Something woke Samir up. He couldn’t really tell what, however. There had been no noise and no one had touched him; his eyelids had simply opened of their own accord. Waking up in the middle of the night for no reason was unpleasant enough, but more concerning was the fact that he was paralyzed and that two people were sitting on his decoy bed looking directly at him through his illusory wall. How had they bypassed his traps and alarms, especially old Pithic?
The old man seemed more serene than Samir had ever seen . That might have had something to do with the support of old Draktooth sitting next to him.
-Please sit down young Goldentongue.
Samir would have said something pithy about the paralysis, but unfortunately said paralysis included his mouth. He was still considering his options when his limbs began to fulfill Pithic’s request. Huh! It felt like a second skin under his own was directing his body, like someone else was wearing his body as a gimp suit. Ah… Memories of Geb… No, he couldn’t get sidetracked!
-Thank you Master Draktooth. Now, young Goldentongue, I think you and I have spent enough time together and the time for conversation has passed. It is now the time for action…
Ah, the gimp was Draktooth. Probably something from that binding ceremony… Well, Samir had gotten out of worse jams before. It was just a question of finding the suit’s weak point.
-…that was unfortunate. Despite her many flaws [[Crime and… (1 of 2) | Vithnya was right about one thing]]. You did commit the greatest transgression possible; you were arrogant and careless. You are surrounded by the greatest minds of Lyria and beyond and you thought you could fool them all. If it wasn’t for the inventiveness of your chaos, I would have assumed you were brain-damaged and lobotomized you a long time ago…
Well, that didn’t sound like Pithic.
-I can’t even imagine how you got it into your head that we had to “prove” anything when we could have simply ripped the thoughts right out of your head, but it was entertaining enough to see you come up with your little stories…
Uh-oh, not good. Samir redoubled his efforts to find a way out of his binding.
-…but in the end, our mission is teaching. So a few beginner’s lessons for you. If you’re intent is mischief, and the school of illusion does not look down on mischief, do not target a known antagonist unless you have a patsy. Secondly, don’t use artifacts closely related to your person. More generally, always assume that your opponents are smarter than they are and, finally, remember that nothing is ever as it seems.
As he said these words, Pithic’s appearance smoothly cycled from his own to perfect recreations of other members of the Academy.
Cute, Samir thought, I have one of those hats too, although he had to give the old man credit for his attention to detail.
-Now, Draktooth and I have decided to maintain our investment in your potential to the detriment of Vithnya. This will obviously aggravate the evokers, so as part of your punishment, you will ensure that Vithnya dies an honourable or, at the very least, innocuous death, and that her daughter’s future is assured while ensuring that no one ever discovers our involvement. Only once this is accomplished will we lift your censure.
Pithic took what looked like a metal wand with a very small stamp at the end out of his robe’s sleeve and Draktooth winced. As he did, Samir could feel his control slip.
-Anything to add in your defence?
Pithic looked at Draktooth and smiled.
-You are right, he is resourceful. Now let’s see that tongue.
Samir’s mouth opened wide and his tongue stretched out as Pithic whispered sweet nothings to his odd wand, turning the stamp a deep warm red. He then took the tip of Samir’s tongue between his thumb and forefinger and pressed the hot brand on bottom of Samir’s tongue.
The next few minutes were a little fuzzy for Samir as the pain overtook him. Draktooth let out a small cry of pain and released his hold on him. Job done, Pithic shook out the brand and slipped it back in his sleeve, but, before he fainted, Samir was able to focus and surreptitiously move it from the sleeve to his pillow case.
I may not be the smarter than my opponent, but I wouldn’t bet against me.
The next day, Samir got a hold of Rhea for a private conversation. The little scribe was probably the most knowledgeable of his allies and if she didn’t know what this was, a diviner had the best chance to find out, although he wished he could have asked his old buddy Hasdy.
-So, like I said, you don’t want to use a standard magic detection spell unless you also want a nasty headache. Ugh…
-That makes sense if this is what I think it is. Let me look at the tip more closely.
Samir really had to bite his tongue at that one. She took out a small jewellers monocle and started examining the brand’s business end.
-So how did you say you got a hold of this?
-I didn’t and I think it would probably be best for both of us we kept it that way.
-It’s good that you resisted the impulse to tell me a story because, unless I am mistaken, this is a replica of Tömir Faithbreakers’Brand.
-Should that mean anything to me?
-Probably not, Tömir was a do-gooder who started sort of cult some centuries ago. He used this thing to punish those who cheated his flock. Branded folks would apparently be unable to lie or, if they managed it, would be severely punished. With time, enough belief was poured into the brand that it took on artifact properties.
-Punished? Are we talking about peeing one’s self and fainting? Because, been there done that.
-Well, it’s hard to tell, but some of the stories talk about liars wasting away and dying.
-Damn. You said “replica”. Why is that?
-The Academy apparently destroyed the real thing some centuries ago when they put down Tömir’s Crusade.
-Hmmm. If it’s a replica, it must be weaker than the original.
-Maybe, but you’re headache isn’t promising.
-All right, let’s focus on the positive. How would one get out of this curse? Can one of you scribes analyse the enchantments and find a way out?
Rhea beamed at him and slowly morphed into Master Broju.
-Perhaps, you think back on our conversation from last night, yes?
The conjurer started laughing maniacally as he changed into a smirking Theofyr.
-Remember little Sammy, nothing is ever as it seems!
Theofyr gave way to Pithic.
-I’m done teaching young Goldentongue, now it is your turn to learn.
And he simply vanished with the brand.