It hadn’t taken much for her to get more information out of the four men. Cyrus stood back safely and watched with widened eyes as Corra shook her gun in their faces, bossily told them off and then returned, minutes later, with information on the whereabouts of their missing captain and doctor.
Yes, it had been Fiearius and Leta in the local combat ring the night before. Yes, they were both still presumably alive. The man who held them now was called ‘Traze’ and he kept himself in a warehouse the next block over. Though Corra had suggested storming it immediately, Cyrus had insisted they return to the ship first to get some leverage.
Now, an hour later, Cyrus was on his way to meet this ‘Traze’ person. Clanking in his pocket was the entirety of Fiearius’ emergency funds. He figured buying back his freedom was a cause the captain wouldn’t mind draining it for.
A few steps behind him walked Aiden, calm and steady as usual even in the face of the unknown. Cyrus had purposefully told Corra to stay behind and guard the ship — much to her chagrin. He simply had a feeling he needed the company of someone with less explosive tendencies. It was funny, really, what Aiden expressed surprise over in his time aboard. Cyrus beat him in a chess match? He’d let out a yell of shock and accuse him of showing off. But the captain and doctor were captured and possibly in life-threatening danger? Aiden listened, nodded and calmly joined him off-ship.
When they found Traze’s warehouse, identifiable by its tremendous black doors, Cyrus stood outside, frozen, for a whole minute. Just march in there and demand what you want, he told himself. You’re here for business. You have money. They won’t shoot you. You’ll make a deal. You can do this.
Patiently standing at his side, Aiden prompted, “Traze seems like someone who responds to money. I’m sure this will work.”
Well, that was certainly his cue. “Right,” Cyrus muttered and pushed opened the doors into the warehouse and stepped inside with more confidence than he felt.
Before he could announce his presence, he realized the room was empty. Squinting through the semi-darkness, Cyrus found only crates and boxes. Confused, he looked over at Aiden, but then they both turned to the sound of a shotgun being cocked and a few hurried footsteps at the other end of the warehouse.
“Oi!” a woman’s voice shouted, the voice echoing against the high ceilings. Immediately, Cyrus spun back around and put his hands in the air in a demonstration of innocence.
In the shadow of a doorway on the upper level of the warehouse stood a small, burly man and a woman who, in size and stature, could have been his twin. Both had two barrels pointing directly at them. “Who the fuck are you?” the man demanded.
Cyrus blinked slowly, all the rehearsal he’d been doing internally drained from his head in an instant. “Uh…”
Fortunately, his counterpart was quicker.
“Ah, now, there’s no need for that,” said Aiden warmly, his voice both casual and assuring. How the hell did he pull that off so well? No wonder Fiearius was always asking him to come on more jobs. “We’re here to see Traze. Just a quick word, but we’re sure he’d like to hear it.”
“Oh?” called a coy, curious voice from the darkness. “What ‘word’ is that?”
A older, white-haired man dressed in a stiff suit strode out from the shadows. His face, long and skeletal, registered nothing but interest, his lips curled. Cyrus had never laid eyes on the man before, but he had the sense that if Traze was in a friendly mood, it was for a horrible reason. His mind flashed to his brother. It was very possible they were too late …
Laying his hand across his mouth curiously, Traze surveyed them both and asked, “Let me guess — you want to hear more about last night’s fights, don’t you?”
“Uh, not exactly,” Cyrus muttered. “I think I’ve heard enough about it, thanks all the same,” he went on, trying on his best veil of confidence. “Though I would like to know if the…” What the hell were they? Prisoners? Captives? “Combatants…are still here?”
Traze’s smile, if this were possible, widened. It was almost teasing. “Ah. You mean the maniac and his girlfriend? Well of course they are,” he replied lightly, and then sighed, as if burdened, “People keep coming by to take them off my hands, but I’m afraid I haven’t come across an offer worthy yet … “
At his side, Aiden tilted his head at Traze with interest and stated confidently, “We have that offer.”
“Oh?” said Traze, crossing his lanky arms. “What can you give for them, then?”
