The cold floor of the Brass Rose bit into my knees. From this angle, Sal filled the doorway, larger than life. Rage flowing around her like heat off of sand.
“You don’t know what it’s like!” she shouted. Fists jabbed in the air, aimless and deadly. She was terrifying, and I wanted to agree with her, to let it go, to get away. But the anger constricted my throat and I couldn’t back down.
“I know exactly what it’s like!” My mouth was dry, voice high. But how dare she? I wished that her words were true. I wish I had never known what it was like. To wear permanent scars on my wrists from cold-iron manacles. To be nothing more than a useful tool in another’s toolbox. My choices, my thoughts, my emotions rendered immaterial.
There was no such thing as a ‘good master’. Others sought to put those words in my mouth. I have never uttered them.
“No. You don’t.” her face was close to mine now. Eyes cold.
“Why? Because I don’t glow?”
“Exactly. People look at you, and you know what they see?” Sal’s voice rang in my ears.
“A whore?” I snarled back.
“Yes!” Sal cried, “You’re lovely and clean and people want to be with you!” her eyes were full of anger but she looked like she would cry. “When they look at me, they see only a slave.” Her hands clawed at her chest, “I CAN’T TAKE THIS OFF.”
My anger pounded in my ears. I glanced at Hammers, solemn and still and uncomfortable. Behind me, Astor and Sebastian exchanged wary glances, unsure if they should intervene.
“You know what?” Sal leaned back, condescension written across her young face. “I was almost starting to respect you.”
And then she was walking away, and I was left with the cold floor, old scars, and the sting of fresh cuts.