Chapter 26: A Choice


As suddenly as if she’d been slapped in the face, Leta’s eyes snapped open. For a moment she didn’t know where she was or, even more concerning, whose warm body she was curled up against. It wasn’t Ren, and the ground beneath her was cold — this wasn’t home.

Blinking her eyes, she gingerly rolled over to her back onto the dirt and and the cracked concrete ceiling swam into view. The previous night came flooding back like a nightmare: they were still locked in the cell. They must have dozed off after Fiearius’ story, she thought, surprised she’d fallen asleep at all with the throbbing in her leg and the worry sitting in her stomach like a heavy weight.

Carefully, Leta slid her hand from where it was tucked beneath Fiearius’ side, feeling embarrassed and then relieved that he wasn’t awake to witness how she’d slept on him. It wasn’t her fault he was warm and the cell was freezing — she must have shifted over in her sleep. Her eyes lingered curiously on his sleeping form for a moment, watching the slow lift and fall of his shoulders, before she pushed herself away another safe few inches.

Now, she had a different problem to address: the wound in her leg. Sitting up, she carefully pulled back some of the stained bandages and clothing.

Immediately, she bit on her wrist to silence her pained scream.

Part of the gash had darkened to black. Infection. And the rest — it was fresh with renewed blood.  It was difficult not to think desperately of shining white sterilized bandages and pain medication. A bottle of Rhys’ vodka would have worked if she could just dump it on her leg; that fucking knife had been filthy. She considered tearing up the rest of her pantleg into strips, but the fabric wasn’t fine enough to create stitches, and besides, she didn’t have a needle to do it and it was too dark to see properly.

It occurred to her just because she didn’t die in the combat ring, it didn’t mean she wasn’t going to die here.  If Ren could see her now …

But no — no, she wouldn’t go, not like this. She was not going to die helpless in a cell. Leta pushed that thought to the corners of her mind and was about to adjust the bandages once more when a muffled conversation reached her ears. She froze.

Beyond the cell wall were approaching voices and then the jangling of keys. The guards — the guards were coming back.

“Fiear,”  said Leta uneasily, breaking the cold silence of the room before she said again, louder: “Fiear. Wake up, they’re coming in,” while shaking his forearm. Then again, what could he do at this point? Mostly, she didn’t want him caught as unaware and unguarded as she felt.

“Mmm?” Fiearius muttered, waving her off with a hand, but realization dawned over him moments later. Seeming to remember where he was, he sat up suddenly, furiously blinking himself awake and looking around alertly just as the metal door banged open.

Four guards marched in, though only two came forward at first. The first guard flashed one look at her on the ground before seizing her bloodied wrists, forcing her up to her feet and ignoring how her injured leg staggered under her own weight.

“C’mon! Both of you!” he growled, pulling her by the arm and walking her into the hallway as the other guard did the same to Fiearius. Before she could begin to wonder where they were headed next, the guard muttered something that chilled her skin.

“Someone’s interested inna purchase of you.”

Leta felt herself stagger sideways, until the guard seized her and pulled her closer, though she barely had control of her own feet. Purchase? She was being bought? Her head spun with dizziness — blood loss, she thought dimly — as she cast a look over her shoulder toward Fiearius. Three guards were assigned to pull him down the hallway with her, but with a bolt of panic, she thought they might have been finally getting separated for good.

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Cyrus wound through the crowded noisy street, nearly walking into passers-by as he hastened his nervous way through the city. It was hard to notice the bright shops and happy crowds and morning bustle of Hayden when his task was one much grimmer.

That morning, when Corra had told him that Fiearius was still mysteriously missing, Cyrus hadn’t been that concerned. It wasn’t unlike Fiearius to fully enjoy time ashore (though what he did there, Cyrus chose never to picture). But when she told him Leta was still missing too, even Cyrus couldn’t ignore how odd this was.

Skipping breakfast entirely, he’d joined Corra in a long, worrying search through the docks market and found no sign of them.

When that failed, they headed to the more upscale market, deeper in the city, where they’d found a medically well-stocked supply store, but naturally, it was closed. After that, they’d ventured to the entertainment district on the off chance that Leta really had agreed to spend more time with Fiearius than necessary (“Doubtful,” Corra had said with a snort). But the bars and gambling halls and clubs had been shut down for the day and the whole street felt like a ghost town.

Cyrus was about to suggest giving up and returning to the ship to see if they’d come back when he realized Corra had wandered off, leaving him alone in the middle of the street as she slipped inside the only open door on the whole block. Heaving a sigh and hoping the dark interior wasn’t hiding an array of people ready to shoot them, Cyrus followed after her.

But it wasn’t a firing range Corra had stumbled into. It was — of all places — an arcade. As the two of them hovered awkwardly at the precipice, brightly colored machines dinged and flashed cheerfully all around them, enticing players to try their hand at defeating the Great Zoron in combat or fly the Razor ship across the galaxy in record speed.

Apparently no one was up for the challenge: the long room, while full of sensory overload, was devoid of human presence. Or perhaps not quite. Before Cyrus could suggest leaving, the low rumbles of voices met his ears.

There were four men seated in the back at the concessions counter, engaging in low, excited conversation. About…a fight of some sort? Cyrus couldn’t shake the sense that what they were talking about was important, and he eased closer to listen.

From what he could hear, someone had attacked somebody else. A girl. They were sure she was a goner, that they’d made an easy bet and they’d double their money. But something had happened? Something huge. Something that had never happened before. The rest of the night was boring after that. Nothing could compare to the deadly red-headed freak and his little girlfriend.

Realization hit Cyrus and he wheeled around to look at Corra. Shocked, both crouched behind their respective flashing machines and shared a look of horrible epiphany before Corra reached for her gun and frowned in determination.


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