getting her Lot Letter from Magister Zarah’s hands and looking forward to being Blooded and becoming an adult, she hadn’t expected anything like what had actually happened. The Hanging, yes. But everything after that had been a shock, a world-changing trauma.
As it must have been meant to be, she realized. As the System must want it; as the Cogitant Council and the Magisters designed it to be.
“Is she tied?” Dyan heard Jak call from the bottom of the chimney.
“Yeah!” Eirig called back. “Come on up!” Dyan heard the scuffling sounds of climbing in the chimney and then Eirig pulled her back, gently. “Lie down,” he whispered. “You’re going to need to roll sideways.”
Dyan felt a little sick to her stomach, realizing that she was lying back in bat guano, but she steeled herself and did it. Then Eirig pushed her shoulder, and she rolled from shadow into darkness. She spun like a wheel several times, struck her head on stone, and then came to a halt against flesh.
“Cheela,” she said.
“Get off me!” the other girl snapped back.
Bats shrieked about them. Dyan rolled away from her Crechemate and tucked her face into the collar of her own coat for protection.
The cold beam of a light stick snapped across the two girls and Dyan struggled to inch away from Cheela. She managed to get herself backed up into a sitting position against a rough piece of stone, and then Jak scraped into the cave on his belly, climbing down through the same crack through which Dyan had rolled. He pulled the saddlebags in behind him, and Dyan’s bow, tossing them into a corner.
While Eirig crawled in, Jak stomped over to the girls. He flipped Cheela over first, looked at the ropes around her wrists, and grunted. Then he pulled Dyan forward, away from her boulder, and checked her similarly.
“Good job, Eirig.” He dragged his friend to his feet. They were dirty and wet, and their ragged wool trousers and shirt made them look like oversized children, so much so that Dyan had a hard time not laughing.
“I’m just glad they had a light stick.” Eirig looked pale and his voice quivered slightly as he spoke. “Now if someone goes to hold my hand tonight, at least I’ll be able to tell who it is.”
Jak sat beside the saddlebags and began to dig around inside them.
“Any good snacks?” Eirig wanted to know. He squatted in a corner and then rolled back, disturbing two fist-sized balls of fur that instantly flapped away, shrieking angrily. “I hear that food is always the first order of business for a Wahai outlaw.” He wagged his eyebrows suggestively at Dyan. “I’m afraid that love can only come second for a rogue such as myself, my dear.”
“Love’s third,” Jak disagreed, “if it even ranks that high. Our first order of business has to be medicine.”
In the splashy, reflected light of her stick, Dyan looked around. The crack opened into a roughly cylindrical shaft, choked with boulders and rubble that ascended at a forty-five degree angle. The stink of bats was so strong she couldn’t smell anything else.
“Here it is.” Jak threw aside the saddlebags he was rummaging in, holding up a medikit. He pulled at it, twisted it, gnawed at it, but the kit wouldn’t open.
“You have to pop the seal, idiot,” Cheela growled.
“You could tell us how,” Eirig pointed out.
“Why?” Cheela stared at him. “So that when you kill me, your boo boos will feel better?”
“Hey,” Eirig objected, “I don’t know that we plan to kill you.”
“We do,” Jak confirmed.
“I’m sorry I didn’t slice your head off,” Cheela said to Eirig. “I’m sorry you didn’t bleed out, and I hope you die of infection.”
“You started it,” Eirig pointed out. “You tried to kill my friends.”
Dyan felt sick.
Jak slammed the medikit against a boulder. With a hiss, it popped open.
“Nobody’s going to die of infection,” he announced, coming up with a tube of topical antibiotic.
Cheela closed her