Broken Crown, Part V




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avi_icon.gif lockheart_icon.gif raid_icon.gif tafero_icon.gif

Scene Title Broken Crown, Part V
Synopsis Rue awakens as a prisoner of Mazdak, and slips in and out of disassociated memory to block out the horrors.
Date March 28, 2021

The second the holding cell door opens, Rue Lancaster is unceremoniously shoved through into the dark.

The first thing she feels is the impact of her right shoulder against the tile floor, the second is the impact of the side of her head on the same unforgiving surface.



Eight Years Earlier

Killington, Vermont

February 14th

Outside the snow is piled up more than four feet. It’s falling at roughly an inch an hour. The war was kind to Vermont, however, and much of the state still has running water and electricity, not even the blizzard has taken that away. Yet still, it’s bitterly cold out.

It’s one of the worst winters in years, probably since the super-blizzard of 2010. The Killington Ski Lodge is vacant tonight, due to both the inclement weather and what with the recent civil war. It was the perfect place for someone looking to ride out a storm, both literal and metaphorical. Former New York City Mayor Sylvia Lockheart was trying to do both.

Sylvia spits blood on the hardwood floor, but can’t wipe the pink string of saliva from her mouth, what with her hands duct-taped behind her back as they are. Sylvia shifts uncomfortably on her knees, looking up at the tall, broad-shouldered man looming over her with a large knife. Her nostrils flare, jaw set, awaiting whatever comes next.

Avi Epstein flips the knife around in one hand and takes an uneven step forward toward Sylvia. He narrows his one good eye at her, then offers the knife out to the wiry redhead at his side. He gives her a look that conveys all he needs to:

Just like we practiced.

Said redhead looks up from the comfortable recline she’d taken in one of the armchairs by the fire. Her legs had been dangling over one arm, her back against the other, head tilted back so she’s peering at Epstein upside down like some bored teenager just waiting for the action to start.

The motion back to her feet is a fluid one where she plants her boots on the floor and sheds her coat both in the same action. It’s all an act to make her look more practiced at all of this bullshit than she actually is. Because she isn’t. At all. But she’s a performer, and Rue Lancaster doesn’t balk at the knife, but after a moment of consideration where she trails a finger over the flat of it, ultimately declines. A disdainful look is cast at Lockheart before she shakes her head instead, giving a sliver of a smile that’s angled for their audience to see, more than for her partner. “I won’t be needing that.”

Sighing with resignation, she circles around behind Lockheart first, so she has to choose which of them she wants to keep in her sights. The pair of blue eyes meet the singular brown one from beneath the arch of her brows. For a moment, it’s like she’s standing on the opposite end of the stage from her partner, waiting to enter. Draw breath at the same time, and step into the lights in time with one another.

“Answer the man’s questions.” Rue drops down into a squat, one hand planted against their captive’s shoulder, her fingers closing tightly. Her voice carries a steel she doesn’t remember mining the iron for. Her thumb digs into a pressure point between neck and shoulder. “Please.

At first Sylvia resists. Her brow tenses, her jaw sets, and she thinks she’s braced for the worst of it. But then, as Rue rigs her thumb into that pressure point at just the right angle to pinch the nerve she screams. She screams the way a wounded animal screams when caught in a hunter’s trap. Lockheart bucks against the grip, her legs tense, her voice cracks, and her fingernails dig into her palms.

It’s the scream Rue remembers the most.

It’s the scream that lingers.

Eight Years Later

Somewhere in Iraq

March 28th
5:15 am Local Time

Rue’s eyes snap open to the sound of a scream. It’s not hers.

Panic sets in almost immediately as her eyes adjust to the overhead fluorescent lights. Someone — a woman — is screaming in shrill cries. Rue recognizes her own orientation, face down on a tile floor with her hands bound behind her back in metal restraints. She can see feet—booted feet—scuffing around on the floor, multiple pairs. There’s a lot of voices cross-talking in a dialect of Arabic that she can’t make heads or tails of. It’s when she sees blood spatter on the white tile that her eyes track up to find its source.

