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A freezing rain was battering her windows when Anya heard a pounding at her door. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to show up at her door at this late hour, since she was the only Healer for miles. Anya opened the door to reveal a young girl, dripping in a long brown trench coat. Dark, nervous eyes met Anya’s blue through a mess of black curls hanging down her forehead. She may have been younger than Anya, but not by much, perhaps sixteen.
“Come in,” Anya motioned to the girl, who stepped through the door.
“We have to hurry,” she began. “My name is Rhys. My parents are sick. Someone told me you could help.”
“Yes. Of course. Wait a moment while I get some things. What seems to be wrong with them? What are their symptoms?” Rhys looked lost for a moment before answering.
“I don’t know.”
Anya sighed a little to herself. “Alright. That’s fine.”
Minutes later the two of them were outside battling the wind. They walked for nearly a mile before Anya saw that they were approaching an abandoned warehouse. They were almost to the door before Anya asked, “Is this where your parents are?” Rhys didn’t answer, but opened the door for Anya to step through.
At the far end of the huge warehouse Anya could see and hear a little girl crying. She was probably only five or six, and her hair looked strikingly like Rhys’s. There was a chair and empty plastic bottles as the end closer to them, but the warehouse seemed empty of all else. Anya was getting an uncomfortable feeling. “Rhys, where are your parents?”
Rhys gazed up at her apologetically. “I don’t have any.”
A hard blow landed at the base of Anya’s skull and she crumpled toward the floor into darkness.
Anya awoke slowly, her head pounding. She could hear voices just in front of her.
“Alright. I kept my end of the bargain. Now give me my sister and let us leave.” It was Rhys.
“Not so fast. This next part will take two, and you will be the perfect help.”
Anya forced her eyes open. She was sitting upright in the chair that she had seen, held there by bonds around her torso, upper arms, wrists, ankles, and thighs. Rhys was just in front of her, looking defiant and scared. The person she was talking to had flaming red hair, long and straight. The red-headed woman glanced over at Anya just then and Anya recognized the face. It was Edrea.
“Ahh. I see our little princess has finally awakened. How are you doing, Anya, dear?”
“Edrea? What are you doing? What’s going on?” Anya asked, her heart starting to pound.
“Well my dear, after you allowed my mother to die, my father took to drink, and now I am afflicted with the same malady she was. And you are going to help me where you refused to help her,” Edrea said. Her dark eyes glinted like steel.
“Edrea, I did everything I could for your mother. I don’t know what else you want from me. There was nothing more I could have done.”
Edrea paced over to a table that Anya had not noticed before. She picked up a needle and began to finger it. “You’re wrong. There was something more you could have done.” She walked over to Anya, who could now see that it was a phlebotomy needle in her hand, a long tube attached to the end. Anya tensed as Edrea stretched the skin at her inner elbow, found a vein, and plunged it in. Her breath quickened as she saw her blood start to run through the tube into a bottle on the other end.
Edrea snatched her face and forced it upwards. “My mother died losing her blood. You will feel what she felt. And like her, no one will help you. You will help save me where you didn’t save my mother.” She released Anya and swayed on her feet.
“I need to rest. You,” she pointed at Rhys. “watch her. Come and get me when that bottle fills up.” Edrea turned and left the warehouse into what Anya guessed were office spaces.
Anya looked over at Rhys for the first time. Her eyes looked scared but her jaw was set. “Rhys?” Anya began.
“I’m sorry. She has my sister. She’ll kill her if I don’t cooperate,” Rhys said softly.
That was the little girl, Anya thought. She nodded. “I understand.” They sat in silence for a minute.
“What’s wrong with her?” Rhys asked.
“She has aplastic anemia. She got it from her mom.”
“Why didn’t you save her?”
“I couldn’t. I didn’t know how.” More silence.
Ten minutes passed and the bottle was nearly full. “You’d better go get Edrea,” Anya said. Rhys nodded.
“I really am sorry,” she said softly.
“Don’t be. You’re as much a victim here as I am.”
Rhys nodded again and stepped through the door. A few minutes later Edrea entered alone. “What happened to you?” Anya started. “You’re blackmailing a teenager by threatening to kill her sister. What on Earth is wrong with you?”
“So I see you to’ve been chatting,” Edrea said. Anya flinched as Edrea pulled the needle from her skin. “Half a liter. You should hardly be feeling the affects. I’ll be back in a bit.” She took the bottle with her into the other room.
Anya couldn’t be sure how long they had been gone, but it felt close to an hour. Rhys and Edrea re-entered the warehouse. Edrea appeared slightly out of breath. “I think we’ll try for a full liter this time, Anya. We will see how you feel then. Shall we do the other arm?” Edrea asked in mock courtesy. “No. I suppose by then your arms will begin to have less blood. Don’t worry. I did my research. From the neck then.” Anya tried to twist away from her, but Edrea grabbed her hair and yanked her head against the back of the chair. “Get over here and hold her,” she directed Rhys. Rhys obeyed, walking to Anya and placing her hand just beneath her jaw. She didn’t press hard, but she didn’t have to, Anya knew it was useless to fight anyway. “There’s a good girl,” Edrea said. Apparently finding the external jugular vein, she push the needle under Anya’s skin.
