He was free. He wept, but he was free.
Jordan streaked through the underbrush. The sliver of moon provided no light, but he careened through the forest, thorns and branches lashing out. He sobbed, he screamed, he laughed with joy. And above all else, he kept running.
Behind him, he could hear guards shouting and clanging bells to sound the alarm. A horse whinnied in the distance. Jordan knew that he should have stayed by his rescuers – the bearded man with the power of the sun, the sprightly drow who fought to rescue all the innocent. But when he finally escaped the suffocating dark of the outpost’s dungeon, when he finally saw that glimpse of inky night sky through the barracks door, he could not help himself. He had run for the open air, past the bunks of his former brothers and current tormentors.
Seven agonizing days in a prison cell. Seven days left to sit and rot and remember. He did not know who he shared a cell with, but they fed him and poured him water when the memories became unbearable and he could only shake and sob. Even before he had been taken by it, Jordan had been uneasy in the dungeons – the underground chamber, with its anti-magic wards and oily torches, filled him with dread.
But the oppressive prison was nothing compared to what he had endured.
He wasn’t sure when it had happened, when the Peace Patrol had turned on itself. There were no mutinies, no unconscious murmurs of dissent in the mess hall. There were no subtle glances and secret notes shared late at night. His comrades had left for their routine tasks, their patrols and investigations, and they had come back. They had occasionally returned quiet and glassy-eyed, but the job was taxing and exacted a mental toll on even the strongest of mind.
Before the letter arrived, he had helped Glock as she tried to uncover the root of the conspiracy gripping the peace patrol. After the business with the scientist hostage, when Trap Kveen had been killed, it had consumed Glock’s mind. As her Steward, he’d helped her search for the root of Trap’s betrayal. What they’d found was disturbing: bleached chicken bones splayed out in rune circles in unused prison cells. Profane etchings under bunks. Once, Jordan had entered the stables at night, only to find four soldiers standing in a circle, silent, their foreheads touching and their lips soundlessly moving. In the flickering light of the torches, they turned to face him and their mouths opened in unison, locked in a silent scream.
Then the letter had arrived. It was an ordinary day, warm and muggy, one that he had no cause to remember. He had finished cleaning Glock’s bedchambers, and arrived at her office with fresh mug of coffee and a leather folio of documents for her to sign. She was not there, and he found her desk drawers ripped open, her window shattered. The satin curtains stirred and the loose papers from her desk floating around the room.
The disarray filled Jordan with unease; the letter he found crumpled up near Glock’s mahogany chair filled him with dread. It was from the group of adventurers involved with the scientist incident. They believed the same organization that Trap Kveen belonged to was plotting to kill Glock. They urged her to flee to safety, wherever that might be.
Jordan was a calm dwarf, slow to action. But this letter shook him – he felt fear claw its way up his throat.
That was not all, though. On the desk, he found a drawing of a tall, shadowy man surrounded by tentacles. Runes covered the parchment, and he could see Glock’s notes as well.
As he stood in the disarray of Glock’s office, the curtains flailing around him, the door kicked open. Bartleby stood before him, flanked by guards.
“Hey man,” said Bartleby as he strode into the office. His face grew shocked as he took in the state of Glock’s office. “Where is Glock? Is she okay?” He knelt, and looked into Jordan’s eyes.
Jordan stared back. He had worked as Glock’s manservant for over a decade. She had stood for him at his wedding, they had sailed the skies together to spread peace across the land, he had carved her office chair from Entish elder mahogany as a birthday present just last month. She was his best friend, and the thought of her hunted, or killed, brought him nearly to tears.
Bartleby put his hand on Jordan’s shoulder.
“I… I don’t know,” Jordan said.
The rest happened quickly. Bartleby grabbed him by the hair, and ripped his head back. “Tell us,” he said, “Or we’ll break your mind searching for her.” Bartleby drew a knife, and Jordan stopped kicking. He stood motionless except for the heaving of his chest, Bartleby’s blade to his throat.
“You’re her butler, man,” Bartleby said. “You know, like, everything.”
“Steward, not butler.”
