"'I can see why this place would suit you. Your conscience need no longer bother you.'"
He has come from the Eternal Dungeon to offer his services to another prison's head torturer. The only trouble is that the head torturer likes him too much.
Separated from his love-mate and forced to serve in a prison whose practices violate the ethical code that he has long obeyed, the High Seeker of the Eternal Dungeon finds himself surrounded by temptation: the bodies of prisoners, stripped to provide pleasure for their torturers.
Then the greatest temptation of all arrives. This one, the High Seeker realizes, he may need to surrender to, for the sake of his ethical code.
This novella can be read on its own or as the fourth and final story in the "Transformation" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.
This is a reissue of an older story.
Layle pulled up his legs against his chest and rested his chin upon his knees. In a tight voice, he said, "You are saying we have not been in union with one another."
"My dear, whatever your bodies may have been doing together, your minds have been in different places. And where the minds are disunited, the bodies cannot stay in union for long. If this were only a passing affair, and you were to seek other love-mates—"
Layle shook his head quickly, and Master Aeden sighed again. "You've tried since the madness?"
"To make love to him? No, that would be too dangerous; my control over myself has dwindled in the past three years. But he and I have tried to stay linked together when I enter into my dreamings, as we did in the days when we made love – it's the dungeon healer's best suggestion for how I can keep from being sucked into the madness again. It hasn't worked. It's what holds me back from working with prisoners again: the knowledge that I no longer have a way to feed my dark desire. If I try to stay linked with him, I fail; if I enter into a dreaming on my own, I risk being pulled back into madness. And if my dark desire is given no food and decides to feed upon the people around me . . ."
Master Aeden let out his breath slowly, its sound almost obscured by the waterfall of blood. "My dear, out of all the men and women in the world, why did you choose to fall in love with the one man who cannot give you the type of love you need?"
Layle felt a wry smile touch his lips. "I've asked him that question often enough. I don't know why he remains with me – I've tried to persuade him to leave me endless times. I tried to escape him through my madness, to free him so that he wouldn't be hurt by me any more. It didn't work; he came for me. He'll come for me again and spend his life searching for me."
After a while, he turned his head to look at Master Aeden. His master said nothing; he was staring over the blood to the dark wall beyond. Then he opened his mouth to speak, but any sound he might have made was swallowed up by a roar as the ground broke free of its bindings and shook.
Layle toppled over. He clutched the rocks, as though trying to hold the ground steady. All he could think through the deafening rumble was, At least death comes here rather than to the Eternal Dungeon.
¶ Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): The Consultation.