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Desperate Times

By Starsong Lightwing

Pain. Throbbing at the base of her neck, and in her head. Beneath her...cold, hard, rough. Concrete. She was lying on side, half over on her stomach. Her shoulders felt tight, her hands were together. She tried to move, bring them in front of her so that her shoulders wouldn't ache so, but they wouldn't seperate. Roughness against her wrists, fraying her feathers. Rope. She was tied.

Something impacted her side, rolling her over on her back. She moaned and forced her sluggish eyes open. Several faces leaned over her, none of them familiar. Then one appeared over her that she did recognize.

Her mind cleared abruptly in a rush of adrenaline as Milantha Lightwing stared up at the cold eyes of her former teacher, Shendar Darkfeather.

She fought down the irrational, paralyzing fear with a great deal of effort, angry at herself for letting him see it. She set her jaw, her eyes narrowing slightly, and forced anger to replace the fear in her eyes. She would not let him know how frightened she was. She dragged her eyes away from his, taking in her surroundings instead.

I might as well be in a concrete box. She could see the door just beyond Shendar, but the rest of the room was bare, sterile, and closed. No vents, no windows, nothing. Four people stood around her. Two of them looked to be only a little older than she; the other two looked to be in their mid-twenties. They all had the rough looks of street thugs. Milantha was quicker than Shendar had ever given her credit for, and she knew it. She put two and two together and hit him with it before he had a chance to gloat.

"You'll be dead for this, Shendar," she snapped. "No one leaves the Brotherhood. It's the Law."

"The Law," Shendar snorted. "What does a thief care about laws, blondie?" Milantha gritted her teeth. There were few names she hated being called more than that. He knew it. She considered assailing him with acidic, derogatory comments about his intelligence and heritage, as invective was the only weapon currently available to her, but blunt words only pierced soft hearts. If Shendar had one, it was harder than the concrete beneath her.

"Ask that again," she snarled instead, "When you're spitted on the end of someone's saber. There's gonna be a nice bounty on that pointy head of yours. Bet you didn't tell your new cronies what the Brotherhood does to traitors--" Shendar silenced her with a vicious kick in her side, but she saw it coming and rolled with it. She gasped, curling up and desperately trying to suck in the breath he'd knocked out of her, but reminded herself that it could have been worse. If she hadn't been prepared, that would have cracked her ribs.

Unfortunately, she was too busy recovering to see the next blow, and she saw stars as she slid further across the concrete floor and cracked her head into the wall.

*****

Milantha shivered as she came to again. The floor and wall were cold, and she could feel it seeping through her clothes and feathers, chilling her skin. Her prison was dark, the only light coming from the cracks in the door. Her arms ached from their awkward position, and she rolled away from the wall so that she could remedy the situation.

It wasn't at all hard to work her arms around in front of her, and once there it wasn't too hard to get the ropes undone. Shendar had to have known that it wouldn't hold her, she thought grimly as she rubbed her chafed wrists. That meant there was likely a living guard on the other side of that door. Even a junior could get past that pathetic barrier.

She had to examine most of the rest of the room by touch, biting back a yelp as her hand brushed cobwebs and something scuttled away beneath her fingers. Milantha felt about bugs the way most people felt about snakes. She forced herself to examine every crevice of the dark room, but all she succeeded in doing was killing some time--and a couple of insects. It was clear that the only way she was getting out was through that door, and she couldn't see any way of doing it short of breaking down the door and fighting her way free.

Against a former Honor Blade and four experienced fighters. After that, I think I'll kick the Enforcers off the planet and unite it under my rule.

She sighed and slid down the wall to a sitting position, putting her aching head in her hands and trying to think. How did this happen? I remember...we went out...I told Sparky I didn't need him to walk me back down to my room, because the poor thing was so tired, and I wouldn't let him argue with me. I stopped by to see Estelle before I went home...It was late when I left. Shendar must have jumped me on my way down. There aren't that many people on D level, if he got me on the stairway, no one would know. Milantha sighed. No one would look for her at all until morning, then. I wonder how long it would take them to get a full search together. And I don't even know whether they'll go looking right away, or wait to see if I just took off on my own for a while--

She tensed as the doors opened, automatically getting into a defensive crouch.

If the man cared that she was untied, he didn't show it. He just carried in a tray of food and set it on the floor near her. Then he stood there, watching her. He was one of the younger ones. For just an instant Milantha's mind flicked to all those movies she'd seen where one of the kidnappers fell in love with the beautiful heroine, and helped her to escape. Yeah, right, Milantha, you must still be fuzzy from that blow to the head. She considered jumping him, but she could hear voices in the outer room, and knew that he wasn't alone.

He was faster than she thought, moving forward and catching her chin in his hand, forcing her to look at him. He grinned, and Milantha fought the sudden, unbearable urge to scream. He grabbed her wrist in an iron grip and dragged her up. She pulled back, and he pushed her against the wall. Her vision blurred again but she didn't faint this time. She struck out with her feet, and he jumped back, releasing her. She glared death at him but she was shaking, and she knew he could see it.

"Knock it off," the light in the doorway was suddenly blocked by one of the older thugs. "Quit messing around, just feed the little rat and get back in here. Shendar's not ready for her to kick it yet."

