The Taste, Smell, and Look of Truth
The creaking of the metal door jolted Soriya awake, and she quickly rose up from her chair as the guards walked in. Their faces were void of emotion, yet the taste of burnt bread filling her mouth told her otherwise. The annoyance was thick and heavy, and she suspected the guards were regarding her as nothing more than a nuisance, not that she could blame them. Thanks to her, they were assigned one of the most boring duties of the castle. Watching her go about her daily chores and duties was hardly interesting, given that all she did was eat, sleep, and walk.
It wasn’t completely her fault, however. She was only in this prison called a palace for one reason, and one alone. To assist in the interrogation, and most times torture, of Archdale prisoners. Since there wasn’t always a poor soul in the dungeons because squeezed information out of, she spent most of her days wasting time. As Soriya walked towards the guards to wish them good morning, her nose was filled with the faint, sweet scent of honey, almost as if it was right in front of her. She looked up at the two guards with a raised eyebrow, the smell of excitement only meaning one thing.
“I assume from how excited you two are, a prisoner came in yesterday?” Soriya asked, watching the guards sheepishly look at each other.
“Yes milady, a soldier was caught yesterday and taken to the dungeon. His Majesty believes that he might harbor vital information, and is requesting you interrogate him.” One of the guards- Soriya believed his name of Alec- said. She nodded in understanding, swiftly pulling over her boots and going to the closet to grab her official dress.
The Untainted were beings like her, graced with powers believed to come from the Olden. Their blood was the color of gold and eyes that of the sun, hair black as midnight and skin a dark brown. Soriya however, was an exception from the rest. She wasn’t stronger, faster, or smarter than that of the other Untainted, but it was a time of war, and Soriya’s power provided the kingdom with perfect leverage.
To taste, see, and smell emotions was to understand someone completely. Emotions were the gateway to the complete manipulation of someone, and Soriya held that power in her hands. When she first learned to use her power, it was for little things like stealing candies and telling white lies. Yet as she grew older, it was for stealing money from tax collectors and avoiding getting caught by authority. Eventually, word of her power spread as her fame in the criminal underground grew, landing on the ears of the King himself.
She still remembered the day they came, barging into the expensive mansion she hadn’t paid a single coin for, the Royal Guard determined on her capture. She had tried a bit of persuasion, offered material based on what their hearts desired, but even she couldn’t manipulate all fifty of them at once. So she had gone, leaving her past life behind and assuming the role of Lady Soriya. In the two months since she had been here, she had already paid visit to nine prisoners, each increasingly more unpleasant than the last.
I have swindled nobles out of tons of gold, convinced others of love and happiness, but never have I used my powers for something as harsh as this.
“Let us get on with it then,” Soriya muttered once she was done, her red and gold dress showcasing to others that she was on official business. The guards followed her as she left her room, close at her heels. As she walked by many nobles to the dungeons, their emotions displayed themselves in various ways, beckoning her to feel them. The soft smell of freshly bloomed flowers and bright shades of yellow danced around her, telltale signs of happiness and contentment. Despite the war, they were happy, even if it was a feeling brewed by ignorance.
For the war was hurting, leaving families homeless and with barely any food to eat. Rations were being rationed, and the people had resorted to violence in the streets to make it another day. But this was all happening to the commoners, not to these nobles who could live each day certain of their riches and power. Soriya loved the feeling of happiness, beautiful and warm, but this wasn’t right, not when others were suffering so greatly.
“Lady Soriya! Going to abuse another Archdale dog I see?” The voice sent a pang of irritation up her spine. The overwhelming, pungent smell of spoiled milk revealed arrogance beyond any level she had possibly felt before. Prince Theo, the second son of the King, came walking towards her with a mischievous smile. Soriya simply nodded and curtsied deep, trying to block out the senses she was experiencing in order to respond correctly.
“Yes your Highness, I have been given the honor of helping the kingdom once again.” She replied before bringing body back up, head still slightly bowed in respect. She had learned quickly in the palace that appearing humble was in her best interest, nobles loved feeling superior to others. Prince Theo, in particular, fed off of it, and he took great delight in seeing an Untainted treating him with the utmost respect. Even now as she spoke, whiffs of honey and flowers tickled her nose.
