Getting the truth left a taint inside. (JP Nayari/Kassia)


IC Date Reference: Set several hours after the events of “Playing the Devil’s Advocate”.

Even though she had scrubbed until at times the scalding water had run red with the thin lines of freshly drawn blood, Nayari still felt… tainted. After she had left M’ayen’s cell, the Guard had steadied her when her knees had suddenly all but given out. She felt vile. Dirty. And she would tell herself until the day she died that it had been worth it. 

Leaving M’ayen to fester in his haze of dragonlust, she had spent over a candlemark trying to scrub the taint out of her flesh. It would be days, if ever, that she would feel clean again. Before the rumours of her “encounter” with the man made its way to her, Nayari wanted to speak to Kassia personally. And as she made her way to the Weyrwoman’s office, in her arms she had everything she had gathered. Only now she had the notebook, the names and a motive.

She greeted the Guard politely. “Candidatemaster Nayari for the Weyrwoman. If she’s busy I can come back but if that’s the case, please could she just be advised that I need to speak to her as a matter of urgency in relation to the current Candidate related enquiry.” Part of her didn’t want to be here, wanted to be back in scalding water before collapsing into the bottom of the strongest alcohol in her weyr. Wanted to forget. To push the entire encounter from memory and let it rot in a pit of nothing.

Kassia was supposed to be taking it easy. Multiple healers had told her that she needed to. At best, she’d managed some time putting her feet up and making people come to her more often, but laying down and actually relaxing hadn’t happened yet. Judging by the alert her guard gave her, she still wasn’t going to relax.

“You may go in,” the guard said.

Nodding in gratitude as she passed, Nayari stepped quietly into the room. “I apologise for the unexpected arrival, Weyrwoman. I assure you I will only take up as much time as is needed before I leave you in peace.” It was apparent that the woman was tense, her whole posture seemed drawn as tightly as a bow string. 

Kassia gestured. “Have a seat. How can I help you? Ma’yen, I assume?” They had yet to talk about the man, mostly because Kassia was torn between being angry at herself for creating the environment for the situation and being angry that nothing was done sooner and knowing that the latter anger was really still just anger at herself. So she’d let it go and focused on Ma’yen.

“More, that I believe I can help you. Or rather, the direction of the enquiries.” The folder had been set on the edge of the desk, the notebook on top and although all she wanted to do was pace furiously around the room to take the edge off the sensation beneath her skin, Nayari politely took a seat. “I have spoken to M’ayen. Directly. And I have obtained information that I believe to be valuable in terms of both his motive, his actions and also his influence on other members of the Candidatemaster team.” She couldn’t help it, her mouth twisted in distaste as the memory of just a few candlemarks before rose up in her mind as unbidden and unwanted as yesterday’s dinner.

Kassia’s eyebrow raised. She shouldn’t have been surprised that his influence had grown to include other ACMs,  but she was. She took a deep breath and nodded. “Go ahead.”

“First, you will need this for your own files.” Nayari pushed the folder forward. “It is the enquiries that I was making prior to Garratt going missing. As you will be able to see, it displays little of evidential value and only the beginnings of suggestion that there was something more concerning developing. But that the main obstacle was lack of concrete proof.” Next, she pushed forward the notebook. “I found this in M’ayen’s office and he confirmed to me that it was the journal he was logging Garratt’s punishments in separately, not via official channels in his reports to myself.” She paused, giving Kassia a chance to leaf through them before she continued.

Kassia took a minute to look through and confirm Nayari’s words before setting the file aside. “I’ll look at it more later. What else did you learn?”

She paused, how exactly did she put this into words? Edge about it or be direct? Finally, after a moment, Nayari spoke again. “When I spoke to M’ayen, he mentioned on several occasions that Garratt would… make a “decent greenrider”... and I don’t think he was talking in terms of Arolos’ standards.” A breath, swallow down the bile that burned the back of her throat. “I encouraged him to talk about Garratt, played into the idea that I thought exactly as he did - that Arolos was too lax. It had the… desired effect.” Another pause, this time an unnecessary unfolding and refolding of her legs. “During our… conversation, M’ayen displayed signs of arousal. He said that Ardeth was looking to chase. However… I believe it was self instigated because M’ayen’s actual intention was not one of setting an example - although that may have been his justification at the start. I…” She didn’t want to say it. But she knew she had to. “... I believe that M’ayen was grooming Garratt. Or at least, attempting to. In order to prey on him. Sexually.”

It was all but impossible to get the sentence out in a seamless flow. Instead it came out as a jarring, terse clash of words.

Kassia swallowed hard against the nausea in her stomach. It looked like Cremsden’s words had a basis in reality. Guilt stabbed her repeatedly, followed by an anger to return the pain done to the boy to Ma’yen threefold.

