Chapter Thirteen – When You Get lost on Sardonia, Nobody Comes to Find You
By the time Citlally’s jaw was nearly fully healed, Vashyyk was coming to her less and less often. When he did come, it was with the lavishta elixir, which she always threw up most of. She complained to him how badly it made her belly hurt, how dizzy she felt, and he only smiled and told her that it was doing its job. When she asked him directly what exactly that job was, his face turned sad and he shook his head. He only said that it was usually done just as a precaution and then left.
One morning, she woke up with a song running through her mind. Back on Earth, she would listen to it whenever she was feeling down. It reminded her that all life experienced hardships sometimes, but that she would get through it. It reminded her that beneath all of the suffering, life was still a thing of grace and beauty.
“Before me plays the endless film, relentless splinters I recall: each living thing breathes life.” To her, breathing did not even have to mean air. For the ætherial life-forms, it could be anything. But still, there was an exchange between the being and the universe around it.
“Only sentiment remains. To liquid born, from patterns formed. The sand descends with blind intent. Where the river takes me will in time be revealed.” The galactic river, she thought to herself. Or the river of life that some spiritual philosophies proposed. There were many ways to interpret it, but no matter what, she would eventually be able to look back at all that she had been through, and know that she was made up of all of her experiences, good, bad and in-between.
“I cannot turn my feelings down; beyond my means to turn my thoughts around. Expressed in every word I will ever speak. Brighter than all the stars combined, more than the waters, earth and sky. All that I wish and all that I dream.”
She had always known that the universe around her was far more incredible than she could ever possibly imagine. She was made of it, to be sure, and she brought it to life through her heartbeat, but there were infinite mysteries out there that she had yet to comprehend. She had always wanted to know, to learn, to become one with everything that there was to experience, but at the same time she knew that each living thing could only experience a small facet of the universe. There was a certain sadness to that, but also a certain beauty.
“It didn’t matter how hard I tried, it took so long to claim that I knew how or what it meant to let go of this, to ever say goodbye. Call it destiny, call it fate. Chose my direction, running forward. Each life to learn anew, whatever… whatever may come.”
She knew about the idea of rebirth, of her consciousness always flowing through the universe, from one form to the next, a new heartbeat every time. She had learn to not deny it, to not shun the frailty of one life, to embrace the ebb and flow. Every culture on Earth expressed it in some way, some more recognizably than others. Life was temporary but on-going, and all you could do to cope with it was keep going. Don’t stop, because once you stop, you wound the universe, and that is the worst sin of all.
As her eyes fluttered open, Citlally felt the tears tickling her cheeks. “I miss you Endan,” she whispered, her voice hardly more than a whisper. “You are the one who’s always helped me get through things. I wanted to wander the galaxy with you, not without you.”
* ** *** ** *
The next time Vashyyk came by, he handed Citlally a uniform. It was a dull, dingy sort of grayish-brown skirt and vest, with a white gown to wear underneath. It was not her style at all, but she knew that it would smell better than the filthy thing she’d been wearing for days on end, perhaps even weeks. Before she changed, he helped her to her feet and told her to follow him.
“You reek,” he said coldly and they walked down to another room. In it there was a wide wooden tub full of steaming water. “Get yourself clean and come back out. The master does not want to smell your stench. I will wait out here.”
Citlally nodded, but the motion made her dizzy. She leaned against the wall, moaning loudly, but Vashyyk did nothing to help her.
“I am not undressing you. Gather your strength and do it yourself.” With that, he slammed the door shut and sat on a low bench just outside the door.
She supposed that she ought to have been thankful that the alien would not see her naked. She only wanted Endan to ever see her… just not the way she looked now. Piece by piece, she shed her layers of clothing, dropping each one onto the floor. All that sleeping, yet she still felt so exhausted. How was she to do any work if she felt that tired? When was the last time she’d even eaten? Her stomach felt like an empty mess of sad flesh.
