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Truth and Lies (The Eternal Dungeon)

"Thatcher was having difficulty deciding who to attack first."

When you're a prisoner, having a torturer who's mad can be an advantage. Or maybe not.

Thatcher Owen is a soldier who has been sent to the Eternal Dungeon for doing his duty. Accused of committing war atrocities, he is faced with the possibility of being manipulated by his torturer into confessing to a crime that was no crime. So Thatcher sets out to trick his torturer. But how do you trick a man whose very sanity seems in question?

Seward Sobel is faced with a similar dilemma. As senior night guard to the Eternal Dungeon's High Seeker, his job is to prevent that brilliant torturer from abusing his prisoner. But how do you tell the difference between madness and genius?

As these two men perform their delicate dance of duty, their fates will depend on the High Seeker's truthfulness . . . and on the nature of his lies.

This novella can be read on its own or as the first story in the "Balance" 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.


Once again, the High Seeker's voice was light, as though he were chatting with an old friend. "It's rather late for you to make that decision, Mr. Owen. You have already told me several lies. Most of them I think you are genuinely not aware are lies, for which reason I will take no notice of those falsehoods. But one lie I believe you are very much aware that you told, and the manner in which you spoke the lie reveals that."

Thatcher did not even bother to ask which of his truths the High Seeker disbelieved. He simply snorted. "So you think I lied to you. Right, then. Do whatever it is you Seekers do when you're lied to."

"I very much regret it, Mr. Owen, but I fear that I must." The High Seeker's voice had turned soft. "The Code requires that punishment occur after any prisoner deliberately lies to his Seeker."

Thatcher felt his back grow stiff, and he cursed himself for showing that much weakness under the High Seeker's scrutiny. He had known that this would come – had known that the High Seeker would find an excuse to torture him. Now all he must do was endure the pain, until the High Seeker finally realized that no amount of pain would cause Thatcher to lie about what he had done.

The High Seeker had made no gesture that Thatcher could see, but the redheaded guard outside must have been listening at the keyhole, for he entered the cell, carefully locked the door behind him, and pulled out his whip from where it hung looped on his belt. Thatcher did not like the look in the guard's eyes. He had seen that sort of look in the eyes of Vovimians who, in the moment of their charge, wished not only to shoot but also to disembowel with their bayonets. The first guard, the one who shadowed the High Seeker, was far more reassuring; his expression was bland and businesslike. Thatcher turned his attention back to the High Seeker, to see whether he could read anything in the man's eyes.

He was just in time to see the High Seeker begin to remove his shirt.

"What the bloody blades are you doing?" Thatcher was disconcerted. It was not as though he had been unaware of the possibility of this type of attack – he had heard rumors about where the High Seeker's tastes lay. But he would have expected the High Seeker to be more subtle – to send away witnesses before he began proceedings.

The High Seeker did not pause. He completed untying the fastenings on his shirt and handed the shirt to his first guard, who was frozen like a statue. Out of the corner of his eye, Thatcher could see that the redhead had likewise gone completely still. If this had happened before, the High Seeker was apparently not in the habit of allowing his guards to watch.

Thatcher's rapist – Thatcher could think of him in no other way now – walked toward him. He said, "I am preparing, Mr. Owen, for the punishment."

Thatcher thought this was the most unnecessary speech he had ever heard in his life. He braced himself for the fight to come. The High Seeker might have the right to search him, but Thatcher would sooner have given up his right of rebirth than to endure this particular punishment passively.

He was disconcerted once more as the High Seeker walked past him. The High Seeker stepped over to the far wall and stood facing it; he did not turn. Instead, he raised his arms high over his head. Thatcher was still trying to form theories as to this strange position for an attack when he noticed that the High Seeker was touching a ring that was inset into the wall.

"Mr. Sobel," the High Seeker said in a matter-of-fact manner.

The first guard broke out of his paralysis. He placed the shirt aside on Thatcher's sleeping bench, and then came forward, pulling something from his pocket. Thatcher had time enough to see that it was a set of keys before the guard reached up and inserted one of the keys into the wall, just above the ring. There was a click, and the bottom of the ring sprang out a couple of inches from its flush position. It now looked like any other whipping ring Thatcher had seen in his years in the army.

Thatcher was slowly figuring out the reason why the ring was normally kept stored within the wall, and was grudgingly admiring the Seekers for their care in preventing prisoners from having a means to hang themselves. Thus he missed the moment when the guard began to bind the High Seeker's wrists to the ring with a leather strap he had taken from his pocket.

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): Truth and Lies.

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