Spiritum – Chapter Forty

40.

Never in his life had Domition so badly dreaded the day ahead. As he stared at the bedroom ceiling, he couldn’t help but imagine the horrors that awaited him in the coming hours. And to think, this would likely be the first of many. Marcus and his goons would be beginning their interrogations of the “criminals” they dragged in the day before (if they hadn’t already), and he would certainly be expected to join in. That was the next phase in the Imperator’s plan for him, the next pummeling he had in store for his already battered spirit.

Domition was about to leave the bed when he heard the rustling of sheets and felt a soft hand upon his chest. He turned his head to see his wife smiling back. Normally, Hera’s smile was enough to brighten the bleakest of mornings, but even she couldn’t give him the strength to face what lay ahead. She shuffled closer and planted a kiss on his shoulder. 

“Good morning”.

“Morning”.

It took Domition a few minutes to find the strength to get up. “Do you want to talk about last night”?

The thought was like a punch to his gut. “I’d rather not right now”.

“It’s OK to talk about these things”. She wouldn’t be saying that if she knew the reason for his lack of performance.

“I’m fine”.

Hera sat up. “There’s nothing wrong, is there”?

“No! I just… it’s been stressful at work lately. That’s all. What with the attack and everything”.

“What’s that got to do with you”?

He’d said too much. “I… I can’t talk about it. I need to get ready now”. Domition entered the bathroom and closed the door. He didn’t mean to be so sharp. Hera was only trying to help although his troubles were likely not the only thing that concerned her. In the Imperium, it was a sign of weakness for a man to be unable to satisfy a woman, and, while he couldn’t care less what the Imperium thought of him, Domition did care about his wife’s opinion. On top of that, it was common for women to be mocked if it was known they had a husband who couldn’t please them. Despite the smile he woke to, she’d probably spent most the night brooding over the possibility of having a weak and impotent husband, another effect of the Imperium’s claws sunk into her.

Domition left home without saying much more to Hera, just a kiss goodbye although he didn’t sense much passion as his lips left hers. The Imperial City was busier than the previous morning. Everyone was getting back into their routines after the attack. Congestion in the skyways had returned to its regular state. Domition found himself sitting longer though he’d never minded that, now less than ever. The more time spent sitting in traffic, the less spent selling what was left of his soul to the Imperium. But, soon enough, his destination was coming into view. The House of Repentance; It was a gorgeous building, even if its beauty was only a veneer for the ugliness beneath. Domition touched down in the staff’s vehicle lot but didn’t leave the car right away. Instead, he rested his head back and wondered about the course his life had taken. Where would he be now if he hadn’t taken that job from Lucius? He could have been so far from here, doing anything but this. It could still be like that. It’d be so easy to run away and never look back. He had only to go to the spaceport and hop on a freighter headed for some backwater fringe world, and this nightmare would be over. They probably wouldn’t even bother looking for him. He’d be free. The longer he sat, the more immersed he became in the life he could be living. He could step off the transport onto an agricultural world, change his name, and become a farmer. It wouldn’t be glamorous work but at least he wouldn’t be charged with persecuting people for the crime of not belonging to the same species as him. Of course, there was Hera to think about. No way would she go along with such a scheme, unwilling to abandon not only her precious Imperium but also her friends and family and the life of luxury she was accustomed to. She’d be fine without him, probably better off. But he couldn’t imagine a life without her, despite her flaws. She was his light and, at many times, his only reason for carrying on. Suddenly, the whole idea was a lot less appealing, especially when Domition imagined the Imperator’s reaction to learning of his disappearance, the smugness in his wrinkled, old eyes. No doubt he’d consider his running away a victory. He wouldn’t allow him that satisfaction so easily. The Imperator would have to try harder if he wanted to have his victory.

Domition got out of the car and made his way to the house. His heart raced. Marcus and his lackies were already hard at work, and he was about to join in. Past the entrance, the receptionist’s desk was manned by an officer in a red uniform, slouched in his seat and staring at a holo-screen. The young man barely glanced up as Domition approached, obviously more interested in whatever was happening on his screen.

“I need to enter cellblock”. Despite being the “leader” of the investigation, Domition hadn’t been granted access, leaving him no choice but to ask permission from whatever fuckhead happened to be sitting behind the desk when he walked in. The receptionist looked up from his screen but said nothing, lips twisted into a smarmy smirk. “I don’t have time for this. Just let me through”.

