Gromet's Plaza
by AmyAmy
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© Copyright 2013 - AmyAmy and all that stuff. This work may not be reproduced for profit or without this attribution.
Storycodes: Solo-F; MF; public; conversation; revelations; conclusion; slavery; cons; X
Betrayal Chapter 10: Unexpected Temptations AmyAmy Solo-F; MF; public; conversation; revelations; slavery; cons; X
continued from chapter 9

Part Ten

Chapter Forty-Four – Unexpected Temptations

I met Marcus near the airport a week later. He had made reservations at some over-priced hotel restaurant. He was already waiting when I was shown to the table. There was no sign of any bodyguards, minders or hangers on. I had expected someone older – more statesmanlike – not a man of action. My expectations were way off base.

At first sight of him my heart skipped a beat. Like Dehlia there was an undefinable presence about him, but that was where the resemblance ended. From the moment that I sat down my attention barely registered anything but him. It was as if our surroundings had disappeared.

I could put part of it down to his appearance. He was tall, thirty-something years old in appearance, and with a close-cropped golden beard and moustache. He was dressed in a short-sleeved shirt, tie and suit pants but he made it seem casual. There was an easy strength about him, both mental and physical. His physique was all hard muscles, whip-cord tight like he’d just mustered out of special-forces. If it wasn’t for the cold blue magnetism of his eyes I would have spent the whole time checking out that body.

The moment my gaze met his I got a feeling like an electric shock right down my spine. I didn’t breathe. I couldn’t look away, or I didn’t want to. There was nothing sinister about it. Far from it – I knew he was feeling something too – I never wanted it to end. This was the man who had architected the destruction of my life. I had expected to hate him, but instead I found I had other things in mind.

“Mei-Xing I presume?” He said, breaking the spell. Of course, he also mentioned my family name, but I have left it out.

“And you are Marcus?” I said in English. I was still studying and never passed up an opportunity to practice it.

“That is correct. Pleased to meet you. May I call you Mei?”

“If you prefer, though the name I usually give to English speakers is Lauren.”

“Lucas told me you were pretty, but the man was a liar, you are far more than that. Please forgive my impoliteness. I’m sorry. I wasn’t prepared for such a beauty.”

Coming from someone else, I would have laughed at such flattery, but Marcus could carry it off. I felt a rush of blood to my face. I hadn’t felt such an honest reaction since before my ‘marriage’. I hadn’t expected to be so affected by him.

I laughed awkwardly, squeezing my hands together in my lap under the table. Suddenly my mind was a blank. I didn’t know what to say.

“I’m sorry, I’ve embarrassed you. I didn’t mean to pass judgement. Any woman might be born with a pretty face or a pleasantly shaped body, and you have all those things, but you have something else, something remarkable that comes from within. I can feel the strength and determination like the heat from a furnace,” he said.

“You may simply be basking in the heat from my face, which I’m sure is glowing bright red by now,” I said.

He laughed, then nodded, smiling.

“You must think I am an idiot. It was not my intention to put you ill at ease.”

A laughed, more easily this time.

“No. I cannot imagine that,” I said.

This was terrible. I was smiling like an idiot. I had thought I was immune to such feelings. I reminded myself that last time I’d felt attracted to a man it had ended in catastrophe. I would never be able to trust my judgement where they were concerned. Did Marcus intend me ill? I was so busy second-guessing and third guessing myself I had no idea. I was lost, with no landmarks, no sense of direction, no path to follow.

“If I can stop making a fool of myself I’ll try and get to the point. I know an apology doesn’t count for much compared to what you suffered but I’m very sorry for what happened to you. Sorry indeed. It was, as you probably know, my fault for putting stupid ideas into Lucas’ head. When I realised that he was going to go through with it, I didn’t stop him as I should have. I believed that it would be impossible to dissuade him, but that wasn’t the only way to end things.”

