Mari’s lips twitched as she stepped into the room. She opened her mouth, but never got a chance to say anything. Regan saw the occupant of the room from over her shoulder. She pushed past Mari and ran towards Dainan. Mari stumbled, bumping into the wall, ignoring how that only made the pain in her arms sharper.
“Regan? Is that—?” Dainan asked. Regan dropped to her knees and threw an arm around him, clutching the object to her chest with the other.
“Dainan, I hope this isn’t a dream,” Regan said into his shoulder.
“It’s not. It’s me. I’m right here,” Dainan said, unable to fully return the embrace because of his restraints. He looked over Regan’s shoulder and at Mari, who had not moved from where she had fallen into the wall. His voice was soft, and his eyes wide, as if he didn’t quite believe Regan was there. “You did this for me?”
Mari pushed herself up. Something in her hesitated at the idea of telling the whole truth. Her heart clenched; the words eluded her. Maybe if it were just her and Dainan she would, but she did not know this Regan. Mari tilted her head, letting her hair fall across her front. “I wanted to know more about this family you talked about.”
Dainan laughed as Regan pulled away. It was a beautiful sound. Mari just wished he would do it again. Regan said, “I can’t explain how happy I am to see you safe, alive, but I don’t understand. That’s the woman who—”
“It’s complicated,” Dainan said. He leaned back and a wailing noise rose up.
Mari winced and covered her ears. She glanced about before realizing it came from the object in Regan’s arms. Regan looked at the bundle before bouncing it and shushing it. Dainan didn’t bat on eye at the object. Mari waited until the noise stopped to take a step forward. She peered out from under her hair, trying to catch a glimpse at it.
Dainan saw and gave her a nod, gesturing her closer. “I suppose you’ve never had a chance to see one before. Come look.”
Mari sat down beside him, wanting to look, but not wanting to be too close to it. “What is it? Why does it make that sound?”
She watched the object squirm in Regan’s arms as she stroked it. Dainan pointed to it, smiling as it reached for his finger. “No, he’s not an it. You remember how parents raise children? That’s a child, Regan’s son, my nephew. He’s family.”
“That’s human?” Mari leaned closer, watching him wiggle underneath the dark cloth wrapped around him. She couldn’t help herself; she reached a hand forward.
“Excuse me! Human? What do you mean? Are you saying—” Regan pulled the bundle away from Mari, holding it against her chest.
“Regan, calm down!” Dainan put himself between the women. Mari pushed herself away from Regan and moved so she was further behind him. There was something in Regan’s face that caused her to clutch his sleeve. Dainan turned to his sister. “Mari doesn’t mean anything bad by saying that. She hasn’t had much interaction with other humans, so she’s never seen a baby before. That’s why she’s confused.”
Mari couldn’t help but glance over Dainan’s shoulder to catch a glimpse of the small human’s face. Before realizing it, Mari murmured, “I’ve never seen one so small and squishy.”
Regan sat back, still keeping her child away from both her brother and Mari. Her face was harsh and cold, like Bidkar’s was most of the time. “Explain.”
Dainan turned and seemed to be trying to ask Mari a question with nothing but his expression. Mari, much to her own surprise, thought she understood. She gave Dainan a small nod. She trusted him. Dainan turned back to his sister and started to explain. Mari was content to let him. He was better with words, and while this time it saved her from making a fool of herself, Mari found herself bothered by the fact he understood her situation better than she did. What did that make her? Stupid is the first thought that came to her mind. She had lived with the Seven her entire life, but after a few poorly worded explanations, a man in a cell understood her abnormal existence and explained it better than she could.
Dainan kept his explanation simple, but Mari was only vaguely aware of his voice. He told his sister of the Seven. He called them demons, and while Mari didn’t quite grasp the meaning of it, she remembered hearing it several times. It sent shivers down her spine, and she thought it fit the Seven. It gave her an odd, sickly, rising feeling that she had started to associate with the Seven.
Oblivious to her thoughts, Dainan continued. He told Regan how the Seven could take control of her. He paused, and his face contorted. Mari was pulled out of her thoughts as she watched him think. He cleared his throat, saying, “Because they can take control like that, they can do awful things. Things no human can do. That’s how they were able to break through the wall, and how they were able to do everything that followed.”
