Master Astor laughed, a bright, short laugh almost like he was surprised. “That’s fair,” he nodded. “And we won’t know unless we try,” he said, turning around to stare at her again as he leaned in close, a smile on his lips, his eyes shining bright. “Have you got her to talk yet? It’s always harder with the older ones. They get wilder, the longer they’re out there,” he laughed. “My cousin has some younger ones if you’re looking to trade.”
She almost grabbed him by his robe, she almost asked him who he had and where they were, but she could see those Implants flickering a little quicker just behind him.
“Why would I do that?” Master Gabriel asked.
“The first one’s always the hardest,” Master Astor said. “No one would blame you for going for something easier.”
“You’re assuming a lot tonight, Astor.”
“I suppose I am,” Master Astor said, turning back around to stare at Master Gabriel. “But then again, you fell for it,” he said. “They were sneaky putting an Offender in the same lot. You paid for four and only got three.”
“Hmm… so now you get around to it,” Master Gabriel said, a soft smile on his lips. “You want him?”
“No, I don’t want him,” Master Astor shook his head, his eyes narrowing into thin slits. “Just a bit of advice, Gabriel, get rid of him before the others see him. You have any idea how-,”
“So it’s between those two?” Master Gabriel said, pointing at Mia and Boris, that smile even bigger, his eyes shining brighter. “Not much of a choice if you think about it. I wouldn’t blame you for going for the easier one, Astor.”
Master Astor’s shoulders went so stiff then, his hands clenching into fists at his sides, his voice a little strained when he said, “Of course, I’ll take the big one.”
“I accept,” Master Gabriel said.
Phoenix’s eyes flicked to Boris, not knowing what to say, not knowing what to do, but Emery waved the others down, her skin running cold when she saw Master Astor reach a hand out to Mia and tap at the side of his chair. Mia started shaking, her eyes so big and wide as she sat on the floor in front of his chair and she started shaking even more when he brushed her hair with his fingers. Phoenix didn’t know what to do then either, her eyes flicking back to Boris up alone on that large step, and then she heard a door opening.
“Hmm, so you brought a big one too?” Master Gabriel asked. “It would’ve been funny if you’d paired him with her.”
“Why would I do that, Gabriel, no one wants to see a House-slave fight.”
“I’m not training her to be a House-slave,” Master Gabriel said.
“Sometimes I wonder how you made it this far without me,” Master Astor said, his eyes narrowing into slits as he turned and stared at Master Gabriel. “I have so much to teach you, Gabriel, I’m not so sure it’s worth it anymore.”
“Let’s see,” Master Gabriel said. “Maybe you’ll change your mind after this round.”
“Hmm…” Master Astor hummed. “Slaves,” he said. “The rules are simple. Win,” he shrugged. “You don’t want to find out what happens if you lose.”
Phoenix’s hands were shaking. So little of this made sense, none of it seemed real, but there was a definite ring of metal in the air as those two swords clashed, a sharp, heavy ring, as Boris blocked that other slave’s blow. She felt something brush her hand, her eyes darting to Belfire beside her, only his fingers reaching out and squeezing the tips of her own. He stared on ahead, his eyes so blank, his face so tight, and it was only then that she realised that Cassie had tried to warn them, even him.
She watched that other slave then, knowing that she would not have won or even lasted this long up against him, not with her stomach still burning and her muscles aching, and then she shook her head, her eyes big and wide, a different kind of burning in the pit of her stomach. The Master let out a sigh, his head tilting slightly, those Implants flickering a little quicker as he sat in front of her, and he held his hand out, flicking his fingers and calling her closer. She didn’t want to go, she didn’t want to stay, she didn’t want to be here, but she saw those Implants flickering and she took a step closer. He took her hand, holding it against his cheek and resting his head against it, his face so soft, those Implants so slow as he watched the fight, but Phoenix felt that thumb digging into her palm, surprisingly sharp, surprisingly hard.
She had to stifle a hiss then, her eyes staring at the floor before they closed. What other choice did she have than to do nothing? She couldn’t afford to help Boris and she didn’t even know if she could when he was fighting a slave like that. Master Gabriel let out another sigh then, only a soft one, only a quiet one, and then she heard that crunch, her eyes flicking open and finding Boris. He was hiding behind his shield, the skin on his nose split and broken, blood pouring down his face. She almost shook her head when he fell, but that thumb dug in deeper, her shoulders going stiff, that pain in her hand so sharp as that other slave raised his sword, his face scrunched up in a scowl, Boris lying limply in front of him.
“You win, Astor,” Master Gabriel said, and Master Astor laughed.
“Looks like I have,” he nodded, jerking his head so his slave would take a few steps back.
Phoenix almost sighed then, the other slave almost did too by the looks of him, his shoulders dropping, that scowl turning into a wince. Boris’ chest was heaving, his breathing so loud and heavy, his skin glistening, but Master Astor laughed as he sat on the step next to him, drawing a line with his finger in the blood on Boris’ cheek.
“That look like it hurt, slave, you won’t do your Master any good if you give up that quickly,” he shook his head, and then he laughed again, a soft laugh, a quiet laugh as he stood. “Have you heard the old tale of berserkers, Gabriel?” he asked, turning to his slave and tilting his head. “It’s said they used to run into battle naked, with nothing but their axes and their stiff cocks to protect them,” he said, his hand sliding into his slave’s trousers, and the man winced, his forehead so tight, his eyes shining bright. “Ah,” Master Astor shook his head. “I thought I’d found one, but you’re just as soft as he is,” he jerked his head towards Boris.
“What do you want, Astor?”
“You’re always in a rush!” Astor snapped, his head whipping around, those eyes narrowing as he glared at Master Gabriel, but Master Gabriel nodded, that hand around hers then only soft, the corner of his lip twitching.
“I thought you’d be happy,” he said. “I’m in a rush to pay up, Astor. What do you want? The money or a prize?”
Master Astor turned back to his man then, his hand still in his trousers, his voice so quiet when he said, “I don’t need your money, Gabriel. We’re friends, I don’t want to ruin you.”
“I still have money.”
“Hmm…” Master Astor hummed, leaning his head against his slave’s shoulder and looking at Master Gabriel. “How much did you pay for her in the end?”
Master Gabriel lifted his head then, his eyes never blinking, something almost like a smile on his lips when he asked, “Is that your prize, Astor?”
Master Astor laughed again, a soft, quiet laugh. “Would you tell me if I said yes?”
“Are you asking?”
“Hmm, he may not be a berserker, Gabriel, but it still works.”
Master Gabriel stared at him a moment, his face so soft and blank, his eyes never blinking. “So that’s what you want?” he asked, leaning back against her hand and kicking a leg up over the other. “It’s always so loud, Astor, are you sure?”
“You could just tell me,” Master Astor said. “I’d take that as my prize.”
Master Gabriel stared at him a long while. “No, you wouldn’t,” he said.
“Maybe not,” Master Astor laughed. “But I’d let you choose if you told me.”
“Why would you do that, Astor, you won.”
“Aren’t we passed sticking to the rules now?”
“Rules are there for a reason.”
“Hmm…” Master Astor said, his hand whipping out so he could lick his fingers. “Last chance, Gabriel, it’ll be hard to bring a Fighter like him back from this.”
“It’s your choice, Astor? You won.”
Master Astor smiled then, his head tilting to the side, his eyes shining bright. “I did, didn’t I?” he said. “I’ll take the money. You may have to sell a few things to pay me, but you’ll thank me later. A Fighter like him should make you quite a bit and I’d be a bad friend if I took him away from you now.”
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