The Prison of Undermoor
Undoubtedly the new surroundings were a shock. The air had more substance, the gravity a heavier, more sinister pull and it wasn't as still as Jareth would've liked. On top of that the funk of fossil fuels irritated his sensitive nostrils. Moonlight hit in cold monochrome blotches splattered over the ground. His wings took him across the land, close to the ground for stealth, weaving in and out between the houses of the London suburbs as he retraced the path given to him in the crystal vision orb, remembering every twist and turn. Beyond the rocky crags the woods grew denser, and he knew he was drawing nigh. The ground looked rain soaked and a small grove with a pond appeared in the corners of his sight, glittering like a mislaid coin in the moonlight. Parklands. Then even more houses and a road that curved like a snake oscillating right and then left again, a sole car travelling in the opposite direction, its red rear lights glowing like a ruminating pair of eyes.
Water made a tinkling sound as it trickled over stones. The scent of decaying autumn leaves and rain-cleansed air swept through the meadow as the owl landed in a tree and then re-assumed humanoid form. The King of Labyrinth clutched the bough he had been sitting on and somersaulted down, jumping the tree metres to the ground where he landed with a mute thud in the wet grass. He found himself standing in a large, more or less overgrown back yard, grass lashing his knees. Soon the first heavy snow would compact these tall blades.
The townhouse was dark save for a single, red lamp burning in a small room where Jareth felt the pristine presence of an infant. That dim light seemed to watch him as though it were the single sullen eye of something in a bloody mood, guarding its protégé against all possible threats with zealous determination. Someone had weaved a charm here, laid out a magic protection and it astounded him. Not many humans were able to do such a thing and those who were, did usually become absorbed by the Illuminati for planetary safeguarding. He shrugged it off, it was none of his business anyway.
Everyone in the house was asleep, the only thing going on in their minds were the fragmentary patches of dreams, rudimentary tries at analyze the deeper levels of their minds. Transmutation of experiences into memories, the refinery of understandings into knowledge. The human brain was different, there was a creative, chaotic rawness to it that lacked with most other specimens. There was the brutal and dreaded ability to hate and to kill in atrocious ways but also vast and astonishing aptitudes to create beauty beyond mind's eye. Humanity had spawned Hitlers and Bin Ladens but also Mozarts, Michelangelos and Shakespeares. Jareth found himself torn amid envy and pity for this intense and rich short-living, fast-pacing and relentlessly innovative race.
But there were two brains in there which were nonhuman and they were thoroughly disguised, safeguarded by strong equivocal magic so if you hadn't known they were there you'd never found them. Julianne might be skilled in evasiveness, yet for Jareth her protection proved very little delinquent, he had soon located her and her daughter on the top floor, in a small and insignificant flat.
"Damn woman, she could've lived in a palace and no one would've known any better," Jareth muttered to himself as he scrutinized their petty hole-up. "Talk about overdoing it. Who is she really fearing? It can't be Angarian, granted that he's a bastard, he would never harm her. Beats me." The last phrase was added almost as an afterthought, he figured that Julianne still believed she had lethal enemies within the Learian society because of who she was and whom she'd been married to.
Pacing, Jareth scouted the defense for the best spot to place his inception – somewhere unnoticeable to Julianne, but a spot where Sarah could be reached. Luck! There was a round window almost up by the roof-ridge, a pretty little oculus, and behind it the minute, cozy space Sarah called hers, saturated by her vivid, still immature energies.
It demanded great concentration for the Lord of Infraheim to create a dream in this world. Visions of Whitehall, painted in if possible more glory than the real thing, visions of dances and of him. He envisioned the remembrances of endless balls, twirling, vivacious dances involving himself and countless of women, including Mizumi – and Julianne. Then he carefully replaced the visualization of Julianne with that of Sarah and finally he repositioned the focus from himself and over to her, professed the dance as if he had been Sarah instead of the other way around, making her perceive him. It wasn't perfect, but he glossed it over in several layers of dazzling haze, making every gleaming object blinding her eyes, every shadow blur deeper than the real thing, dulling the colours. It would work, he figured, it was a dream after all. Lastly he sent the reverie of the dance through a kink in Julianne's magic and watched it soar like a well-aimed arrow into the mind of Sarah.
