“Mind if I join you?”
Ronin barely glanced up to acknowledge his partner, Gavin. He stared at the other Ranger blankly for a moment, then once his words sunk in, he nodded and continued to stare straight ahead.
Gavin sighed as he lowered himself onto the damp earth beside Ronin. They stared out at the Gray Sea together for a moment, allowing the bustling of the city around them to pass by. They were sitting on a bench at the front of the docks, waiting for Fallon to return. Lyssa lay on the wood a short distance away, her ears drooping. After a moment, Gavin cleared his throat and asked, “What are you doing?”
Ronin shrugged. “Thinking,” he murmured.
“No,” Gavin said, his voice taking on a harsh edge. Ronin frowned as he turned to look at him. Gavin’s cloak and clothing were rumpled, his hair was messy, and his jaw was shadowed with the beginning of a beard.
“No what?” Ronin asked.
“You’re not just thinking,” Gavin grumbled. “You’re brooding. Stop it.”
Ronin sighed. “But Gav,” he started. “We failed. We didn’t save Shey, and now we may never catch up to her.”
Gavin shook his head. “Don’t say that,” he said. “Out of any of us, don’t you dare say that.”
Ronin turned to face Gavin, opening his mouth to protest. When he saw the urgent expression in his beloved’s eyes, however, he stopped. For as long as either of them could remember, Ronin had always been the energetic, happy one. He could see in Gavin’s eyes that, if he started to give up hope, then Gavin may fall apart.
He sighed, shutting his eyes and allowing his head to rest on Gavin’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just… I can’t believe she’s gone. I can’t believe that she’s been taken.”
He felt Gavin nod his head in agreement. “I know,” he said. “But have faith. We will find her again. I have an idea as to where this Rashid may be taking her.”
Ronin frowned, pulling back to look at Gavin. “Where?” he asked.
Gavin smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. In fact, his smile seemed more dangerous than humorous. “Shey’s a fighter,” he said. “And a man like Rashid, who has been up against her before, would take her to only one place where she can make the slave masters a profit. Likely, he’ll take her to the pits.”
Ronin’s stomach dropped at the thought. The Yiddans were fond of the fighting pits, where slaves were forced to fight to the death in order to entertain the nobles every day. Before he came to Winter Keep, Gavin had been a pit slave. For two years, he had fought nearly every night for his life. And almost every night, he had killed another man in order to stay alive. Ronin watched as Gavin’s expression darkened, his mind drifting far away.
Ronin reached out, resting his hand on Gavin’s cheek. He turned the other Ranger’s face toward him, looking into his eyes as he said, “Don’t go back there. Stay right here, with me.”
Gavin smiled. He reached up and placed his hand over Ronin’s, keeping it there. He sighed and said, “I’m right here.”
Ronin nodded. “Good,” he said. He leaned forward, kissing Gavin softly.
“All right, boys,” Fallon said as she returned. Ronin and Gavin sprung apart, glancing around them. Other than Fallon, no one had seemed to notice. And Fallon didn’t seem to care. Ronin sighed in relief. While the Rangers had accepted Ronin and Gavin being together, a majority of the rest of Azkadia didn’t seem to like the idea of two men being together. Thankfully, Fallon didn’t bat an eye.
“I’ve found us a ship that will take us to Yidda,” she said. “A battalion of Baldemar’s troops had been left behind because they were too injured to travel across the Gray Sea. They’re ready though, and the captain of their ship has agreed to stop by Yidda on their way home.”
Ronin and Gavin nodded, relief washing over them. “When do we leave?” Ronin asked.
“First thing in the morning,” Fallon answered. “The ship sails before sunrise, and we need to be here before they leave us behind.”
The Rangers nodded. Fallon turned and began to walk away, while Ronin and Gavin hurried to their feet to follow her. From behind them, Ronin heard Lyssa push herself to her paws and follow behind. When he glanced back at Lyssa, her head hung low and her tail dragged along the ground behind her.
They followed Fallon off the docks and onto the cobbled street, where she led the way to a nearby inn and tavern. As they walked, Gavin said, “Fallon, I have an idea as to where Rashid might take her.”
“The pits,” Fallon said without looking back.
Gavin and Ronin exchanged a glance. “How did you know?” Gavin asked.
Fallon reached into her pocket. When she pulled her hand out, she flipped something gold into the air. Gavin caught it, then looked down at the coin in his hand. Then he handed it to Ronin. He stared at the coin, frowning. One side was blank, while the other depicted a Yiddan fighting pit.
“Gredir gave me this before we left Miren Diréthe,” she said. “It was on the ground where Shey was captured.”
“Why haven’t you told us?” Gavin asked, an angry edge to his voice.
Fallon stopped, whirling around to face them. “Because I know about your past,” she said, staring up into Gavin’s hard gaze. “Because I know who you are, and where you came from. I know what you had to do in order to survive, and I didn’t want to burden you with your friend’s fate.”
“Well, I’m burdened now,” he snarled. “And you still should have told us!”
Fallon’s eyes began to glow, her pupils narrowing to slits. Ronin stepped between them, putting a hand to Fallon’s shoulder and another to Gavin’s chest. “All right, break it up, you two,” he said. “We’re not going to get anywhere with the two of you at each other’s throats. Let’s just go get a room, rest up, and prepare for tomorrow.”
They continued to glare at each other for a moment. Finally, they nodded and stepped away. “Fine,” Fallon muttered. “I’ll meet you inside.” Then she turned on her heel and stalked away, her shoulders tense.
Gavin sighed. Lyssa whined behind them, pushing her head between them.
“I know, Lyssa,” Ronin whispered. He wrapped his arms around her neck, while Gavin threw an arm across her huge shoulders. Ronin buried his face in her fur, saying, “We’ll find her, I promise. We’ll find her, and we’ll get her back.”
Later, as Ronin, Gavin, and Fallon settled into their room, Ronin took the first watch. His companions lay still in their beds, but he knew neither of them was sleeping. Lyssa was in the stables, and they all heard her mournful howls as they carried on into the night.