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“Who protected you?” he asked.

“Plenty of people,” she shrugged. “My parents until they were caught. Who else is there?” she shook her head. “She’s my responsibility.”

“She’s not a child anymore, the only one responsible for her is herself.”

“She’s just a kid,” she said, her eyes narrowing into thin slits as she stared at him. “She’s only seventeen, she’s not an adult.”

“You were a child.”

“What’s your point?” she snapped, getting to her feet. “Whose fault was that, hmm? The Head-hunters came for my parents so people like you could do all this!” she shook her head. “They wouldn’t keep coming if people like you would stop buying us. It’s all your fault, all of it, and now you want me to turn my back on her and pretend like none of it happened? She’s my family, that means something to me, it means something to her and you can’t take that away from us.”

She stood there, her chest heaving, her hands clenched into fists as he stared at her, those eyes never blinking, his head tilting to the side, and she expected those Implants to flicker, she expected him to speak in that soft whisper and tell her to get out.

“There’s a chance we could use that,” he said. “The best way you could be useful to me is by building a reputation. If you did that and we leaked Iris’ information, chances are her Master will try to make contact or start telling the others that he has your sister just so he could tie himself to you in some way.”

She stared at him a moment, her chest still heaving when she asked, “A reputation?”

“Hmm,” he nodded. “Cassie did it, she still has a good one. I’m from a small house in The Suburbs and Cassie was able to beat a lot of the bigger Master’s Fighters. They still come to see her, they want to, you understand? I get invited to places I wouldn’t normally be so the others can take a look at her. That’s why she’s useful to me. You do something like that and we might be able to flush her out,” he said, and she stared at the screen, her eyes darting over all of those faces and then she nodded.

“I get it,” she said. “I get it, I’ll train harder.”

He sighed then, a big, loud sigh, those Implants flickering a little quicker as he said, “You need to start asking the right questions, I’m getting tired of teaching you everything. You already have a start of a reputation, think about it for a moment before you open your mouth again.”

Her eyes flicked to him, watching those Implants, watching his eyes go dark and burn. “You could just be clear for once,” she said. “I’m not an idiot, but I can’t read minds.”

“By The City, Phoenix, I’ve spelled it out for you so many times now. You had nothing and you built that,” he said, nodding his head towards the screen where she saw a model of her Radar, her eyes narrowing into slits as she watched it spin. “And you attacked four Head-hunters. They’re already interested in seeing you, you just have to make sure you have something to show them.”

“You’re going to let me fight with my Radar?”

“There’s no tech in the Fights,” he tutted. “But just because you’re a Fighter doesn’t mean I have to use you in the Fights, start asking the right questions.”

“What do you want me to ask?” she shook her head.

“Figure it out,” he said, those Implants flickering, his eyes narrowing. “I don’t need you to read minds, but I need you to be able to think ahead. What are you good at?”

“Tech,” she said. “…and hunting.”

“Finally we get somewhere,” he said, kicking his boot in the air. “Go get a stool, you’re giving me a headache,” he said, his face scrunching up in a scowl.

She stared at him, her forehead lining in a crease, her eyes then darting around the room. That sofa he’d put her on so long ago was sunk into the floor, the back of it facing his computer, a fireplace with a few ottomans and pillows in front. There was a large bed off to the corner, a table with chairs near the balcony doors, but he hadn’t said that she should take a chair and she was starting to learn that this man chose his words carefully. She didn’t say anything as she walked over to the fireplace, her bare feet making no sound at all on the thick carpet, and she came back with a small ottoman, placing it just beside him where she’d been crouching before. He sighed, leaning back in his chair, his hands clasped in front of him as he tapped the tips of his fingers to his lips.

“No other Woodlander has a crossbow like that,” he said, after she’d sat down. “And that’ll be a lot easier to build a reputation with. Ah!” he said, holding his hand out, those Implants flickering a little quicker. “Stop before you ask me another question you shouldn’t. You’re not dumb, Phoenix, it’s time for you to start acting smarter. If I put you in a room full of Masters and give you your crossbow, are you going to shoot what I tell you to shoot or are we going to have a problem?”

Phoenix stared at him, feeling a burning in the pit of her stomach that she didn’t expect to feel. “I-,” she started.

“Hmm, that’s why I asked,” he nodded. “You’re not in The Forests anymore. You hurt someone here, then there are consequences, so I’ll ask you again, are you going to shoot what I tell you to?”

“Of course, I will,” she said, her face so tight, that burning brighter. “Shooting them isn’t going to find her.”

“I never said I wouldn’t ask you to shoot anyone,” he said, those tips of his fingers then still. “You belong to me, you understand? If I told you to kill them all, you’ll do it. That’s how this goes and that’s how it’s going to go. If I can’t trust you to do that, then you won’t go at all.”

“I get it,” she said, a sharpness, an edge to her voice when she spoke. “You don’t have to keep reminding me. I’m going to do what you say, I’m not an idiot, I know you’re my best chance at finding her.”

“Even if I told you to shoot Belfire?” he asked, and she went so still, her eyes never blinking, her face so tight.

“Why would you do that?”

“Answer the question,” he said, and she shook her head, that burning even brighter, her heart even heavier.

“He’s not mine.”

He breathed then, a big, loud breath that came out of his nose and those fingers started tapping his lips again. “Relax, Phoenix, I didn’t say I’d tell you to shoot to kill… I don’t need to tell you what his answer was, do I?”

“I-,” Phoenix started, her hands clenching into fists, her teeth grinding together. “Why are you doing this?”

“Ask me one more stupid question and we’ll be done here.”

“I…” she shook her head. “There’s nothing else to ask. I’ll do it, I’ll shoot anyone you want me to, what else do you want to hear?”

“Answer me this, Phoenix, and give me a good answer and I’ll let you watch me work tonight… if it came down to my life or yours, who would you choose?” he asked, and she stared at him a long while, her eyes never blinking, her body so still, but then she shook her head.

“I already chose,” she said.

“I suppose you did, but I want to hear you say it.”

“Tell me you’ll keep looking for her.”

“I will.”

“So I’d choose yours.”

“Hmm,” he nodded. “That was the easy part, Phoenix, you’re not afraid to die, I’m not sure that you ever were, but you’ll have to figure out a way to live for me. That’s going to be a lot harder, but you’ll have to do it. I don’t want to go through all that effort of finding her for you not to be here afterwards.”


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