Ilya pulled back from Cael, sniffling.
“What did she say?”
“We need to go.” He gently eased her off of his lap and looked over to Mari still leaning in the doorway. “Use a language she can understand, please; if only to make this whole ordeal just a little easier”
Mari sucked at her teeth, “Seems as if she only knows the one. It’s not my fault it’s the one I don’t know.”
“Fine!” She pushed away from the door
“Um, Mari,” Sieffre peeped from the kampdator, “bad guys, still in the halls.”
“I’m only saying… indoor voices.”
Her eyes widened. “Ahh… yeah, that’s a good idea.” She made a hesitant move before stiffly leaning back to glance quickly both ways down the hall. Ilya looked to Cael again.
He sighed and cleared his throat again. “Seiffre, you’ll help Mari out with the Sakhimi, won’t you?”
“Of course!” He whispered excitedly.
Ilya watched Cael rub his stubbled face up and down a few times before he groaned to his feet. He took his time straightening up, pushing against the small of his back with both hands as he stretched. When he reached to take her hand, she the noticed angry, red welts around his wrists, but didn’t say anything.
“Well,” he sighed, “do we know where we’re going?”
“Jyes, Sieffre es leading the whay.”
Cael shot Mari a look that Ilya didn’t understand.
“Fine, let’s move.”
“Ah… I may have a problem.” Wheezed Alberich. He had been so quiet everyone seemed to have forgotten he was there, unbelievable as he took up most of the room. “My feet, I don’t know if I can walk.”
As bad as Cael’s wrists were, Alberich was much worse off. The already enormous feet were now red and engorged with deep cuts zigzagging around the swollen flesh of his ankles.
“Agh! Shen… dieu… frgailla!”
“Mari, be nice please.”
“Oh, Mr. Alberich.” Ilya put a hand to her mouth. “Can you even stand?”
The large man took a deep breath and used the narrow, metal table to heave himself up, relying on its bolted legs to hold it in place. He was standing but was breathing heavily and obviously in pain.
Cael cleared his throat.
“Ah, Alberich how’s your head?”
His eyes darted from Cael to Mari and back before responding.
“To tell you the truth,” he paused, “I’ll be able to maintain for now, but if I run into Lukas in this condition….” He shook his head with a sigh.
Mari looked to Cael.
“He’s the one who put me in here!” Ilya interjected.
Mari looked around the room. Ilya couldn’t tell if she was thinking or if Sieffre was talking to her privately.
“Right, long storeh can whait.”
Ilya hadn’t realized how tall Mari was until she watched the woman step up to Alberich and pull one of his arms over her shoulders. The large man still dwarfed everyone in the room, but Mari fit comfortably under his arm without requiring him to slouch over too much. She even seemed to bare his weight without too much difficulty. Then why had she fainted earlier?
Mari walked Alberich out, and Cael followed, pulling Ilya along by the hand. The halls were still dark with dim emergency lights flickering here and there. The going was slow and even with the blue lamplight; Ilya couldn’t see the hall beyond the two large silhouettes leading the way. She compulsively found herself looking backwards into the blackness, terrified she might see the men from the locker room. Several times, the blue lamp would be turned off and they would sit quietly in the darkness for countless minutes at a time as Sieffre kept their little group safe from passing danger.
It seemed like a long time before they finally came upon a clerk’s window. The glass pane that hung over the counter was foggy, shattered but somehow still intact, betraying an earlier failed attempt to break in. Mari tried the door next to the window and it opened easily. They all shuffled in and Ilya could hear the door lock safely behind them. The lights in the ceiling warmed to a comfortable glow. Ilya blinked and looked around as her eyes adjusted.
“Where are we?”
“Depahtment of Personaleh Affects. Try to find jyour stuff. At the very least whee all need shoes and coats.” Mari was already rifling through the clear, plastic bins lining the shelves around them.
