An introductory scene to Li Estus, comedic relief extraordinaire. From a novel I wrote.
|The Prison Camp
Hi. My name is Li Estus. Most mages know the significance of my last name. They know we’ve historically been the most powerful political family of all time. Dozens of Maestroms, countless senators, even judges. And we’re not just politicians, either. The numerous businesses we own have made us one of the richest families on Earth, too.
So it would come to no surprise if I told them that I lived in a mansion, in a bedroom filled with golden tapestries, masterfully large beds, and even its own bathroom. Man, having my own bathroom would be nice.
But it might come as a shock to learn that I live in a prison camp.
Dirt covered floors. Roomless shacks for homes. Slop and worse served for every meal. And always in chains, never allowed to exercise the powers that make us mages. I’ve caught hypermorbus (an infection where your energy generating systems start releasing energy out of control) more times than I can count.
And then there’s my attention span. I’ve never been able to hold focus for as long as others. And that’s not a good thing when your taskmasters want you to perform menial chores for hours at a time. I forget things constantly, and sometimes drift into fantasy. And, consequently, I am punished constantly for disobedience. The task masters say I’ll never learn my place.
Many might find themselves asking what crime I, an Estus, must have committed to get myself stuck in this hole. Did I kill somebody? Steal something really important? Have sex with the Dark Mage’s wife?
Answer 1: the Dark Mage didn’t have a wife. Only concubines and a jackload of unwanted children.
Answer 2: My terrible crime was rather simple: I existed.
Yup. When I was only two, my father declared himself emperor over all of magedom. But my mother disagreed with the decision and got public about it.
So he killed her. And when I started displaying powers beyond the normal, the powers
of a vinsling, he had me sent away, first to be raised in a filthy foster home and then to slave away in a prison camp.
Thanks, Dad. Love you too.
At least my mother loved me. Though I was only two, I still remember her. When you’ve only got x amount of positive memories your brain tends to keep them, I guess. I remember her rocking me to sleep, singing me lullabies. I remember the day I turned seven she gave me the jeweled locket with the picture of her in it, warning me not to lose it. Normally I lose things easily. But this locket I still have. It is my most prized possession.
And it is where my story begins.
“Workforce three, you’re on break.”
Oh, break. What a blessed word. A few precious minutes where your muscles could uncoil and your sweat could drain. A few minutes where I could think about whatever I wanted without fearing retaliation.
Looking around me to verify no one was following me, I slipped off into a dark alley between buildings and sat down.
Checking a second time, I fished the locket out of my pocket and opened it. Inside was a fiery red jewel, accompanied by a photo of my smiling mother.
Quietly I smiled back, remembering what once was. And, more painfully, what could have been.
My mother didn’t like fame. She used to talk about getting a house out on the coast, out on an island far away from anyone, mortal or mage. She used to talk about how the sea would rustle me to sleep at night and how the roof would be covered with windows so we could all see the stars.
She loved the stars. We used to use our special privileges as the family of the Maestrom to fly out away from all the pollution and look up at those tiny bits of light in a dark sky. Entire galaxies of them, each its own burning, bright bit of light generating life.
I love the stars.
That’s where my mind had wandered when suddenly I heard a voice to my side “Ay! Is that made of what I think it’s made of.”
Startled, I looked over to see a gang of other prisoners, each dressed in an orange smock. About half a dozen, most were burlier, stronger, and tougher than I was. Some I didn’t even recognize as being in our workforce, meaning they were ditching work. Ditching work without getting caught takes talent.
Hastily I hit the locket away in my pocket. Having valuables on you wasn’t illegal in the camp, but it was certainly a taboo. Hardened thieves know how to steal, and they’re not afraid to make a mess doing it.
“Hey,” the tallest and rather obviously the leader of the gang said. “I asked you if that’s made of what I think that’s made of?”
“Actually it isn’t,” I replied. “It’s made of a copper-steel alloy, not entirely certain what the name is, but though it looks gold it’s super flimsy, not worth your time at all….”
“Not worth my time, you say? Then let me see it.” He stepped towards me and outstretched his hand.
I laughed nervously and stepped backwards. “Really, old pal, it’s just a nickel-steel alloy, nothing special….”
“Nickel-steel? It was copper-steel before.”
