me go."
The man glanced at the guard that yelled at the woman before. For a moment, Lorin expected him to turn away and leave again, leaving him in the darkness to die of food and water deprivation - then he felt something sharp against his back, like tens of spiky begging children's fingers poking to get his attention. He stepped forward to avoid them, but they followed, not stopping even after the chains around his wrists no longer allowed him to move from the wall. He tugged them again, turning his head around to glance at the spikes; thin at the ends and wider at the bottom, they creeped out of the wall, resembling cannons of a ship, seeming endless, their tips threatening to pierce Lorin's body like a needle through fabric. He closed his eyes not to see it happening. So much about bargaining.
Turning back to the man, his heart skipped a beat, as he felt something sharp pressing against his eyelid.
If he moved as much as inch ahead, even if he kept his eyes closed, he had a feeling he'd in the best case lose sight on that eye - if he stayed in place, however, the spikes from the wall would pin him to it like a bizarre butterfly in a collection of some ill mind.
"Wait.. fine.." He bit back a sigh of relief as the spikes stopped moving, struggling to keep his breathing calm enough to be able to talk somewhat properly. He found that a blade, or whatever it was pressed against his eye, could be incredibly distracting. "Could you..remove it.. please?"
The pressure increased, sending a pang of dull pain through the entire right side of his head. "I'm waiting."
Lorin wet his lips again, finding it harder with each passing second to keep his breathing regular. "I really don't know how to explain where I took those papers from. I swear, I.. I remember the way, but--"
"The name of the person you took it from," the man cut, demanding.
Lorin's hopes got extinguished by one swift blow. "...I don't know."
"Then what exactly," the man's hand gently pushed his shoulder, making the spikes bore into his skin again, "do you think you're offering me?"
"There's more of them!" Lorin wished he could take the words back, blurting them without a second thought. What are you doing? You know you took it all. He swallowed again, trying to buy time, suddenly glad his eyes were closed and hence unreadable.
The blade against his eye pulled away a bit. "Very well. If you can take me to that place, you will live until we reach it, and I shall think of how this little journey will affect your punishment for trying to steal from my family."
It was hard to tell which exact word he stressed in that sentence, but they all kept ringing in Lorin's mind. That offer was hardly even a choice. If he's ready to kill me for breaking into his house, he couldn't help thinking, what will he do if he realizes I'm dragging him across the sea and land without the slightest idea if what we're chasing even exists? He turned his hand around, feeling the iron cuffs slowly digging their way into his wrists.
"We have a deal," he said then, silently. "I can take you there. I will take you there." He bit his tongue as his voice shook, struggling to recover his mind from the sticky substance it turned into. He knew how to read people better than that - he was supposed to be able to find the right words to change the game - yet it seemed all the knowledge and experience he had about the matter somehow managed to flee from his head.
For as long as he remembered, because he had no choice, he'd been learning about the people's desires, their thoughts and true faces. The streets, he believed, were the best schools one could imagine when it came to that; up until now, he had never thought that dungeons might be even better.