“What do you mean?” I said. My head was starting to clear a little. Even though he was being so earnest I felt his gaze was drawn to more than my face. I was used to men staring at me, but his attention was more than that, and better. Did he really find me so fascinating? Even if it was simply lust, I didn’t mind.

The initial rush was fading. As long as I never looked in those eyes again I’d be safe, but my gaze was elsewhere, scanning that tight, hard body of his. The blood had left my face, but concentrated somewhere else. My attention traced down his chest, stopping at his empty place-setting, trying to imagine his cock beneath the table. I imagined that it was as magnificent as the rest of him.

It was ridiculous. He was talking about how he set in motion the events that destroyed my life and all I could think about was what his fingers would feel like on my nipples. It was slut behaviour. I would not let him do it to me. I would not.

A bitter grimace must have formed on my features as I mustered my determination. I could tell by the look on his face that he thought that he had upset me.

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to imply that stopping him by force was the only other option. I know it sounds hollow. Instead of forbidding it as I should, I sent Yue to interfere, disguised as that noxious Sarah woman. I convinced myself that you had agreed to participate eyes open and were fully committed to the plan of your own choice, but that was an indulgent self-deception. I cannot begin to imagine how I might make some amends for my actions.”

He massaged his temples with his hands as if trying to relieve a headache. I took my time thinking about my answer and before I could speak the waiter arrived and began his routine. I hadn’t even looked at my menu. Lucas ordered something expensive sounding. I glanced at the menu but I couldn’t focus.

“That sounds good. I’ll have the same,” I said.

Lucas ordered some wine. I had no intention of drinking it. I doubted he did either, but at least the waiter went away.

“I expected you to be angry. You have a right,” he said.

“I’m not angry, just confused. I don’t care about amends, or compensation, or vengeance. I’m not looking for those things.”

“You really mean that? You seem like a person with a considerable untapped reservoir of rage.”

“I had a bellyful of revenge already. I don’t feel any better because of it. I just want to know why you are interested in me and maybe get some answers to my questions.”

“I broke my own rules when I put the idea of that plan in Lucas’ mind. My deepest principle is that people should choose their own futures and that is one reason I can never agree with Dehlia, but you didn’t have the chance to choose because of the devotion I’d instilled in Lucas.”

It wasn’t easy but at last I was managing to keep my attention on his words. He’d come a long way to talk to me. It seemed stupid that I could barely follow him because of the giddy schoolgirl infatuation that seemed to be taking hold of me. I wasn’t going to let him roll up and smooth talk me that everything that had happened to me was…

I couldn’t figure what he meant to say, but I wasn’t going to repeat the mistakes I’d made with Lucas. I had to shut down the thing between us before he decided I was an easy fuck. Given what I knew about him and his business, that sort of thing would end up with me leashed, collared, chained and on my knees. I would not let that happen. At least I wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone – of if I did it wouldn’t be my fault.

“I understand you started it all. I understand that you regret it, but do you know the extent of the damage? You should understand that what Lucas did was a lot more than simply denying me a choice. Take a look at the nature of the choices he stole from me. Put them in some context. It wasn’t some abstract question of ethics. I was tortured, turned into an object, my dreams were destroyed and finally the greed for revenge turned me into a monster. The life I had planned can never happen now that I know the truth about power.”

He listened quietly, though I sensed it was difficult for him. What I’d said certainly got his attention, but I wasn’t done.

“I have become a wretched narrow minded person that thinks all the time of sex, pain, violence and strength. I’m addicted to parts of the world that he showed me and there is no way back to innocence. I’ve felt things that no person should feel and there is blood on my hands. A normal life isn’t enough. Love. Romance. Impossible. Right now I can’t look at you without thinking about what you did by proxy, the sort of things you do to women, and how I will never let you do them to me again.” I kept my voice low, but I didn’t try to hide the bitterness, anger and resentment.