The water was hot, and already scented with soap and oils, not for luxury, but because she smelled so bad. She slipped into it slowly and sank down to soak. Then she found a sponge and began to scrub herself clean. She pulled off her bandages and found that her wounds doing much better, although, as Vashyyk had warned her, the scarring was terrible. Washing her hair was the strangest part of all. She was used to sudsing long strands and carefully combing through it to keep it soft. Now that it was short, it hardly took a moment to do.
With a heavy sigh, she wondered how Endan would feel when he saw her. Her scars, her hair, the bruises. There were also the black lines where the poison had been injected. It all felt like too much to bear. Vashyyk didn’t give her long to contemplate all of that. He started shouting for her to hurry up, that there was work to do, so she rose out of the water and started to dry off.
As she sat on a stool to lean over and dry her feet, she felt something tickling the inside of her thigh. When she parted her legs to look at she it was, she gasped at what she saw. The blood there was bright red, and flowing as though from a cut deep inside her. When she stood up and tried to wipe it away, another trickle crept down to replace it. She worried then that this was not her usual monthly flow; that never bled so readily as this.
“Vashyyk, I am bleeding!” She cried out through the door.
“You will live,” he told her, his voice flat and uncaring. “Wrap yourself in bandages to absorb it; you do not want blood on your uniform.”
“No, Vashyyk – I cannot work like this. Something is terribly wrong!”
“You will work or he will punish you again.”
He had done so much to help her – even while he denied it – and now this? “How could you be so cruel? Vashyyk, the blood –”
“Wrap yourself up or I will be forced to go in there and do it for you!” he shouted back at her. “After a few days, this will all be behind you.”
“Listen, the compt keeps a syringe of that venom if his office. If you do not obey, he will inject you with it. Are you prepared for another dose of poison? He will probably whip you as well.”
“No…” she conceded. “I just… What if I pass out?”
“If you faint, you had better wake up quickly, or he will take you for dead and set you outside for the grave wagon to take you away.”
Citlally was starting to see that there was no way around it. She had to put on the uniform and try to work. She folded some gauzy linen and placed it between her legs, and then wrapped more cloth around her hips as a sort of loincloth to hold it in place. It was a thick bundle, but she still hoped that it would be enough to hold the blood that was flowing from her.
When she opened the door, Vashyyk held up a pair of sandals in front of her. She swallowed hard, and looked back into the washroom. Those were her clothes laying on the floor in there. They were filthy, to be sure, but they were things that she’d either brought with her from Earth or purchased during her travels in space. She loathed the idea of leaving them there, the possibility of never coming for them looming heavy in her mind. All the same, she knew that she could not put them back on though; not even her beloved boots. With a heavy sigh, she took the sandals from him and sat down so slip them on.
“Do not talk when we get upstairs. If you speak, my orders are to slap you. Is that what you want?”
Citlally shook her head.
“Then keep silent. If their mood is bad enough, they will not even want you to say ‘yes, sir.’ Can you keep quiet?”
She nodded, and he told her to stand up. Vashyyk led her up a flight of narrow stone steps, on which several of the cobbles were loose. He unlatched a door that opened to the outside air and ushered her through. A heavily-armored guard stood beside the door, and she knew better than to speak or to even think of fleeing. At that point, she didn’t even want to cast her eyes on him.
Together they went to a shaded area where a huge vat of water was boiling, and he pointed to a stack of wooden buckets. “You are going to scrub the floor today. Take a bucket and fill it with hot water. The baskets of cleaning supplies are over there.”
With a nod, Citlally did all of the things she was ordered to do, forcing her body to work through its weakness, then followed Vashyyk through a different door that led back into the manor house. He showed her to a room that would have been empty if it hadn’t been littered with various plant material. It was scattered randomly across the floor, scraps of hay here, leaves blown in through a once-open window there. Not to mention the cobwebs and the dust. She remembered that she was supposed to clean a room meant to become a nursery. Was this really a place for twin babies?
