"Just tell me what I want, and I'll put the knife away. It's as simple as that."
Viktor sighed. With a casual wave of his fingers, the silver dagger floating above the bound man's neck pricked his ear, then traced a line on the canvas of the straitjacket.
That's the scary part -- when you move the dagger out of sight. His breathing quickens every time I do it. How intriguing.
"Look, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that this is just one more trial -- some kind of grand sacrifice that you'll make to protect everyone else. But here's today's lesson: It just doesn't work that way."
Viktor waved his hands again, and the knife began its journey up the man's body again. His captive thrashed and twisted on the hotel room bed, trying to fling himself away from the knife. But the straps on the straitjacket and the shackles on the bedposts held.
Viktor paused the knife and let the man flop around on the bed for a while. When exhaustion set in, Viktor floated the knife over his face briefly, then spoke. "I'll make it easy on you. Don't give up any secrets, but tell me about the Mistress. You're a smart guy. You can talk without giving up your precious secrets, right?"
Silence from the captive. He's clenching his jaw; that's classic 'I want to say something but I know I shouldn't' body language. Now I deliver the changeup.
"Not a talker, are you? That's fine. Why don't you just listen for a while?"
The captive twisted his neck, forcing his head as far from Viktor as possible.
"You don't have to look at me -- just listen. I know you're busy being brave. Inside that little mind are all these brave little 'don't' thoughts. 'Don't say anything,' 'Don't show fear,' 'Don't react when he hurts you.'"
"I know because I can hear every one of those 'don'ts.' I've heard them from every person on the trail that led me to you." Viktor paused for a moment, letting the implication sink in.
And what a trail it's been, thought Viktor. Ever since the battle at the amusement park, he'd used sorcery, a network of fanatic followers, and old-fashioned detective work to get to this point. He'd carved a bloody path through an Oregon commune, a Malaysian mosque, and an entire town in the Australian outback while on the red-haired woman's trail. And finally this morning, Viktor captured someone who personally knew the mysterious "Mistress."
"Barry, you're a temple leader for the Church of Unified Light. Ironic, isn't it, that you're talking to someone whose mental powers beggar anything you promise to the faithful? I'm inside your head right now -- and I didn't need a 'Cthonic Crystal' or a 'Transcendent Mind Seminar' to get there. You people can't even spell 'chthonic' correctly, much less tap into its power."
"The Church has power! The Mistress has power!"
There's his voice -- now keep him going. "You're half right, Barry . . ."
"You inquisitors don't scare me, because the church is what matters, not me. You'll probably kill me in a few minutes, but the church will keep going. You can't get all of us. Not in a million years!"
"But what if I get the Mistress? Maybe that's all I want."
"The Mistress doesn't matter -- she's just our guide. If you murder her, we'll still reach the Golden Transcendence. We're closer than you can possibly imagine."
Viktor bellowed a harsh, mirthless laugh. "Oh, you'd be surprised at what I can imagine. Let me guess: The Mistress told you that the Golden Transcendence was some sort of 'mankind sharing their inner thoughts in universal brotherhood' thing."
"You'd never understand . . ."
Now I drop a truth-bomb on him. "Oh, I understand, Barry. I understand because I've got cults of my own. Temple of the Final Days? Mine. Reverend DeSalle? Mine. The Nelson commune in the papers last week? Mine.
"Your Mistress has them, too. You're not the first follower of the Mistress to wear that straitjacket, Barry. You're just the first one from your particular Church."
The captive clenched his eyes shut and started shaking his head back and forth. He's denying it with his surface thoughts, but deep down inside he's processing it. He's checking it against what he's seen over the last five years. Good.
"But there's a difference between my cults and the 'churches' of your Mistress." Viktor paused. Make him ask -- make him break through his own wall. "Want to know what it is?"
The captive's head stopped shaking. Motion paused as if the hotel room was holding its breath. Then a plaintive croak from the captive: "What?"
"I have exactly one scruple, Barry. Those who follow me know exactly what I'm trying to do: End the world. They might be delusional or suicidal -- I'm sure many are -- but they know that they're working toward destroying everything, forever and ever, amen.
"Your Mistress wants to end the world before I get my chance. And she lied to you because she's going to sacrifice her minions to make it happen. The Mistress isn't bringing you a million years of mankind living in telepathic harmony, Barry. She's bringing you two months of the status quo, then the world dying in screams.
"Think about it. Haven't you heard a lot of 'change is coming soon' language from your Mistress lately? And I hear she might be moving you somewhere . . ."
"No . . ." Not much energy in that denial, Barry. You're processing again.
"Tell me where the Mistress is, and I'll take you along. You can see the truth for yourself, right in the presence of the Mistress. And isn't the unified light supposed to reveal truth? I think I heard that in one of your sermons."
"Leave me alone…" The captive's eyes opened, wet with tears.
Token resistance. "I'm putting away the knife, Barry. Why don't you get some sleep, and then we'll talk some more later."
The captive's shoulders drooped, and every joint beneath the straitjacket released its tension.
"Sleep, Barry. And when you wake up, I've got something else to show you. Something I found in the basement of your church."
To be continued...
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