He shook his head sadly. I’d hurt him. Didn’t I say I didn’t want more revenge? That I wasn’t angry? No… I wasn’t trying to get revenge; I was just trying to push him away. I wasn’t weak any longer. I knew how to protect myself and I was thinking that a teaspoon of prevention would be worth a litre of cure.

“I think I’m making things worse, but I’ll say it anyway. I could have guessed the damage, and I do mean all the damage, but I was full of self-righteous zealotry. I let the end justify the means. I set standards for myself but I fell short of them. I told myself it was putting the needs of the many above the few, but I had fallen to hubris. Those decisions were not mine to make. I betrayed myself and my principles. I must never make that mistake again. It’s unconscionable that it took your suffering and two deaths to teach me some humility. I apologize without reservation and I am certainly willing to discuss how I may prove my sincerity.”

He was obviously a man used to acting when others could or would not. It had cost him to admit how his arrogance had got the better of him. For a man like him to admit even the possibility of hubris was to give something away, but there was an echo of Lucas in his final words, and it set me on edge. It took all my strength to answer him calmly and honestly.

“I accept your apology. But it’s not what I came here looking for. The things you speak of are done. There’s nothing you can do to fix that, even if you wish you could. What bothers me most now is that I can’t move forward. I’m looking for something, answers, advice, anything that might help me find a life that doesn’t end in disaster.”

I had never expected to see such a look of surprise on his face.

“You? Disaster? No…”

“I’m not quite as strong as you make out. Strength and happiness are different things anyway. There’s a hole in my life and I don’t know how to fix it.”

Even as I said it I wondered if that was true. I’d already felt the possibility of something new with him. That wasn’t going to happen but it had opened my eyes. It was common sense that we never have a relationship beyond the conversation in progress, but perhaps one day it would be possible to get that feeling from someone who wasn’t an international slave-trader and destroyer of lives? If I could just find someone like Marcus, but not like Marcus. Yeah, I know I sound stupid.

“You may not know it but at one time Dehlia was in a situation a bit like yours. Nothing to do with me I might add, but she came to me for help. I said to her that the sort of thing she had experienced takes many years to recover from. Time can soften an experience but it can’t be erased. I knew that a return to complete normality was unlikely for her, but what is normal anyway? I thought time would heal. I was wrong. Because I couldn’t help her she became a real monster, just as she had feared.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“Simply, I don’t have the answers you’re looking for, and my advice is worse than useless when it comes to things like this. I need to remember my own guide. People should make their own decisions.”

Before I could form a response, the serving staff appeared and our food started arriving. The conversation turned to trivial matters. We were both eager to forget his premonition of doom. He was good company and quickly cheered both of us. It was all I could do to keep myself from thinking about the things he got up to in private, and wondering if there was a way I could be part of that without losing myself. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if he would want me, but he certainly said the right things, and the look in his eye wasn’t exactly innocent. I suspected the possibility was there if I dared reach for it.

Chapter Forty-Five – Evasions and Revelations

Eventually, at the end, over coffee, the conversation turned back to business.

“Sarah said some odd things to me when I left her. I want to know the truth,” I said.

“As you know, that wasn’t really Sarah Roberts, it was Yue. She was once a slave of the real Sarah’s, a refugee who somehow ended up here, where Sarah got hold of her. Sarah had treated her very badly and then disposed of her to Dehlia. Dehlia’s obvious need to save her from her situation was what first put me in mind of the scheme that Lucas enacted. I thought if anyone could get you through it, she could.”

“So how did she come to be working for you?”

“Though Dehlia did some things to restore her, there is no gift from Dehlia that doesn’t have consequences. She had been modified extensively by both her mistresses, and without my help there was no hope of her ever fully re-entering society. She came to me for help and I used Sarah’s identity to disguise her and give her a life. It seemed like justice. As for her reasons, perhaps she was unhappy with Dehlia’s way of doing things, or alternatively she was sent to spy on me, I never discovered the truth of that”

“If you suspected she was a spy for Dehlia why did you send her to Lucas? If she let Dehlia know about the plan then it made the whole scheme a waste. All that for nothing. Why? Was that all I was worth?”