The young man rolled his eyes and dragged himself to his feet before sauntering to the door with the glowing panel by it, a genelock by the look of it. He pressed his palm to the panel and the door slid aside. “Enjoy”. His smirk widened as Domition stepped by. He knew who he was and didn’t respect him in the least, like everyone else there. They were all in on the Imperator’s joke, and having a good laugh about it.

He’d probably find Marcus in or around the interrogation rooms, doing what he and his men did best. The muffled screams told Domition he was getting near. They got louder until he turned a corner and almost walked into a pair of Praetorians coming the other way.

“There you are! Princeps Metellus wants to see you. Come with us”.

Domition didn’t argue. He was long past expecting to get his own way. It wasn’t far to where he needed to be: along a corridor, around a corner, then through a door. He was greeted by the sight of a male Rylukan, naked and restrained upright in gravity binders, his two legs and four arms outstretched. His wrinkled skin was dark purple with even darker speckles though Domition couldn’t discern any other notable features. It was a sad thing to admit but, apart from the different skin colours, most Rylukans looked exactly the same to him, just big, hairless, four-armed aliens. Marcus was waiting in the corner, armour shimmering in the pale light but with no helmet to hide his face. Domition wasn’t sure which was worse, the sinister mask or the smirk he wore instead. He was enjoying this. A few other Praetorians joined them, as well as a pair of the house’s officers in their red uniforms. The room was much bigger than the cells. There was a row of metal tables along one wall, covered with all manner of brutal-looking instruments. Memories flashed through Domition’s head as he surveyed the tools, having used many of them himself, and vowed never to again.

Marcus was still smirking. “It pleases me to see you here, Domition. I was worried that you wouldn’t be returning”.

“What is this”?

“What do you think it is? We’re going to find out what this piece of filth knows about the attack”. Likely nothing.

Domition looked to the restrained man. “You think we could have talked about this before we started putting people in binders and torturing them”?

“What’s there to talk about? This is the way things are done here”. Marcus turned to the officers, as if to give instructions.

“And if he doesn’t know anything”?

“Then he will be free to return to the shithole from which he came, if he still lives. Now, if you’ve nothing else to ask, let us begin”. The only reason they hadn’t started already was because Domition had yet to arrive. That’s why Marcus wanted him. He wanted him to see everything.

Marcus turned to the Rylukan as the officers took a long silver stick each from one of the tables. Shock sticks, an old favourite in the Imperium. They took up positions beside the prisoner, one on each side. Marcus stepped up to him and put his face close to his. “What is your name”?

“Arvan”.

“What does it mean”?

“Nothing. It’s just a name”.

Marcus’ smile widened as he stepped back. “Just a name. You savages make me laugh. The name is one of the most valuable gifts you are ever given. It remains with you from your first day until your last. But I suppose your kind aren’t capable of understanding such concepts”.

Marcus stepped in close again. “Do you know who I am, Arvan”?

“No”.

“Hmm. I am a man that you do not want to annoy. I can make terrible things happen to those who do. Are you going to annoy me today, Arvan”? Arvan shook his head. “Now, I am going to ask you some questions and you’re going to answer them truthfully. If I suspect that you are not being truthful then I will be very angry, and then terrible things will happen to you. Do you understand”?

“Please. I don’t know anything”.

“We will be the judge of that”. Marcus began to pace. “Now, you know of the attack on this beautiful city, don’t you”?

“Yes”.

“And you know of the group responsible? This Freedom for All”?

Arvan didn’t answer, though he needn’t have. It was written all over him.

“Answer him, Arvan”, Domition urged, worried the shock sticks were about to come into play.

Arvan’s eyes fixed on him before returning to Marcus. “Yes”.

“And what do you think of them”?

“I don’t know anything about them”. He was lying. It didn’t taken a mind reader to know that.

“But you said you know of them. You must know more than just the name. So I ask once more, what do you think of them”?

He needn’t have said another word. Everyone already knew what he thought. Marcus stepped close again. “Do you love the Imperium, Arvan? Do you appreciate everything we have done for your kind? Are you grateful to be allowed to survive and prosper in our space”?

“Yes”.

