Hardcore: Qi Worlds

Chapter 93

Chapter 93: Captive 1

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 Azrul, Dread Lord of the Tendulkar Clan, servant of Queen Alsafar from the Royal line of Ileum and all-round badass, carried Benzhi over her shoulder. She did not want to go to the trouble of getting a portal to her current location, she was running at high speed to the outside of the domain where her own portal master would succour despite his ineptitude.

It was a pity all her knights were dead, she would have to leave her other captives behind, and any possible slaves from the city were also lost. Certainly, this one was a worthy prize, enough to make the decision to leave now an easy one.

Initially, Scydhel, one the Myrkalfar Daughter’s put a bounty on his head, which meant he was worth a small fortune in either favours, power or currency. The bounty, of course, was weighted in concentrated qi kernels, but that was easily transferable to anything the heart desired.

Favours from a Daughter or Queen.

Innumerable slaves.

A number of prime gladiators.

Scydhel’s bounty had piqued interest from her rivals, of which one was her Queen and Daughter pairing, from the Ileum royal house.

After many months of investigation and searching with tracers, much more skilled in finding people than her, information and rumours had been uncovered, but no sighting of the infamous Benzhi had been made.

Not until she had lucked upon the focus of so much interest. He was certainly talented, exotically different, but really, the amount of interest shown in him far outweighed his talent, as far as Azrul could see.

It was fortunate the dead knights were not her property, they, like most knights, had gained freedom or were from one of the free warrior castes. They had come for a share of the spoils, and since they were not around to help return those spoils to her castle, they were also not around to collect their share.

The annoyance which killed her servants would return value to her in spades. In the end, Azrul was quite satisfied with the bargain. She could always recruit more knights, perhaps even gladiators and of course a competent portal master and return for the other spoils in this city. What was it again? Oh yes, Stone in the Sand. The abundant sand was a dead giveaway.

She had won the battle for the city, by rights it was hers, but the annoyance was so valuable she would not tarry. If one of the others came to Stone in the Sand, to steal her spoils, then so be it.

She would have to thank her Queen for the rights to pillage this land, although she had to pay a tithe, it was well worth it in the end. It was a privilege just to be chosen.

The Myrkalfar had a systematic approach to acquiring qi slaves and other loot when pillaging the planes. Depending on the inherent qi core, lifespan and reproduction rate of the target society they would strictly control the pillaging schedule. This was done through a treaty and all the Queens of the Myrkalfar were signatories. The rights were allocated based on payments and complex machiavellian games they played within the group. The negotations, in themselves, were a source of entertainment.

This approach was designed using the same strategy a farmer uses to maintain his fields. The Myrkalfar would allow the Kingdom of Loctris to replenish for fifty years between each harvest. For the low creatures which inhabited this land it was a generation, but for the long-lived Myrkalfar, it was merely a season. And there were many planes, many lands to pillage.

Azrul inspected her damaged tensor as she ran. She pouted her lips and whipped the unconscious bounty, he would pay for that misdeed dearly. She had been in possession of these tensors for over half her life now, they felt a part of her. There were not damaged often, and this was only the second time one had been severed.

Oh, he better be worth a fortune, she now had to deal with the unscrupulous qi scholar who could remedy her precious tensor.

“You will pay my dear, you will pay,” she said as she ran. The bounty was unconscious, but she did not care.

“This should be far enough,” she said. She had run for half a day to the northeast, she would contact her portal master, if he could be called a master, the man was inept, and have him attempt a succour here. She felt her chest where the anchor tattoo was marked, she sent a message bubble directly to her portal master.

‘Cretin, succour me the instant you receive this. I do not care if you are sleeping or drunk or worse. I am carrying a captive, ensure you concentrate properly until you pull me and my burden through. I do not need to tell you the punishment for poor service, you and my favourite cosh are well acquainted,’ Azrul sent a bubble off into space, it quickly disappeared into the aether.

