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Chapter 1: No Prey, No Pay

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All I can see are their boots, but I can tell these men are savages. They've been at it non-stop ever since they broke into the manor. Rummaging through drawers, overturning furniture, and occasionally ferreting out one of the residents from their hiding spots.

They found Señora Ayala, the cook, first. From the sounds of it, she tried to ward them off with one of her copper pots, but it didn't seem to do any good. She was still screaming when they dragged her out into the courtyard. Only the harsh bang of a pistol could silence her. The footman, scullery maid, and laundress met the same fate. I pray that the servants who lived outside the great house had more time to escape.

Huddled under the bed, I draw myself smaller as a man runs past, stomping down the stairs two at a time. There's a distinct rattle of porcelain before a newly heated exchange. "¿Qué pasó?" someone asks angrily as dishes crash to the floor.

Cringing, I realize they've most likely just destroyed my mistress's bone china. It's a shame. The one with the little, blue flowers was always her favorite.

"We ain't here for no picnic," the same man continues to yell, switching languages. "Leave that, you feckin' idiot."

 "No, señor. Lo siento, señor," another stutters, the fear palpable in his voice.

There's a muffled boom, and a shiver runs through me. I wish I knew what they were looking for. I'd give them anything they wanted just to make them stop. Instead, all I can do is watch their scuffed boots occasionally pass by the open door. Even in the faint candlelight, I can see the fresh blood splattered on top of the caked-on mud.

"Ikheb iets gevonden!" The exclamation—in what I think is Dutch—comes from nearby. Boots clatter against the floor, and men laugh. I hold my breath, hoping their enthusiasm grows from the discovery of a silver candlestick, not an innocent soul who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Fortunately, this room hasn't interested them much. A younger man, judging by the sound of his voice, did come in briefly. Seeing as this is just a housemaid's quarters, he quickly left without poking around. Had he done a better job, he'd have found the estate's most prized possession.

"Ana." I hear the girl's faint whisper from behind the wardrobe's doors.

I push myself up on my elbows and toes, gently lifting my body from the cold floor. Slowly inching forward on my stomach, I only hesitate when the wood below me creaks from my weight. Eventually, I get a clear view of Luciana's hiding spot, but not before she continues.

"Ana. My legs are numb. I don't have space to move. I can't—" she pleads in quiet desperation, but I raise a finger to my lips to hush her. She must see me through the small crevice between the panels because she goes silent.

But it's too late. The sound of heavy footsteps from the hallway gets increasingly louder.

"Did ya check in here, lad?" A figure in the doorway grumbles in English. The torch he's holding fills the room with not only a soft, yellowish glow, but also with the putrid smell of burning pine tar.

"Aye, sir. Just an empty room," the youth responds with a slight quiver in his voice.

A massive boot takes one step inside. "The deal was 'no prey, no pay' and I'll be damned if all we're splittin' is the price of a few knick-knacks. Unassuming bedrooms are perfect hiding places for the bounty we're lookin' for, so if I were to find somethin', you'd be mistaken?"

"I can check again," the lad offers.

"No, this one's mine," the other rebuffs with chilling confidence.

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