The Dawn Chorus – Samantha Shannon

There is a narrow street in Paris named Rue Gît-le-Cœur. In early 2060, it was home to a tiny bookshop, a flophouse even the rats avoided, and not a great deal else. No one had much reason to linger on that street. Except, of course, for two fugitives from Inquisitorial justice – Warden and me. It was on Rue Gîtle-Cœur that I was to fight a different sort of war to the one we had been waging against Scion: a war against my own body and mind after twenty-three days of imprisonment. Twenty-three days. Just over three weeks. I thought that was right – that I had worked it out. There had been no tally marks on those blind walls, no grooves from desperate fingernails. Only the dates I held in my mind. The dates and the darkness between them. I had escaped at the eleventh hour. I was getting fairly good at that. Scarlett Burnish – the most unlikely saviour in Scion – had smuggled me out of the Westminster Archon to Dover, and I had boarded a cargo ship with Warden and sailed away from England. Now I had to prove my life had been worth the risk.

I had to mend, and quickly, so I could get back to the war beyond the window. The war he and I had rekindled together. SCION CITADEL OF PARIS 2 JANUARY 2060 My first thought, in the pitch-dark room, was that my execution must be close – though, to Scion, I was already a corpse. They were keeping me in cold storage, as if I would begin to rot at the merest breath of warmth. My second thought was that I was awake, and that meant pain was coming. My muscles tightened, braced for hands to drag me to the waterboard, for boots and fists to try again to force my secrets out. I assumed it was day when the Vigiles came, when the Rephaite guards were resting and the humans could reign as they pleased in the basement. Hard to be sure without natural light. In the black silence of my cell, there were few means of reckoning time. Still, they would come, and when they did, they would no longer pretend these private sessions were interrogations.

I was their amusement in this place. Let them go too far and kill me this time. Let me escape into the æther before the executioner got to me. Let Nashira hear that she would never dreamwalk. My escape – the spy, the tunnel, the ship – had been one more drug-induced delusion. A story I had told myself. Except I was sure I was seeing a clock. Red digits told me it was 01:06. And I could hear something, beyond my own heartbeat – a wide and shapeless roar. The unmistakable rumble of a citadel.

It came back to me then, as I made out the snarl of a moto in the distance and felt the duvet over my body. I remembered how I had reached this bed. Speckled with goosebumps, I lay still, savouring the not-silence of freedom. I had never thought I would hear a citadel sing to me again. It was real. I was in Paris. I soon realised that sleep had been a mercy. Every inch of me was in distress, right down to my knuckles, my fingertips. Every breath stabbed deep into my chest. Through a dense headache, I tried to understand why it should hurt so much to breathe.

My breastbone might be bruised. Cracked ribs. There had been so many beatings in those final days. Then there was the chill in my left hand, where the poltergeist had cut me, which had climbed right the way to my shoulder, leaving the whole arm stiff and numb. My bladder was full. That was what had woken me. The pressure raised my heartbeat. Even swine have the dignity to soil themselves outside. Wetness on my brow. If only the concubine could see you now.

I doubt even his standards are this low. Suhail Chertan had said many things to me while I was lashed to the waterboard, but that remark clung to the front of my mind. I doubt even his standards are this low. It must have been over a week before he had banished me to a cell. The only cleaning the board had received, in that time, was when he pulled the lever. They had let me wash once in the twentythree days I had been imprisoned, just before my audience with Jaxon. No doubt he had wanted me presentable, lest he be put off his breakfast. By the time of my rescue, I had been a bloody, reeking, broken shell. Warden knew what it was to be tortured and humiliated. He must understand that I had been in that state because I had been mistreated, not through any fault of my own.

No. He saw you for what you are, Suhail sneered. Saw the damp rot of mortality. He might have been standing at my bedside. There he was, in the shadows, waiting to fill my stomach with foul water. I had to switch on the lamp, to exorcise him, but when I tried, my shoulder objected. My arms had been strained over my head for days. Leave a human for too long, and you will see its true nature. The blood-sovereign taught me this. The scrape of a baton along the wall.

You leak fluids like corpses even before you die. You paint and wash and scent yourselves to keep the rot at bay, yet still it stalks you. I hated that it had been Suhail, who seemed to wield no power or respect among the Rephaim. He was a low-ranking brute. Instead of questioning me herself, affording me that thin façade of respect, Nashira had passed me off to an underling. Made me fear a nobody. Cheeks damp, I blew out a shaking breath. I was no closer to reaching the bathroom. In the Westminster Archon, I had divided my imprisonment into steps. Survive the torture.

