Sancia stared up at the ceiling. Part of her realized that she should be doing something else, like figuring out a way to get out of here. Part of her still couldn't believe how easily she had been captured. Part of her worried about Berenice, who was capable and brave and smart and beautiful, but who'd probably never gotten herself captured and tied up before.
Part of her realized that while their captors had taken away all of her scrived items, they'd overlooked the small, tiny thing all thieves carried to get out of a sticky situation like this one. Sancia hadn't needed to use it for a long time, but if she had to, she was sure she'd managed. Hopefully.
Next to her, Orso cursed. "Can't believe I'm going to die in a scrumming church!"
"A what?" There were images on the ceiling, Sancia saw. The paint had faded with age, but she could still faintly make out the scene: a person on a throne, surrounded by people with wings.
"A church!" said Orso, then, apparently realizing the term meant nothing to her, "A place where idiots used to come to talk to a god that doesn't exist. Probably."
"Probably?" Sancia tried to get the stone on which she was lying to describe the rest of the room to her, and the bonds around her wrists to tell her how she could undo them.
"My mother was a believer." Orso made it sound like a curse. "She told my brother and me that if we played nice and behaved, when we died, angels would come and take us to a better world. Given that my brother was a little shit, I suppose I should be grateful. Not that it seemed to hold him back much."
"It's hard to imagine you as a child, sir," said Berenice. Sancia knew that when they'd been captured, Berenice had been carrying all sorts of scrived items, hidden all over her person. Sancia sensed none of them at present. "What happened to your brother, if you don't mind my asking?"
Orso grunted. "Nothing he didn't deserve. Let's leave it at that, shall we? How about figuring out who we're dealing with here, at least? Is it Valeria, or isn't it?"
"I think it's not," said Sancia. "This place feels - I'm not sure how to put this. Empty?" She didn't add that at the same time, it felt as if something might fill that emptiness, if it chose to do so.
Berenice cleared her throat. "My grandfather used to tell the story of how he and his people were kept as slaves, once, in a faraway country, until an angel came and freed them all."
"What a great story," said Orso. "If your life's shit, just toughen it out and wait. Excuse me if I prefer not to sit around for a rescue."
Sancia decided not to voice her own thought, which was that if the angel in Berenice's story had been a hierophant, it seemed likely that the slaves' freedom had been short-lived. Of course, given a choice, they might have preferred such a thing, but from what Sancia had seen of the hierophants, asking people what they wanted hadn't really been their style.
Then again, maybe it had been an actual angel. But if angels exist, how come they only ever show up in stories? Why can't one of them walk in right now and free us?
"Some of my ... friends at the plantation believed that their ancestors were watching them from the beyond. They'd build secret little shrines, or sing songs the dead had enjoyed hearing in life."
It had seemed like a waste of time to Sancia. What was the point in trying to please someone when all they were going to do was watch? Watch, and do nothing?
'They're dead, Sansan. What do you expect them to do, without a body? They keep us company. They make sure none of us is ever alone. And they witness. The dead never forget.'
The living did, though: Sancia no longer remembered the name of the person who had told her this.
Orso yawned. "Abso-scrumming-lutely fascinating. Do go on."
"Sir," said Berenice.
"In case you lovesick idiots missed it: we've been captured by a bunch of fanatics who may very well be planning to cut our throats as soon as they return. Now is really not the time for trips down memory lane or studies in comparative religion, fascinating as the topic may be."
"If these people aren't Valeria's, shouldn't we try to talk to them, sir?" said Berenice. "They may be able to help. They may know things we need to know."
"They may not be in a talkative mood when they get back here after having discovered I've lied to them about the location of the lexicons. Plus, they seem to think scriving's the work of the devil."
'Ahh. Who needs devils and demons when we've got them that call themselves our masters?'
"You do come across as somewhat brusque to people who don't know you, sir," said Berenice.
"I'll have to work on that, I suppose."
Sancia tried turning on her abilities again. The chamber itself was still empty, with nothing responding to her touch, but perhaps if she pushed further, tried harder.
"I really want to make people shit their pants at the idea of wasting my time," said Orso.
And suddenly, Sancia felt herself connect to something. Something familiar. Someone familiar.
"Sancia? What's wrong?" Berenice sounded concerned - for Sancia, more than for herself, even though they were in exactly the same situation.
<There you are, little bird. And it seems that, once again, I am in your debt. for finding those who would oppose me, stop me from fulfilling my purpose.>
Sancia opened her eyes. "The good news is, our captors are going to be too busy to come in here for a while. Possibly for a very long while."
"Great," said Orso. "This day keeps getting better and better."
<If you really feel you owe me, how about a bit of help with these bonds?> asked Sancia.
Valeria made no reply. Sancia wondered if perhaps the same thing that kept her from using her abilities kept Valeria from editing the reality in this room. It was a dangerous conclusion to jump to, but if there was a way to test it, that discovery might more than make up for having been kidnapped.
"The other good news is that I can get free," said Sancia. "It'll take me some time, because I'm completely out of practice, but I'll get there in the end."
That wouldn't solve the problem of Valeria, of course, or of what to do with these people who appeared to want to return the world to how it had been thousands and thousands of years ago, before people had discovered scriving.
Oh well. One thing at a time.