Mari sat up; something in the room changed. Something Dainan didn’t say hung between the siblings.
“These ‘Seven’ were the ones responsible for everything that happened that day? You’re telling me that this girl was just their tool, and she’s somehow not responsible?” Regan’s grip on her child tightened, and he cried out. Regan loosened her grip, but her expression remained tight and vicious.
Mari stared at Dainan, waiting for his answer. She held her breath. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Mari wondered if he was in pain. He opened his eyes, and his eyes were as cold and hard as metal. “I don’t blame Mari for that day. Not for a single thing.”
“I-I,” Mari stammered. The unspoken words pushed down on her shoulders. The tension in the room choked her. Her stomach twisted. A weight settled on her heart. She should not be in the room, but she did not understand why. “I, uh, do not understand what you two are talking about.”
“Don’t you remember?” Regan spat. Her eyes blazed, causing Mari to push away from her out of instinct. She hid her shaking hands in her skirt. Regan moved towards her, ignoring her baby’s cries. “You don’t remember shredding my husband’s heart to pieces? Because I remember, and believe me, I’ll be spending the rest of my life trying to forget!”
At her words, a sharp pain exploded in Mari’s head. She gasped, clutching her head tightly. The broken and hazy shards of her memories, of her actions when the Seven took over were always in her head. Each time they let go of her, the memories shattered, and she struggled to put herself back together. There were times she remembered a few things. Often, memories only came rushing to her mind because of an expression, an object, a word, or an image, but they were hardly ever useful or a memory she wanted. When it came to trying to recall them on her own, her memories more often than not stayed out of reach.
Regan’s words resonated in her head. Mari groaned, scrambling to her feet. Dainan’s voice was a faint whisper around her. She stumbled away from it. Her head throbbed as if the jagged pieces of her memories were embedding themselves back into her mind. She couldn’t see anything. Her eyes had been closed, but she was reliving the moment anyway. Screams pierced her ears, and the heart pulsed in her hand. Mari choked on air and tried to cover her ears. It did no good. The screams were still in her head. She could feel what Bidkar had done with her hand. Mari scratched at her ears, thinking surely if that didn’t stop the noise then maybe the pain would distract her. Surely the pain would be better.
Something pulled her hands away from her head. Her vision began to clear. Someone said her name. The child wailed.
Mari blinked, and Dainan was holding her hands away from her head. Blood welled up and rolled down her cheeks. Mari’s chest heaved as she struggled to breathe. Her legs shook. Mari’s stomach rolled, and something burning rose in her throat. Pushing Dainan away, she dropped to her knees and emptied her stomach in the corner of the room.
She didn’t notice until after that Dainan had held her hair back. Mari coughed and looked up; her throat was too raw for her to speak. He handed her a torn scrap of cloth, matching the old, ratty blanket he had. She smiled and took it, wiping her mouth. Mari rubbed at her throat, but froze when Dainan touched her face. Cloth scraped against her cheek and around her ears, and they stung.
“You really scratched yourself up,” Dainan said, “but they’re all shallow cuts so I wouldn’t worry about them.”
Mari stared at him, not wanting to speak because of the burning in her throat. As she sat up, Dainan spoke just to fill the silence, “Regan wasn’t the best at holding her alcohol when she was younger, so as her little brother, it was my responsibility to make sure she didn’t do anything stupid. I became quite good at taking care of someone when they had to throw up.”
“Little?” Mari coughed, unable to keep quiet any longer. “But you are taller and broader than her.”
Dainan paused before letting out a short laugh. He smiled as he said, “Little as in younger.”
Mari turned to Regan who struggled to calm her child. The woman’s face softened; it was far kinder now that her attention was away from Mari. A hollow pang settled into Mari’s chest. Dainan’s description of a parent with their child didn’t do the scene justice.
Dainan followed her ling of sight and sighed. He took Mari by the arm and helped her back to where they had been sitting. Even though her child had quieted, Regan did move her gaze from her son. Silence. Mari kept her eyes on her torn and layered skirt.
Dainan broke the silence. “Mari, can you… can you tell us what happened?”
