Last chapter, Wren is now in the Prince of Shadow’s clutches. This is pretty awful, but it’s hard to remember that when everyone’s acting like they’re in a bad cartoon.
Now it’s back to the so interesting Holok.
Apparently there are six survivors total. So at least eight to start with, and they had that much trouble with a few corpses. They suck.
Nelesh attempts to assert herself.
“I’ll follow you this once, but this has not been the pleasure trip we were promised. If the boy doesn’t turn up within a week, we go back to hunting Ratcatcher. Do you understand?”
“The role of the Hunt is not pleasure,” he said benignly.
I think she was being sarcastic there, Holok. Particularly given you’re the one suggesting avoiding their actual anathema-slaying duty in favor of riding around after nothing.
Anyway, he says he’s sure the boy is close. She asks if he has any reason to think that. He says he can sense it. She asks if he means that in the useful, literal manner?
“Literally? No. But there are other ways,” he said, and smiled in a way that made Neleh’s teeth ache. Good humor from the priest worried her.
Indeed, Neleh. Indeed. Remember, Sidereals are glass cannons! Once he’s engaged with the boy, try stabbing him. The nature of the setting is that lesser can rise up and overthrow their rulers, secret or otherwise. History is on your side.
That’s it for the chapter, a repeat of what he said last chapter he showed up. We needed to see this because the author likes to avoid two chapters with the same character.
And next chapter, Wren wakes up in a cell.
He’s cosmetically injured – he’s lost two teeth, which would suck in the real world because it’s not like those grow back but in books mentioning that is just a sign of how hardboiled you are. No broken bones or anything that would mess him up, and he seems to have already forgotten he was saying the bite on his leg was horribly infected and making it hard to walk.
Wren considers his surroundings. His cell is hewn from “living” rock, which is an odd turn of phrase normally and only weirder in a shadowland. There’s some really nasty black iron chains covered in rust and blood, but he’s not manacled so whatever. There’s some water dripping from the ceiling.
The steady plip-plip-plip of water striking the floor was already beginning to grind on his nerves, and he suspected that if he stayed here more than a few days, he’d find it maddening.
God, Wren. Have a sense of priorities.
A brighter person would realize that at least this means he doesn’t need to worry about dying of thirst. And a monk who supposedly meditates all the time should be able to handle dripping water.
The gate itself was made of what looked to be cold iron, cast in the shape of misshapen bones
This is just too over the top to take seriously.
Since he can’t see any way out, he decides to meditate. Since he’s not very bright, he decides to do this in the puddle of cold water despite being injured already.
The flesh is transient, he told himself. The spirit is all, the spirit will be raised up by the dragons. To form an attachment to the flesh is to deny one’s true nature.
Decent mantra. Shame it doesn’t occur to him that this means suicide is the answer. It’s unclear how much control the Prince of Shadows has, so it’s possible he can only force Wren’s ghost to appear if Wren’s killed deliberately.
I’m generally disappointed by books failing to have characters consider suicide. Yes, you don’t really want to encourage that in general, but books are full of fate-worse-than-death stuff. Wren doesn’t have to actually go through with it, since as I said, it’s unclear how the ghost thing works and he might worry that it wouldn’t let him actually escape. Indeed, given the Immaculate view on reincarnation, he might fear that dying now would mean being removed from the cycle completely. But if you’re repeatedly being told you’re going to be tortured until you give up information, and if you’re showing a willingness to get yourself killed instead of obeying your captor, then surely it’ll occur to you that you can kill two problems with one stab.
A bit later, the Prince returns, with Ratcatcher and, for some reason, Unforgiven Blossom. Wren assumes he’ll be tortured and has a sort of get on with it attitude.
You’ll live as long as I want you to, as well as I want you to, and sooner or later, you will do exactly what I want you to. If you persist in playing the fool, you will live poorly yet briefly, and I’ll feed your corpse to my hounds. If you act as a man with one foot on the path to enlightenment should, then your stay here will be pleasant, longer, and perhaps even fruitful.
