She was thrown inside Adair’s plain chamber and left to her own devices once the door was locked. Her immediate attempts at escape were foiled by a metal grill on the outside of the High General’s windows, and the rest of the room offered no handy weapons she could take to prepare herself for his return. There was an immense bed covered with numerous differently patterned blankets. And above it hung ropes looped through iron rings in the ceiling. Obviously, it was some means for the immensely fat high general to be hoisted up and down into his bed. But there weren’t even any wooden chairs that she might be able to bash apart for sharpened edges and stakes. She found herself, after a long and fruitless search of empty chests of drawers, sat on the cold stone floor waiting for whatever was going to happen next, bitter Atta rolling about in her mouth just in case.
Eventually she heard a key in the door, and it opened into the long shadows of the room as the last of the sun was departing for the day. She got to her feet, crouching down, readying herself to throw her body across the room to attack him with Atta, fingernails, and her teeth.
A tall man entered the room, and for a moment she was thrown, expecting the doorway to have been blocked by the high general’s vastness. This button man was thin, grey at the temples, rigidly straight of back, and holding a roarer in his hand, pointed straight at her.
“Calm yourself.” He said in a voice that sounded used to issuing commands. “And get yourself off of the floor! You look more like an animal than a woman!”
Eris glared at him, but stood, knowing that she’d not get a chance to charge him now.
“Better. That dress doesn’t look cheap, so you shouldn’t be getting Adair’s dust and filth from his floor on it.” He gave her a curt nod.
“Who are you?!” she snapped at him.
He moved into the room and locked the door behind him, keeping the roarer on her. “There, now we can have a nice little chat without being interrupted.”
He looked her over again, and she disliked the way his eyes lingered on her.
“A woods-voln? I almost didn’t notice at first. How interesting.”
“Who are you? Why are you here?!”
“I am High General Sigdre Brant. I believe you’ve already had the delight of meeting my fellow High General, Adair Rickarn? We should get Willem in here to complete the set, but he’s probably busy drooling in a corner somewhere, the moron.”
She remembered Adair mentioning Sigdre’s fondness for golden flesh, which meant he was assignment the Denosian girls’d had earlier. Given the way he was looking at her she was now concerned that he also had an interest in the flesh of woods-voln. She mentally cursed the dress that they’d made her wear, in her leathers she could have face him with more confidence.
I am Eris Atta-Sutith, she told herself. I am Eris Atta-Sutith. Born with the healer’s skill. Maker of greenings. Leader of the Atta. She straightened her back and faced his grey eyes with her own green ones. “And what do you want?”
He smiled and pushed the length of his fringe back as though shy, and perhaps to some it might have been charming. But not to Eris.
“I have heard a lot of whispers this morning. I have even had a chance to visit with your companion. Orrin, is it? Some second son from some small estate of Bara?”
“Where is he?!”
“Held in the stocks. Bruised of eye and covered in good stinking Tralis swamp mud I’m afraid. The soldiers know better than to waste their supplies of vegetables, but they do like to improvise. He’s very stoic though. More than likely he’s already planning your escape. Such loyalty from a city-voln to a woods-voln! But then… you did save his life, didn’t you? And not just today, I’d wager.”
She pressed her lips together and let him fill in the silence.
“An audience with Adair and suddenly that fat shitstain’s more robust than he’s been in the past six months? And stories coming out into the barracks about how the brothel master Marchan’s brought the Logistics High General a healer? Curious. So, I had to come and see for myself. Willem might eventually hear word too, but he’s most harmless if you can keep him distracted with shiny things.”
“And what do you want? Are you sick too?”
“Oh, most likely. Everything tends to rot from the inside out if they’ve been in Tralis for long enough. But I’m luckier than Adair. He has the most difficult decision to make now. He can keep you for himself and maybe live a little longer. Or…”
“Or he can do what he should do and send you on to Liosinium as a gift to the god-king himself.”
Eris fought her sneer, but it came from her anyway. “I’d kill him on the road south!”
“Perhaps you’d have the chance. Perhaps not. And if he did gift you to Lios, can you even imagine the rewards due to him?!” Sigdre sighed. “A villa in Liosinium. Wealth beyond measure. Denosian slaves… so many slaves!” The man seemed to be shivering at the thought. “But best of all, an escape from the damned Front!” In almost perfect timing the booming of the great roarers began again in the distance. “No more damned roars in the distance. No more stinking swamplands!”
“And now you want that.” She said flatly, realising where this was going.
“Of course. I’ve been trapped in this damp hoshi hole for ever!”
She frowned at the unfamiliar word, but he carried on.
“I can take you and your companion to Liosinium. I can’t speak for what Lios will want to do to you both, but I can at least get you and him away from Tralis. And away the stocks. Let me tell you, he smells really bad at the moment! And he looks so sad!”
Atta rolled in her mouth again, as well as the bitter tastes of other greenings she could call upon. Her palms were slick with the poison.
“You look angry, my dear.” Sigdre smiled smugly. “I understand. You had a deal with Marchan. And then Adair bullies you into another deal with your friend’s life on the line. And here we are again, and you have to think about trusting yet another city-voln.” Sigdre sighed in mock sympathy. “But you have time to think about it. Adair will be helped back to his bed in an hour or so and you’ll be alone with him. Maybe you could strangle him in his sleep? But then… there’s Orrin to think about, isn’t there?” Another smile of fake sympathy.
Eris bit her tongue and focussed on calming the greenings she’d summoned already. “So how will this happen-”
She was interrupted by rapid knocking at the door. Sigdre sighed dramatically and unlocked it to see a young soldier, mud-stained from hard travel on the roads and through the mire about Tralis, holding up a roll of parchment.
