The pages following the previous entry are covered in various doodled drawings in charcoal pencil. Vanya isn't the best artist, but you can recognize many of the things she drew: an elven dagger, Mr Frog's PEA, a strange key, and a poorly drawn popup book, among other things. Finally the artwork ends, and you find another entry from the young elven woman.
They say that if you spend a long enough time with anyone, you know almost everything about them. I suppose the same goes with places you live or stay: I know my little cell as well as I used to know Spearbreakers itself... as well as I used to know my little sister...
The walls in my cell are carved directly from cold, gray stone, and are neither smoothed, nor engraved. The only exit is a rusty iron portcullis that lowers into the floor when a locked lever in the hallway outside is pulled; even if I could get a set of keys from a guard, I wouldn't be able to escape. There's a little toilet at one corner of my cell, and the other corner has a roughly-carved shelf that's supposed to serve as a bed. In between the two corners rests a heavy granite chair, only lightly smoothed.
I get my meals twice a day: once at breakfast, once at dinner. It's usually an old biscuit and a waterskin, dropped in through the hole in the roof of my room. They don't give me alcohol, but I don't really have any problem with that... being an elf does have a few oft-overlooked benefits.
But I have something more important to write about right now... Mr Frog came to see me a few days ago. I hadn't been expecting his visit... I hadn't been expecting anyone at all. Actually, I'd been asleep when he arrived.
I awoke slowly to the sensation of someone shaking my shoulder. "Vanya," I heard a voice say in my dreams, and it startled me awake.
I rolled away from the wall in a fright and almost fell off the bed-shelf, looking about wildly.
"Careful," someone spoke, as gentle hands kept me from falling and sat me upright.
As my blurry vision cleared, I was able to make out the shape of a cloaked figure. I felt my hands move themselves clumsily to my hair, not so much to smooth it, but to cover my ears. My hair hadn't been brushed in weeks, as I hadn't been allowed a brush. I'd used my fingers as best as I could, but it just doesn't work as well... and I also badly needed to bathe.
My awakener took my upwards-creeping hands and put them in my lap. "Vanya, wake up," the voice said again, and I slowly recognized who it was.
"Mr Frog," I guessed, blinking my closing eyes in an attempt to stay awake, as much as to clear them. Living so close to the cells of the ever-screaming Spawn means you're always tired.
"Correct," he replied. "I said I'd be back."
Still half-asleep, I could feel my lips twisting into a bewidered frown. "Please don't kill me," I begged, my voice breaking. I almost tried to turn and lie back down, as if I could sleep him away, but he caught me again by the arms and kept me sitting up.
"I'm not going to kill you," he said. His voice lacked the cold edge I'd grown familiar to. "I do need you to drink something for me, though."
The fog of sleep was finally beginning to lift from my mind. I looked in his eyes searchingly before I spoke again, in a whisper, "I'm your next guinea pig, aren't I..."
Mr Frog gave a slight shake of the head. "No. This won't do anything harmful to you, and in a few days you can forget you ever drank it." He offered me a small glass filled with a clear, red-tinted liquid.
I made no move to take it, wanting nothing more than for him to leave. I'd saved his life, but it didn't mean I had to like him, and it especially
didn't mean I trusted him. "Mmm-mmm", I said negatively as I shook my head in protest, turning away.
"Smell it," he suggested. "It must
taste better than what they've been feeding you. It's from my own private stock, and I don't part with it lightly."
I'm ashamed to admit that that got my attention. He held it up, and I leaned forwards to take a sniff. It was wine, and it smelled deliciously of strawberries. But I still wasn't convinced. "What did you put in it?"
"But what's in it?"
"Just a truth serum. You don't have anything to hide, do you?"
This last was offered almost as a challenge. If I refused it, he could assume that I did
have something to hide... but I was already taking the glass in my hands. It tasted wonderful, and I gulped it down possibly faster than I should have.
"That's a good girl," he said, taking it back and stepping towards the middle of the room. "I'll be back in a day or so. Turn away now - lie back down and go to sleep."
"Turn away, I said," he repeated, the gentleness leaving his voice.
Not wanting to invoke his wrath, I complied. Behind me, I heard the portcullis raise, and then lower again. When I turned back, he was gone. I still haven't figured out how he managed to escape.
My stomach felt queasy that night.
A day later, he returned. I was awake when he arrived, and saw him jump lightly down from the hole in the ceiling, his cloak flapping loudly in the air as he fell the nine feet to the ground.
I was sitting crosslegged on my shelf with my journal in hand, which I put to the side. "Welcome back," I said softly. "Why are you here now?"
He straightened, and pushed my cell's chair across the floor to where he could sit opposite me, facing me. Taking a notebook and pencil from his cloak, he responded. "I've come to ask you a few questions. Will you respond truthfully?"
"I'm not sure if I'll want to," I said, surprising myself. I wondered why I'd been so blunt.
Mr Frog answered my unasked question. "I see the serum is doing its work. Don't try to fight it, you'll only hurt yourself. I had to invent a new recipe just for you - you should feel special."
"I'm the only elf in a fortress of dwarves... I feel special enough already, thank you."
