Rumetzen Disposable

Mil had been imprisoned before, but never for language magic. He could already tell it wasn't going to be a pleasant experience. As soon as he and the other prisoners arrived, they had been separated, him forced into one room, the rest into another. It was nice to be away from them, but that feeling disappeared when three Hacks emerged and began to inspect him. After stripping him of his clothes and examining every orifice on his body (and several in his mind), they handed him a yellow jacket and slacks. The other prisoners were given black.

A Hack took his name down, left, and returned several minutes later with a short metal rod. “Bend your head to the left,” it said. “Pull down your collar.”

The first time Mil had been jailed, he'd tried to fight this. Four hacks had pinned him down and broken his collarbone. So now he did what he was told, closed his eyes, and waited. Seconds later burning pain tore through his neck. Mil gritted his teeth. The brand was lifted away. It still hurt, and would for at least a week but not as much. This was his fourth time in the Heap. The fourth time being branded.

The scar served no practical purpose. It was sign of ownership. Even when you were freed, you belonged to the Heap, and everyone could see it. It wasn't often that you saw someone with more than one brand. Mil knew only one person with three, and none with four.

They gave him two more sets of clothes and shoved him into the next room. This was the in-processing area. Each prisoner carried with him a card stating his name, crime, and sentence, which would recorded and copied into a Hack's ledger. The line for mage-related crimes was empty. Mil shuffled to the front and handed the Hack his card.

Devesto, Mil Reckon; Language magic;six months. In the Heap, that could be a lifetime. Sometimes several. The Hack jotted it down into a notebook, then turned to a metal stamping press. It arranged several small groups of tiles on a still band, smashed it down, and handed Mil the result: a choker necklace. Mil fastened it and continued past the desk.

He could feel the other prisoners eying him. There was a reason the Hacks gave mages yellow garmets. In the lightless, grimy halls of the Heap, it drew everybody's attention. There was no hiding. Already, he could hear whispers. Mil ignored it.

Before he could move to the next station, someone reached out and batted his shoulder. He spotted it in the corner of his eye, tried to turn out of the way, but it still clipped him. He stumbled back into the wall.

A Weissmach grinned at him. “Hey, buddy. Might wanna watch where you're going next time.” His translucent, almost-white skin was covered in tattoos from the neck down. Something glinted in his hand. “You almost bumped into me.”

Mil looked around. The only Hack around was turned the other way. The rest of the prisoners were staring at him. “That's not what it seemed like to me,” he said.

The Weissmach's grin widened. “Oh, yeah? What did it seem like to you, then? To me, it seemed like you were getting just a bit too close. Had to protect my personal space, you know?” The hand holding the object raised to his waist. The rest of him stayed still.

“Don't hit me again,” said Mil. “I don't have time for this.”

“What, me, hit you?” said the Weissmach. “You really think I would do that?” He turned to the other prisoners. “He thinks I would hit him! I mean, can you believe that?” He turned back to Mil. “You've got a real attitude problem. I was going to let you off, you know, not worry too much, but you're starting to piss me off.” He took a step forward. “So maybe I won't do that.” Mil could see his hand clearly now. He clutched a small shard of glass.

“Back off,” said Mil. “Whatever you're thinking of starting, don't.”

The two stared at each other. The Weissmach's eyes were a pale pink, and entirely sclera, with no pupil or iris. Staring into them felt like staring into a lit furnace, but Mil didn't waver. If the Weissmach decided to attack, there was nothing he could do to stop it. He had no weapon, and his magic was useless in a fight. Even if he could subdue the Weissmach, there were two dozen prisoners itching to take a swing at him.

The Weissmach grinned and stepped back. “Maybe you've already learned your lesson. You won't let it happen again, will you?”

Mil turned and walked away. At the next desk, he was given a bag of bed linen, and told to wait by the wall. After 30 minutes, a Hack arrived. It gestured at the group of waiting prisoners. “Follow me. Stay close.”

They went through a steel door and down a long hall. The Hack stopped them at a door with a large red “K” written on it. It opened the door. When no one went through, it grabbed the first man and tossed him into the room. “In! All of you!”

They piled in. The door slammed shut. It was a large room, at least by most standards. Twenty-five bunk beds lined the walls, making it seem a lot smaller. There were only five lights, one in each corner and one in the center. The walls were damp, with patches of moss scattered about. Puddles covered the floor. Most of the mattresses were damp, and smelled like urine and blood.

Most of the prisoners stared, stunned. It was one thing to hear horror stories about the Heap. It was another to experience it for yourself, to realize that for the next few months this would be your home, that you might very well die in one of these beds. Mil took advantage of the confusion to claim the top bed in the back right corner.