After finishing the first dance, Jareth made another and yet another, until nearly thirty dances of different kinds had been performed between him and Sarah. He wondered if it wasn't overkill, but felt it would be appreciated nonetheless.
A cerise glow was cast over the treetops, dew glittering like jewels, the sun had begun its ascent. Jareth let go of the final fragment of dream and hurriedly reverted to his owl form. His actions were timely; just as he perched himself in a tree nearby a door opened up and a lopsided rectangle of honey-yellow light shone out on the frosty ground. The next moment a portly man in a thready beige bathrobe was letting out a black and gray striped cat before he walked down to a post box and retrieved a sticking-up newspaper, eagerly glancing at the front page as he returned to the house.
Standing on the deck of the ferryboat, Atrey felt the ice-cold water dash her face, salt spray a parched kiss on her lips as she took in the stark scene in front of her. So close that it might be reached and touched was an island of towering cliffs anchored sluggishly in the centre of the vast, flowing ocean. An island rippling in a drapery of vacillating lucidity and eclipse. The ink-dark and frothy waves of the sea were crashing on the jagged escarpment, wetting it until glistening daggers of icy moonlight were flung from it. These cliffs went clean out of the salt-sea waters and straight up without division or fracture, melded and polished and flashing in the moonlight aspiring vainly to the heavens.
Following them upwards with her scrutinizing eyes, she beheld the foreboding gray buildings on top of the island. The structure looked rather insignificant, but she knew that most of the compound was underground, located inside of those unforgiving rocks. Flashes from a lighthouse beat at regular intervals, the light rays cutting through the mist reminding of large propeller fans. Switching to infrared sight, she was able to pick out some of the guards patrolling the perimeter, their guns carried at the ready, pointing out into the night. As if there would be anything but seagulls to shoot here, the Cyborg thought sarcastically.
The transport ship bore the shape of a cuttlefish bone, but with outriggers on either side holding torpedo-shaped weapons nacelles. It was painted in the dark red of old blood and smooth as polished stone and she gripped and ungripped the cold iron railing of the head. For the first time she felt a grim chill - a feeling she'd experience regularly throughout her visit to Undermoor.
"A cheerful vista indeed," said a breathy voice beside her ear, and she tilted her head, taking in the youthful yet sharp profile of Chervin, the Alozzian wizard. Or what little there was to see, as he had folded up his gray hood against the wind and the spatter of sea. Just like most Tarondans, his eyes were pale and glowed in the dark, thus he often kept his hood down, to not be recognized for whom he was – one of the 'old folks'.
"This must be a new definition of 'cheerful' of which I have been unaware. Would you like to elaborate?"
"I was merely sarcastic."
"Don't you know I'm cybernetic," Atrey kept her expression bland as she licked off the brine that stuck to her lips. "I'm not wired for sarcasm."
"Oh, come on," Tilathian said from the other side of the wizard in the same moment as the boat landed against the pier with a dismal thud. "Let your hair down for once in a while, dear Cyborg."
"And get it all wet in this weather," Atrey joked back. "I wouldn't think so."
Granting she had tried to protest when the question was firstly brought up, she was quite happy to have the men following her to the Undermoor prison to see Reikan, father of Saphira. She could need their company, not only to help her question this man, but also keep her mood up. Undermoor was one of the safest prisons in the Seven Cosmoses, security was rigid and prison-breaks were unheard of. Oh, there was some legend from some 3000 years back but it was all shrouded in forgetfulness these days. Even among prisons this place was known for its forlorn gloominess and she could feel the perpetrating dreariness almost seeping out between the atoms of that jagged island, where it sat, several miles outside the northern coast of Vandellia, the northernmost Eraldian province.
