The timer over Matthas’s head clicked and dumped water on his head, as the tree shivered and sprayed a fine mist all around itself leaves fluttering. Even in the brutal heat of the day the pipes pressing all around him leached heat out of his body. Then the cycle finished and the only sound was the slow drip of the refilling timer above him.
His eyes were closed as he breathed as evenly as possible. His right arm and hand ached where he’d hurled the marble slab at that... that... Mahid.
That’s what a proper Mahid is, now. No onyxine. Dark red armour, stern face, not dead face. He nearly got me, I felt the vanes on that dart. I was slow. I didn’t anticipate they’d be at the Temple build site. Why didn’t I anticipate that? Maybe... because I’m not Mahid anymore? Can I just give this up?
At the thought his muscles, all over his body began to quiver and twitch and spasm. He was strained into one solid cramp.
I can’t hear anything but my breathing and that insane, relentless dripping as the timer fills... and I keep thinking I hear the old Imperator, calling me in. I’m done. I’m not done, I’m done. I’m not done. My humble working God. Let me be done.
His body didn’t believe it and stilled again. He wavered between the pain of being okas and the pain of being Mahid undercover. The pain of being Mahid at all.
He couldn’t make himself move, He couldn’t let himself collapse, fall out of his hidey hole. He tried, even shifting his eyes to where the door wasn’t quite shut. It had been a heartbeat of time. It had been a full bead. One set of senses told him one, and then the other. I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know. Senior, I’ve failed and failed and failed. Senior instruct me. I despise being okas but I’m good at it. It is easier and easier as I go along.
His breathing thundered in the tiny space. His bladder told him to believe the longer estimate of time, pain building there. He couldn’t let it go, even down his leg into the reservoir below. It would be rank now and the stench would give him away. Perhaps two full beads. He deeply regretted that last drink from the water boy. It feels like that timer is dripping straight onto my bladder. Every drop hurts.
The timer emptied itself on his head again, drooling, itching, drying on his face. He’d lost count at the ninth or tenth time, and then heard the Nosy chimes marking the end of the Assembly session.
The sweet, high ringing thrummed through his head and something snapped, something in him broke with an almost audible crack and his abused body convulsed, throwing him against the door, out onto the pavement, forearms and knees scraped raw on the cobbles, weeping aloud, sobbing, voiding his bladder, broken as any torture victim.
“Thank you, thank you thank you...” was all he could say to Amitza as he stared into her eyes and the open end of the tube. The smack of her dart into his shoulder muscle brought blessed, blessed dark and all this horrific thinking went away.