Illegal Infirmary, Lower City, Amin Duum
Muytil 1, 4765
“Why won’t she see me?”
Irad paced back and forth, trapped in the clean room behind the surgical theatre, at the far end of the infirmary. Zoriel barred the doorway, and Maali stood close by, prepared for anything. Arandes was elsewhere, teaming up warriors and watchers to head out into the night. He’d left Zoriel and her to deal with the fallout from Nenja’s awakening.
The clean room, technically a bathroom and scrub room for surgeons, was about as far as they could get Irad from Nenja’s bed without taking him out of the actual infirmary. Once tiled from floor to ceiling and kept constantly clean to a standard like nowhere else in the infirmary, now many of the tiles were broken, or had fallen off the walls and ceiling completely, piling up in the corners and spreading their dust across the floor. Stained, it bore the memories of nights of torture when once the infirmary had been a torture chamber in the First Purge. No amount of cleaning by any kind of specialist crew would ever restore this room to its former condition. Just standing in here turned Maali’s stomach.
“Why won’t she see me? Is it the injuries? What is it? Does she blame me?” Irad wheeled back and forth, hands clamped about his head or waving in the air, frantic. He was stuck in a repeating loop of questions and completely lost to reason. Maali had only rarely seen anybody get like this, and that was here in Duum. This place did things to people.
“I haven’t had a chance to speak to her,” Maali said, keeping her tone as calm as possible, “but I’ll discuss it with her. There’s no need to get carried away.”
“It’s my fault.” Irad stopped. His face was streaked with tears and dirt. What he’d been doing to acquire this mask, Maali didn’t know. “It’s my fault.” His pacing resumed, arms flailing again. “She blames me. That’s what it is. She blames me because of what happened to her. Because I couldn’t come and get her. I should’ve come and got her.”
“Irad.” Maali sharpened her tone. It was no good, with warriors, being all soft and calm. They only responded to a sharp tone. Now, he did stop, and stared at her. She left Zoriel’s side and stepped forward. She didn’t have time to spend hours watching him have a breakdown. This had to be finished. She stood in front of him, and gripped him by his arms. “Pull yourself together. We don’t know why Nenja won’t see you, and maybe it’s only temporary. You couldn’t have come down here and rescue her. You couldn’t. Arandes even had people come down here to find her and it couldn’t be done, remember?”
Irad fought with something internally, gritting his teeth against it, then nodded reluctantly.
“This isn’t like you, Irad. You’ve not been right since you’ve been here. To make this work I need you to be under control with your mind on the job. It’s either that or we’ll have guards swarming in here and they’ll do worse to us than they ever did to her. If you want her to be okay, you have to be the man you’ve been raised to be. D’you understand me, Irad?”
Again, he nodded. It was painful. She stared up into his face, wondering if there was something else going on. There was no way to tell, at least, not that she could think of. She stepped back, releasing him from her grip.
“What d’you need to do to get yourself under control?” she asked.
Irad rubbed his face, smearing muck further across his cheeks. “I need to work,” he said. “I’ll go out there tonight with Raz.”
“Good. Get your mind off it.” Maali folded her arms. “So, get yourself cleaned up and ready to get out there. And remember, the rules are different down here. You put Raz or any of the others in danger, he will kill you. We have to make this work.”
Irad took a deep breath, gathering himself together in front of her, then stalked off. Zoriel let him through, then watched him stride out through the surgical wing to the main gallery. Maali shuddered, hunching her shoulders as she joined Zoriel at the doorway.
“He shouldn’t be down here,” she said. “We should never have let him come down here.”
“I didn’t have a choice.” Zoriel leaned back against the door frame. Maali wondered how he could even bear to touch the surfaces in here. “We couldn’t get to the lift. It was bring him down or let him die. And I didn’t fancy what those shadow things might do to him.”
Maali nodded, her throat tight. “I’m worried he’s not going to be able to deal with this if Nenja doesn’t want to see him anymore. The sooner we can get her out of here, the better.”
“Where’s she going to go?”
“I’ll have to get her sent down to Bas Kishri, find her somewhere else to be that isn’t here.” Maali sighed. “She doesn’t have much of a life ahead of her, as far as I can tell, but there are people in Amnar who can help her make the best of it, find her a way to be and deal with what they’ve done to her.”
“It’s no life.” Zoriel shook his head, saddened. Finally, he turned to Maali. “This is a bit off the point, but… I was wondering if there was a way to speak to the outside world while we’re down here.”
“Um… We can send messages through Bas Kishri, but we have to be careful. I’ve set this up so that nobody we called in specifically for this does more than six months down here at a stretch, so there’s going to be a lot of toing and froing.” She knew where he was going with this, but she didn’t know how to answer him that might be comforting.
