The smell of New Phoenix reached them long before they saw it. The scents of fire and decay swept over them, carried on a cloud of noxious smoke.
“No…” Angela ran up to the edge of the cliff, staring down at the city.
It was destroyed. Most of the buildings had been gutted and burned, and the few that remained were surrounded by the tents of the slavers. Even at this distance, the crackling of the fires and the wailing of the survivors could be heard.
“We’re too late…” She fell to her knees, sobbing. “Tabitha… I couldn’t save her…”
Lezvie stepped up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder. “She may yet be alive. The slavers only hit a few hours ago. If you wanted to save any of the men, I’d say we had arrived too late, but there’s a good chance your friend Tabitha is still alive.”
“Then we can still save her?” Angela looked up at him, grabbing his hand for reassurance.
“It’s possible. I’ll do a little recon and see what I can find out. Describe Tabitha to me.”
“She’s… about my height. With black hair, and green eyes. Very pretty.” She squeezed his hand. “Please find her.”
He squeezed her hand reassuringly. “I don’t know what I’ll find. But if she’s alive, I’ll save her.” He slipped away and began climbing down the face of the cliff.
As Lezvie climbed, he reflected on how insane this was. He knew he didn’t stand a chance if he were caught. The Crimson Talon was all fighters, unlike some gangs that let riff-raff in. There were enough of them that even his skills and alien blades couldn’t save him.
“So why am I doing this?” He reached the bottom of the cliff and looked towards the city, automatically plotting routes in and out. “Because you’re crazy, that’s why.”
There were no guards. Of course. You’d have to be stupid or insane to attack the Crimson Talon. Lezvie chuckled to himself as he slipped from building to ruined building, getting closer to the heart of the city. Finally he reached a building that did have guards. Two slavers, leaning against the outside, smoking cigarettes – Lezvie briefly wondered where they had managed to get those – and talking about the various slave girls.
They weren’t really on the lookout for anything, so it was simple enough to get on the far side of the building and slip in through one of the broken windows. The building was what he had expected it to be. A chattel house. The room he was in had mats in one corner, and three young girls were huddled together, sleeping fitfully. He could see welts and bruises through their tattered clothing.
All three of them were blonde, and, much as he wanted to save them all, rescuing even one was a huge risk. Two would be impossible. He crept silently through the first floor of the house, glancing at the girls. Blonde. Blonde. Brunette. Redhead. Brunette. Blonde.
He finally did find a room, the second to last on the first floor, that had three girls with black hair. As he entered the room, he allowed a floorboard to creak, and clicked on a dim flashlight. The three girls were startled awake, and whirled to face him. Blue eyes, blue eyes, and hazel eyes.
The girl with hazel eyes stepped forward hesitantly, squinting into the light. “You’re… not one of them. You’re not dressed like them. But you’re not one of us, either.”
“Right on both counts. I’m looking for Tabitha. Do you know where she is?”
The girl hesitated. “Why?”
“A friend of hers sent me here. If possible, I’m to rescue her.”
Lezvie could see the tears in her eyes. “I’m mad going up against the Crimson Talon as it is. It would only get me and whoever I tried to rescue killed if I took more than one person.”
She nodded slowly. “Tabitha’s on the second floor. Reserved for the boss and his favorites.”
“Thank you.” Lezvie clicked off the light and slipped away, creeping up the stairs like a wraith. The second floor had a large central room with smaller rooms all around it. A large man, presumably the boss, sat on a large chair, watching a slave girl dance.
Skilled as he was, not even Lezvie could move through a brightly lit room crowded with trained fighters without being detected. He went back downstairs and outside, then climbed the rough brick wall up to the second floor. Finding an open window was easy, for the night was warm, and the air conditioning probably hadn’t worked even before the Glassing.
He pulled himself into one of the rooms and found that it had two occupants: a young woman, and the man abusing her.
There was no thought, only action. Lezvie didn’t even appear to move, but the man sprouted two knives from his back, piercing both lungs. He couldn’t scream. He collapsed, dead before he hit the ground. The girl looked at Lezvie in terror, pulling the threadbare sheet over herself.
Lezvie hadn’t been looking at her body, anyway; his focus had been her eyes. Eyes of piercing green, that looked out from under her long black bangs.
He smiled slightly. “It’s all right, Tabitha. I’ve come to rescue you.”