“That’s sickening,” she said, her hand reaching for her knife as if she could use it. “Did you get...any indication that it was more...that he’s actually raped Garatt?”

She shook her head, swallowing furiously. “No, I don’t believe he was able to get that far. It was the emphasis on being a “decent greenrider” that sat with me. And I… I needled at him. Played on the idea of what that meant… in Northern terms. Fortian terms. It had the effect I was looking for. He was clearly uncomfortable, blamed Ardeth but I suspect he actually encouraged him to look for a chase.” If her jaw clenched any tighter, the bone would break. “I allowed him to think I wanted to help him. That I believed he had been… misunderstood or was being martyred as an example. I played on his ego.” Each sentence was tight, controlled as if she was using every drop of her willpower to keep herself coherent.

“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” Kassia said, pushing away her own blinding anger. She had to focus on Nayari who was in front of her and not the fecker that she wanted to stab. Repeatedly. One thing at a time.

“Of course he would have to blame it on Ardeth for wanting to have sex with a boy. Sick. Sick. Fecker!” There weren’t words enough. “I hate to ask, but did you learn anything else? You mentioned he brought other ACMs into it?”

“Yes. In the last moments before he was entirely overtaken by dragonlust, I asked him who would vouch for him. Who he could trust.” A piece of paper was slid across the desk, names carefully written down. “Whilst I do not believe they would have had the same motives, I  believe these to be members of my staff over whom he had a degree of influence. Likely managing to convince them to up the punishment for the good of the Candidates. Talena, D’xon and T’ril. They will all need to be spoken to independently to establish to what extent their contact and relationship with M’ayen was.”

“Feck it,” Kassia growled. “Talk to them, but I’m tempted to just toss them. I don’t want people like that in my program. I made that mistake already and won’t be making it again.”

“I would prefer to establish whether it was genuine coercion first. Talena for a start is exceptionally new to the staff. It’s not hard for someone wide-eyed and eager to fall for the voice of wisdom. But if I have any concerns whatsoever, rest assured, they will be removed from the staff and if necessary, also placed under arrest.” As much as it was tempting to toss them all out on their ear, Nayari wanted to flesh out the trail. Knee-jerk reactions had no place when emotions were already running high. “I would also suggest that you have Foreth ask Ardeth to find M’ayen’s memories around his feelings for Garratt. The things he thinks of. I do not believe that there are necessarily memories for Ardeth to find, but I suspect M’ayen’s own thoughts will incriminate him.”

Nayari paused and the hint of shame twisted her features before she had chance to control it. “I also wished to inform you that M’ayen is likely to use my… conduct to bring my statement into question. I was in company with Weyrguard Ramnor the entire time. He will be able and willing to act as witness. He was also made aware, prior to my engagement with M’ayen of the strategy I intended to use.”

Kassia nodded. “I will give it a day or so for Ma’yen to calm down and then have Foreth talk to Ardeth again. I will also defer to you about the ACMs, but even the smallest of concern and I trust you will address that. I am also unconcerned about your methods. Nothing that comes from Ma’yen’s mouth is truthful, but I appreciate for your own sake that you had someone with you. Again, I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

Nayari nodded, a tight, barely there movement of her head. “Thank you, Weyrwoman. I brought this to you now before any chance of hearsay could come to your door first. I would also like your permission to attempt to speak to Garratt, if he will let me, whilst in company of a Healer.”

“You can try,” Kassia said, “but he’s still pretty terrified that he’s going to get in trouble when he talks to authority figures. Or at least me. Just be careful not to upset him more than you have to.”

The statement felt redundant but she could appreciate why the Weyrwoman felt the need to reiterate it. “Of course, I don’t want to pressure him in any sense, or for him to feel as though he is being so. I don’t intend to merely arrive, I wish to liaise with the Healers first and also for him to give his own permission or refusal. It is important for him to see right now that he does have power, does have control.” 

“Good idea,” Kassia said. “I trust you to be careful with this. Get back to me afterward and after you have talked to your ACMs. I also want to make sure there are no more Candidates of concern we need to keep an eye on.”

“Yes Weyrwoman, of course.” Nayari shifted, a subtle gesture that she was happy to leave unless Kassia had further questions. She wanted to bathe again. And burn the clothes she had worn to M’ayen’s cell. Then, for the first time in a long time, she wanted to banish the memory into the bottom of a bottle.

“Thank you for your help, Nayari,” Kassia said. “Dismissed.”

The Candidatemaster rose to her feet, still every inch as taut and strained as she had been the moment she arrived. There was a lot to do before this was all over. But for a few candlemarks at least, it could be safely put to one side. 

Tomorrow, it would begin all over again.

= End =

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