Chapter 64 - Interrogation

Chapter 64 - Interrogation

I decide to brute-force the information I want out of this fellow. I sealed him inside an odour barrier; he can soak in his own stench without annoying me with it for now. I pull a small phial from my ring and use qi to guide a single drop of liquid into the mage's mouth. He’s still unconscious, but it will take effect quickly. I have ten minutes left before keeping all these people frozen starts becoming uncomfortable, so I decide to hurry the process along.I ignore the giggling students and slap the mage awake. His bleary, unfocused eyes are proof that the serum has taken effect. He will answer any question I ask of him without fail for the next ten minutes or so, that should be enough to get a basic idea of the local power structure.“Report anything of note over the last year.”The mage wobbles his head in my direction. His face turns into a petulant scowl. “Those ignorant fools from the Capillary faction have started stirring up trouble again. Some of our charges disappeared under the waves for no reason. Ozone are still not getting off their asses. Wave and absence have colluded in taking over the mana mine, Ferro and Strata watched it happen, so they got bribed. We don't know what percentage. No Flight sightings last year, we have only been holding out because of the fire dragon corpse. The main shield of Disintegration Island is slowly being sabotaged, maybe from within. Shi-eit is steady, and under control, Beastkin are unruly with a slight chance of a local rebellion. The other kingdoms...”At this point, I hold up my hand. This is one of the significant drawbacks of this truth serum, the victim just spouts whatever is bothering them without any context. And instead of nice, clear and concise speech, the stuff also messes with short-term memory. So the end result is a slurred mess of random thoughts.I have to praise my translation process for keeping up with this rambling guy; the names are approximations of their literal translations. I can infer some meaning, but let's ask for some clarification.“Give me a novice introduction to the mage politics.”The mages glassy eyes wander across the deck for a moment. He looks over the frozen figures of the crew until his eyes snap back to me.“Each faction has a well protected main island, attacking it with a different mana affinity is suicide because of the mana gathering formations. Over half of the mana around Disintegration Island is fire, so it's easy for us to replenish while defending.”The mage pauses here, rolling his eyes around. He must be getting his thoughts in order, which is harder to do when stoned out of your mind on truth serum. He continues ten seconds later.“My faction, Disintegration, is the fire faction, ranked as one of the most powerful in fighting force. Capillary...” He attempts to spit on the ground, but his poor coordination causes drool to dribble down his chin. “...are the water mages. Ozone is thunder; they are very close to Suspension, which is wind, due to similar affinities. Strata is earth and useless, but they make nice buildings. Wave and Absence are located on opposite sides of the Isles, and they ignore each other because they can't really attack each other. Those are light and dark. Ferro are also useless, but they make nice weapons and armour. A lot of wind apprentices are available for hire as sail guides and wind changers; their big shots have not shown their faces for years.”He trails off as his eyes close. I slap his face lightly to keep him awake. “How do I join a mage faction?”“Trained as a child, no adults, they’re too unruly.” He looks me in the eyes and starts snoring. I slap him again to wake him up.“What do the flags signify?”“Captains quarters, book of flags...”I look at my students. “Can you guys come up with any good questions?”I see Ket thinking before speaking. “Ask about the mana mine.”I have no need to ask as the mage starts speaking at once. “No, can’t talk about that. Immediate death. Can’t talk about the mana crystal dungeon even if I wanted to. Spells to kill traitors. Spells to kill deserters. Got to keep the central island guarded and safe, none may enter middle island except high mages except for low lives and losers.”He keeps blabbering on about not talking about it while spilling all the beans. The spells he mentioned must be scare tactics, or they detect malicious intent. He is totally stoned, and I’ve disabled all the active enchantments on his robes and staff. I think up another question.“Teach me the basics of casting magic.”His eyes snap back to me as they fill with a mix of nervousness and hate. “Be the emotion. Become the emotion. Let it fill you until you are it’s all and its all is you. Then command it.”He shuts up after that as if that should make everything clear. I scratch my head as I think about this. “How does one get more powerful?”“More emotion.”Again, as if that should make any sense. Or maybe… I press a finger to the guy's forehead and sink a thread of augur into his brain, swishing it around to make a simple map. I find something stuck in between the two halves. It’s a small mana crystal. What the flying fuck. These mages start replacing their brains with crystallised mana? How does that even work?“Explain the mana core in your head.”His eyes bug out as fear fills his face. “No core, no core. Can’t tell anyone about the cores. They would kill us all, oh god, they would harvest us like crops. No core, we don’t have a core.”I slap him again to stop the panic attack from taking hold. “What position do you have in your faction?”“Full mage.”“What are the ranks?”“Apprentice, journey, master, full, grand and high mage.” He rattles off a well-practised row of ascending ranks.“Estimate numbers of each rank?”“Only high mage knows. One high mage per faction, many apprentices.”“What signifies a rank?”