Murder, mayhem and magic Locked in a coffin-like darkness, there is nothing to distract me from my memories of killing Reyad. He deserved to die--but. Poison Study. Chapter 1. Locked in darkness that surrounded me like a coffin, there was nothing to distract me from my memories. Vivid recollections that waited. Graceling by Kristin Cashore Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas Alanna by Tamora Pierce Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder City of Bones by Cassandra Clare.
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FIRE STUDY By Maria V. Snyder To my parents, James and Vincenza, for your constant support and encouragement in all m. Poison Study. Read more Maria V. Snyder - Poison 1 - Poison Study. Read more · Maria V. Snyder - Yelena 01 - Poison Study · Read more. Poison Study Poison Study Maria V. Snyder www. DOWNLOAD PDF After writing many science fiction short stories, Maria started Poison Study, her first.
With the murder she committed, she felt as though her soul had been lost. But don't do it halfway. It looked to me as if she was spending more time reading the papers than straightening them. Her large head sprouted flowers from her eye sockets. It was clear that she'd always been a strong person, and her strength of character and will is what allowed herself to emerge from the fires that had potential to destroy her. I would have reassigned him, but the Commander insisted he stay.
It seemed an excessively long time for someone scheduled for execution. Winded from the effort of marching with my feet chained, I was finally led into a spacious office. Maps of the Territory of Ixia and the lands beyond completely covered the walls.
Piles of books on the floor made walking a straight line difficult. A large wooden table, strewn with documents and ringed by half a dozen chairs, occupied the center of the room. At the back of the office a man sat at a desk. Behind him a square window gaped open, permitting a breeze to blow through his shoulder length hair. I shuddered, causing the chains to clink musically. From the whispered conversations between prison cells, I had determined that the condemned prisoner was taken to an official to formally confess his or her crime before being hanged.
Wearing black pants and a black shirt with two red diamonds stitched on the collar, the man at the desk wore the uniform of an advisor to the Commander. His pallid face held no expression. As his sapphire-blue eyes scanned me, they widened slightly in surprise. Suddenly conscious of my appearance, I glanced down at my tattered red prison gown and dirty bare feet roughened with yellow calluses.
Dirt-streaked skin showed through the rips in the thin fabric. My long black hair hung in greasy clumps. Sweat soaked, I swayed under the weight of the chains. The next prisoner to be executed is a woman? The guards tormented anyone who showed any weakness. The man tugged at the black ringlets of his hair. When they were gone, he motioned me to the chair in front of his desk.
The chains clanged loudly as I perched on the edge. He opened a folder on his desk and scanned the pages. I swallowed a sarcastic reply. An important lesson I had mastered during my dungeon stay was never to talk back. I bowed my head instead, avoiding eye contact. The man was quiet for awhile. Despite the clutter of the room, the desk was neat. In addition to my folder and some writing implements, the only other items on the desk were two small, black statues, a set of panthers carved to a life-like perfection that glittered with streaks of silver.
I steadied myself with a reminder that I was soon to be out of his reach forever. If murder was committed, the punishment was execution. Self-preservation or an accidental death was not considered acceptable excuses. Say you were framed or you killed out of self-defense.
The man in black straightened in his chair, shooting me a hard look. Then he laughed aloud. His last taster died recently, and we need to fill the position.
I stared at him, heart pounding. He had to be joking. He was probably amusing himself. Great way to get a laugh. The training can be lethal. No days off. No husband or children. Some prisoners have chosen execution instead. He was serious. My whole body shook. A chance to live! Service to the Commander was better than the dungeon and infinitely better than the noose. Questions raced through my mind: What would prevent me from killing the Commander or escaping?
Also the Code of Behavior states that someone whose life is forfeit must be offered the job. No longer able to sit still, I stood and paced around the room, dragging my chains with me. The maps on the walls showed strategic military positions.
Book titles dealt with security and spying techniques. The condition and amount of candles suggested someone who worked late into the night. Poison Study. Chapter 1. Use your mind. Put the flames out with your mind. A sad expression gripped her face for a moment before she shook her head as if to rid herself of an unwanted thought. Dilana guided me to a chair. Kneeling on the floor, she put socks on my feet and then a pair of boots. The boots were made of soft black leather.