There’s a woman being held down on a table. Two large men are holding her down, one at the legs and one at the shoulders. Rue recognizes one as Jakob Tafero, the other Royden Melanson. Royden has a knife and is digging it into the woman’s chest near her collar bone like he’s trying to pry something out. Her scream is agonizing, though Rue can’t get a good look at her face, just a flash of blonde hair from time to time.

Rue feels the blood drain out of her face, the warmth drain from her skin. She feels clammy, feels her stomach drop out and like she’s going to throw up. So far, no one has seemed to notice her state of alertness on the floor. She’d like to keep it that way for now. The less she appears aware to absorb, comprehend, understand, act upon, the safer she’s going to be. The better armed she’s going to be later.

Her lids fall closed and she focuses on her breathing. Deep and even will perpetuate the illusion that she’s still unconscious. But those screams. What is he looking for?

And does he think he’ll find something like it in Rue next?

No. With her heart hammering away, she knows her ruse can’t last. Just as she didn’t turn her camera away from devastation and human suffering during the war, Rue lifts her head and refuses to look away now.

“Fucking hurry up!” Tafero shouts, struggling to keep the woman’s legs from kicking. Whether it was at Tafero’s snap or because he’d done enough, Royden stops digging around in the woman’s shoulder, wipes off his knife on his pants and slides it back into the sheathe in his belt. It’s only when he steps away from her that Rue’s eyes focus on what’s in the back of the room. Some kind of machinery, large pumps and metal canisters. Clear plastic hoses.

The blonde on the table struggles, twists, and falls onto the floor beside Rue. She lands face to face with her, tears welled up in bright blue eyes, lips parted like a gasping fish. Rue knows her.

Rue knows her.


Tafero is quick to throw the blonde on her back and place a boot in the middle of her chest to hold her down. That’s when Royden comes back with two of the plastic hoses, one end in each hand and the other trailing back to the tanks. While Tafero holds Remi down, Royden jams the hoses into the holes he cut in her chest. She screams and writhes again, back arching and hips twisting to try and free herself.

“Let’s begin.” Someone out of Rue’s frame of vision says. It sounds like St. Germain, given the silted French accent. Royden steps away from Remi again, walking back to the machine and turning valves to unleash a neon blue liquid through the tubes, slithering down into Remi’s body. The fluid burns beneath her skin, causes her veins to glow, and as she twists and writhes Royden flips a switch and the other hose begins to suction out blood from her body.

This isn’t just torture.

This is Gemini.

Rue is staring into the eyes of a dead woman. When the hoses start to glow, she knows that whatever power seems to have brought Remi Davignon back, she’ll be dead again before long. Rue breathes hard, fear keeping a rictus hold on her. She’s unable to shut her eyes. She can’t shut it out. Shut it out. Shut it out. Shut out

The world is carrying on like a screaming lyric, wild and wonderful and full of life. Like a love song, a rock ballad, a pop sensation. All these things and more. It's just another day for Rue and Seren and Baird, where everything carries magic in some way.

They're screaming in laughter, the two of three. Rollercoasters and spinning teacups, Cinderella's Palace in the backdrop, its peaks in the distance. They share ice cream adorned in pineapple, attended to by faeries trailing dust. Palm finds palm as night nears and together they witness a spectacle of glowing grandeur, a parade of characters and lights and other things that make one's heart glow.

Seren's heart does. It races as they turn their head abruptly to Rue's after one particular float passes and see that she looks, for once, just as enchanted and happy as they could ever hope. It races as they lean in to kiss her softly in the crowd under the cover of shadow, like it's the first time all over again.

Fireworks explode overhead. It's not time for

the screaming. There’s nothing Rue can do to spare Remi from this fate. Can’t stop it from happening to herself. Please. Please. Please, no. She thought she had nothing they could take from her.

She was wrong.

Eight Years Earlier

Killington, Vermont

February 14th

Sylvia Lockheart is hunched forward, breathing heavily in the light of a crackling fireplace. The bruise at her collar where neck and shoulder meets is red and black and yellow by this point. Far enough away to be out of earshot, Avi places a reassuring hand on Rue’s shoulder.

