There were red shapes, in his dreams. They danced and twisted, coiling through the space around him, shedding red light onto where he sat, in a chair — more of a throne, really — roughly hewn from dark red rock, covered with crawling vines and the dust of ages.
Besides that, and a neat circle cut from the flagstones of some unknown courtyard on which the throne was placed, there was nothing but a darkness in which things moved redly, and Red himself.
Red opened his eyes. It was dark, so perfectly dark that it was as if he hadn’t opened them in the first place.
“Hey, you,” came a familiar voice from very close by, “you’re finally awake.”
Red groaned. “Aidra.”
He concentrated slightly, focusing on the darkness and his place within it, until he could ‘see’ relatively clearly through it, outlined in spidery red lines, shifting, smudging and wavering like a chalk drawing. He was lying down in some kind of… cell? It was certainly contained; there might have been a door with a slot at the bottom, but it all seemed very thoroughly sealed.
And, yep, Aidra was there. Worse, he was talking. “Oh hey, you can see me! Good, good. Can you see a way out? Otherwise we’ll be here a while.”
Red tried to sit up, nearly falling over with the realisation that there was something very heavy wrapped around his arm, something which clanged resoundingly when it hit the metal bench he was lying on. He swore under his breath.
“Language, you fucker,” Aidra hissed.
“Shut it,” he hissed back, “or I’ll beat you to death with—” he looked down, at what appeared to be a long metal case attached around his right arm — “whatever this is?”
“I can’t see in the dark, mate.”
Red groaned. “Of course you know what it is.”
“Nuh-uh, I can’t see the inhibitor case. Not at all.”
“I hate you.”
“And I love you too, Red Riding Hood.”
“Any idea how to get it off? Or out of here? My hand feels… weird. Numb?”
“Oh no, your hand, where you keep your brain, is numb.”
Red buried his face in his free hand. “Why this.”
“Don’t worry! I’m sure nothing of value was lost!”
“Aidra,” said Red, despairing, “I am begging you.”
“I was already begging, you arse.”
“Huh, fair enough. Whaddya want?”
He briefly considered that putting the pair of them in this cell was the most effective form of torture for them both. That couldn’t be possible — Aidra was clearly having fun tormenting him.
“Where are we?”
“Yeah, I just kinda fell in the ink and now I’m here. The drink? The ink-drink?”
“I get the picture.”
“Mmm. Can’t see through the walls of this place, though. Olythreme alloy? Anti-telepathic stuff? I dunno, but Syrk knows his stuff.”
“You’re sure it’s Syrk?” Red asked, dreading the answer.
“Not certain, but the necromantic animated ship, the unerring chasing of us, etcetera? It paints a picture, and it’s one of those scary Bosch dealios with lots of tiny demons and stuff.”
“Thanks,” Red lied, “I appreciate it. Gods and monsters, how do we deal with this?”
“I assume he’ll eventually take us out of here to dissect us or something. Wait, no, vivisect, because he’s a colossal pile of dicks like that.”
“Yeah, I don’t want to wait for that to happen.”
He turned to the metal case around his Arm. It seemed to slowly thrum with an energy, as if his Arm moved gently beneath the metal, and his Hand felt numb.
The sketchy outline of Aidra noticed where he was focusing. “Looks like it’s kinda… slowed your thinking down a bit? It’s hard to see, but there’s some stuff that’s missing and such? A red light that’s dimmed or something.”
“Huh,” Red replied, “I don’t feel any different.”
“Luckily, the brain is too small to be—”
“Okay fine, I think it’s also restricting your ability to be cognisant of your lack of ability. Like, you don’t remember that you can Voidwalk, for one.”
“Wait, I can Voidwalk?” As soon as he said that, it was obvious. Of course he could Voidwalk, how could he even forget?
“You forgot because Syrk doesn’t want you to get out, I guess.”
It was Aidra’s turn to roll his eyes. “Well done, Syrk, you’ve forced me to be the sensible one, and isn’t that the worst form of torture. We should get your arm box off.”
“Right, yeah, okay.”
“Cool. Hold still, I’ll get a hammer.”
“A hammer? Where from?”
Red blinked, baffled. “It seems like an oversight for Syrk to not go through our pockets when he captured us.”
“Ah yes, he searched some of my pockets, but those are Fool’s Pockets, traps for the unwary searchers.”
“Why are you talking about that like it’s something a sane person would say?”
“Hey, for all you know, I could be the only sane one among us.”
“But not impossible! Anyway, hold still. I found a chisel.”
Red watched as Aidra held up the tools, looked at one, and then the other, then stopped.
“Oh, right,” he said. “I can’t see.”
Red groaned. “Surely you know some magic for that.”
“Well, Mr-Mx-Clever-Clogs, where’s the fun in that?”
After a few moments, Red realised that the high-pitched noise was coming from him opening his mouth to respond, but instead releasing a quiet scream of frustration.
He shut his mouth, cleared his throat, and continued. “If you actually know some magic for that, use it now, or I will throttle you with your own intestines.”
“You sweet-talker, you. But yeah, I don’t have anything for seeing in the dark, because the box we’re in blocks most of my foresight, and that makes everything in here… blurry.” He paused a moment, then hefted the hammer and chisel. “But, if you insist, I can give it a go!”
“You know, I think I’ll pass. Now, if you hold the chisel here—”
“I can’t see in the dark.”
“Shut up, I’m guiding your hand, just hold it still.”
“Are we holding hands, Red? It’s very dark in here, so I can’t tell.”
He groaned. “Just. Hold. The. Thing. Here.”
“I bet you wouldn’t complain about me holding your hand if I was Alice,” Aidra grumbled under his breath.
Red pretended not to hear him, instead taking this chance to start hitting the chisel with the hammer he’d been handed. In the small space, the noise was very loud, so after the first couple strikes, he thought up some quick muffling spells which filled the air with a kind of uneasy stillness and dampened the hammer blows as he started to work at one of the seams in the case round his arm. It was slow going — the metal was tough, but not unyielding, and dents were forming, the seams were buckling.
“After this,” said Red, in a pause in the hammering, “any idea where everyone else is?”
“Other cells like this? Being vivisected? I mean, clearly Alice isn’t dead, because you’d have unravelled.”
Red paused a moment, then swore loudly. “Oh no.”
“Yeah, in retrospect, making that Vow was a terrible idea. Who’da thunk? Also, I guess it’s sad that your friend’s going to die.”
“She’s your friend too, you jackass.”
“I’m not beholden to worldly possessions or attachments,” he replied.
“So, I can keep this hammer, then?”