He straightened his respirator and picked up his wide-brimmed hat, yet did not move further, remaining still instead, weighing the hat in his gloved hands, rubbing a blotch of tissue from its great, gold buckle. It was difficult to see clearly with the blood drying on his goggles; he took off a glove and wiped them clean, noticing as he did so that his hand was shaking—worse, that his entire body had begun to tremble. He looked around the corridor in a daze, first at the headless witch who was now an inanimate corpse, then through the door from which he’d exited, where blood and brains had begun to dry on the wallpaper, which was beginning to warp and to catch fire. That’s when he noticed something else, a crude sign on the fallen door—a sign which, when he moved forward to examine it, turned out to be a simple plea: ‘Please don’t kill the bird.’
Her name was Miriam, and the bird was her only friend. And during her life she was ostracized by everyone, because she was like me, neither fully witch nor fully woman. When the High Sisters came with their judgements and their sentences, it was she who spoke in my defense—only she who would still speak the truth as she saw it.
The birdcage came into view as he rounded the corner to the kitchenette, for he had been moving through the flaming apartment without being consciously aware of it. “Six minutes until dust-off,” squawked his headset. “Doctors Oceanus and Damaris KIA. Mind your thoughts … there is a Whisperer at work.”