Stories Hub / Mind Control / Tristan's Tale Pt. 05

Tristan's Tale Pt. 05

by IncomingPornDuck 04/29/16

Here we are again.

To everyone who's waited, and to everyone who's written to me: thank you. I read all your comments and e-mails. You were a great inspiration for me. This story is for you -- I hope it was worth the wait. Keep in touch!

Edited by Over_Red and John Smith.

~

It was near the end of class, and through a haze of exhaustion, I heard the words.

"Had enough?"

I choked down another lungful of hot, muggy air — the product of a full, unvented room of people fighting without windows or any sort of air conditioning.

I was in a crumpled heap on the floor, my eyes stinging from sweat. There was a metallic taste in my mouth, and most of my body felt like it was on fire, but in a dulled, almost numb kind of way. Somehow, that made it worse. Like the pain had settled into my marrow, and wasn't going anywhere.

Note to self: remember to dodge the punches. Otherwise, they hit you.

I put a hand down to try and push myself off the ground. My muscles let me know how they felt about that by sending jolts of pain through my arm. It shook as I sat up. I wiped my face, spreading the sweat onto my cloth pants. I wasn't wearing a shirt, and the beginnings of bruises were beginning to show, oh, just about everywhere.

My hair clung to the sweat on my forehead, and I pushed it back, taking a deep breath through my nose.

"Don't get me wrong," said Derrik. "I get a kick out of beating the shit out of you, but at a certain point I may as well hit the punching bag, know what I'm sayin'?" He squatted in front of me, smiling. His defined chest shone in the torchlight, his abs, rippling with muscle, raised up and down in calm, even breathing. Through half-lidded eyes I could see beads of sweat beneath his short, cropped blonde hair. Despite the sweat, his breath was coming easy. He wasn't tired, not in the least. And he was enjoying this a lot.

"Too bad you used your healing brew so early. I woulda told you that it's better to save it, but, know what, it just slipped my mind. Sorry, bro." He grinned, and I probably would have wanted to punch him in the face for that grin if that wouldn't have required me to lift the fifty ton weight that was my arm. I didn't even have the energy to make a quip about having nearly gotten him killed not too long ago. I shivered as the memory entered, unbidden, of the knife in his collarbone, of his scream. And the twist...

Pretty much every bone in my body wanted to liquify. Puddles. Puddles didn't have to put up with this. I could just be a puddle. That sounded nice. I was probably one punch away from being knocked unconscious, and it wasn't even the third practice of the day. I was a wreck. I'd had my ass kicked more times than I could remember, and in more ways than I thought possible. I ached everywhere.

And it was all my fault. In fact, I'd even asked for it.

Let me explain.

~

I was eating lunch, a few hours after leaving Dante at the Arch, the entrance to Moleh. I'd made the mistake of sharing the events of the past few days with Jules and Fred, who sat next to and across from me at meals.

"Stonekin!" exclaimed Jules. "I can't believe you're a rock now. Un-freakin-believable."

"He ain't no fuckin' rock," grunted Fred. "The only rock that's here is in your head. He look like a rock to you?" He jabbed a fork at me, onto which was speared a piece of grilled meat, the same stuff that was on my plate. It tasted like chicken. I hoped it was chicken. Around here, it was hard to tell what was what. Anything could be a hallucination, the product of Shae's — or the butterfly woman, as they called her — mind control on me. It was impossible to identify anything for certain.

You get over it pretty quick. The paranoia is easy to drop once you realize there's nothing you can do about being controlled. Just go along with the program, and hope you don't get killed in the process. I nearly had, the first day I got here, but they stitched me back up pretty well. In a weird way, I was proud of the semi-circle scar above my hip. Jet had given that to me.

That reminded me - I needed to speak with him.

"I'm not saying he looks like a rock, I'm just saying." Jules paused, thoughtfully chewing a roasted potato. "Actually, I don't know what I'm saying. What the fuck happened to you, again?" he asked me.

"It's sort of hard to explain," I said between mouthfuls of food. The boats were mostly empty, flowing past us on the water that bisected the middle of the stone table. Today, the ornamental dragon figureheads at the front of the boats dribbled thin smoke out of their nostrils. I didn't know if it was just a nice aesthetic touch or whether I should be terrified. Perhaps both.