Letting go of the railing she nodded to her companions.
"You're ready to take on this place?" she asked of the men.
"Sure thing, can hardly wait," Tilathian avowed, taking his turn to display pungent disdain.
The passengers were now heading for the gangplank. Atrey picked up her seabag and followed, relieved to leave the ship. While she got the concept of sarcasm, even if she disliked it, boat rides was nothing she was made for. The constant rollings were affecting her gyros, meters and sense of balance more than any human. And how did you say you were sea-sick when most people regarded you more or less as a machine?
Atrey, Chervin and Tilathian followed the general horde off the boat and into a reception area with lifts up to the top of the island. It was a terrible place indeed, stark and utilitarian, unpainted concrete everywhere, the only decorations what nature had precipitated in the form of since long dried water leaks, everything grey save for the yellow warning tape on the floor and the red and green led-lights over the lift doors. Inside the halls they separated from the main crowd, which continued on to the receptionist desk ahead, where two young officers were ready to scrutinize their IDs and invitation passes. Instead the trio stepped to the right and up to a glass door hiding a diminutive office space. Atrey raised her hand and knocked and as a response the door slid open with a grating sound.
Inside sat an elderly-looking regular, his weathered face covered in a trim salt and pepper beard and the crewcut crowning his head quite a bit more whiter. Without preliminaries he addressed her.
"Are you Atrey Oine?" A nettled voice.
"Yes, I'm Oine," she confirmed, presenting her identification card. "From His Majesty's Secret Service. Here to meet the prisoner number 2863, with the permission of the King himself."
"And the men?"
"Chervin and Tilathian, also here with Royal Permission," Atrey replied as her companions produced their IDs. Then she placed the invitation on the table in front of the officer, king Angarian's bold signature and royal seal almost jumping from the sheet. The officer grasped the paper and scrutinized it, stone-faced.
"We've been expecting you. Come over here."
Moments later the visitors were escorted out of the reception building where the other passengers were still lining up for the admission process, getting themselves and their bags and briefcases scanned, their ID's matched against their DNA structures. The majority seemed to suffer through this with stoic faces, telling Atrey that most of them had been here before, perhaps visiting relatives. However Reikan was one of those 'hi-sec' prisoners who were not allowed to receive visitors - as a matter of fact, Atrey and her comrades were the first ones to see the old revolutionist since he had been detentioned 13 years ago.
They followed the officer some fifty yards east, down a narrow and rugged path of withering concrete, lit with greenish fzergas lamps and Tilathian asked why that the man had not given them his name. As their guide failed to produce an answer, Atrey explained that this was common procedure among those serving here. A kind of protection. A nameless employee was harder to bribe or to threat, both by prisoners and by visitors. The Ebraan hummed in response, quivering in the cold air as he seemed to mull over the answer.
In moments when there was a lull in the wind, Atrey realized how quiet it was. The seagulls seemed content to sit huddled into their feathers and the only thing heard was the constant white noise of the water. They finished their walk without saying anything more and where the path ended, there was an even smaller building, which held two lifts.
"For personnel," the gnarled officer said laconically as he called one of the coaches down with an access card he carried in a titanium chain around his neck. As Atrey gazed at it, trying to spot a name, she saw that it only carried a number plus the man's mugshot, which seemed far from recent.
The lift arrived after about another minute spent in silence and they all cramped into a narrow compartment of brushed steel. A comparable procedure followed where their guide used his card to take them up to their designated floor.
"For those who here enter, abandon all hope," Tilathian laughed lightly before his stomach jumped with the sudden jolt of the lift. He hated these damn things. It always felt like it was just going to shoot your ass out of the top of the building. The gravitational shift didn't faze Atrey though, her internal gravitational stabilizers adjusted to keep her footing solid against the floor of the lift during a ride which took them a little bit less than a minute. A little magic provided Chervin with the same aid.
