Chapter 7: Episode 29- "Mind Games" by ejaredallen

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· @ejaredallen ·
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Chapter 7: Episode 29- "Mind Games"
![167AC2D3-559A-4D6E-8C24-AD225A7840FF.jpg](https://cdn.steemitimages.com/DQmd1kbTvwgcwswYM24bX9pfyAwpj3fZDkZAD6ZunDVbEgF/167AC2D3-559A-4D6E-8C24-AD225A7840FF.jpg)

“We are almost there yet, yes?” Hercule’s words were slurred and mixed together as a man in a drunken stupor. The sun must be getting to him, he thought. There was no sun today, it hid behind lazy rows of clouds that rolled endlessly across the sky, shading the road to Jong Kabur in the heat of the afternoon. Hercule stumbled behind his brother’s strong and confident gait. Hercule felt euphoric but not necessarily weak. It wasn’t that he had no strength in his legs, but they felt unsure, like they were made of jelly. 

“Stop clowning, Herc. Try to keep up and we’ll get there sometime today.” Regal chided, casting his voice over his shoulder without looking back. Neither Regal nor his brother knew what was going on Hercule’s mind. The beating and bludgeoning of his head, the hopelessness of the months spent in the darkest dungeons, the abuse of his mind and torture of his body had driven him to a madness. Something inside him still bore the effects of the healing process, but he slowly slipped from sanity to something far less trustworthy. The damage was too deep dealt, and the man that Regal used to know was fading like the last light of autumn before a long, cold winter.

“I’ll stop clowning, when your fancy pants come down from the wall and walk on the road like a normal boy.” Hercule murmured. Inwardly his grimaced at the strangeness of what he said, but as he strained to focus his eyes on Regal, he did appear to be walking on the wall, at least it was the side of Hercule’s twisted vision which he supposed to be the wall. The mind was a tricky place, and treacherous without the sense to navigate it. 

“What was that?” Regal called sternly back, supposing he was being mocked by his footsore little brother.

“I said, you walk like a mule in a curtain.” Hercule called back loudly. To his mind it made perfect sense, as in his eyes Regal seemed to sway back and forth akin to a mule with its head in a curtain trying to untangle himself. But Hercule was the one with wavering steps, not his brother. His head hummed and his thoughts sparked and faded as quickly as rain splashing upon the ground. 

“Mule in a what…?” Regal’s face scrunched in response to the bizarre statement from his brother. He turned his head to look at Hercule and immediately noticed the strange staggery walk of his brother. “What does that even mean? Wait-, you look like you could use a break. Here, let’s rest for a while.” Regal walked quickly back to Hercule and laid his hands on his little brother’s arms to steady him as if at any moment Hercule would just topple over. His wavering as he stood, held by Regal’s strong arms, definitely threatened a fall at any moment. “I’ve been walking you too hard. You’re not fully recovered yet.” Regal said, attributing Hercule’s inebriated state to his slow recovery from his nearly starved and overly-beaten state in which they had found him.

The two rested a while under the shade of a grouping of trees, one of the many such groves that lined the grand highway to Jong Kabur. Some “grand highway”, Regal thought. A dirt path wide enough for two carts to pass each other, that was the Imperials idea of a grand highway. Whatever bettered their lives, appeared the peasants, and caused as little inconvenience as possible to the hierarchy was the way of the Imperials. No wonder the people revolted against such a cruel system. What was a wonder is how the system prevailed against such a strong uprising. It would seem that even oppressed peasants preferred the comfort of what they knew to the harsh life of beginning again; working by the strength of their backs and the sweat of their brows: slavery was more comfortable than freedom. It still astounded Regal to this day, but such was the way of the world.

It was not long before the two continued their journey. The remaining leagues passed in nearly total silence and they made the city limits of Jong Kabur by nightfall. This was the plan after all. A fugitive of Hercule’s caliber of notoriety would not slip through the gates of Jong Kabur unnoticed, and there were no thronging crowds of people in which to conceal him. Under the cover of night, and with a little bit of inside help, Regal snuck the two of them through a water gate that let clean, fresh water into the city pools and fountains. Sometimes the lavish tastes of the wealthy in power were not entirely useless: especially in the case of a smuggling operation such as the one Regal conducted this night. 

“Aliyah?” Regal whispered, chest deep in rushing water on the outside of the fresh water gate. A moment later a woman’s head appeared. Actually, it was more a young girl than a woman. Hercule thought at first glance that she was no older than fifteen years-of-age. The girl knelt on the cobble stones of the channel on the city side of the water gate, which directed the flow of water into the city center and leaned out over the current to smile at the two soaking men. 

“Bout time you showed up.” The girl gave a grin and reached out her thin arm through the grate of a metal door to hold out a key on a ring. Regal took the iron key from her and began fishing for the lock on the gate between them.

“Thanks for meeting us. I know how difficult it’s getting to do this.” Regal said. Hercule got the impression this was not the first time these two had pulled off a smuggling mission through the fresh water gate of this city. 

“No trouble.” Aliyah assured him, making wave with her hand as if to emphasis the lack of effort she went to for this favor: or was it a job. Hercule didn’t know what this girl’s relationship was to Regal, and his mind didn’t feel like pondering it at the moment. Or was it that his mind had pondered it already and simply moved on to other thoughts without consulting him? Hercule didn’t know. “The guards keep fallin’ for the same ol’ trick anyhow. I just give an spike bottle and they’re out like lanterns after bedtime.” The girl’s face broke into a smile in the dark watery tunnel. 

Every voice seemed to have an empty echo to it that bounced several times before it faded off. The conversation was hushed, but still carried quiet a distance, Hercule thought it strange that the walls could mimic human voices so well as every time Regal or Aliyah spoke, the walls would answer with the same words as if learning to speak this new human language. Hercule felt sorry for the walls, that no one ever had time to teach them human speak.

“Aha!” Regal whispered his success. He had found the key hole and opened the gate to let himself and Hercule through. Retrieving the key and closing the gate after they had both passed, he handed the iron key back up to Aliyah who knelt on the slick cobblestone channel’s edge, then hoisted himself over the side of the channel wall and out of the water. Hercule made his way, wading through the water to do the same. 

“Have you been waiting here long?” Regal asked, accepting a towel from Aliyah with which to dry his dripping garments. The girl shook her head and fetched another towel from its folded position by a dry patch near the far wall by the stairwell to the city. Hercule hefted himself out of the water abruptly with strength he did not know he had, and came crashing on his side as to the cobble as he clumsily exited the water. His mind losing its memory of his strength or limiting of strength as he had been so accustomed to doing. Hercule was an unusually strong man for his size. Many of his most famous exploits, the ones for which he was wanted by the Imperial Dynasty, were attributed to his inhumane physical ability, particularly for a man of his size and build. 

“Easy there, Poseidon.” Aliyah quipped as she came over and grabbed Hercule by the elbow, helping him stand and offering him a towel. Hercule wore a confused look as he nodded his thanks and began drying off his clothes.

“Yeah.. he’s been a bit out of it lately.” Regal said. “I think it’s partly because of the damage to his head that has not had proper time to heal.” Aliyah nodded as if knowingly and then motioned with her head for the two of them to follow her. 

The light was no better out of the water than it had been in it, but standing on the ground now, Hercule saw that Aliyah was either abnormal tall for her age, or perhaps older than he had at first assumed. Either way, Regal’s assessment of him felt fair, though he wasn’t sure how he liked being talked about as if he was an invalid: or worse, as if he was not even in the room. So many feelings to reason out, so many thoughts to ponder, so little sanity left to reason or ponder…
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