This was it. This was the one part of his planned speech that Cyrus remembered: how to negotiate. He knew to offer less than he actually had. It was a lesson in business he’d learned from Fiearius, who had sunk them into debt over the purchase of Corra a few years ago. Always offer less than everything because they’ll always want more, his brother had said as he trudged through Goddora’s bitchwork for the next three months.
With that in mind, Cyrus said simply , “8k for the pair.”
Unsurprisingly, Traze spurted out, “8k?! Gentlemen, you’re insulting me,” through a peal of laughter. He swung back and forth on the balls of his feet and Cyrus had the sense he was enjoying himself when he cried, “One kroppie alone would cost twice that! And these two made me a godsdamn fortune last night.”
“Exactly,” said Aiden smoothly. “They’ve been in your ring once already and they’re in sorry shape because of it. Surely that impacts pricing?”
Traze’s lip curled. He tapped his fingers against his chin. Then he spun on his heel and told his nearest gunman, “Fine, see for yourself the state they’re in now. Let’s bring them out.”
Cyrus watched as a set of four gunmen took his order at once. Turning, they disappeared into a rusty back door in the warehouse, one of them swinging a rope in his hands.
As they waited, Traze tried to make conversation (“travel far to get here, did you?”) but Cyrus let Aiden respond for him. He felt like there was sand in his mouth; he couldn’t take his eyes off the door.
When it opened, Cyrus felt his lungs tighten. Finally, there was his brother, dragged into view by three gunmen. Somehow Fiearius wasn’t in as bad of shape as he pictured — there were dried cuts along his face and shoulders, he was covered in earth and he looked exhausted, but little else seemed wrong. When Cyrus met his eyes, Fiearius gave the faintest, sarcastic lift of his brow that Cyrus read at once: Finally. What took you so long?
Half annoyed and half deeply relieved, he looked instead at Leta beside him. As she was pulled into view, Cyrus’ stomach turned over at the shredded, sickening red and black mess that was her leg. Her clothes were ripped, dirt smeared over her face, and her bloodshot eyes were wide in worry. She looked ghostly white and silently shocked at the sight of him. Cyrus knew it: she had no place here.
Tearing his eyes away to look back at Traze, Cyrus summoned his best, most brisk voice. Back to business.
“See?” he remarked, rather impatiently. “She’s injured. Can hardly walk. A crippled ally is a worthless ally. You’d be lucky to sell her at all. And him.” He glanced over to his brother and internally cursed him for not being more beat up to help his case. A few scrapes and bruises were hardly cause for discount. Though if physical traits couldn’t do it, maybe personality could.
“I hear he’s uncontrollable. Reckless. Dangerous, clearly,” he went on indignantly. “Hardly quality material. It’ll take years of work and resources to get that out of him.” Fleetingly Cyrus wondered what Corra would think if she heard him talking this way. It made him uncomfortable even saying the words, treating people like property. He didn’t like to think how she’d feel hearing them.
“Maybe allies go for more,” he concluded finally. “But they’re not allies and I won’t pay more than they’re worth. 10k. Final offer.”
Traze shifted on his feet, rubbing his chin in thought. “10k — mm … ” he repeated, letting the offer sit in air before he snatched it away with a grimace. “Considering I’m going to throw this maniac back in the ring again? With the whole city watching and throwing down money? No. No, 10k is simply too low.”
Well that’s all I’ve got, Cyrus despaired in his head. He couldn’t stop himself this time from heaving a sigh and casting his brother a hopeless expression. Fiearius just stared back at him calmly. Too calmly, like he, too, was curious for what would happen next. Cyrus actually felt a brush of anger toward him: a little help would have been nice.
Unfortunately, it seemed Traze noticed the silent conversation that took place between the siblings, because the man suddenly held up a hand, looking startled.
“Wait a second here. You recognize them? No — you know them?” asked Traze, turning his head between Cyrus and the silent captives. He immediately decided himself, “You do. You know these two.”