“Apprentice mages can light a candle. Master mages can blow up a house. Grand mages can destroy a city. I can burn down a small town inside an hour.”This is all very fire-specific, so I ask for more information. “Do other factions have similar power rankings?”I get a blank stare in return. So there is very little interplay between these schools of affinity, huh. I guess I don't need to worry about some guy flinging compound stuff like lava or steam around then? Maybe the higher-ups are in cahoots with other factions, so let’s not eliminate that possibility just yet. I stroke my beard as I think of other questions to ask.“Where did you get these slaves?” Selis asks.The mage slowly turns his head. “We sunk three illegal trading ships and bought some at Perduuk.”I look at Selis with a single eyebrow raised. “Ah, the Perduuk Islands are to the north-east of the Capital and the main slave-trading hub...”I nod. Good to know, I guess. “Where are you guys sailing to anyway?”“Absence Island, we got a hold full of useless and weak slaves, they always need live bodies.”I form a rough map of the Shi-eit kingdom and the northern waters with some lines of qi. “Where is the mana mine?”His eyes start bugging out again as he flaps his mouth open like a fish. I see him looking at some of the islands though. I turn to my students. “Go look through the captain's quarters for maps and that flag book he told us about.”Selis, Ket and Bord walk down the stairs. I can see Ket calculating profit margins in his head, and Selis is surreptitiously rubbing her hands together, but why is Bord also… I hear a splintering crash as the door is opened with a fat punch. I check what they are doing with some qi sense, and I see Ket pointing at a wall while Bord gleefully rams his fist through the finely detailed panel work. Secret compartments, I should have known.I turn to Vox while pulling a small phial from my ring. “This is Failure to Recall, also know as Heavenly Confounding History Potion. How much should I give each crew member to make them forget our presence?”Vox jumps as I suddenly address him. He was staring over the horizon, zoning out. He looks at the phial in my hand and puts the egg-shaped jade to his forehead. He looks around for someone, and I think I know who. “Ket is not here, do your own math.”Vox frowns a bit before closing his eyes and wagging his finger around as he does some mental calculation. He opens his eyes a few seconds later. “A quarter of a drop… maybe?”Was that a question or an answer? “Check the information about standardised measurements; the part labelled ‘metric’.”He puts the jade to his forehead again while he stares at the fingers of his free hand. He moves thumb and forefinger apart, first a single centimetre, then ten. He mumbles softly to himself. “Drop is… point-oh-five. Milli? Thousand? Too small then, micro? Micro!”He looks up with a proud glint in his eyes. “Twelve point five microliters!”“You want to turn everyone brain-dead?” How did he even got to such an answer? That much will scorch a mortal’s short-term memory centre into charcoal. I keep staring at the redhead as his face scrunches up while he starts calculating again. This might take a while; volume calculations have tricky sums because of varying exponents.I turn to the mage. “What do the factions specialise in? Who has the largest library and who are the best enchanters?”The guy is staring at me with groggy eyes, so I slap him. “Ow, Ozone has many books, Ferro make weapons and Wave makes mage tools.”I am still deciphering this answer to understandable language when Ket walks back up the stairs. “Teacher, I found a map in the mage’s quarters.”He gives me a roll of parchment, and I unfurl it. The mages islands are displayed in bright colours. The six natural elemental islands are arranged in an enormous hexagon, with the light and darkness factions on opposite sides outside the shape. There is a big, black blob of ink the middle of this hexagon.I turn to the mage again, pointing at the spack spot. “Is that the mana mine?” I see him twitch as his eyes roll around. “No, nope, no, no, there is nothing there, just blackness, no dungeon, no.”I leave the mumbling mage behind. I have enough information for now. Vox joins me in walking to the deck. “One microliter per ten kilogrammes of body weight?”I shrug in response and hand him the bottle and a black cube. “Who knows, find out yourself, here is the draft. Here is also a cube of precisely one kilogramme and ten by ten centimetres. Ask Ket to double-check calculations before you administer it, please.” I give him a pointed stare. No need to turn the ship crew into Alzheimer patients.A loud crash makes me look around. Bord is carrying a massive poster bed under Selis’s direction. He just kicked out the entire wall to the captain's quarters and is carrying the gaudily worked ernormous bed onto the deck. Selis looks at me with sparkling eyes. “Can you put this bed in my house, pleeeaaaase?”“Did you clean it thoroughly? Who knows where the previous owner has been.”She nods vigorously. “Stripped everything yucky from it with water.”Tess has been watching this spectacle closely, and I see her disappear. Moments later, another wall falls on deck, this one not crushed but neatly sliced through. “I want this bed, Selis, can you clean this one too?”She begins hauling a bed with even more ornaments and pillows to the deck. I pull off my necklace and lock it in the air. “Do whatever you want.”I stop myself from throwing my hands up in the air in exasperation. I initially planned to let the crew wander around in a memory loss haze to erase any evidence of us being here. I hear another crash as Bord punches down and see Ket throwing barrels up to the deck. Ah well, I did say that I wanted to play pirate, right? I look around, looking for something to loot myself.


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