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12. Another Turn of the Wheel

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I stayed with Irish for an undetermined amount of time. Until my eyes were able to focus and most of the swelling calmed down. Until I could stand on my own two feet without cringing. And despite her arguments to the contrary, she allowed me to go home. There were wheels turning, most of which I had set into motion with Linkon’s untimely passing. And I was fully prepared to reap the cost of my…insubordination.

Irish assured me that she would relay my absence to the right people, but she would not be responsible for how they decided to handle it. I understood and was grateful that she was willing to play the part of unfortunate messenger as it was. Coming from her, Colt was bound to keep his cool and attempt to make the best of things. Lately he was wound up pretty tight, putting a huge emphasis on his orders being followed. I had gone and murdered the opposition’s lead enforcer, the king demon himself, without anyone’s permission or instruction. And in doing so, I had managed to make an already complicated situation even more so.

Either the war would end, the madness would stop, and Colt would take control, as he was meant to.

Or Dacien would cry havoc and let the madness boil over, throwing the streets and circus into pandemonium. The city would pay the cost of my harshness, and she would not rest until her point was made.

I was hoping for the former, but my chances of the latter seemed much more likely. Dacien didn’t have a very peaceful, forgiving reputation. But I was prepared for the worst.

I had taken to hiding out in the circus in the darkest corner I could find, after trying some time at home and finding myself a bit apprehensive after the attack. It hadn’t been the first time Dacien Ransom had dropped in on me, and I was sure it wouldn’t be the last as long as she could find me. Then again, no matter where I went, she would be sure to locate me. I was hoping to rest and heal up some before dealing with Colt and Dusk. Which, for the most part, happened.

Until I woke up to Colt’s severe gaze fixed on me. I had tried my damnedest to prepare myself for this moment, but nothing I could say would be good enough.

“So you thought you’d take matters into your own hands eh?”

I coughed a little, sitting up abruptly. I wasn’t sure if I was about to get a lecture or another beating. I was halfheartedly hoping I still looked horrible and he wouldn’t be able to retaliate. But I had defied the master’s orders, taken the war into my own hands and risked the lives of countless innocents. My actions could not go without punishment.

“I couldn’t let him get away with it again.”

“And so you decided to murder the other team’s leader without warning anybody? Without considering what might happen? Did you even think for a moment that somehow your actions might affect someone other than yourself? Did you?”

“Colt…I’m sorry.”

He shook his head slowly. “So am I.”

And with that he pulled me up from the nape of my neck and dragged me out of the circus. I was led all the way to the front gate, though his grasp relaxed some once I’d reached my feet. This place was one of safety and salvation, whatever his plans were, they could not be carried out within the circus.

We moved down the sewers until we were a safe distance away from the entrance, and still a decent amount away from the bar. He turned then to face me.

“Dacien’s loyalty has always been questionable, at least to her faction. Now, with Linkon gone, they look to her for strength. They need someone to take charge. And she’s doing just that. Anyone who opposes her is beaten to within inches of their lives and abandoned to the streets. Any compassion she once felt towards us has been lost.”

I kept my eyes locked to his, as this carefully prepared speech played out. I figured it was now or never.

“You love her, don’t you?” My voice was soft but sincere, pulling at his heartstrings. He glanced away from me for a moment before turning to lock eyes on me, cold as sin.

“That’s irrelevant, the point here is how your mess has damned us all.”

“It’s entirely relevant though. She’s now playing for the other team full time. She won’t play with you anymore. You’re heartbroken, aren’t you?”

And he reached out with such force that I would have hit the ground had his hand not been clamped around my throat. For about thirty seconds, Colt Brogan was gone. Everything that made him the responsible leader that he once was had been replaced with the cold shell of a man now desperately demolished. I was slammed backwards into the wall, which my head hit with a solid thud.

“I am not heartbroken. Understand me? I am Colt Brogan, and my primary mission in life right now is to keep this operation secure. Any deviation from the plan can result in severe loss of life. And I’m not prepared to take that risk.”

He reached behind his back and pulled a handgun I’d never seen before from his waistband. He used it so sparingly I had never seen it up close. He held it pressed tight to my forehead. I just stared at the piece, beautifully crafted, recognizing it upon closer inspection as the same weapon I’d used on Linkon. It clicked softly.

“Control is the only way I’m going to keep my family alive. The only way we’re going to survive. We must maintain order, there can’t be any deviation from the plan.”

I took a breath slowly, locked onto his eyes. “And what is the plan?”

He smiled a little. “To survive.”

I played through everything I could say in my mind to try and convince him to stop. But his actions were warranted, my fate accepted, and despite my own heart tearing in two, I knew this had to be. I could not be permitted to walk away. This betrayal needed to be answered for. An example had to be made.

And just as his finger began to squeeze down on the trigger, another soft click rang out next to his head. I shifted my glance slightly to the left, following the outstretched arm, and the same confident smile I’d seen only weeks before.

“You were saying?”

Colt stood frozen, the gears in his head attempting to sort out his few limited options. He could attempt to pull the trigger before she did, taking me down with him. Or he could let go and hope that his own death would wipe the slate clean. One way or another, he was going to die, and he knew it. There was no escaping that. But whether or not I would was the issue at stake currently. His grip on my throat tightened as the weapon shook in his hand.

“Easy now, lover. Just put the child down, she’s still of use to me.” Dacien’s words were even and short, to the point and direct. Colt turned to face her, his eyes hard.

“You could betray me so simply for him, knowing the monster that he was? Knowing that his time was running out, knowing his fate was richly deserved?”

She shook her head slowly. “You don’t understand Colt. Family is family, despite its monstrosity. He was all I had left in the world. And she stole him from me. Her life is mine and mine alone. Blood for blood, remember?”

And for a moment, for the first time in my life, I can say he looked defeated. The gun dropped to his side. He leaned in slowly to kiss me on the forehead, before stepping back finally, his eyes locked to mine. Dacien’s arm followed his every move, positioned perfectly over his ear. At such close range, there was zero chance of survival. And they both knew it.

As we all stood locked on one another, I watched an arm slip around Colt’s body from behind as a syringe was jabbed violently into his throat. The harder he fought, the more his body gave in to the drug, until he was finally on the ground. And behind him, holding the syringe?

Dusk.

“What the hell are you doing?” I heard my voice without realizing it had escaped my lips. Dacien and Dusk both seemed almost surprised to hear it as a sinister smile snuck across her face. She crept closer to me, pulling me into her, pushing the gun into my stomach.

“Survival of the fittest.”

Click. Bang.

I coughed as I grasped onto her, laughing a little. “What happened to three years?”

She tucked the weapon in her waistband, lowering me to the ground as blood began to pour out again. Dusk stood by, wide-eyed and lost. This hadn’t been part of the deal. He had been commissioned to deliver his brother, nothing more. And as she put her hand on top of mine, applying pressure to the wound, I realize that this too was a matter of appearances.

“I said I wouldn’t come for you for three years. But I never said you wouldn’t have to fight for it. How bad to you want to survive Deacon? And not for nothing, you of all people should know that nothing is as it seems.”

I nodded my agreement, my breathing becoming more erratic as time slipped away. I heard slow, shuffling steps as Dusk dragged Colt away. And another set of calm even steps, stopping right over Dacien’s shoulder. Staring up, I found Irish standing there, cold and distant.

“They’re easier to fix when you don’t shoot them you know,” she muttered, leaning down to pick me up. The more I tried to figure out her role in this, as well as Dusk’s, the less sense it made. Her and Dacien spoke for a second about matters I no longer cared about as I started to slip out again. And then it was over.

Curtain. Scene.

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