Doug opened his eyes slowly, feeling warm and comfortable. There was no worry, no panic. There was a gentle, soothing pressure on his temples. A face moved into view above him, long strands of hair tickling at his face.
“Oh good, you’re awake, please remain calm, ok? You’re not in danger.”
The gentle pressure was removed from his temples and the woman moved around to Doug’s side, helping him sit up. He still felt completely relaxed. He looked around the room slowly, almost as though he was drugged. It was brightly lit by two lamps, the floor was covered in a thick, green moss. The walls were dark and almost rocklike in texture, despite this the room was warm and dry.
“You’ll probably feel a bit groggy for a short while, you had some pretty bad damage going on in there. I’ve fixed most of it, but you’ve been through a lot.”
“what happened? Am I in hospital?” his voice was thick, slow. The woman held a cup of water to his lips, Doug drank slowly. She used a tissue to wipe at his mouth when he was done.
“You were attacked, someone tried to kidnap you. Not quite but you’re safe here though. We managed to stop the man trying to take you and we brought you here. You were knocked out, had a concussion and the beginnings on a small tumour. I’ve been told you were talking to the others.” She shook her head, “that was a risky move. Luckily it was caught in time. At the rate it was growing you would have only had a few months at best. Max really should have had someone on hand in case of such a thing. Sloppy and reckless of him.”
Doug rubbed at his eyes, trying to concentrate on the words. He understood most of them, but putting them into context was difficult. Who was Max? How could they have operated on him? There were no bandages on his head. He reached up to check. Slowly things started coming back to him. He was in New Town. He was on his way to his apartment to sleep.
“Just try to stay calm, I know that’s probably a tall of an order, but you really are safe here.”
Doug looked at the woman, his eyes focusing. He could tell she was tall, despite her sitting down, her skin was pale, but had a faint green twinge to it. Her eyes were wide and coloured violet. Her hair was long and blond. She smiled at him and stuck out her hand ,”I’m Emma, I’m sort of the doctor around here.”
“Where is here?”
“We’re in the Burrows. Or Undertown, depending on who you ask.”
She frowned at him, “I’m sorry, I thought you knew of the burrows already. Um, I guess it’s like tunnels under the city, but we’re not exactly under it. It’s hard to explain. People end up here, ones that are afraid or unwanted. We’re mostly ignored by those in New Town.” She shook her head, “I don’t know why I’m surprised Max didn’t tell you. Why would he have? He wouldn’t have wanted you to know about this place yet.”
“Is this where some of the more dangerous people go?”
“I wondered about that. It couldn’t have all been good natured changes. Some are based in folklore and mythology and there are some really dark characters in a lot of legends.”
Emma shrugged, “I guess. I think it’s just like people, some are just good and some are just bad. I mean, as far as I know I’m not based in any folklore or mythology. The Council have tried to phrase it in those terms, both for people in here and the outside world. I think they believe it makes us easier to accept. But that doesn’t explain things like the others.”
“Do you know who attacked me?”
“I don’t, though there are some suspicions.”
“I promised I wouldn’t say.”
“I can get him now if you like?”
Emma stood and when she did so, Doug was surprised to see she was at least seven foot tall, he glanced down at her feet to see if she was wearing high heels, but she was barefoot. She left the room and while he waited Doug sipped some more water. He was starting to feel more alert, but the calmness never faded. Logically he knew he should be worried, he was in an unknown place with unknown people. He had been attacked at some point, though he didn’t know by who. There was no way he should be this calm, but it wouldn’t fade. He thought it was something to do with whatever Emma had done to him. She claimed to have healed him, but what proof did he have of that? For all he knew he could have been knocked out and just brought straight here and she was keeping him placid.
A moment later Emma entered, followed by the Baron. “I’m glad that you’re awake, I hope you’re feeling all right.”
“I feel pretty good, considering I was apparently knocked out.”
“Yes, I’m just glad my men were there to stop you getting taken.”
“You’re men? Were they following me?”
“Yes, they were.”
“I was worried about you after the meeting that Max set up. I wanted to make sure you were safe.”
Doug frowned, “Did you think Max was going to do something to me and blame you?”
“Not quite, but I suppose that’s the gist of it.”
“And why should I believe that? After all, you could have just had your men take me.”
“And why would I have done that? What would I have to gain?”
“I don’t know, leverage with Max and the Council?”
“I have no need for that, I have no desire to be on the Council and they have nothing I want. I’m happy here.”
“Yes, Emma said you didn’t know about this place. I’m not surprised. This is the darker side of New Town, this is where all the homeless gather, all the ones that have been pushed out of their communities because they didn’t fit in.”
“I still have no proof that you’re not lying.”
The Baron shrugged, “You’ll just have to trust me.”
“Why should I? I don’t know you, or anything about the internal power struggles of the city.”
“You don’t know Max either. You only know what has been said about me. If you asked around in the Burrows I’m sure you’d find unfavourable opinions of Max too. Besides, I’m not the one that is having you followed everywhere.”
“Max isn’t following me, he’s showing me around. He leaves me alone to talk to people.”
“Not Max. No, he would want the illusion that you’re free to talk to people unhindered. You’ve noticed them, you see something in the corner of your eye, just slightly in the mirror. They work for Max, they’re his spies. They can listen in unseen, but not here. They’re visible down in the Burrows. Something to do with how they were created. They can’t hide and so they don’t come down here. Lots of people are unhappy with them, they wouldn’t risk it. It would put them in too much danger.”
“You’ve still given me no proof.”
The Baron sighed, “And I can’t, not really. You’ll have a rebuttal to everything I say and I don’t blame you. However, you are not a prisoner here, you are not trapped, you are perfectly free to leave at any time. We can escort you back to New Town or you can make your own way through the Burrows, I assure you you’ll be quite safe here. If I had kidnapped you, I wouldn’t let you leave and I certainly wouldn’t leave you unrestrained. I don’t know why Max tried to have you taken, maybe it wasn’t him, maybe it was someone else on the council. I do not know. All I know is that my men stopped it from happening and brought you here for protection.”