Resist the drugs. Withstand the beatings. Could I do the same with my healing? I wasn’t sure I knew where to start. Endure the pain. Crush the fear … First I had to get back to sleep. I listened to the silence in the room. I controlled my breathing as best I could. I pressed my cheek into the softness of the pillow, reminding myself that I was no longer in a cell – but my throat burned with thirst and I was sore all over and the pressure wasn’t going anywhere. I would have to drag myself to the bathroom. Sweat beaded on my brow.

When I tilted my hips, pain shot up my spine. My swollen wrist refused to brace me. My back ached. Until now, I had never appreciated how many complicated little movements were involved in things I had once done without a second thought, like getting out of bed and walking. I had taken my strength for granted. Jaw set, I inched towards the edge of the mattress. I was Underqueen of the Scion Citadel of London. I could get across a corridor. Before I knew it, I had slipped right off the bed. I had no time to steel myself before I hit the floor.

Every bruise and cut ignited in a single, white-hot eruption. My ribs screamed. It hurt so much that I almost deserted my body, but weakness kept me imprisoned. All I could do was lie in a heap by the bed, tangled in the duvet, and wait for the echoes to dwindle. The door cracked open. ‘Paige?’ It was a moment before I could speak without feeling like I was going to throw up. ‘I’m fine.’ Warden came to kneel at my side. ‘I think not.’ His voice was low, as if I were still asleep.

‘Tell me what you need.’ ‘Bathroom. And s-scimorphine. Hurts.’ ‘What does?’ ‘Everything. Everywhere. I can’t—’ He watched me try to muster enough breath to speak. At last, he reached for my arms. Against my will, I shrank from him, and he withdrew as well, as if we had stung one another. ‘It isn’t you,’ I whispered.

His gaze flicked across my face. It was him – of course it was – but it wasn’t his fault that his nearness filled me with self-loathing. I nodded for him to try again. He cupped my elbows to support me, letting me wobble to my feet at my own pace. I gripped his arms as hard as my brittle fingers would allow. Ever since he had first held me in the Guildhall, his touch had been my tonic. Now I was afraid I might shrivel from the shame it raised in me. All I could think was how repugnant he must find me, tear-stained and runny-nosed, leaking fluids down my shirt. Stop it, I told myself. Stop.

Warden wrapped one arm around my waist and let me take the other. I was uncomfortably aware of my sweat-matted curls, the crust of blood on my bottom lip. He helped me limp across the dark corridor and sit on the edge of the bath. All the while, his gentleness confused me. My body was rigid, trapped in expectation of a blow, a shout, a needle. In the basement, all contact had brought pain. ‘I will prepare the scimorphine,’ Warden said. ‘And an antiseptic. For your arm.’ I raised a hand to cover the bandage.

A shard of glass had pierced deep into the flesh. ‘Okay,’ I said. As soon as his hands left me, I felt the cold. In the past, I would have basked in a hot bath if I had a chill like this. The bathroom was so dark I almost took another fall. When I was done, I crawled to the door and slumped beside it, panting. Warden soon returned. Too exhausted for pride, or to stand alone, I let him scoop me off the floor and carry me back to bed. My room had a parquet floor and palest green walls, capped with ornate cornices. The bed was right beside a window, but I had never looked out – we kept the curtains and shutters closed to stop anyone glimpsing us.

Only hairlines of light ever came in. Warden switched the lamp on and sat on the bed to ready the scimorphine. He inserted the needle into the vial and drew out a measure of the most effective painkiller in Scion. Seeing it reminded me of the colony, where he had tended to me himself when I was hurt. One of the clearer pieces of evidence that he was different from his fellow Rephaim. When the syringe was loaded, he extended a hand. I could only give him a blank look. ‘Unless you would sooner inject it yourself,’ he said. When his meaning sank in, I shook my head. I was too fatigued for that level of accuracy.

He looked down at my inner arm, at the tailback of bruises in the crease of my elbow. There was a tense silence – I could see him counting – before he swabbed my wrist instead. ‘You told me you were sedated in the Archon,’ he said. ‘Do you know how often they dosed you?’ ‘No. I never knew what time it was.’ He slid the needle into my vein. ‘Did you ever hear the name of the drug?’ There was a slight throb before numbness blossomed from the needle. ‘Not the sedative,’ I said. ‘They used flux, though, I think. To make me … amenable to interrogation.