“There is the broom,” Vashyyk said as he pointed at one wall. “You sweep all of the dirt into one corner first, and then start scrubbing at the opposite end. One of the maids will come by later to collect the dirt into a dust pan. Right now there are not enough to go around, and you are not allowed to leave this room on your own anyway.”
Citlally looked around the room, gave a long sigh, and nodded slowly. This was no nursery. It was bigger than her parents’ living room back home, and they had a very spacious house. The twins would have room to sleep, play and even set up a small circus if they so chose. It was too bad that she could not say anything to the turquoise-furred man about it.
“Stay in this room, and do not ask for anything unless you are specifically asked whether you need something. That goes for food, the toilet, more hot water – anything. Do you understand?”
Citlally nodded, but Vashyyk did not seem completely satisfied. He looked at her, then at the filthy room, then gave an exasperated sigh. Without warning, he closed the door and leaned in close to her.
“Listen girl… what you do today is very important.” His voice was low, as though he didn’t want anyone else to overhear. “The comptess will be home late today, and no doubt she will be checking on how you are progressing with this room. Remember, if you speak to her – or worse, if you touch her – you will be sent to the mines. When you are there, nobody cares what happens to you. You could disappear and nobody would go after you. You would have to fend for yourself out there, and Sardonia is a dangerous place.”
She nodded again, and he slipped out the door and left her completely alone. Why he’d felt the need to remind her about the mines, she could only speculate. She had a strange feeling about the way he’d worded it, as though she was supposed to want to go to the mines. She remembered from some old research – probably from her college days, perhaps earlier – what it was like in the mines back on Earth: dark and dangerous. Miners could be crushed, suffocated or poisoned, attacked by bats, lost or trapped, even burned alive if it was a coal mine that caught fire.
Still, what if he meant that she could find a way out, a way to escape?
Then again, it was probably not a matter as simple as being put on a cart and riding away. The Compt de Herryv would probably whip her, too. She might even be injected with another dose of k’zshyrk, and she was not interested in the way that venom made her feel. She had to focus on staying well enough to get off of Sardonia, and her current bleeding was bad enough.
There was little point in fretting over it. If she had to speak to the comptess in order to get sent away, it was worth a try. Staying where she was would get her nowhere. She had made a promise to Endan that she would find him, no matter what it took. No matter how hard it was, she was going to keep that promise. There was no reason to give up now just because of a little blood. She picked up the broom and started to sweep, thoughts of Endan, his smell, his warmth, his charming smile, keeping her going despite the dizziness in her head and the ache in her belly.
* ** *** ** *
Hours later, Citlally had propped herself against a wall, refusing to move another inch. Her head was spinning, and her belly churned as though she were being devoured from the inside. She had swept hardly a third of the room when her weakness demanded to be succumbed to, and the broom had been used as a sort of cane so that she could get to a wall and slide down. Then she refused to move from there.
When she heard doors opening down the hall, it sounded like a terrible crashing. The doors must have been large and heavy, and it seemed as though somebody was slamming them. Then there were footsteps drawing closer, and voices coming with them. One of the voices was angry and impatient, the others servile, as though trying to placate the first. Citlally was too lost in the mires of her own mind to make out what they were saying. She hardly even realized that the door to the room she was in had been opened, and that someone was looking in.
“What has been going on in here?” a dissatisfied voice asked as the door creaked open wider. Several footsteps scraped across the floor, which Citlally had yet to finish sweeping.
Citlally took a long breath in and blinked her eyes. There was the long snout of a weasel-faced creature, the fur a rich brown but with a metallic flair, as though the tip of each hair faded into silver. She was plumper than the Compt de Herryv, and by the way her belly bulged out in front of her as she stood there frowning, she was his comptess.
“Your grace, please,” a second voice pleaded, and another figure stepped into the room from the hallway. She looked a lot like Vashyyk, with turquoise fur and eyes to match, though far more gloomy. The only difference was that she was quite a lot shorter than he was. “We have said that we would come for you when the room is ready.”
