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Phoenix didn’t know if Mia listened to Belfire, but she knew she couldn’t. She waited for him, hearing their boots out in the corridor after training and the other doors click shut. She knew it was him, listening to him walking up to his door and opening it, and then she opened hers. He turned around to look at her, his eyes a little wider, his skin a little warmer like it was turning from the sun. He sighed, only a short, quick sigh, his eyes darting around the corridor, and then he started walking, pushing past her and closing her door behind him.

“There’s nothing to say, Phoenix, you understand that, right?” he said, bowing his head so he could whisper. “I don’t know anything about them and he’s listening.”

“I know he’s listening,” she said. “I’m just looking for ways to find her, he knows that.”

“Just think about-,” he cut himself off, sighing again and shaking his head. “It’s not just about what he knows,” he said then, his voice so quiet, his head bowing lower. “Think about it, Phoenix, what do you think would happen if another slave heard you talking about this, hmm? They could start getting their own ideas and you and I both know they won’t make it out of this place alive or they could go to the Master themselves and he’d have to punish you. He’d have to act on it, you know that, right? No matter what he knows, he’d have to make an example out of you and what you’re trying to talk about now would get a free person sent to The Mines.”

She stared at him, watching those eyes burn. They weren’t dark like the Master’s, they weren’t like any colour she had ever seen before, they were almost green, almost brown, a hazel sort of colour, his sun-kissed skin something she had never seen before either. She shook her head, looking away and staring at her bunk.

“I just need to know,” she whispered, and he sighed again, grabbing her arm and pulling her into a far away corner of her room.

“Listen,” he said, his voice quieter than she had ever heard it, his breath hot on the skin of her shoulder as he bent down to speak in her ear. “I don’t know much, I know they exist, that’s about it. They attack Masters and steal their slaves. They mostly target Woodlanders, but that’s all I know, no one can talk about it, you understand? The Masters get rid of anybody who does.”

“So they’re real?”

“Yes, they’re real, but trust me, you’re better off in The Fights. Trying to get involved with that is the most dang-,”

“How could I make contact with them?” she cut in, but Belfire sighed, shaking his head and looking at the door.

“You can’t, Phoenix, don’t you understand that?”


“I don’t know,” he said, his eyes flicking to hers. “That’s the truth. I stayed away from them, I had people I care about.”

Phoenix stared at him a moment, watching those eyes, watching that chest heave, but finally she nodded, leaning back against her wall and staring at her door. She didn’t know if she believed him, but he wouldn’t tell her anymore, that much she knew, but she had an idea who would. She stood outside his door later that night, her eyes fixed on that keypad, her back and shoulders so stiff. Would she get just the rod for going in without him calling for her or would it be something worse?

She stared at a moment longer, knowing what she had to do and it was only her that could do it. She pressed her hand to the keypad, hearing that hiss of the door sliding to the side, her eyes already finding a pair of boots by the step. She kicked hers off too, not sure what she would find when she turned the corner, but she was not expecting to see Cassie standing there, her head bowed, her hands clasped behind her back and those Implants flickering furiously. He glared down at Cassie, his arms folded across his chest, his fingers tapping at his arms.

“See?” he asked. “Do your job, Cassie, I’m not here to do it for you.”

“Yes, Master,” Cassie nodded, her voice so quiet, her forehead lining in a crease.

“And you,” he said, leaning against his desk, those dark eyes then flicking to Phoenix. “Rules mean something here, Phoenix, I thought a Woodlander like you would understand that.” She felt her skin go tight, her eyes darting to watch Cassie, but Cassie only bowed her head further. “Well?” he asked, his eyebrows rising, those Implants flickering even quicker. “Do you have something to say for yourself or are you just here to waste my time?”

She opened her mouth to speak, her forehead lining in a crease, her eyes back on Cassie, but nothing came out. “I wanted to talk to you,” she said finally.

“Address the Master properly!” Cassie snapped, her head whipping up, her eyes narrowing.

“That’s not how this works, you should know that already,” he said. “Half-rations for a week, Cassie.”

“Yes, Master,” Cassie said, her voice so soft, her head bowing.

“For you,” he said, those Implants flickering, his eyes narrowing. “And if I have to do your job again, I’ll think of something much worse. Get out,” he said, jerking his head towards the door and Cassie bowed, her face a tight wince, her cheeks so pale. “Not you, Phoenix, you and I haven’t even started yet.”

