This week we're back with Danas in the Middle City after a bit of a hiatus on her story. Technically, I decided later on to move this chapter between five and six, but because the stories are separate at this point, it's not too terribly important to keep that chronologically similar. You can find the Google Doc version here. Thanks for reading!
Danas hated not getting in the last word.
Her barracks commander's terse dismissal had surprised her so much that she had left without another word, heading towards the storage closet where her new "equipment" awaited her. A dozen possible retorts came to her mind as she knelt in the corner of the huge common room, scrubbing at a dark stain on the stone that she was almost certain was blood. Almost. Unfortunately, even the clarity of hindsight would not let her reverse the minutes to get a jab in at her superior officer. She was somewhat glad for that. If she'd had her wits about her, she might not still be in the Middle City, and everything she had worked so hard for would have been for nothing.
Sometimes, Danas had to admit that it was better that she didn't get in the last word.
Mostly, the other soldiers ignored her. She was just the cleaning lady, not anyone to pay attention to, even if she was wearing a uniform along with the rest of them. A few did go out of their way to spill their drinks on the floor, or even on her, but those were only the worst of the bunch. Danas wasn't really sure which irritated her more--to be ignored or to be insulted.
She had thought about trying to draw one of her new bunkmates into
"How is it coming?" a voice said from nearby. At first Danas didn't think it was directed at her, but when the question was repeated, she realized that it was the voice of Cader, the soldier she had first met when she had
Danas glanced up and raised an eyebrow. Cader was leaning against the nearest wall, his face scrunched up as if he was profoundly unsettled by something. "Oh, are you talking to me?" she said.
"Um, yes," Cader said, glancing around and coughing. "How is it coming along...Danas?"
Danas dipped her rag in a bucket and kept scrubbing the stain. "I didn't think you were supposed to talk to me."
"Yeah, um, about that," Cader said, laughing nervously. "I didn't really mean it, you know? It was just what everyone else was doing, so I... I didn't mean to be a jerk."
"Wow, that's really pathetic," Danas said, her voice flat. "Let me guess: you don't think of me as a real person--being of a lower class than you--so you think it's okay to just walk away in the middle of a conversation, and then come back and offer some half-hearted, stupid attempt at an apology and hope I'll like you enough so you might be able to sleep with me sometime in the future?" She looked at him with a cold stare. "Did I miss anything?"
Cader's face was bright red, and he coughed again, his face growing angry. "I don't need to listen to this," he said, and then he promptly walked over and kicked her bucket across the floor, spilling dirty soap water all over the barracks. The soldier muttered a few choice curses in her direction and stomped away. Danas sighed and went to find a mop.
A few moments after she had returned and started soaking up the water, the barracks suddenly grew silent. Danas looked up, brow furrowing, and saw that Commander
Danas winced involuntarily. I have to clean that up...
"As you all probably know by now, we have a new recruit,"
"Uh," Danas said as every eye fixed its gaze on her. What am I supposed to say? "I'm...Danas. I used to be with the Lower City military, but I was just transferred to this position. I...ca
A few of the soldiers chuckled to themselves.
One soldier, the brown-haired woman with the ear piercings Danas had met earlier, reached down near the cot next to her and grabbed an empty bottle. With an air of calm that infuriated Danas, the soldier tossed the bottle a few dozen feet away, where it shattered on the rough stone of the floor. The sound triggered a roar of laughter that engulfed the room. Cader grabbed the side of another cot and heaved, tipping over the piece and spilling the mattress--blankets and all--across the floor. Several other men hoisted tankards in the air, promptly spilled out their contents, and then sent them flying across the room as well. The chamber soon became a cacophony of laughter, shattering
There was a cheer from the ranks, and then they filed out of the barracks, laughing and clapping each other on the shoulders. Soon only
And then he left, walking out of the barracks and leaving her to the enormous task of cleaning up. Danas watched him until he was down the corridor and out of sight, and then continued staring at the spot where she had last seen him, still shocked at what had just happened. At first the quiet of the room was a welcome relief from the noise of a few moments ago, Danas continuing to stare, not moving a muscle. But the silence quickly became deafening, and then she started noticing the inhale and exhale of her breathing, the thump of her heart, and the barely detectable murmur of voices from the Middle City outside.
