Chapter 6:

Two orphans, united in their sin.

UnCrowned


“You’re a real special kind of asshole, Khan, you know that?”Bookmark here

“That means a lot coming from you.”Bookmark here

“If you ask me, I reckon you should stick to what you’re good at.” Vynn shook a bag of pink powder at the screen. “Keep making Madrid. Child trafficking isn’t a good look on you.”Bookmark here

“This isn’t child trafficking.”Bookmark here

“Of course, let me tell the police that.” He made a high pitched voice. “No officer, that isn’t a tied up fourteen year old in the back of the van.”Bookmark here

Vynn chuckled to himself. “I’m not judging you, mate. ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone'’ and all that, but let’s not pretend this is something it isn’t.”Bookmark here

Khan stared back at him. It was hard to tell what he was thinking behind that mask. “The Black Lion will be dead by the end of all this.”Bookmark here

“And the Honeybadger?”Bookmark here

He paused. “We’ll see.” Bookmark here

We’ll see. He said it plainly, but there was a hint of rage shading his voice. Bookmark here

Vynn brushed his hair back with a comb. “You seem sure it’ll be them.”Bookmark here

“I could be wrong, but it’s my best guess.”Bookmark here

“You’re putting a lot of money on a guess. I’m sure your advisors aren’t happy with you pulling a Quill.”Bookmark here

“I don’t know how Zek does it in Brontes, but in Veragreen, we don’t abandon our own. Not that you would understand.”Bookmark here

Vynn laughed at the insult. It was clear his reputation preceded him. “No no, I get it. I’m not going to complain about getting paid. My concern is Poseidon. I didn’t think you’d go so far as to hire him too. You trying to go bankrupt or something?"Bookmark here

Khan lifted his mask, just enough to breathe in his cigarette. Smoke escaped his scarred lips. “He’s worth every cent.” Bookmark here

The Warlord stood, tapping out ash offscreen. “That’s all. Go check in on the girl.”Bookmark here

“Veragreen’s more than just Pierce now.” Vynn brushed back a final strand of hair. “A lot of people are relying on you. Remember that.”Bookmark here

The monitor turned black. Bookmark here

Guess it’s none of my business. He left the office in the back and returned to the main warehouse. Lys sat by the van, still eating her cake.Bookmark here

Wait, no it’s her second cake. There were bits of cream on her nose, her cheek, and her dinosaur beanie. How she managed to get it up there, he had no idea.Bookmark here

Vynn pulled out a ring of keys. “Car keys, closet keys, bedroom keys, fridge keys...back-up fridge keys...Ah! My other car keys.”Bookmark here

He twisted it in, and the van door clicked. He banged three times. “I’m coming in, okay?”Bookmark here

Vynn counted to ten in his mind. At ten, he lifted the door. Bookmark here

Priscilla Marinton sat wrapped in blankets and pillows. It was well lit, a jug of water was right within reach, and she had a stack of books to keep her entertained. She wasn’t tied up either. For being a hostage, it was one of the more comfortable stays he’d seen. Bookmark here

“You doing alright, princess?” Vynn asked. Bookmark here

“Eat shit and die, you son of a bitch.” She threw a pillow at him. He let it land, hoping it’d make her feel better. “Asshole! Shithead!”Bookmark here

It didn’t. Bookmark here

“I was just asking if you were comfy,” Vynn sighed. “Work with me here.”Bookmark here

“Screw you and your fairy-ass accent!” She threw another pillow. This time it hurt. “This isn’t my first kidnapping. You better watch yourself, else I beat you and your slut Queen.”Bookmark here

“You were kidnapped before this?”Bookmark here

“By the triad. Locked me up in a damn shipping container.” She tilted her neck. A pink scar stretched all the way down. “They gave me this."Bookmark here

“Oh, that is sick!” Vynn stepped in for a look. Priscilla tensed up when he got close, but as he stared, she angled the scar under the light. The details lit up: the mushy pink of the wound, the mangled skin around it. Bookmark here

“That is awesome,” said Vynn.Bookmark here

“Isn’t it?” Priscilla ran a finger down it. It flexed strangely when she touched it. “Father said it was unsightly.”Bookmark here

“Your old man’s a bloody idiot. That looks cool as hell.”Bookmark here

She kept her finger on the scar. Her eyes darted to his belt, from one rapier to the other, then to Lys just outside. “Have you heard from him?”Bookmark here

