Part 6: How To Make A Monster
I'm not very surprised at this point, just horrified and disgusted. Naros was right. I did him no favors by saving his life.
"Now, Gaven, I want you to pay very close attention." Jereth says. "Watch, and learn what happens to those who cross my house."
"Ah, here, ladies and gentlemen, we have a tragedy." The Jester begins, while Eric watches stoically from the slab. He cues a mournful violin. The Caliban return to the stage. The acting is more somber and melodramatic, less farce. "This gentle soul here only wanted the best. He needed a few coins here for furniture, there for a pair of nice daggers, and everywhere to help his young daughter live in comfort." The Caliban pantomimes Eric visiting shops, looking worriedly at his purse after every purchase. "Alas! His coins don't stretch far enough! Solution! The Magic Elves of Miir would have the coin to solve all his problems! So our hero bravely goes to see them, and buy away his dilemma!"
Jereth scoffs. The Caliban Eric goes to see other players made up in silks and makeup that glitters in the lights. He beseeches the "elves".
"And will the Magical Elves help him? Of course they will! For a price. Everything for a price. To make his money he must play their games!" They bring out a huge wooden wheel, sectioned off into wedges and various bizarre symbols. The "elves" encourage him to spin it. He does. The wheel turns, and turns, and stops. I have no idea what the symbols mean, but apparently the wheel lands on a good one. "Success! Our hero has won his game, and is rewarded with gold. And so he goes and buys more shiny things. But all good things end. Our hero returns to the Magical Elves again. And again he spins their wheel. But look! It has landed...poorly. And now he must owe them. But he had no coins before! What will he give them? Oh! See here, he's asking for a second spin! Perhaps he feels he can balance his debt?"
"Don't do it, hero...I beg you, just pay them off...” The Jester reaches for the Caliban playing Eric, to stop him, but... “Too late. He has spun again. And look! Again his luck fails him, and he owes them twice! He's looking desperate now, because twice he's failed, and he couldn't cover them once before. What's this? A third spin? No! I beg you! The wheel goes round and round and round. Perhaps he will land on the space that will pay for all? Perhaps win more besides? It slows!"
"Tragedy! Again the wheel lands poorly! Perhaps this game is not quite fair? There's more poor choices than good, and--You! Get away! Shoo!" The Jester stomps dramatically, and one of the Little People drops from behind the wheel, giggles incessantly, and scampers away. The crowd roars with laughter at this. Jereth, though, hisses like a wet cat, startling me half out of my seat. This is the first I've seen his mood dip all night. "What was the wee man doing there, behind the wheel? We may never know. I don't plan to find out." The Jester nods sagely.
"How dare he imply we run crooked games." Jereth pouts. "And after we paid him so well for this act. We shall have words, he and I."
"But, whatever the case, the damage is done, and our hero is thrice in trouble! What will the Magic Elves demand in payment? Oh no! They want his daughter, to take away to their magical elf land! Oh, our hero doesn't like that! Not...one...bit! He runs! He returns home...what will he do? I know! Hide your daughter! Claim she ran away when you told her the awful news! Here come the elves!" The girl playing Eric's daughter scampers away, tumbling flamboyantly beneath the table, while the man playing Eric tries to redirect the elves. The real Eric just frowns, but says nothing. "Did it work? Well, the elves didn't get the girl. But now they have taken our hero instead. Poor, poor man. Never play games with elves!"
The Caliban leave and the Jester turns to Eric. "And here you are to render payment." He turns to the audience. "How shall we make him pay?"
Predictably, most of the audience suggestions are grim and gory, from "Shove red hot nails through his eyes" to "Boil him in molten gold!” One voice, strong, female, shouts "Let him go!" It comes from Damien's box, oddly enough. Maybe it was that lady I saw before. The Jester listens to the suggestions impassively.
"Well. That's certainly an interesting assortment of options. But how shall we choose?" He pretends to ponder for a while, then have an epiphany. "I know! We will leave his fate up to chance! BRING BACK THE WHEEL!" The Caliban bring that wheel back to center stage, placing it near Eric's slab.
The Jester loosens the restraints to free one of his arms. "Thrice you borrowed.” He says. “Thrice you lost. Thrice you owe. So now, Eric, thrice you will spin, and thrice you will be punished."
"And if I don't play your little game, harlequin?" Eric snarls back. "What will you do then?"
The Jester shrugs. "The wheel must be spun. And it doesn't matter much to them," he points to the crowd, "who does the spinning. If you don't, I will do so in your place. But before you force me to do this, consider that this may be the last time you hold your fate in your own hands. Would you pass that up?"
That really doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but it seems to calm Eric, who sighs and lays his hand on the wheel. It beings to whirl. CLICKITYCLACKITYCLICKITYCLACKITY! The wheel is a blur. The painted symbols form a long, tangled string of randomness. I must do something. It's partly my fault that he's up there in the first place, after all. I fouled up his offering to The Shadows.