Finally, she lost her staring contest with the wall and began to look around at the disaster before her. And it was a disaster. It was going to take her most of today and probably a considerable portion of tomorrow to finish it in time for the return of the troops. She stood silently for a moment longer, and then she reached down, grabbed the mop, and hurled it across the room. It spun wildly, since it was so unbalanced on one side, and hit the far wall with a simultaneous
For days now, she had constantly been in the presence of people. She had not had any real time to cope with any of the feelings that had been churning inside her. But now she was alone. There was no one she had to look strong for. No one she had to prove herself to. And so Danas let it all out.
She kicked a broken chair, sending it skittering across broken glass, and screamed again. She grabbed another piece of furniture and smashed it against the wall. She didn't care about what that might cost her. She didn't care about anything right now, other than letting her emotions have somewhere to go. Finally. After a few minutes of breaking chairs and screaming and cursing, Danas' rage became despair, and finally she collapsed on the floor among millions of shards of glass and splinters of wood, sobbing.
Why does it have to be this way? Why do I have to feel so alone? Why can't
She shook her head as she lay there. Her sobs were less pronounced, and she was noticing for the first time the stinging in her arms where pieces of glass had slashed tiny marks. She cursed again, a shout that boomed off the walls. Why was she even thinking like this? She liked being alone. She wanted to be alone. The only person she could really trust to not make a mistake was her--why was she lamenting
Danas stood. The stinging in her arms was becoming more pronounced, but she ignored it. She was angry again. Angry at the stupid people she had to deal with day in and day out. Angry at the injustice of...well, everything. She was angry at the world. And the world ignored her. She wanted to tell everyone to just grow up, to get over themselves. But everyone ignored her. Danas decided then that she could handle being insulted. She could throw mud and slander with the rest of them. She just didn't want to be ignored. Treat me like an enemy all you want, she thought, staring at the corridor leading out of the barracks and mentally screaming at the entire Fifth Tier Barracks. But I will make it impossible for you to ignore me. I will be the constant itch at your side, the endless biting. I will be the insect that will not leave you alone. And you will have no choice but to fight me.
A thought occurred to her. Why didn't
At that moment, Danas became determined. More than she had ever been before. She looked around at the disaster before her. She would not quit. She would not give up. And she would not just survive. She would fight. She would not let these people ignore her. She would not let them trample on her. Whether they respected her, feared her, hated her, it didn't matter. But they would know her. And when she brought down this city around their ears, the oppressors above would know that they could no longer ignore the insects they trampled upon. When the sting came, they would realize that the smallest enemy could be the most dangerous. And the sting would come. Soon.
Danas saw the room as if for the first time. A disaster, surely. But it was also an opportunity. A chance to be the insect, a chance to really tick off the Commander--the entire barracks. She would clean up the mess, and she would clean it up better than anyone ever had. She would be the best, not only as a
Danas got to work.
The look on Myrtion's face when he walked in the next morning was worth every grueling moment of the previous night spent in intensive cleaning. Danas was almost too exhausted to stand, but she stood at attention the second the commander arrived at the barracks. She didn't look the man in the eye, though. If she did that, she'd either burst out laughing or start sobbing--she wasn't sure which. Her emotions were a bit too fragile right now to risk any sort of unnecessary confrontation.
The commander, fortunately, avoided her eyes as much as she did his, instead walking around the spotless barracks with an expression of awe mixed with seething rage. What had once been the scene of a natural disaster was now a barracks like any other in Argosson--neat, orderly, practically organized. Much different than it had been even before the soldiers had trashed it. Danas had made the Fifth Tier barracks into what it should have been in the first place--well, at least the building. The people were another thing entirely. She'd even cleaned out Myrtion's office, though she had taken pains to avoid actually doing any organizing of the various papers and documents in the room, lest she give Myrtion a legitimate excuse for being cross with her.
Danas' legs ached. Her arms ached. Almost every part of her ached. She thought there was possibly a spot on her right cheek that didn't feel sore, but maybe she was imagining it. Myrtion just kept walking. Grumbling under his breath louder and louder until he was almost frothing at the mouth. It was almost fifteen minutes before Myrtion stopped his rage-filled pacing and finally looked at her. "You must think you're something, huh?" It wasn't really a question.
"Just doing my job, sir," Danas replied with a completely straight face.
Myrtion stared at her for a long moment, unblinking. And then, without another word, he walked down the side corridor towards his office with a look of perplexity.