If you left a bed unattended, especially one as good as this, it wouldn't be yours when you got back. Most people marked theirs with stones, mud, or sheer intimidation. Mil had a different tactic. To most people, this was “The Top Bed In The Back Right Corner Of Block K”. That wouldn't do. He closed his eyes, focused, and muttered a word of banishment. The bed's title disappeared. It ceased being “The top bed in the back right corner of block K” and became nothing. Barely even on object, barely there. When things didn't have a name, it was tough to focus on them. So he would give the bed a new one.

It was a name he kept with him for just such an occasion. Rifling through the depths of his mind, he found it, and hurled it out, thrusting it at the bed. There was a loud BANG as the new name snapped to the object. Just like that, it was Mil's Bed.

The other prisoners were moving now, choosing beds. Most chose the ones near the door, thinking it would make an easier escape route necessary. A few, the ones who had been here before or been given good advice, joined Mil in the back. The Hacks had a tendency to pull prisoners from their room for hellish details. The closer you were to the front, the more likely it was you would be chosen.

Nobody chose the beds around him. Good. Most of the people here had seen the encounter with the Weissmach, and he doubted many were eager to try it for themselves. For the next couple of weeks he would probably be safe. Still, six months was a long sentence. Longer than any of his others by a fair bit. Riding it out wasn't going to be easy, not when everyone knew he was a mage.

He thought of Sparrow, waiting for him. How long would it before he moved on? If Mil died, would he ever find out? He was defenseless here. The Hacks didn't care if prisoners attacked each other, knifed another in a sleep. Half the time they didn't bother to clear out the bodies. He needed to figure out ways to protect himself. Some sort of armor would be a good start. For now, just sleep would do.

When he woke, words were scratched on the wall above his bed. We'll help you get out, it said. Jodnah, or someone speaking for her. He'd hoped that she would offer, but didn't expect it to actually happen.

What's it cost? he wrote after finding a good stone.

The next morning, the words had been replaced. Paelin charm coin. An inmate had it when we was arrested. Prod Ros, Block F.

Ros. Mil had fenced to his sister, if he remembered right. He was a rough, violent man, with a clever streak that ran a mile too long for Mil's taste. Stealing from him wouldn't result in pleasant things. But then, staying in the Heap would be worse.

Done, he wrote back. Will contact later.

At lunch, he scanned the dining hall for Ros. Mil didn't see him, but that didn't mean much. There were over a thousand people in the Heap, and with everyone eating at once, there was a lot you could miss. Mil sat at the edge, keeping an eye out for anyone getting close. Several minutes later, a man in a jumpsuit with long red hair and dark skin approached. He sat across from Mil, but said nothing.

They ate in silence for ten minutes. Then the man pushed his bowl away and said, “What block are you in?” His accent was thick, and Mil couldn't place it. That was unusual.

Mil swallowed and said, “L”. He didn't look at the man when he spoke.

The man grinned. “Then we are neighbors! Excellent. Tell me, what's your name?”

“Cross,” said Mil. He took a last bite and began to stand up.

“Where are you going?” said the man. “Sit down, there's much we should discuss.”

“I'm sure there is,” said Mil. He started to walk away. The man grabbed his arm.

“Please, sit,” he said. “It's dangerous out there. Best to have a friend, don't you think?”
“I think it's best to look out for myself,” said Mil. “Let go.” The man did. He stood and faced Mil.

“Listen. My name is Fershwa, and I want to help. This is place is lethal for those of us who try to survive it alone. You don't have to accept, but it would be much easier if we could work together.”

“To do what?”

“Survive. What else?”

“I'll consider it.”

Fershwa smiled. “Good. Good. I'll be here at dinner, if you decide to accept.”

Six hours later, when Mil returned to the dining hall, Fershwa was waiting, along with another man in a yellow jumpsuit. The man was short, with cropped black hair and a scar across his chin.

“Hello!” he said, “Good to see you again.” He motioned to the man next to him. “This is Johim. He'll also be helping us.”

“Right,” said Mil. He sat down across from them. “So what do you want to talk about?”

Fershwa smiled. “A mutual arrangement. This is not a kind place, least of all for people like us. We must work together if we want to survive.” He stroked his chin. “How long are you sentenced for?”

“Six months,” said Mil. No harm in lying about that.

Fershwa nodded. “You got off light, then. Mine is a year. Johim's is eighteen months. What did you do, to deserve such leniency?”

“I stole the name of a pharmacy,” said Mil.

“Language then. That could be very useful.” Fershwa gestured towards Johim. “I'm a Form mage myself, and Johim is Bleed. Not a terrible group, don't you think?”

“Sure,” said Mil. “So what's your plan here? How are you supposed to help me?”