“I wouldn’t know. I’m just the delivery man. I’m sure your dad’s been negotiating though.”Bookmark here

“He won’t pay.” She tugged her knees to her chest. “I’m no good as a hostage.”Bookmark here

You’re not a hostage, you’re bait. Vynn played around with the thought of saying that. Ultimately, he gave a boring reply. “Of course he’ll pay. You’re his daughter. That means something.”Bookmark here

“Not to him.” Priscilla sneered. There was a note of desperation in her laugh. “The last time I was kidnapped, my father told me he should have never paid the ransom. He said he should’ve let me die. He called me an ungrateful bitch.” Bookmark here

“That’s a shame, innit? Guess that means I can’t pay my rent this week.”Bookmark here

Vynn watched her face for a hint of amusement but she was completely still. Sighing, he kicked away some of the pillows, making himself some space next to the girl. He shifted his cap. “My dad was a very religious man. Very religious. A lot more than just praying before dinner and Church on Sundays. He thought he was some sort of ‘new-age prophet.’ You can imagine he thought it was a sign or something when my mum got pregnant with twins.”Bookmark here

Vynn stuck a cigarette between his lips. He immediately took it out when he remembered Priscilla was beside him. “My dad thought it was some divine message that he was having twins. Some sign that he was in God’s favour.”Bookmark here

She watched him intently as he talked.Bookmark here

“But life has its sense of humour,” he continued. “My brother’s lungs collapsed as soon as he took his first breath. Dead, before his first minute on Earth. My mum died from blood loss pretty soon after. But me? Seven pounds eight. Healthiest baby the midwife’s ever seen. I was the only one who left the delivery room; blood on my hands before I ever opened my eyes.”Bookmark here

“That wasn’t your fault,” said Priscilla softly.Bookmark here

“Doesn’t change anything. Not in dad’s eyes. He called me Devil’s Spawn. Said I was Satan pretending to be his son. At first, he had his friends, priests and exorcists, come to ‘show me the way of God.’ When that didn’t work, he just beat me. Forced me to pray for hours on end.”Bookmark here

There was a long silence. He was waiting for Priscilla to break it.Bookmark here

“What happened next?” she asked.Bookmark here

Vynn stood, grinning. “I earned my nickname.”Bookmark here

Vynn pulled a razor blade out from his sleeve. It glistened a sickly orange under the light as he laid it on her palm. He closed her hand, his fingers wrapped tightly over hers. Two orphans, united in their sin. “Maybe you should earn yours.”Bookmark here

                                                                                ❖
Bookmark here

Lev reached to pull down Priscilla’s blindfold. He stopped himself halfway. What was the point? What would he say to her?Bookmark here

His hands fell to his sides. She would be gone soon. If she had to die, spending her last moments in darkness was better than spending them waiting for an inevitability. Bookmark here

It’s better this way, Lev told himself. He turned away, complacent with his decision when a sharp pain shot through him. A burning pain; one so hot, the blood that sprayed out felt cold by comparison. Bookmark here

He felt the pain strike again, this time in the opposite direction. Metal, pulled out of flesh. Lev spun around. Hazel eyes glared back, dull and wet. Priscilla shook, hands clasped tight around a bloodied knife– the knife he dropped. Bookmark here

Her hands were not tied. Her blindfold and gag were on the ground. She had sat there, all through the chaos of the chase, waiting for this moment. Bookmark here

Lev slipped back, the roof too low to stand fully. Priscilla readied her weapon again and swung with all her strength. But she had never killed before; she knew neither the skill nor the conviction. Her blade only grazed him. Bookmark here

He hooked her outreached wrist and yanked. In one motion, he smacked her against the floor of the van, pinning her down. The knife flew from her grasp. Bookmark here

“Get off me!” Priscilla struggled. She threw her fists at him; less punching and more flailing. “You piece of crap!”Bookmark here

Lev caught a punch and forced her arm still. “Calm down, I’m here to save you,” he lied.Bookmark here

“Bullshit!” Priscilla spat on his mask. She tipped her chin and screamed, her voice hoarse. Lev moved on top of her, pressing a knee over her other arm and gagging her with his palm. Her squirming grew less violent as he slowly let his full weight onto her. Bookmark here

Then he took off his mask. Bookmark here

Her eyes went wide. He waited for her struggles to stop before letting her speak. Bookmark here