“How could this ever be made ready,” the comptess responded, her voice bitter and disdainful, “with this thing lying on the floor and doing none of the work of cleaning it?”
Citlally stared up at the Wilang woman as she crossed halfway through the room to look around and shake her head. She was offended at being called a thing, but decided to save her strength for what she really needed to say.
“My lady, we had no idea that she had stopped working.” another turquoise girl said. Citlally was starting to wonder how many of this race worked in Aredansk’s home.
“We will set her back to her task right away,” the first added. “For now, may we help you to your room? You really should be resting.”
“I shall go when I see this thing doing what she was bought to do!” the comptess snapped. Then she walked over to where the broom had fallen onto the floor and kicked it towards Citlally.
When the broom handle knocked against her leg, Citlally turned and moved onto her knees. “I can do no more!” she cried.
“You would speak to me in such a manner?!” The comptess sounded appalled at Citlally’s words, but had no other slave ever disobeyed her before?
Citlally crawled towards her, forcing herself to move despite the pain it caused her. “Please, you don’t understand.”
“I understand full well that you refuse to work.”
“I am bleeding!” Citlally called back, nearly screaming at the noblewoman. She edged forward and grabbed the Wilang woman’s skirts, clinging to the thick fabric and staring up at her as her eyes teared up.
“Do not touch me!” the comptess ordered her, as offended as she seemed frightened while she tried to pull away. Citlally half expected to be kicked away, but she also realized that the comptess would be unwilling to touch somebody whom she considered soiled.
“You have to help me!” she begged, yanking on the cloth. Normally she would not have said such a thing, but she felt desperate enough to say anything just then, out-of-character or not.
“Unhand me this instant! You will be punished for this, you little heathen! Have you no sense of right and wrong? You are to work whether you like it or not.” The comptess looked to her attendants. “Get her out of here. Send for the slave captain of the mines. I want her gone before sunset.”
The turquoise-furred creatures nodded and rushed to each side of Citlally. While the human girl cried and begged for a doctor, they pried her fingers off of the cloth that she clung to and pulled her away from the comptess. The pregnant woman wasted no time in leaving the room, and could be heard shouting to other servants as she sailed down the hall. Citlally let them hold her in place, sobbing and trembling as she wailed about the bleeding and the injustice.
The attendants looked at one another, not sure what to do about the furless slave who seemed to be out of control. Instead of doing anything at all, they just held her there. After a while, heavy footsteps came, and then a familiar voice.
“You’ve really done it now, haven’t you?”
Citlally looked up to see Vashyyk standing just inside the doorway.
“In the mines,” she remembered aloud, as though it was the most important thing, “nobody cares if you go missing.”
“Nor if you die,” he added, shaking his head disdainfully. “You are both dangerous and desperate. There is only one reason why I don’t stop the master from buying humans, and I will not explain it to the likes of you. Just consider yourself lucky that the mine slaver will only buy you if you are not whipped. Say nothing about the bleeding, or you will not be put on that wagon. He has no interest in anything wounded.”
“What do they care if I die?” Citlally groaned out. The girls still held her tightly, but she did not resist.
“They don’t,” Vashyyk admitted. “Still, it would be a bad investment if you died before you could do any work. Do you not care about your own life?”
She scoffed, too confused by what his motives might have been to reply. He left the room again. The sky outside the window was starting to dim by the time he returned and beckoned for her to follow him. The attendants helped her up, checked that her uniform was not bloodied, then led her through the halls towards a doorway to the outside. They pretended to be keeping her in control, that she was struggling, but in reality she knew that she could hardly have made that walk without their help, such was her weakness.
Outside, a wagon had pulled up, pulled by the same kind of beast that Vashyyk had ridden to go fetch Citlally weeks ago. The man driving it was seated on a saddle fitted onto the beast’s high back, and he smirked when he saw the human being led out by the two alien girls.