Marcus snorted. “I don’t believe you. I think you want nothing more than to watch our Imperium fall and burn. I think you support Freedom for All and everything they do”.

“No! I love the-”

“You long for the destruction of the Imperium and your Haelqen superiors despite everything we have given you! You would slaughter us all were you given the chance, rape our women and butcher our children as they slept in their beds. In fact, I think you are the one we are searching for, the miserable fucking scum who helped that villainous group infiltrate our city and defile it in the most hideous of manners! You gave them access to the tunnels and told them how to gain entrance to the city, didn’t you? You laughed and joked as they told of the death and destruction they would wreak upon the innocents who live here”!

“No, no! I swear I have nothing to do with this! I don’t know anything. I promise you”! Domition could barely make out the words. He was having a hard time focusing as it was. Images flashed before his eyes of times he wished he could forget.

“I told you terrible things would happen if you weren’t truthful”. Marcus nodded to the officers who, with matching smirks, raised their sticks and pressed the ends to Arvan’s torso. A loud buzz filled the room, followed by pained screams. Domition felt like he might vomit despite being very much familiar with both.

The buzz lasted until the officers removed the sticks. Their touches left a pair of perfectly-round burns at the points of contact. “I swear… I have nothing… to do with this”, wept Arvan between gasps.

“We know you’re the one, or you know who is”, Marcus replied. “Just confess and face your punishment with some dignity”. He was telling the truth. Everyone there knew it though Domition wouldn’t have blamed him for confessing just to escape the pain, were it not that the punishment awaiting the one truly responsible was a million times worse.

“I don’t know anything! I’m not the one you want, and I don’t know who is”!

With another nod, the sticks were pressed to Arvan’s skin, longer this time. The buzzing and screaming seemed to go on for an eternity. Domition fought every instinct to bring his hands to his ears. Finally, the sticks were taken away. More round marks were left on the poor man’s torso.

“Please have mercy”. Arvan sounded dangerously close to losing consciousness.

“My mercy does not extend to those who waste my time, or threaten my city. If you want mercy then you must tell me something worth hearing”.

“I don’t have anything to tell you”.

“Perhaps not now. But maybe you will in a few moments”. Marcus nodded to the officers. Domition had had all he could take.

“That’s enough! He obviously doesn’t know anything, so stop this”!

“You’re an expert, are you”?

Domition glared. “It might surprise you to know that this isn’t my first interrogation. I know when someone is telling the truth, and when they’re not. And in any case, there’s better ways of finding out than this”.

“And it might surprise you to know that I too know when someone is being truthful. And this is my interrogation”. Marcus turned back to the officers. “Continue”. They raised their sticks and moved the ends toward Arvan’s sides. “No! Not there. There”. Marcus pointed to his genitals.

Domition braced himself as he watched the sticks near Arvan’s private parts, mostly hidden inside his body but no less sensitive. The screams were so loud the buzzing was barely audible. Arvan thrashed and convulsed so hard it was a wonder he didn’t break something. He continued to scream long after the sticks had been taken away, cutting into Domition like the blades of the swords at the Praetorian’s waists. It was all coming back: the screams, the cries for mercy, the laughing. Domition could hear it all inside his head. More than ever, he longed to run away, head to the spaceport, and board the first transport he could find.

The interrogation dragged on. Domition spent it in the corner, brow furrowed and fists clenched as he watched the scene continue. Marcus paced the room like a predator with its prey backed into a corner. He felt so powerful. He continued barking questions and, at his command, the officer’s administered pain, as first with the shock sticks before moving onto lashes and razor blades.

Their tactics yielded nothing of use. When he checked the time, Domition found he’d been standing there for over two hours. In all that time, he hadn’t heard a single thing of value. The poor man clearly knew nothing, and the situation had long since gone from being an official interrogation to just another exercise in sadism. Arvan screamed and cried and thrashed, answered only with taunts and laughter from Marcus and the officers. He was asking the same questions over and over, a shallow excuse for the continuing brutality. He needn’t have bothered. Nobody would have cared.

Domition couldn’t stand it any longer. It took every ounce of willpower to restrain himself, every iota of determination not to cross the room and kill Marcus where he stood. But, alas, his senses got the better of him. He was a skilled and experienced fighter in his own right, but Marcus was every bit as skilled and experienced, likely even more so, and, on top of that, one of the Imperium’s most formidable arcane warriors. He would have crushed him in a heartbeat, not that he needed to. His Praetorians would have cut him down long before he got anywhere near their leader.

