A mission of self-sacrifice and assassination. Why didn't you say so sooner?

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"Can you feel it?" hissed a voice in the darkness.

"Y-yes. No. No, I can't feel it." The scared reply.

"Tell the truth."

"I can't. I can't. I swear, I can't feel it."

"I thought we had progressed beyond the need for lies."

"I'm not. Why would I? Why would I lie about that? If it hurts, why should I say I can't feel it?"

"Why? Always, why. And my answer always the same."

"Oh, God, please. Please. What do you want?"

"The truth."

"About what?" shrieked that second, tormented voice. "I told you I can't feel it. What else is there?"

"There is the truth. The truth can set you free."

"I-I'll tell you. Everything. Anything. What do you want to know?"

"Right now, I want to know if you can feel it. I want to know you are not lying in order to avoid the greater pain to come."

A scream of unbearable anguish. "YEEESSSSS! I CAN FEEL IT!" Abruptly, the scream trailed off into soft, meaningless blubbering. Before the second voice quieted altogether, it ended with a repetition of, "Thank you, thank you, thank you . . . ."

"There. You see? The truth has freed you from the pain."

The room fell silent, save for a rasping pant emanating from its center. There stood a squat, blood-stained table, rigged with all manner of restraint and vice. Upon that table reclined a supine, wasted form. It had once been a man, but was now only a victim. Its flesh was gaunt with hunger, its bones protruded at every joint. Bruises marked its lumpy body, bruises and half healed lacerations. Its hair and teeth were falling out. Its fingernails had been pulled out long ago. There wasn't much left to sustain this, the wastrel's final session before his task master.

But the task master gazed down upon his victim with a professional eye. He knew how much was enough, just exactly. Here before him was stretched all he would need to learn the truth.

"The truuuuuth," hissed the tormentor, "Has set you free."

The wastrel said nothing. But he wondered. He wondered what they thought he knew. He wondered why they had chosen him. He wondered when his torturer would finish this interrogation, and when his pain would end.

"Do you know, prisoner fourteen, how to properly court the truth? No? Carefully, as if one were charming a cobra. It must be enticed and confused, it must be drawn out inch by dangerous inch, it must be made jealous of itself in light of its own revelations, so one part of its length cannot deny another. The truth must be handled hand over fist, each grip of it sure and unyielding, until it is plucked safely from the sack in entirety. No part of it can be relinquished once it is pulled forth, lest it whip back and bite he who would handle it.

"So, I am the charmer. You are the sack. Within you, the deadly serpent, truth. I can see it there, behind your eyes, all squirming to be free. I will have it soon, and you will gladly release it. Then, only then, will you, yourself, be free. Only then will your pain come to an end."

Upon hearing this, the wastrel sighed heavily with longing. The sound had escaped his lips before it could be stifled. And the tormentor had taken notice from his corner shadows. He laughed without humor.

"There, another desire uniquely your own that has somehow found its way into my pocket. I shall hold it for you dearly, and offer its return when our long day's work is done. For now, you must rest, and hear what I have to say. The more you learn, the more smoothly our operation will proceed. Are you willing to do this thing today, prisoner fourteen?"

"Y-Yes. Yes, please. I want the pain to end."

"And it will. Do you trust me?"

"Yes."

"How much, I wonder? Completely? Do you trust me beyond doubt?"

"I-"

"Before you speak, fourteen, remember this; no lies. I will not tolerate lies. Conceal no length of truth from me, no matter how short it may be. Gaze deeply into your soul and see for yourself. Do you trust me? Beyond all doubt?"

For many seconds, the wastrel said nothing. Ultimately, he replied only, "I don't know." It was the only reply he could make.

"Ahhhh," breathed the task master, "Truth. How deliciously sweet it is when sampled purely. I know it so well by now, after these many long years, but each instance of it is as savory as the first." The wastrel could hear footsteps in the darkness, and a rattle of implements. These were sounds to fill the victim's mouth with a coppery taste of terror. "Still, this small truth is but a tiny bit of the larger whole. We must have all of it, before you may rest."

A further rattling of implements ended with a loud crash, as though an armload of unwanted tools had been discarded when the desired object had been found. The task master stepped into a circle of light that was marbled through with tendrils of lingering smoke. At the center of this light, the wastrel shivered upon his table.

"No, please," that shade begged pathetically, "Please. Don't. I'll tell you everything. Anything. Whatever you want to know. Whatever you want to hear."

"But, you see, prisoner fourteen, that, precisely, is what I don't want. I don't want false confessions of fabricated crimes. I don't want to hear lies about your lovers and friends, or unfounded innuendo concerning conspiracies that don't exist. Do not make the mistake of judging what I want to hear, then offering that judgment up for my consumption as if it were the truth I seek.

"No, you must be utterly honest and forthright in your dealings with me, and you must trust me completely. For trust begets trust, and two trusts together often spawn an ability for one to believe another. Once this level of exchange has been attained, that truth concealed within the many folds of your brain will begin to slither out of its sack, into my waiting hands. When I have every oily scale of it, your pain will be at an end, and your further life beyond this room will be only just begun.

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