“With this,” said Fershwa. He reached took a small bag from the bench next to him. Inside was a bracelet, made of rope with three rocks tied to it. “The outer two rocks represent me and Johim. Press on one when you're in trouble, and we'll come to help. The center contains a powerful Bleed spell. If you absolutely must, rip it from the bracelet. Anyone troubling you, won't after that.”

“I see,” said Mil. He laid the bracelet on the table in front of him.

“Of course,” said Johim, pulling out a small needle, “we will also need a bit of your blood.”

Mil almost laughed. “You told me you were a bleed mage, and now you expect my blood? You're not serious.”

“It's a collective arrangement,” said Johim. “meaning that everyone participates. We must be able to call for your help, and for that I require your blood.”

“Absolutely not,” said Mil.

“That's alright,” said Fershwa. “You can keep the bracelet. Give us the blood when you've decided we're worth trusting. Johim glared at him, but said nothing.

Mil finished eating, and started to stand to go. “One other thing,” he said.

Johim scowled. “You ask for too much.”

Mil ignored him, focusing on Fershwa. “Is there a prisoner here named Prod Ros?”

Fershwa nodded. “There is one, in block F. Why do you wish to know this?”

“That's my business,” said Mil. He stood and walked away.

There was one rule in the Heap: The Hack don't care. The saying was passed around prisoners like a religious text, written on the walls, in every day conversation, as a way of dismissing a complaint. It was true. The Hacks couldn't care less about what happened within the walls of the blocks. If a fight broke out, or something was stolen, or a prisoner died, they did little to interfere. There job started and ended with making sure the prisoners got inside and stayed there.

Life in block K was, thankfully, quiet. There were small disputes every day or so, people bickering over food or beds or outside debts, but none escalated into serious violence. In his previous stays, he'd seen regular stabbings, mutilations, beatings. Violence was part of life in the Heap. If you didn't end your sentence with a few extra scars, you were either very clever or a coward. Most people would say the latter.

No one else bothered Mil until the fifth day. It was just after lunch. Each day he had tried to find Ros in the cafeteria, but been unable to locate him. So he lay in bed, flipping through names in his head, thinking about his next course of action. The sound of someone approaching made him look up. The Weissmach from before was approaching, along with two others. None of them were assigned to Block K. How had they gotten in?

“Hello again,” said the Weissmach. “No, don't get up?”

Mil couldn't have even if he wanted to. The three of them surrounded the bed, blocking any means of escape. The Weissmach smiled at him. “Enjoying your stay, mage? I certainly have been.” From his waistband he pulled a thin steel spike.

Mil gave him a disinterested look. “How did you get in here?”

“What's the point of teaching a dead man?” said the Weissmach. He spat. “Grab him.”

The two others darted forward, reaching for Mil's arms. Mil threw himself forward, towards the foot of the bed, and they grabbed only sheets. He twisted and lashed out a foot. It slammed into the face of the left. The right tried to snatch it, but Mil spun. His other foot grazed the attacker's jaw. The Wiessmach stabbed down. Mil jerked left, and the spike ripped at his cheek, stabbing into the mattress.

The first man had recovered now. He grabbed Mil's left foot. The other attack grabbed his right. The Weissmach began to pull the spike out of the mattress, but Mil reached back and grabbed it. The Weissmach tried to pull back, but Mil ripped it from his hands, plunging it into the shoulder of the first attacker. The man screamed and stumbled back. He yanked it from his shoulder, throwing it against the wall. Blood began to pour from the wound.

The Weissmach snarled. He lunged. Mil felt an arm beginning to wrap around his neck and thrust a hand up. It caught just before the choke tightened. Mil tried to work another hand through the gap, but the Weissmach wrenched him back. The remaining attacker grabbed his legs.

“You're dead, mage,” said the Weissmach. “You're fucking dead.” His grip was tightening. Mil's arm was being pushed down against his windpipe. It was getting hard to breathe. He tried to say something, but only managed a choking noise.

Focus. He had to focus. Had to do something. What he could he change? Neither of his attackers, that was too complicated. The spike wouldn't do anything. What else was there? There had to be something.

The bed. He could change the bed. What was the bed like? What would work? He ripped through the names in his head, trying to find something that would fit. It wasn't like a sink, it wasn't like a corpse, it wasn't a pan or soap or a fucking rucksack, something had to be there, something that he could exchange- there. Buried under a pile of other names, was his savior. A plank. A Broken Plank in Vernon's Junkyard, to be specific.

He snatched the name and focused. He tried to slow his breathing and heartrate. The Weissmach's grip was tightening, but he pushed the fear away. No fear was allowed. Not for this. He steadied the name, readied his mind, and pulled. Mil's Bed ripped away from the Object like a sheet, and he hurled the new name at it.