They came up over my ankle to midcalf, where the leather folded down. Dilana tucked my pant legs into the boots and helped me stand. But the boots cushioned my feet and fit well. I smiled at Dilana, thoughts of May and Carra temporarily banished. Now he limps around the kitchen.
The soup tasted divine. After devouring the food, I asked for more. With reluctance I left my bowl on the table to follow Margg to my room. My small room contained a narrow bed with a single stained mattress on a stark metal frame, a plain wooden desk and chair, a chamber pot, an armoire, a lantern, a tiny woodstove and one window shuttered tight. The gray stone walls were unadorned. I tested the mattress; it barely yielded.
A vast improvement over my dungeon cell, yet I found myself somewhat dissatisfied. Nothing in the room suggested softness. After hanging my extra uniforms in the armoire, I crossed to the window. There was a sill wide enough for me to sit on.
The shutters were locked, but the latches were on the inside. Hands shaking, I unlocked and pushed the shutters wide, blinking in the sudden light.
Shielding my eyes, I squinted beneath my hand, and stared at the scene in front of my window in disbelief. I was on the first floor of the castle! Five feet below was the ground. I could drop down without any effort and be gone. Tempting, except for the fact that I would be dead in two days.
Maybe another time, when two days of freedom might be worth the price. I could hope. I dodged ineffectively, hampered by the rope tied to my wrist, which anchored me to a post in the center of the room. The whip snapped again and again. My tattered shirt gave no protection from the stinging leather.
A cool, soothing voice entered my skull. Let your body go. A savior, perhaps? An easy way to escape the torment, tempting but I held out for another opportunity. Determined, I stayed, focusing on avoiding the lash. When exhaustion claimed me, my body began to vibrate of its own accord. Like an out-of-control hummingbird, I darted around the room, avoiding the whip. I woke in darkness soaked with sweat, my crumpled uniform twisted tight around my body.
The vibration in my dream replaced by a pounding. Before falling asleep, I had wedged a chair under the doorknob to prevent anyone from barging in. The chair rattled with each thud. The racket stopped. When I opened the door, Margg stood frowning with a lantern.
I hastened to change my uniform and joined her in the hallway. My room faced west, shielding me from the morning sun. Margg extinguished the lantern just as the scent of sweet cakes filled the air. Valek will feed you. When I entered the room, Valek was in the process of arranging plates of steaming food.
He had cleared off a section of the table. The displaced papers balanced in messy piles. He gestured to a chair; I sat, searching the table for the small vial of antidote. I stared back, trying not to flinch under his scrutiny. It might be useful in the future. He used a pipette to extract a measure of the white liquid from a large bottle, and then locked the antidote back inside the cabinet. My interest in the location of the key must have been obvious because Valek used some type of sleight of hand to make the key disappear.
Handing me the pipette, he sat down on the opposite side of the table. I squeezed the contents into my mouth, cringing at the bitter taste. Valek took the pipette from my hands and exchanged it for a blue jar. Gesturing to the two plates cooling in front of me, Valek asked me to pick the one sprinkled with the poison.
I sniffed at the food like a scent hound nosing for prey. A faint odor of rosewood emanated from the left plate. The poison is called Tigtus and a single grain of the powder will kill within the hour. The multitude of names and aromas began to confuse me, so I asked Valek for some paper, quill and ink. He stilled. I should have remembered that General Brazell educates his orphans. I knew Valek would never believe the truth about Brazell and Reyad. This impression suited Brazell.
Seen as a kindly old benefactor, Brazell could continue unchallenged in his administration of Military District 5. She guided me to the laundry room to obtain some linens for my bed. In my room, I opened the shutters to let in the fading light from the setting sun.
I considered more exploration of the castle, but Valek had been right, I needed my strength. I hoped I would have time to explore later. After fourteen days of sniffing poisons, I found that my sense of smell had heightened. But then Valek announced I was strong enough to begin tasting poisons. Affects the body immediately. I keel over, dead.
End of the tale. Frustrated, I kicked two piles into their neighbors, scattering books into a messy heap on the floor. There are a number of assassins who are partial to My Love.
