If there was any care for her own health, Chikere would have probably tried to sleep when her captor was away. But she didn’t. Not right now, at least, and health was secondary to comfort anyway.
Chikere didn’t hear the sounds of anyone else. Could it be that she was the only prisoner in this place, whatever it was? Living, at least. The annoying lady wasn’t interrogating anyone else as far as Chikere could tell.
So the only sounds were her own heartbeat, her breath, and a repeated tap in the distance. That tapping was annoying, and any time she tried to focus on it to figure out what it was it seemed to fade away.
Her arm’s escape attempts had found no way to break the barrier on the door, and she was currently focused on carving out a section of wall with a spoon. It wasn’t as excruciatingly slow of a process as that might sound. For some reason, someone had spent a lot of money to enchant a spoon. It was probably decked out in gemstones- there were irregularities in the shape of its handle, more than just stylized carvings. Seemed like a waste for it to be locked up, since nobody had even come to take anything in the past… days. However many it had been.
The Million Sword Vault at least had their disciples rapidly swapping out weapons. Everything there was meant to be used, eventually. But thinking about the desert sect obviously made her think of swords and that was unpleasant. So she went back to her spoon.
Was there any point? Probably not. She’d already carved through the door, but the barrier had stopped all attempts to pass through. And anything she could think of to break it would draw enough attention to get her hand caught. And if that happened nobody would scratch her nose.
She almost thought it was an intentional tactic, except for the way the shining faced woman had blown her off when she spoke of it. As if such a thing couldn’t be important compared to physical injuries. But aches and pains were there for a reason. This itching on her nose wasn’t. Unless there was something invisible there, but she couldn’t touch it with her tongue and nothing seemed to change with a puff of air.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Annoying. But less than her nose. Tap. Tap.
The sounds continued until the light cultivator returned.
“What’s that tapping?” Chikere asked.
The woman sighed. “Clearly you don’t understand this situation. I ask you questions. And you answer them.”
That was clearly false. The woman was a terrible interrogator. And at best a mediocre torturer.
Oh, she was able to cause damage alright. It hurt, probably, when she broke ribs. It smelled bad when she focused her light on a patch of Chikere’s skin and burned it. But either this woman was too important to have someone else take on the job of torturing Chikere… or low enough on the totem pole she couldn’t get anyone else better for the job.
Probably the first one, just based on the general feeling of her cultivation. Tap. Tap. Ta…?
The pattern was a bit off. But maybe Chikere was distracted by the fact that her arm was poking through the wall. Sure, it had taken hours of effort to carve through it, maybe a day… but was there really no barrier?
The hole wasn’t quite wide enough for her arm, but the adaptive components shifted the ‘bones’ and she got her elbow through. Then a yank, and her shoulder squeezed through as well.
The annoying woman had a knife. “Do you understand?” she said. “I’m going to carve up your body until it can’t be recovered unless you tell me what I need to know.”
“I don’t see why I should care,” Chikere said. What was she even going to do with her body, anyway? Swing a sword? No way. And there weren’t really any other things to do. So she was basically done.
Apparently the woman thought she was just being tough, as she began inexpertly cutting Chikere. She was causing a moderate amount of damage, but not the most damage that could be achieved with a single slice, nor was she being efficient in any manner.
The pain wasn’t any worse than Chikere had felt before, either. She regularly let herself be fully impaled in battle when it was necessary, and apparently her body didn’t differentiate between important stuff being damaged in terms of pain. At least not if she didn’t try to move her body.
Chikere focused on the tip of her nose. Maybe she could brush it against this woman? No, she stepped back.
“Fine. You’re a tough one, I admit. But will that be the same when we bring your disciple here and torture him in front of you.”
Chikere’s eyes sharpened. “That would be stupid to attempt.”
“Oh, would it?” the woman asked. “And you’re going to stop me… how?”
“I wouldn’t need to.” Someone else would do it. A wolf with too many poisons. A formation master. The impassable wall that was his father. Or maybe… Chidi himself. He should be in Integration by now. He’d been so close when she left.
“Hmph. I suppose I’ll be leaving you for now. Have fun with… that.”
Chikere probably thought she meant the wounds. Or the blood still dripping from them. Maybe this woman didn’t care if she survived anymore.
A distant scraping sound filled her ears. It was getting harder and harder to doubt that it was her own arm. Except… someone should have noticed her arm moving through the corridor. Sure, she knew it wasn’t exactly lit up with upper energy, but it was still not simply part of the hallways. And then there was a hole in the… side? Front? Rear? Some part of a treasury.
But Chikere’s arm made it to her, reaching the bars of her cell… and getting stuck on another damn formation barrier. Seriously, was that necessary with the shackles inhibiting her natural energy? Now she couldn’t even scratch her nose.