"And that's exactly why I had to. The elven physiology is different from that of dwarves.
"Now," he continued, "If it worked properly, you'll find yourself compelled to speak your mind, and compelled to speak the truth. Your memory has also been temporarily improved."
"Mr Frog?" I interrupted, "do you really think I'm a spy?"
"I don't jump to conclusions."
"You thought I was a spy before..." I prodded.
His brow furrowed in displeasure. "Originally the fact that you were an elf, that you were listed in the records of Ballpoint as a spy, and that one of my blueprints had disappeared was enough for me to believe it. However, you went to Splint's office, knowing you could be caught. You could still be a spy, for all I know, and just not a very smart one. But for some reason these memories are unclear to me..." He said this last almost to himself, and his voice trailed off.
I decided to take advantage of the silence. "I saved your life," I reminded him, hoping he hadn't forgotten.
It shook him from his thoughts. "That actually works against you. If you were spying on my work, my death would be destructive to your position. It would be in your best interests to save my life."
"But I wasn't spying..." My heart sank as I said it.
"That remains to be seen. Do you have anything you wish to hide?"
"Yes," I whispered.
Mr Frog raised an eyebrow. "And that would be?"
For a moment I thought I caught a smile on his face. "If that's all, then let's begin."
He made a note in his notebook and began. "Think back to your childhood. What do you remember?"
"A lot..." It wasn't a lie. For some reason I just wanted to make it difficult for him.
He sighed and looked up at me. "Vanya, if you fight this, it will only take longer."
"I'm sorry, Mr Frog," I said.
"Good," he said. "Now, think back to when you were four. Where did you live?"
"How well do you remember how the mountainhome looked when you were four?"
I almost said "not well", but suddenly found I could recall everything from that age with incredible clarity. I could see my grandmomma in my mind's eye as clearly as if she was there; I saw the old familiar bed where I used to sleep in my granpa's apartment at the mountainhome, the great caravans arriving and departing, the old toys I used to play with. "How do I... how is it so clear? How can I remember it so well?" I asked breathlessly, awestruck.
"The drugs in the liquid you drank yesterday, of course," Mr Frog said dismissively. "Now, tell me about your life as a child. What are some things that helped make you who you are today?"
I found myself almost hallucinating, picturing the beautiful halls of Tathurkeskal in the mountains of The Amber Barb. Everything was so beautiful compared to Spearbreakers. There weren't bodies and bones littering the halls, nor were there mugs piled in the corners. There were almost no dark alleyways at all. Even the skulkers must've had a special home carved out for them. I sent my thoughts toward my Granpa's apartments. "My grandfather was a stonecarver, and my grandmother a metalworker. I lived with them, and my sister. My grandfather never liked us much... sometimes he would yell at us, and tell us we were lucky he'd taken us in. My grandmother defended us, and on occasion he'd get upset at her for that, too. I had to be a mother to my sister, even at the age of four. I was always afraid... so very afraid... I worried we'd be found out, or that Granpa might hurt us. Few dwarves like elves, and my grandfather was among those who hated us most."
I snapped back to reality for a moment, looking at Mr Frog triumphantly. "My sister was
real. You said she wasn't."
"Your remembering her doesn't mean anything," he said, tapping his notebook with his pencil and writing something down.
I frowned. "And why doesn't it? I remember everything about her," I insisted. "I used to read fairy tales to her at night, every
night before we went to bed, out of a big book. She wanted to be just like King Cacame, one of the characters. She hated elves like my grandfather did, and wanted to make him proud. She even wanted to join the military eventually, and when we were younger she always wanted us to practice swordfighting."
"Do you remember her face?" He spoke abruptly, shattering my thoughts like a mug through a gem window.
In my mind I pictured my old room; my bed; my sister's bed. I pictured the face of my Granmomma again, so vivid in my mind, and the ever-scowling one of my grandfather. But I paused when I got to my sister... it was blank. I saw nothing. I found it mildly annoying, and I was soon pressing myself harder to remember her.
Mr Frog spoke through the vision, his volume increasing at a slow but steady pace. "Do you remember her face? Do you remember her voice? Do you remember her laughs or tears, her frowns or smiles? Can you actually recall swordfighting with her at all?"
I saw myself standing in a torchlit room, holding a wooden sword, thrusting and parrying. I tried as hard as I could to place her, but no matter how I tried, I saw no one in that room but myself... I switched time forwards in my mind to when we arrived at Spearbreakers, and saw myself arrive alone, carrying a single bag that carried only my belongings. I relived more memories, but found to my horror that not even one of them contained her. I felt my shoulders droop with shock and disappointment as the realization slowly sucked me from the beauty of my onetime paradise to the cold, hard reality of my prison cell.
"I don't remember her at all," I managed defeatedly in disbelief, my body beginning to shake with repressed sobs. Mr Frog stood and slowly walked to my side, patting my shoulder in a rough imitation of consolation. Several tears trailed down my face.
"It's all right," he said, as if it would be reassuring. "She simply never existed."
I turned to him in anger. "She did
exist!" I yelled. "She was
real! I had a sister; she was beautiful and funny, and her name was..." I stopped, searching my memory for something that didn't seem to exist.