We got our food last - I suspected we were supposed to be learning something about mindfulness. Really, though, I just felt hungry. "I basically saved a bunch of stone giants from these crazy bird-things with metal masks, so they accepted me as one of them. I got to see from their perspective for a moment, but it faded pretty quick."

Yeah. That doesn't sum it up, does it? But there isn't really any satisfying or accurate way to bullet-point a fight for your life.

"What's it like, being a rock?" asked Fred, curiosity wrinkling the lines of his face beneath a black beret. He was old - I had no idea how he managed to survive here. Old, maybe, but tough enough. He had an "old sailor" kind of strength and vitality to him.

"I don't think they're just rocks," I said. "I had this weird awareness, like I could see everything around me underground. There's this life to it." I shrugged. "I don't have any of it now. Apparently they'll welcome me anywhere in the world. This world, anyway."

Jules barked out a laugh. "Right. Good luck getting out of here, man. First draft people haven't even left yet, and that was, what, thirty years ago? Only one's who get to go out are the Odieh, and that's just for special assignments."

"Well, some people go back," said Fred. "Most of 'em, I heard."

"I don't buy it," replied Jules. "Why would they send you back home? Why not just off you?"

"Hey, I don't know. I'm just sayin', the story is you get to go back."

I thought about mentioning Jed, but I decided to wait until I'd had dinner with Dante and heard more about him. The way rumors spread around here, half of Moleh would know I was a rock before sundown.

Not that that meant much. Day and night don't seem to obey any sort of fixed pattern, here, and the insides of the building are all lit with strange torches which flicker, but give off constant light. It's pretty much the same as back home -- more or less. But the differences -- the stars, for instance, are all weird and clustered together -- are enough to remind you that nothing is really the same.

"It might be that I never get to see any other stone giants," I said. I ate a bite of chicken. Of all the things that may or may not have been real, for some reason, the food was what seemed most suspect. "All the same, it was a pretty amazing experience."

Fred laughed. "Maybe for you - you've got crazy in your bones. I can't even imagine what kind of man goes out looking for trouble like that. You could have been killed!"

"Nah, I had it totally under control," I said. Jules and Fred rolled their eyes - I'd told them how I'd only just barely got my Chi out in time to save my life, and how I would have probably been a messy pile of shredded Tristan if Jade hadn't tricked the bird creatures and given me an opening.

"Tell you what, I know one thing," said Jules, "And it's that I ain't leaving these walls 'till I've got Set. That's for sure."

"I'm with you there," said Fred. "I can just imagine Jade out there, controlling those things. They were big, you say?"

I nodded. "Huge. Bigger than Thomas." They hadn't been that big, but the lie was probably for the best. I didn't like the idea of a swarm of people running off to see the stone giants. And no, not because I wanted them all to myself.

Okay, maybe a little. Life in Caer'Aton had a tendency to be pretty hectic (and the understatement of the century award goes to...) and I liked the idea of having my own private grove with the stone giants. After I'd touched one's finger and shared its awareness, I felt like they were more than just these fantastical creatures I'd discovered. It was strange, and it doesn't make sense even to me, but they felt like family. I haven't had family for... Well.

That's why I didn't want other people in the grove. The stone giants were shy. They were terrified. For all their size, they didn't have an aggressive bone in their body. Or any bones for that matter.

But what do they do? Play tree harps, and take care of the grove. They wouldn't like all the extra company. Outside the arch, when I'd become stonekin, I'd understood the stillness of their consciousness. The stillness of stone.

So I hammed it up a little, speaking loud enough to make sure the people around me could hear without shouting. "I gotta say, it was one of the scariest things I've done in my life." I said, prodding at my lunch. "I don't plan on leaving again anytime soon. The giants, they didn't seem too aggressive. But there was something in their eyes... Something sinister. And the screeches of those birds, it was enough to make your ears bleed. And get this. The birds were partly made of metal. Spooky as all hell, like something out of a nightmare." I chewed thoughtfully, and looked around. "You don't really know how nice it is to be safe until you miss death by half a breath. Jade saved my ass. Lucky for me, she had Set. I don't plan on any more excursions until I'm reasonably certain I won't get pancaked by the first thing I see."

Fred gave out a low whistle. "Glad you're safe and sound, sonny. Table wouldn't be the same without you to complain about my complainin'."

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