Phoenix’s heart beat so quickly, her skin tight, her breathing a little heavy when she heard that door hiss. Her eyes flicked to him, watching those Implants, watching that finger on his arm go still, and then she stood a little straighter, knowing that soon she may not be able to stand at all.

“Rules matter,” he said, his voice so quiet, his eyes so dark.

“I know,” she nodded. “I just needed to know if-,”

His hand whipped out, his eyes so cold as he held a finger out to stop her. “I know you don’t care about yourself, but I don’t want to die,” he said. “The next word out of your mouth could kill me so think before you speak.”

She stared at him, her eyes never blinking, her mouth so dry, and then she nodded. “I just wanted to know.”

“That’s not how this works,” he said. “I let you help me yesterday for your sake, not mine. I don’t need your help, your help is dangerous, Phoenix, don’t you understand that? It took you less than a day to almost bring my house down. Not another word,” he said, those eyes narrowing into slits. “Not until you learn to watch what you say, words mean something around here,” he said, and she stared at him a moment before she nodded, a quick, short nod, and she heard him sigh as he reached a hand up, pinching the bridge of his nose and shaking his head. “Get your stool, you’re giving me a headache.”

He was already sitting in his chair, his fingers flicking and flashing across that red light by the time she’d come back. She didn’t make a sound as she sat down beside him, her back already a little sore, but her eyes fixed on that screen. It didn’t look like he was going to show her anything new, that screen darting and flickering too quickly for her to catch, but finally he sighed, leaning back in his chair and rubbing at his lips.

“I have a lot to do,” he said, his eyes flicking to her. “Let’s just put it this way, the rules here matter more than anywhere else, even more than the ones from The Forests. Now we’re just going to agree that that’s the end of it.”

She stared at him a moment, watching those dark eyes, watching those Implants flicker almost softly, almost gently, and she nodded. “I understand,” she said, and he sighed again, his eyes flicking back to the screen, his fingers tapping at the arm of his chair.

“You’re too smart for me to be treating you like a child, Phoenix, don’t make me have to do it again.”

“Why do you use that?” she asked, nodding her head towards that red light. “You don’t need it with those,” she said, looking at his Implants, and for a moment he looked like he was about to say something to her in that whisper again, his eyes cold and sharp and dark, but then he sighed, leaning his head back against his chair and closing his eyes.

“I like it,” he said.

“Yeah, but then someone else could use it,” she said, but he laughed, a short, airy laugh, the corners of his lips twitching.

“Only if I let them.”

“So you locked it?” she said, leaning in closer to look at that light. “Fingerprints or DNA?”

“Why would I tell you that?” he asked, lifting his head to look at her, the light in his eyes so bright.

“DNA’s cleaner.”

“Then why did you use prints?”

“Well, I learned from it, didn’t I?” she shook her head. “No one’s using my Radar.”

“Hmm…” he hummed, and she turned to stare at him.

She didn’t know why she asked, she didn’t want to know, not really, it didn’t even matter anymore, but still she found herself saying, “You already cracked it, didn’t you?”

“Why would I do that, Phoenix? What am I going to use it for?”

She stared at him again, her heart a little heavier, her mouth a little drier. “But you could.”

“I can crack a lot of things,” he sighed, leaning his head back down and closing his eyes. “That’s my job.”

“So you haven’t used it?”

“It’s rude to touch someone else’s tech.”

She didn’t know why she did it, only that she did and that it came so easily. Maybe it was because she hadn’t expected him to say that, maybe it was because it made so much sense that he did, but she laughed, a quiet, little laugh, as she shook her head and looked up at his screen. She sat there, so still and quiet for a moment, a small smile on her lips as she watched that code stream and flicker across it.

“You ever let anyone else use it?” she asked.

“No,” he said, and she nodded.

“Me neither. Iris has used my crossbow, I mean, she can, when she has to, but… What is your job, exactly?”

He closed his eyes, a smile on his lips when he asked, “Why would I tell you that?”

“I didn’t know Masters had jobs.”

“Everyone has a job,” he said. “Nobody lives in this world for free.”

“You just work with tech or-?”

He shook his head, only softly, only gently, his eyes flicking open to stare at her and she went quiet, watching him, waiting, but he didn’t say anything, his eyes closing again as he sighed.

“I’m hungry,” he said. “What do you want to eat?”


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