“Look, I really feel like you should re-evaluate some of your choices here. First of all, you’re following a thirteen-year-old boy – what did you think was going to happen? Second of all, if that boy finds out that you let us beat you, and drag you away from your post, how do you think he’s going to react?” Tolin shook his head, making a sound that would have been sympathy if it hadn’t been laced with sarcasm. “You’ve got some decisions to be making.”
Their prisoner glared up at the swashbuckler, frustration and resentment into his face. He struggled against the ropes that kept him bound to the chain, but other than grunts and angry breathing, he’d been silent since recovering from the blow to head that had rendered him unconscious.
Barely an hour ago, he’d been on guard duty at the Eel’s End, one of the two dozen ships at permanent dock along the south quarter, his unimpressed expression no deterrent to Tolin’s joval attempts to rile up the party-goers. He’d denied their group entry below deck, and Tolin’s answer was to start singing and passing around wine to create a diversion that would allow Ace, Tristor, Anne and Penny a chance to sneak through. It had worked, after a fashion, but in the end, their new friend had grown tired of the charade and had come to blows with Tolin.
Those blows had led to a knockout and being dragged away for a bit of questioning. Questioning which Ace watched from the rear of the room, tamping down her impatience, letting Tristor and Tolin do the talking.
Physically the man was nearing his breaking point – again. She had already healed him once, bringing him back from unconsciousness and the possibility of death that lay a short distance beyond that dark shore.
But the particular observations about life decisions and steering oneself down the right path, coming from a man who always seemed to be a hair’s breadth away from a memory-tainted rage, struck Ace has hilariously inappropriate.
“I don’t think you, of all people, should be giving life advice, Tolin.”
She’d meant the comment to be funny, a light jab at his sometimes unstable nature. But he stilled, his shoulders stiffening. He whirled on his heels, a sharp look on his face as though he’d taken a bite of something rancid, and returned her quip just as sharply,
“What, and you are, runaway?”
Runaway. For a breath, Ace felt suspended outside of herself – her heartbeat slowed almost to a stop and she felt so light-headed that she expected to both topple over and float away from her body at the same time. By all the wandering stars, he had not just said that.
Everything came back into focus as she leaped across the small table at Tolin. Her fingers curled into claws as she reached out for the strike, but she was nowhere quick enough to actually catch him off guard. He caught both her wrists before she could latch onto his throat, but her forward momentum from the far wall and over the table sent them both crashing backward to the floor.
“Take it back, you bastard,” she growled wrestling herself out of his grasp so she was free to claw and strike at him as Moro did with downed enemies.
“What is wrong with you?” he grunted, taking a solid hit to the chest. “You started it!”
“I. Didn’t. Run. Away!” Ace grated through clenched teeth. Despite her anger though, after a few hits awareness of the room began to set back in, and she remembered they weren’t the only two in the room.
Abruptly she cut off the attack, realizing both what she’d done and her position astride Tolin. His arms were raised, his forearms over his neck and face, but when she caught herself, he began to lower his defense, still glaring at her.
“Wow, Ace. That was really mean.” Tristor’s dry voice hinted at his normal mix of sarcastic amusement and disinterest. “But you realize we’re in the middle of something, right?”
She glanced up at the prisoner – looking at her as though she’d grown another limb. He likely hadn’t given her much thought since she’d hung back from the “conversation” earlier, but now he clearly wasn’t sure if her newfound wildcard status made her the biggest threat to him.
With a huff and a barely held back snarl, Ace jerked herself off Tolin and back to her feet, grudgingly offering him a hand. He hesitated, then accepted.
“Great,” Tristor infused a clearly false note of satisfaction into his tone, his finger tapping rhythmically against the crossbow trigger. The bolt was aimed between their captive’s legs. “Can we continue now?”