Suddenly, a horrible grin of glee spread over his face, like he’d just heard a very funny, very off-color joke. Bursting into laughter, he clapped his hands together once and elbowed his nearest gunman, “Can you believe this? He’s making me an offer because these are his friends!”
Cyrus felt heat rising on his face, but before he could respond, Traze talked over him, “Alright, alright, since these are your friends, I suppose I can make a deal for you. I’m a charitable, good man, after all.” His laughter subsided, but the grin on his face was overpowering and sickened. “How about this?” he posed brightly. “Normally I’d ask three times this for the maniac alone — ” he gestured toward Fiearius and then spun forward. “But at 10k you can take one of them. Either one. But only one.”
A tense, expectant pause halted them. Finally, tersely and almost impolitely, Aiden repeated, “One?”
“A very fair deal!” Traze cried, walking in a small circle around them in delight. “10k for one of them, which one will it be?”
For the first time, Leta found her hoarse voice, her features darkening in sudden horror as she snapped, “Wait — what?! One? As in one of us stays?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t be mouthy right now if I were you,” Traze leaned in to speak in her ear, laughing once before rounding back on Cyrus. “So — who, then? Which one?”
But Cyrus had no words. He wasn’t even sure he knew how to think anymore. His heart sank and sank toward weakness. One? Just one? How could he be expected to even begin making such a choice? He couldn’t leave his brother behind. He couldn’t. If he died in that ring…What would Cyrus do without him? The Dionysian would never fly again.
But if he left Leta here, with that injury, with that creep in charge, she would die. No ‘if’s about it. And how could he sentence his friend, even one he’d known for so short a time, to such a death? And if somehow she wasn’t killed? It could have been worse than death. It didn’t take a genius to guess what could happen to a woman locked in this prison …
As he stared at her emptily, Leta didn’t plead with him — she didn’t beg, she didn’t bargain, she gave no argument. Her widened eyes gazed at him in saddened understanding, she knew exactly what was in his head …
But no, it had to be Leta. He had to choose Leta. Fiearius could take this place a little longer. Maybe he already even had an escape plan for all Cyrus knew, but either way, it was obvious that he had to take her. It was the only answer. He’d buy Leta back and leave his brother for now.
So why did his stomach turn over at the very notion?
His gaze shifted to Fiearius uncertainly. They regarded each other, and Cyrus had to silently marvel at how calm and curious Fiearius seemed to find this whole ordeal, unphased as ever. But then Fiearius did react: brow furrowed in annoyance, he jerked his head sideways, toward Leta.
So Fiearius agreed.
“The girl,” said Cyrus finally, finding his voice with difficulty. He looked back to Traze. “We’ll take the girl.”
He hadn’t meant to, but he fleetingly glanced toward Leta and witnessed her reaction. Her mouth fell open and she cried, “wait — wait!” just as Traze stepped between them, beaming.
“Wonderful. Now, if you’ll step into my office … we’ll get this sorted … “
Leta did not go quietly. He could hear her raging and storming from inside Traze’s office (“This is ridiculous, we can’t leave Fiear!”) as Traze chattered on. Credits were exchanged, papers were signed. Standing there, Cyrus felt numb when Traze stood up from his desk and shook his slightly shaking hand, like they were now good friends.
As he stepped out of the office, Cyrus glimpsed Leta arguing furiously with Aiden. “We’re not leaving him here!” he heard her say, but then he turned away, finding it hard to watch. Cyrus was hardly a religious man, but as he walked down the steps back onto the dirty floor, he found himself praying he didn’t live to regret this decision.
He didn’t intend to, but he glanced over his shoulder and saw two of Traze’s men seize Fiearius’ bound arms to lead him back toward the door. Fiearius didn’t fight them. In fact, when he looked over his shoulder and locked eyes with Cyrus, he smirked, cocky and proud, like he wanted this all along, and it was all part of their plan.
If it was a farce, it was one Cyrus appreciated.
With little else left to do, Cyrus turned toward the tremendous black doors, his hand grasping Leta’s arm to lead her forward. He guided her toward the door firmly, but the whole way out, she was looking over her shoulder in despair.