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The Dark Mirror of Your Soul

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"So, artista," Riario said, wandering the small room, his hands clasped neatly behind his back. "Do you have any other ideas about how to escape this predicament?"

Leo, sat on the narrow bed, shook his head. "I'd kill for some opium. Maybe if I tell the guards I have a headache I can get some."

"You think that would help? To cloud your mind?"

Leo scoffed. "I have exhausted the logic of a sober mind. I have considered the door and the walls and the windows. I have taken account of every single item in this tiny room from the bed, with one ragged blanket, to the metal cup and wooden plate I am permitted only during mealtimes."

Those items were taken from him minutes later whether he was done with them or not. A bucket to shit in was briefly provided twice a day, and otherwise one corner of the room had to suffice, which was why the room was beginning to stink of piss. No-one had come to rescue him nor even been allowed to visit him, so Leo could not switch places with Zo as he had done once before to effect his escape.

On alternate days, Leo was permitted to leave the room restrained with heavy manacles on both wrists and ankles. He was taken to the throne room where he was given the chance to surrender to Timmon's demands, and to gain freedom only by enslaving himself. When he refused, he was taken straight back to his cell, and the only time he'd tried to fight back he lost badly, being both chained and significantly outnumbered.

"Far from clouding my mind, opium would free me from this cold and miserable reality and let me see possibilities that even my unique mind would discard as irrational under other circumstances." Leo sighed. "I wouldn't expect an uptight prick like you to understand. I wish Zo were here instead."

Riario lifted one shoulder. "If I am here instead of Zoroaster, you have only yourself to blame."

"Yes, but what use are you?" Leo stared up at the ceiling. Too high to reach even if he had any reasonable ideas about escaping through the roof of his cell. The single window was tiny and barred. The door was made of solid oak with metal reinforcements, as if meant to withstand a battering ram. A barred slit in the door was covered with a metal sheet lifted only from the outside in order to view the prisoner.

"We are more alike than either of us cares to acknowledge," Riario said, pausing in his pacing. "I am the dark mirror of your soul. In me you see the uptight and the immovable against which you strive. But I am not without my uses, artista. I have survived this long which is surely testament to my own intellect. I can tell you this, which you will not want to hear: submit."

Leo glared at him. "No!"

"Do you want to die here?" Riario came to crouch in front of him. "I have always cherished your mind, Leonardo. This so-called King Timmon does not. He would rather see you dead than free of his control. He thinks you are dangerous and he's right. He believes you can help him in his quest to conquer all of Italy and maybe he is right. For that reason he is certain you must obey him or die."

Leo blinked hard. "You want me to obey him? To surrender to him, pledge myself to him?" His voice rose in volume and octave alike.

"No, no, no," Riario soothed. "Not in reality. But would the pretence of it be so bad?"

"You want me to lie?"

Riario nodded. "And do not pretend you hold some moral objection. You are good at pretending, are you not? Have you not shown me how well you can bluff? Have you not lied even to those you love most?"

The sound of footsteps in the corridor drew Leo's attention.

"It has been long enough that he will believe your spirit broken," Riario murmured. "This is your best chance."

*

Leo knelt on the floor before Timmon. The chains at his wrists weighted down his hands, the ones at his ankles hampering his every movement. The ten guards in the room were an insurmountable obstacle.

Timmon gazed down at him from his elevated throne. "I will not ask many more times, for you try my patience. Will you pledge allegiance to me and manufacture your weapons solely for my cause?"

Leo swallowed, nodded. "I have no other choice. I pledge my allegiance to you."

Timmon grinned. Riario, standing to one side of the throne gave an encouraging nod.

*

Five days went by during which Leo behaved impeccably, working on his inventions under close supervision but making no attempt to escape.

On the sixth day, a giant hole was blown in the wall of Timmon's castle and Leo hobbled off into the woods. He took shelter, freed himself from the ankle manacles with the piece of wire he'd prepared for this occasion, and ran.

He crossed the river to throw off the hounds he heard howling as a pursuit began. He doubled back and left false trails.

He was exhausted when he almost ran headlong into a man who had to defend himself from Leo's instinctive attempts to punch him.

"Leo! Leo, it's me." Zo clutched at Leo's shoulders. "Fuck, Leo, look at the state of you."

"Zo, thank God." Leo hugged him then stepped back. "They're coming," he said desperately. "They want me dead."

"Shit. Oi, over here," Zo yelled. He returned his attention to Leo. "It's all right. We have horses."

"We?"

Riario appeared, slinking through the bushes, daggers in hand. "Artista." He sounded relieved.

"What happened to you?" Leo gestured to the blood on Riario's cheek.

"It's nothing."

"Not what I asked." Leo blinked a few times. "Horses, you said you have horses."

Riario led the way, Zo clutching at Leo as they followed close by.

"You're working with Riario," Leo said, this finally registering as they neared a clearing where their mounts were waiting.

"Yeah," Zo said, somewhat embarrassed. "On this one occasion we both wanted the same thing, so it only made sense to work together."

Leo glanced at Riario, who was already mounting his black stallion, and then at the unmarked, serene, Riario who was leaning against a tree.

"Thank you," Leo said, and he was including both the Riarios and Zo in his gratitude.

When Leo looked again, the Riario who had been with him throughout his imprisonment was gone. But the real Riario, and the real Zo, remained, and they still had some miles to go before they were out of Timmon's reach, and so Leo didn't dwell too much on his disappearance.