84 Vhalar 718
"Maxine!" a panicked voice yelled with a hard, incessant knocking on her door. "Maxine, open up! Please!" The mage hunter groaned as the noise roused her from unpleasant dreams. One of her hands reached out, blindly fumbling about in search of the first thing that came to her conscious mind. Empty bottles on the nightstand flung to the floor. Eventually her fingers curled around the neck of a half-full bottle of rum. She snatched it up from the nightstand and gradually rolled onto her back. Another round of knocking pounded desperately on her door. Max blew the hair out of her eyes and took her time swinging her legs over the side of the bed. Instant regret struck her as a pounding began to ring between her ears. She furrowed her brow and squinted her eyes at the sensation.
"Maxine! I'm begging you!"
The hungover woman pried open the door with the bottle tipped back to her lips. Her childhood friend, Mina, exhaled a sigh of relief despite Max's disheveled appearance. She slipped between Maxine's frame and the opened door, gesturing wildly for the woman to shut it behind her. The mage hunter turned and leaned her back lazily against the door to shut it. Her caramel eyes looked Mina up and down. Before she had a chance to speak, Mina let out a shocked whistle.
"Fuck, Max," she said with a shake of her head and wide eyes. "You look like shit."
"Thanks," Maxine replied distantly after another sip from the bottle. "Now what the fuck was all that for?" The question seemed to return Mina immediately back to her state of utter panic. Her eyes welled up with tears and she dropped hopelessly down to sit at the edge of the bed. Then her head dropped down into her hands as sobs wracked her body. Max trudged over to stand in front of her, tone growing tight. "Mina," she snapped. "Tell me what the fuck is wrong."
"M-my m-master," the pretty blonde choked between rattling breaths. "T-they t-th-think I did it!"
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, come on, M-Max!" Mina lifted her head from her hands. "Dead slave owner. His slave no where in sight. Of course they think it was me!"
"I did it, not you," the mage hunter reminded her darkly, crossing her arms.
"A slave boy I knew from the neighborhood saw me in the market. He told me the soldiers have been scouring the area. They want to arrest me, Max! They're going to find me! They'll kill me!"
Max sat down on the bed beside her. Her hand shot out turn the woman's face toward her. Her eyes on her friend's were firm. Tears stained streaks down Mina's cheeks.
"No one is going to touch you," the marked woman growled with obsidian eyes. "No one. Understand?"
"But!" Mina began to wail before she was promptly silenced with another harsh look.
"Stop. Listen to me. They won't find you. No one is going to lay a finger on you. Understand?"
"You don't know that! The Mantis won't protect me when they find out!"
"Shh. Enough." Max stiffened as she felt Mina collapse into her lap. Sobs wracked the frightened woman's body with a violence that shook the ex-convict. The mage hunter gently swept a small lock of tear-soaked hair from Mina's face. "I'm going to get you out of the city. Okay? Somewhere safe." Another round of sobs shook the woman seeking comfort from the stony Mantis member. "Stop crying. I'm going to take care of it."
After a few bits Mina sat up and hastily wiped her cheeks with the backs of her hands. One last ragged breath shook her and she was nearly composed. Shaky fingers teased the bottle out of Maxine's grip. The fugitive took a long drink of rum before she passed it back with a sniffle.
"Brett will be back from patrol tonight," Max explained her preliminary plan before she took indulged in alcohol. "When he gets back, we'll make arrangements to have you out of here before sunrise. Okay?"
"Okay," Mina nodded with a sigh.
"Alright. Until then just...stay here. Borrow whatever you want."
"Thank you, Max."
"Don't thank me. Me killing that fuck got you into this, remember?"
"And if you didn't kill that fuck, I'd still be his slave in that wretched house. I'd rather die than let another man do to me the things that he did."
"Well...this city sucks anyways. Maybe I'll board a ship with you."
"What about the girls?"
Mina sighed and rose from the bed. A few gentle steps brought her before the large mirror in the corner of the modest bedroom. She took the brush off the nearby vanity and began to comb her golden locks back into their usual, flawless place. Her blue eyes rolled at her friend as she focused on Max's reflection behind her.
"Your mage friends," Mina reminded her, lowering her voice and glancing tentatively toward the door. "The ones from Scalvoris you were sent here with?" Max shrugged her shoulders carelessly. The blonde turned and pointed the brush at her. "Don't you lie to me. We were once too close for that."
"I didn't say anything," Max dismissed her with a frown.
"You didn't need to. Last time you said you saw them, they were running from the Mantis ahead of you." The blonde studied the bedhead staring back at her for a moment before something seemed to dawn on her. She placed the brush down and put a hand on her hips. "You've been drunk for trials. Drunker than usual. What happened. Did you find them?" Max rose from the bed and walked toward the window with her bottle in hand. Mina was quick to follow with a disciplining finger raised. "Don't you dare. Max!"
"I found them," Max all but exploded, turning on her heel with a dark expression. "I fucking found them, okay? Drop it." She jerked her body back around to peer idly out the window.
"What did you do?"
The marked woman flinched away from her friend's hand on her shoulder. Mina shifted to her flank, moving her head to search Max's iron-like expression. The blonde's face drooped with anxiety and melancholy. She took a handful of the mage hunter's raven hair and pushed it back to hang behind her shoulders.