The poison is grown in Sitia, the southern lands. It was easy to obtain before the takeover. With the closure of the southern border, only a handful of people have enough money to purchase it illegally. His movements were so graceful that I wondered if he had been a dancer, but his words betrayed to me that his fluid gestures were those of a trained killer.
A shrewd assassin can watch a taster for several days to discover a pattern. Some poisons sink to the bottom of the cup.
If the taster only sips off the top, then the assassin knows exactly where to place the poison to kill his intended victim. The new piles were neater than the rest of the stacks on the floor. It seemed an invitation to Valek to continue straightening the books. He cleared a bigger path through his office. I picked up the cup, the heat warming my icy hands. When Margg entered the room, it felt as if the executioner had just mounted the dais, reaching for the lever.
Should I sit down or lie down? I looked around the room, seeing nothing. My arms started to tingle as I realized I had been holding my breath. I raised the cup in a mock salute, and then drained the contents. Valek nodded. I had only enough time to put the cup on the table before my world began to melt. Her large head sprouted flowers from her eye sockets. A moment later her body filled the room as her head shriveled. I sensed movement. The gray walls grew arms and legs that reached for me, trying to use me in their fight against the floor.
Gray spirits rose from under my feet. They dived, poked and cackled at me. They were freedom. I tried to push the Margg thing away, but it clung and wrapped itself around me, digging through my ears and pounding on my head. You probably slit his throat while he slept.
Easy way to kill. Did you enjoy yourself as you watched his blood soak the sheets? They pushed me into a dark pit. I plunged into blackness. The stench of vomit and excrement greeted me when I regained consciousness. They were the unmistakable odors of the dungeon. Wondering how I had ended up back in my old cell, I sat up. A surge of nausea demanded my attention.
I groped around for the slop pot and encountered the metal leg of a bed, which I clutched as dry heaves racked my body. When they stopped, I leaned against the wall, grateful to be on the floor of my room and not back in the dungeon. Beds were a luxury not included with the subterranean accommodations. Summoning the strength to stand, I located and lit my lantern.
Dried vomit caked my face. My shirt and pants were soaking wet and smelled foul. The liquid contents of my body had collected in a puddle on the floor.
Margg took good care of me, I thought sarcastically. At least she was practical. If she had dumped me on the bed I would have ruined the mattress.
I thanked fate that I had survived the poison and that I had awakened in the middle of the night. Unable to endure the feel of my sodden uniform any longer, I made my way to the baths. On my return, voices stopped me before I reached the hallway leading to my room. Extinguishing my lantern in one quick motion, I peeked around the corner. Two soldiers stood in front of my door. He held the lantern up to my door, his overloaded weapon belt jingling with the motion.
That housekeeper checks every morning and gives her a potion. Besides, it stinks in there. They laughed. They continued down the hallway and were soon out of sight.
I clung to the wall and wondered if what I had just witnessed had been real. Was I still having paranoid hallucinations? My head felt as if it had soaked too long in a pool of water. Dizziness and nausea rippled through my body. The soldiers were long gone before I worked up the nerve to go back to my room. I pushed the door wide and thrust my lantern in front of me, shining the light into every corner and under the bed. A harsh, acrid odor was the only thing to attack me. Gagging, I unlocked the shutters and threw them open, taking deep breaths of the cool, cleansing air.
I looked at the noxious puddle on the floor. The last thing I wanted to do was clean up the mess, but I knew I would never be able to sleep while breathing in that foul smell. Exhausted, I stretched out on the bed.
It felt lumpy. I turned in my blankets, hoping to find a comfortable position. Asleep in bed, I would be an easy target. I had cleaned myself up so there was no need to drag me to the baths.
The room smelled like disinfectant, and I had forgotten to put the chair under the doorknob. Imagination kicked in, a vivid scene of me manacled to the bed, helpless while the soldiers stripped me slowly to heighten their anticipation and savor my fear. The walls of my room seemed to thicken and pulse. The corridor was dark and deserted. When I tried to reenter my room, I felt as if someone pressed a pillow against my face.
My room was a trap. The paranoia effect of My Love or common sense? I wondered. Indecision kept me standing in the hallway until my stomach growled. Guided by my hunger, I searched for food. Hoping to find the kitchen empty, I was dismayed to see a tall man wearing a white uniform with two black diamonds printed on the front of his shirt mumbling to himself as he lurched around the ovens. I tried to sneak back out but he spotted me. He frowned and shifted his weight to his good leg as he studied my uniform.