“She’s fucking with us,” Avi says, rather than compliment Rue on a job well done. It’s ice water in her veins. “That place she mentioned, the Milan Army Ammunition Plant? It’s in Tennessee, and we hit it during the war. There wasn’t ever a Humanis cell there. Place was abandoned.” Exhaling a sigh, Avi reaches down to his side and unsheathes the knife a second time.

Avi turns it around and hands it one more time grip-first to Rue. “She knows where Heller is,” he says with all the weight that must have. “Either he stands trial or he gets put in the ground. Doesn’t matter. Either way if we don’t get that info out of her?” He looks back at Lockheart, then Rue, “He lives to see another day.”

“Start at the pinkie,” Avi says quietly. “Work your way up, don’t give her time to retreat into shock. She’ll talk.”

The skinny redhead stares up at her superior — her mentor — and tips her head to one side in acquiescence. “You were right,” she speaks just loud enough to be heard at least in part. “You with your fancy tools.” But she’s let her hair fall to one side, to obscure her face just enough that her look of trepidation is just for him. “She knows where Heller is?” she asks. He gives her the nod of confirmation she’s looking for, but she asks him again anyway. “She knows where Heller is?” She can see him stop just short of a Jesus, kid, but maybe he sees the shift in her. The way that her gaze goes distant, but not in the same way they do when she’s about to panic.

No. This is a glimpse into the past that sees her eyes harden. It takes her fear of what she’ll become once she steps past this point of no return and turns it into a conviction of its necessity.

Ice water becomes fire.

“One second.” Rue reaches into her pocket and pulls out — of all things — a hot pink elastic. She pulls her hair up on top of her head and twists it all into a messy bun of curls and holds it in place with the band. This takes away the curtain she can hide behind. Now, she doesn’t care what Lockheart sees from her, because whatever she sees is what she’s meant to see.

Finally, she reaches out to take the knife. “Give me that.” Marching back over to Lockheart, she looks down at her with a tilt and a shake of her head. “You fucking idiot. You had a chance.” Rue circles the woman on the floor like a vulture circles a creature about to die. “Do you have any idea how many friends I lost because of the things you did?” Far from the disaffected air she put on before, now she’s on the path to war.

“I’ll tell you what. It’s nothing compared to the amount of friends I lost because of what Heller did. So!” One booted foot kicks hard against the center of Sylvia’s back, above where her hands are bound, sending her the rest of the way face-down on the floor. Rue wastes no time dropping her weight down on her prisoner to keep her still. “Here’s the deal, sweetheart. You tell us where we can find that bloated son of a bitch, and I won’t take your fingers apart knuckle by knuckle.”

The knife bites into the side of Lockheart’s hand, the tip of it parting the flesh easily, lifting before it reaches the base of her smallest finger. Better than Rue testing it on her own thumb. “Should I start with one just so you’re clear about what’s ahead of you?” Peeling that finger away from the others, Rue presses the blade against that first knuckle and brings her eyes up to Avi. The fire still blazes there, but she also holds just long enough for him to call her off before she acts.

On the count of three.



Eight Years Later

Somewhere in Iraq

Date & Time Unknown

It’s wet, it’s cold.

Rue’s eyes open with the heaviness of chemical-induced sleep. She’s not sure how much time she’s lost, how much was from whatever sedatives are still in her system and how much was from simple disassociation. She can immediately tell she’s restrained, but the next things she sees make little to no sense.


It is a moment of existential horror as Rue sees herself sitting on her knees with arms raised over her head, rusted metal restraints around her wrists and chains going through a metal eyelet in the ceiling. But it's not Rue.

It's a reflection.

The concrete-walled room Rue finds herself in is surrounded by a variety of mirrors. From free-standing sheets of mirrored glass without frames, to poorly-maintained antique mirrors, seven foot tall dressing mirrors, and small round hand mirrors. They lean up against the walls, creating a nearly complete ring. One tall mirror even hangs on the back of a rusted metal door with an open viewing slat into a dimly-lit hallway. A single shaft of yellow light coming through that opening is all Rue can see by. That realization means a lot.

Rue feels like she's been asleep for days and she's still dressed in the same clothes she was when she was with—

Remi, fuck.

