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Chapter Text

Driskoll stopped outside a large grey building that rang with the noise of hammering.
"Is this it?" asked Kellach.
"So where's Suma?"
"Still working. We're early."
Just then, a bell clanged inside the building. There was a rustle of movement, and red-eyed, weary-looking people began to pour out of the doors. Driskoll began scanning the crowd for his friend.
"Not you, new boy!" snapped a voice from inside the building. "You stay here!"
"Yes, sir," came Suma's resigned voice. Kellach and Driskoll looked at each other. Perhaps they'd have to wait a little longer.
The last few tired workers trickled from the building, closing the doors behind them.
Muffled through the woodwork came the sound of a raised voice. Driskoll couldn't make out the words, but the tone was angry and accusing.
There was no sound from Suma.
At length, the voice stopped. There was the sound of an interior door opening and shutting. The boys waited.
Five minutes.
Fifteen, and finally Suma emerged. "Sorry," he said. "Got held up." He sounded a little ashamed.
"What did your boss want?" Driskoll asked.
Suma looked away. "Nothing much." But his eyes said he didn't want to talk.
Driskoll dropped the subject.

The three wandered through Curston, chattering aimlessly. Suma seemed a little quiet, but Driskoll supposed he was just tired.
Kellach broke away from the group, heading for a stand selling hot buns. He returned with a bagful of the small, sticky cakes, and offered them to the others. Driskoll took one, and passed the bag to Suma.
"No, thanks," said the Yuan-ti boy. "I'm not hungry."
Kellach grinned. "More for me."
Driskoll shot him a look, and turned to Suma. "You okay?" he asked. "You seem a bit down."
Suma shook his head, the bright sunlight glinting off his earrings. "Nah, I'm fine. Just a little tired. I might head back to the boardinghouse now, actually - catch up on some sleep."
"Okay," said Driskoll. "See you on Monday." The three had planned to meet up with Moyra next Monday, as it was Suma's day off.
"Yep. See you then."
Driskoll clapped his friend on the shoulder. "Take care of yourself."
Suma grinned at him, though the smile looked a little strained to Driskoll. "Will do." He jogged off, weaving through the scattered groups of people.
Driskoll waved, then turned back to Kellach, reaching for the bag of buns. He was about to take one when Kellah gasped.
"Driskoll! What happened to you?"
Kellach grabbed his hand. "You're bleeding!'
Droskoll looked down at his fingers. They were indeed stained with red. "Oh . . ."
"What have you done to yourself this time?"
Driskoll frowned. "I don't think that's my blood."
Kellach cocked his head quizzically.
Driskoll looked off, the way the Yuan-ti boy had gone. "I think it's Suma's."
Kellach looked confused. "But how . . ." He broke of, muttering a particularly vile Mechanus curse-word. "Gods. His boss. But why didn't he tell us?"
"I don't know." Driskoll knew that if it was him - if he was the one hurt and bleeding at the hand of a man he held no ties to - nothing would stop him from bringing the law down on his tormentor.
"We need to talk to him," said Kellach. "Do you know where he boards?"
Driskoll shook his head. "No idea. He never told me."
"You mean you never asked."
"It seemed rude!" Driskoll protested. "You know how much he likes his privacy."
Kellach sighed. "Never mind. What are we gonna do, Dris?"
"We could tell Dad."
"Without proof? He'd think we were wasting his time." Kellach clenched his right hand into a fist. "No, we have to find Suma. We have to help him. If he agrees, then we can go to Dad."
Driskoll nodded, then frowned. "What do you mean, if he agrees?"
Kellach looked straight at his brother. "Suma didn't tell us what was happening. There could be any number of reasons for that. Maybe this man's threatening him with something even worse if he tells."
Driskoll shook himself. "All the more reason to find him quickly," he said.
"Where?" asked Kellach. "There must be hundreds of boarding-houses and renters in Curston. We can't search every one. We'll have to wait until tomorrow morning."
Driskoll stared. "But -"
Waiting until tomorrow would mean leaving Suma alone for another day. Every part of Driskoll cried out against that. Suma was his best friend, he'd saved Driskoll's life, and it wasn't the action of a warrior to leave anyone in danger.
But Kellach was right.
Gods, Driskoll hated it when Kellach was right.