Cretin, whatever his name was, would use his tattoo to connect to her tattoo and succour her directly through the aether. A competent portal master could have created a portal directly to her even when she was inside the domain, given she had a sophisticated enough anchor, which her expensive tattoo certainly was. It created a mini domain within her own body, drawing on her qi core and it contained an anchor in its design as well.

She waited for what seemed an eternity, her captive would not wake for a week or until drained of her toxin. Which she affectionately thought of as her juice. Her tensors drew on her qi core to continually create a small amount of juice which was stored within the tensors themselves. These appendages were worth their weight in concentrated qi kernels, and while initially painful to have attached, she was so used to them now they were a part of her.

“Finally,” she called out as the succour Cretin created pulled her through, with her captive on her shoulder and his weapons in her hand.

She had been succoured to her great hall.

“I said immediately, Cretin! You took the time to walk here from whatever den you were conducting your filthy life in,” she yelled and slapped him with her tensor as both hands were full.

“My apologies Dread Lord,” Cretin, prostrated himself on the floor.

“I don’t want your apologies,” she said toxically, “I want a portal Master,” she emphasised the word master. Would it be too much to kill him on the spot? His family were not inconsequential, perhaps it would be an expensive guilty pleasure. Additionally, it would probably be wise to find a replacement first.

Azrul’s castle was not magnificent when compared to second and third generation Dread Lords and certainly not when compared to the Queens abode. However, it was serviceable, containing pits for her slaves, a ludus for her fourteen gladiators, rooms for her servants and free followers, of which there were far too few. Oh and of course a top-notch dungeon, which would be ideal for holding and playing with her new prize pet.

She dropped bounty on the ground and clapped her hands loudly. If the portal master were not totally incompetent, he would have at least alerted her personal servants that she was returning momentarily and they would be in earshot waiting to be summoned.

No one came.

She glared at Cretin.

Surely it would not be that expensive to kill him.

Azrul would never be called wise. Her undamaged tensor flew up and down in an arc impaling Cretin’s skull, boring through it like a knife through lizard meat.

She picked up her bounty and stormed towards the servants quarters.

This bounty was talented, Azrul had summoned her three apprentices, they were talented qi warriors from her clan, all aspiring to be a Dread Lord one day. They were all capable of using a cosh and had enough brains to know when to use it. There was no way in the nine levels of hel that she would be guarding her bounty day and night, but someone had too, he was too dangerous.

Between Gine, Yasmyn and Phee her three adept apprentices would guard her bounty day and night while she investigated and negotiated a finders fee. With so many interested parties she could easily get a better price than offered and she had to find out why he was so sought after. There must be a reason. If she were able to found out this secret, she would know his true worth.

She had summoned the three to give instruction, the bounty was thrown into a cell, and qi barrier was erected. She doubted it would hold him long if unobserved, but the scholar who crafted it was talented, and he was able to attenuate the barrier to the four of them. They could walk freely in and out of the cell, where the bounty could not.

The weave was so intricate it would take time to unpick, a lot of time. Azrul guessed it would take her a day with her qi manipulation. And if tampered with the barrier would alarm. Azrul was taking no chances, not with her only prize from the raid.

“He has been subdued with my juice,” she informed her apprentices, “and should stay comatose for a week or at least five days if he is extremely resilient. But we are not taking any chances, even now one of you must stand guard here. He is worth a small fortune, and you will be rewarded.”

“Now if he does wake, introduce him to the cosh immediately, let him know who his masters are and the pain of the cosh,” she continued.

“Then remind him every now and then, especially if he is disrespectful. If the alarm sounds, you are to go crazy with the cosh, short of killing him. He would be worthless dead, and the same fate may befall you if that were to happen,’ Azrul thought she was very fair letting them know the consequences of a disastrous failure, forewarned was forearmed.

“Any questions,” Azrul asked.

Gine pipped up, “are we to inform you when he wakes?”

“I will be out for the foreseeable future, send a short message bubble immediately informing me of any changes,” Azrul answered.

“Can we play with him?” Phee asked. She was an especially vicious minx.

