This is the Before.
Within the high, dark walls of IFTKOTSD – the Institute For The Keeping Of The Supernaturally Dangerous – there were secrets. There were secrets and enigmas and people, too, who were not, on the inside, really people.
Whatever makes a person actually a person had died a long time ago in almost each and every body in that building. Only in the members of the Circle remained a soul and the flame of humanity – and even then, it mostly seemed as if they were all just a bunch of heartless bastards, hell-bent on destroying themselves and taking the rest of the world with them.
But, reader, isn’t it just unbearably ironic that a bunch of supernatural villains should be the masters of an Institute For The Keeping Of The Supernaturally Dangerous? Almost… humorous, I guess, in a slightly twisted way. But, beyond the many rooms and corridors of the Institute, there was one particular holding chamber that Poison, the head of the Circle, favoured especially. It was nothing more than a simple white room with an elegant high-backed chair in the middle of floor, and a huge pane of one-way glass on the front wall, but it was the very minimalism of the place that tied together the final loose ends of torture. It was the simplicity, eerie spotlessness and silence that drove the room’s inhabitants to the edge of sanity, and, as everybody knows, there’s nothing like the contrast of luxurious velvet cushioning your body and the impossibly excruciating pain of having one’s mind slowly ripped apart to send precious information gushing from a victim’s mouth. Despite all of this, though, Poison didn’t have an especially villainous look – there was no huge black moustache with curling edges bordering his mouth, or massive eyebrows that will wiggle at any given occasion. He was, in a way, (and I tell you the truth when I say this) – handsome.
I did say it. Poison was handsome. His eyes were the colour of frozen cornflower petals, or a sea that had turned to ice – a pale, cold, unyielding blue – although he could, when needed, make them melt seductively, the way that sends most women falling down with an old-fashioned swoon. Also, to contradict these frosty, pale eyes was a head full of thick, jet black hair, and to match them was skin that was as ashen as freshly fallen snow. Unless you knew what Poison really was, you would be able to say that the man was charming, easily pleased, suave… a gentleman, even.
But that was just one side of him, the side that was constantly suffocated by a black, unyielding hatred – a hatred that had raked it’s terrible claws against almost everything that made him a man, turning him into Poison, turning that hatred into something so much deeper and darker than itself. That hatred had turned into evil. And, if Fate’s plan had somehow seen to it that you would be delivered into those terrible, terrible hands, then you would know what it was to experience the very depths of torture, of pain and evil. But, as Poison strode down the connecting corridor from his office to Holding Chamber OneUP, with his very own personally favoured friend from the Circle, he didn’t think about any of that. There was a small, dark smile on his lips, a small spring in his step, and a twisted kind of happiness in his blackened soul that carried him like some sort of storm cloud all the way down to the Chamber.
The member of the Circle Poison had asked to accompany him was Hope - young, fourteen, or maybe fifteen years old, with hair somehow darker than his and eyes that were terrible in their beauty – a mixture of burgundy, of wine red and scorching, blazing scarlet. She had youth, grace, a darkly tempting beauty but beneath that was something in her heart (although it was still a small part) – that was damaged, hurt, blackened, and still so raw that sometimes it hurt her to breathe.
But being with Poison, being in the Circle, was her way of dealing with it – and if it was wrong, if it was twisted and sick, then what of it? She’d been tormented, tortured, and abused all her life, so why should anybody else be able to escape it?
The door that would lead Poison and Hope to the Observation Area was, at first sight, like any other door - carved from heavy mahogany, with strips of glass for windows stretching from the top of the door to the center of it. There was a placid cream blackout blind with one of those cute little plastic rings on the end of it that everybody seemed to favour so much, one that whacked satisfyingly against the wood as Poison and Hope entered the OA.
Inside, it looked mostly like the room you would see behind one-way glass at a police station – comfortable swivel chairs for those observing, with a wooden table in front of them, notebooks and a small pot of pens that magically refilled itself (there was no magic involved; the employees took sole responsibility for keeping it stocked with pens that were collectively more expensive than their cars). Neatly placed at the corner of each desk was a glass of water, and one microphone that transmitted directly into the Chamber The people who monitored the observation, oversaw the methods of torture, and administered the tribulations, were the members of the Circle who had been delegated what Poison considered the second most honoured job. But yet again, as both boss and worker entered the room with an energy that commanded – no, demanded –respect, Poison chose to be completely oblivious to this. As the door closed behind them with a thwack the air began to hum with a sort of energy, a tension that even after all this time, made the backs of Poison’s closest workers tighten into painful little balls. Poison, slick hair glimmering in the gentle overhead light, glided around the front of the desk and leaned casually against it.
“So, friends,” said Poison gleefully, “show me the victim! I want to see for myself what amazing progress we’ve all made!” The hand of a worker hovered tremulously over the button that would reveal the Chamber.
“What’s the problem, Malcolm?” Poison snapped, glaring at the worker with eyes of ice. “Get on with it. Show me.”