Domition stormed out of the room. He needed to get away from it all, or get some air if nothing else. Who gave a fuck what Marcus and the others thought? The door closed behind him but Arvan’s screams followed. They faded the further away Domition got only for more to take their place. They came from every direction, surrounding him, refusing to let him go. He didn’t care what happened, he was going home, back to Hera and their bed. She would hold him and make it all go away, for a while at least. Never did Domition think he would miss the high council chamber. But everything was changing.

He didn’t get far before his attention was drawn by the screams from the room to his left, alien but unmistakably female. Rage bubbled and approached its apex. He couldn’t let it continue. Domition entered the room to find a blue-skinned Rylukan cowering in the corner and an officer looming over her, shock stick in hand. Rather than touch her with the end, he answered her pleas with relentless strikes, throwing all his strength into every blow. Rage and disgust coursed through Domition. It had all built to this moment.

Burn it down, a voice told him. Burn it all down.

The officer looked to him, a sadistic grin on his face. “Come to watch”? He sounded almost giddy, like a schoolboy. “Join in if you want. We’re having a good time”. He looked back to the woman. “Aren’t we”?!

“Please”! Tears streamed from her yellow eyes. “No more”!

Her pleas were met with laughter as the officer raised his stick. Before he could bring it down, Domition had arrived at his back. The laughing and crying masked his footsteps. He took the young man by his hair and wrenched his head back so far he was able to meet his eyes.

“What the fuck are you doing”?

Domition didn’t answer. Instead, he drove his face into the wall in front with all the strength of his arm. A stomach-churning crunch followed. The woman scampered away as the officer fell, a river of red flowing from his nose and lips. His expression was one of confusion, as if unsure of what just happened.

“You like to hurt people who can’t defend themselves? Why don’t you try with someone who can”?

The officer stared at Domition, blue eyes looking like they were about to pop from their sockets. His expression changed as he became lucid, and confusion turned into rage. He raised his shock stick, and sent the end towards Domition who saw it coming a mile away. Domition stepped to the side, leaving only empty air for the stick to hit. Before the officer could attack again, he’d wrapped both hands around the one holding the stick. Domition dropped his weight and pushed down as hard as he could, thumbs pressed into the back of the young man’s hand, then twisted. There came a snap, followed by a cry. The stick hit the floor, it’s wielder moaning and clutching his broken wrist. Domition couldn’t help but smirk. That’s how it was: big and strong when facing someone who couldn’t defend themselves, but small and pitiful when faced with someone who could match them.

Domition loomed over the officer. “Please. No more, please”. He’d done what he needed to. The scumbag had been put in his place. But the rage continued to flow through his veins like acid. It wasn’t enough. Domition allowed his legs to go limp. The young man stared up at him, held in place by the weight on his torso. He didn’t try to escape, only looking on terrified as he felt one hand take him by the throat and watched the other become a fist as it rose.

“Please don’t”.

Pain shot through Domition’s knuckles as they impacted upon cheekbone. He ignored it, just as he ignored the cries for mercy. He raised his fist again, and brought it back down, again and again and again. Cheekbones split and teeth flew from gums, bones crunched, and blood gushed under the repeated impacts. With every blow, the pain in Domition’s knuckles intensified, but he kept going. The young man’s face was a mess, skin red as an apple, nose almost a flat mound, eyes swollen shut, unrecognizable. Domition felt no shame. He’d shown no mercy, why should he receive any? The pain in his hand was too much to bear any longer, reddened both by the officer’s blood and his own. He was fairly confident it was broken. Domition looked down at himself, the light blue material of his toga now wet and darkened.

He should have been satisfied with the punishment he’d dispensed, but he wasn’t. The cunt hadn’t known fully the pain he’d so gleefully forced onto others. Domition wanted him to understand what it was like to suffer, and he’d make sure he did. He picked up the shock stick.

“Let’s see how much you like it”.

