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The group would flee tomorrow night

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The group would flee tomorrow night. The week crawled by at an agonizing pace for Macbeth, who faced their master more than any of the others. She'd worked hard to build up some semblance of a wall around her emotions, enough to fool Nero, though he didn't command her for another private session.

The one person she loathed lying to was Julius, but her Pathosian mentor was too attached to Calliope to risk exposing the other slaves. Instead she kept her silence, avoiding him, trying to ignore his intense probing gaze.

There was one other regret she tried to ignore, but it sharpened, cutting deeper, growing more insistent the closer she drew to the night of their planned escape. Macbeth knew it was foolish, it was as risky as telling Julius, but she had to tell Lulubelle goodbye. Much of her anger over the Erosia's actions fizzed itself out, leaving the painful insight she'd harshly judged the woman. Lulubelle played a part in orchestrating Macbeth's experience at Calliope's hands, but her intentions were to avoid the far more violent fallout from Nero. The understanding didn't falter her resolve to leave, she needed to be free of this place. It would kill her eventually.

Her emotions for the Erosia were one final tether she needed to sever. After her evening report, she waited for Lulubelle to emerge from Nero's rooms, tucked in the shadows of a decorative Column. She stumbled into the hall at last, disheveled, her face wan. Macbeth clamped down on her sympathy. She didn't want to imagine what Nero forced her to do in his rooms. Instead she pressed forward, bumping into the startled woman to pass a carefully scrawled note into her hands. Lulubelle gripped her for a moment, stroking her thumb along Macbeth's palm before pulling away.

Macbeth fled, shuddering as her heart pinched against her ribs. She refused to look back at the swish of skirts or the sob of a sigh, but the connection between them stretched, taut, sizzling.

Tomorrow I will leave this place and never see her again. Macbeth rolled herself up in her pallet. She had tucked the ribbon in Lulubelle's note, almost. When the Erosia entered the hall, she'd slipped it around her wrist, a last minute impulse. She stroked the smooth fabric until she fell asleep.

A stone settled in her gut by dawn, filling her stomach with a cold, dread weight. She couldn't eat, her movements sluggish from her restless night. Routine took over as they worked in the gardens, long practice allowing her mind to wander as the morning fog burned off in the red-orange glow of the sun.

Anthony bartered passage on a merchant ship for five of them, himself, Macbeth, Lia, and two others, men she knew in passing. The two were heavily scarred, former members of Calliope's entourage before Nero beat them for a trifling mistake. The five of them were to wait until the middle of the night before slipping through the city streets in the early morning hours, when patrols were light. They would make for a ship in the port, which would open for them an hour before dawn and depart Anaon at sunrise. The merchant was headed for Ang'lth on New Earth Five. There wasn't a large window for error but if they succeeded, dawn would see them free men and women.

A shadow fell over her. Macbeth looked up into Lulubelle's distraught face. The Erosia leaned in, brushing her lips against her ear.

"Meet me tonight, before you go. Let me say goodbye. Our place." She didn't give Macbeth time to respond, hurrying away before anyone noticed her.

The remainder of the day turned into a hellish war of indecision. What could Lulubelle possibly have to say to her? Did it matter? Could she leave without finding out? Perhaps but part of her would always wonder. By evening meal, she remained undecided, shoving the matter aside to catch every snippet of conversation from the dinner guests. Her evening report to Nero was crucial, not a smidgen of doubt could be cast in their direction. She stood before her Master after the meal, shields firmly in place, delivering a spot on performance before a bored Nero dismissed her. Lulubelle was notably absent.

Macbeth debated with herself through the evening duties, avoiding Julius's questions until he gave up in a huff. By the time the kitchen emptied Macbeth came to a decision, darting from the house toward their store room. She couldn't leave in peace without settling this between them. For the second time since their tryst began, Macbeth arrived at the storeroom before Lulubelle. She settled down to wait, irritated, wondering how long the Erosia would keep her here.

There was a noise outside the closed door, a familiar sound of metal sliding on wood, followed by a metallic click. Macbeth ran for the door, throwing her weight against it. Locked in, the traitorous bitch locked her in!

"No!" Macbeth shrieked, slamming her palms into the splintered wood. "No, let me out, let me out, you bitch!" She pounded on the door, cursing, yelling until her voice broke. Blood dripped from her fingers. They'd chosen this place for its seclusion. No one would hear Macbeth. She could feel the minutes pouring by, her freedom slipping from her. The others wouldn't wait for her, they wouldn't look for her, figuring she'd lost her nerve. Macbeth sank to the ground, clawing at the door, hoarse sobs wracking her frame.

Time flowed on. She sank into a stupor, cried out, too exhausted to fight, her glassy eyed stare fixed on the shadows beneath the door taking shape in the gradually lightening sky.

It was well past dawn when a shadow moved in front of the door, sliding the bolt. Macbeth couldn't summon the energy to rise. Her chance for freedom gone, she slumped against the unlocked door and passed out.

She woke, disoriented, in the shadowy storeroom. She wiped the sweat and drool off her face, grimacing at the dried blood flecking from her fingers. Staggering to her feet, she limped toward the house. The sun hadn't traveled far in the sky, she only passed out a few hours, but the Chrysostem gardens were empty. What was going on?

Reaching the kitchens she froze as every slave in the household turned, shocked by the sight of her. She stood, numb, until Julius spun her around, crushing her against him.

"Where have you been, you little idiot?" He gasped out. It was surreal, she couldn't process it. Clio's sad face drifted into her peripheral vision. The older woman gently pried Julius off her.

"We thought you were dead." Clio's eyes were swollen from crying. Macbeth never saw the woman cry. Her words sunk in.

"Dead?" She swayed on her feet.

Clio frowned, giving her a hard look. "A merchant turned in a group of runaways this morning. When we saw your empty pallet, we assumed you were one of them."

"Bloody fools," Julius muttered.

Macbeth blinked in disbelief. Anthony's contact had turned them in? She couldn't imagine what tortures their master would inflict on them. Had Lulubelle known? Locked her up to save her from the punishment? She doubted it.

"Where are they?" She asked, hoping they didn't believe she had something to do with their capture. The slaves looked away, their expressions stark.

"Macbeth," Julius's tone caught and held her. The blood drained from her face. "Attempting to escape is not tolerated. Nero had them executed."

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