Atrey's eagerness was tempered with apprehension as they walked through the door and found themselves in a foyer with halls leading off to the right and left. Directly in front of them was a barred gate with a double door beyond it. She stole a breather for a minute there taking in the surroundings, the sounds and the institutional odors. Undermoor was painted battleship gray outside and inside. The Eldarian Prison System must surely have an exclusive on this color of paint. She didn't suppose it ever drove anybody crazy, but she doubted it ever cheered up anybody either.
Looking in the direction of a new voice, she spotted the officer who had addressed them. He was inside an office that had big somewhat milky windows - bulletproof glass, no doubt. That would be the armory or control center. Kind of a small one. Talking through an open section of the window, the officer was asking for their credentials and once again the process from the entrance building became repeated. Finally, the man nodded his balding head in acceptance, returning their IDs.
"Turn to your right, milady, gentlemen, go straight ahead, and you will find Kastra's office. She's the associate warden." Then he faced the man who had accompanied them up, telling him that he was dismissed, and without so much as a word of bye he turned and left the way they had come.
"Merry fellow," Chervin pointed out and gazed after him.
"Guess this place did it to him," Tilathian answered with a knowing face. "It gets to you, sure you can feel it?"
For the first time someone told a name, that must be because of their Royal degree, Atrey figured as they began following given direction. Turning a corner they came upon a tall and lithe woman standing in the door opening to an office looking at some papers, dressed in the same, non-descript and unisex khakis as the two men they had encountered earlier. Upon hearing the approaching steps, she looked up and faced the arriving trio with an uninterest that bordered on catatonic, as if she had been numbed by Undermoor, rendered incapable of displaying human emotions after spending too many years in this miserable place.
"Officer," Atrey began, as she didn't really know how to address the woman in the doorframe. "I'm Mrs. Atrey Oine, here to see the prisoner number 2863. The man known as Reikan. The King's directive."
"The king, huh?" the woman raised a rugged brow, she had dark, brown eyes in a pentagonal face, she would have been quite pretty with some make-up on and a bit of a smile. Then she looked down in her papers again, her eyes darting to and from as she seemed to read something.
"You're Officer Kastra, right?" Atrey pressed on in annoyance, and again the woman looked up.
"Yes I am," her voice still nonplussed.
"Well, are you going to help us or not?" Chervin cut in. "We don't have the whole day, you know."
"No, I don't know," the woman bit back. "But follow me and I'll bring you to the man you wish to see." With that she tossed her stapled together heap of paper back into the office, it landed with a thud on something hard. Then she turned around and began walking down the hallway, not even bothering to check that the trio of visitors was following her.
Atrey would have rolled her eyes, had she been wired that way, since she was getting more and more annoyed. Even the cheerful Tilathian was beginning to grumble under his breath, saying things in his own language which undoubtedly weren't nice. However Atrey's indignation gave way to curiosity as they were directed through the security system that separated the Eldarian kingdom's most ingenious escape artists and most violent and feral prisoners from the rest of society. The gates were controlled by some kind of coordination between the armory and the gate officers, who had keys. Atrey, Chervin and Tilathian were quietly moved along and when one gate closed behind them, another one opened in front of them. With one exception, the gates were constructed of gray steel bars, allowing clear visibility of the person wishing entry. However, the last gate to be dealt with before entering the cell house was made of thick steel with a bulletproof window and safeguarded with that greenish sheen which spoke of static hard-magic.
Finally they stood inside the cell house, several levels underground. Atrey looked and listened. The visitors' room was right up front. There were three blocks of cells with six tiers each. There were no windows, the only light came from pale lights powered by earth-magic; electricity was a rare commodity here.
