I think I’ve stopped bleeding by the time I’ve reached our pit. Pyreman’s Pit: A dark home for a people of darkness. No one comes here unless they have to. It’s a place that reeks of death and decay. Parents tell their children, “Be good, or the pyremen will come and take you away.”
Of course, I’m one of the boogiemen, so I just call it home.
As I start down the spiral scaffoldwalk that spirals down the pit, I scoop some fresh snow and scrub my face. It’s no good if I walk in looking like death. Even boogiemen have standards of presentation.
I walk down the first spiral. I pass by hatches long sealed from the winter air. No one’s been in those homes for years. The heat’s gone out. Why would we huddle in a place that was the temperature of death? My feet thump on the thin metal planks that make the ‘walk. The sounds echo across the pit. The second spiral has more hatches. Some of them have names, but no one can read them anymore. The snow’s smoothed the metal out. The third spiral is almost empty. This one has a few hatches we still use: Storage hatches if we ever have too many burnings for a night. It happens sometimes. Like when there’s a riot. Or one of the heat barons decides he needs to thin the ranks or grab at some more property. At last, I get to the fourth spiral, where we do our work.
And then, the floor of the pit, a circle of unbroken snow. No footprints mar it. So no one’s been in our out for a few hours, at least.
I wish I could see if my face is scrubbed clean. At least my hand isn’t so bloody anymore. Maybe it’ll be enough.
Deep breath. You can do this.
I trudge across the snow, creating a deep trench across the floor of the pit. A single hatch lies in the wall ahead of me. I reach it and punch in my code. It hisses, and I pull the thing open on old hinges. Inside I allow myself to shiver as I pull it shut. There are no lights in here. There’s hissing as the cold outside air cycles out. I breathe in the mustiness of our home. It doesn’t get much warner, but some of the bite diminishes.
The inner hatch squeals open. Deeper darkness yawns at me.
“Oy! Someone’s here!” Pin announces to anyone who might be deaf enough to miss it. I can’t see him in the darkness, but I know the lantern will be lit quick. His voice is light and quick.
“Oy. What’s your business?” The deep, rumbling voice belongs to Cedric. Of course he’d be on guard tonight.
“Oy, Cedric, it’s Aydrik. I’m back.”
And the light floods my face. I don’t squint. I never squint. Why should I? I won’t show that weakness. I can’t afford to show that weakness.
“What’s wrong with your face?” the voice growls out of the darkness.
“Got into a fight with a rock on the way here. I tripped.”
“That don’t look like any rock wound I saw.”
“You calling me a liar?”
“Cedric. Put the lamp down. He’s fine.” This third voice sounds like a warm bed. There’s nothing scary in it, and something forbidden. It’s a dream.
“You’re not on guard, Tala.”
“Cedric, don’t waste the lamp because you’re going to be a jerk.” I feel a hand around my wrist – oh, thank coal it’s my good wrist. “Aydrik, where’s Tannen?”
I try to shrug as if it doesn’t matter. “He’s still burning.”
Her voice doesn’t answer for a few moments. “You didn’t stay out with him?”
I shrug again. “He sent me home.”
Cedric’s rumbling voice respond, “Now I’ll call you a liar.”
“Turn the lamp off,” Tala cuts in. “We don’t need to waste power on him.”
“We don’t welcome liars!” he thunders back. “We need everyone to know we never lie. And that means we can’t even lie to each other!”
“We don’t need light to find the truth,” Tala answers. She gives my wrist a squeeze. I wish she’d lower her hand so she was holding me there and not on my wrist.
Cedric grumbles but finally obeys. Darkness again, except now with the lantern in my eyes, I’m even more blind. Bright blobs dance across my vision. I try to make them go away, but they don’t listen. Of course they don’t listen. I never listen to anyone else, so why should my eyes listen to me?
Tala’s voice blooms in the dark, “Aydrik, where is Tannen?”
“I left him at the pyre.”
“Why didn’t you honor the dead?”
I press my lips together. I don’t want to lie to her.
“Told you. He lied to us.”
“Shush, Cedric. Aydrik, tell us the truth. Tannen would never let someone leave while there were duties yet to perform.”
“I fell. I cut my face and my wrist. I can back to get help.” True enough, right?
“You abandoned your duty.”
“I was afraid so I did what I had to do to take care of myself!”
I can’t help but feel that the silence that follows shows her disapproval. I shrivel a little at that thought. I don’t care about Tannen. My mentor has worked me so hard. But to disappoint Tala? That’s something else.
She sighs. “Aydrik, find your cot. Sleep there. I’ll do what I can for your wounds.”
Cedrik is about to object, but she cuts him off. “Tannen is his mentor. We’ll deal with Aydrik when he comes back.
That satisfies the deep-voiced brute.
Well, judgment is still coming. But at least I’m not at the Plaguer Camp.
I really hope Tannen is forgiving.
Read the next part here.