He was an easy one to control. With just simple phrases like if your highness allows me, and I am but a lowly servant, yet I ask of you, Prince Theo was at her beck and call.
“Well, tell me of how it goes afterward. Despite what father may say, I do care about this war, and I want Nightray to win.” He smiled, giving a small wave goodbye. Soriya nodded in return, turning away to continue on her path.
She felt the dungeons before she saw it, the emotions turning her stomach and causing her to gag. The fear, pain, and utter chaos were thick, attacking Soriya’s senses full force. By the time she was at the entrance, large metal doors blocking the opening of the once old cave, she was struggling not to stagger. With a deep breath, Soriya tried to block out all of her senses, keeping her face straight. Weakness was not something she could express, not before people she didn’t trust. The guards at the entrance bowed as she came forward, and Soriya gritted her teeth as she returned their respect with a courtesy of her own.
Once inside the senses were overpowering, filling her head to the point where she wondered whether it was theirs or her own emotions torturing her. Her vision blurred, and she gritted her teeth, focusing on her breathing to block out the senses. She wasn’t about to faint now, especially since she had already done so the first time she had come. Naive and rebellious, she had walked in without any preparation, wanting only to get the job over with and continue devising a way to get out of the palace. She had been a fool then, overwhelmed and falling headfirst into the blood-soaked mud, and becoming a laughing stock to the guards for days after.
She promised herself that never again would that occur. So she focused, inhaling a stifling mixture of sulfur and ammonia, burning her throat and sending fire to her lungs. Pain never tasted good, and it was always the emotion Soriya least liked to sense. But it was rampant here, in every crevice and corner, mocking her ability as she could do nothing to stop it.
What they did to the war prisoners was something the Olden would have never allowed, and her power going askew was in response to that. Carefully she continued down the hall of the dungeon, avoiding hands that reached out to her and voices snarling insults. Turning the corner, she was met with a long dark hall, cleaner than the rest and revealing a large metal door at the end. At the doors stood one guard, waiting patiently for her to come forward, and as she did he bowed, greeting her before opening the doors.
It was toxic, the actual smell of decaying bodies and blood almost overriding her ability’s. Around her danced colors of black and dark red, never two shades she wanted to see together. As she entered, she was faced with a man chained up to the wall, chest colored with maroon and head flopped over. General Gale stood before him, a whip in hand as she raised it high above her head.
“General, it is an honor to work with you once again.” The words were rushed and slightly exclaimed despite wanting to appear unnerved by what was happening. Yet Soriya could not help it, dipping into a deep curtsy to take her eyes away from what she was witnessing. General Gale paused, lowering her hand to acknowledge Soriya’s presence.
“Lady Soriya, I am delighted to see you once again, the last time our meeting was cut too short.” She smirked, laying her whip down and coming towards Soriya. The general took Soriya’s hands in her own, beckoning her to rise so that she could look her in the eyes. Soriya swallowed, painting a pleased smile across her face as she looked up at the general, nodding in agreement to her words.
“I am terribly sorry for my unruly behavior then, I wasn’t prepared for such...raw sights as these,” Soriya muttered, trying her best to look ashamed of the time she had fainted. She hadn’t been assigned to work with Gale since then, and she had been happy about that. After talking to Prince Theo he had revealed that General Gale had an unhealthy obsession with torture, and seemed to enjoy watching others suffer. Countless prisoners had died on her watch, adding to her already high death toll on the battlefield.
Soriya bowed her head in gratitude as Gale assured her that her fainting was completely understandable before grabbing her whip again. As the general lead Soriya towards the prisoner, she watched him struggle to breathe, a gag fastened over his mouth to prevent him from biting his own own tongue.
His eyes were dull, as if all life was sucked out of him by the crack of the whip, leaving darkness in its place. Once she stood close enough, Soriya paused as she felt nothing. No smells, tastes, or sights of emotions. For a moment she panicked, because the only time she sensed nothing was when someone was dead, and he was certainly living.
Then it hit her.