“Oh! Apologies High General, I was looking for the High General!”
Sigdre watched the lad squirming, a cold look in his eyes as though he was a fox contemplating a wood mouse. “You can hand that to me. I will pass it to Adair. Unless of course, you have another for me? As I am one of the other High Generals…?”
“Ah, no. The barracks at Bara just sent me with the one, and its marked for High General Rickarn. See.” He held out the missive and Sigdre grabbed it from his hands and shoved him out of the room before he could complain, closing the door on him.
“What’s this then… By Lios!” He exclaimed as he read the words on the parchment. “You! Come with me, now.” He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her out of the chamber. They rushed down the corridor, back to the large room where Adair was still wallowing on his couch surrounded by sycophantic button men.
“Ugh, Sigdre, its you… what are you doing with her!”
“What is she, Adair?”
“Just a whore, from Marchan. You know Marchan, don’t you Sigdre.” The fat man sniggered. “I know her skin is paler than some might like-”
“Shut up Adair. She’s a healer, isn’t she? I’ve heard the rumours.”
“Ah, just a nonsense! Marchan brought her, but she’s as much a fake as he is.”
“No. No she’s not! She healed her companion. She healed you! What is she Adair?!” Sigdre sounded close to panic.
The immense High General looked blankly at his rival. “I don’t… I don’t know-”
“Emphon has fallen to fire and darkness!” Sigdre waived the message in one hand, still clenching his fingers into Eris’ arm through the sleeves of her dress until she was fighting back a whimper.
“You mean Bridge.” Adair laughed. “Bridge falls at least once a ten year…”
The colour drained from Adair’s face. “That’s not… that’s not possible! The other cities haven’t fallen. In all of history-”
“I ask you again. What is this girl?! Why is she here now?!”
Adair was still struggling to make sense of some great puzzle, and Eris looked up at Sigdre’s face to see a confusion of fears there in his normally sarcastic face.
“Send for Marchan. Damnnit, drag the piece of hoshi back here!” Yelled Adair at his nearest aide, his face billowing with red blood as his fear and anger combined. The man ran from the room, as though wolves were at his feet.
“Bring her closer.” Adair hissed to Sigdre. “We should examine her for impurities! See what matter of beast she really is!”
Eris struggled against Sigdre’s grip, but was forced towards the bloated man again.
“Help me here!” Sigdre called to other button men in the room, and two came to clasp her so that he could release his grip on her and step away.
“The prophets…” Sigdre said, rubbing his chin as he looked her over. “These reports of ‘ghosts’ attacking the other cities. New things, strange things. Things that haven’t been seen before. And now this girl.”
“We should strip her. Look for signs of impurity! Test her for heathen evils with hot pockers and iron needles!” Adair said, flecks of spittle spilling onto his bottom lip.
“You will not!” Eris shouted. She suddenly forced the first greening that came to her straight into the hands of the men who had foolishly chosen to hold her tight by her clothed shoulders and her bare wrists. Instantly they began shaking with a force that tore ligaments and twisted joints. They crumpled away from her, seizing up into smaller shapes that twitched and jittered on the stone floor.
“What am I?! What am I?!” She screamed at the two men. “I am Eris Atta-Sutith! She Who Harms and Heals!”
Roarers were pointed at her, and she knew her greenings would not stop the shots of lead inside that could puncture her body at any moment. But there might be another way. She thought of Orrin and walked boldly towards the nearest button man. A young man with only the thinnest of moustaches above his quivering bottom lip.
“I am Eris Atta-Sutith! She Who Once Harmed and Healed! The One Who Walks on Two Feet! The Leader of the Atta! Leader of woods-voln, city-voln, mountain-voln, and street-voln. Atta-Sutith!”
The roarer was a mere finger’s span from her chest, but still she stepped closer, putting the lion’s cold mouth against her skin. She focussed her anger there on that chilled place and poured a greening into the metal itself, tarnishing it from its normal false golden shade to a blackened oil-like colour. The man holding it screamed as the stain crept closer to his hands as he watched, and then he dropped the roarer as though it was hot. The others about her stepped back, dropping their roarers for a moment, and she took the chance in front of her.
“Put down your weapons, or I will bring the fire and darkness that swept Emphon to this very room in Tralis!”
To make her point she grabbed the hand of the roarer-less man and pushed a taste from her childhood deep into his skin. A berry that was tart on the tongue, but darkly staining on the skin. A flush of darkness ran up the man’s arms under his many buttoned coat and appeared on his face, terrifying the other soldiers all about him. The thunderous sound of their roarers falling to the stone floor near deafened her.
“Bring my companion… my priest, Orrin Storyteller, here. Right now!” She commanded and a lad with urine stains on his breeches ran from the room instantly.
“My lady.” It was Sigdre, cautiously getting her attention. She spun to look at his weasely face. “My lady, if it please you… we could just let you and your Orrin go. What happened in Emphon need not happen here.”
She tried to hide the curiosity from her face. She had no hand in Emphon’s fall, but she wondered who did. Ghosts? The mad prophets? Both were possible. But all she really cared about was her Atta. All of them.
“Bring me Jayk. The button man that Marchan asked about.”
“Jayk? A common name. It will take time to ask among the men. Many are also further off, at the Front.”
“He was seen entering Tralis a few days back, among a party of mountain-voln-”
Sigdre looked pained and rang his hands as he explained. “Ah, new recruits from the heathens. Well, you see, they would be sent on straight to the Front after being tattooed with their infantry numbers-”
They were interrupted by two soldiers carrying in a filthy and battered Orrin. She took the moment of Sigdre’s distraction to get close enough to hold her right hand across the High General’s throat as though it was a dagger she held there.
“You will make this right. You will make this right or I will fill your veins with poison!”