Azrul pondered the question briefly, “No, he is worth a fortune, I want nothing to occur that could increase the risk of injury, escape or death. Do not misunderstand me, he is worth more than your death duties combined.” She let that sink in. The death duty was what she would have to pay their families should she kill them for no good reason. Of course, if she had a good reason it would be a fair killing.

“Should we feed him?” Yasmym asked.

Bloody girl, what was wrong with her thinking of his wellbeing already. She was far too soft. However, if he was worth a small fortune than looking after him was not against her objectives.

“Water him for the first three days, after that pre-chewed food stuffed into his mouth and make him swallow. If you do not know how, ask the torturer to show you. Remember he is valuable alive and worthless dead, I will not have him choking,” Azrul instructed.

  Phee looked at the prisoner and turned back to her master, “can I fuck him?”

Azrul slapped her, “of course not. I want no activity that will increase risk, he may not look it now, but he is dangerous. See this,” she showed them her damaged tensor, “who do you think did this to me?”

At least the girl had the sense to ask and did not take it upon herself to just do it.

“What should we do differently if he wakes and you are not back?” Gine asked she was always the smartest of the trio.

“Whenever one of you enters the cell for any reason, another is to be watching from here,” Azrul lovingly stroked her cheek. That was an intelligent question.

“As soon as I am back, I will come here, report to each other everything, even minor that happened during your shift. You can read during the first few days, but after that, keep your eyes sharp,” Azrul gave her final instructions before leaving.

A day passed, Azrul had not been successful in uncovering any information yet, and when she went to a broker, they asked an exorbitant fee without guaranteeing anything actually useful.

At least she had arranged interviews for a new portal master, she had made progress on that front. And the Queen be praised, one was a woman. She had to be more competent than the men that had been on offer in the past.

A message bubble arrived from Yasmyn as Azrul considered visiting the Tendulkar clan’s most competent tracer, Sirl.

It simply said, ‘he is rousing.’

What? How was that possible, it had only been a day? Azrul hastily made an appointment with the qi scholar to repair her tensor in three days time. She left and headed straight home.

The realm which Azrul’s castle inhabited was entirely underground. The Myrkalfar preferred to live in the darker and cooler conditions. They always had. Of course, they travelled extensively above ground, but there was no place like home.

Above ground was dominated by lizards such as cold ones and their ilk. They were a great source of food if left to run rampant, their supply was never-ending. It was also hot, humid and congested with vegetation.

Below ground was natural and qi carved caverns, living ranged from small habits to large spread throughout a complex weave of interconnecting tunnels and caves. It was never totally dark, and there was no day and night. The cave system was rife with bioluminescent plant material and sporadic glowstones. And with millenia living below ground the Myrkalfar eyesight and other sense had adapted perfectly to the environment.

Azrul arrived back and ran to the Dungeon were her bounty lay.

He was indeed moving and groaning, she viewed him with qi sight from her implanted third eye. A debt which she had yet to repay to her Queen. The only persons in the entire realm who knew the secrets of qi sight crystal crafting was the Queen and her Daughter.

“By my crack,” she said out loud, her three apprentices witnessing her frustration. She should have viewed him under qi sight at regular intervals.

The bounty was using qi to somehow remove her juice, he was breaking it down and removing it.

“How is that even possible?” she said out loud again. Her three apprentices looked at each other, wondering if they should answer while knowing they had no answer.

“He is indeed strange, we start double shifts from now. I want two of you here at all times. And I will take a shift while I am at home, who knows what the bounty is capable of.” She had been careful never to mention his name. With something this important, she would trust no one. Not with something as valuable as Benzhi.

She had to speed up her investigation, or just open him up for bidding right now. If she got him off her hands, she would not have to worry so much about him escaping.

Not that he could get far, but if he escaped she would suffer a massive loss of face and most likely any recompense for capturing him in the first place.

“I go to see the Daughter,” she said to no one in particular. She could not delay, if he could eliminate her juice from a comatose state, there was no telling what mysterious tricks he had.

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