Hands grab at the taut rope and Sia screams in pain as two pairs of hands pull her up and over the metal railing.
“I can’t believe he’s still alive.”
The hands tightly grip her arms and legs to deposit her down on the cracked cement floor. Her right shoulder rests against an opening in the wall while her left shoulder rests against the dusty ground of what seems to be another parking garage. This one has old dusty cars left parked in their original spaces.
Her dark hair has fallen to lay flat on her face and obscure it from view, but her eyes erratically search between their legs for more details, something to help her escape, but …her eyes pause…fixated on the gun in one of their hands. While the two mercenaries bend down to grab at Sia’s arms, a bearded mercenary keeps his weapon pointed at her head.
This is it. The blood pounding in her ears deafens her to all other sounds. Her eyes close and she tries to steady her breathing, but it’s out of control. Quick and fast breathes push out of her mouth while she trembles in the mens’ hands. Her legs scratch lines through the dirt when they push her forward to settle on her knees. Oh, god. This is it.
I am here with you. You are not alone, Lomlen. Dernel whispers within her mind.
She stiffens and holds her breath, while tears stream down her face. But suddenly, her arms are jerked up and her legs are aligned underneath her, to take her weight. She isn’t ready for that and collapses. Sia’s breath hiccups as she slams onto her backside and crushes her hands underneath herself. She exclaims in surprise and looks up at the angry gunman.
The bearded man’s scowling mouth is moving rapidly, she tries to listen beyond her panicked breathing and heartbeat, tries to catch what he is saying. “—are here? If you’d like more time to think we can drop you back over the railing and come back in a few hours. I don’t think you’ll have much of a chance to talk though. You might be busy with a few of the goons that fly by during this time of the year.”
Sia shakes her head. “No, please, I’m ready to talk,” her raspy voice desperately begs for a chance to explain herself.
“Alright then!” The men raise her to her feet once more, and one of them pulls out a dagger to cut the ropes off her feet. The bloody cords stick to her legs and have to be pried off by the side of the blade before they drop to the floor. The men cringe internally.
Her guards shove her ahead to walk down the staircase, but her strength fails her. They end up dragging her most of the way. When they arrive at the truck, Sia is tossed into the open truck bed and a dirty sack is tugged over her head. As the truck rumbles to life, Sia takes a deep breath and fully regrets it. The sack smells disgusting, and with that deep breath, the musty cloth is sucked into her mouth.
She gags, shakes her head, and drops it to the truck bed to use the metal floor to peel the cloth off. A boot presses up against the back of her skull and she halts all movement.
“Don’t even try it, Savage,” a low voice mutters from beside her. She hadn’t even noticed one of the men jump into the back of the truck with her. He probably has his gun aimed at her…ready to end it all if she makes the slightest movement toward him. Sia lays still, tucks her head into her chest, and curls up into a ball, to look as diminutive as possible.
The truck bumps down the road at a slow pace, either because there is no rush, or the terrain is too treacherous to risk ruining a tire. Sia hopes there is no rush. She hopes they know how to handle her, that they aren’t in a panic and ready to beat answers out of her.
What will I tell them? Dernel has gone silent after that terrifying scare.
With even a small breath, Sia can tell how awful she smells. Rancid, like she’s been rolling around in feces, blood, and sweat. Which makes sense, but there is one other smell that she’s confused to encounter. She smells burnt. Why do I smell like someone tried to set me on fire?
Her face is pressed up against the hot metal, but the cloth sack protects her skin, unlike her bloody ankles. The torn flesh presses against the metal and dirt, and the sting makes her groan and curl more into herself. The longer they drive, the closer the sounds of people come until they’re all around them. The cacophony of sound is indecipherable to her ears. All the voices merge into each other and Sia can’t tell which voice comes from where, from who, for what.
She tilts her head up to catch a glimpse of something. The little imperfections in the sack allow a bit of daylight to seep through the holes. When a person walks up beside the truck their shadow blocks the light. The boot returns to press down on the side of her head, Sia bites her lower lip and groans as she is forced to lay flat.
Her hands are still bound at the wrist, but she feels a slither of burning rage in her heart at the press of the boot. She wants to slap the foot aside, knock the gun out of the man’s hands, and punch him in the face. Her breathes pick up speed and the mercenary gives her a kick. “Don’t get any funny ideas, Savage.”
Savage? What the hell happened? What is going on? The rage in her chest vanishes at that, Sia goes rigid against the truck bed.
The engine rumbles and the shadows decrease from around the truck. The smell is still awful, but she can barely notice beyond the terror coursing through her veins, that’s numbed her down to her core. She shivers and each gasp takes more effort to breathe than the last. They kill Savages without a second thought. Why aren’t I dead yet?
Finally, they arrive at their destination and Sia is pulled from the back with the sack muffling her every breath. She can barely regain her balance before two of the men grab hold of her and drag her toward a metal fence. The gunman backs away from them to stick his hands inside the metal grating and move it aside before they continue down…down a tunnel until the sack is ripped off of her head to reveal a pink beach chair illuminated by the sunlight from outside.
Two metal chairs sit across from the plastic chair in front of her, and with a look from the left to the right, Sia can recall being in this area before. It’s the underground parking garage the mercenaries had entered when the sandstorm had begun. But the storm is over, and the people have gone left the underground shelter. She’s shoved into the chair.