“So this is the creature you think can work in the mines?” he drawled out, looking her over in a scrutinizing sort of way. Citlally worried for a moment that he might not take her with him. “What is she?”
“Who knows what they call her kind?” was Vashyyk’s reply. Why he was lying, she could only guess at. He grabbed her hand and held it up to him. “But she has dexterous fingers, and would be able to mine the smallest chunks of metal.”
The man on the back of the glokglok beast turned to the other side, leaned over, and spat down into the grass. When he looked back at them, Citlally peered up at him. He looked a lot like Vashyyk, although his greenish-blue fur was mostly covered by a long cloak of black leather, and his face was shaded by a wide-brimmed hat to match. He grumbled to himself and dug into the pouch at his belt.
“How much did the compt pay for her?”
Vashyyk stepped towards him and pulled a scrap of his paper from his pocket, which he handed to the man. When he took it, he grumbled again, and his eyes went wide as soon as he looked at it.
“He overpaid,” the darkly-dressed man said, and leaned over to spit again. “He hasn’t had her for very long, either. Why does he want her gone already?”
“She has outlasted her usefulness,” was all that Vashyyk would explain. It sounded to her that lying was common practice on Sardonia. “Come now, the compt has been a patron of the mines for ages. You know that he rewards generous offers.”
The other man scoffed. “The compt is also a dangerous man.” He pulled a handful of coins from his pouch and wrapped the paper around them before leaning down to hand the packet to Vashyyk. “I feel like I’m paying more to keep out of his wrath than I am for a good worker. Do not tell him I said that.”
“You know I would never cause trouble for a fellow waulon. The Wilang are bad enough without riling them up.” Vashyyk smiled to the other man as he took the money and placed it in the pocket of his vest. Then he turned to Citlally. “This is farewell, then. Get in the wagon, and don’t do anything stupid.”
Citlally got the feeling that Vashyyk wanted to wish her good luck, but that it simply wasn’t possible, given the circumstances. The charade that was going on – for she felt more and more that there was a subtext to everything that had been said to her – made it hard to tell what was real and what was simply a façade, but at that point she was more interested in climbing into the wagon and lying down. It was a small wagon, and also somewhat shallow, but there were several furs in it, and she curled up among them and pulled one over herself. The driver smirked and shook his head, then snapped the reins on his glokglok.
The wagon was soon rolling down the road, away from Compt Aredansk’s manor, over the hills of some kind of Sardonian countryside. In the last of the daylight, Citlally peered out and saw a landscape that might have once been green and lush, but that was now yellow-brown and struggling to survive. She imagined that she was looking at the remains of a once vast dynasty, the decay of an era long gone.
Even on Earth, times like those had treated the people of all number of civilizations badly. The Wilang might have once been a grand and noble people, but the fall of their civilization had left them tyrannical and bitter. If only she’d been able to meet them at a better time…
Sighing, Citlally laid her head down and let the rocking of the wagon put her to sleep.
* ** *** ** *
When the driver woke her up, shaking her vigorously by the shoulders, they were at the base of a mountain. The glokglok would have been parked in utter darkness were it not for the torches that burned in their fixtures on either side of the wide mouth that led into the mountain. Two waulon guards stood by that cave-like entrance, staring out stoically.
Citlally sat up, feeling her stomach growl out its complaints, and looked around; at least, she tried to. In the dark of the night, all she could see was what the torches lit up, and the stars far above. There was the wagon, the driver, the guards, and the glokglok. Everything else was black darkness and night. How far up the mountain went, she could not tell. The waulon driver did not give her time to wonder.
“Let’s go, girl,” he told her gruffly as he got off of his steed. He stepped up to the wagon and yanked the blanket off of her.
Citlally sat up slowly, her weakness refusing to let up, and climbed out of the wagon. She stumbled on the skirts of her own uniform and would have fallen into the dirt if he hadn’t caught her arm.