Chapter Text

The next day, Driskoll and Kellach waited outside the grey building again. As soon as the bell rang, they were by the door, ready to rush in if Suma was "kept back" again.
But they needn't have worried - Suma was one of the first out. His brow furrowed in confusion when he saw the two brothers.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
Driskoll suddenly realised he'd never considered what he was going to say. How did you ask someone a question like that? His mouth opened, shut again.
Before Driskoll could form a sentence, Kellach spoke up. "Will you come with us, Suma?" he asked. "We need to talk to you."
Suma looked even more puzzled than before. "Why not here?"
Driskoll looked towards the open door of the building. "Here . . . wouldn't be a good idea," he said. "We'd better talk in private."
Suma laughed. "Alright, if you want to be mysterious . . ." He turned away. "Come back to my apartment with me. No-one'll listen in."

The brothers followed Suma down several alleys, to a sprawling, run-down building on the outskirts of Broken Town.
"This is where you live?" Driskoll asked.
Suma nodded. "Yeah - it's cheap and close to work. Close to the market, too." He pushed open the main door and led the brothers inside. They found themselves in a grubby, dimly-lit corridor, with doors leading off both sides of the hallway. Crude numbers were painted on the doors.
The three made their way down the hall. A large woman with a ring of keys jangling on her belt brushed past them, and Suma nodded to her.
"Oh, hey, Tatts," she said. "Who're these two?"
"Just some friends," said Suma. "They won't be staying."
The woman continued on her way.
Driskoll grinned at Suma. "Tatts?"
Suma sighed, touching the marks on his face. "Tattoos. Marna loves giving people nicknames."
Driskoll sniggered.
"Hey, it could be worse. Just ask Stinky."
They stopped at a door with the number 23 painted on it. Suma pulled a key from his pocket and unlocked it, ushering the brothers inside with an elaborate fake bow. The room was small, so much so that if Driskoll stood in the middle of the floor, he could reach out and touch both walls. A narrow bed was the only piece of furniture.
"Sit down," said Suma, gesturing to the bed. They did, and he closed the door and locked it. "Now, what was it you wanted to talk about?"
Kellach shifted uneasily. "Well," he began, "what're things like at work?"
Suma laughed. "This is what we had to talk in private about?"
"Um . . . yeah." Kellach nodded. "Well?"
"Fine, since you ask. My boss is going easy on me 'cause I'm new."
Driskoll was confused. If it wasn't his boss, who had hurt Suma? That blood had been fresh.
He blurted out the question. "You were bleeding yesterday! What happened?"
Suma looked away awkwardly. "My own fault. I was late for work, so my boss had to beat me, but it wasn't too bad. Like I said, he's going easy on me." He shrugged, and Driskoll saw bandages under his tunic.
"Going easy on you?" Kellach exclaimed. "That's not easy!"
"Yes, it is," replied Suma. "He didn't knock me out or anything." He looked confused.
"Suma," said Driskoll, "it's not normal to beat someone until they bleed because they're late."
Suma looked at him. "It isn't? But he said it was - and anyway, it is for us."
"For Yuan-ti. That sort of punishment is pretty normal."
Driskoll shook his head. "Yuan-ti are messed-up."
Suma shrugged again. "Even if it's not normal, I don't see where the problem is," he said. "He's my boss - he can do whatever he wants."
"No, he can't," said Kellach. "There's laws against it."
"There are laws against punishing people who do wrong? That kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it?"
"No, but there are laws against hurting someone like that." Kellach gestured at Suma. "How bad is it, anyway?"
"It's fine - not too bad."
"By Yuan-ti standards, or by human standards?"
"I don't know - what are human standards?"
Kellach sighed. "Let me see. Zendric's taught me a bit of healing."
"It's fine."
"Let me check."
"I said, it's fine!" Suma's eyes flashed, and he looked downright furious.
Kellach backed off, as much as was possible in the tiny room. "Alright, alright . . . sorry."
"What's wrong?" Driskoll asked.
"Nothing!" Suma snapped. "I don't need healing. I can take care of myself."
"Okay," said Driskoll. "Well, let's go."
"Where?" Suma asked.
"The Watchers' Office, of course. We need to tell Dad what's going on so he can arrest your boss."
"Why?" Suma asked. "I can take it, easy. It's not bad. I don't want to draw attention."
"Suma . . ." Driskoll sighed. "It's not okay. You might be able to take it, but what if it gets worse? What if it's not just you? There's other kids at the smithy, right?"
Suma nodded. "Yes." He looked down at his hands, and Driskoll noted the fading bruises on his bare forearms. "I suppose we'd better."
Kellach stood, moving to the door. "Come on, then."
Driskoll got up too, pulling Kellach away from the door so Suma could unlock it. The three spilled out into the corridor, and Suma locked the door behind them. He took a deep breath and nodded to himself, making his earrings swing.
"Let's go."

