â€œStand down, Rakowsky.â€ Orsinâ€™s large fist caught Rakowskyâ€™s, stopping its path toward Bioncaâ€™s face. â€œOur priority is to escape back to our village. Let them be.â€
The slender man glared and wrested his limb back. â€œWhatever you say, boss.â€ He shouldered his way past Drake, who yet refused to look at his son. Gaiaâ€™s saddened, dulled eyes met with Oscarâ€™s. His were no longer wide-eyed and starry as they had been only a few short months ago; now they were passionless and devoid.
Mina cleared her throat. â€œYou are going to Vaslera, yes?â€
Orsin gazed at her stoically, his expression revealing nothing. â€œWhat makes you assume that?â€
â€œI have heard whispers of you.â€ She faced the woman. â€œYou are Dr. Pagetâ€™s child, are you not?â€ Beside her, her twin inhaled sharply, repeating the name under her breath.
Her face contorting into an infuriated grimace, she spat â€œThat manâ€™s no father to me! He abandoned me after mom died. He probably doesnâ€™t even remember I exist!â€Â She ground her teeth. Orsin laid his hand gently upon her shoulder.
â€œSure youâ€™re not just trying to sell people to the guilds for him to experiment on?â€ Bitterness sharpened Gaiaâ€™s voice. â€œThatâ€™s what you Vaslerans have always done.â€
â€œCool off, lady. The times have changed.â€ Rakowsky rolled his eyes.
Turning to her sister, Mina began, â€œGaia, I realize you have been hurt. However, the Volarchy has been sending Vaslerans into the guilds as well for the past several years. This pair began a resistance movement.â€ She waved her hand toward Paget and Orsin. â€œLet us accompany you to Vaslera. I believe it would be a balm for several of my sisterâ€™s many wounds.â€
The revolutionaries stared at each other. Pagetâ€™s burning eyes found Minaâ€™s and she nodded tersely. â€œMake yourself useful. We may run into trouble after we get out of here.â€ She spun on her heel. The ungainly octet groped its way through the darkness, searching for a way to re-enter what they hoped would be light.
â€œCome this way,â€ Mina commanded. She led them to a grate and pushed part of it forward to reveal a ladder. â€œThis will lead to surface outside the city walls.â€ One by one, they clambered up. The farther they ascended, the thicker the air became; eventually it caused Bionca to suffer an extended cough fit. Drake pulled her up after him onto the grassy fields around Taesh. Ash still clouded the sky.
â€œThis way.â€ Orsin began trudging to the northeast. He left large, muddy footprints in his wake. The others followed single file.
Three hours later, the earth began to tremble beneath their feet. All but Oscar and Rakowsky looked at the nearby volcano in alarm.
â€œRun, NOW!â€ Orsin boomed at his companions. Though their feet were weary, they sprinted as long as they could. As they paused to catch their breath, the first spurts of lava erupted from the peak. Bionca stood transfixed. The red-orange of the molten rock against the dark grey of the ash was mesmerizingly terrifying. Once again, Drake dragged her behind him. They began to climb a hill, hoping the lava wouldnâ€™t be able to reach them.
From the top, they watched a shallow, fiery moat form. â€œWell thisâ€™ll set us back just a couple minutes. Might as well enjoy the show.â€ Rakowsky sat down and held his head with his hands. He whistled off-key.
Ending on a particularly shrill note, the slinky man stood up and began walking down the hill. â€œDonâ€™t worry. It should be cooled enough to walk on now. Just donâ€™t step on the thick parts.â€ Rakowsky rattled off behind him. The air was sweltering.
â€œAre we sure we can trust him?â€ Gaia whispered anxiously to her sister.
The man smirked. â€œLady,â€ he started. â€œOne of my past jobs involved taking loads of lava samples. Probably the least violent job I ever had.â€ His eyes narrowed in haughty amusement. â€œLook, almost home free!â€
Next to him, Oscar spun suddenly, a flicker of awareness passing over his face. Rakowsky jumped aside, but lost his balance and fell near the advancing edge of the lava. He looked down in shock. The molten rock flattened like a cushion, then ignited on the manâ€™s leg. He remained motionless until Orsin dragged him up. His shin and knee were charred through their thin layers of fat and gave off the sickening scent of burnt flesh.
Rakowsky looked down impassively at his injury. â€œLetâ€™s get to Vaslera quickly. Thisâ€™ll need to be amputated.â€ Orsin carried him on his back as the travelers trudged on.
Though the sun was still masked by ash, it became obvious that it had set. Sighing, Orsin suggested they camp for the night and tied a spare shirt around Rakowskyâ€™s burnt limb. Soon, soft snores rose into the air, though two remained awake.
Bionca peered at her familyâ€™s sword. It was packed snugly into a revolutionaryâ€™s bag. She grabbed it and padded over to the burnt manâ€™s form lying far from the others, holding both the sword and her breath. Sweat beaded on her forehead as she reached the man.
â€œCome to cut your losses?â€ Rakowsky whispered at the woman, a wry smirk tugging at his thin lips.
â€œItâ€™s no more than you deserve,â€ she responded savagely.
He rolled over to look at his assailant. â€œYouâ€™re right. Go ahead. Avenge your fallen comrades.â€ She swallowed nervously, her knuckles whitening on the swordâ€™s hilt. He felt its tip upon his chest. â€œIf it wasnâ€™t for me, theyâ€™d both still be alive,â€ he taunted.
Tears welled in Bioncaâ€™s eyes and she fell down. â€œDonâ€™t you regret it at all?â€
â€œIâ€™ve killed too many to feel regret anymore. Iâ€™m just a heartless bastard who got your daddy killed.â€ The womanâ€™s brows knit together, a tear slipping down her cheek. â€œNow do it!â€
Faltering, she pulled back slightly before Rakowsky snatched her hand. She resisted, but his pull was insistent. The blade sunk into his heart. â€œThere. Now youâ€™re a killer tooâ€¦.â€