The loading door rose and slammed shut, sealing Avril in darkness that was only broken by the flickering electricity that danced between his arms and the metal ring.
He let out a ragged breath as fear and pain replaced the anger and disgust he’d generated to defy the bondsan.
That he was still alive was surprising. At least four of Thorn’s bondsan were dead, and Avril was undeniably linked to their deaths even if he knew nothing about them or why they were looking for him.
His chest shuddered, and he pushed back tears of rage and fear.
It’s done. They won’t let me live now.
Avril asked himself, Is this it? Was that my life? Twenty-three years of running and living on scraps?
He took another breath and felt his body becoming calm again. Fuck the gods and the cowards who serve them.
Electricity tingled on the underside of his arms, and he realized they were slipping down and a shock was imminent. Avril raised his arms and looked at the device holding him in place. The bondsan said she’d rigged it to contract if the flow of power was interrupted. He didn’t expect to survive a prolonged shock, and he wondered if she’d said that to provoke him into taking his own life.
The bondsan had orders not to kill him, and Avril guessed that was the only reason they hadn’t. Thorn said their lord wanted him alive, and Avril knew their lord’s desires outweighed their own.
Perhaps they’re using a loophole. They can’t kill me, but I can kill myself if they give me the means.
The electricity continued to dance. Which of them was showing their true feelings. The woman or Thorn? Avril had seen pain behind Thorn’s carefully composed expression.
If they want me to kill myself, is it out of malice or mercy? he wondered. Is it even possible for them to deviate from their lord’s instructions or their god’s desire?
Avril pushed the thoughts aside, his captors’ motives, no matter how shallow or deep, were irrelevant. He suspected they knew they were on the wrong side, but they’d spent a lifetime there, and no matter how much they chaffed against it, an encounter with one salvager wouldn’t push them to defy their lord or their god.
Maybe it’s not even the wrong side. When the only thing that matters is protecting the people you love, do sides or morals or anything else even matter?
Avril looked at the metal ring and thought, If I push my arms against it and disrupt it, I’ll either overload it or get myself killed.
He closed his eyes and wondered, Can I get out of this any other way? Is anything good waiting for me when they deliver me to Lord Mikkel? If the best I can hope for is life as a chosen’s captive, what does that say about the alternatives?
Should I wait for a better chance? What if this is the best chance I get?
Avril took a breath and realized, I’m fucked. This is it. There’s nothing good after this. I either escape or die trying.
Another breath and he opened his eyes. He gathered his will to act, but first, he thought, It would have been nice to get to know Zin and Laurill and meet the others.
He didn’t know them, and he was certain he’d never met either of them before, but the connection between them was undeniable, and he would have liked to find out what it meant.
Be safe, he thought.
If he died attempting to get free, the cadre would have no way of extracting Zin and Laurill’s location from Avril, and then they’d go after them and the others.
The idea of the cadre subjecting either of those women to this kind of torture stoked Avril’s rage back to life. He almost pressed his arms against the metal and pushed blindly with his jamming abilities in angry defiance of reality, to win through on fury alone, but he stopped himself.
My life might not have been much. How could it be in this empty, brutal world? But my death won’t be empty. Avril thought, As long as I’m alive, the cadre will try to get me to give the others up.
He took another breath and pictured Laurill and Zin in his mind’s eye. His face hurt too much from the beating to smile, but he decided, I’ll hold them off for as long as I can. I’ll pretend I’m holding out, and when I break, all they’ll learn is that I really am ignorant of everything that’s happening.
That tragic truth almost made him laugh.
The assault vehicle shifted as if under the weight of somebody moving around inside it with him. Avril listened, fearful the cadre had left somebody in the truck with him but out of sight behind him, to start the torture unexpectedly.
“Avril,” a voice whispered in the dark.
“Laurill?” Avril whispered back, recognizing the voice even though he’d only heard her speak for a handful of minutes.
“Quiet,” Laurill whispered.
“How did you—”
“Go, before they come back,” Avril whispered.
“Not without you.” Laurill came forward, and Avril saw her features in the dim light of the flickering electricity. She looked concerned as she studied his face.
Forcing a bravado he didn’t feel, Avril said, “I’ve been getting acquainted with my captors. It’s not so bad. I think they like me.”
Laurill gave him a weak smile, then turned her attention to the device around Avril’s arms. “Can you jam it?”
Avril shook his head. “It’s designed to stop me.”
“How do I turn it off?” Laurill asked.
There was a click, and blinding light flooded the back of the assault vehicle. Avril squinted and turned his head away from the lights mounted in the back of the car.
“We have to be quick, they’re coming back,” Avril said.
“It’s too late. They’re already here,” Laurill said.