Sesskia’s Diary, part 4

Still 14 Senessay, probably (though without the sun, who can tell?)

Well, that was a waste of time. And it started so well, too.

The mind-moving pouvra worked, which was a relief; after that first failure, I was a little afraid I couldn’t use magic at all, even the fire summoning, and I didn’t want to be trapped here with no way to defend myself. The lock was strange, with tumblers that moved not at all the way I’m used to, and I would’ve bet I knew every kind of lock there was, after all these years of opening them. If it hadn’t been for the mind-moving pouvra, I might not have been able to open it at all, even with my tools, which got left behind with my pack in that old barn. I used the see-through pouvra on the door, which makes a two-foot-wide hole in whatever I’m looking through—not really a hole, it just seems like it, and I’m the only one who can tell it’s there. It’s too bad it’s not a real hole, or I could stick my head through it and look around, but as it was I could only see the stone of a wall opposite. So I opened the door a crack and peeked out, and saw nothing but an empty stone hall lined with metal doors, extending away from me in both directions. I’m more and more convinced this place is underground, which I’m trying not to think about. It’s not that I’m claustrophobic, just that I can’t stand the idea of all those tons of stone hanging over my head, waiting to crush me. I listened, and heard some distant noises coming from the right, though nothing I could identify. I decided to go left instead. The whole place reminded me of breaking into the Sendesstal about four years ago, looking for that tome that turned out to be a collection of cooking recipes—the hall is dark, and it curves like a snake so you can’t see if someone’s coming until you’re right on top of them. Which is what happened to me.

I don’t know if it’s all the white-robes or just the one woman, but she was wearing sandals that made no noise on the stone floor, and I came around a curve of the hall and walked right into her. She dropped the tablet of wood she was carrying and staggered a little; it cracked in half when it hit the stone. I know I was moving near-silently myself, so she was as startled as I was. More so, actually, because she didn’t expect to see me and I was prepared to see someone like her. I set her white robe on fire and I ran.

I shouldn’t have started the fire—she started screaming, which meant I had to find a hiding place fast. So I ducked into the first room I passed—it wasn’t locked—and then I ducked back out fast, because the couple in that room were mostly naked and they started shouting at me too, even before they realized I wasn’t one of their kind. So I went for the next door, and that room was empty, so I shut the door behind me and just stood there until my breathing and heart rate were back to normal.

People were running down the hall and shouting things in their language, but no one came in. That was no comfort. At some point they were going to start a methodical search of the rooms, and I needed to be out of this corridor trap before then. So I looked around to see if there was anything in my hidey-hole I could use. It had window paintings like the room I’d started in, but this room was a bedchamber, with a very narrow and long bed covered with a couple of white sheets, no blankets. There was another one of those glass baskets lighting the room, and a dresser with three drawers and a wardrobe beside it. None of the furniture matched; the bed frame was made of wrought iron, the dresser was white oak, and the wardrobe looked like some kind of walnut. The floor had no rug, not even one of those gritty mats, and I couldn’t help thinking what it would be like to climb out of bed barefoot onto that cold stone floor.

I rooted around in the dresser and wardrobe and immediately found the white robe I was hoping for. Its sleeves were smudged with pale colors, pink and green and blue, with the occasional darker gray mark, and I hoped this wouldn’t set me apart from the others. No black trousers, but my own trousers are dark gray and I figured they could pass for black long enough to get me outside. I tied my hair back—this is probably how he caught me, most of them have black or dark brown hair, much darker than my own muddy blonde—and slipped out of the room, then headed in the direction I’d been going before.

At first I thought it would work. Everyone was so agitated, they weren’t really looking at one another, and I wasn’t challenged or even looked at properly. I kept a concerned look on my face and moved quickly, and after only a minute or so I was out of the hallway and back in the chamber I’d arrived in. I wish I’d had time to thoroughly examine it, because it’s about three hundred feet across and maybe a hundred feet tall, and there are three levels to it, with ramps between the levels. The two higher levels have rails surrounding these ledges that go all the way around the cavern (I have to call it a cavern now, it’s clear that’s what it is) and there are lighted openings that lead off those ledges. But that was all I had time for. I swerved left and followed the curve of the cavern, looking for a door. By now there were a lot of people running around, stopping to talk to each other in very excited voices, so I kept my head down and kept moving. I saw many, many wooden workbenches and stools, most of them with those thin wooden boards lying on them as if their owners had abandoned them in a hurry, which was probably true. The walls of the cavern had been perfectly smoothed from the floor to a height of about seven feet, and there were words (I guess words) and little pictures drawn all over them in chalk. I could see where some had been rubbed out and written over. It reminded me of Savran Colomec’s house, that room where his children were educated. Lucky children. I learned to read from smutty pamphlets and to write with a stick in the sand. Not that I’m bitter about that. At least I can read, which is more than seventy percent of the poor of Thalessa can say.

Anyway. I circled the room until I reached another corridor. My instinct is that it was the other end of the corridor I’d come from, and if that turns out to be wrong, I’m going to feel very stupid. But I passed the corridor, still trying to look as if I belonged, when I heard someone saying—well, I don’t know what the words were, obviously, but they were clearly a command. And then someone grabbed my wrist and twisted my arm up behind my back. I fought for a bit, but the man had a grip like a clocker crab and just twisted harder, until I yelped and gave up.

Several other people ran up to us, and the man started talking in a more normal voice, but he sounded so…sarcastic, I suppose, and I really didn’t need to understand his words to know that. I suppose sarcasm sounds the same in every language. He pushed me toward two men, and I managed to get half a step away before they grabbed me, but it was enough that I could turn and look at the bastard who’d caught me. He’s got the sort of face it’s easy to hate, that smooth, arrogant look that says he knows he’s better than you, and I probably should have burned that look off his face, but I still can’t bring myself to burn actual flesh, no matter how I’m threatened. His hair is almost black, and although he wore it pulled back like everyone else, there were strands of it falling over one shoulder, like he’d been running. That made me feel a little better, knowing he wasn’t as unruffled as he seemed. He kept talking in that sarcastic voice, and I could tell by the way their hands trembled that the men who were holding me, at least, were cringing under his scorn. Then he switched his attention to me. His eyes startled me, because they’re the same strange green-gray color as mine, and I’ve seen that only rarely in my travels. They were also perfectly indifferent to me, enough that I felt like cringing myself. So instead I stood up straight and glared at him, and said, “I’m going to escape this place, and if I can make you look like a fool when I do it, I’ll celebrate.”

He just kept looking at me, and then he raised one eyebrow—how do people do that?—and said something to me that of course I didn’t understand, then made a dismissive gesture, and the men holding me marched me away. I didn’t fight back—I had a feeling it would make me look weak in front of the smug git. And now I’m back in my not-really-a-cell again. I’m starting to feel hungry, which is making it harder for me to maintain my calm. I don’t know what they want from me, but it can’t be anything good.

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