Even if she'd wanted to, she couldn't have told them. Something J.A. had added onto the pain relief symbol was stopping her, she didn't know which part, didn't recognize the symbols at all, but then again, it wasn't her specialty. Part of her wondered what else J.A. might have added to the symbol, part of her didn't care, it was a good thing not to spill Sanctuary secrets, but she shouldn't have trusted her. Then again, if she was working for the Sanctuary's benefit...
"I'm freelance," was all she'd said, which didn't mean much of anything even if it was true.
Avalyn couldn't help wondering what else the symbols on her wrist might do, and the torture gave her too much time to think. It was like she was tucked in a far corner of her body, where the pain was only an echo. She decided to confront J.A. about it directly, but when they finally carried her back to her cell, the scarred woman was gone.
"So you're Avalyn Obscurity."
The short brown-haired girl jumped and tried to sit up. "Y-yes, how did you know? I--"
"J.A." Raeza refrained from mentioning the real spell the symbols held, the way they didn't soothe the pain, they redirected it. Avalyn was still young, in her early twenties, maybe not even hit her Surge yet. Raeza felt that urge to be protective, like she had with Maeve and that girl "Abigail." She wondered if J.A. had felt something similar, and that was why she'd taken the girl's place. No, she'd offered the symbol to Raeza, too.
A sinking feeling came over her, and she stood up. "Just a moment." Avalyn looked confused, but nodded slightly, as if it was painful. Raeza walked to the barred door and scanned the cell opposite. Among the shadows, she saw a short and slightly fat man with curly hair and a small mustache. She was about to call out, to see if J.A. had drawn a symbol on his wrist, too, when someone came from behind and covered her mouth, forcing back any attempt of a scream.
"Listen to me!" J.A.'s voice was getting desperate, and there was an edge to it, like all the torture had gotten to her head.
"I'm waiting," Raeza challenged. "Explain away."
J.A. looked straight at Avalyn, as if expecting her to help somehow, but she didn't. She was curious. The scarred woman sagged. "Fine." She walked over to the back wall, and pressed her wrist against the wall. Avalyn and Raeza jumped back, startled as a trapdoor silently slid open, revealing a tiny room behind, and a cramped tunnel that didn't qualify as a corridor.
"So that's how you did it." Raeza walked over and examined the mechanism. She ran her wrist over the stone, then looked up, eyebrows raised. "Is there a symbol on your wrist that activates it, then?"
"No. A microchip. Embedded in my wrist."
"So you used to work for Mevolent, then?" Avalyn piped up. It seemed like the only natural way to get a key to the secret corners of the jail.
"No!" J.A. lashed out, knocking her hand against the wall and hissing in pain. "I used to work for the Sanctuary. I infiltrated Mevolent's army and provided information for a little while, then I was caught. And then I escaped, sort of. I'm dead, if anyone asks. Now I don't work for anyone."
"What are you doing still here, then?" Avalyn asked warily. Raeza was fiddling with a piece of miscellaneous wire, seemingly deep in thought.
"Giving Mevolent's soldiers something interesting to think about." J.A. smiled grimly. "The passage goes behind nearly all the cells. And most of the prisoners were all too happy to have their pain go away. Don't you dare," she added as Raeza opened her mouth. "We agreed that you wouldn't mention--" another jagged scar appeared along her forehead and she bit back a scream.
Avalyn looked from J.A. to Raeza, then back to J.A. "It doesn't 'go away,' does it?" she asked, her face filling with horror. "Oh gosh. Why would you...?"
"No, no, you've got it wrong..." J.A. started to argue, but it was cut off as she doubled per again, grimacing. Behind her, Raeza nodded grimly. "Fine, fine." J.A. muttered. "I'm not a symbolist at all, actually. My power...it's taking the place of others. The symbol is just the way of channeling it, I can't do anything symbol-related, for the most part."
"So everyone in this entire prison--except her" J.A. pointed at Raeza, "is connected to me with a spell, so if they're tortured, I'm tortured instead. It's okay, I'm used to it."
"No, it's not okay!" Avalyn's outburst started everyone, even herself. "They'd never have agreed to it if they'd known. And why did you do it?"
"This war...it's driven many of us mad."J.A. stared briefly at Raeza, then averted her gaze again. "We all have wounds both mental and physical, and some we can never heal from." J.A. paused for a moment, then seemed to give up on secrets. She pulled back her sleeve to reveal a jagged cut and around it, a large patch of disgusting-looking flesh, bright red, clearly infected. Avalyn gasped, and J.A. quickly covered the wound up again.
"I knew I shouldn't have told you," she muttered, looking away. "I just... I know I'm not going to survive this, so I want to do my best to make sure others do."
Raeza spoke up for the first time in a few minutes. "With proper medical attention, you could..."
"Did it ever occur to you that maybe I'm ready for it? By the time I realized how severe it was...a lt had happened. I'm done."
And with that, J.A. vanished into the secret passage, sealing it behind her. Raeza and Avalyn looked at each other, eyebrows furrowed in concern.