Barreling over her, the taste of smoke clogging her lungs and forcing her down to her knees. She hacked up air desperately, attempting to remove the sensation, only for the smell of burning leather to invade her nose as well. It was emptiness, an emotion deadly and ruthless, consuming one’s soul without mercy. This man had been broken, and by the intensity of her senses, it had been for a while now. He was either ready to talk, or so far gone he didn’t know what words were anymore.
“How long has it been since he has last spoken? How long since he has had food or water?” Soriya demanded, gripping the stone floor under her before looking up at General Gale. “How long?”
Gale seemed surprised, most likely not expecting such attitude coming from Soriya’s seemingly soft demeanor. Yet as she locked eyes with the Untainted girl doubled over in what seemed to be pain. She found her mouth moving to respond, telling Soriya that it had been an entire day since he had last spoken.
“Mother of Old, this man is beaten beyond repair. His soul is crushed, he feels nothing. All I can sense is an endless void, a silent wait for the end. How could you not see this General? An emotion of this magnitude, this emptiness, anyone would notice, Untainted or not.” The words tumbled out of Soriya’s mouth without stopping, but she couldn’t stop to apologize now, not when this man needed help immediately. Quickly, she rushed past the shocked General, coming to cup the man’s face in her hands and removing his gag, forcing his eyes to look into hers.
“Sir, sir listen to me. Tell me what you know of the Archdale plans of war, and I will save you from this torment. Speak now or forever suffer from this torture.” For a moment no words were uttered, his body not even acknowledging her presence. So she stood there, his blood soaking into her dress, waiting.
“Ya keep yer word?” It was a whisper, as if he wondered if speaking was even worth it at this point. Soriya nodded furiously, lowering her head to touch his bloody chest before coming up again.
“On the Olden I swear it, now tell me your truth.” She stared straight into his face, determined to prove that he could trust her. He stared back, eyes glinting in relief as he realized she spoke honestly, smiling a bit at the thought of leaving this hellish place.
“I only know that there is an Untainted in this land that is useful for war. We plan to take them away and use them for our own plans. I do not know when, only that we had just learned of their existence shortly before I was captured.” He muttered, eyes slightly laughing as he stared at her. “Is it you miss, are you the one we are looking for?”
She was ripped away from him just as he began to laugh, a crackling, hysteric laugh that sent chills down her bone. General Gale stood before her, slapping the prisoner roughly across the face with a whip and grounding her knee into his already wounded chest.
“How dare you! You threaten a citizen of Nightray and expect not to die? Enough with trying to get information from you Archdale dogs, I am going to skin you alive for this twisted stunt of yours–”
“He isn’t lying,” Soriya spoke, hands shaking as she gripped her dress. Her favorite emotion, honesty, a smell like a forest after a calming rain tickled her nose. Never had she disliked that smell, finding it soothing to her mind and refreshing amongst the other emotions she experienced. Yet she hated it now, the way it confirmed his daunting words and sneering expression.
Archdale knew of her existence, and they were devising a plan to kidnap her? Worse of all, they wanted to use her just like Nightray was? It was exhausting enough having to be wary of one kingdom, but two? As General Gale’s eyes widened at her words, Soriya swallowed.
“His words are true, I can sense it. He does not lie...though I wish he was.” At this Gale let out a groan of frustration, grabbing Soriya by the arm and practically chucking her at her guardsmen.
“Take her back, inform the general of the Royal Guard about this, and be certain he makes arrangements to protect her. She is vital to this war, we cannot lose her to them now.” At this Alec nodded, taking Soriya and nudging her towards the doors.
“But what of my promise? Regardless of what he said I still told him I would free him from torture if he told the truth.” Soriya asked, holding onto the doors to keep Alec from pushing her away. At this Gale snorted, slowly walking towards one of the weapons laid out on a table, selecting a glistening ax dirty with dried blood.
“My pride would never recover if I let such actions go without punishment Lady Soriya. I suggest you leave now, unless you can stomach the show?” She asked before raising her weapon of choice high, aimed at the prisoner's knee.
Soriya turned before she could see it happen. But she felt it nevertheless, the stifling agony and pain, fresh like the smell of blood that wafted in the room. She heard his screams too, nerve-wracking and ear-shattering, echoing the halls as she walked away.