“Well. I didn’t really know she was a spy, but I had to allow for it. In the worst case the outcome of events would reveal her trustworthiness. She was watched very closely to determine if she tried to pass information to Dehlia. It sounds cold, I know, but that was the mindset I had at the time.” He gave a sigh, another admission of disappointment in himself.

“That’s quite a turn-around in ethics. How did that come about?”

“No. My position – my feelings – they’re unchanged. I’d simply let myself become isolated. To put it one way, I’d started believing my own bullshit. When you turned everything upside down I finally saw what had happened to me. I understood that Lucas’ blood was on my hands.”

I winced at that, but put it aside; there was nothing new there and I had questions I wanted answers to.

“So, what was Sarah – Yue – supposed to do?”

“To be blunt, her job was to make sure you didn’t end up dead, or as good as. She would also have the chance to hide permanently from Dehlia by taking on a new identity. I thought that might be enough to win her over even if she was a spy to start with. Nobody has ever left Dehlia for long. They always go back. I thought that I might be able to prevent that. I think it may have worked. So far, she has shown no interest in returning. I’ve heard that she runs a Vietnamese restaurant in Melbourne these days.”

“I wanted to take revenge on her but when I had the chance I couldn’t think of anything and now it seems pointless, she’s already suffered enough.”

“That’s true. You can’t compare one suffering with another but her life has been hell up to that point and I sent her back into it. It was another betrayal. I used her in the worst way possible, and it was all me. I can’t even pretend that Lucas had a share in it.”

“It’s obvious why people go back to this stuff. It’s sucking me back in too. After such an extreme existence a normal life feels hollow. I hope she can get away from it at last. It’s a life that takes opportunities away and narrows options.”

“You think the life itself takes away choices?” He asked, suddenly intent on my words.

“Whether you are mistress or slave, it limits your world to one extreme role or the other and eats up everything else. I’ve become so jaded to brutality I don’t feel like I belong with decent human beings any longer.”

“Surely you can see that you’re a more worthy human being than the people around you who simply drift along like twigs floating downstream?” He said.

I didn’t know how to answer that. I certainly didn’t feel like a good person. Reminding myself that most people were worthless didn’t make me feel worthy.

“You seem to have done alright despite being part of it. There has to be some advice you can give me?”

“I don’t employ mind altering drugs like Dehlia. That’s not my trick. I’m all about the direct approach. It has been said I can be persuasive. I can be quite convincing in my oratory, even inspiring at times. I know I put ideas in Lucas’ head. There is no doubt of that. However, those tricks don’t work if you are watching for them.”

“So, you have no ideas at all?”

“Little more than I have said already… The cure for one obsession is another. On that count I can speak from experience. If you can find something that consumes you that isn’t about sex or power, it may suffice. I have my mission to keep me sane.”

“Your mission?” I asked.

“You know that sex is not all of life. Yes, it should be present but it shouldn’t be allowed to overwhelm other concerns. The same can be said of power or the giving up of it, or the sense of who we are, or excessive desire for change or stability. These things should be proportionate. Absolutism is the road to ruin. It’s always been at the root of my greatest mistakes anyway.”

He had ignored my question.

“It sounds abstract. I don’t know how I’d apply that,” I said.

“There are no easy answers.  You have to find some other things that move you just as deeply. If you can’t give up the life then the best you can hope for is to do it according to your own rules. Violence is something that burns away the lies of society, but as for the truth… You’re only just starting to work that out. When you do, you’ll have your answer. Perhaps you have to become a devil so that one day you can become an angel, or maybe not. It’s not as if everyone is the same.”

He didn’t say it all. He didn’t ask for details of my current obsession. Could he see so easily? Could he see that my nipples were erect? Could he see that I was running through the scenarios in my mind, even as I consciously rejected them? Could he see how profoundly Lucas and Sarah had ruined me? But I’d once told myself those things – those acts – would be alright if I’d volunteered for them, hadn’t I?