’ If I had any pride left, it was in the fact that they hadn’t wrung a single piece of information from me. In the end, none of their violence – against my body or my mind – had got them what they wanted. ‘Tell me something.’ If I kept my voice to the barest whisper, I could stand to talk. ‘You were waiting for me. When I escaped. How did you all get back from Edinburgh?’ Warden set the syringe aside. ‘When you fell,’ he said, ‘there was chaos. Your supporters in the crowd attacked the soldiers, and they retaliated with lethal force.’ He pressed a gauze to the drop of blood on my wrist.

‘You were taken to a helicopter before any of us could reach you.’ I had no memory of that. Nothing after the gunshot, not until I woke up on the waterboard. ‘Since Scion had cancelled all train departures from Edinburgh, we returned to the safe house,’ he went on. ‘At dawn, a human arrived, claiming to work for a friend of Alsafi. He drove us back to London.’ Scimorphine was a swift-acting drug. The wound at the top of my arm was already cooling down. ‘Before he got me to safety,’ I said, ‘Alsafi asked me to tell you that he hoped it … redeemed him.’ Warden looked up at that.

‘I see,’ he said. Silence reigned as I tried to work out what to say. Alsafi had sacrificed himself to get me away from Nashira. I had no idea how close he and Warden had been, or how Rephaim mourned. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘That he’s gone.’ A small nod was his only response. ‘We reported all that had happened to the Glym Lord,’ he continued. ‘Maria dissuaded him – dissuaded all of us, in fact – from attempting to rescue you. She guessed that you had intended to be captured, and believed we should let you complete your task.

’ Glym was a good man. A good leader. If Scion had given me the noose, he would have sent people to cut my corpse down. I was glad Maria had talked him out of a rescue. None of them would have made it back. ‘Did you agree?’ I asked. He busied himself with re-packing the scimorphine kit. ‘I have great faith in you. In your resilience, your resourcefulness,’ he said, ‘but I did not believe you would be able to damage the core of Senshield, nor even to get close to it. I knew you would be physically incapacitated, even if you did survive the torture.

So I proposed a hostage exchange. My life for yours. Terebell concurred with Maria and forbade it. I might have defied her, had an alternative not arisen.’ ‘You’re a fool. Nashira would have just’ – I paused for a shallow breath – ‘killed us both.’ ‘Perhaps folly is catching, Paige Mahoney.’ More than anything, then, I wanted to touch him. Just to take his hand. ‘For days, we waited underground,’ he said.

‘At last, news arrived that all Senshield scanners had failed. And we knew that you had kept your promise to deactivate it.’ The scimorphine was pouring through me now. One by one, each flame in my skin was quenched. ‘The stranger from Edinburgh then revealed his true purpose,’ Warden said. ‘He said that a plan was in motion to retrieve you, but your life depended on our compliance with his orders. This, I presume, was the plan for Scarlett Burnish to remove you from Inquisitorial custody.’ ‘He was bluffing. Burnish had already been told to save me.’ ‘We could not risk it.

’ He said it as if it were the simplest thing in the world. They had been willing to trade their freedom and power for my life. ‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘For not giving up on me.’ ‘Never.’ I wished he would hold me. I wished I could bear it. My blood was slowing, thickening. Having quelled the small wounds, the scimorphine was grinding the edges off the deeper ones. My body reached for nothingness again.

‘Warden,’ I whispered, ‘do you remember when I picked up that infection in the colony?’ Senseless question – he was an oneiromancer, of course he remembered – but Warden nodded. ‘I do,’ he said. ‘I feared the rebellion might lose you that night.’ ‘Mm.’ My breathing softened. The knife prodding my chest was almost blunt. ‘Paige,’ Warden said, just as I began to nod off, ‘you cannot hold out much longer without water. It has already been more than a day.’ Underneath the drug, fear stirred. ‘No,’ I said.

‘Warden, I can’t—’ In a flash, I was in the basement again, shackled to the board. My hands screwed into fists. Suddenly I was shaking too hard to draw breath, let alone get a word out. ‘Paige, I am not going to force you,’ Warden said, bringing me back to the present. My hands uncurled. ‘There is apparatus in here for intravenous hydration. May I use it?’ It took me too long to grasp what he was asking. He would need to insert a cannula while I slept. I had been pierced with so many needles in the Archon, drugged against my will. He was asking for my consent.

He wanted me to know I had the power to refuse. ‘Yes,’ I breathed. ‘It’s all right.’ Darkness rubbed out what scant light remained. Stone-limbed, I sank into the pillow. Into sleep. Into memory

.

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