Cael dropped Ilya’s hand as he approached the first wall of shelves.
“You know, these bins are labeled.”
“Someone stole mah coat earliah, need a new one. Ooh!” At that she pulled out a flimsy, metallic cloth. She immediately pulled down the dirty jumpsuit and kicked it away before stepping into the new, shiny business.
Cael shook his head and continued around the corner of the first standing shelf.
“Alberich, the men’s affects are back here.”
“Would you mind grabbing my shoes for me?” He had found a convenient sitting perch at the window’s counter.
“Suppose I could. Oh… Ilya, there’s something for you back here.”
Ilya realized she had been watching Mari squirm her way into the apparently skin tight jumpsuit, and quickly made her way around the corner.
“Cael! Is that my bike??”
“Yeah, I guess they didn’t know what to do with it.”
“What is it doing here??”
“I used it to escape Lukas’ ship.”
She walked over to the welcome sight but stopped short when she noticed its condition. Gently, she ran a few fingers over an ugly dent that dragged out into an angry series of gouges. She looked back at Cael, her eyes wide and accusing.
“Well, the escape obviously wasn’t very successful.”
“Should we try to take it? Is it even running?”
Cael shrugged and frowned.
“I would be helpful if we could sit Alberich on there… move a little faster.”
“You can’t sit him on there, he’d break the bike!”
“Well… that’s obviously not true. He’s already ridden on it.”
“And is that how these happened?” She pointed to the gouges.
“You know, you two aren’t in a separate room. I can hear everything you say.”
Cael winced, “Sorry.”
Ilya didn’t say anything but squinted at Cael angrily before turning back to her bike.
It wasn’t long before everyone was properly shoed and coated. A hideous, green coat was found for Ilya, oversized for her tiny frame and furry like the woman’s in the holding cell, but much warmer over her riding jacket. Even Alberich was able to find a puffy, black coat that fit his large frame. Cael’s laveli skin was found, which he slapped onto his arm for safe keeping. The old kampdator was there too, but its innards rattled and tinkled with any movement and Cael decided it was too hopeless broken to bring along.
Ilya watched Mari lock the belts into place up the length of her black boots. The soles were thick and flat, definitely not feminine; a contrast to the figure hugging suit she now wore. Two seams ran from her hips up to the high collar, one of which she left open to reveal an asymmetrical view of her chest. It left Ilya with a militaristic impression, and a garish one. She looked up as Cael rounded the corner with her bike and blushed as he looked over Mari.
“Mari, you look like a prostitute.”
“That’s because thes belonged to a phrostitute.” She hopped up happily and twisted back and forth. “Keeps jyou wharm whithout all the bulke.”
“You can wear that under your other jumpsuit, can’t you?”
“Bah! I whas in that holding cell for a wheek! There es no way I jyam putting that filth back on.”
“What did you do to get thrown in there for a week?”
“What did you do?”
“What, hmm? What did I do?”
“Mari?” Cael’s eyebrows furrowed down in suspicion.
“Nothing… Long storeh… okay? I’ll tell jyou later.”
“Hmm…” He grumbled to himself, “fair enough.”
“And why do you care what I look like? Worried about my honor?”
“Trying to escape jail successfully and keep a low profile. This…” he gestured up and down her length, “may draw some attention.”
“Oh, jyou flatter meh.”
“Let’s… just keep moving.”
Mari sucked at her teeth and shook her head mockingly, “Come on, big boy, time to get up.” She ducked under Alberich’s arm to help him stand. Cael pushed the bike after them and Ilya followed close behind.
Back in the hall, they trusted Sieffre to lead the way to Mari. Before Ilya realized it, they were already outside in the cold night. The street before them glowed in orange light; tall, straight buildings lining either side as far as Ilya could see. Engines could be heard in the distance but there were no people in sight. It was almost anticlimactic
They all looked around, their breath puffing out around them.
“Whell,” said Mari, “now what?”