With a deep breath, Corra wrenched her arms backwards and threw herself forward from their grasp. Both of her captors, shocked by the sudden shift in weight, stumbled forwards, losing their balance. In the half-second awarded her, Corra swung her elbow into the left one’s head. He staggered backwards and the other attempted to grab her, but she ducked under his swipe and pulled her other arm free as well. Immediately, she went for the gun on the ground and in an instant, had fired off a shot into his shoulder.
He let out a yell of pain, the other shouted, “Shit, get her!” and although Corra would have liked to blow off all of their heads for touching her, when she saw them reaching for weapons of their own, she knew she had to take the safer option: run.
She spun around on her heel and started pounding down the street as fast as her legs could carry her. She could hear the men behind her starting their pursuit, but she had a head start and lot less weight to carry. If she just kept going, if she just kept running, she would be okay —
The same could not be said of someone else. As Corra rushed down the street, she started to gain on the original chase scene. She could see the back of the bound man further up ahead, still pressing onward, but losing speed every second. His pursuer was nearly upon him and Corra was nearly upon his pursuer.
Well, he’d helped her. It was only fair.
As she ran, she raised her gun, squinted her eyes, aimed and fired. The man dropped to the ground, sliding a few feet in the dirt before coming to a stop. Corra jumped over his body just as the bound man too looked back. He slowed and kept slowing and stopped, standing in the middle of the street, staring back at the body in some mixture of shock and wonder. And then there was another gunshot from behind her and his eyes grew wide with panic, but he didn’t move, still standing there like a deer in headlights.
Corra rolled her eyes. Idiot. And as she passed, she snagged her arm through the loop of his and pulled. “Come on!” Fortunately, he was just smart enough to follow.
They kept running, with the occasional sharp bang from behind them, but their pursuers were even slower than Corra anticipated. Now she just had to shake them once and for all.
“This way!” she shouted to her silent companion who just trailed along with her as she turned a corner onto a different street. She turned yet once more, barreled down an alley and, without a second thought, slid through the crack in a large metal door. Then and only then, in the darkness of what looked like an abandoned storage unit did she release the man she’d been dragging and slow down.
Trying to catch her breath, Corra paced back and forth, doubled over and heaving as she listened for any sounds from the alley outside. But there were no footsteps, no gunfire, nothing. All she could hear was her own breathing and that of the man standing ten feet away.
Now that her eyes had adjusted to the low light, she looked over at him. He seemed a bit odd. Under-fed by the looks of it, the way his ribs were just barely poking out. His dark hair was too long and too scraggly and obviously hadn’t been washed in a while and his bronze skin had a hint of grey pallor along with the usual coating of Archetian dirt. The only part of him that seemed to belong to a living person were his dark eyes that blinked back at her, alert and panicked and shaken.
And then he said “Mmgh uuhh mmff mm ihh?”
Corra raised her brows at him. Oh right. The gag.
“God, sorry, of course,” she laughed breathlessly, stepping towards him and reaching up to untie the cloth that had been hastily secured around his mouth. As she did, she couldn’t help but notice a familiar notch had been taken out of his left ear.
He was an ally.
“Ah, thanks,” he sighed as the cloth fell away and Corra moved on to untie his wrists. “Can’t tell you how uncomfortable that was.” The rope too dropped to the ground and the man stretched out his arms in wonder. “That too.”
Corra eyed him skeptically. “So those guys,” she prompted, lifting her brows. “Ally hunters?”
He made a clicking noise with his tongue and pointed his index finger at her. “You got it.” He glanced at the metal door a little nervously. “They’ve been chasing me for weeks. I thought it was over when they caught me today finally. But then you showed up and distracted them and–” He laughed a little wildly. “I guess I’m free for another day. Thanks for that, by the way.” He smiled, but it vanished quickly as he added, “And sorry.”
Corra shrugged. “Not your fault,” she assured him, but then cast him a glare. “Unless you told them about me.”
He shook his hands in front of him. “No no! Wasn’t me. That lot’s just extra good at spotting notches from a distance.” He pointed to his ear and then shoved his hand towards her. “I’m Cailean by the way. Cai, if ya please.”
“Corra,” she introduced, taking the hand and shaking it.
“So where’d you escape from then?” he asked, without skipping a beat, catching Corra off-guard. No one had asked her that since–well, ever. Who she belonged to, she got a lot. Where her owner was, sure. But where she’d escaped from? She’d never met another free ally before. ‘Escape’ wasn’t part of ally vocabulary.
“Uh, nowhere,” she muttered uncomfortably, completely lost on how to answer.
But Cai just cracked a smile. “Oh come on, you can tell me, I swear I won’t sell you out. Us Frees look out for one another y’know?”
“No, really,” Corra insisted. “I didn’t escape from anywhere. I was bought and the man who bought me let me go.” Cai blinked at her as though he didn’t understand, but Corra was more interested in something else. “Wait, did you say ‘Frees’? As in…there are more of you?”
“More of me? No. I’m one of a kind.” He grinned stupidly and she couldn’t help but laugh. “More Frees though? Yeah, more and more of us each day. I’m part of the Conduit.” He must have sensed her confusion because he went on, “You haven’t heard of it? It’s a huge movement of Frees to break away Un-Frees from their owners. It was started by the First Free. She and her followers escaped their trade compound in the chaos after Solon Goddora was killed and have been helping others get out ever since.”
Corra couldn’t believe her ears. Goddora? Her mouth fell open. “No fucking way…”
Cai faltered, raising his brows at her. “What?”
“Nothing,” she insisted, internally vowing to tell Leta about this later. What would she think knowing she’d played a part in starting a ‘huge movement’ to free allies? “Who’s the First Free? What’s her name?”
Cai faltered again. “Eh, I’m not actually sure.”
“Oh, well…how does the Conduit do it? How do they free allies?”
He grimaced. “Eh, not really sure about that either.”
Corra frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. “I thought you said you were part of it.”
He provided her a sheepish smile. “Right, well…Not exactly.” When she just stared at him, unimpressed, he added, “Not yet anyway. See I only just escaped myself and most of that time has been spent avoiding hunters. So yeah. Going to be part of it? Absolutely. Spend the rest of my life helping others be free? That’s the plan. Actually part of it right now?” He shrugged. “Not quite.”