It's all coming back now.

The first thing she does is focus on her breath again. In, two, three. Out, two, three. The presence of the mirrors means she doesn’t have to turn her head to really look around her. The room is so dark as it is, she isn’t sure she’d have any better vantage point. Slowly, she orients herself. To the space. To the dark.

It’s off to the races for her mind. Without much else for stimuli, she finds it difficult to rein in. The most chilling notion — that this will facilitate a full view for whatever they decide to do to her — sends a shudder through her frame so violent that it rattles the chains overhead.

Those, then, are tested to see how fast she’s held. And to provide something to hold when she makes an attempt to stand.

The chains are sturdy, if old. The manacles used to hold her are tight enough to pinch and her wrists are both tender from the friction and from the angle she’d been dangling unconscious at. Hauling herself to her feet, Rue immediately feels relief when the tension is off her wrists. She can move them apart, the loops in the manacles allow for the chain to pass between them, forming something of a triangle to the anchor point overhead.

It’s dead quiet wherever she’s being held, though there’s a distant drip of water that sounds like it’s echoing from out in the hall somewhere. But there’s also footsteps, they were softer, but gradually they’re getting louder. Someone—maybe more than one someone—is coming.

Fuck.” At least getting off the floor, however slightly sluggish she still feels as she does, helps some. And the tight fit tells her something: that they’re taking her seriously. Maybe it’s just the fact that she provided a marvelous distraction for her partner’s escape. Maybe it’s that they know exactly who she is. Whatever the case, no amount of bleach and toner and wide blue eyes is going to serve her here.

The sound of footsteps has her turning her head sharply toward the door. She could get back down on her knees and pretend to still be unconscious. It isn’t likely they’re going to care if she is or isn’t awake yet, and she has no weapon and no exit strategy as yet.

Whatever’s coming, Rue decides she’d rather face it on her feet.

The door to Rue’s cell unlocks from the outside. Two men in Confederated Guard uniforms and respirator masks step into the room. One of them is dragging—oh god the smell. A corpse buzzing with flies. They drag a corpse into the room and throw it at Rue’s feet. It’s unrecognizable at first, the back of their head is a hamburger mess. One of the guards kicks it over onto its back and she sees the horror.

Nick’s bloated face is staring up at her, a bullet hole in his skull above his right brow.

The smell has Rue turning her face in toward her shoulder. She thought — tried for a moment — to show herself unintimidated. Unaffected by this grotesque display. She doesn’t, a straining of her muscles betrays the effort it takes not to vomit. She’s caused the type of damage she’s seeing in the corpse. It’s never pleasant to look at, but she can handle it.

What she cannot handle is the face that goes with the damage, the flies, the decay.

She does not scream — not immediately — because it would require breath that

A wince later as a particularly stubborn hailstone sinks all the way down to them and startles them, they close one eye and mutter, "Ow. Oh my god, do these things last long?" Seren wonders hopefully.

“I mean, it’s sunny? So they don’t usually last too long,” the midwestern transplant reasons with a shrug of her shoulders. “You better stay real close, though. Just to be safe.” She slants a grin down to her paramour.

"Oh, yeah?" Seren dares back with a lopsided grin of their own, peering back up at her. It's a short-lived challenge. "Where else would I rather be, anyway?" There's their true nature coming out, accompanied with a slip of one arm around Rue's waist to assist with 'staying safe' from errant hailstone.

"Nowhere else," they remind her fondly, at once a warm proclamation and a whisper just for her ears alone.

This is normally the point where Seren would have to deflect the slings and arrows of there are way better people you could be spending your time withs. Instead, the defense is merely a shift of grin to smile, eyes speaking to nothing but her happiness with them and this moment. “I’ll never get tired of hearing you say that,” Rue murmurs as she dips down for a kiss, closing her jacket around both of them as if to enclose the pair in a protective cocoon that also affords them a sort of privacy neither of them actually cares about.

Let the world see

she doesn’t trust herself to take yet. Instead, she lifts her eyes before her face to the men in the doorway. There’s nothing but contempt and fury to be found there. Her mouth drawn small and her fingers curled into fists around the chains.

