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“Phoenix?” Belfire gasped, those hands falling to his side. “Don’t make me-, please, don’t-!” he shook his head, and she looked up at the balcony then, seeing those dark eyes and those Implants flickering, and she did not know what to do. He looked like the same man from before, the one who didn’t smile, the one who gave the rod and she was not sure there was anything she could do for Belfire, or even for herself, when that man looked at them like that.

“Come,” he said, and Belfire shook even harder.

She grabbed the fabric of his shirt, just above his heart, like she would’ve done for one of her own, and she nodded. She could feel his heart thumping, his chest shaking against her fist as she said, “You have to be stronger. You have to be, Belfire, only the strong get to eat.”

She did not know if it helped, she hoped it did, and she hoped that he would listen as he climbed off of her. A part of her did believe that he hadn’t had the rod as she watched him walk away, but she was not sure if what he’d had had not been worse.

It was after dinner on the second day and he was still not back. Phoenix didn’t know what to think, she almost didn’t want to think of what he would look like when he did, or who he would be. Would he be the man who’d helped her put on her boots, who’d said that he didn’t want anything in return and smiled or would he be the one that shook, the one who screamed and hit? She still felt that twinge in the side of her arm, surprisingly sharp and strong, she almost hissed when she stretched it out, but then she was glad that she hadn’t.

“It’s been two days, Cassie,” she heard and she looked up then, seeing Cassie and the woman she trained with walking beside her. They did not seem to notice that Phoenix was behind them in the corridor to the washroom, her steps still light, despite her City boots.

“That doesn’t matter,” Cassie shook her head.

“This is serious, he hasn’t even kept you for two days.”

“Shut up,” Cassie warned, turning to glare at that woman, and Phoenix didn’t know why she did it, only that she wanted to hear more and possibly get some answers. She hid behind a corner, her head tilting so she could keep them in her sights. “I’m his Favourite, Lyca, that doesn’t just go away. We’ve been through this before, he’ll lose interest.”

“What if he doesn’t?”

“He will.”

“You’re not taking this seriously, Cassie,” Lyca tutted.

“You’re getting worked up over nothing,” Cassie shook her head. “He’s an Offender, what can he use him for, hmm? He won’t be any good in the Fights and he’d make an even worse Favourite.”

“He’s kept him for two days.”

“Who cares about that?!” Cassie snapped. “I’ve been his Favourite for years, how do two days even compare?”

“He’d just sent him back,” Lyca shook her head. “Think about it, Cassie, that’s basically three days. If he keeps him again tonight, that’ll be four.”

“Hmmm, and what do you think he’s doing up there?” Cassie asked, her eyes narrowing into thin slits. “You have no idea what it’s like, Lyca, don’t pretend like you do. He could be in the Infirmary right now for all we know, he could be dead. Until he comes back without a collar we have nothing to worry about.”

You have nothing to worry about,” Lyca shook her head. “What about me?”

Cassie went quiet then, her eyes unblinking for a long while, and then she sighed and started tapping her foot. “Things changed when he bought the Woodlander, you know that.”

“They didn’t change that much.”

“You’ve worked hard, Lyca, that means something.”

“It doesn’t mean anything if I end up dying.”

“That’s on you,” Cassie said, her eyes narrowing into thin slits. “Don’t blame the Master for that. If you die, it’s because you lost.”

“We had a deal, Cassie.”

“We still do,” Cassie said. “I’ll still do what I can, but you know what your chances are now, somethings just come down to luck… Maybe he won’t be able to use her, it’s not like she’s getting any better.”

“He didn’t buy her for the Fights.”

“Who knows what he bought her for,” Cassie shook her head. “Just keep focused and keep training, that’s the only bit of advice I can give you for now.”

“I’m telling you, you’re going about this all wrong,” Lyca said. “Make things right with the Offender or find a way to get rid of him.”

“Enough,” Cassie said, those eyes so cold and sharp. “I like you, Lyca, you know I do, but you keep talking to me like that and you’ll regret it. We’re not equals, you have no idea what goes on up there and you have no idea what you’re talking about. I earned this spot, you understand me? I worked hard, you keep working hard and maybe you’ll earn something too, but until then, stop wasting my time.”


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