“Alright... I guess it was a bit much to expect you to have some magic solution. Something else that’s bothering me… Lucas and Sarah felt anything was justified to stop Dehlia, but what did they want to stop her doing? What was this all about in the end? I don’t mean to be rude but I heard you were involved in the same business as her. What was the reason for it all?”

“We are in the same business, a business that was set up to put an end to as much of the creation and trade of non-consensual slaves as we could manage. There will always be people who want to be masters and people who want to be slaves. The more it’s forced underground the more sinister it becomes. We had an idea of building something that would be a meeting place for both persuasions so we could keep an eye on the real maniacs and keep the tops honest.”

“I can’t imagine that worked out. You seem to be talking about it as if it didn’t.”

“It worked out better than we expected, but there are always problems. Suffice to say that it’s still an area where Dehlia and I are broadly in agreement. Our differences lie elsewhere. Dehlia is not behind the crimes her followers commit. She has scarcely any desire for slaves or money. There are people who have hitched their wagon to her who are interested in those things and more, full-time ponies, immersive lifestyles, body modification, forced gender transformations and all kinds of extreme activities.”

“So what’s the difficulty between you? Her friends?”

“No, even though she enables an extremity in those people they couldn’t have managed without her help and it’s not something she is willing to put a stop to, that’s not why I oppose her. I have some of the same problems myself on a smaller scale.”

“So why?”

“I can’t be completely candid about what I know but one thing I can say, a topic very relevant to you… She could start an epidemic that might kill billions. You are the only person I know of with certainty that has been infected with her disease and survived. More astounding still, though there is no precedent, you don’t appear to be a carrier. She seems harmless enough, but she has it within her to be extremely malicious. What if she made a determined effort to distribute the disease?”

“The disease scenario sounds far-fetched. Even if she wanted to spread it, which sounds crazy, I doubt she could. It doesn’t even fit the pattern of a highly transmissible disease.”

“Her disease is no trivial matter. When the sufferer enters the phase where they start to fuck themselves to death they are highly contagious, comparable to a rabid animal but far more cunning, and they can survive like that for weeks. The next phase is worse, and is extremely transmissible. That she infected you so casually and put in place such weak quarantine measures shows how reckless she can be about it. Lucas and Yue took turns watching you, ready to incinerate you if there was a chance you might get out of control.”

“It wasn’t much more than a fever. I was unlikely to escape. How do you know about the disease? How come everybody but me seems to know all about it?”

“Other people have been infected with it in the past. Some of them were friends of mine. They all died from it. Every one. We barely averted an epidemic back then, and that was with Dehlia’s cooperation. Your perception of the danger is distorted because you’ve never seen the lethal side to it.”

“Why didn’t it kill me then?”

“Either Dehlia has worked out a way to modify the disease, or you have some special quality. Seeing you, I’m convinced it’s the latter. I wasn’t joking or spouting empty compliments earlier, your qualities are obvious. I don’t know what the long term consequences of the infection might be as there is no precedent, but I confess that I’m curious to find out. I imagine Dehlia is too.”

“Lucas said something like that in a different way.”

“It must have been difficult for him to find ways to explain this conflict to you without sounding as if he had gone mad.”

“He didn’t really try… I still don’t understand how you could have made the girl Yue a convincing replacement for the real Sarah. Johnno said he knew her for years and even he was fooled for a while. He said that her voice was the same too, so it wasn’t just her looks. He implied that they even moved the same way too, and that is something hard to fake. I know they have stories with such things on television all the time but that is just make-believe. It cannot be done in real life.”

“It’s another case where you would never believe the true situation. Also, it’s something of a secret and I have given away too much already. I trust you won’t ever mention any of this to Dehlia?”

“You trust?”

