She woke in pain.
Her lungs burned, her skin felt stretched too tight and raw all over. When she opened her mouth, Aderyn found that her throat was thick and swollen. She gasped for air and found that it came raggedly but at least it came.
I’m alive, she thought. Why?
Opening her eyes was difficult. They were crusted over with a film that refused to crack, but when she tried to raise her fingers to wipe at them, she found that they were bound. What? Why… I don’t…
“You’re awake,” a voice said above her. She didn’t recognize it but it was male and sounded friendly. “Stay still, I’ll get something to help.”
Aderyn was left alone in her darkness and quiet for a time until a warm, wet cloth was pressed against her eyes. She felt the film soften and break as the cloth was moved to wet her cheeks, forehead and lips. When she opened her eyes, a boy was standing over her. She couldn’t make out his face, her vision was still too blurry, but already she knew that he was a stranger to her. No one she knew spoke with that accent.
A Groundling, she thought. Have I been taken to a lower noble’s home?
“Don’t try and move,” he said and pressed a hand against her shoulder, gently but firmly. “We have you bound. You had seizures and we had to restrain you. We’ve seen it before, a reaction to the air.”
“Yes,” she said but her voice was barely understandable. It came out as a croak and the boy disappeared again for a moment, then returned to hold a bottle to her lips. A cool liquid came to them and she drank with abandon. Her thirst came raw and angry, demanding to be satiated. He pulled the bottle from her after a moment and she growled.
“Not so much,” he said with a chuckle. “You’ll get sick again.”
“Wh-where?” she managed to say, her mind going through the minor Querran Houses. Revnari would be the closest to where they’d had the War. She must be in Lord Revnari’s keep.
“You’re safe now,” he said. “Don’t worry. They can’t hurt you anymore.”
“Can’t… can’t hurt me,” she said, feeling confused. Her mother! Panic rose in her, the memories of what she’d done came flooding back like an angry river. The slap. Running out of the Viewing Platform. Her mother’s terrible visage. The Queen!
She panicked and began to fight her bonds. I have to get out of here, Revnari will turn me over! I have to run! It was no use, the more she struggled, the tighter the bonds seemed to get. Then she felt something cold press against her arm and just as her vision began to clear, it faded to black again.
When next she woke, her eyes opened easier. She was laying on something soft as well, a bed, and her hands came easily to her face. With a groan, Aderyn sat up and wiped her eyes until they focused and she could take in her surroundings.
This was no Lord’s keep. No minor lord slept in prefab rooms, with their completely square, featureless walls and simple, mechanical doors. The only light in the room came from a flickering lantern by the only door. It was lit by flame and not ether. She was in a Groundling habitat, a slave’s quarters perhaps.
What happened? She thought about it as she slipped her legs from the thin sheets that covered her and put her feet on the floor. She was no longer wearing her dress, but a thin jumpsuit like the Groundlings wore. Her feet were bare and the floor was cold. She found it hard to stand, her legs wobbly and unsure and she steadied herself by reaching out a hand to the metal wall.
For a time, she simply stood there, unable to move. Then, exhausted, she sat back on the bed. It was a simple thing, just a foam mattress on a metal box frame. She’d seen a Groundling habitat only once, when Ian had taken her into his family’s farms. Those habitats were warmer than this, with ether lighting and glow panels on the walls. If he was in one now, their Lord did not care for them as Ian’s family did.
A bottle was left on the floor next to her bed. She picked it up, opened the cap and sniffed at it. At once she became aware of the smells around her. Her own sweat mixed with the metal of the walls, and a multitude of other smells she couldn’t recognize. She could only describe it as unclean.
She had to get out of here. If she was in Revnari’s habitats then it wouldn’t be long before she was discovered and returned to her mother. She set the bottle down, unsure if it was safe to drink, and rose determined to get out of this place.
This time her legs held enough that she made it halfway to the door. There she stopped and sank to her knees, needing a brief rest. How am I going to get anywhere like this? And where will I go? She didn’t have any answers to those questions but she couldn’t sit around and wait, so she forced herself to stand and walk to the door.
It had no release, no touch panel that would slide it aside. When Ian took her to the habitats, sometimes they had mechanical levers but this door lacked even that. She tentatively pushed on it, but found the door did not move. Frustrated she pushed harder and harder until she slipped to the ground again, exhausted.
Tears formed in her eyes. Useless, I’m so useless! I can’t even open a door! She drew her knees to her chest and buried her face in them, suddenly wishing the War had killed her. It would be easier, easier for her and easier for her mother. She probably thinks I’m dead anyway.