In the Queendom of Yclau lies an underground royal prison that embraces the worst of the past and the best of the future. The Eternal Dungeon is old-fashioned in its equipment and ahead of its time in its treatment of prisoners, seeking to put their best welfare above all else. Torture is part of the process of assisting the prisoners.
The High Seeker, Layle Smith, embodies this contradictory institution: a man of deadly impulses, the head torturer binds himself strictly by the dungeon's code of conduct. His efforts to maintain this delicate balance are altered, though, by the introduction into his life of Elsdon Taylor, a vulnerable prisoner who is coming to terms with his own darkness.
This 440,000-word omnibus contains four novels and a novella in The Eternal Dungeon, a historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.
"Do you have any questions?" Mr. Sobel asked.
He had many questions, but he could not clear his throat to speak, for he had finally found what he was looking for. Almost invisible against the translucent wall hung a metal ring, at about the level his hands would be if he held them above his head. He had seen rings like that at Parkside Prison, and had seen them put to use.
Behind him, as quiet as a schoolmaster murmuring approval, a voice said, "Thank you, Mr. Sobel. I will answer any questions the prisoner has."
Elsdon turned slowly. The hooded man stood in the doorway. He was dressed as he had been before, unarmed but for the look in his eyes. He stepped away from the doorway as Mr. Sobel made his exit. Then, as the door shut behind the guard, he said, "Good evening, Mr. Taylor. I am your Seeker, Mr. Smith."
Elsdon made no reply. His eyes were searching the Seeker's belt, looking for a rope or a chain or any other sign of what was to take place here. His gaze jerked up, though, as the Seeker said, "Mr. Taylor, do you enjoy pain?"
Elsdon swallowed. He shook his head.
"Then I advise you to listen carefully to what I have to say next," continued Mr. Smith. "You will be given few rules that you need to follow during your time here, but we treat violations of those rules seriously. The first rule is that you must show proper respect toward me, your Seeker. You must rise to your feet whenever I am present, and where necessary you should address me as 'Mr. Smith' or 'sir.' If you fail to show the same sort of respect toward me that you would toward a schoolmaster or a workmaster, then I fear that your visit here will shortly become quite unpleasant. Is that clear, Mr. Taylor?"
"Yes," he said faintly. Then, as his heart thudded within him: "I mean, Yes, sir."
The Seeker did not respond for a moment. His posture was stiff, as though he were a guard on ceremonial duty, and his eyes in the dancing light looked alternately dark and glittering cold. He continued, "The second rule – and this is by far the most important rule for prisoners – is that you must at all times answer my questions truthfully. If, for some reason, you do not feel ready to discuss a particular subject, you may say so, or you may remain silent. But under no circumstances may you lie to me. The consequences for such lying would be severe. And I should warn you ahead of time, Mr. Taylor: I have been working in this profession for twenty years. It is not easy for a prisoner to pass off to me a lie as the truth."
He waited. Elsdon said, even more faintly than before, "I understand, sir."
The eyes remained cold. Elsdon wondered whether the Seeker had noticed that Elsdon had made no promises. After a while, Mr. Smith said, "Those are the bindings placed upon you as a prisoner. I should add that the same bindings are placed upon me as your Seeker. I must treat you with respect in the manner indicated before, and I must speak truth to you. If at any time you believe that I have violated my duties toward you or that you have been ill-used by one of your guards, you have the right to ask to speak to the Eternal Dungeon's Codifier, who oversees the inhabitants of the dungeon. In the extremely unlikely event that your request should be ignored, you may bring the matter to the attention of whichever magistrate judges your case, so that he may investigate this violation of your rights. Is that clear?"
Elsdon's heart was beating faster than before. It took him some time before he was able to repeat, "I understand, sir."
"Do you have any questions?" the Seeker asked. "About the routine of the dungeon? The times you will be fed? The questions you will be asked? The instruments of torture I use?"
The faintness went beyond Elsdon's voice this time and entered his body. He could feel the sweat upon his skin; he wondered whether he had turned white. He blurted out, "What if I'm innocent?"
The Seeker's green gaze did not waver. "If you are innocent, then I trust that our time together will be short. I would far rather find a prisoner innocent than guilty; too many prisoners are sent to us, and the quicker that we can release them from here, the better. If your release is to the lighted world rather than to the executioner, it is likely to come more quickly. But we are commissioned by the Queen to ascertain the truth of accusations of death-sentence crimes, and we are committed to fulfill that commission. Please don't waste my time with false pleas of innocence, Mr. Taylor. It will only make our time together more difficult."
The Eternal Dungeon Omnibus 2010.
Dusk Peterson at GLBT Bookshelf.
Love in Dark Settings Press at GLBT Bookshelf.