She struggled to remember something her disciple said about his stealth training. Never look up? That sounded about right. Which meant that was where she should hide her arm. At least with it in her sight she could more easily have it grab onto things and work its way up.
When the woman came back again and opened the cage, Chikere swung her arm around, fingertips pinching the brickwork of the threshold and wrenching itself up into the corner of the room. There was no way she wouldn’t notice it, which was why Chikere spit some of her blood at the same time. In her imagination, it turned into a sword. But obviously she couldn’t do that because her access to upper energy was cut off and also she was worthless and incapable of wielding a sword.
The woman dodged the bloody spit, of course. But she didn’t seem to notice the arm swinging a hand’s length from the back of her head. Was she one of those people that relied only on sight, or maybe killing intent?
“I’m happy to finally get a response,” the woman said. “You must be nearing your limits. How about some more work?”
Chikere was nearing her limits. She almost tried to fling her arm at the back of the woman’s neck and squeeze, crushing it. But while that might work for some people, without any upper energy the chances of her killing this woman who was at least in Integration but more likely Augmentation were negligible. Unless the woman walked around with a complete lack of energy defenses and was unable to respond to killing intent.
For the rest of the time the woman was around, Chikere was her arm, clutched to the stone and the gaps between the bricks. She felt only the sensations of that, and did her best to pretend she didn’t have eyes. Otherwise they might be tempted to look at it and ruin everything.
When the woman left, the very first thing Chikere did after her footsteps faded was claw her way up her own leg and torso, wiggling the arm between her back and the wall. Her arm dangled from the chain wrapping her left wrist. And reached around to scratch her nose.
She sighed in relief. Finally. Then her arm flopped to the floor and she almost passed out.
Then she realized something. If her left arm was free, she could scratch her nose without so much work next time.
But if she freed her left arm, they might notice her right arm hanging around. Though for some reason they still hadn’t spotted it. Was that a feature, or were they too focused on upper energy being the only possible threat?
It was a good thing that her replacement arm didn’t use real muscles, because there was no way it could stand up to her chains if it did. As it was, she climbed her arm back up and squeezed one of the links between two fingers.
Clearly, the chains were meant to deal with cultivators who had tempered their bodies… to the normal limits. Chikere had never really tested the maximum grip strength of her arm, but as she coiled her fist around the chain link and squeezed, she felt the pressure build on her palm. And then… the sound of wrenching metal.
Fortunately, not her artificial bones. Her arm drooped loosely to her side. Hmm, that was a bit of an issue. Also the way her upper body was leaning forward, only supported by the attachment to her neck now. So she got rid of that and landed facedown on the floor in a pool of her own blood.
It smelled like swords.
Her body didn’t want to move. But if she had access to her energy, it could. So she began to break off the shackles directly, one at a time. Feeling rushed back into her, and she was able to actually sense the wounds on her body instead of just feeling them. The loss of effective cultivation was a massive difference in her understanding.
Things seemed… pretty bad. But she wiggled her left arm by grabbing it with her energy and moved it to her nose. Yep. Good enough.
She let herself take a little nap.
Unfortunately, she was rudely awoken by some guard.
“Hey! What are you doing in there?!”
Chikere didn’t even bother to lift her head. The guard lowered his spear and stepped away from the bars. Smart man. He seemed about to call for help. Since Chikere couldn’t move, there wasn’t really anything she could do. Though a sword through his throat would do a lot of good.
Oh, there was one. It was kind of weird, though. It almost didn’t manage to reach its target because of the formation barrier on the edge of the cell.
Chikere raised her head, looking at the sword. Oh, that’s what it was. Blood. That made sense. Blood was swords. Half of her best ones had been made from the blood of swordmasters. Did that mean she was still a swordmaster?
She tried to stand up, finding her left arm still refused to listen. So she pulled her body like a marionette. Then she grabbed her right arm and shoved it back into the circuits and stuff. It belonged there. And she didn’t belong here. Wherever here was.
Another sword of blood formed in front of her, grasped in her replacement arm that had no blood of its own. Two cuts and the bars fell out. She imagined there would be a massive alarm going off. She turned right, towards the treasury, running past empty cells and plain hallways. Only to arrive at a dead end, with a small hole in the wall. She peeked through to see the swordless treasury. Why had she come here again? This was all garbage. Oh, there were some medicinal herbs, though. Or poisons. Well, whatever. Half of them were being spread over her skin as a goo, and the other half were going in her stomach.
Whatever happened, she’d accomplish some goal. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to die anymore, but she wasn’t going to leave the option off the table.