He frowned slightly, almost empathetically. "You don't even remember her name..." he said softly, slowly shaking his head.
Unhindered, tears cascaded down my cheeks as I shook with sobs, audible for the first time in years. He backed away and began pacing across the room, but I hardly noticed. I'd always felt that my sister had been my whole world; all I had to live for. She'd been the reason I'd kept trying to find a job, the reason I tried so hard to avoid detection, the reason we... the reason I
moved to Spearbreakers in search of a better life. But to be told she'd never existed; to find I couldn't even remember her name... I'd never felt so alone. Mr Frog's presence in the room made little difference.
"Vanya," he said, and I looked him in the eyes, brushing the hair out of my face and tucking it behind my cursed ears. He seemed uncomfortable... something I'd never seen or even heard of him being. "Vanya," he repeated hesitantly, "it's all right. I've seen this happen before." He didn't seem to know how to react to my crying.
My gaze left his, dropping slowly to the floor. "My sister was real," I insisted weakly, but the fight had gone out of my voice.
"She's real in your mind," he corrected, "and that's all that need matter to you..."
I didn't want to discuss it anymore. I shook my head indelicately, wiping the tears from my eyes. "Let's just talk about something else."
"All right," he agreed, changing the subject. "Do you remember when you first saw your golden bracelet?"
I looked disdainfully at him. "My grandparents said I was two when I arrived at the mountainhome. What do you
"Can I assume that you believe it was a gift from your original, elven parents?" he queried.
I sniffed and wiped a stray tear from my face. "No, my grandmother made it for me. She cared about us." The "us" slipped out - I'd meant my sister and I, but had forgotten.
"It wouldn't have stayed on your wrist when you were two. Do you remember when your grandparents gave it to you?"
I thought about it for a moment, but couldn't place the memory. It confused me. "No," I said, shaking my head. "I can't even remember them saying anything about it."
The man sat, picking up his notebook again and writing something down. "Interesting," he said, deep in thought.
"Mr Frog?" I asked hopelessly, looking up and searching his eyes, "Why can't I remember these things? Why can't I remember my sister, or my grandparents giving me my bracelet?"
He scratched his beard ponderingly. "I'm not entirely sure. It's possible your memories were altered."
"Have you ever forgotten anything like that, and can't remember it?"
He did a double take and looked at me curiously before responding. "I'm the one asking the questions. Not you."
Somehow I got the distinct feeling the answer was "yes". I asked another question anyway. "Do you still think I'm a spy?"
you a spy?"
"Have you ever been a spy?"
"Are you on the side of Spearbreakers or something else?"
"Then I believe it. I'm a neurobiological chemist, and I designed what you consumed yesterday to render you incapable of speaking lies." With this said, he tucked his notebook and pencil away in his cloak. "I have enough information now, however. Thank you for your time, Vanya," he finished, as if I had any choice.
He walked over towards me, and injected something into my arm with one of his syringes. He did it so quickly I didn't even have time to tense my muscles at the slight pain. "To return your mind to normal," he explained, putting the empty device away and turning from me.
As he walked towards the portcullis door, I followed him with my eyes. "Mr Frog?" I asked quickly.
He paused, turning back in my direction. "Yes?"
"If you know I'm not a spy, can't I go free now?"
He turned away and began to work with something within his cloak, keeping it carefully out of my sight. "Terribly sorry, but no."
"But I pose no threat to the fortress!"
"Yes, you do. You know too much," he said with a brief glance in my direction.
I was incredulous. Somehow I'd gotten it into my head that I'd be released at the end of his visit. "And you can't just give me one of those amnesiacs Talvi took to make me forget everything?"
The portcullis raised, the lever outside seemingly pulling itself. Mr Frog stepped through and looked back at me through the bars as it lowered again. "I don't have the appropriate equipment," he said simply, and left.
I got off the little bed-shelf where I'd been sitting and stood, stretching my legs and walking to the door. I looked between the bars and watched as the cloaked figure walked out of sight, my last hope of salvation apparently gone. With a heavy sigh, I walked back and laid down on the bed. I picked up my journal, flipping through it absentmindedly as I puzzled over all that had happened.
Maybe Mr Frog had been right. Maybe I was wrong, and I'd never had a sister at all. Maybe I'd just imagined her to fill gaps in my memory. I had no idea how my own brain worked, anyway. But then, why was I so attached to someone who'd never existed? Why did I care so much about her? And the bracelet... if I'd only acquired it recently, and couldn't even remember how I'd gotten it, why was I so attached to it? Why did I want to keep it in my possession so badly?
Mr Frog's visit raised more questions than it answered.
I put the journal down on the floor and turned towards the wall, wanting to sleep away my confusion. Whatever he'd injected into me was making me sleepy, anyway.
As I slowly drifted from the waking world, a new question emerged: Why had someone altered my mind? Why had someone made me believe I'd had a sister? He'd implied that someone had knowingly changed my thoughts by using magic. Was I really that important?
The last question that lingered before it, too, faded away, was whether or not someone had altered Mr Frog's mind as well.