Sia can’t grip the back of the chair because her sweaty palms are still bound together. She tries to steady herself by bending her knees and pressing her belly against the top of the chair. She succeeds and turns around to see the retreating backs of two guards exiting the tunnel.
“Sit,” the gunman grunts at her from beside a cement beam. Sia stumbles into the chair, the plastic legs give out and it falls onto its side.
The guy is standing off to the side with his gun fixed on the back of her head. He quirks an eyebrow at her stunt and rounds her position until he can crouch down to grab the side of the chair. His eyes remain on Sia the entire time. The chair is set upright and he backs off.
Sia wobbles against the plastic frame, but catches herself, lines herself up with it and settles herself onto it tenderly. She slouches forward while facing the two empty chairs with her hands pressed against the pink fabric backing of the chair. There is no time to wonder who she’s waiting for when footsteps come stomping through the entrance.
Should I tell them everything? She licks her lips and cringes at the repulsive taste of whatever has been smeared onto her skin these past few hours. She leans off to the side and spits. Should I…tell them the truth?
Dernel’s words come to mind.
You have abilities that these people would kill to acquire. Stop hiding, Sia. Stop running.
She closes her eyes, tries to think…tries to understand how they might react. To formulate a response that might save her life for a few more hours…something that could give her a few more days.
Your family is waiting for you.
The footsteps arrive behind her and she hears another pair come running down the tunnel before the sound of metal chair legs scraping on the ground echoes around the entrance. Sia grinds her teeth at the irritating noise.
“Marcus…,” an unknown woman’s voice softly speaks. It’s calm.
Sia flinches at the soft sound and slouches further into her chair.
“If that’s even your real name….,” a more familiar voice joins the woman’s, and Sia looks up to meet stern grey eyes. Ika is standing beside the two metal chairs where a woman and a man are seated. They appear unarmed…no…
There it is. Sia’s mouth twitches as Ika pulls a gun from his waistband. This couldn’t get any worse.
“You can go stand outside.” The man seated in the metal chair gestures with his chin at the guard who continued to be ever vigilant with his weapon aimed at the back of the prisoner’s head.
They don’t know anything. They know nothing…nothing. Sia attempts to calm herself as the guard’s footsteps retreat into the background. The metal fence is replaced to block the entrance, then silence falls upon the four of them until the woman decides to begin.
“We won’t keep asking you, so decide now on whether you want to continue breathing out here among the living or out in the dung heap among the filth. With the damage we’ll do to you it won’t take long for you to succumb to your wounds,” the woman says this matter-of-factly while staring at Sia’s battered, filthy appearance.
“We saw that you have a knack for healing, but we’re surprised you’ve survived this long. What kind of Savage are you?” The man begins the questioning while Ika watches Sia’s every movement, his finger itches beside the trigger of his gun. Sia can’t take her eyes off that finger.
“Who are you?”
“Why are you here?”
“What was your mission?”
“Who sent you? The Lord of the Light? The Lord of Dirt?”
“Was it the Lord of the Wilds or the Lord of the Winds? Who is your master?”
Sia licks her chapped, torn lips and grimaces at the taste. “It—” the pain in her throat makes her pause. “It wasn’t…I.”
“This is your last chance. It’s simple. Give us something or we’ll have no need to keep you.” At the woman’s word, Ika’s thumb flicks up the safety of his weapon and the click brings a cold sweat to the back of Sia’s neck.
Her eyes flicker up to his stone-cold gaze and back down to his index finger that now rests on the trigger. She glances at her calm interrogators. Neither of them is looking at her, they appear to be planning what they will do when they leave this area, already sure that Sia won’t reveal any answers to their questions. Sure of the outcome.
Dammit…Dammit…Okay. Sia’s right leg anxiously bounces up and down. She feels sticky in all the wrong places and this isn’t the proper time to want to use the bathroom, but she can feel everything that is left of her bladder signaling to her brain that nature is calling. “She’s probably dead by now.”
The interrogators direct their eyes at Sia’s cringing form. “Your leader?” the woman asks while leaning back in her chair. The Lord of the Winds or Dirt? Which of those lousy bitches has decided to attack our compound?
They remain silent until Sia scrounges up the courage to speak again. “Priya.”
Several things happen at once. The interrogators are taken aback and look back at each other confused. “When—” The man blinks and turns to the second in command of W.A.R.T.S for some clarification, but Ika’s no longer standing guard beside their female companion.
Just a moment after Sia spoke the name, Ika lunges across the room and tackles her. He mounts her chest. The barrel of the gun bashes her across the face. He drops his weapon and grips her neck. Two eyes look back at him, one brown and the other…opaque silver, reflecting his fury back at him. “It wasn’t even injured was it? You were just biding your time. Playing a wounded dog. Oh, poor Marcus.”
Sia croaks and wants to throw up a hand to push him off, but her hands are still bound at the wrist behind her back. She can’t fight back, she can’t stop his hands from squeezing her throat. Her legs buck underneath him. Her vision is clouded by black spots and she gasps for air.
“Poor little…Marcus.” The look on Ika’s face burns straight through her cloudy vision and is seared into her soul. Pure hatred.
For the first time, he relishes the moment of feeling his enemy’s last throes of life wrung out of them. Sia’s last thought slips out of her gasping mouth, “You’ll…all…die…if they come next.” Gasping like a fish out of water, on her last stretch, this is the life line she holds firm to. Certainty that things can get worse, and ExplorerTech Industries will be there to prosper.