Chapter Text

The three boys hurried through the crowded, early-morning streets of Curston. They reached the Watchers' Office, went in, and knocked on Torin's door.
"Come in!" called the gruff voice from inside. Driskoll pushed the door open and led the others in.
"What is it now?" said Torin, irritated. "No, Driskoll, you can't have extra pocket-money."
Driskoll shook his head. "That's not why we're here. This is serious, Dad." He gestured at Suma, who was hanging back in the doorway, looking shy and ashamed. "Suma's boss has been beating him."
Torin's face darkened. "What? You're not joking, are you?"
"No, Dad," Kellach chimed in. "We're not joking.
"Really?" Torin looked at the Yuan-ti boy.
Suma nodded. "Yes, sir."
"How long has this been going on?"
"About a month, sir."
"Why didn't you report it?"
Suma stared at the ground. "I . . ."
"He didn't know it was wrong, Dad," explained Kellach.
"He what? Oh, well . . ." Torin shook his head. "But I can't arrest him without proof. I don't suppose he left a mark?"
Suma nodded, looking even more uncomfortable.
"Show me."
Suma shook his head mutely, backing away.
"What's wrong?" Torin asked, his usually gruff voice gentle. "I'm not going to hurt you. I just need to see."
Suma took a deep breath, and pulled his tunic over his head. Carefully, he unwrapped the bandages, and the other three gasped. Kellach swore.
Suma's back was a mess of angry welts and red cuts. Some were half-healed, some still raw, and some so old they were no more than pale scars. Years of punishment, written on his skin.
Torin's face was furious. "That's . . . definitely proof. Thank you." He stood abruptly and strode to the door. "Gwinton!" he yelled out into the corridor.
The dwarf came hurrying up the passage. "What is it, sir?"
"Get a squad, take them to . . ." He looked at Suma, questioningly.
"The big smithy on Lumen Street," said the Yuan-ti boy, slipping his tunic back on.
"Yeah, that. What's your boss's name?"
"And arrest the manager, Numaz."
"Yes, sir." Gwinton saluted. "On what grounds?"
"Child abuse will do for a start," growled Torin. "It's possible we'll find out some more later.
Gwinton's eyes flicked to Suma. "Yes, sir. Right away." He left, and they could hear him shouting to the other watchers.
"Right, young man," said Torin, as soon as he had left. "You need to get to a healer."
Suma shook his head. "I don't need a healer, sir."
"Yes, you do. Go on."
"I don't, sir. Yuan-ti heal fast. It's fine."
Torin looked unconvinced, but he didn't push it. "Alright. In that case, I want you to stay here until Sergeant Gwinton gets back. That way, we can be sure Numaz won't try anything."
Suma looked about to protest, but he nodded. "Yes, sir."

