whumptober 2020 thing. no proofreading, we die like men
No 14. IS SOMETHING BURNING? Branding | Heat Exhaustion | Fire
As part of his forced joining of the Silver Asphodels, Na'im receives his magical brand. He would have been in his early twenties here.
Na’im’s dark eyes cut away from the small cup Bijan was offering him, mutely refusing,
“Boy,” came Bijan’s rumbling warning, “This is a kindness. You better take it and drink.”
Na’im’s eyes fell on Emir, standing behind Bijan’s shoulder, who nodded but Na’im quickly avoided looking at him too. He knew they were right. He knew he should. The pain that was coming would be terrible, but he took almost any chance he could to defy Bijan. Bijan knew it too and orchestrated every choice so it came at a cost.
Bijan took him by the shoulder and Na’im turned his face farther away even as the cup was pressed closer.
“Is that how you want it to be, boy?” Bijan asked as his eyes narrowed. When Na’im made no move or sound, he snorted through his nose and splashed the bitter, stinking drink on his face before discarding the little clay cup carelessly. “You’ll wish you were numb in a minute. Emir, get Ghani and Varka. No need to wait around since Na’im is so ready to start.”
Na’im stood still, gaze lowered, holding himself under control and perfectly passive while the drugged tea dripped down his face and left dark rivulets on his bare chest. A toothless, useless anger curled through his chest while he watched Bijan set an iron to heat on a small brazier. He knew the shape, the six-petaled asphodel. It was burned onto Samir and Sahar’s hands. On Hosef’s neck. Ahmet’s chest. Every one of the Silver Asphodel's wore their mark of brotherhood in some way. Now, his turn. His mark of ownership.
He tensed as Bijan approached him again but there was nothing he could do. Bijan savagely kicked at one of his knees and seized him by the shoulders to force him to kneel, before he yanked one of his arms across a wooden brace. Again, a choice. Resist or submit. He’d pay for it but he tried to tug his arm free of Bijan’s powerful hands regardless.
The brief rebellion was soundly put down by the crack of Bijan’s knuckles and many rings against the side of his head. Na’im barely managed to swallow a pained gasp as the whole world titled and spun wildly around him. He was slack for the moment it took Bijan to belt his arm out straight across the wooden brace.
Bijan sunk his hand into Na’im’s hair and forced his head up while he spoke, low and dangerous. “Don’t try me, Na’im. If you move, if you upset the branding, we’ll do it again… And again, until you don’t ruin it. Don’t make me do that. Do you understand?”
Na’im frowned through the pain wracking his skull - one of Bijan’s rings must have split skin because he could feel blood running down his neck. “...Yes, sir,” he answered softly and hated the satisfied, smug grin that crossed Bijan’s face. He jolted as the door opened, but at least the arrival of Ghani and the old witch Varka interrupted any further antics from Bijan. With a ragged breath, he slumped down as Biajn released him. He knew Varka. She had broken the glyph over his mouth with a wicked little bone knife and iron filings. Bent up and gnarled, she looked like the little scrubby trees that barely survived on the wind-swept outskirts of the desert but he knew better than to challenge her. Varka began to clean his arm with a wet rag and laughed as Bijan told her that Na’im had refused the numbing tea. ’Stupid creature,’ she called him in her creaky voice while roughly wiping off his face like one might clean up a filthy dog.
Ghani spoke too, whip-sharp and cold, but Na’im was desperately trying to withdraw into his own thoughts. Their voices drifted over him. Talking business, catching up. Meaningless noise to an animal like him. Varka marked his bicep with a charcoal stick. He felt the lines as they were laid out, the tiny curling shapes of unknown letters. He was somewhere out of his body, just waiting, waiting.
Varka laid a strange, cold silvery material over his arm that made him shiver, raising goose bumps on his skin. “There. Between the marks, Bijan.”
Ghani grabbed both his shoulders and applied warning pressure. Be still, her hands said.
“On three,” Bijan said from somewhere to his right. The glow of the brand was just visible at the edge of his vision. “One. Two.” And on two, he pressed the red iron atop the silvery material and bore it down against Na’im’s arm.
The pain was so sudden, so bright that it pulled him back into his skin, back into the terrible present. It seized his whole body and made him convulse with it, straining under Ghani’s powerful grip as every nerve in his body lit up. He began to scream but the geas still wrapped piecemeal around his voice ensured the full sound of it was swallowed up into silence. Bijan ordered him to be still but he had no say in how his body moved as molten, white-hot pain poured from his arm and into the rest of him. He strained and pulled and trembled as Bijan pressed down harder with the brand.
The silvery material not pinned under the iron slipped and fell like liquid off his arm, leaving reddened tracks behind. He choked around sobbing breaths as the acrid smell of burnt flesh reached his nose. Even when Bijan lifted the iron off, the relief was inconsequential. Wave after wave of nausea hit him but he hadn’t been allowed any food or drink all day so he had nothing to heave up.
“Regretting anything?” Bijan asked as he discarded the iron and moved back to let Varka work.
A response was impossible when it was all Na’im could do to breathe. Varka was prodding and pulling at the edge of the brand and Na’im, shaking and wide-eyed, tried to look. His skin was blistered and raw, with the silver silhouette of the asphodel flower trapped on his bicep. Varka began to rub a salve into the burn and the fresh bloom of agony nearly made Na’im swoon. He sagged down as everything spun, and the sound of Bijan and Ghani laughing grew slow and warped in his ears.
“Here, seal the spell,” Varka said, though Na’im barely heard.
With great effort, he roused himself enough to watch as Bijan took his medallion off and polished it on a rag Varka offered. Na’im’s whole body was trembling and he dreaded what else might be in store for him, especially at Bijan’s hands. He watched as Bijan pressed the flat back of the heavy medallion against the brand, making his vision swim. The engraving on the medallion flashed and he felt something like hooks sink deep in his chest, like a pressure squeezing him from all sides, like a weight on his shoulders.
It was all his body could take and the gray edging his vision crept in until it overwhelmed him and dragged him into welcome unconsciousness.