The Story of Sheng Seleris
- by Martin Laurie
Part 2 - Path to Freedom
By the twenty-fifth year of my internment in the Han Siao Instant Torture Camp I was a man in all senses of the word, a man in his prime; strong, skilled and feared. Even then I could kill with a glance, tear the soul of a demon to shreds with the strength of my will alone and break flesh, bone, even iron with my hands and feet. These things were obvious strengths but when I think back, perhaps the greatest power I possessed was the hope I gave to those who followed me. Often, as I moved through the camp with my entourage the inmates would cast their eyes downward in respect. No-one challenged me, too many had died trying, but instead of resentment and anger at my power, I saw worship in their eyes. Wherever I went their whispers followed me: "Seleris, Seleris, Seleris....." Whispers that would one day become a shout of pride that could not be stamped out by any force in the wide world.
After the first few troubled years I lived well and performed no arduous tasks though I trained with the many Mystics who had befallen angry Mandarins across Kralorela and had been sent to the camp as punishment. I even trained with swords carved from wood, made for me by Mashiro, my bodyguard, who came from a distant land called Vorumain. He taught me the sword strokes of his people and how to focus my inner soul into each strike, parry and movement. Before long I exceeded even his great skills, much to his wonderment, and kept on learning.
It was in that twenty-fifth year that my first great test of spirit as a man began. I had come to the Camp as a child, weak and afraid. Then, as my sister died her brave death, I was named a man yet I had never felt the taste of freedom, the wind in my hair, the thunder of hooves, the joy of battle. All these things I yearned for because I was incomplete without them yet I did not realise this for many years. Such was the curse of the Camp; such was its security in suffering that the long-term inmate begins to see nothing _but_ the camp and cannot imagine a life outside of it. Incredibly, I had become content with my position, my "place" as the Kralori called it.
Chen Tiao, the Mandarin of Painful Enlightenment, met me often, something I would look forward to, for he would question, debate, lecture and listen to me over a great range of subjects and philosophies. I learnt much and relished his company but through it all he wore the smile of a man blessed by good fortune, happy in the surety of some hidden victory. That smile irritated me, angered me though I knew not why. I thought always about his words, dreamt often of his gestures, his glances, pondered how he made me feel comfortable, wanted even.
Then, one night, I knew what his smile meant.
Wanted. He made me feel wanted. He talked to me as father would to a favoured son, commanding yet understanding, firm but forgiving. When the realisation came through dream-thought I rose from my bunk in a towering rage yet I showed no sign of it on my face for even at that moment of piercing anger I felt utter respect for his wiles, cunning and long-sightedness. He had lured me into comfort by giving me a taste of pleasure, then more than a taste till my desire for freedom became chained by my need for love and ease.
Comfort he'd given me. What I didn't have was freedom and unless I acted, I would never have it.
My mind was afire with new purpose and I quickly looked at the problem of my escape from all angles. The camp was virtually impossible to break out of through conventional means. The walls were warded massively and patrolled by many thousands of War Zombies, Howling Ghosts, Red Dragon Guards, Skeleton Claw warriors and the Mystics of Bodily Perdition. Though the inmates were legion, they lacked the training, magic's and skills to defeat such an array of power. It had been tried before and had always ended in slaughter for the interned.
It seemed then that the answer lay in the centre of the camp, with those who controlled it and saw to its maintenance and defence. With my magics and soul sight I had constantly watched the Collector spirit at the camps heart and saw the lines of power and command that it put forth. It had soon became apparent that the Collector spirit was a guiding force, that organised, commanded and powered the camps many guardians.
At first this knowledge made no sense or was of little help for I knew that the spirit was almost mindless but then I remembered what Chen Taio had told me all those years ago when my spirit first broke free of my body: He said _he_ was the Collector, the channel for all souls in the camp that were sent on to the Exarch of Ignorance and then to Godunya the Dragon Emperor. but it was not a conscious function. yet it was a function he performed nonetheless.
With that in mind, I knew what I had to do but first I had to scourge my weakness from myself once and for all.
I summoned Jongir and my other sworn men to me and gave them instruction. They listened quietly and wide-eyed with fear as to what I proposed but not one of them flinched at the implications. They were mine, sword and soul.
When all was prepared I strode alone to the Mystic of Nightly Torments' hut. He ran my section of the Camp during the time of darkness. The guards at his hut waved to me as I approached for they knew me, knew how favoured I was by the Mandarin and sought my friendship, absurd though it was for a guard to seek out the favour of a prisoner. My stomach turned in disgust at my own weakness that had let such perfidy come to pass. My own sister had given her life to free me from the cares of others and I had given nothing back except collaboration and treachery. No longer would I be a unsuspecting servant of the Camp. That night I earned the name "Pain Star".
"Where do you go Sheng?" Asked one of the Red Dragon Guards as I approached.
"Through you." I replied and rammed my fingers through his face, clenched my fist and pulled out his nose and most of his upper jaw, spurting blood all around through a gurgling scream. Another fell as I kicked his knee-cap backwards and I grabbed his sword as he dropped. With all the precision I had trained relentlessly for, I beheaded the remaining eight guards. Their skills were nothing compared to mine and they fell easily, pathetically easily but I knew joy again. Joy at being alive enough to fight my enemies and see their blood soak the ground, their organs spew forth and the stench of their eviscerated corpses filling the air with a miasma of victory.
I smashed the door down, repelled the defending spirits with a word of command, dispelled the wardings and shrugged aside a blast of magical dragon fire. Then I had the Mystic of Nightly Torments in my hands.