Chapter Text

The three boys sat on uncomfortable chairs in the Watchers’ Office entrance room. They didn’t talk. Suma was quiet, edgy. Every time the door opened, he’d look up, apprehension in his face. Kellach had tried cracking jokes to pass the time, but when no one laughed, he’d lapsed into silence. He’d created a small ball of magic and was flipping it back and forth between his fingers.
Driskoll felt horrible. A month this had been happening, and he hadn’t noticed a thing – not the way Suma sometimes moved stiffly, not the deep bruises in the shape of finger-marks the Yuan-ti boy wore along his forearms. What kind of friend was he? He should have seen something.
The door banged open, loudly. Driskoll could see Suma not flinching. A pair of burly watchers entered, towing a much smaller, handcuffed man between them. He looked up as he was dragged in and his weaselly face twisted in surprise.
“You?” he said. “But . . . he said . . .”
The watchers pulled him away before he could say any more. Suma said nothing. He was staring at the floor, scuffing his feet along the planks.
Another man was pulled in, larger than Numaz. He looked as if there was some troll blood somewhere in his ancestry. He pulled against the grips of the burly watchers holding him and shook a threatening fist at Suma.
The Yuan-ti boy kept his face impassive, but Driskoll heard his tiny intake of breath, saw his shoulders tense under the dark fabric of his tunic. He reached out and put a reassuring hand on Suma’s arm, feeling the tender skin of bruises beneath his touch. “Who was that?” he asked as the big man was hauled away.
“He’s the foreman,” said Suma, his voice low. “He’s the one who beats me, under Sir’s orders. He won’t be happy about this.”
“Doesn’t matter if he’s happy or not,” cut in Kellach. “Won’t be your problem anymore. Hey,” he added, “are you bleeding again?”
Suma shrugged, and Driskoll saw the dark stain seeping through the fabric of his tunic. “It’ll stop soon.”
“No offence,” said Kellach, “but you’re Yuan-ti. How come you can’t just . . .”
“Heal myself? Yuan-ti magic doesn’t really work like that. And it’s not allowed, anyway – if you try to heal yourself, that means you can’t take whatever punishment you’ve been given, and that makes you weak.”
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” muttered Driskoll. “Yuan-ti are messed-up.”
“I second that,” said Kellach.
“Hey,” said Driskoll, looking over at Suma. “You okay?”
Suma glanced over at him. “Y-yeah. Yeah.” He looked away again. “It’s just . . . I don’t understand this. I’m . . . I’m confused. I can’t figure out humans, or human justice. Back in the Caverns, if I complained of a beating, I’d be punished. Here, I’m wasting your father’s time on a tiny thing, and he doesn’t even seem mad.”
The Yuan-ti boy was still looking away. Driskoll stood and moved around in front of him, staring straight into his friend’s face.
“Suma,” he started. “What that man did to you is really, really illegal. Dad’s been trying to stamp it out ever since he was made Commander. It’s not a tiny thing.”
“Driskoll’s right, for once,” added Kellach.
Suma shook his head. “Okay, then . . .”

Just then, Gwinton stalked in, stony-faced, and sat down in a chair across from the boys. He looked at Suma.
“Have you got somewhere safe to stay?” he asked.
Suma nodded mutely. Gwinton sighed. “We’re going to need you to come back tomorrow,” he said. “That’s Trial Day. Will you be alright to give evidence?”
Suma nodded again. “Yes, sir.” He paused. “But . . . I have to work tomorrow.”
Gwinton’s eyes widened. Driskoll was just as surprised. “You . . . you want to go back?”
“It’s my job, sir. I have rent to pay. Will the smithy be open tomorrow?”
Gwinton smiled slightly. “It will, son. We put Purkiss in charge for the moment.”
“Sir’s assistant?” Gwinton nodded, and the smile that was never far from Suma’s face showed itself for a moment. “He’s a good man.” He paused. “My shift comes off at three – is after that alright?”
“Perfect,” said Gwinton. “The earliest trial slot is at four.” He shifted a little in his chair. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay here tonight? For safety?”
Suma shook his head. “No, thank you, sir.”
Gwinton stood. “Alright, you’re free to go.”
As the three boys stood to leave, the sergeant pulled Driskoll aside. “Keep an eye on him,” he said. “Maybe ask him to stay with you. Numaz has friends, and I don’t like the idea of leaving that boy on his own.”
Driskoll nodded, and slipped out the door after the others.
As the three headed down the steps outside, they ran into Moyra hurrying the other way. “Oh, there you are,” she said. “Grayson told me you’d come this way.” She looked around – “Oh, hey, Suma,” – then turned back to Kellach. “What were you doing up here? Driskoll want more pocket money?”
Driskoll sighed. “Why does everybody assume that?” Suma laughed.
Kellach looked uncomfortable. “No,” he said. “Look – maybe we should all head back to my place. We can talk there.”
Moyra frowned, but nodded. “Okay.”