The wheel is slowing. The Jester waits expectantly. it's slowing...slowing...stopped. The Jester examines the sigil the pointer singled out.
"Well! You're in luck today, my friend! The wheel has spared you this first spin!" The Jester calls. This announcement is met with boos. "Well! Let us see if your luck holds, shall we? Spin again!" The Jester urges. Eric sighs, and grips the wheel again. And again it turns.
This is a sham. The symbols are probably meaningless. The Jester is the one deciding Eric's fate, not the stupid wheel. The wheel slows again.
"Alas. Your luck has run out." The Jester shakes his head in sorrow. He nods backstage. "Bring forth the crucible!" A pair of well-protected Caliban bring out a bubbling cauldron. Something inside it glitters and bubbles. Is that molten gold?
"There is an old Miirian proverb." The Jester says to the crowd. "With fire we test the gold, and with gold we test the servant! You failed one such test," he says, addressing Eric again. "So we shall test you anew. Gold you wanted? Gold you shall have, forever!"
The Jester puts a wooden game chit between Eric's teeth, then grabs a ladle from his bench. He dips it into the molten gold, flings it at Eric. Drops of liquid metal splash Eric across his face, chest, and arms. He grunts in pain. Smoke sizzles from his skin. The smell is horrendous. Again, the Jester dips and flicks. And again. And again. Eric is screaming through teeth clenched so hard it's cracking the wood in his jaws. Welts boil up around the gold, which hardens. He's being gilded, slowly, painfully, and artistically, by the Jester. Finally, the torture stops as the Jester runs out of gold. Eric weeps. The tears don't help him, they just make the gold on his face harden.
"Ah, me." The Jester says, in a whisper that's still loud enough for everyone to hear. "Whenever you wish to see gold, all you need is a mirror, and there it will be. But you have one spin left. Perhaps you can avoid a worse torment. Perhaps you may be set free. Perhaps you may get the mercy of Death."
Eric continues to weep. The sobs mix with the sizzle of the still-hot metal searing itself to his skin. But he reaches for the wheel. The wheel is spinning again. I don't think I can watch this any more. This horror has to stop. I have to do something.
In an instant, I'm up and out of my seat, bolting over chairs. I reach the edge of the balcony, lay my good hand on the railing, and leap. My heart flutters in my chest as I soar through the air. A heartbeat passes...
...and then I hit the ground, rolling with the impact. Ow. Did my stitches no favors. I ignore the commotion in the balcony. To the stage! I run up and hop over the partition. One of the Caliban grabs at me with webbed, sticky fingers, but I evade him. I haul myself up. And here I am, facing down the Jester, with Eric still writhing on the slab, the wheel beginning to slow. He looks at me. He seems amused.
"Let him go." I snarl, grabbing a saw from his table. "Or I'll give you a second wide smile in your throat and pull your tongue out it."
The Jester's face opens in that horrible flayed grin. It's like his jaw is trying to escape the rest of his face.
"Welcome to the stage, Gaven Morren!"
"I mean it!" I snarl. "Turn him loose, or you''l be wearing your tongue as a necktie!"
"Ah! Such a violent accoutrement would ill fit my outfit. But, as much as I would like to oblige you, I have other obligations to fulfill." His expression is jolly, but it's forced. He almost looks pained this close. "Believe me. Were the choice my own, I would gladly comply. But we all have our parts to play in this drama. You, me, him...all of us. Tonight, I must be the monster, and you must be the fool."
I dash forward, to grab him, to tear at him with the saw. But everything seems to be moving so slowly...I feel like I'm underwater. I reach out to him, grab his coat, stick the sawblade at his neck. "End this. Now."
His eyes are an amber color. They hold an infinite pain. "As much as you're enjoying this fantasy, Gaven, there's nothing you can do to me from up there." He says.
He points at the balcony. I shouldn't look. This is just a trick, this is...
"Tell me, Gaven. Why doesn't your side hurt? Where is the pain that should be in your hand from your previous adventures?" Jester asks politely. Calmly, he points back up towards the balcony. No. Nonono...
I can't help myself. I look back at my seat. There I am, sandwiched between the captivated elf and the shadowy wizard. Naros waves.
"NO!" I shout, and leap out of my seat. Everyone around me starts. The wheel has stopped, The Jester's on the stage, talking again...and I'm still up here.
I can't take this. I run for the exit, down the stairs, out of the building, howling my fool head off. I don't watch where I'm going, I just go. A few minutes later, I stop, gasping, and lean against a wall. I pound my burned fist into my aching side, wincing at the pain, just to be sure I'm not hallucinating. Then I sink to my knees and begin to cry.