“Well, I can only request that you don’t speak of it to her or her people. Please don’t tell them anything, as they are already dangerous enough, and you have information that would be useful to them. I am sure they want you. Dehlia will be waiting for you to go to her… For answers at first, but then she will offer more. I wish I could stop you turning to her, but I’ve meddled in your life too much already. If you want to go to her I won’t interfere.”

“I couldn’t find her even if I wanted.”

He laughed and afterwards he was smiling.

“You could not have told me anything more reassuring. Dehlia is very easy to find so you must not have looked at all. She’s infamous in the chemical and pharmacological business. You can find her in the list of the ten richest women in the world. She probably has a team whose entire job is to ensure that any attempt at contact by you isn’t rebuffed by some misguided gatekeeper.”

“What about you? Are you rich?”

“I suppose, as they measure these things I am substantially wealthier than her, but I have always been careful to conceal the extent of my activities. You won’t find me in any lists. It’s all nonsense however. The value of such things is in what you can do with them. One day Dehlia will awaken and it will all begin in earnest.”

“What do you mean awaken?”

“When you met her, would you say that she seemed like she cared very much about anything? Did she show any strong emotion or drive?”

“She did seem distant, even when things became heated. I thought it might be drugs.”

“That’s an amusing idea, but no. Ironically, drugs don’t work on her, nor poisons. Her distracted demeanour is exactly that. Her attention is elsewhere. When she finally finds her focus...”

“These stories of impending doom are hard to take seriously. She is charismatic but she hardly seems the demon you describe. There’s not much that makes sense here,” I said.

“It would be easier if she were entirely evil, but she does things with good intentions more often than she does with bad. It’s even possible that she intended to help me when she infected you. It didn’t occur to me until now.”

“Now I am only more confused.”

“Have you felt different since you recovered from the disease?”

I could take a good guess at what he meant, but it would sound crazy if I tried to explain it, and I wasn’t sure if I even wanted him to know. I had changed, there was no mistaking it. Before Dehlia I was devoid of the will to act, and afterwards I wasn’t simply more determined, I was also more capable than ever before. The old Mei could never have remembered exactly how Johnno had handled the shotgun. She certainly couldn’t have stood face to face with Lucas and traded shots.

Since the disease I had found everything easier. Whether it was learning English, or overcoming my fear of rejection in a night-club. There were physical differences too. I couldn’t deny them. I’d thought Dehlia had been speaking in vague metaphors when she infected me, but had she been telling the literal truth?

Was it impossible for Marcus to answer me honestly for the same kind of reason that I couldn’t answer him fully about the disease? Was there something he knew was wrong about Dehlia that was a combination of the vague and the impossible?

“What do you mean?” I said, stalling.

 “Personality changes? Extreme mood shifts? Blackouts? Lost time? Sleep walking?”

“No. No blackouts. No strange episodes. I hardly sleep at all now, and I don’t feel tired. It’s not insomnia. I just don’t need it. My health has been unreasonably good. Maybe I’m stronger too, but I don’t want to read too much into it.”

“You’re certainly not the waif I was expecting,” he said. He laughed. “No. You look strong, healthy, perfectly proportioned—”

“I’m not a pony you know.”

“I’m sorry. You look as if you were made to be this way.”

“What do you know about the disease? What does it do? You know something, don’t you?”

“What do I know? I know how it kills. As far as what happens to survivors, I know nothing. You’re the first.”

“That list of symptoms you were worried about seemed awfully specific,” I said.

“Those were things that happened to Dehlia when she first changed. I was prepared to hazard that you had become like her. Clearly it isn’t that simple, but it seems I should be relieved.”

“What do you mean like her?”

“I can’t explain. You wouldn’t believe me.”

“Try me. I should at least have the chance to decide if your story is true. My eyes and ears are open. I was pulled into one invisible world, so I can accept there may be others.”

“The first time you had the evidence of your eyes. Would you have believed in the Association on the word of a stranger? The full story is even harder to swallow. However, if anything strange or untoward occurs with your health please contact me immediately and I’ll do everything I can to help.”

