The cold seeps in his bones, and it's cold he thought he'd never have to feel again.
The cold of shame, the cold of being inferior.
The sting of deep gashes where the whips have fallen, the smell of his own blood.
He shuts his eyes and concentrates on the throbbing pain in his back and neck, the uncomfortable feeling of his clothes madid with blood, sticking to his torn and ripped skin. He feels the tears sting, he prefers to ignore them.
From time to time he'll glance over to where the other two are huddled. The youngest has fallen asleep, thick and long black hair falling across her face. Her brow is furrowed, her cheekbones stand out, shadows squirm along them. Pretty, beautiful, full lips, a face already scarred by pain and hardship. She's curled up on the dirt floor, and her head rests against the other's lap. The oldest rarely sleeps: she keeps guard over you all, or so she says, but this evening her eyes are gray and lost, staring at nowhere in particular.
He knows she feels guilty for what is happening. They all do.
He tries to crawl over to them, whincing in pain. He looks at his hands and squints through the darkness, feels the blood that coats them where his nails have been ripped off: the yellow liquid drips on the floor. The waves of pain that have been going on for days remind him of the infection that has started there.
The Dolorosa looks up to him, sees him drag himself through the mud.
She sighs deeply and lowers her eyes again, and he feels rage bubble at what they've done, at the words branded with fire into her forearm, the mark that will forever sign her, the mark that counts down her days.
Tomorrow some of them will die.
He already knows that he is saved, and so is The Dolorosa: the Emperess has taken a liking for him, already she's expressed to her monstrous henchman her desire to put him to good use.
He's heard tales of Helmsmen, of beings forced to pilot Her Condescension's monstrous fleet, of beings whose minds had been captured and ensnared and broken, pushed to their limits, until the very synapses burned, until blood dripped from their eyes.
He knows his fate is sealed, knows he can't escape.
The Dolorosa shall be sold, or so he's heard them say. They've marked her with a number and they will take her away sooner or later.
The youngest of them, the sleeping one, the Disciple: she is destined to die. She has refused to renounce her faith, she has refused to let go. She has shown loyalty deeper than any of them, loyalty that goes beyond anything any of them can understand.
The Highbloods do not know of love, of this he is sure.
He watches her sleep, unable to go on, unable to crawl any further for the pain is too much. It blocks him, poisons his blood.
He listens to his breath rattle through his chest.
The Psiioniic is cold. The Psiioniic looks at the Disciple sleep and feels his body ache.
One of them is missing.
One of them is outside The Citadel, one of them is being tortured, hung from his arms in the cold, wet air. Tortured for daring. Tortured for dreaming.
His screams have started to die down, though. They no longer cut through the night, they no longer make the Psiioniic choke his own sobs in his hand, pray that no one hears him, for listening to The Signless cry is as painful as having his own heart ripped out.
Tomorrow he shall be executed too.
Tomorrow he shall see his eyes one last time. If they let him.
If he has luck.
But could he bear it? Watch the light leave them, see the blood drip? Wish to hold him, know he can't.
She will be the one holding him. She will be the one screaming his name, digging her fingers into his hair as his heart stops beating.
They will stop breathing together. Together in death, the same way they'd been throuought their brief, burning lives.
The Psiioniic turns around, manages to lie on his back. He moans as the open wounds press against the ground, but at least the pain tells him he's still alive.
He looks at the ceiling, at the slabs of hard granite, knows that the upper quarters of The Citadel could even be defined as another universe compared to the squalor of this cell he is trapped in.
Had he ever dreamed of coming here? He, a lowly rustblood, a slave to a great Desert Merchant, had he ever dreamed of seeing The Citadel, crouched on tall rocks, looming over Alternia's Great Western Sea?
No, he hadn't. But yet, he'd been there, caught glimpses of it as they dragged him in chains through its magnificent streets.
The sheer beauty of it had left him intoxicated, the blues and purples and whites, the tall swirling towers, the gold.
The slums gathered around it that they'd hidden in for the time being: rotten houses, diseases, poverty. Pain, rage, submission.
Hell and Heaven could coexist in horrible, twisted balance, and the times they'd helped Lowbloods escape the clutches of this or that Highblood were many, and they all made him proud.
The uproar of the crowd the Signless' words had brought on, the inevitable bloodshed that had followed.
But, for a moment, he'd tasted a dream of peace. He'd tasted what freedom meant, and it was all thanks to one Troll, one pretty little boy with messy hair and bright red eyes.
The Psiioniic's breath stops for a moment, his heart skips a beat.
The pretty little boy he'd loved from day one, since he'd been freed, the pretty little boy he'd longed to taste and feel.
The pretty little boy he'd die for, he'd kill for, he'd sacrifice everything for.
The pretty little boy who was his best friend.
The pretty little boy was going to die, and he'd die without knowing what the Psiioniic felt for him, he'd die in pain.
He'd die, and the Psiioniic couldn't save him.
The Disciple would die, his friend (he didn't hate her for what she had, for having him, couldn't bring himself to do so) would die. And he couldn't save her, either.
The Psiioniic closes his eyes, feels the sheer force of his love burn through him. He tries to remember the sound of the Signless' voice, the raspyness of it, the way his eyes twinkled when he spoke. The visions he was plagued by, the peace he sought and wished for.
All gone, all burned to ash.
But, as the Psiioniic lies on the ground, as he feels his own blood pool around him he knows, a small, weak part of him knows that his friend's ideas will never die down.
You may kill the man who brings them forth, but true ideas will never disappear.
He shuts his eyes as the wind outside starts to blow, makes the tiny window rattle.
He realizes he's growing used to the pain in his back and hands, the same way he'd grown used to the pain of knowing that their romance would've been nothing more than flushed, nothing more than pale. He wished for red, for vibrant, throbbing red, the same red he knew The Sufferer's blood was.
The same red of eyes he'd always wished to lose himself in.
The Psiioniic shuts his eyes, listens as nighttime crawls around them.
He feels love melt into pride. Or maybe those two things have always coexisted inside of him.
He knows the Troll he loves has changed the face of the world he lives in. For better, for worse.
He knows the Troll he loves has changed him.
He knows it's time to let him go. He knows he'll never forget him.
He knows he was a great man.
The Psiioniic shuts his eyes.
"Goodbye my love. Sleep well. Sleep tight."
Tomorrow, the Sufferer shall die.
Tomorrow, the Psiioniic will fly.