Too thin for a cook, I thought, but he wore the proper clothes and only a cook would be up this early. He was handsome in a subtle way, with light brown eyes and short brown hair. He seemed glad to have some company. Valek loves his poisons. I felt as if my body had liquefied and pooled into a giant mixing bowl. I was just a puddle of ingredients to be beaten, stirred and used. When the cook poured the batter onto the hot griddle, my blood sizzled along with the sweet cakes.
I stared as the cook deftly flicked his wrist, turning the cakes over. My muscles trembled in synch with the sound of frying sweet cakes. Here I was worried about Brazell, when one misstep with Valek and…Flip. I would be gone. He probably held a couple of poisons in reserve just in case he decided to replace the taster. Glancing over my shoulder, I imagined Valek coming into the kitchen to poison my breakfast.
The cook handed me a plate loaded with sweet cakes, took three more loaves of bread out of the oven and refilled his bread pans with dough. Piping-hot sweet cakes were such a rare treat that I devoured them despite my unsettled stomach. He used to come to my kitchen every morning after breakfast and help me invent new recipes. I have to keep things interesting or the Commander will start looking for a new cook. Know what I mean? He thrust out his hand.
The rising sun was just cresting the Soul Mountains to the east of the castle. The colors in the sky resembled a ruined painting, as if a small child had spilled water on the canvas. I let my eyes feast on the vibrant display of life as I inhaled the fresh air.
Everything was in full bloom, and soon the cool morning breeze would warm to a comfortable level. The hot season was in its infancy. The days of sweltering heat and limp, humid nights were still a few weeks away. I had been training with Valek for a fortnight, and I wondered how long My Love had held me unconscious. You made it.
I was beginning to worry. He seemed sincerely glad to see me. Once I swallowed the liquid, Valek headed toward the door. I huffed along behind him. Hand-quilted with gold threads during the course of many years, the colored silk pictures told a story about the history of each province. From monarchy to military, the changes in Ixia were severe. While some citizens embraced the simple but strict rules in the Code of Behavior, others rebelled by refusing to wear their uniforms, by not requesting permission to travel, and by escaping to the south.
No bribing or good-old-boy networking either; the Commander meant business. Live by the Code or face the consequences. I pulled my eyes away from the tapestries in time to see Valek disappear through an arched doorway decorated with lavish stonework. Splintered wooden doors hung crookedly on their hinges, but the intricate carvings of trees and exotic birds were still visible. I stopped in amazement just past the broken doors. Inside was a sea of desks occupied by numerous advisers and military officers from every Military District in the Territory.
The room hummed with activity. Finding a path around the maze of desks took some time. Commander Ambrose sat behind a plain wooden desk. The only object in the room that did not have a specific purpose was a hand-size statue of a black snow cat.
They twinkled in the morning light. The fewer people who knew what he looked like, the less his chances were of being assassinated. Some thought he was paranoid, but I believed that since he had gained power by using assassins and covert warfare, he was merely being realistic. This was not the Commander I had envisioned: He was thin, clean shaven, with delicate features.
His gaze had the sharpness of a sword point. It pressed against my throat and fastened me to the floor. I felt myself being drawn out and examined. When he looked over at Valek, I swayed with relief. If Brazell was complaining to the Commander, I could be back in line for the noose. I personally would have taken care of her immediately.
It would have been within his rights. My chest was tight. I was having trouble drawing in air. And Brazell was one of the authors. He picked up his tea and stared at the contents. Lunch is in the war room. I followed. We wound our way through the tangle of desks. When Valek stopped to consult with another adviser, I glanced around. Their new roles were one of the benefits of the takeover.
The Commander assigned jobs based on skills and intelligence, not on gender. While the monarchy preferred to see women work as maids, kitchen helpers and wives, the Commander gave them the freedom to choose what they wanted to do.
Some women preferred their former occupations, while others jumped at the chance to do something else, and the younger generation had been quick to take advantage of the new opportunities. It looked to me as if she was spending more time reading the papers than straightening them. I wondered what Margg did for Valek besides cleaning. Margg turned a pleasant face to Valek, but as soon as he walked away she glared fiercely at me.
