Winter Solstice

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Auxi breathed heavily. The cold had frozen her throat, and when she exhaled, the air came out in half solid white crystals. Who would be so inhuman as to leave a girl in one layer of cloth in a cold room when it was three degrees? On top of it, the rascals had left an Air Cooler working. So the objective was to torture her. Auxi knew she couldn’t hold on much longer. She thought about Vizas.

“Cool, ain’t it?” mocked a sudden loud voice that Auxi couldn’t place, she was so disoriented. The heavy ruffle of someone moving in layers and layers of cloth made Auxi even more angry.

“Made a mistake, missy. Bad mistake. Shouldn’t have poked your nose around so much.”

The jestering voice came closer, and Auxi could see the outline of a hulky man, or maybe it was just the coats. A single black cloak over all the others told Auxi he was a commoner. No badges, no stars, no golden lining to show his position. And wearing some one else’s cloak was a serious sin, even for kidnappers.

The man crouched near Auxi’s feet, and seemed to uncap some sort of container. The snow had frozen on Auxi’s eyelashes, and her vision was foggy.

The man stood up, and Auxi could see he was of the same height as her. Where was his accomplice, Auxi wondered.

The man laughed once more before pouring the content of the vessel over Auxi’s arms and giving her much pain. Auxi shrieked, as the liquid slipped down her arms and pained her every cell.

“STOP IT! Stop it, please! What are you doing to me?!”

The man seemed to be set off with her cries and stopped. “Brine.”

“Brine?” gasped Auxi. What was that- some new chemical? The Tower must be behind it.

The man grunted. “Salt water. Everybody in this place is too advanced for conventional smartness, aren’t they.”

Salt water? What in the world?

“Your skin has frozen with the cold. It’s a different kind of parched. The salt irritates it. The water cuts cooler. Your heart is going fifty times faster than normal.”

Auxi shivered violently. The water chilled her bones. And suddenly, the liquid slipped down her left hand, and just as it touched the little finger, Auxi yelled. Her cries echoed and the man frowned.

He grasped her left hand, crushing Auxi’s stiff fingers, and looked at an open wound on the little finger.

“Aah. Salt and open wounds. I told you you made a mistake. Should have kept to your own ruddy business.”

He threw her hand back and turned away.

Auxi gasped. She swallowed all the air she could, and tried to block the pain.

“Wait. Please. Please wait.”

The man stopped.

“Please. I never meant anything. I was just looking. I won’t do anything, I promise. Please.”

The man didn’t move.

“Please- please let me go.”

The man laughed his loud, drawn laugh again. “Yeah, right. Didn’t think of this before, did you? Well, I have my own way of punishing. That stupid Waratia of yours isn’t enough for me.”

With that, he went away, and the whizzing fan was all the sound in the cold room. Auxi fell unconscious. Winter truly began.

A few miles and thick snow tracks away, Vizas tried to focus on Auxi’s thoughts. He had once managed to pick her from The Tower, but today, he was having all the trouble in the world. He had picked threads, but they were confusing. Bei’s files? An Air Cooler? What could Auxi be doing with an Air Cooler in that winter? And brine? Why was Auxi thinking about saltwater? And how did she know what brine was? Vizas only knew of that compound of the lost ages because he had once worked on excavating base and heard stories of the excavators everyday.

Vizas frowned. Was Auxi in trouble? But- brine?
Nothing made sense.

All of a sudden, Vizas remembered what Auxi had told him. Lord Janei, in the adjacent room. Surely he could pick his thoughts. Vizas focused. The dazzling whiteness of Waratia made problems, but Vizas was determined.

At last, he got something.

Auxi Feaze knows. She is on the track. She will soon know everything. Should I trust her?

Vizas was alarmed. Lord Janei obviously didn’t know that Vizas was in the next cell. But Lord Janei knew much more.

Vizas tried to connect back but the red light inside his cell jumped to life, and Vizas grudgingly sat back. Who could it be?

“Vizas Hows, you are to be moved.” said a Waratia officer, and grabbing him by the collar, pulled him out. That was too rough for even Waratia standards, Vizas realised.

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