“Assistant, lackey, honor guard, whatever!” Bartleby was screaming, spittle flying from his lips. He threw Jordan to the ground and pressed a boot on his back.
“I don’t know where she is! I just got here!” Bartleby’s heel dug deeper into his back, squeezing the air out of him.
“Check the bedchamber, mates,” Bartleby said. From the floor, Jordan couldn’t see what they were doing. He could only feel the cool stone floor and the heel in his back, and hear the sounds of the room being torn apart.
When they found the letter, Bartleby sighed. “That… party did it. They changed everything. She was supposed to die.” He lifted up Jordan and struck him across the face with the pommel of his knife. “Glock was a dead woman!” He was screaming again, his half-orc features contorted in rage. “Dead!”
Knife still in hand, Bartleby closed his eyes and brushed his hair out of his eyes. “I need you to tell me everything you know.” The coastal drawl in the half orc’s speech had returned. “I need you to tell me everything Glock knows.”
Blood ran from Jordan’s mouth. He didn’t know why his comrades had turned on him, he didn’t know where Glock had gone, and he didn’t know what he was supposed to say now. So instead he stared at Bartelby, the shock of it all overwhelming him. He hung from Bartleby’s grip, speechless.
It was after this that he met It. They’d forced him to wait in Glock’s office for hours. He had sat on the ground, his back to the door, until his bones ached. When the door swung open, he looked up at the guards. Their eyes stared straight forward, and their mouths moved frantically, although no sound escaped their lips. He turned. And he was so frightened he could not even scream.
Running through the forest now, over a week later, he still did not like to picture it in his mind. The writhing purple tentacles surrounding the mouth. The teeth, sharp and glittering, dripping with yellow saliva. The chattering, sucking noises it had made. The way he felt… paralyzed when it gazed at him. He put his head down and ran faster.
It had stepped towards him, and he could not move. As It towered above him, the room appeared to grow dark. It bent down, hands behind its back, eyes glowing, and purple head pulsing. The tentacles began brushing over Jordan’s face, into his mouth, and around his head. Their touch was cold and clammy. Then the tentacles engulfed his head, and pulled him towards the creature’s unhinged mouth.
He did not know what had happened then. He felt as if someone had scraped out his brain, as if his memories had been shuffled like a deck of cards. His brain felt consumed. Important details were lost, whole patches of his life left blank. Now, when he thought back to his most cherished memories – his wedding, the birth of his child, the time he’d saved his brother from drowning in the creek behind their childhood home – they were marred with the presence of a shadowy, tentacled figure.
He was brought before it two more times. Each time, he lost more of himself to It. He grew moody and confused. He was not sure what it was taking from him. He only knew that he was deeply terrified of It.
When It was finished with him, it was as if he’d broken the surface of a lake after nearly drowning. He lay on his hands and knees, shaking and gasping for air.
They’d thrown him in the dungeons, but not before he’d seen several others like himself – shaking, sobbing, or blankly looking straight ahead. His guards, still dressed in the uniform of the Peace Patrol, dragged him through the dungeon antechamber and tossed him into a cell.
Looking back, Jordan was amazed he had not died. In the cell, he slipped in and out of consciousness, in and out of reality. The creature haunted him, and he sat there, searching for his memories, battling the creature for his mind. He sat on the stone floor of the cell for days, soiling himself, forgetting to eat unless his cellmates forced him to. Occasionally, the guards would drag out one of the inmates and torture them or leave them to die. His cellmates wept, they plotted, they took care of each other. Jordan kept to himself. The trauma of living on was too great.
And then, the group had arrived. When the tall man melted a guard with a burst of light, something within Jordan was awakened. He suddenly knew where he was. He remembered Bartleby. He remembered Glock. He recognized his cell.
But this awakening was painful too. He became conscious of his loss, his pain. He was angry, he was afraid. When the door to the cell opened, he bolted out, for any fate was better than the life he was living.
And yet still, he lived. He didn’t care if he died – if he died, he would never have to see It again. In the distance behind him, he could still hear the alarm bells. Vines and branches clawed at him, but he knocked them away. He would find Glock, and he would make sure that this creature, whatever it was, would never harm her.