Must have lost a lot of money betting against my survival, I thought. I smiled at her. She managed to control her outraged expression before Valek glanced up at us from his desk. You make me tired just looking at you. Go rest. My pace slowed and I dragged my feet toward my room. Especially this one. Pain coursed up my arm to my shoulder and neck. In a panic, I searched the hallway for help.
It was deserted. I did what any good rat would do. Yelping and cursing in surprise, his grip lessened. I jerked my arm out of his grasp and ran. Being terrified and unburdened of weapons, I had a slight advantage. I was already puffing with the effort. The corridors were mysteriously empty as I ran through them.
Like a rat, my only hope of escape was to find a hole to hide in. I ran without a plan, caring only about keeping ahead of the guards. The corridors blurred together until I imagined I was running in place and it was the walls that were moving. I slowed for a moment to get my bearings. Where was I? The light in the hallway was waning. My pounding steps kicked dust up from the floor.
I had headed toward an isolated part of the castle, a perfect place for a quiet murder. I made a quick right turn into a corridor that led off into darkness. Groaning and creaking, it yielded slightly under my weight, and then stuck tight. A gap big enough for my body, but not my head. Hearing the guards turn down the corridor, I threw myself against the door. It moved another inch. I tumbled headfirst into a dark room, and landed on the floor.
The guards found the door. I watched in horror as they tried to muscle it open. The gap began to expand.
My eyes adjusted to the gloom. Empty barrels and rotten sacks of grain littered the floor. A pile of rugs was stacked against the far wall below a window. I stood, and stacked the barrels on top of the rug pile. Scrambling up them, I reached the window, only to discover it was too small for me to fit through.
The door cracked ominously. I used my elbow to shatter the windowpane. Pulling the ragged glass fragments out of the frame, I tossed them to the floor. Blood ran down my arm. Heedless of the pain, I jumped down, pressed myself against the wall next to the doorway, and fought to stifle the harsh sound of my breathing.
With a loud groan, the door stopped mere inches from my face as the guards stumbled into the storeroom. I peeked around the edge. Wren blocked my escape route. The broken window would only delay the inevitable.
My rough breathing had accelerated into fast gasps. I felt light-headed. The rat trap had sprung. I was immobilized in its metal jaws.
My thoughts jumbled into a cloud of images. I clutched at the door, trying not to fall. A buzzing sound burst uncontrolled from my throat. I was unable to suppress the drone. Trying harder only caused the sound to grow louder. I staggered out from behind the door. They seemed frozen in place. My lungs strained for air. On the verge of passing out, the buzzing then released me. The sound still rang in the room, but it no longer came from me. The guards continued to be unresponsive.
After taking several deep breaths, I bolted from the room. The buzzing sound followed me as I ran back the way we had come. The loud hum ended as soon as I started seeing other servants hurrying through the hallway. Odd looks were cast my way.
I realized I must be quite a sight. I forced myself to stop running as I tried to calm my hammering heart. My throat burned from panting, my uniform was stained, pain throbbed in my elbow, and bright red beads dripped off my fingers. Looking at my hands, I saw deep cuts from handling the glass. I gazed at the blood on the floor. Turning around, I saw a line of crimson drops disappearing down the corridor. I clutched my arms to my chest, but it was too late. They were coming around the corner at the far end of the hall.
Undetected so far, I knew any sudden movement would draw their attention. I joined a group of servants, hoping to blend in. Pain pulsated in harmony with my laboring heartbeat. When I reached a turn, I risked a glance over my shoulder. The guards stood at the spot where my blood trail had ended. Wren gestured as he argued with his partner. I slipped around the corner unnoticed, then bumped right into Valek. What happened to you?
I winced. He let go. I hurried to cover it. I glanced at Valek.
There was no expression on his face. His grip on my shoulder tightened. Was Valek leading me to some secluded spot where the three of them could kill me? Should I make a break for it? When the hallway emptied of people, Valek let go of my shoulder and swung around to face the two guards. I stayed close behind him. A foot taller than Valek, his hands were the size of my head. Valek deflected his hand. The guards looked at each other in disbelief. Valek had no weapons. While the other guard was shorter than Wren, he still outweighed the other two men.