There was a pause. Then Mil tumbled down as the Object became a small wooden plank. The Weissmach tried to keep his grip, but Mil wrenched his hand upward, tearing the man's arm away. He slammed into the ground, reached up, grabbed the Weissmach's head, and pulled. There was a crunch as his forehead collided with the Weissmach's nose. He tried to pull back, but Mil's grip held. He headbutted him again, then again, and a third time. When he released his grip, the Weissmach stumbled back, clutching his shattered cheek.

Mil kicked up. His foot smashed into the other assailant's windpipe, sending him stumbling backwards. Mil leaped to his feet, grabbed the attacker's hair and began to pummel his face. He tried to push back, but Mil kicked him in the stomach and he went limp.

Mil took a step back, breathing hard. The three of them were still moving, but they wouldn't be attacking him again any time soon. Still, this wasn't resolved. He marched to the Weissmach and grabbed his hair. “How did you get in here?”

The Weissmach moaned a response.

“You would have needed help. Who was it?”

The Weissmach tried to grab him. Mil let go of his hair, kicked him in the ribs, and walked back to his plank. A ring of prisoners had gathered around them, staring. Mil didn't look at them. He picked up the plank, walked to the nearest empty bed, and sat down. The other prisoners continued to stare.

He'd bought himself a little time. Two or three weeks. But there was always another idiot, always another cocky asshole who wanted to make a name for himself by taking out a mage, gain a little bit of respect or, if the rumors were true, power. Mil sighed. He could hear the whispers starting, and though he couldn't understand them, knew what was being said. It didn't do well to build up a reputation here, even if that reputation was for violence. Eventually someone would try to test it.

Mil stared at his attackers. The tall one and the Weissmach had both fallen unconscious, but the ugly one was still awake, holding a hand against his woun. Mil approached him. “What's your name?” he said.

The attacker stared at him and said through gritted teeth, “Lorus.”

“What block did you three come from?”

Loras stared at the body of the Weissmach and sighed. “Block D. Look, I didn't want to come at first, he-”

“I don't care,” said Mil. “Why did you attack me?”

“Nolid, he- he wanted to get back at you for what happened during inprocessing. And a guy came, saying that he could get us in here as long as Nolid took you out. I didn't want to go, really, Nolid said I had to, it was his fucking plan.”

“I'm sure he did. Who told Nolid to attack me?”

“I don't know his name, I swear. It was a short dude, yellow jumpsuit like you. Had a nasty scar across his face.”

Johim. Damn. Good thing Mil hadn't given them his blood, then. What was their game? Petty revenge, for not giving him their blood? Had it been a ruse from the start?

“How did you get in here?”

Loras shook his head. “The guy told Nolid to wait by the door at midnight. It just opened, and we walked over. That's all I know, I promise.”

He didn't seem like he was lying. “Fine,” said Mil. “You can go. Take those two with you.” He motioned at the two unconscious attacker.

“Th- the door closed. We couldn't open it again. We're stuck in here too.”

Mil sighed. Things would be even worse than he thought. When Nolid woke up, he probably wouldn't be in the mood to hug and forgive. Mil wondered how much sleep he would be able to get over the next few weeks.

“Fine. When those two wake up, tell them it's over. If they don't do anything, no problem. If they do, I'll kill all three of you. Good?”

Loras swallowed and nodded. “Good.”

Mil picked up the steel spike and returned to lay in his new bed.

Mil wandered through the dining hall, searching. He found Feshwa and Johim in the back, whispering empty bowls. Mil got as close as he could without being seen and sat down. Over the din of the cafeteria, he couldn't hear much, but snippets of their conversation drifted to him.

“It's unfortunate.”

“He's a trickier one that we thought. Could be damn useful.”

“I heard he was completely unharmed.”

“Don't believe everything you hear. It's not healthy.”

“Maybe, but every rumor has a source.”

The conversation drifted away under the noise of prisoners the table over arguing. Mil caught it again several minutes later.

“I wonder why he wouldn't call us.”

“Because he's an untrustworthy bastard. He probably still thinks we wanted that blood to kill him.” That was Johim.

“He'll come around, don't you worry. If he's half the fighter they say, he'll make a most useful ally.”

A roar came from across the hall, and Mil lost the conversation for good. He stayed sitting, thinking over what had been said. Fershwa didn't know that Johim had ordered the attack. Mil wasn't certain, but he was at least 80% sure. It wouldn't be smart to try to confront Johim directly here, since it was one of the places where the Hacks would interfere.

From watching them before, he had learned Johim and Fershwa were in Block P. When the Chief Hack called for the block to form up, Mil followed, standing on the outskirts of the crowd as the group arranged itself and the Hack performed its count. When it was satisfied, it moved to the front, and the cafeteria doors swung open. The formation began to move out. At the last second, Mil rushed forward and squeezed into the back.

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