The year 363, the fourth month. (The year 1882 Fallow by the Old Calendar.)
Vito stood alone before the entrance to the inner dungeon, feeling memories wash over him.
He had anticipated this point in his journey as one of his final hurdles and had been uncertain whether it was worth the risk. After all, if he was hired as a Seeker, there would be time enough . . . But he wanted the timing to be of his own choosing. He did not want to risk the far greater danger of an unexpected encounter in public that might reveal facts better kept hidden.
As it happened, this hurdle had proved easy enough to leap. The High Seeker's senior guard – who well remembered Vito – was willing to believe Vito when he said that he knew the remainder of the way to the guest apartment. Mr. Sobel, it appeared, had far more urgent duties on this day than escorting an incipient Seeker-in-Training to the outer dungeon.
So now Vito stood at the entrance to the inner dungeon – the correct side of the entrance, still within the inner dungeon. There were no guards at the entrance; evidently, only a key was still used to pass in and out of this portion of the Eternal Dungeon.
Vito thought a moment, and then he turned, reached the crossroads where the healer's surgery stood, and did not hesitate. He turned left.
He had noticed, during his escort, that he and Mr. Sobel had passed a laborer. The laborer wore the traditional striped denim of a stoker, but his duties had evidently been changed since the removal of the old furnaces from the dungeon. He was currently standing on a ladder, changing a lightbulb. Recognizing the implication of that burnt-out lightbulb, Vito quickened his pace.
He managed to reach the stoker just as the man was folding up his stepladder in preparation to leave. "Oh, aye, sir," he replied to Vito's question. "That's the High Seeker's cell. Burns out the bulbs regular, he do. We're having to change them almost one a day."
"And the other Seekers live here too?" As he spoke, Vito ran his eye along the long line of doors. Knowing which room he should not enter was all well and good, but there were too many doors here. He couldn't try them all.
"Aye, sir!" The stoker seemed eager to show off his knowledge. No doubt he rarely received the opportunity to do so. According to what Birdesmond had written to him, all laborers who worked in the inner dungeon were bound by the same oath as Vito had taken here as a boy: not to speak to outsiders about what they saw.
But Vito – wearing the uniform of a Tidewater District prison guard – had evidently won the stoker's trust. The stoker rattled off the names of all the dwellers of the Seekers' living cells, ending by saying, ". . . and then there's Mr. Chapman and his wife, Mistress Birdesmond – they're both Seekers, would you believe it? – but they live in that other corridor there."
Vito frowned. He had not heard the name he wished to hear. "And those are the only men living here?"
"That's all, sir," replied the stoker cheerfully as he picked up his equipment. "No others, 'cept the High Seeker and his love-mate. Good day, sir."
Vito issued his farewell in an automatic manner, and then turned to stare at the door next to the changed lightbulb. The High Seeker's love-mate?
The stoker's whistle disappeared into the distance. The corridor was now empty. After another moment of hesitation, Vito knocked on the door.
There was an immediate, faint shout of acknowledgment, but it took a while for the door to be answered. Hearing the sound of water splashing, Vito guessed that he had interrupted the room's inhabitant while the man was at his bath. Finally, however, the door opened, revealing the Seeker.
He was fully clothed now, and fully hooded, all in black from head to foot. The clothes emphasized rather than obscured the essential strength of the man's slender frame: the tall body, the clear muscles in arm and thigh – an athletic body, here in a dungeon where one would expect Seekers to receive no more exercise than lifting their fingers to order the torture of prisoners.
For a moment, the Seeker merely stood still. Vito took advantage of that moment to slip inside. As Vito closed the door behind him, the Seeker threw back the face-cloth of his hood. His azure eyes were wide with astonishment.
"Vito de Vere!" cried Elsdon Taylor. "What in the name of all that is sacred are you doing here?"
"You know why I'm here, Pudge," replied Vito grimly. "I have come to destroy the Eternal Dungeon."
. . . This wave of reform began with the arrival of a new man in the dungeon, one whose presence would spark the long-awaited inferno of civil war within the dungeon. Vito de Vere would be aided in his quest by Elsdon Taylor and Birdesmond Chapman, the trio serving as leaders in the New School of dungeon reform. Thus we can see the veracity of the truism that great reform comes from within.
Or can we? Birdesmond Chapman may have been a Seeker, but as the dungeon's first woman Seeker, she was manifestly an outsider. As for Elsdon Taylor, the best historical research suggests that he was one of many former prisoners who was employed in the dungeon; he understood the prisoners' perspective as much as the Seekers' point of view. Even Layle Smith, the man who would play the most ambiguous role in the conflict, was born in the neighboring Kingdom of Vovim.
That leaves Vito de Vere. On the surface, he appears to be the classic insider: a career prison worker, with no prior record of ties with outside protesters. Yet his motives for entering into the conflict have proved the most difficult to trace. He left nothing on paper that has survived to explain why, without warning, he applied in 363 for a job as Seeker in the Eternal Dungeon, and why, without warning, he became the poster child for the new movement.
Indeed, his entrance into the New School is so abrupt – and so unlikely for a newly arrived Seeker-in-Training – that suspicion arises that he came to the dungeon expressly to create trouble. However, that would not explain why Layle Smith, surely the most discerning prison worker in the history of our queendom, should have missed the insidious danger to the accepted order that Vito de Vere represented.
Or did he miss the danger? Did the High Seeker instead hire the new Seeker for the express purpose of putting a conclusive end to the clamor for reform? The answer may lie in the next chapter of this episode, and in Vito de Vere's own frailties.
—Psychologists with Whips: A History of the Eternal Dungeon.