Equilibrium

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30: The Savior

Renn, 1167

The next morning, we woke to an empty house. Dean had already left. The sun rose, lazily hovered in the midday sky, and set once more. Dean did not return. He had taken his bag of bread but left two loaves for us sitting on the table in the corner, and I hoped that meant he intended to come back. We were depending on him, now. I ignored the voice in the back of my head insisting he had abandoned us, just like everyone else I’d ever depended on.

My father was sick, retching, and I comforted him, trying to get him to keep down some of the bread that Dean had left us. I wished I knew what Dean was going to do. But, since I didn’t, I supposed I just had to survive the day, which included trying to take care of my father. We didn’t speak of his absence the past week, nor the Choosing. We didn’t speak of much at all.

Whatever help I must’ve expected for Dean to bring, it wasn’t what arrived late the next day. We sat in our home, my father lumped up against the wall, when feet crunched lightly on dry grass, stopping politely in front of our rickety door. I jumped up from where I was sitting on the floor and opened the door, eager to see Dean’s face once more.

What I was greeted with instead was the most frightening man I’d ever seen. He was tall, bulked with muscle, impossibly strong. He was covered in tattoos of different snakes in various positions, coiled all over his arms and neck. It looked like they were waiting to strike, and so did he. I froze, my mouth fell as wide open as my eyes.

Dean peeked out from behind this terrifying man and greeted me cautiously with a feeble wave.

“Hi, Renn. I’ve brought help.”

He stepped out from behind the large man, and I unfroze enough to notice there were a couple more people waiting in the dirt road behind them. They must be the backup, though I doubted he would ever need it. They looked bored.

He looked down at me, eyes boring into mine.

“You’re Renn, yes?” he questioned.

I nodded, shaking.

“And this heap of filth on the floor over there, that’s your father, yes?”

I nodded again, lip curling in indignation at the insult to my father.

“He owes me a lot of money,” the man said, eyes now taking in the state of our cottage, “and it appears that he does not have anything to repay it with.” He returned his eyes to me. “Do you have anything of value?”

“No?” I responded, unsure of what he meant. How would I have any money that my father didn’t have? Dean had already asked me the same thing, anyhow.

“Your friend here has convinced me that I should be merciful. So, I shall let your father’s debt be forgiven,” the man’s voice boomed in our quiet cottage threshold.

“Really?! Thank you!” I said, suddenly elated. I couldn’t suppress the smile that erupted across my face. We were saved!

“But – wait, do not get too excited, little girl,” said the man softly, a hint of pity in his voice.

I sobered immediately, instantly fearful. I cowered under the man’s gaze.

"You owe me, now,” he said, pointing towards me with his hand. “Your father goes free, but now you owe me.”

I scrunched up my face, confused. “What does that mean?”

The big man stepped closer to me, crowding me against the open door. Fear rippled throughout my extremities, the adrenaline shooting through my fingertips.

“You come with us, now. You are property of the Naga gang.”

He stepped back, allowing me air to breathe. My eyes darted around wildly, unwilling to acknowledge his words.

“What’s your name?” I asked, my mouth speaking before my brain could stop it. It was the first thing I could think of aside from cursing him and running away. But I wouldn’t be my sister, whose failed escape attempts only resulted in false promises and shackles.

“Kane Marsa. Did you hear what I said, little girl?”

I nodded. Yes, I had heard. I looked back into the cottage at my father’s weak frame. He had made the effort to stand, leaning against the door frame a few feet behind me. I’d half expected him to hide in the corner, away from his debtors. His bloodshot eyes were sunken in, his skin hung around his bones. The bruises mottled his skin, and I felt disgusted. He was my father; I shouldn’t be taking care of him, assuming his debts, cleaning up his messes. He should be the one taking care of me. I remembered fonder days, the days where my father was a strong, healthy man, who was there for us. Those were the days when he’d showed us how to be brave, how to be strong, how to be the people we wanted to be. And look at him now, wasting away, a product of his own weakness. There may not be bravery without fear, as he often liked to remind us when we were children but seeing him now made me realize that bravery is not always enough.

I looked up at the man, apparently named Kane Marsa.

“I will do as you say, Mr. Marsa.”

I peered over his shoulder at Dean, who looked at me apologetically. Kane Marsa extended his hand towards me, his palm facing upwards.

“I give you my word that no harm will come to you in my care,” he said, looking over his shoulder at Dean. “Your new friend here was very persuasive.”

I took it.

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