I stare at the ceiling, refusing to look at the body sprawled on our couch

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I stare at the ceiling, refusing to look at the body sprawled on our couch.

"What do you need, Sylvie?"

"Bring me more boiled water," Sylvie answers, not looking up from her work.

I nod, hurrying from the room as fast as I can. Blood was not something I could deal with. I shudder as I push open the door to the kitchen. Gods knew that boy had a lot of it. It seemed it was everywhere except inside his body, where it was supposed to be. Heaving the bag of coals from inside the pantry, I toss a few more into the fireplace. We still had plenty of clean jars of water stored away, but I wasn't sure how many Sylvie would need before she finished fixing all of the wounds. I took a pot that hung from the hooks underneath a shelf on one of the walls, using it to scoop water out from our barrel. I set the pot in the rig I'd made inside the fireplace, leaving it to boil. I always boiled our water before we used it. Drinking water that was fished from wells dug into the ground, the same ground our... bodies waste soaked into didn't seem like a smart move to me. I knew that heat could make things clean, so I used it to clean the water. None of us had been sick yet, while almost every other family had, so I took that as a sign that it worked.

Taking one of the clean water jars from the pantry, I head back to the lounge room. Sylvie was still furiously stitching away, Ellinder holding the leg in place.

I exhale slowly through my mouth, raising my eyes. "Sylvie, what do you want done with the water?"

Sylvie doesn't look at me, as she points with her foot to the bowl on the floor beside her.

"I need you to empty that bowl, and fill it with the fresh water."

I sighed. I had been afraid she would say that. Turning around, so my back was facing Sylvie and the stranger, I back into the room. The table hit me behind my knee, and my leg gives out, dropping me to the ground.

"Aeris! Stop messing around," Sylvie snaps.

"Ah. Gods! Okay."

I place the water onto the table and turn around. Instinctively, my eyes drop to the body on the couch. I gag as I watch Sylvie pull a long length of thread through the skin.

"Eugghh." I cough as I find myself unable to stop staring at the ripped flesh before me. The leg looked as if the skin had split open, revealing the minced red mush inside.

"Stop staring Aer, and take the bowl." Ellinder nods his head at the bowl.

Right. I could do that. I fix my eyes on the water, and away from the body as I snatch up the bowl. I try not to look at the blood-soaked rags and the murky red water inside it.

"Do you need me to grab more clean rag for you as well?" I ask as I leave the room.

"Mhm."

I head back down the hallway, towards my workshop. Instead of taking the door to the left, I take the right and head into the basement. I used the wall to guide me, as I make my way down the stairs. It was darker than usual. Some of the candles must have gone out. I walk over to the privy that covers the cesspool in the far corner of the room. It had just been emptied, thank the Gods, so the smell was far less nauseating than it regularly was. Holding open the door, I use my foot to push the metal lid covering the cesspool. I quickly toss the water in, trying my best not to breathe, and pull the lid back over. Making a note to come back and relight the candles, I head back up to the main house.

Twisting my head, I look over my shoulder at the staircase behind me as I exit the basement. It led to the second floor of the house, where the bedrooms and dining room was. I was way too tired to have to walk up and down there now. So instead of going to Sylvie's room, I grabbed some spare material from in my workshop.

"Are you still stitching?" I call out; my eyes closed as I stand in the entrance to the lounge.

"No, I'm finished with that. I only need to clean out the other wounds now."

I breathe a sigh of relief. That was at least something. I put the bowl on the table, and fill it with the clean water, averting my eyes.

"Do you need anything else, Sylvie?"

"You can go, Ell and I have this covered for now."

"Thank the Gods," I mutter, shuffling back to my workshop.

I take a seat at my workbench. Sylvie may be sweet and kind, but she had a stronger stomach than I did when it came to blood. I close my eyes for a moment, trying to forget the image of the stranger's minced leg. Instead of finding calm, Madame Purity's words barged back into my head. I sighed. Would I get a break?

I pull out my drawer beneath my workbench, taking out one of the loose papers. Perhaps if I wrote the damn thing down, I'd feel better. I scribble it out, fold it and chuck it back into the drawer, slamming it. I sit there for a moment. Nope. Didn't help. Groaning, I rest my forehead on the bench top.

I feel a hand touch my shoulder. "What's up Aer? The blood get to you?"

"Something like that," I murmur, looking up at Ellinder.

"Run me through what happened again." Ellinder hops up onto the bench.

"I was just walking around out there," I say, gesturing towards the door, "and I heard some moaning. When I went to check what it was, I just found him out there, on the floor."

Ellinder scratched his chin. "That's really weird. I don't recognise him; I definitely don't think he's one of us. Maybe he came with the circus?"

"It makes the most sense," I answer, biting my lip.

Shrugging, Ellinder hops down. "Ah, oh well. We'll find out when he wakes up."

"Yeah, I guess we will," I mumble, not looking up at him.

Ellinder pats me on the back. "I'm going to fix us dinner, while Sylvie finishes up."

I let out a loud groan.

"None of that," he says, pointing a finger at me, "my food isn't that bad. Besides, better fed than dead."

"I really question the truth in that when you cook!" I shout at his retreating back.

Ellinder doesn't reply, instead, raising his hand above his head, making a vulgar gesture. I shake my head. I had no idea what I would do without Ellinder. Which made lying to him all that much harder.

Sighing, I wait until I hear the door to the kitchen shut, and open my bag. Inside the Aetherian stranger's mask stares at me. I hated lying. To Ellinder especially. I had no idea what compelled me to do so. I mean, he did complain about the Aetherians and quite vocally express his dislike for them. It was kind of hard to believe he'd want to help one of them. I still hadn't figured out why I had.

I pulled out the mask. Aside from a dent, and a couple of scratches, it wasn't too badly banged up. I rolled it over in my hands. The more I looked, the more I noticed the craftsmanship that had gone into it's making. At a brief glance, it appeared like a plain black mask. But as I held it up to the candlelight, finite silver swirls and detailing shone. Tiny brass and copper gears crested the forehead, trailing down and outlining the brow bone and into the inner corner of the eye. It was weird, though, how elegant the top half of the mask was when the bottom was ugly, with two large filters on either side of the mouthpiece. As I stare at the mask, parts of a plan begin to form. Opening my toolbox, I pull out my hammer. I place the mask onto the workbench. Was I really doing this? Before I had the chance to second guess, or change my mind, I raise the tool, slamming it down onto the mask. I raise the hammer, bringing it down again. And again, until it was warped and mangled beyond repair.

"Oh, Gods," I whisper.

Maybe I should have saved it? Sold it, at the Arion? No, that would have raised too many questions. I blow out a heavy sigh. No. I was doing the right thing. I take the broken mask and put it back into my bag, pulling the drawstring shut.

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