I felt utterly exhausted by the time I finally made it back home

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I felt utterly exhausted by the time I finally made it back home. The over-watcher had kept me past my clock off time because I'd stopped to look for the little missing girl, Julie, I think her name was and didn't meet my weapon quota for the day.

It had cost me three beatings with the baton, but in return, I'd stolen the over-watcher's pocket watch, so I guess it worked out in the end.

I put the watch on Aeris's workbench, something for her to find later when I knew she would stay up, long past everyone had gone to sleep to work on her projects.

The soft hum of conversation floating through the hall from the lounge brought a smile to my face, and it reminded me of why I endured working in the forges. Slowly, using the wall for support, I walked down the passage. The beatings had been across my back, and each step I took brought a spasm of pain shooting through it. Still, it wasn't as bad as the time when the Over-Watcher beat my legs instead. That had been hard to hide from the others.

A ripple of shock coursed through me, like a slap to the face as I look into the lounge, taking in the scene I found there. Rooted to the spot, I stare at the figure sitting next to Aeris. They wore a plain black mask, the same one used by the Over-watcher. I can't move. It's as if I can feel each hit of the baton over and over again, the beatings in time with my own pounding heart.

It feels like an eon has passed before I finally find my voice again.

"Why the hell is there a masked in our lounge room?"

Everyone's attention snaps to me, and I can see the smiles drop from their faces.

"Ell, this is Jaxen." Aeris turns to Jaxen. "This is Ellinder. He helped me move you in here last night so we could patch you up."

Taking a deep breath, I try to push back the anger welling up, force myself to remember, it wasn't Aeris I felt mad at.

"You failed to mention he's an Aetherian. You said you just found him like that, out in the Heart."

Aeris won't meet my eyes, and I realise she had known and chosen not to tell me. Did she think I wouldn't have helped him had I known he was an Upper? The kid was barely conscious when we brought him in, as if I would have left him to die.

Shaking my head, I can't help but feel disgusted Aeris viewed me that way. After sixteen years of friendship, I would have thought she knew me better than that.

"I mean, I did. After he... fell from the sky."

"Fell from the-? Whatever, it doesn't matter. Why is he even still here? We fixed his leg; he's breathing, why can't he go home?"

Ignoring the spasms in my back, I step further into the room, turning my attention on Jaxen.

"Why haven't you left already? Don't you have a nice cushiony home waiting for you back up top?"

Jaxen hung his head, mumbling something under his breath.

"I'm sorry, but I can't hear you through your damn mask," I said leaning forward and cupping my ear.

"I said I don't know! Okay? I have a huge chunk of time missing from my memory and this sense I can't go home. I don't know what happened or what I'm supposed to do."

Leaning back, I fold my arm across my chest, my hand gripping my stump . "And what? I'm just supposed to feel sorry for you?"

"Ell." Aeris's voice was sharp as she darted a look at me.

Shaking my head, I scoffed. "You can't seriously expect me to feel sorry for him."

"No, but a little compassion would go a long way."

A little compassion. Taking a deep breath, I turned away, trying to squash my rising anger. At that point a particularly bad pain shot up my side, and I jerked, my vision momentarily blurred. No, I wasn't going to have compassion for this person. Using the wall for support again, I looked back at Aeris, and everything I'd been feeling, everything I'd bottled up came bursting out.

"Why should we help him? It's not like they help us! If the damned Queen could get away with it, she'd leave us alone down here to rot, and the rest of them up there are no better. As it is, the only reason any of us manage to get by is because she needs someone to build her weapons, and mine her quarries. Who better to pick than people she can make work for next to nothing because it's more than they ever had in the first place!"

The room was silent. Nobody said anything, and nobody looked at me. My eyes burned, and I couldn't bear to stand in this place a moment longer. Turning around, I walked back down the hallway, ignoring the sound of my name being called. I kept walking till I reached the door, and slammed it closed behind me.

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