Shoot. He’s right.
“Stop lying to me, kid. Hand me the gold.”
“There’s no gold,” I said forcefully.
(By the way, if you haven’t caught on yet, my locket is totally made of gold, courtesy of father dear).
“Sure there isn’t. Now hand it over, or things about to get ugly.”
“Ugly, you say,” I said. “Well, if you want things to get ugly, all you have to do is look over there, cause that girl has some serious nose issues.”
It was the type of stupid, aimless comment that somehow, without fail, gets everybody to look. And in that moment of distraction, I managed to land a solid punch to big guy’s face, throwing his neck backward with a power-packed uppercut. He stumbled away and groaned.
“Haha!” I yelled.
Then his head turned back towards me, face hardened and eyes ablaze.
“You shouldn’t have tried that, kid.” Him and the rest of the gang advanced on me, forming a semicircle that trapped me in between them and the back wall of the alley.
It was about then that I realized pulling out my locket had been a terrible idea. And telling the guy it was a silver-steel alloy (or whatever I’d said). And punching him.
Today had been full of a lot of bad ideas, actually.
As the thieves advanced on me, I quickly assessed my situation. I obviously couldn’t take all of them on (even though I would really like to beat the crap out of them), meaning my only chance was to somehow slip my way out. Or bribe them with something else. Like cheese crackers. Cheese crackers are great….
The leader of the gang lunged forward suddenly, punching me in the face and throwing me to the ground. Blood spilled hot and red from my nose. The gang leader stood over me, smiling, but didn’t inflict any further damage.
“Thas,” I cursed. I’d gotten distracted. Again.
“Sure you don’t want to check out the girl with the nose?” I said weakly. “Your complexions match perfectly.”
He responded by kicking me in the groin.
I doubled over, gasping. “C’mon, man. I mean, you’re a guy, too, don’t you know much it hurts when you do that?”
He only snorted. “Sure you don’t want to give me the gold?”
The man raised his hand and punched me straight in the chest. I had braced myself for a stronger impact, but strangely the hit felt cushioned, and instead of the deep smack of flesh against flesh there was a crunch of metal.
I gave the thief one second to realize his stupid mistake before I blasted him.
Lightning ricocheted off the first gang member and into the other thieves, giving them only a second to scream before their nervous systems froze and they dropped to the ground unconscious. In anger I shoved for a little bit longer, causing them to writhe on the ground, and then I let go.
I stood back up and kicked the body of each gang member, making certain none of them were still awake.
“Stupid piece of vret,” I muttered. Flexing my hand, I let lightning crackle across it. Better to get it out now while my restrainer was gone than to suffer hypermorbus later. A bell rang. That meant break was almost over now. I started to walk off, but then one of the prison police rounded the corner. His eyes widened as he took in the scene.
“Look,” I said, “this isn’t what it looks like….”
I only got the briefest opportunity to raise my hands in surrender before he blasted me.
There is nothing worse than dangling upside down from one leg by a very itchy thread of rope. I know that from experience because when I woke up, that’s where I found myself: one leg aching from holding the weight of my whole body, the other stretched outward from not being pressed against the ground. A gag had been placed in my mouth, though with some effort I was able to spit it out.
I’d heard of guards doing this sometimes. They had orders not to explicitly harm any of the prisoners, only restrain them, but of course there were loopholes, and apparently getting dangled from the ceiling by one foot was one of those exceptions. With my hands bound in cord, I would have to wait for someone to untie me.
“Oy!” I yelled. “Can someone get me down from here?”
There was no response.
“Oh come on,” I said. “For Magean’s sake, I’m getting a Charlie horse. Give a man a break.”
This time there was some audible snickering, but no one came to help.
“Seriously? I thought you guys were better than this. Shame. Shame!”
I did my best to make the shame gesture with my tied up hands.
There was only silence.
“Screw you all,” I muttered. “Especially you, Dad.”
Slowly my eyes took in their surroundings. Actually it happened rather fast, purely because there was nothing to take in.
Dirt floor. Wood stick walls. Restrainer on my chest. The usual in the prison camp.
But as I looked up at the ceiling and in between the cracks I saw a sight that made me smile.
Stars, glowing bright against the dark background of a midnight sky.
You know, life really sucks.
But at least we have the stars.