Day 27. 64 pages, 30,229 words.
The sound of their bickering was audible some seconds before her cell block doors opened.
“…just saying, if it’s all part of your fabulous mysterious plan, why are you so mad about it?”
“We would not have been caught in such a humiliating way if we had even the cheapest and most simple of personal compensators. And my feet and back would not be in so much pain.”
“Well if it’s any consolation, your feet and back probably aren’t going to be bothering you much longer. Didn’t you know that the Castle’s gravity is generally higher than the Four Realms?”
“Clearly you knew. Why did you not take the appropriate steps?”
“Look, up until very recently I didn’t think we were even going to be doing this. Just count yourself lucky we haven’t…” at this point the doors boomed open and the voices were momentarily drowned out, but then they returned even more clearly as they neared her cell, “…in a higher-gravity part of the Castle, you roll your ankle there and it’s all over.”
The jailer, a Skorrit-cha she didn’t remember seeing before, dragged a pair of humans – one male and one female, both naked and filthy and bruised – up to the display panel at the front of her cell. It hauled them bodily upright by their necks, and they stopped talking immediately.
“So fare all enemies of the Darkings,” the Skorry rasped in its odd Xidh dialect, letting the two prisoners get a good look at her. She hadn’t seen this particular Skorrit-cha before but she judged it was a high-ranking officer of some sort – certainly higher than a pair of squabbling humans warranted. And the humans themselves, of course, were entirely unfamiliar to her.
As though to prolong the lesson, it turned and thrust the two naked humans into the cell opposite hers. They stumbled and the male yelped as he landed awkwardly in the unaccustomed gravity, and by the time they’d scrabbled around to sit against the far wall, their jailer had slammed the door with a heavy mechanical crash. It passed back out of the block after favouring her with a long, unreadable stare from its huge compound eyes.
She hung, watching the two humans through the display panels that had been left open between their opposing cells. The male was grumbling and nursing his knee, in between casting hooded and shamefaced glances up at her. The female pushed herself painfully to her feet and hobbled to the door of their cell, staring at her in horrified fascination.
“Don’t touch the walls,” the male said. “They put some sort of harmonic jolt through it that’ll make you soil yourself.”
“It’s her,” the female whispered. “The stories were true.”
The male looked up even more fleetingly than before, then returned his attention to his twisted knee. “Remind me never to read any stories off your shelves,” he said. “What stories are you talking about? Dashley Feller and the Angel Nailed to the Fucking Wall?”
The female pursed her lips impatiently, and evidently put conscious effort into ignoring the male. “Can you hear us?” she called across the corridor.
“I hear you.”
“What is your name?” suspecting a trap, she studied the humans and didn’t say another word. There were humans down here, it was said. Colonies that the Darkings bred and cultivated for food and sport. What it might take for two such to be deposited in this prison, by so high-ranking a soldier … but no, they had talked, and they acted, as though unaccustomed to the Castle’s gravity. As though they had just arrived from the worlds above. Of course, that itself could be a ruse, and the Adversary’s torments were many, but… “Athé? Are you Athé of the Archangelic court?”
Athé jerked involuntarily, the movement re-awakening the shrieking pain in her shoulders, wrists, feet and wings where the great black spikes pinned her.
The human male looked no less thunderstruck than Athé felt, however.
“Wait – you knew about this?” he said shrilly.
“Of course,” the female said, and raised a hand, almost resting it flat against the display panel but not quite making ill-advised contact with the flux. “We’re here to rescue you.”