This is terribly, terribly underwhelming.
Here is what an Abyssal offers you: you can be tortured until you tell everything you know, and then your higher soul torn from your body be mutilated and beaten into soulsteel while your crazed lower soul forms a hungry ghost sent out to kill more people, and your very corpse rises in service to the creature you thought to oppose.
Or you can talk now and be killed cleanly.
Wren says he really doesn’t know what the Prince wants, there’s plenty of more important priests around. This is a good point, in that really, the Prince only had him fetched because he was pissed off Wren killed someone useful, ie, not Ratcatcher. There’s no real need to mine him for information.
Instead, the Prince goes off on a rant about how obviously special Wren is.
“I am interested in why you are so important to it. You have barely passed the First Coil. Your devotion is slipshod, your career erratic, your attempts at simple meditation appalling. And yet, you continue to turn up in the most interesting places. Ratcatcher told me that Fong was was very eager to see you again-unusual for a simple priest. And then there is the question of what you were doing in Talat’s Howe.
Ugh. The Prince doesn’t know this. He wouldn’t care if he did know it. He wanted to torture Wren to death over killing Sandheart, which is a perfectly reasonable goal for an Abyssal/deathlord/whatever. I mean, he was petty enough to want to defile the grave of someone long since reincarnated, this at least is a form of revenge that does something to the person in question.
Now, it might be acceptable to have him decide to torture Wren and in the process find out there’s more going on here than he first realized. But starting off the conversation by talking about how Wren is clearly the most important guy ever is just ridiculous sueism.
I wonder if this might be an RPG artifact? I could easily picture this happening in a game, because games are done on the fly and it’s harder to do subtle stuff in general, because both people have to be on the same page. But when you don’t have those constraints, this sort of thing shouldn’t show up.
Wren says he has no idea, so now instead of recapping things we already know, we get characters arguing about recaps of what we already know. Oh joy.
Luckily, the Prince’s attention span is lacking, so when Wren keeps refusing to talk, he tells him to bow and makes the ceiling drop.
I can make it so that you have just enough room to lie down, and then I’ll snuff the torch. Would you prefer to stare up at that in the dark, or to lie half-drowned on your belly and pray that the stone doesn’t snap your spine? There’s really no need to torture you, you know. You’re an intelligent man. As long as you know what I could do to you, I don’t actually have to do it. Ponder that, Wren. Ponder it in the dark.”
It’s like the author suddenly decided he needed to make sure nothing to upset the censors actually happened. This sucks, but it’s not exactly gathering up dozens of children, stitching them together and using their lungs for the war machine you’ll send against their parents, now is it? And then he’s saying he won’t actually do the stuff Wren’s imagining he could do because he doesn’t need to, except that obviously Wren worrying about that wasn’t getting Wren to talk before now, so why would the Prince saying he doesn’t want to be doing those things change his mind?
Ratcatcher has spent this encounter being glarey and sadistic, because lol consistency. Unforgiven Blossom tells him that she knows he won’t die tonight because of the stars – she does fucking not, fate interactions are going to be a complete mess when you’re dealing with someone alive in a shadowland being threatened by an outside of fate essence user – but she can’t say anything for tomorrow, because apparently she’s also under the delusion that death is the biggest threat in a castle of the undead.
So we end with Wren sitting in the dark, thinking that well, looks like Ketchup Carjack’s will need to recruit someone new.
In terms of escaping, the situation Wren’s in is pretty bad. But because the actual stakes are so vague and the book is steadily backtracking on how serious the Prince actually is, the suspense is shot to hell here. He’s definitely stuck, but he’s not looking at an especially horrible fate – this is just your generic fantasy dungeon with some unusually goth architecture.
Now, obviously the author doesn’t want Wren to be torn up because he’s got to escape and all, but you could do the same if he was dumped in a cell with the idea they’d get around to torturing him later, and it’s make for a much more menacing chapter.