A primal shout echoes off the walls of the room as she tries to lunge forward to attack. She won’t reach with a fist, but her legs are long. It’s not a fight she can win, but any blow she can land will be a satisfaction.

The two soldiers that brought in Nick’s corpse steps out of the room, allowing a third who remained in the hall to enter. He is unfamiliar to Rue, old enough to be a grandfather judging from the wrinkles in his face and gray in his prominent beard. He dresses in traditional local fashions with a modern edge, a cream colored kameez with silk embroidery at the collar, over which his crimson bisht has elegant gold threading. He chooses to cover his head with a simple white ghurta with a black braided egal worn around it.

The soldiers do not look him in the eye, nor does he to Rue. Instead he looks at her in reflection, choosing to indirectly make eye contact in a mirror rather than directly.

“Your friend did not feel anything.” Is the first thing he says. “He was alive, and then the next moment, not.” And he makes a flowering gesture at his temple with one hand. “You will not fare so well, unfortunately. I hope you understand why.” His English is immaculate.

With no one to hit, she falls back to where she was, seething and trying to hold herself together. For a long moment, she refuses to give into whatever game this is, until she finally shifts her eyes to the mirror to find his own stare.

Rue hates that she finds relief in knowing Nick didn’t suffer. Rather, that she finds that relief from her enemy here. There’s bile in the back of her throat. She already knew that if she’s going to die here, it’s not going to be well. She can taste bile in the back of her throat, and she can’t distinguish the source between fear or the smell of decomposition. Still, she’s determined not to break. Not easily, not ever.

But she knows her luck has run out. Rue keeps her eyes on the man the soldiers treat with deference.

“I know you.” He says, having allowed Rue a moment of silence. “You, or an interpretation of you, came to us years ago through Adam Monroe.” He steps closer, though not close enough to be within the arc of her unrestrained legs. “She was a desperate, frightened thing. Hungry for power, acceptance, a home.”

The well-dressed man looks down at Nick’s body for a moment, then back up to Rue. “I will tell you what I told her.” He says, then gestures to himself. “I am Ra'id Abdul-Jalil Sabbagh, one of the founders of Mazdak. I have survived the Company, I have survived all of the short-sighted attempts to drive us apart. I have given birth to a new Iraq, and I will still be here when you and your friend are rotting in the ground.”

Ra’id folds his hands inside the large sleeves of his bisht. “You will die, here in this cell. But you still have some control over your fate. As we all do.” He nods to Rue. “Comply and tell us what we want…”

Lockheart didn’t believe she’d do it. When knife divided bone and meat, the scream that came after proved that Rue was a person of her word.

“…then it will be easier. Like your friend here, you will not even see it coming. It will simply be over, and you will find yourself in whatever you believe comes after death.” Ra’id says casually. “But if you resist. If you refuse to cooperate?”

“Fuck you!” Lockheart screams over her shoulder at Rue. “Fuck you!

“Then it ends poorly.” Ra’id says with a shrug. “Are these terms clear?”

An interpretation of you. Rue’s eyes widen fractionally. It confirms some of what she’d suspected, but it’s not exactly what…

Fingers curl tighter around the chains. It infuriates her to find so much of herself in… Should she really be surprised? But she wanted to believe, so badly, that the differences between herself and her other were dramatic.

Memory of what she was capable of — maybe only because she was angry and wanted vengeance — means she knows it will be worse than anything she did. She carried regret until she drank it away and started, gradually, to learn to bury it.

They won’t feel that way here, with her.

“Yeah,” Rue responds flatly. “Crystal.”

“Good.” Ra’id says quietly, then looks down to Nick’s body. “I’ll leave you two so you can say your goodbyes,” is the horrifying way in which this conversation concludes. As Ra’id steps out of the room, the guards in the hall swing the heavy metal door shut, once more throwing Rue into near total darkness, save for a single shaft of light coming through the view slit in the door.

A shaft of light that hits a mirror, bounces around, and illuminates Nick’s gruesome corpse.

Tonight, Rue will keep council with the flies and the dead.

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