He was a powerfully built man, strong in magic but also prodigiously mighty of arm and chest. He locked his hands around my neck but I grinned at him, my neck muscles were like the Twin Celestial Dragons coiled around a pillar of iron and he achieved nothing. I let him have enough time to see his inadequacy then I butted him unconscious, cut a hole in his stomach, pulled out his intestines and looped them around his throat and the roof beam then let him go. He regained consciousness at the last only to feel himself strangle on the agony of his own innards.
I felt great happiness and strength from this act and knew that this was my path, my road to conquest and my rightful place in the world.
When I walked out of the hut I was surrounded quickly and beaten senseless in moments but I had achieved one goal. I had to endure the other before I could quest for my freedom.
Each lash of the whip, each stretch of the rack, each tearing cut in my flesh burned another part of my redundant humanity from me. I wallowed in the agony, not for the pleasure of the pain, for there was little pleasure to be had from such consummate masters of torture as the men and demons that lashed me with their endless torments. No. Pleasure could be easily had but I needed the fires of ultimate suffering to sharpen my will and reforge the dulled blade of my lust for freedom. When I first came to the Camp, I had suffered through a lesser forge of pain, lost everything that I had held dear to make me into Sheng Seleris, . Now I went through a greater torture to lose the part of me that _could_ hold anything dear. I wanted the perfection of being singular, the purity of total ruthlessness.
Each act of pain made me closer to that perfection, stripped away another layer of caring until my being _was_ agony, my spirit _was_ suffering. I was so pure that I felt nothing, cared for nothing. I was a being of bone. Bone that was made from solid purpose and pain. Now I was beyond hurt, beyond caring. Now I could fulfil my destiny.
Chen Tiao waited for me to regain consciousness then adopted his sad, disappointed expression as though I were a recalcitrant son who had forgotten an important chore. Now, however, it no longer had an affect on me.
"Tiger-Ox, I'm saddened by your acts." He still called me by the name he'd given me when I'd first come to the camp, heart of a Tiger, brain of an Ox he'd said about me. "You had made such progress and then.....this....this insanity. Why?"
I looked about me. We were alone in his private quarters. I was unfettered on the bloodstained bed, my body had been partly healed and should have been weak but it felt strong, stronger than ever before. I felt the purpose in me and laughed out loud.
Chen Tiao frowned, this was not going according to his expectations at all. "Are you truly insane Tiger-Ox? If so there will be nothing for it but to cast you into the Pit of Flame and Fat!" He sounded almost petulant, this man who I'd once thought of as a father figure. Now I saw him for the servant of greater powers than he was. A mere lackey.
I sat up and flexed my fingers, feeling the strength in them.
Chen Tiao stood quickly, he was definitely nervous at my behaviour. "You should stay in bed, you have been punished for over three weeks. Your body has hovered over death for many days now." He tried to sound concerned but it came out wrong, afraid even.
Then he heard the chanting.
It came from the Camp and grew louder by the moment. The word had been spread by my men as I had ordered and every inmate in the Camp began to join in its rhythm. "Sheng, Sheng, Sheng, SHENG, SHENG." They chanted and I grew stronger with every chant.
Chen Tiao scowled in anger as he looked out the window to the multitude below as they fought against the Guard forces of the Camp in a growing battle that seemed everywhere and getting bigger all the time. "What in the Hells do they think they are doing? I'll have one in ten killed for this impudence!" he snarled.
"No you won't" I stood also and began moving towards him slowly.
He could have run then, escaped me but his pride kept him there. I was a lowly inmate and he was the Mandarin. I was the foolish child he controlled and taught. He didn't see me as a threat. Not until it was too late.
I leapt for him. With deceptive speed, his arms came up, meeting mine and we grappled. For long moments we stood locked, evenly matched, then I pushed him back with growing strength. Snarling, his skin became scaly as he used his Draconic powers and Mystical strengths against me, spitting fire and deadly magics into my face but I had the focused hate of fifty thousand powering my arms and soul. A legion of anger that flowed through me, smashed aside his spells and threatened to crush his rotten soul.
Suddenly he realised his danger, saw the immanence of his death in my smile. In desperation he brought all the power of his position into the fight, a move that would be felt across the Dragon Empire as the flow of power to the Exarch and the Emperor suddenly dried up. He unleashed the contained substance of the Collector. Like a lake bursting a damn, the terrible pain of the shattered souls surged against our co-ordinated might, sweeping aside our power in a flood of woe. Each man, woman and child in the Camp had a loved one among that sea of agony. Each inmate felt the absolute dread of their pain and in a moment every inmate in the Camp collapsed into the tears of a grief that was overwhelming in their lament. Every single inmate.
I felt the agony and grief but it rolled off me like ocean spray, went around me like a summer breeze. I was pure, beyond such considerations. In the face of a release of suffering so vast that even the hardiest killer quailed before it, I was indifferent.
I grinned into Chen Tiao's face. He looked back into mine with a shocked horror that made me roar with laughter as I reached into the spirit world and severed his uncontrolled connection with the Collector at the same time that I crushed his skull between the palms of my hands.
The end came quickly. Without the guiding power of the Collector, the Zombies collapsed, the guards became disorganised and the wards fell. We earned our freedom over a sea of blood that day for if fifty thousand escaped then another fifty thousand were left behind as food for the crows.
With a host behind me I moved into the hills to organise and prepare. Vengeance had been a long time coming but it was sweeter for the wait.