The four sat in a circle on the floor of Kellach’s room, listening to Driskoll’s account of what had happened. Suma had said that he’d rather Driskoll tell the story.
Moyra stared wide-eyed as he finished, then leaned over and caught Suma in a hug, surprising him. She backed away quickly when he winced in pain. “Gods, I’m sorry,” she said.
Suma shook his head. “It’s okay. Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Both Moyra and Suma had been invited to stay over, and Suma slept the night curled up on the carpet beside Driskoll’s bed. When Driskoll woke the next morning, his friend was gone, his blanket carefully folded and a neatly-written note left on the pillow.
- Driskoll,
I’ve gone to work. Thanks for letting me stay over.
Please, can you come to the trial today? I need someone there.

The four - Driskoll, Kellach, Moyra and Suma - met outside the smithy at three that afternoon. Suma was looking nervous, fingers worrying at the edge of his tunic, and Moyra kept suppressing yawns.
“Why are you so tired?” Driskoll asked her. “Our place is five-star!”
“Is not,” Moyra retorted. “Kellach snored. All night.”
Kellach flushed a little. “Did not!”
“You did, too,” put in Suma. “I heard you through the wall.”
Kellach turned a betrayed look on him. “Not you, too! Driskoll, help!”
They continued like that, talking about anything and nothing in particular, until they reached the Watchers’ Office. Gwinton, as the officer in charge of the case, was waiting outside. He looked up as they approached.
“You’ve got a little while,” he said.
Suma hesitated, looking over at the sergeant. “How . . . how do these work exactly?” he asked.
Gwinton looked blank.
“Trials, I mean,” added Suma.
“Yuan-ti don’t have those?” frowned Gwinton. Before Suma could answer, he continued. “I suppose not. You - or an officer - say what the other person is accused of, and the other person defends themselves. Anyone who has evidence brings it forward, and after that the judge and jury decide on the sentence, if there is one.”
He turned and headed towards Justice Hall, motioning to the others to follow.
“What’s a jury?” Suma asked Driskoll in an undertone.
“It’s like . . . a group of people who help the judge decide,” Driskoll whispered back.
“How do they know who’s right?”
“Um . . . I actually don’t know,” admitted Driskoll. “They just go with what seems right to them, I think. And they vote on it.”
Suma looked puzzled, but didn’t comment.