“Zaytsev?” She gasped for air. “Lev Zaytsev?”Bookmark here

Lev lifted himself, one limb at a time. He checked if she would run and when she didn’t, let her free. She only stared at him, bewildered, as he put the mask back on. Bookmark here

The girl with the dinosaur hat was still unconscious. Lev carried her onto the road and removed the gun from her holster. He pointed it at Priscilla. “Get in the front seat.” Bookmark here

She was motionless. Lev aimed to the sky, firing once. The sound jolted her awake and she began inching her way over. Bookmark here

His muzzle followed her until she was seated. Only then did he get in the driver’s seat himself. Thankfully, the keys were still there. The van gave a low hum when he turned them. He kept one hand on the wheel and the other on his gun, still tracking Priscilla with his gaze.Bookmark here

He drove like that, reversing the van and going back the way they came. The road stretched only as far as the headlights would allow. The streets were quiet now, the few people that were about having long left. Around this part of the city, most knew to mind their own business and stay away from trouble. It was second nature to them. Gunshots and corpses became as mundane as grocery trips and ice cream trucks. Bookmark here

Lev waited for Priscilla to speak first.Bookmark here

“This is all a dream.” The breath rasped in her throat.Bookmark here

“You have no idea how much I want that to be the case.”Bookmark here

“This is all a dream,” Priscilla repeated. “I was watching your concert. That’s why you’re here.”Bookmark here

Lev kept his gaze on the road but he could hear her shiver in her seat. “What was I playing?”Bookmark here

“How the hell would I know? Something depressing for the hundredth damn time.” She forced herself to laugh. It came out choking. “Why can’t you play something happy for once?”Bookmark here

He remembered the blue butterfly. “I’ve forgotten how.”Bookmark here

“Prodigies don’t just forget music.”Bookmark here

Lev had no reply for that. The road was starting to look familiar. They were close. Bookmark here

“My father made me learn the cello,” said Priscilla. “Because of you. Be like the Zaytsev son, he said. Look at him. He is everything.”Bookmark here

“What grade were you?” It was a stupid question. He had nothing better to say. Bookmark here

It took her a second to remember. “Six.”Bookmark here

“Disappointing. I had a diploma when I was your age.”Bookmark here

“I just don’t like anything about the cello. It’s dumb. It’s just noise.”Bookmark here

“You’re not meant to like the cello. It’s all muscle memory. You play one note, and then the next, and you keep going until you finish.”Bookmark here

“So you don’t like it,” said Priscilla.Bookmark here

“No.”Bookmark here

“Then why play it?”Bookmark here

“To be the best,” said Lev. The words were not his.Bookmark here

Priscilla sneered. “Maybe you’re not a genius. That’s why you’re working with gangsters.”Bookmark here

Lev thought of her father. His terrible smile, the way he talked down to Quill. Was that how I looked? He felt a pang of guilt. “There’s a lot worse out there than gangsters.”Bookmark here

“You sound like one of them. All you’re missing is a mohawk and some tattoos.” He heard her swallow and her hand moved to her face, as if to wipe away tears. “You’re sure this is a dream, right?” Bookmark here

The van came to a stop. A figure stood in the headlights, her blue hair black against the light and her skin pale. She was hunched over, breathless and battered. Her shadow cast wide across the pavement– a mangled shape.Bookmark here

No words were necessary. She was Death, they both knew, infinite and absolute. Bookmark here

“All a dream,” Priscilla whispered. She pressed back in her seat, desperately hoping she could sink into it. Bookmark here

She looked to him. Bookmark here

Don’t.Bookmark here

“I’ll give you money.”Bookmark here

“Your father disowned you.”Bookmark here

Priscilla clenched the seatbelt until her knuckles were white. “I’ll work. I’ll pay it off. Please.”Bookmark here

Astri was approaching them. Priscilla gripped a razor blade in her tiny hands, arms outstretched. She shook as she held it. Against Astri, it was like a lighter to a flamethrower. Bookmark here

“If you attack her, she shoots,” said Lev. “If you run, she shoots.”Bookmark here

“Then what do I do?”Bookmark here

He breathed in. The words came to him naturally, as if he had always known them. “Wait here.”Bookmark here

Lev got out of the van. Astri gave a tired smile and waved at him, her arm dry with splatters of blood. “You got her. Good job, kid.”Bookmark here

“What happened to the man?”Bookmark here

“Vynn’s not a problem anymore.” Astri gripped the van door and threw it open. Priscilla was sobbing openly. “I don’t know if you believe me, but I really am sorry about all this.”Bookmark here