"The one in the dungeon," Mina began softly, each word cautiously exiting her lips. "Which one is she?" Max braced her forearm beside the window. Mina sighed. "You haven't been right since you came up from the cell that trial. I hear things, Max. Is she one of them?"
"Rey'na," Max finally responded coldly. The name was like fire, burning her insides just to speak it aloud. Mina put a hand to her lips. Silence persisted for several trills. If Mina indeed heard things, then she knew. Knew what she'd done.
"And the other one? The one they're looking for?"
"Found her too." Max gave her cheek a tap. A dark bruise colored the spot Sephira's knuckles had struck her face.
"No," the ex-convict clarified quickly, turning her head to eye Mina evenly. "I couldn't. I wouldn't."
"Oh, Max." Mina rested her head comfortingly on Maxine's sharp shoulder with a sigh. "What are you going to do?"
"Nothing. I'm a Mantis now."
"You weren't a Mantis until I delivered them to you when you fought Francis. You might be good at it, built for it, whatever you want to believe. But this Order isn't who you are. And neither is leaving that girl down there to rot."
"Since when are you pro-mage?"
"I did what I did. That girl in that cell isn't Rey'na. Not anymore. She's a Mantis pawn to bait and kill Blackwood. Period."
Max ran her hands down her face. She was itching to hurl another bottle against the wall. Even now the mere thought of what she'd done to Rey'na, helping Rebekah and her ashcloaks tear the Spark from the Element's soul, was agonizing. They were in the comfort and safety of her bedroom. Yet she could still hear the young girl's shrieks in her ears. Screams she elicited. Pain she didn't make a move to stop. She'd just stood there as she was bid, pinning Rey'na down so the crystal could do its dark work. Stood there, and helped dismantle the kind soldier with the big heart. Until nothing remained but a hollow shell in her place.
"Besides," Max tried to distract her self-loathing thoughts with logic. "It's impossible. Even if I could break her out, she' can't be trusted. She'd do what she was trained to do before anyone knew something was off. It's safest to leave her where she is. At least if they set her free I'll have a heads up. I can catch up to her and get ahead of it before she ever gets the chance to raise a finger. I just have to keep immortals damned Blackwood from doing something fucking stupid. Probably walk right the fuck in here with a death wish. She's already promised practically to do as much."
"Or you could help her," Mina said simply with a knowing look. Maxine turned toward the blonde with a curled lip, forgetting the window entirely.
"Have you heard nothing I said? I'll tell you what I told her: no."
"You said it yourself, Max. She's going to try to get Rey'na anyways."
"Yeah? And she'll get herself killed if she does."
"She'd stand a better chance with you."
"I said no."
Max walked away from the devil's advocate with a growl. She began to flit about the room as though to busy herself. Between drinks she was changing, shoving her feet into boots, and donning her ashcloak. Mina let her escape for a couple bits before she came forward again. Her hand caught Maxine's, pulling her around to face her. Her once teary-eyed stare was calm and focused now. And was that...disappointment she looked at her childhood friend with now?
"The Max I knew all those arcs ago?" Mina began her accusation before dropping the woman's hand, crossing her arms. "She wouldn't leave her friend to die in a prison cell. And she certainly wouldn't stand by while the other went into enemy territory alone. Know what she'd call someone who did that? A fucking coward." Mina hadn't a time to take a breath before Maxine was upon her. The blonde was airborne before she knew it, her back slamming down upon the floor with the ex-convict on top of her. A forearm was braced roughly across the woman's chest.
"I'm not scared of shit," Max hissed between grit teeth. "I've been trying to keep them alive!"
"And now you're playing it safe because you're afraid. You're fucking afraid. You've been locked up here, drinking yourself to oblivion rather than seeing if Rey'na's too far gone to be saved. You're abandoning Blackwood because you're afraid to get someone hurt again. You care and you're fucking scared. You forget I know you better than anyone, Maxine! I see right through you."
"Pack your fucking shit, Mina," Max shoved herself up off her friend with wild eyes. Her voice quivered with disintegrating restraint. "I'm sure it's about to be a long, fucking cold trip wherever you're going."
"Not as cold as a room shared with you."
"Then find the door."
Mina shoved herself up off the floor and gave the irate mage hunter a good shove. It had been a long time since they had a sisterly scuffle. Max had real claws now, and pushed to the brink physically and emotionally already, there was no telling just how deep she'd cut. Another shove and Max was backed against the wall. Her hands were curled into knuckle-white fists at her side. Her arms began to shake, and even Mina could feel the dangerous heat of her wild eyes.
"I don't know what the fuck happened to you, Maxine," Mina started with a frown. "But I do know you. You hate yourself now? Wait until something happens to either of those girls. Try living with knowing you didn't do a damned thing to save either of them. I'm sure your justifications then will be just rich. Because you know what?" The blonde gestured to the bottle still clutched in the ex-convict's hand. "There won't be enough rum in Idalos to drown out that guilt. Think about that." Mina sighed and took a couple steps back from the angry woman she managed to freeze in place with words alone. Expression hollow, Maxine said nothing. She just turned, wrenched open the door, and slammed it behind her as she left.