"Aw, come on. I ain't gonna hurt 'er bad or nothing, the boss can still have 'er for whatever he's planning. I just wanted to have a little fun."

"You can take that up with the boss when he gets back, but I sure don't wanna be the one to tell him that someone else spoiled his good time. I don't know what he wants with her but you'll get us all in trouble if you mess up his plans. Now get back out here and do your job."

The younger man leaned over and grabbed Milantha's chin again. He leered as he leaned over her. "Later, sweet thing."

"Over my dead body," Milantha growled, jerking her face away. He just laughed in her face.

When the door shut behind him, she collapsed to the ground, shaking and trying desperately not to cry. Think, think, you know they'll come for you, Iliana and Sparky and Estelle, they'll all come for you, you just have to find a way to make it until then... Milantha wrapped her arms around her body. How long was I out the first time? Could it have been all night? Maybe it was morning already by the time I woke up, and then the second time--they're feeding me, so it must be at least lunchtime. Later, maybe, if Shendar's out, he wouldn't dare go out in daylight, right?

Maybe, panic whispered, but maybe you were only out for a couple of hours each time, and it's still the first night. No one even knows you're gone yet, and would Shendar really wait that long for whatever he was going to do? They'll never make it in time, not before that man comes back and--

Milantha's hand flew unconsciously to her necklace. Other than sentimental value, it was worthless, and no one had bothered to take it from her. Shendar doesn't know about the poison...Sparky and Estelle are the only ones I've ever told...maybe I can use it on them--How? They're out there and I'm in here. And there's only two doses in there, that's no where near enough for all of them. Milantha shuddered as the young man's leering face came unbidden into her mind. Over my dead body...is that what it will take, then? The thought was crazy, and she wouldn't have considered it at all, but she was hurt and confused and terrified. But the others--they'll come--

They won't be in time. And if they are...they could still get me back, get help...

Milantha's hands shook as she twisted the hollow tooth free of the setting. One dose to sleep for a day--two to sleep forever. I'm sorry... She poured the clear liquid into the glass of water they'd brought, and swirled it around. I won't let him do that to me...I can't... Her skin crawled at the thought of his touch, at the vivid image of him coming for her, his face so close to her as he laughed...

Milantha drained the poisoned drink and curled up on the floor to wait, begging her parents and her friends for forgiveness, praying they would understand.

*****

Pain. Her head ached, and her stomach muscles. Beneath her...warm, soft, smooth. A bed. She was lying on her back, covered with a white sheet. There was a pillow under her head. Her wrists were bandaged. She sighed and felt something tighten on her hand. Someone was holding it. The feel was familiar. Sparky?

"Lanny?" She opened her eyes, and sure enough the redhead was next to the bed, leaning over her worriedly and gripping her hand. "Lanny! You're okay!" He threw himself across her and hugged her tightly.

"Sparky..." Milantha managed to hug him back weakly.

"We were so scared, Lanny. What did you do that for? Didn't you think we'd come for you?"

"One of Shendar's men--he would have--I couldn't let him do it, Sparky...I'm sorry..." Tears ran down her face, and she started to cry. He helped her sit up and held her. She tried to explain, but she couldn't seem to say anything coherant, and Shockwave finally shushed her gently.

"It's okay, you're safe now, and Shendar's never going to bother you again."

"What happened?" she managed to ask quietly.

"You left something in Estelle's room, and she went down to take it to you before she went to bed. You weren't in your room, and she got worried. She woke up Iliana and they found your gun in the stairwell. They raised pratically the whole Lair, then, and we figured out Shendar was gone too. We were all out looking for you most of the night, and just before dawn, someone spotted Shendar. We--Marshall and Iliana and Estelle and me--followed him back to where he was keeping you. You were almost unconscious when we found you. I tried to ask you what happened, but you were passing out. You gave me your necklace, though, and when we figured out what you'd done, we got you back here as fast as we could."

"What happened to Shendar?" Milantha made herself ask.

There was a moment of hesitation before Shockwave told her quietly, "He's dead. He and his friends attacked us. Most of his people got away, but he was fighting Iliana, and--you know what the Law says about traitors. She said the others weren't worth going after, they were all just mercenaries Shendar'd picked up. General opinion is that he wanted out because he couldn't go any higher in the ranks, and so he set off to start his own little gang and grabbed you for revenge."

Milantha shuddered, and Shockwave hugged her. "It's okay, Lanny, you're home now, and Tarrin says you're going to be ok."

"Sparky?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm--I'm not sorry he's dead," she said quietly. "Does that make me a horrible person?"

"No!" Shockwave looked startled. "No, Lanny, you're not horrible." He looked at her, worried.

She smiled faintly. "Thanks, Shockwave." No, of course he wouldn't say so. He's too sweet. But I still wonder...

"I'll be right back, okay? Tarrin would only let one of us at a time stay with you, and it was my turn, and Estelle and Iliana'll be mad if I don't go tell them you're okay."

"Go ahead," Milantha sighed, laying back down on the pillow. I need a few minutes to think, anyway...or maybe a few months...or years... She closed her eyes against the fresh set of tears forming. Or maybe the rest of my life.

 

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