Fourth Interlude: Candidates

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Author's Note: Hi readers! I'm going to be talking with some other authors (real authors!) about romance in science fiction and fantasy here at the Superversive Roundtable, at http://superversivesf.com/2017/02/07/superversive-sf-feb-livestream-romance-sf-f/ at 3 PM Eastern Standard Time, so tune in if you want to hear me. Warning, though. The Superversive Roundtables of the past have had some politics in them. Just letting you know, if that's not your cup of tea. Anyways, onward with the chapter.

***

Abandon hope, ye who delve in the depths of the soul,
For the silent and foulest beasts dwell within, 
The demons that we struggle to rise above.

-Inscription on the gate of the Bastille de Somne Aeternite

***

The first thing Colette felt was something hot and wet on her head.

Instinctively she tried to shield herself from the liquid dripping down from above. Ever since she had been imprisoned in the oubliette, the guards had taken immense delight in tormenting her. Sometimes they spat on her. Other times it was rank wine poured out over her. It differed depending on her guards.

But as she inspected her hands and stared at the red, sticky droplets staining her skin, she never remembered them using blood.

She looked up to see the face of one of the guards, frozen in horror, staring emptily down at her. He lay on the grate above, the iron lattice at the mouth of the oubliette that prevented her from climbing out, even if she was able to find a steady foothold against the worn-smooth cobblestones that made up the cylindrical walls of her prison.

The blood came from several messy puncture wounds. Colette could see the ceiling, illuminated by flickering lantern light, through the jagged holes somehow punched through his bone, sinew, muscle, skin, and the steel cuirass.

And just like that, the guard was yanked back, out of sight.

Something interest was happening. Colette had spent too long trapped in this pit, buried in the depths of this Bastille.  Finally, something was happening.

There was a crash and a muffled scream, before more red coursed down the side of the oubliette. Colette was no stranger to blood; her study of philosophy required her to spill blood herself. Hopefully, whoever was busy slaughtering the guards would free her.

Maybe they'd kill her. If so, she'd be free and see the great abyss beyond death. Maybe the superstitious fools were right, and she'd stare in the face of God. But that was unlikely.

She stared up at the grate, frowning as something black and viscous, like tar, oozed around the edges of the oubliette. It pulsed, the metal groaned, and the thing ripped the grate off.

"Colette de Voileaux," a voice called, smooth as satin. "Your sentence has been overturned."

Colette stared up at the edge. "Who are you?"

"All will be revealed in a moment. It seems like there is more reinforcements on their way. Aracedia, Yazhara, please entertain the new guests. de Voileaux and I are to have a conversation." Aracedia? Yazhara? Those were the names of two of the Eight, names of boogeymen, demons to the unwashed superstitious masses.

Madmen. She was being rescued by a group of madmen. Or madwomen.

"If you wish to have a conversation, you'll either have to come down here," Colette called up, voice hoarse from lack of use, "or you'll have to lower a rope." It was doubtful she was able to hold on to a rope. She was weak, weak from the meager rations the guards threw down at her.

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