IX : Ailyn

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Ailyn's heart was already beating fast, hammering against her ribcage like a wild animal. Hearing Ela's thoughts had been startling enough, but nothing could compare to the sour feeling that was growing in her stomach.

She wasn't ready to wager her life in a game of head or tails.

Nora groaned as she stomped forward, standing in front of Arden and glaring at the boy with firey warning. "This is absolute madness," she hissed. "We don't need this scum's advice. You have to trust me."

Arden glanced around, examining his surroundings before his gaze landed on Nora's black pupils. He stared at them heavily, a glint of aggravation in his own. "That's an absurd request for a hypocrite."

After propelling the stunned spy to the side, he nodded towards the glimmering coin. "Tails."

The man smiled a satisfied grin, sending the coin up. It flipped into the air, every turn making Ailyn's heart beat louder. This is a trap. The guards will arrest us anyway. She didn't want to ponder about what would happen if she met Kage again, what means he would use to elicit every last bit of information they had gathered. Deep down she knew already. She had gone through all of this again, after all.

How could she forget it? Her hands had felt no warmth since the freezing metal blade touched them. Her lips hadn't dared to utter their names ever since she had screamed them with as much force as her narrow lungs had allowed. Every time he talked, her mind always went back to the words he had spoken back then.

'What are you waiting for? Make your choice. In this world, you must pick a side.'

Ailyn reached into her pocket, caressing the cold barrel of the revolver. She had been given a gun before the rest left to take Ela, in case someone found her behind that large tree she was resting against. One bullet, one chance. Now, she could only thank the paranoid boy. She clenched her fists shut, slowly pulling the weapon out.

'So choose us. Choose me.'

With a few deep breaths and a promise to herself that she would never blow anybody's brains out again, she whipped out the small revolver and pointed a trembling hand to the man's forehead.

Arden exclaimed in surprise, slipping away from her range. Although the alarm was crystal clear in Nora's face, it quickly turned to menacing amusement. She grinned at Ailyn with a curt nod of approval.

The coin soon landed on the indifferent man's palm. "That is cheating." He held up the coin, the gleaming rising sun engraved on thin gold coming into view. A sigh of relief escaped Ailyn's throat. We almost lost. Almost.

The girl approached the corporal with slow steps, the quiver of adrenaline conquering her body. "Life is unfair," she admitted, shaking the gun threateningly and aiming between his eyebrows. "Now say what you know." Her terse snaps were unlike her, so she considered the amused looks she got justified.

The man clicked his tongue, but the gun hovering in front of his head seemed to neutralize his irritation. He looked at Ailyn, his red cheeks glinting in the low lamplight. "Musha," he spat, folding his arms behind his back and gazing at the moon nostalgically. "My brother has a textile factory west of Karahi Lake. He used to trade rags and tablecloths with many taverns and inns in Karahi."

"Trade rags for what?" Salo queried, eyeing the man skeptically.

The former corporal laughed, shaking his head. "My brother also likes to get involved with gangs. He sold his goods for protection and some information. This particular woman he was especially affiliated with was called Lumi Dorona."

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