36. Is That a Four or a Nine?

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This was not how he expected things to go.

When he'd formulated this plan, he'd allowed for several possibilities and had prepared the means for dealing with them. Everything that might go wrong, he thought he'd covered it.

After all, he knew full well what kind of world this was. Remnants at war, corrupt and selfish leaders trying to rule the shards of a kingdom with old laws that were no longer viable, a madman with far too much power at his hands, twisted and so intent on finishing the destruction of those that remained.

It was a given that his little brother would not come through unscathed. He'd accepted that. Allowed for it. Thought he was prepared for it.

He'd made a mistake. A miscalculation.

And now Jett was paying for it.

"Mr. Black?" A very small, very subdued voice spoke.

I should have warned him. No. I never should have left him. But that would have ruined his plans. He needed Jett to draw attention, to hold the focus so he could finish his preparations. And now that everything was ready, it wasn't. Because Jett was lost in his own nightmares, trapped there by the insanity Ra'Skevvor had subjected him to.

That bastard always knew where to hit so it hurt the most, Raven thought darkly. He resisted the urge to whirl and pound his fist right into the wall, if only because he wasn't alone and it wouldn't do for them to witness Mr. Black losing control.

How he hated this charade.

"Mr. Black?" Her voice came louder, more persistent, but still wavering with nervous fear.

Frustrated, he snapped his gaze to the young woman standing stiffly by door. Unlike most found in these tunnels, it was made of metal and fitted snuggly into the concrete wall. Right now, it was closed.

"What," he nearly hissed, only managing to temper his tone at the last second. Some of his ire must have seeped through however, for she jerked as if slapped and took a hasty, unconscious step back.

"Uh...I just wanted - I just wanted to know what you wanted us to do." Alainna's eyes darted at everything nearby except him.

Raven regarded her for a moment, a faint furrow between his brows. He noticed when she flinched, appearing like she wanted to move yet another step away. Her entire body stiffened and she clasped her hands in front of herself tight enough to whiten her skin.

Afraid, he thought. A small measure of satisfaction came at the sight, mixed with a weary resignation. She should be afraid. He'd left his little brother in her care, and she had failed. Part of him acknowledged that it wasn't her fault – she couldn't have known Jett would have been triggered like he had – but the fact remained that she had failed.

This world did not treat failures kindly.

Raven allowed his expression to ease, allowing a neutral mask to fall into place. He glanced towards the silent, bandaged man standing beside her for a moment, before returning his attention to her.

"You will go topside," he said coolly. "Take a scout team with you. It won't be long before visitors begin to arrive, and I want to know the second they appear."

She blinked, surprise clear on her face. Then she glanced at the closed door, hesitating. "But what about –"

"He is no longer your concern," Raven cut in. He watched as the surprise morphed into guilt, then into hurt. She was aware of her failure, then. Good. Another time, perhaps, he would have forgiven her and given her another chance. She seemed to get along well with his little brother, after all.

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