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In Darkness, Chained

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He seated himself in the lobby and waited. People looked at him, some even stared, but nobody pointed or spoke in a whisper meant to carry. (They spoke of him in voices meant only for their companions' ears. He supposed it was a sign of progress.)

At last Fletcher stepped through the doorway, dressed in a smart tweed suit, scarf, and hat. Except for his bearing, and the way in which his eyes coolly slid over his surroundings, observing, cataloging everything, dismissing nothing, he looked nothing like a guard. He blinked slightly when Durian stood to greet him.

"Thank you for coming," Durian said quietly.

Fletcher shrugged.

"I know you get but one completely free day a month. I appreciate you spending it with me."

As the waiter led them towards a private dining salon, Fletcher said, "I was surprised and happy to receive your letter. It's a real pleasure to spend time with you."

When they took their seats, Fletcher studied their surroundings before he picked up the menu. "I've never seen a restaurant like this."

The Golden Calf was one of the oldest restaurants in the capital city of Yclau and had its origins as a coffeehouse which catered to the mercantile classes and their factors. Though the menu, the quality of the decor, and the clientele had changed over the centuries, its unique curtained booths and private dining rooms had never gone away, and many deals were still struck in them over the course of an extended luncheon or dinner.

"It seems to me," Durian said as the main course arrived, "that you know so much about me, but I know next to nothing about you."

Fletcher's eyes locked with his for an instant, darted away, and then came back. "What's to say? Mine's a completely ordinary sort of life. My mother's an apothecary, my father sells freight insurance. I have two sisters, twins, and a brother. I came in the middle, three years after my sisters, two years before my brother. I went to school and was neither the best nor the worst, and I was sweet on a girl, but she left me for another. My job's the most exciting thing about me, and really, it's just steady on and orderly work."

Durian snorted.

"No, really. You would not believe the monotony, and yet you've got to be tip top all the time. It's long stretches of roteness punctuated by a few seconds of alarm." He speared a chunk of his fish. "And then there's the documentwork." As he chewed and swallowed, his eyes flicked up to the ceiling in thought before snapping down and boring into Durian's. "You were the most interesting thing that's ever happened to me there."

"And more's the pity."

"Oh, I think not." Fletcher blushed at his forwardness and snapped his mouth shut. Durian turned the conversation back to more mundane topics until the dessert course arrived and kept his table manners only just inside the bounds of propriety as he savored his almond custard, slowly sucking each bite off the spoon, and, if a little tongue happened to flick out? Well then.

Fletcher, of course, with his stiff middle class manners, said nothing, but the way his eyes darted around the room in their efforts to not stare at the show Durian put on for his benefit told Durian what he needed to know.

When the waiter cleared their plates and brought coffee, and Fletcher had not budged an inch but clung to his rigid propriety, Durian decided to play a different card. The direct approach. "What do you want with me?"

Fletcher groaned and buried his face in his hands before dragging them through his hair, destroying his careful parting and combing (not that Durian minded, Fletcher could use a bit of dishevelment) "Am I that obvious?"

Durian looked him straight in the eye and said softly, "Not at all. I'm just that good."

"Because I would never hear the end of it at work if --"

Durian shot his hand out and took Fletcher's into his, studying its blunt nailed solidness, stroking his thumb across the back of the knuckles. "You haven't been making a great mooning fool of yourself. You'd be a good cardsman if you liked. And," he swallowed hard, "I wouldn't have asked that question if I didn't want to know the answer."

Fletcher closed his eyes and Durian saw only the barest hints of the struggle going on inside. Fletcher reversed the grip, taking Durian's hand into his, gripping it firmly, almost too tight. "I ..." he began, "I would like ..."

"Out with it."

Fletcher's eyes snapped open and Durian felt a shiver race up his spine at what he saw in their dark depths. All middle class propriety had vanished. In a low, heavy tone, Fletcher hissed, "I want you on your knees, sucking me good and hard, and then, when I'm ready, I want to fuck you so hard it takes you a while to stop feeling it, and even longer to forget about it -- to forget me."

Durian smiled inside. "Something where it's all about you, and what you want."

Fletcher closed his eyes and shivered. "Yes," he finally confessed.

"Good. I can do that." Durian replied. At Fletcher's startled expression, he continued, "Because for the past season, it's been all about me, and what's best for me, and my wishes -- or so I've been told -- and I'm sick of it."

Fletcher jerked back, taking his hand, "But --"

Durian's eyes bored into his, "Oh yes we can. We will. Tonight. And it's going to be everything you dreamed it would be."


While it is true we have no personal written testimony of a prisoner's time in the Eternal Dungeon, we do, in one extraordinary case, have art created by a prisoner, Durian Skyler, (later Baron Clepford) during his time there. Though one can read newspaper accounts of the Skyler case, which include excerpts of his testimony to the magistrate, he refused all questions about his ordeal, in one case famously telling a pressman "The facts of my life, the facts of this whole sordid affair are now a matter of public record. My emotions, however, are not for public consumption. They are mine, sir, and private." His surviving correspondence only makes brief references to his experiences, and he and his companion, Fletcher Dawson, kept no diaries that we know of. The 22 Diviner's Deck Keys he created, on the other hand, remind us that Art is a powerful tool and that sometimes, people will reveal through the arts that which they would not, or could not, otherwise say.

In addition to that masterwork, Baron Clepford went on to have a long career as an illustrator, engraver, painter, and even acted as a statesman of sorts, using his fame and artistic talents to bridge gaps and end schisms where the other, more usual methods of diplomacy had failed. His works, including the surviving Keys, are galleried around the world.

But Baron Clepford's first masterpiece is remarkable in another way, too. It became the inspiration for the first set of image association cards used by Seekers, and then by Mind-Healers, and now, in contemporary iterations by mental health professionals of several classes, to gain insight to a subject's psyche and motivations.

--- Psychologists with Whips: A History of the Eternal Dungeon