I wondered if sneering and glaring were part of their training. And that I would like her to be left alone. I was beginning to suspect they had only one brain to share between them. Regarding Valek with a more focused expression, they shifted their posture into a fighting stance.
With the sound of ringing metal, the second guard flourished his weapon as well. Wren asked Valek to move aside once more. Faced with two swords, what could Valek do? Run for my life is what I would do, so I shifted my weight to the balls of my feet, preparing to flee. It looked as if he had saluted both guards.
Before the men could react, he was between them, too close for swords. He crouched low, put his hands on the floor and spun. Using his legs, Valek windmilled both guards to the ground. I heard a clatter of metal, a whoosh of air from Wren and a curse from the other before they both lay motionless. Baffled, I watched Valek gracefully move away from his fallen opponents.
He counted under his breath. When he reached ten, he bent over each man and removed a tiny dart from each of their necks. My arm began to throb.
I lagged behind. Finding the medic, then sinking into a hot bath was without a doubt more appealing. Slender, stained-glass windows stretched from the floor to the ceiling and encircled three-quarters of the chamber. The kaleidoscope of colors made me feel as if I were inside a spinning top. Dizzy, I would have stumbled except I caught a glimpse of something that rooted me to the floor.
A long wooden table filled the center of the room. Sitting at the head of the table with two guards standing behind him was the Commander.
His thin eyebrows were pinched together in annoyance. A tray of untouched food sat by his side. I focused on the hand; white knuckles equaled white-hot rage. Brazell lowered his fork, his face taut. His eyes held lightning. I was the target, and like a rabbit caught in the open, I was too frightened to move.
He pulled me closer. Intrigued, the other two Generals stopped eating. I flushed, stifling a strong desire to bolt from the room. Having no contact with any high-ranking officers, I recognized the Generals only by the colors on their uniforms.
Unfortunately, after I had turned sixteen, the sight of Brazell and his son Reyad became my daily nightmare. I had been flattered by the attention of my benefactor; his gray hair and short beard framed a square-shaped, pleasant face that shouted respectability.
Stout and sturdy, he was the ultimate father figure to me.
I readily agreed to participate. The memory of how grateful and naive I had been sickened me. It was three years ago. I had been a puppy. Two years I had suffered. My mind recoiled from the memories. I stared at Brazell in the war room.
His lips were pressed tight as his jaw quivered. He fought to contain his hatred. A distant recollection of a tale about murder victims haunting their killers until their business was settled filtered through my mind. I rubbed my eyes. Did anyone else see the ghost? If so, they hid it well. My gaze slid to Valek. Was he haunted by ghosts? If that old story was to be believed, he would be swamped by them. Worry that I might not be completely rid of Reyad pulsed through me, but not a trace of remorse.
The only thing I was sorry for was not having the courage to kill Brazell when I had the chance. Sorry that I was unable to warn May and Carra, and help them run away.
Seems she was on the verge of giving them the slip when she ran into me. Good thing though, or I might not have found out about the incident. It was all Brazell needed. I want her dead! She killed my son! His fingers twitched as if he wanted to wrap his hands around my throat that instant. Train another prisoner. The other Generals were nodding their heads in agreement.
I was too terrified to look at the Commander. I crossed my arms, digging my fingernails deep into my flesh. Brazell, sensing a change of heart, took a step toward the Commander. He had said too much.
He had insulted Valek, and even I knew that the Commander had a special fondness for Valek. Brazell attempted to argue, but the Commander silenced him. Go ahead and build your new factory. Consider your permit approved. Was a new factory worth more than my death? Silence followed as everyone waited for Brazell to comment. He gave me a look full of venom. More important than he let on to the Commander. The rage and indignation over my missing the noose was genuine, but he could build his factory now, and then kill me later.
He knew where to find me. Brazell left the room without saying another word. When the other Generals started to protest the permit approval, the Commander listened to their arguments in silence. Momentarily forgotten, I studied the two Generals.
Instead of real diamonds on their collars, each General had five embroidered diamonds stitched on their coats over their left breasts. No medals or ribbons decorated their uniforms. The diamonds on the General sitting close to the Commander were blue. If a district planned a big project, like building a new factory or clearing land for farming, a permit approved by the Commander was required.