He raised the stick, ready to bring it down on its owner. But then Domition felt a strong hand take him by the wrist and spin him around with such force he was almost thrown off his feet. He was forced back first against the wall with the unsettling of mask of a Praetorian inches from his face and the blade of a knife pressed to his throat. Even from so close, Domition saw nothing but dark holes where eyes should be. The knife was pressed so hard the slightest increase in force would see it slicing through skin and flesh. Domition knew how badly his attacker longed to push the blade just that little harder. He almost wished he would. Just a little more and it would be all over.

“Release him”! From the corner of his eye, Domition spotted Marcus striding toward them with death in his eyes. The Praetorian didn’t move. “Release him, I said”! Finally his subordinate relented, bitterness betrayed by his body language as he stepped away. He’d been itching to plunge his blade into Domition. Another Praetorian stood over the injured officer while his colleagues inspected his injuries.

“Clean this up”! Marcus barked. “And you, come with me”.

Domition did as he was told, barely through the door before he was shoved into the wall. “You are rapidly getting on my nerves, boy. You think you can do whatever you please”?

“Well everybody else around here seems to think they can”!

Marcus smirked.“You have no idea how close you are to finding yourself on a cross”. Something told Domition the leader of the Praetorians wanted nothing more than to see that happen. “You think the Imperator is going to tolerate you forever? You think he will after this”?

“I won’t stand by and let this happen”.

“You don’t have a choice. I already told you; this is the way things are and the way they always will be”.

“I don’t care. I’ll do everything I can to protect innocent people from thugs like you. I don’t care what the Imperator does to me”.

“Maybe you don’t care for yourself, but do you not care for your wife? Hera? Is that her name? I saw her at one of the Imperator’s functions. I must admit, myself and my men thought she was quite lovely. That face and body. Most of the journey back to headquarters was spent talking about her, and the things we’d love to do to her”.

Domition felt the rage bubble again. “If you ever speak of her like this again, I’ll…”

“You’ll do what? You’ll do to me what you did to that man in there? I would love to see you try. I suggest you think long and hard about Hera before you lay a finger on one of my men again, or interfere in my investigation”.

Domition felt a shiver. He’d felt so powerful when he was beating the officer but now he was ashamed. Not once, from entering the room to picking up the stick, did he think of Hera and how she might be affected. He might not care what the Imperium did to him but it almost killed him to think of such a fate befalling her. He no longer felt strong and defiant. Now, he was just a scared little man, crushed under the weight of the Imperium. It finally dawned on him, as long as there were things he cared about, he would never win.

“Now go home. And, please, give my regards to your lovely wife”. Marcus swaggered away, off to brutalize another innocent person. Domition was stuck against the wall, sick to his stomach.

Hera. All manner of images flashed through his head. No. Don’t think about that.

The Praetorians left the interrogation room, giving chilling glances as they passed. Then came the officers with their broken colleague carried between them. Only then Domition realized the extent of the beating he’d given. The young man’s face was a ruin. It would take a lot of work to make him look the way he did before. The door closed behind them, the poor woman still inside. Domition thought to go to her but reconsidered. He needed to get away, and he’d done enough as it was.

He couldn’t get the images out of his head as he made his way through the cellblock. As he passed door after door, all Domition could see was Hera in one of those rooms, at the mercy of Marcus and his brutes.

Don’t think about it.

The thought of those things happening to her made Domition’s blood boil. He wanted to run away, to take Hera and get as far from the Imperium as possible. But how could he convince her to leave their life behind? She’d never agree. She probably wouldn’t even believe him if he told her of the things he’d seen and done that day.

The night promised to be another sleepless one. Domition called into the medical bay and got his hand patched up. The medics were reluctant to help. News of what happened had already spread like wildfire. They cleaned and cauterized the wounds, bandaged the hand, and gave him some painkillers. Domition wasn’t greeted by a naked and horny wife he arrived home. Hera was out somewhere and didn’t return until the early evening. He told her he’d trapped his hand in a door (that was the best he could think of). She was a little sceptical but bought it all the same. There would be no sex that night either, not that Domition was in the mood. They just had dinner and turned in for the evening. Hera made no reference to last night or the morning. They didn’t even cuddle much. The most intimacy Domition was able to manage was a kiss on his wife’s forehead. She was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow but he remained awake for hours afterwards. He couldn’t help but envy her, sound asleep and blissfully unaware of the threats made against her and the horrors taking place not so far away. He wished he could be like her, one of the sheep. The beauty of ignorance.

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