Atrey heard echoing sounds of grating steel as cell doors were opened, the reverberation of the final bang as they were closed and the voices of convicts as they talked with each other from cell to cell. She moved a few feet to her left, to the entry of a main aisle with occupied cells on either side. Here she waited, noting that a convict pressed his face against the bars of his cell to get a better look at the civilian trio. He was an ugly fellow with an eye-patch and tattoos all over himself, as if someone had splattered black and blue ink over him and no matter that he was behind bars, he had chains restraining his arms and legs and a collar with another chain connecting him to the wall. Perceptibly dangerous, Atrey thought to herself, before Kastra began heading up an iron staircase, paying no heed to the things the tattooed man was beginning to yell at them. Something with cyborg freak, not exactly original.
They ascended two floors then they turned towards the installation to the left, Kastra walking them to the very end, to what had now become a cacophony of jeering voices and clanking sounds of objects banged against the iron bars.
"Prisons," Tilathian huffed. "No matter where in the Seven Cosmoses you come, they're all the fucking same."
"You been in many?" Chervin turned to look at the Terandabarite.
"A few," Tilathian replied. "On the other side of the bars as well," he added as an afterthought and Chervin felt his lips twist in surprise at that, he could sense an atrocious story behind those words, but that was for another time.
Kastra turned one more corner and now they stood in front of another locked steel door.
"Here's where the high-risk prisoners are detained, the ones needed to keep in isolation from other prisoners."
"Is that really necessary, when it comes to a man like Reikan?" Tilathian felt the need to ask. "An insurgent, doing it for political reasons, not for his own gain. Thus he's no regular criminal like, I presume, most of the people out there."
"He's in here because he might have bad influence on the other prisoners," Kastra stated and brought up a new key, an old-fashioned steel one this time. "Revolutionaries can be dangerous even to professional criminals, they might promise them everything. Reikan's real power was his voice, he could convince people of anything!"
Pushing the key into the lock, the officer turned it twice and this final door swung up with a slight creak. Now the foursome entered a corridor where the air was even staler than in the large chambers outside, the light dimmer and the putrid prison stench even more notable. It was a stench Tilathian recognized from his 'earlier life' and it made him slightly nauseous as old memories were resurfacing. Memories he had tried for so many years to suppress.
It was silent in here, the noise from the large chambers faded away as the door slammed shut behind them, the only things heard were the air condition fans and a dripping from a water leak somewhere.
"How many prisoners do you have here?" Atrey asked, mostly to conclude the eerie silence, counting to sixteen brown painted steel doors lining the narrow corridor.
"Only three convicts at the moment," Kastra replied as she walked them to the second last of the sturdy-looking doors where she ceased. "Reikan, the serial killer Dukam Greidur and Zolama Bewdin, leader of the Moth Circle. Necromancer and escape artist."
"I know her. I got her once, cost me a hand, and a mighty fine one too," Atrey nodded solemnly as she regarded her present left hand, turning it and flickering the fingers as if displeased with the replacement. "In the end we Cyborgs were the only ones who dared getting after her since she was so lethal. So tell me, how do you make sure she doesn't get away one more time."
"We don't," Kastra admitted. "She's kept under stasis now, but not even the pros can guarantee that her mind won't slip away even as her body is incapacitated. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as a completely safe prison. Now, I'll let you have half an hour with this man inside. I'll be right outside, should anything occur. He's on tranquilizers, but you never know."
"You really think he can beat down three people," Tilathian raised a brow. "Then what can you do against him?"
"What you need to worry about is not his strength in body, it's inadequate to say the least, because of the drugs he has been receiving over the years. No, beware of his voice, he can promise you everything and then some. If you're not careful enough you will believe it and he might lure you into liaising with him."
"I think we can manage," Atrey affirmed. "We're here about his daughter. Trying to save her life more or less."
"Then good luck to you," was the last thing Kastra said before she unlocked the cell door to the petty dwelling of Reikan the revolutionary.