“Bah, scarred by the whip, are you?” he asked when he saw her skin; her short sleeves had done nothing to hide it. “Well, in here, you work or you have a hard time getting fed.” His voice was gravely and lacked any sort of formality, but she didn’t care. At least he was not arrogant like the compt.
The waulon man escorted her over to the opening that led into the mountain. Once they were closer, she could see that there was a gate of wrought iron blocking the entrance; she wasn’t sure whether it was meant to keep thieves out of the mine or to keep the workers locked inside. If this was the only way in or out, she was going to have a hard time escaping the mines.
One of the guards took a key from his pocket and unlocked the gate, letting the driver and Citlally inside. The gate clanged shut on their heels and was locked just as quickly. The cave-like entrance was dim, shrouded from the torchlight outside, but there was a glimmer of light further ahead. The driver led her towards it, and Citlally found that the path actually descended downwards, though not too steeply.
The light was coming from the entrance to a wide hall, a large and open room where a great many people had gathered. They were of all sorts of different races and sizes, most of them clearly female, though a few of them seemed rather androgynous.
There was row after row of tables, and the women sitting at them had trays and bowls laden with food, or at least various substances that she figured was what the race consuming it regarded as nourishment. There was chatter here and there, but it wasn’t as noisy as some mess halls she’d seen before could get.
The only male in the room, besides the waulon driver who’d brought her there, was dressed in a black uniform, covered by a long black coat – a duster, Citlally might have called it, had she cared what it was called at that moment – but he was a different race.
He was sitting near the door, fidgeting with the brim of the hat between his fingers as he watched the room, and she could see his head of shaggy brown hair. When he turned to glance up at them, she recognized his fair brownish eyes and half-human face, and forced herself not to gasp. She remembered, too, that he would not want her saying his name too eagerly.
Jalingan gave her a look of feigned disinterest and turned to the driver. “This the one the compt sold us?”
“She is. And look at her arm, scarred from a beating. I doubt we’ll get much work from her.”
The shaggy-haired man looked over her scars as well as the black lines left by the injection of poison. “Too bad the nobles here will not take ‘no’ for an answer. It’s hard to make much profit when we spend so much on miners.”
The waulon shrugged “The Greater Galactic Union is always willing to overpay. Don’t they owe us another visit soon?”
“Very soon,” Jalingan agreed, eyeing Citlally with a sort of half-smile. Then he stood up and put his hat on. “Good of you to bring her all this way. At least the compt is willing to trust a waulon with his property.”
The driver scoffed and turned towards the door. “If he knew you were on the planet, he would have you shot outright.” Then he walked out, his footsteps carrying him down the hall, deeper into the mountain.
Jalingan gave Citlally a serious look. “So you got the whip, eh? Weren’t you told to do what they said?”
“I got worse than that,” she replied, her words coming out weak and shaky. “I need a doctor.”
He scoffed and led her down a row between the tables. “Did you think that you could demand things down here in the mine? This is a place where nobody cares about you.”
“I cannot work if I bleed to death,” she told him, her voice cold.
Stopping in his tracks, he looked down at her and tried not to look sympathetic. Something in her, though, told her that he felt sad inside. “The lavishta potion is working.” He took a breath and sighed. “Listen, it’s for the better. You might not think so, but… well, I am not going to tell you to trust me. You should definitely not trust me. But there are things that can go very wrong if…”
Citlally was only more curious when his words faltered. “If what?”
Jalingan shook his head. “If you don’t understand, I won’t be the one to explain it to you. Just eat. You need food if you are going to have enough energy to work tomorrow.” He led her down to the counter where food was being served, and nodded for the cook to get her a tray. He didn’t speak again until they walked away and she was carrying the tray in her hands.
“Do not ask for me by name. I am nobody special to you. If we need to talk, I will find you. In the meantime…”
They walked past several tables until they found an open spot across from a woman with dingy red hair. Of course, it might have been a brighter shade of red, were it not covered in so much dirt. Her face was smeared with black, her clothes gray with dust, but she was eating heartily. Citlally set her tray down across from her, mouth agape as she recognized the woman’s long ears.
