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"'Shall we allow criminals to roam the streets at will because we're afraid to take the chance of harming an innocent prisoner?'"
A bloody knife from a crime scene becomes a mystery to be solved and a foreshadow of trouble to come.
The ties forged between the noble-minded Eternal Dungeon and an abusive foreign dungeon have set off an unpredictable chain of horrific events, in which the love between two of the Eternal Dungeon's Seekers (torturers) will be tested to the straining point. Caught in the middle of the struggle are Barrett Boyd and Seward Sobel, loyal guards who will find themselves questioning their most fundamental beliefs about the royal prison's ideals.
Barrett must help his Seeker determine whether their mild-mannered prisoner is an attempted murderer. His friend Seward has pledged to guard his own Seeker against an assassin . . . or should Seward be protecting the dungeon inhabitants against his Seeker? But when the guards' two Seekers fall into a lovers' quarrel, that is when the real danger begins.
A winner of the 2011 Rainbow Awards (within the "Eternal Dungeon" omnibus), this tale of friendship, romance, and suspense can be read on its own or as the fourth volume in The Eternal Dungeon, an alternate history series set in a nineteenth-century prison where the psychologists wield whips.
The Eternal Dungeon series is part of Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, a cycle of diverse alternate history series (The Eternal Dungeon, Dungeon Guards, Michael's House, Life Prison, Commando, Waterman, Young Toughs, and Dark Light) about adults and youths on the margins of society, and the people who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the novels and stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times. As a result, the New World retains certain classical and medieval customs.
"Isn't the central Vovimian rite the marriage of Mercy and Hell? Perhaps the High Seeker needs Mr. Taylor to assist him with whatever religious rituals he is performing down there."
Barrett added, "We can guess which of them is playing Mercy."
"And who is Hell." Mr. Sobel gave the slight grimace of discomfort that he always showed on the few occasions when he poked fun at his Seeker.
Mr. Urman evidently decided it was safe to join the merriment. "And we can imagine what the rite is like too. Mr. Smith will go down on one knee before Mr. Taylor—"
"He'll pledge to him his undying love," said Barrett.
"He'll offer him flowers—"
"—and all the riches of his life and body—"
"—and then he'll tie up Mr. Taylor and use his instruments of torture on him," Mr. Sobel said wearily as the other two men crowed with laughter. "Yes, I know; we've all heard the jokes before."
"The trouble is," said Barrett, wiping away tears of amusement, "that those jokes are likely to be too close to the truth. I can't imagine why Mr. Taylor stays with the High Seeker."
"Let's just be thankful that he does," replied Mr. Sobel shortly.
Mr. Urman leaned back. "What does it matter if those two stay at peace with one another?"
Mr. Sobel and Barrett exchanged looks.
"What?" asked Mr. Urman, frowning.
"Mr. Urman," Mr. Sobel replied in that patient voice Mr. Boyd remembered him using often during Mr. Urman's training, "have you noticed, by any chance, that Mr. Taylor is an extremely stubborn individual?"
Mr. Urman gave a short laugh. "Stubborn? I suppose that's the polite way of putting it. Bloody-minded is how I would have put it."
"And have you noticed," contributed Barrett, "that Mr. Smith is also a very stubborn man?"
Mr. Urman did not bother to reply this time.
"And has it occurred to you to wonder," finished Mr. Sobel softly, "what would happen to this dungeon if Mr. Taylor's stubbornness came into conflict with Mr. Smith's stubbornness?"
Mr. Urman opened his mouth, and left it hanging.