One moment she’d been standing at the counter. The next, she was struggling against the grip around her middle, screaming against the hand that had been clasped over her mouth, panicked, breathless. In her periphery she’d seen Fiearius put up a fight — he’d gotten in one forceful punch to a man’s jaw, who crashed into a shelf — before they were overpowered. They were shoved towards the door, sacks were thrown over their heads and then, as they were forced to walk forward, she saw nothing.
Until now. It seemed that the men had led them inside some sort of warehouse. The room was quiet, draped in shadows, and full of rusty crates and equipment.
Leta had no idea why they’d been brought there. Nor, it seemed, did Fiearius.
“Well ain’t this the coziest hovel this side of Synechdan,” said Fiearius at her side, cracking his neck casually as if they were about to take a daytrip to the zoo. One of the men held a gun to the small of his back. “Very impressive. I feel right at home.” He glanced over his shoulder at the man directly behind him. “And just where is home again?”
“Traze’s place,” muttered the man above Leta’s ear, far too close for her liking.
After a short, blank pause, Leta couldn’t help herself any longer, and she burst out like an anxious, angry teenager, “Who the fuck is that?” to both Fiearius and her captor.
A second later she got her answer.
“Ooh, there you are. Finally!” cried a voice above their heads. It was positively gleeful, almost boyish, and it made the hair on Leta’s neck stand up before she even saw who it belonged to.
The man called Traze came traipsing down a set of stairs, adjusting the fit of his sleeves, few more armed men in his wake. Lean and white-haired, Traze wore a gray fine suit, not unlike the kind Leta’s father’s colleagues wore. But he was clearly no ordinary businessman, and when he approached and smiled broadly at them, Leta had a powerful, overwhelming sense of fear that this man was — off, and even though he appeared unarmed, somehow more dangerous than any gunman present.
What the hell were they in for now?
Bouncing on the balls of his feet, Traze clapped his hands together and pointed them both at Fiearius. “Fiearius Solivere. I’ve been waiting a long time for this. Of course,” he laughed gently, “you’re probably wondering why you’re here.”
“Because I’m so devilishly handsome that people can’t resist kidnapping me?” Fiearius suggested. “The real question’s why’s she here?” His head jerked toward Leta, who chose to remain quiet during this exchange.
Traze seemed to think this was funny, because his booming laughter echoed through the room as he said, “Well I couldn’t very well leave her out of the show! She’s our opening act!” while jabbing his thumb toward her. Leta spared an urgent sideways look toward Fiearius, wondering if his antics were going to get them out of this or simply get them killed even sooner.
“No, no,” Traze went on, sighing as his smile dimmed. “I want both of the people who managed to end Solon Goddora and his right hand man.”
So that’s what this was about, thought Leta. They were about to be punished for their misdeeds from a month ago. Leta wasn’t sorry Goddora was dead, and well, she reasoned logically, it made sense. Goddora probably had a whole network of people who wanted him alive. She’d just been hoping to never meet those people …
“Well that’s unfair,” Fiearius barked, sounding indignant. “She barely did anything. Let’s not go handing out credit where credit’s not due.”
For the first time in her life, Leta was grateful to be slighted for her own work. She watched as Traze brought his hands together, almost in prayer, and smirked. “Oh I’ve heard otherwise. Besides, it’s not often we have women join the party, is it?” he mused to the men around him.
Traze sighed, and started to walk in a circle around them. “Goddora was a business partner. And a dear friend of mine. Did you really believe you could end his life without consequence?”
Fiearius pretended to consider the question, squinting up at the ceiling, before admitting, “Yes.” He smiled, full of innocence. “Yes I did.”
Traze watched Fiearius for a moment longer, beaming back at him. Then looked around at all of his men, as if they were sharing a joke.
“Even more foolish than I thought,” he said with a happy sigh, then clapped his hands together, suddenly business-like. “Well! You’re here now, about to face those consequences, and I’m going to enjoy every second! But first, some time in the cells I think, please, Persika?” he said briskly toward the nearest gunman. “Before the show starts. Then, tonight, to the ring.”
“Ooh, we’re going to a ring?” Fiearius asked, mocking excitement as the gunman grabbed him by the arm roughly and started walking him forward. “I love rings. What kind of ring? A circus ring? A self-help ring? An engagement ring? Oh honey, if you wanted to get married, you should have just asked.” He grinned. “I would have said no, but at least we could be civil about it.”
Traze only smiled coolly as he watched Fiearius being led away. “Oh — before I forget. Check them again for weapons. And bind their hands.”
Leta did some very quick thinking. Running would have been difficult. Fighting would have been useless. Before she could act, she felt a pair of hands padding down her hips and thighs, making her jolt and instinctively jab her elbow back.
“Hey,” she snapped, her voice cracking hard as a whip. “Watch it.”
After a shocked pause, the gunhand on her recovered with a grin. Grabbing for Leta’s wrists, he forced them together and wound a rope around them, as someone else did the same to Fiearius. “Oh, this’ll be the least of your worries,” said the man, sharply tugging the rope tighter, digging into her wrists. “When you’re tonight’s entertainment.”
With that, Leta’s stomach plunged. She could not imagine — she did not want to imagine — what that could possibly mean for her. Quickly, she tried to make herself as rigid and immobile as possible, even as the gunhand seized her upper-arm to march her forward toward the back of the warehouse. Once she was thrown aside Fiearius, she murmured, “Fiear. Entertainment. What does that mean?”
When she looked at him sideways, she realized he was no longer grinning. His confident smirk was gone, blown out like a candle. His expression had hardened, and he spared her the briefest glance that told her she had every right to fear the absolute worst.
Swallowing hard in her throat, Leta looked forward: they were being led down a long, narrow hallway with cells on either side. Her hands were bound in front of her with rope, hard and painful, and she couldn’t see how they were going to get out of this one.
Traze walked ahead and opened the very last bar metal door. In one rough motion, Leta was thrown inside, Fiearius after her. As the rusty door banged closed, Traze leaned in, his hands closing around the bars casually, watching his captives with interest.
“You a betting man, Solivere?” he mused after a conversational beat.
“Betting you ain’t gonna shut your mouth even if I say no,” Fiearius replied impatiently, standing tall opposite Traze. He showed only the slightest crack to his swaggering demeanor.
“You know, normally, I’d gut you for talking like that,” said Traze, his slow, sickening smirk coming back to his face as he stepped back. “But I don’t need to get my hands dirty. I’d rather watch someone else do it. You see, I am, in fact, a gambling man,” he explained easily. “And so is half the city. They all come to bet on my ring — “
“Your engagement ring?” Fiearius interrupted.
“My combat ring,” Traze corrected. He twitched in annoyance, then went on, forcing another smooth smile. “I’m expecting an excellent show tonight. After a good warm-up, of course,” he said, gesturing casually toward Leta. “You’ll go first. I’ve got someone in mind that I think you’ll enjoy facing in my arena.”