When they reached Justice Hall, Gwinton stopped to speak with the watcher on duty. Driskoll recognised him as Darran, who sometimes taught him swordplay. The two talked for a few moments, and then Gwinton headed back towards the four kids.
“Numaz isn’t here yet,” he said. “They’re bringing him over from the jail.” He paused. “Lard - the foreman - he escaped.”
“How?” Kellach wanted to know.
“Numaz was kicking up a stink - Lard used it as a distraction. Knocked out his guard and got clean away.”
Driskoll looked over at Suma, concerned, but the Yuan-ti boy was laughing. “His name’s Lard?”
Gwinton nodded.
“His parents must have really hated him,” said Moyra.
Gwinton pushed open the doors and the five entered the Hall. The judge and jury were already there, as were a few spectators. “Rubberneckers,” muttered Moyra.
“This way, kiddo,” said Gwinton, motioning Suma towards an open wooden cubicle.
Suma hung back. “Is Driskoll coming?” he asked, and Driskoll’s heart skipped a beat. He knew he couldn’t . . . but Suma needed him.
Gwinton shook his head slowly. “Sorry, kiddo. Only you and I are allowed into the box.”
Suma squared his shoulders. “Alright.”
Driskoll caught his hand. “Good luck,” he said. “You’ll be fine.”
Suma smiled. “Thanks,” he said. Driskoll squeezed his friend’s hand and went to sit with Kellach and Moyra.
A pair of watchers entered, with Numaz between them, and marched him to another box. The judge stood.
“Mr Numaz, human, of Elred’s Smithy, you stand accused of abuse of a minor and gross misuse of authority. How do you plead?”
“Not guilty,” squeaked Numaz immediately. “It’s a lie!”
“We shall see,” said the judge. He turned. “Suma, Yuan-ti, of Broken Town, do you swear that what you say today is truth?”
“Yes,” said Suma simply, ignoring the mutter that ran around the room at the word “Yuan-ti”.
“State your name and age for the record.”
“My name is Suma.”
“Your full name, if you please.”
Suma opened his mouth and hissed a string of sibilant consonants. The judge frowned, looking over at the woman taking down the proceedings.
“Let’s just stick with ‘Suma’,” he said. “And your age?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
The judge sighed. “You look about fourteen. Thirteen maybe. Perhaps we should just continue with proceedings. Did this man Numaz beat you often?”
“Yes, sir.”
“How often?”
“Perhaps twice, three times a week, sir.”
This time, the mutter that went around the room was louder, angrier. Moyra gasped, and Driskoll clenched both fists.
“He’s lying, your honour!” squeaked Numaz again. “I deny it!”
The judge turned to Numaz, looking irritated. “Name and age.”
“Elred Tanir Numaz, Forty-two.”
“Give your account.”
Numaz took a deep breath. His nose was twitching, Driskoll noted. “Yeah, the kid works for me,” he said. “He’s useless. He’s lazy, stupid, always late. I pulled him up on it. Yelled at him a bit. He’s trying to get back at me, aren’t you, snake?”
Suma shook his head, pale-faced. “No -” he began, but Numaz shouted him down.
“Snake! Lying snake!”
The judge’s gavel cracked against his desk. “Silence!” he called.
“Filthy, lying snake!”
Numaz subsided, but the crowd was muttering again. There were more spectators now, come for entertainment. Driskoll caught “Yuan-ti” and “basically animals” before the judge called order.
“And do you swear that what you say is truth?” the judge asked Numaz.
“Yes! Yes, I do!”
“Well,” said the judge. “Anyone with evidence to bring, speak now.”
Gwinton stepped forwards, beside Suma. “Your honour,” he said. “We found blood on the floor of this man’s office. Not more than a few days old.”
“My - my office doubles as a first-aid room,” snapped Numaz. “A man cut himself not long ago. Your honour,” he added.
The judge sighed, his brow furrowed in thought. The jury whispered amongst themselves. Driskoll dug his nails into his palms. How could this man be such a bare-faced liar?
In the box, Gwinton whispered something to Suma. The Yuan-ti boy looked around, shook his head, dropped his gaze to the floor. Gwinton whispered again, more urgently.
Suma looked up, and his voice broke the tension. “Sir?” he said softly.
“What is it, boy?” asked the judge, not unkindly. Every head in the room turned towards Suma.
Suma said nothing, just turned away from the onlookers, lifting his tunic over his head to bare his back.
Gasps ran around the room. Moyra grabbed at Kellach’s sleeve. The judge turned and glared at Numaz, his face stony.
Numaz’s demeanor had changed entirely. “I didn’t want to do it!” he whined. “He made me!”
“Who made you?” demanded the judge. His voice was cold and deadly.
“The other one!” Numaz babbled. “The other snake! He made me!”
Everyone was watching Numaz, so only Driskoll saw Suma’s face turn dead white. The Yuan-ti boy had frozen in place, tunic clutched to his chest so hard the bones showed through at his knuckles.
The judge leaned forward. “What do you mean, the other snake?”
“Another one like him!” Numaz pointed a wobbling finger at Suma. “He called himself Selky, or something. He made me!” he repeated.
“How, exactly, did he make you?” the judge asked, his tones clipped and precise.
“Well . . .” Numaz wilted under the stares. “He - he paid me. I’m a poor man, your honour!” he added. “I have a wife, children . . .”
“Don’t lie, Elred,” came a voice from the front row. Not angry, just sad and disappointed. Driskoll looked around. The speaker was an elderly woman, her white hair still showing traces of the same vivid red as Numaz’s. His mother?
“Your honour, please . . .” wheedled Numaz, but the judge cut him off with a blow of the gavel against the desk.
“Silence! Elred Numaz of Elred’s Smithy, do you admit to the mistreatment and abuse of Suma of Broken Town?”
“I . . .” Numaz stopped. “Yes . . . I do.”
“And you say that you were paid to do this by a Yuan-ti named Selky?”
“No, not that.” The wheedling tone was back in Numaz’s voice. He was trying to get in the judge’s good books, Driskoll guessed.
The judge frowned. “No?”
“Not Selky.” Numaz shook his head. “Something else.”
He paused.