“Allanah…” she whispered. “They sent you to the mines, too.”
The elvan woman looked up from her food and gave her a sincere smile; for once someone seemed glad to see her. “So you ended up here after all! Sit down and eat, quickly, before someone comes and takes you away.”
Citlally turned to say something to Jalingan, but found that he was already gone, lost in the crowd of bodies. She sat down and looked over her food. It did not seem terribly appetizing, but it also didn’t seem disgusting. She picked up a bent thing that might have passed as a spoon and poked at one of the piles on the tray.
“You look terrible,” Allanah told her as she debated which item to try first. “You had this glow to your brown skin before… now you look pale and sickly. What did they do to you?”
“I am bleeding,” Citlally told her. The reminder would have made her lose her appetite, perhaps even her ability to hold back her tears, but she hadn’t eaten since early that morning, and she was ravenous.
Allanah looked her over. “I’m guessing that since I cannot see your wounds that it is from the lavishta potion.”
“That’s what they keep saying,” she sighed. She ate a spoonful of something bright yellow and found is quite savory, with a texture somewhere between fish and chicken. It was unusual, but not terrible.
“When did it start?”
“This morning,” Citlally replied between bites.
“I am so sorry,” Allanah said, her voice fully sympathetic. “We have a med-kit in the bunker. You can change your bandages there, but there is nothing else I can do for you.”
“Is there a doctor here?”
Allanah shook her head. “We get med-kits, and they keep them stocked if we run out of something. If you are hurt worse than that, nobody cares. Besides, no doctor can stop what is happening to you.”
Citlally gave the elf a pitiful look. “They don’t care if you live or die, but I have also heard that they do not care if you stay or go.”
“Hush,” Allanah told her immediately. “You’re here to work. If you have any questions about your job, I will answer them later on. For now, just eat. The night shift is coming soon, and if we are not in bed before they get here, we will be mistaken for that crew and have to work the whole night through.”
Although she hardly understood what was going on, or how the mines actually worked, Citlally felt that she was at least with someone whom she could trust. Why she had such faith in the elf with whom she’d shared but a few conversations, she could not explain, but it was enough to give her hope, and hope was what she really needed just then.
She ate in silence while Allanah waited for her, and then left the table with her just as a gong was struck. They dropped off their emptied trays at the scullery and proceeded down the hallway that it opened onto.
As they walked, Citlally paused to brace herself against the wall with one hand. Allanah encouraged her to keep walking, but the going was rough, and her head felt dizzy and empty at the same time.
The passages were roughly-carved stone, as though they were hardly an afterthought to the idea of mining deep into the mountain. It seemed as though the hallways, as well as the doorways that opened onto them every so often, had been more of an inconvenience to construct, as though the creators had been so interested in the goods they could glean from between the rocks that they nearly forgot to give their workers a place to rest.
Allanah took Citlally to a chamber far down the tunnel and opened a thick iron door. On the other side, two other women sat on the edge of their bunk beds. It took the Aztec girl a moment to realize that the bunks were carved out of the mountain, and that only a thin mattress offered them any hope of comfort. A single torch lit the room, though it shed little light. Citlally could see that the other women were alien, but she did not recognize their species.
“Another one?” one of them asked, sounding as though she disdained the idea.
“Yes,” Allanah replied, closing the door behind her. The sound seemed terrifyingly loud. “She’s been given a lot of lavishta potion.”
“Merciful heavens!” the other one cried out. “Get her to lie down. How has she not bled to death already? Do we have enough in our med kit to bandage her?”
Allanah showed Citlally to a bunk on the other side of the room. As she sank down onto the worn pad, she felt her mind fading. Her consciousness slipped away, and she remembered hearing the voices of the other women, and feeling their hands on her legs. Her body ached, but their gentle touch was a relief, or at least as much relief as she was going to get in that cold heart of the mountain.