Danas almost fell on the floor and went to sleep right there and then, but she managed to restrain herself and instead followed the commander down the corridor. She felt as if she was drunk--everything was blurry, her reaction time was slow, and she staggered down the hallway in a daze. After a few strides, she stopped herself and tried to get her body under control. I need to finish strong on this, she told herself, leaning against the wall and trying to focus on her breathing. I need to look strong when I walk in there. With a tremendous effort, Danas took one more deep breath and walked purposefully down the corridor to the door of Myrtion's office. She had to focus with each step, but she no longer lurched, and she felt more in control now. More than anything she wanted to go to sleep, but she could wait ten more minutes. Everything would work out. This would work. She would win. She had to win. She had to beat them all, every last one of them. Danas shook her head as she reached for the handle of the door. She was so tired that even her thoughts were nonsensical. Alright, get a hold of yourself. One more conversation, and you can sleep. One. More.
She opened the door.
"Commander," she began, almost before she was fully in the room. She saluted and then stood at attention. "I have something I need to ask you, sir." She tried as hard as she could not to slur her words, but it still felt as if her mind was covered in a blanket of fog.
Myrtion glanced up at her, then quickly brought his gaze back down to his desk--the desk that was now clear of debris, cleaned, and polished. "At ease, soldier," he snapped finally. "What is it, Danas?"
"Have I done everything you needed me to do, sir?" Danas asked. "Is everything as clean as you'd like it to be?"
Myrtion picked up a writing utensil and studied it for a moment. He looked up at Danas and swore--so vulgarly, in fact, that Danas blushed. "I can't even see a speck of dirt on this pencil, soldier." He shook his head in disgust.
Danas almost smiled, but caught herself with a nod. "Thank you, sir."
Myrtion waved a hand and went back to studying the pencil. "Get out my sight," he mumbled.
Danas saluted and left. That was good enough for her.
When she came back to the barracks, she almost threw herself on her cot and fell asleep, but then she remembered that she had one more thing to do. She hurriedly left the barracks and went down a few streets to an alleyway off from the main street. She still hadn't gotten used to the eb and flow and the crowd, and so she felt like more like a miner digging through the mountain than a part of the river-like flow of the mass of people. She ducked into the alley and looked around. The pieceman that had given her a lift up from the Lower City stood there, scowling like he seemed to always be doing. His name was Sinda, she had learned.
"Thank you again for helping," Danas said to the man as she reached him, nodding politely. "I couldn't have pulled that off without you and your friends."
"They're not my friends," Sinda said, spitting on the ground. "And you're not my friend either."
Danas smiled with fatigue. "All the same, thank you." She fished out a bag of coins from inside her uniform. At the tinkling sound, Sinda's eyes brightened. He snatched the bag away almost before she held it out to him, and then gave her a strange look.
"Why did you come to me?"
Danas shrugged. "You're the only person I've met so far in the Middle City. I didn't know where else to go."
"Well, that's a lie," Sinda scoffed. "With the kind of money you're waving around, you could have hired any piecemen in the Fifth Tier. Why'd you come to me?"
Danas sighed and looked the ugly little man in the eye. "Maybe it's because I don't want to leave an enemy behind me. It sets my teeth on edge. My options were either to kill you or to bribe you. Bribing you is much less messy, and besides, I'm a soldier--I can't have wanton murder on my record."
Sinda shook his head and laughed a harsh, barking laugh. "That doesn't make any sense to me, but I don't really care. I got paid." And with that, he left the alley.
Danas headed back to the barracks. Despite what she had told Sinda, she still wasn't entirely sure why she had decided to hire the pieceman instead of some other, less hostile laborer. I suppose it doesn't matter, she thought. Sinda and the men he brought with him got the job done. Together they had worked through the night, cleaning, polishing, organizing, with Danas directing everything. The men hadn't complained--too much--but then again, they were being paid quite a bit of money.
Danas entered the barracks and laid down on her cot. That little trick she had pulled off had cost her a sizeable chunk of the money she had brought with her on this mission, but she was pretty sure it was worth it. Not only had she shown Myrtion--and soon, the rest of the barracks--what she was capable of, she had earned some small bit of respect from some of the pieceman in the Fifth Tier. If you were going to overthrow a government, you needed all the help you could get.
She fell asleep.