Malcolm’s eyes darted anxiously around the room, sliding over the faces of his comrades, which were, despite being full of sympathy and dread, all averted in various directions. “Yes, sir,” he said in a tiny, rasping tone. “Sorry…sorry, sir.”
The button was pressed, the Chamber revealed – and every single person, even those who had known this had happened, stiffened in disbelief.
The victim was sitting cross legged in the chair, hair swept languidly onto one shoulder, hands neatly folded in her lap. Humming something slow and ballad-like in - unbelievably - Korean; nibbling the loose skin on her top lip.
To summarise, she was the picture of peace, plus a deliberately manufactured overbite.
For no more than ten seconds – though to everybody, it was the longest ten seconds there had ever been – there was silence, the kind of silence that makes you want to scream just to break it. And then –
“What is this?” whispered Poison. “What the fuck is she doing?” He whirled around, leaned over the desk – all six foot two inches of him – and slammed both his fists down onto the mahogany wood, his face bleached even whiter than before.
“What in God’s name DID YOU DO?” he thundered, his eyes seething with fury. “Or maybe what I should be is asking is what you didn’t do? Because she–”–he jabbed one long, white finger at the girl–“– is not even tortured. She’s not even slightly traumatised! She’s completely content!”
Another woman, one with hair cropped just below her chin a rustling blonde bob, bit hard on the top of her pen, the hard lock of her jaw betraying her anger. “We’ve tried everything,” the woman said calmly, after a moment of awkward silence. “Teasing her with good memories, tormenting her with horrible ones, showing her nightmares to make her think they’re real, playing on her fears –”
“We’ve even tried crushing her soul,” Malcolm chipped in cheerily.
“But nothing has worked,” Becky continued, her words slurring into each other as anger - that’s an emotion that never leaves, even in the most inhuman of your kind - “It’s impossible, her mind is impenetrable –”
“So try harder, then! What do you think this is, Becky, the fucking Four Seasons? We’re trying to torture people here; maybe a little hard work wouldn’t hurt anybod–”
“And don’t you think that we are?”
Heads turned as fast as their respective bodies would allow, all locking onto the image of five foot two, slim as a stack of willow tree branches Becky practically leapt to her feet, her face almost bubbling with the redness of rage.
“Don’t you think that if we could slash that pretty little damned throat of hers, we would? We’d all have a go, one after the other, and then blow her brains out of the windows from the top floor,” she thundered. “But we can’t, so if you want to do all the dirty work yourself, then go-a-fucking-head, because we certainly haven’t got a clue!”
At that moment, the jaws of every person in that room almost dropped through the floor. Nobody, except Hope, had ever dared to talk to Poison like that. Hell yes, they’d dreamed of it, and hell yes, they’d dreamed of shoving him in that beloved Holding Chamber OneUP of his and slamming his head off the floor, but nobody in their right mind would ever actually do it. In the vast world of the Institute, was what practically murder; the worst, most terrible kind of sin.
Poison, on the other hand, didn’t find the angry outburst offensive – in fact, it was just the opposite; it was a release. He was starting to become more than a little sick and tired of everybody cowering from the very sight of him; all of them afraid to speak their minds about anything because they were terrified of losing their lives because of it. The only person who really told him what they really thought, was Hope – it was what he liked about her; she wasn’t afraid to say anything to him. Her motto was ‘mean what you say, and say what you mean’, and she was certainly living up to it, because some of the things Poison had had her say to him made him cringe even now.
“I’m sorry, Becky,” Poison sighed, staring at the marks his fists had made in the wood and then staring at the young woman with those cold but somehow still melting eyes, “It’s just that… ”
“He was expecting her to crack sooner than that,” Hope interrupted loudly. “What with all the torture and stuff, I mean. Well, I heard she was the best and shit, but seriously?” Becky huffed silently, rolled her eyes and plopped back down onto the swivel chair.
“Whatever. Let’s just get on with this.” Malcolm passed the microphone across the table until it reached Poison, then settled back to watch while it clicked into action. “Testing…testing, one… two… thr– oh, can you hear me? Hello?” The victim – or perhaps guest would be more appropriate – looked up in irritation.
“Of course I can hear you, dickhead,” she snapped, voice soft. “Your voice is coming from every wall in this room.”
Poison blinked rapidly for a moment, then put the microphone back to his lips and laughed, this time with real humour.
“Are you annoyed, by any chance?”
The hostage’s eyes opened, reluctantly, and fixed Poison with a glare so cold it physically pained him to meet it. She held that gaze, through the one way glass - almost through him, into the deep, dark place writhing at the center of his brain - as she rose form the chair, walked towards the one-way glass and held up her middle finger plainly for him to see. “I’m tired,” she began, her eyes somehow fixing on Poison’s through the glass, “my throat feels like a family of razor blades climbed up out of it, and I want real food to eat, not the regurgitated shit you’re trying to shovel down my throat.” Her lips snapped to the side, transforming a soft, pouting mouth into a steely link of glossed pink. “I want out.”