“Astri,” he said. “We need to talk.”Bookmark here

“We can talk later.” She drew her pistol. “You should look away.”Bookmark here

Lev pressed his gun into her back. He thought she would flinch but Astri was still, almost as if he wasn’t there. “Give me your phone.”Bookmark here

Priscilla’s eyes flashed to him. Bookmark here

“Are we really doing this?” asked Astri, pulling her pistol back. Bookmark here

“Your phone.”Bookmark here

She passed it to him. It was a flip phone, almost completely covered in stickers. The parts that weren’t had pastel pink underneath. “Have you thought this through?”Bookmark here

“Plenty,” said Lev, thumbing through the contacts. “Which one’s Quill?”Bookmark here

“Big Q.”Bookmark here

“Seriously?”Bookmark here

“Just call him.”Bookmark here

Lev gripped the phone tight to keep his fingers from shaking. He waited for his heartbeat to stop ringing in his ear, then pressed call. Seconds later, a voice greeted him. Bookmark here

“Hey, what’s up.”Bookmark here

“It’s me,” said Lev. Bookmark here

“Hey hey. How’s it hanging?”Bookmark here

No turning back now. “I’m not letting her die. Not by my hand, not by Astri’s, not by anyone’s. No one needs to have blood on their hands.”Bookmark here

“I see.” He didn’t sound surprised. “Did something happen?”Bookmark here

“I had a change of mind. That’s all.”Bookmark here

“Is Astri okay?”Bookmark here

“She’s fine. I just borrowed her phone.”Bookmark here

“I’m guessing you have her at gunpoint.”Bookmark here

“Is that another gut feeling?”Bookmark here

“No,” said the king. “You called me on the ‘Big Q’ line. That’s only for when Astri is compromised.”Bookmark here

Lev glared at Astri. She still had her back to him.Bookmark here

“Being lucky is good. Being prepared is better,” said Quill. “Now, what are you going to do about Pierce? A deal’s a deal and I’ve got a reputation for keeping my word.”Bookmark here

“You do. That’s why I want the coin flip.”Bookmark here

Astri jerked her head back. “Don’t.”Bookmark here

“Been a long time since anybody asked for the coin,” said Quill. “Honestly, I almost offer it for the theatrics now.”Bookmark here

“Spin it, Quill. Heads, I work for you and the girl dies. Tails, the deal continues but she lives.”Bookmark here

There was laughing on the other end. A dry laugh. The snicker of a fox. Lev could imagine it across his face, the silver tumbling along his knuckles. There was a clink of metal against wood. “Alright. Let’s do this.”Bookmark here

Metal crossed the air with a hollow noise. It dropped back on wood, spinning. Lev waited for the sound to cease. Both Priscilla and Astri were staring at him, quiet. Bookmark here

The coin slowed, then stopped. Quill shifted in his chair. Bookmark here

Lev held his breath. Quill’s laugh came again, slicing through the silence. “It’s your win, Black Lion. The girl lives.”Bookmark here

Lev met Priscilla’s eyes. He nodded and she clutched her chest, breathing in. A weight was lifted off their shoulders. Bookmark here

“For god’s sake, Quill,” Astri sighed. Bookmark here

“A man doesn’t throw the dice and then quibble with the roll,” said Quill. “Tell Astri that.”Bookmark here

Lev lowered the phone. “Quill said a man doesn’t throw the dice– “Bookmark here

“–and then quibble with roll, yeah I know. I know.” Astri shook her head, gesturing for the phone back. He gave it to her. “It doesn’t matter. We have bigger things to worry about now.”Bookmark here

Astri pointed to the middle seat with her gun. “Move along, princess.”Bookmark here

Priscilla did as she was told, satisfied to take servitude over death. Astri moved to the driver’s seat. “C’mon kid, we have to go.”Bookmark here

“Back to Quill?” Lev asked, getting in the van. Priscilla sat between them.Bookmark here

“No, Veragreen’s blocked all the roads.”Bookmark here

“Already?”Bookmark here

“They knew we were coming.” Astri started the vehicle. “The chase was just to lure us in.”Bookmark here

From down the road, where no streetlamp stood, they could hear engines revving up. Dozens upon dozens of them, a rushing roar. A thousand headlights stared back.Bookmark here

Astri changed gears. She tied her hair back in a hasty bun. “Strap in.”Bookmark here

Bookmarked
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