Content Warning: Violence against noncombatant, mental health crisis
I feel my anger rising again. I pick up the little finger and walk toward the breadseller. She turns toward me, anger turning to uncertainty, glancing from my face to the finger I hold in my hand and back.
“What did you do?” I hiss.
“You saw! You saw!” she shouts defensively. “He was trying to steal my bread! He deserved it!”
I toss the finger on her little table, grab her neck in one hand and her cleaver hand with the other.
“Your shitty roll was worth a finger? Really?” I am yelling. Other merchants, pale shadows in the mist, move closer to see what is happening.
“What kind of monster are you?” My voice is rising.
“Hey,” someone objects tentatively. “Let her go.”
“Let her go,” someone else echoes.
“Where is your damn compassion? Where is your pity? Where is your love?” I am screaming now. She is gurgling futilely in my chokehold. The cleaver falls from her fingers. Disgusted, I throw her as far as I can. She lands heavily in the mud several paces away, gasping and crying.
Someone yells for the watch. I kick over the little table, sending the baskets of bread and rolls on it flying, and then I stalk off through the mist. Behind me, the chorus of calls for the guards rises in a crescendo of urgent indignation. Where is the indignation for the maimed child?
I hear the sound of running, booted footsteps, and slip into an alley. A human guard patrol passes on the street behind me, running toward the square.
Time to disappear. I will not be killed by the humans the day of the escape. I will not.
I run through the back alleys and across the larger ways, as swiftly as the sucking mud of the streets will allow. I choose my route erratically, taking random turns, but always moving further away from the marketplace. I have to get away.
I don’t want to die here. Not when freedom is so close.
I am furious, furious at myself for losing control, for the unnecessary violence, for putting my escape at risk. I am furious at the rotten people of Elftown for the rotten things they’ve done, for provoking me. I am furious at Elftown for making them and me into the savages we are.
As I run, I feel the evil of Elftown wrapping its filthy wet fingers around me. You’re not going anywhere, it whispers maliciously, triumphantly. There is no escape for you, Arquë. You belong to me.
“No,” I speak through the ragged rhythmic breaths of running, which sound like the panting breaths of Lynae and the human taking her. “I am not yours. I will get out of here.”
I have to get out of here.
Injuring the whore was a mistake. I was taking my anger at Lynae out on her. The tart didn’t do anything wrong. Fact is, she did me a favor, confirming that Lynae’s flirtation was false, most likely intended to manipulate me into working for the rebellion. I should have thanked the girl who revealed Lynae’s manipulation. I should have gone into Norien’s room with her and taken her, as she wanted.
But with each footfall I hear the sound of her wrist cracking. And other noises. The screaming of the dismembered child. The shrieking of the angry matron. The gurgling of the dying robber. The wet squelching sounds of the human taking Lynae. I hate them.
I hate them all. I hate this place.
I hate myself.
I find myself running faster and faster, heedless of where I am going, my fury and fear melding with ascending disgust and horror, rationality melting into a blind unthinking instinctive urge to run, to escape, to get away. I gasp for breath but the blackness, the fear, pushes me to run faster. To run and run and just keep running.
My left foot sinks into a deeper patch of mud and I lose my balance, flying forward, hitting the wet ground like the bread seller I threw down into the mud of the marketplace, breath knocked out of me, rolling through the filth. I slide to a stop, on my back.
For a few moments I can’t breathe. I start to panic, fearing I am paralyzed or dying, when my body shudders and I begin to breathe again. Through the painful wheezing, I find myself staring up through the dissipating mists at a building I recognize. It’s one of the tenements I visited with Mýldir two days earlier. We placed a smash pot in a tiny room in the narrow garret.
Still in the grasp of the compulsive need to flee, to get away, to hide, I struggle to my feet and look around. The mist is still thick, and it seems that no one has seen me. But there is nowhere to go.
I can’t run from Elftown. Or from myself.
But I need to get off this street.
I stumble toward the door of the tenement.