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"Every psychologist of our day knows the origin of transformation therapy, though many prefer not to speak of it. It is considered embarrassing to be forced to admit that your primary tool for curing patients was developed by a group of torturers."
The Eternal Dungeon, a royal prison where criminals are transformed, has lost its leadership. The duty of returning the dungeon to normal falls on two Seekers (torturers) who are already burdened with their own problems. One Seeker is struggling to understand why an old love affair continues to gnaw at him. The other Seeker is faced with his greatest challenge: whether to risk that which is most precious to him in order to save his own abuser.
This novel can be read on its own or as the second volume in 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 novel.
It was a long while before Elsdon's shaking stopped. Layle communicated with him only through kisses during that time. He dared not rush Elsdon's recovery, not only because the roots of Elsdon's pain lay so deep, but also because this was the beginning of the fourth scene. All of the comfort he was offering Elsdon during this time would be witnessed, and with luck it would be questioned.
Finally Elsdon's body had calmed enough that the junior Seeker was able to say in a taut voice, "I'm sorry, sir."
"Elsdon," Layle murmured, "it's over. You may call me by my name."
"Layle. Why—? I'm sorry; I know you had a reason. I shouldn't ask."
"I had two reasons." Layle tilted Elsdon's head back onto his shoulder so that he could see his love-mate's face. It was flushed, but otherwise showed no sign of pain. He traced his finger down Elsdon's nose, causing the other man to smile. "Do you remember my telling you about the Vovimian theater?"
"Yes, of course. But why—? Oh, I see." Elsdon's voice grew thoughtful. "The games the boys play in Yclau. You told me once that was a form of play-acting. But love, if you wanted to talk to me about Vovimian acting, couldn't you have just—? I mean, was it necessary to—?"
"Yes." He dropped a kiss onto Elsdon's nose. "My dear, I would not have done that if it weren't necessary."
Elsdon gave a small smile then. "Stupid. I'm being stupid. Of course you wouldn't have. What is it about the Vovimian theater that I need to know?"
"That which you just spoke of, the method of acting. Elsdon, what are the stages of transformation?"
Elsdon furrowed his brow, but did not ask why this leap of topic had occurred. "For what type of prisoner?" he asked. "A prisoner who is innocent? A guilty prisoner who confesses at once? A guilty prisoner who refuses to confess but is cooperative? Or a guilty prisoner who refuses to confess or cooperate?"
"The most common one, the guilty prisoner who cooperates but does not confess. What are his stages of transformation?"
Elsdon gave an incredulous laugh. "You want me to recite them? As though I were a Seeker-in-Training?"
Elsdon raised an eyebrow, but said without hesitation, "There are five stages. The first stage is one that all prisoners go through, Fear. Every prisoner fears his Seeker when he first meets him, though the degree of fear depends on the prisoner's background and temperament. The Seeker must therefore find some way to make the prisoner understand that he will not be harmed if he cooperates, whether or not he offers his confession. The Seeker also uses this stage to begin to determine whether the prisoner is in fact innocent of his crime."
"That's not important here," Layle said. "Imagine you're in a dungeon where all of the prisoners are guilty. What is the next stage?"
"Cooperation. Only the cooperative prisoners enter this stage: it's marked by the prisoner indicating his willingness to cooperate to some degree with the demands of his Seeker. A few prisoners will offer their confession at this point, but the great majority will refuse to confess, either because they fear the consequences of their confession or because, more likely, they do not consider themselves guilty in any true sense of the word."
"Is that what the goal is of the Seeker?" Layle asked. "To extract a confession?"
"No," Elsdon said swiftly. "That's what the prisoner thinks the goal is, and what most of the world thinks the Seekers want. But a confession from the prisoner is merely a natural byproduct of the Seeker's true goal, which is to make the prisoner aware of whatever in his life is preventing him from reaching his full potential, either in this life or in his next life. It could be darkness or a flaw – whatever it is, it's likely to be connected, either directly or indirectly, with the crime he has committed. The Seeker will seek to discover the root of the weakness in the prisoner and transform it, rather than simply obtain the confession and leave the root cause of the crime untouched."
Layle nodded. "So this prisoner of yours cooperates. Do you deal with him gently?"
Elsdon sighed. "If I could remake the world into my imagining, yes. But if the prisoner has reached the point of committing a crime, it's unlikely that he has the discipline to continue cooperating with his Seeker once the Seeker begins asking him questions that touch at the root of his evil. And so the discipline he lacks from within must be applied from outside. This is the stage of Discipline—"
He stopped. Layle could guess why, but he did not allow Elsdon time to explore the connection he had just made. "Yes?" he prompted. "How is the prisoner disciplined?"
"It depends on the prisoner," Elsdon said slowly. "Some prisoners are so callous and dangerous that they require physical torture: whipping or the rack. But wherever possible, the Seeker will make the discipline verbal. With the most cooperative prisoner, the only discipline need be the Seeker requiring the prisoner to answer his questions. This causes the prisoner anguish, but the pain comes, not from the Seeker's application of pain, but from the prisoner's desire to avoid confronting the evil in his life. Or in his past life," Elsdon added softly.
Layle planted several kisses on Elsdon's forehead before saying, "And the next stage?"
"The next stage is Compassion," Elsdon said quietly. "The Seeker has shown compassion from the beginning, but it is unlikely that the prisoner has recognized this. Now, though, the pain that the prisoner has undergone from the discipline will likely cause him to begin to break open and see things anew. As the Seeker comforts him during and after his discipline, the prisoner will become aware of how deeply the Seeker cares for his best interests, and— Sweet blood, I wish I could say that this leads to the fifth stage. In most cases, it doesn't. This is where we lose most of our cooperative prisoners; they become frightened and turn back to what they were before."
"But if they do not?" Layle said between kisses.
"If they do not, then comes the stage of Breaking. Of Self-Breaking, I should say, because the prisoner who accepts the Seeker's compassion and who trusts that the Seeker wishes to bring good to him will turn on himself and apply the methods of Seeking to himself. With the Seeker's guidance, he starts the final, painful steps, which only he can take in order to be broken in such a way as to be reborn into a new life."
Elsdon was silent after finishing his recital. Layle wondered whether he was remembering his rebirth; it had taken place only four years before.
Layle's own rebirth had occurred just over twenty years ago, but it was still vivid to him. He remembered that, amidst all his pain at recognizing his villainy, his only regret had been that Master Aeden had not been present to witness this, and to learn from it.
"Layle," said Elsdon in a hushed voice, "we're play-acting, aren't we?"
"This is real, my dear."
"I know that. But we're also performing a play: everything we've done since you entered this cell has been a way to dramatize the five stages of transformation. When you first entered, and I shrank back from you – that was the stage of Fear. Then I rushed into your arms. That was the stage of Cooperation. Then you forced me to remember something painful from my childhood. That was the stage of Discipline. And now—" He turned his gaze up toward Layle, just at the moment that Layle bowed his head to kiss his love-mate's hair. "This is Compassion, Layle," Elsdon said. "You're acting out the fourth stage of transformation, for the sake of our audience."
¶ Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): The Transformation.