“It’s just…” He paused, choosing his words carefully. “I was thinking about Pada. Kiero’s fine, he’s busy cutting rocks into pretty shapes, I think. My wife said she wasn’t going to tell her I was coming here to take over from Caro, let alone anything else. I don’t know how she’ll handle it. Are they going to be told?”
“Arandes told me that anybody who came down here from the Holy Complex would be leaving everything behind in the outside world. We couldn’t take the risk.” She didn’t want to see his face then, but she made herself. He was struggling to hide his disappointment. “If you showed up in six months’ time somewhere people could notice, there would be a lot of questions. As far as the rest of Amnar is concerned, you’ve died. You were killed in action in the Holy Complex”
Zoriel put his hand up to his head, taking a long, deep breath.
“I suppose… they might consider you missing, for a while.” Maali struggled to find something that might provide him consolation. “And… it’s not forever.”
“It’s going to be a real shock if Duum’s restored and we all show up all of a sudden.” Zoriel stared past her into the gallery, where Arandes was preparing his teams for the night’s work. “A real shock.”
“Raz says he bears all the responsibility,” Maali said, lowering her voice now. “He takes all the blame because it was his idea in the first place. And… well, you know what happened in the Nas Ashca when they tried to get rid of him. It’s not like he doesn’t have the most powerful backing you could ever hope for.”
“Does she know?” Zoriel must have been reminded by the statue in the gallery of the infirmary, battered by time and guards’ swords.
“You know what? I have no idea. I don’t know how it works between them. I don’t know if this was all his idea, or if she said to him that he should do something, just in case the Capillites don’t have the spinal cords for it. I don’t know. I don’t think anybody does.”
“Well, if anybody did, it’d be you.” Zoriel pushed himself off the wall and strode away toward the gallery. “I’ll just have to hope that Duum’s restored soon, so I get to see my daughter graduate.”
He didn’t give Maali a chance to reply. He joined Arandes’ group, standing on the edge and nodding along with Arandes’ instructions. The watchers and warriors had already split themselves into pairs, ready to get out into the darkness of the nearest complex. Maali left them to it, striding back down the gallery to the far end, to where Nastasia sat watching over Nenja. Nastasia had propped her up on pillows, to make it easier for her to talk. The two appeared to be locked in conversation, although Nenja’s responses were weak croaks, and little more than a word at a time.
“…Maali’s very good. She’ll make sure that people can explain it to Irad.” Nastasia lightly rested her hand on the bandaged remains of Nenja’s, a gesture of comfort. She was doing well, Maali thought, better than Kia and Daira ever expected. Her own appearance at the bedside stirred Nenja, and she reacted, tensing and pressing back into her pillow.
“It’s all right,” Nastasia reassured her. “Servants really aren’t that scary.”
Maali raised a hand to silence Nastasia. She gazed down into Nenja’s one remaining eye. “They tell you we’re monsters, don’t they,” she said. “We’re monsters and what we do when we heal people is mind control and dangerous.”
Nenja said nothing, but gave a single nod of her head.
“And it’s one thing to agree to work with warriors who show up, but the most senior members of the Amnari are another matter.” Maali sat down on the stool on the other side of the bed. “This isn’t just about the physical consequences of what you’ve been put through, it’s about dealing with what you’ve been told about us and the truth about us.” She paused. “You’re not an enemy to us, Nenja, and neither are most of the people in Duum. When the city first fell, we agreed that unless somebody raised a sword against us, we would consider them one of us. We’re here to make sure that anybody who needs help gets it.”
Nenja managed another single nod of her head, but still did not speak.
“This is going to be an uphill struggle,” Maali went on. “You have a lot of injuries that we just cannot properly treat. We can go through what we can and can’t deal with later. Until now, all I can do is reassure you that you’re about as safe as you can be anywhere in Duum right now. You did a great deal for us, at a massive cost, and we owe you everything we can give in return.”
At this, Nenja closed her eye. She swallowed with difficulty, and turned her head away. Maali didn’t know how to interpret that; perhaps the only thing Nenja could feel now was regret. She glanced across at Nastasia. “You can head out with the others if you want to,” she said. “It might be a good learning experience.”
Nastasia shook her head. “I’d rather stay here. I think I get… I get where Nenja’s coming from better than anybody else. She isn’t the only one who feels like an outsider.”
“It’d help if you spent more time with them, even if they don’t like it. Not everybody’s like Daira and Kia. They’ll kick them into touch if need be.” Maali turned her attention back to Nenja, who now lay with her eye open again, watching them both in silence. Maali felt as though she was being studied or assessed. She wasn’t surprised. “I’ve just been speaking to Irad, and we’re going to make sure—”
She stopped. At the name, Nenja shook her head again and tried to raise her hands. “No, no. I can’t…”
“It’s all right,” Maali said, pressing home her point. “He’s not going to come barging in here. There’s no pressure. None at all.”
“I can’t see him,” Nenja said, her voice nothing more than a croak. “I can’t see him ever again.”