Most Generals had a staff to handle the processing of new permit applications. Usually once the staff recommended approval, the Commander signed off on the application. The Code of Behavior only stated that permission must be received prior to building, and if the Commander wanted to bypass his own process he could do so.
We had been taught the Code of Behavior at the orphanage. Anyone wishing the honor of running errands into town had to memorize and recite the Code perfectly prior to gaining the privilege. Since the takeover, education was available to everyone and not just a privilege for the men of the richer classes.
Memories threatened to overwhelm me. My hot skin felt tight. I trembled, forcing my mind to the present. He turned to Valek. We walked down the hallway until the door of the war room clicked shut. Then Valek stopped. The features on his face had hardened into a porcelain mask.
He followed me. I heard him utter the word medic as he guided me to the left. Without once looking at his face, I let him steer me to the infirmary. The only color on the uniform was two small red diamonds stitched on the collar. My mind was so muddled with fatigue that it took me some time to figure out that the short-haired medic was a female.
With a grunt, I stretched out on the table. She nodded and glanced toward me. The medic returned with a tray full of shiny medical instruments that included a jar of a substance that looked like jelly.
She scrubbed my arms with alcohol, making the wounds bleed and sting. I bit my lip to keep from crying out. The medic picked up the pot of jelly. We use this glue to seal the skin. Once the wound heals, the glue is absorbed into the body. I winced at the pain. She pinched my skin together, holding it tight. Tears rolled down my cheeks. There are no side effects and it tastes great in tea.
She nodded. She bandaged my arm. You can get some rest.
A strange taste in my tea caused me to lose my appetite in an instant. Someone had poisoned my tea. Chapter Seven I waved down the medic. I began to feel light-headed. She stared at me with her large brown eyes. Her face was long and thin.
Longer hair would soften her features, her short style merely made her resemble a ferret. I let out a breath, feeling better. The medic gave me an amused look before she left. My appetite ruined, I shoved the food aside. When I woke the next morning, there was a blurry white blob standing at the end of my bed. It moved. I blinked and squinted until the image sharpened into the short-haired medic.
The medic checked my bandages, made a noncommittal sound and told me breakfast would be a while. As I waited, I scanned the infirmary. The rectangular room held twelve beds, six on each side, and spaced so that they formed a mirror image. The sheets on the empty beds were pulled tight as bowstrings. Orderly and precise, the room annoyed me. I felt like rumpled bedding, no longer in control of my soul, my body, or my world. Being surrounded by neatness offended me, and I had a sudden desire to jump on the empty beds, knocking them out of line.
I was farthest from the door. Two empty beds lay between the three other patients and me on my side of the room. They were sleeping. I had no one to talk to. The stone walls were bare. Hell, my prison cell had more interesting decorations. At least it smelled better in here. I took a deep breath.
Much better. Or was it? There was another scent intermixed with the medical aroma. Another whiff and I realized that the sour odor of old fear emanated from me. There was no escape. Yet I had been saved by a strange buzzing noise that had erupted from my throat like an unruly, uncontrollable offspring. A primal survival instinct that had echoed in my nightmares.
I avoided thoughts about that buzz because it was an old acquaintance of mine, but the memories kept invading my mind. Examining the past three years, I forced myself to concentrate on when and where the buzzing had erupted, and to ignore the emotions. How fast I could dodge a ball or duck a swinging stick, harmless enough until the ball had turned into a knife and the stick into a sword.
My heart began to pound. With sweaty palms I fingered a scar on my neck. No emotion, I told myself sternly, flicking my hands as if I could push away the fear. I imagined myself dressed in white, calmly sitting next to a fevered patient while she babbled. What came next? I asked the patient. Strength and endurance tests, she answered.
Simple tasks of lifting weights had turned into holding heavy stones above her head for minutes, then hours. If she dropped the stone before the time was up, she was whipped. She was ordered to clutch chains dangling from the ceiling, holding her weight inches above the floor, until Brazell or Reyad gave permission to let go.
When was the first time you heard the buzzing? I prompted the patient. She had released the chains too early too many times and Reyad became furious.