Regan looked up. Mari chewed on her lip, but nodded. “I’ve told you, my memories are broken, hazy. They don’t always make sense to me. That’s how I ended up here in the first place. I was looking for someone else, but I couldn’t remember their name. I misspoke and was brought here. Sometimes, sometimes images, or, uh, words can force a memory to the front of my mind. Sometimes, depending on the, uh, power of the memory it can be like I am reliving it. This time was like that. I was back in the same state, but this time I had control over my body, and I was able to do what I wanted to then.”
Dainan reached out to touch her shoulder; Mari couldn’t bear to see their expressions. There was a moment of silence, and then he said, “Regan.”
Mari peered through her hair. The woman looked up as well; her face twisted between emotions Mari didn’t have names for. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause that kind of reaction.”
Mari pushed her hair back and shifted her weight. That word… Dainan had said it once, but she hadn’t understood. She furrowed her brow. “What does that mean? To be sorry?”
“Sorry is what you say when you feel bad for something you’ve done. It’s for when you hurt someone. You say it to try and make up for what you’ve done.” Dainan’s soft tone and gaze caught Mari’s attention. Mari struggled to wrap her mind around the concept.
She turned to Regan. “And this word it just fixes it?”
“Ideally,” Dainan said. He glanced between the women. “Unfortunately, though, apologies are rarely so simple.”
“I see.” Mari took a deep breath. “Then I wish to express this for I do not feel good about what has happened. I am sorry.”
“You don’t have to,” Dainan said. His hand hovered over her left arm.
“I know, but if sorry is meant to make up for what has been done, regardless of my unwilling participation, I must say it. The Seven never will, and if it will help either of you, please know the depth of…of my…” Mari closed her eyes, frustrated with her lack of knowledge of the proper word.
“Regret.” Regan’s voice sounded thick, and her child stirred at the sound.
“Please know the depth of my regret.” The word was odd, but regardless of its true meaning, Mari thought it made her point.
The child started to fuss again. Mari tilted her head and watched it squirm, waving its small fists in the air. After a hurried conversation, Regan passed the child to Dainan, who took a moment to adjust because of his chains. Mari found herself leaning in closer. The child’s face was covered in red splotches. His eyes were screwed up; Mari struggled to believe she had ever looked like that.
It did not take Dainan long to calm the child. He smiled at the baby and made strange, cooing noises. Despite the abnormality, the noises worked. Once the baby was gurgling happily, Dainan shifted his arms. “Come here, Mari. Take a closer look.”
Mari started to move, but paused and turned to Regan. The woman pursed her lips, but gave Mari a small nod. Mari leaned over Dainan’s shoulder. Her head hovered a short distance from the baby’s. The child reached up and tangled his fist in her hair. Mari didn’t even blink as he pulled on her hair. “People choose to have these children? And they grow to become people like us?”
Dainan laughed as the child let go of her hair. “Yes, well, some people choose to, and, yes, they do grow into people like us. There are different stages of life. So, when humans are young, they’re called babies or children. It’s after they stop growing, and can have children of their own, that they’re considered adults. So one day, he’ll be an adult like us.”
Mari leaned back. Dainan passed the child back to Regan. She had once been that small. As she watched Regan, she wondered if a woman had once held her like Regan held her child. A mother was what Dainan had called them. Had she been held by a mother? A father? A family? Had she ever even had any family at all? Dainan had said she had, but Mari wasn’t sure. She couldn’t remember any. With the way Dainan and Regan had held and looked at that baby, Mari was almost certain that if someone, anyone, had ever held her or looked at her like that, she would know. Her memory was in shreds, but if that had happened, something so warm and gentle Mari didn’t even have a word for it, she would remember it. Even if it was just for a moment, Mari would know it. She would know it if only because of the fact that it started to make any good memory with the Seven feel weak and worthless.
The baby held by a woman in rags and gazed upon by a man in chains. Somehow this baby had come into this world with more than Mari could ever dream of. How was it possible that such a creature who could not speak, walk, or do anything of value, had so much? To have people care about him before he could even know what caring was. To have people value him for doing nothing more than existing. Just being in the presence of that scene, being an outsider, like always, left Mari feeling empty, void. She felt incomplete. Hollow.