Chapter 5: On the Highway to Hell

Pain. That was the first thing I felt. It was eclipsing. It was all of me. Then came the cold. Bitter and unforgiving. Violent shivers rocked my body; my teeth chattered relentlessly.

My left arm, the one I'd been lying on, was numb and unresponsive from lack of circulation. When I tried to move it, something dug into my wrist. My hands were bound behind my back. I shifted my legs; they were tied too.

My eyelids were as heavy as concrete pillars, but I forced them open.

It was dark. Why did it always have to be dark?

Since I couldn't see anything, I closed them again.

Maybe it would be okay to sleep a little more, I reasoned with myself. I was so very tired and sore, part of me wanted nothing more than to drift back into the unknowing bliss of unconsciousness.

But I shouldn't. As my awareness returned, so did the details of my sorry situation.

Fredrick was dead. I'd been kidnapped, and gravely injured, by the feel of it. Now I was bound and – I tried to stretch my body out straight, but my head and feet smacked into a thin but sturdy metal mesh – caged. Also, my boots were missing.

And I was moving. Or rather, whatever the cage was in was moving.

I concentrated on the motion and listened. The drone was dull but distinguishable. I was in a truck, a well-insulated one. Maybe one of those refrigerated big rigs. That would account for the cold.

Or would it? I had a pounding headache and a raging fever. I didn't need the use of my hands or legs to know that. When I was little, I never believed the horrible stinging stuff Estella poured on my cuts was entirely necessary. I'd always been sure a rinse under the tap and a bandage would be good enough. But she'd been right to worry, and now I was worried too.

I was nearly one hundred percent certain, the wound – bite! – was infected. And it was all my fault. I'd had to go and try to be a tough girl and look what it had gotten me: a slow, painful death.

I was debating whether I should stay quiet or call out when one of my captors noticed I'd woken up.

"Boras – the girl, she's with us again." The man's voice sounded incredibly far away, as if he was in an entirely different dimension, but that didn't stop me from wanting to correct him. Uh, I've been with you ever since you attacked and kidnapped me. But I just couldn't find the energy to form the words. So I let myself drift as I listened to the men talk. When I tried to concentrate it only accentuated the searing pain extending outwards from the rear of my neck.

"Good," said a husky voice more suited to voice-over work than crime. "Harck did an idiotic thing back there. Nearly got all of us killed. Still likely might."

"So what now?" the first man asked. He sounded younger than his companion. I guessed mid-twenties.

"We talk to her." My fever-addled brain warmed to that idea. I could lose myself in his rumbling cadence.

"I'm not talking to that," the young man snapped, as if the idea disgusted him. That was also fine by me: he wasn't the one with the voice. That was the one I wanted.

You're in danger! my brain screamed, but it didn't seem very important. I was cold and exhausted and the seeping wound at the back of my neck completed the holy trinity of discomfort. I couldn't move even if I'd wanted to.

"Then I'll do it," Boras said gruffly. "Because apparently I'm the only one around here who cares to see next week."

I heard the other man mumble something unintelligible before stomping off to the far end of the truck. Boras, meanwhile, dragged what sounded like a plastic folding chair over to the cage.

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