“What? Like scorched earth containment?”

“If I was prepared to resort to that I’d have to start with Dehlia, wouldn’t I?”

“I don’t know. Would you?”

“It’s a bit much for me to ask you to trust me given my past mistakes, but the truth is that if you ever have a problem you can ask me for help and I will do my best. I owe you at least that.”

“If you say so.”

“I do. I don’t know what else to say though. I wish I could spend more time with you but that would be an imposition. I don’t have the right to ask that. In any case, I’m afraid I am on a schedule.”

“So this is goodbye?”

“For now. Do you have any other questions?”

“I don’t think so. Nothing you will answer today.”

“This might sound a bit pompous, but call me a year from now if you still want to know everything. If you are still looking for answers then, if you really can’t move on, I’ll do my best to tell you everything then. I won’t hold anything back. I should warn you though, that learning those secrets is as life-altering as the revelations you’ve experienced about power and violence. Once your eyes are fully opened you will never see the world in the same way again.”

“Alright. It’s a deal. I can tell that you aren’t going to give anything away tonight and that you mean well by that. I don’t know if this has helped me, but at least I know I can’t look to others for a magic solution. I can try and be normal or I can go to Dehlia and become some kind of freak.”

“You have other choices. You could choose to work with me, or if you were determined enough, you could work against both factions. I know it’s a little rich after what I did to you but it is my hope that you will consider working with me, or at least let me help you. From our meeting tonight I’ve formed the impression that we might work very well together.”

“You would help me do what?”

“Whatever you like.”

“I need time to think about that.”

“I have to hurry. My connecting flight will take me on to Australia where I have some business to conclude. If you want to contact me you have my agent’s number. I hope we’ll meet again.”

“It really is goodbye this time then?” I said lightly.

In answer, he handed me his briefcase.

“What’s this?”

“It’s something personal for you. As well as that there is also an envelope with US government bonds that have a current value of five million dollars. They are likely to devalue so I suggest you sell them as soon as you are able. I would have brought cash but they always ask questions about it at customs and would probably have assumed it was drug money.”

“Anyone else, I’d say you were joking.”

“It’s not a joke.”

“I can’t accept this.”

“You’re just saying that. Nobody in their right mind turns down so much wealth. It can’t erase what I did but it may be some compensation. It should at least allow you to look in new places for your distractions and widen your life instead of narrowing it.”

“You’re right of course. It’s simply frightening to accept so much money.”

“Mei… Lauren, you don’t strike me as a woman who is afraid of anything at all.”

I guess I had Marcus and Dehlia to thank for that.

Chapter Forty-Six – Epilogue

The contents of Marcus’ briefcase turned out to be the strangest thing. It was two old photo albums. One was of Lucas as a baby, the other of him as a child. When I looked through the pictures of the innocent young boy I was reminded that I had loved him once and that he was not just a thing that was evil but a man that had made a mistake he came to regret. That didn’t make him any less of a prick, but it reminded me that nobody is just one thing.

At last my tears for him were unlocked. I didn’t forgive him for what he’d done but I started down that road. My hatred of him would be a weight I’d drag about for many years.

I put the money in trust to be shared amongst my siblings. I took Marcus’ advice to heart and thought carefully about my path. A year later I made the call and a few weeks later he told me everything as he saw it, and after a little more consideration I decided I believed most of what he had to say.

I decided that I wouldn’t work with him, at least not right away. I would allow him the chance to earn my respect, but I would still work against Dehlia’s cult in my own way … from within. I owed Dehlia something for saving me, and disposing of her more unpleasant friends seemed a good place to start.

Fourteen years have passed and I’m still doing it. Since the failed rebellion my rank within the Council is Number Four. The last of the slavers in her circle have been cast into ignominy. I should feel like I’m winning, but things are never that simple and nobody is just one thing.

Damn you Marcus.



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