The bottle was filling up. Anya watched her life seeping away into the container. She was dizzy, scared, and starting to feel weaker. Rhys kept looking over at her, and she knew she was growing paler. Her breath was coming shorter and more quickly. Anya’s head started to fall forward with fatigue, but it only made the needle jab more sharply. Rhys came to her and lifted her head up, supporting her just under the jaw.
“Leave her alone,” Edrea said.
“But she’s getting weaker.”
“That’s the whole point. She will feel the pain that she caused.”
Rhys removed her hands, and Anya fought to keep her head up. “Let me take her place.”
“What?” Edrea and Anya said together.
“Let me take her place. Please. She hasn’t done anything wrong. Drain me if you must, but let the innocent ones leave.”
“Ha. Ignorant child. No, she will die, and you will be here to watch it.” The bottle was full then, and Edrea tugged the needle from Anya’s skin. “Come with me, child,” Edrea instructed. She and Rhys left with the blood. Anya’s body was pressing against her bonds now, both for support and in an irrational attempt at escape. The next liter would kill her, she knew that. What could she do?
Rhys came running into the warehouse only a few minutes after she had left it. She grabbed a pair of scissors from the table and started sawing at Anya’s bonds. “Rhys, no,” she croaked. “What are you doing?”
“We don’t have much time, my guess is only about ten minutes.” It took three minutes to get Anya free. “I need to go get my sister. I’ll be right back.” Anya nodded, knowing that she couldn’t walk on her own. She heard the sound of sawing, and two minutes later, Rhys returned holding a little girl’s hand. “Carina, Anya; Anya Carina. We need to move,” she said hurriedly.
Rhys looped her free hand under Anya’s arms and lifted her to her feet. They limped their way to the door that they had come in earlier out into the morning air. There was still a drizzle of rain, but the worst of the storm had passed. Anya was panting from the small exertion and Rhys held her tighter. “We need to keep going,” she said.
They made for a group of trees, but were only about half way when Anya heard the warehouse door bang shut. She whipped her head around to see Edrea, red hair flying, marching toward them, and gaining quickly. Carina was crying now and Rhys was starting to panic. Her breath was coming faster and she was fairly dragging the others along with her as she increased her speed. Edrea was maybe fifty yards behind them now.
Rhys turned her head toward Anya, her dark eyes were wide and scared. “Anya, make for your house. I’ll hold her off and try to meet you there. Don’t won’t wait for me.”
“What are you going to do?” Rhys had pulled herself away from them now. Anya wobbled and grasped Carina’s small shoulder.
“Just make sure my sister’s safe,” she called, turning away from them and picking up speed until she was fairly running at Edrea. Carina cried harder watching her go.
“Alright Carina,” Anya began, “Listen to me. It’s going to be okay. Walk with me now.” Together they stumbled toward the trees. Anya could hear sounds of a scuffle going on behind her, but did her best to ignore it. She was unsteady on her feet and put all of her focus into walking and keeping Carina next to her. Finally they reached the trees. Anya kneeled at a trunk and pulled Carina down beside her. Carina had little tears streaming from her eyes and her breath was coming in short, noisy little gasps. Anya held her breath. She could hear a yell from time to time and voices that she couldn’t quite make out, but could not see how Rhys was faring against Edrea. There was a final shout and then Anya couldn’t hear anything. She waited a moment before poking her head out around the tree.
Anya saw both figures lying on the ground, but one looked like it was moving slowly toward their hiding place, pulling herself along the ground. She couldn’t tell who it was. “Carina, stay here, alright?” she directed the child and Carina nodded, pushing her body closer to the tree.
Anya stepped out and moved cautiously toward the inching figure. Now she could make out dark hair in the growing light. It was Rhys. Anya let out a small gasp of relief and rushed toward her, just making it before her legs gave out and she collapsed to her knees. Rhys reached up and grasped her wrist. “Anya,” she was gasping, “I want you to know that I am so sorry. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”
“Of course. Of course not. You already told me.”
Rhys rolled over. A long handle was protruding from her abdomen and blood was running down her side. “I’m dying. Please, take care of Carina. I know I shouldn’t ask, but none of this was her fault,” she panted out.
“Hey, it’s gonna be okay. Don’t say that yet. Let me see it,” Anya said. She moved to look at the wound. She didn’t have to cut away the shirt to see that the wound was deep, and that it had hit vital organs. She sucked in her breath and Rhys let her head fall on the ground.
“I told you so. Take care of Carina. Tell her I died trying to do the right thing,” Rhys was begging now.
“Yes,” Anya moved back to her head and put a hand beneath it. She pulled Rhys’s head and shoulders to her to make breathing easier. “Yes of course.”
They sat in silence a few moments. “I’m scared,” Rhys said.
“I know,” Anya said softly. “It’ll be alright. I know.”
Even as she said the last words, Anya could feel Rhys’s body go limp against her arm. She lay Rhys’s body against the grass, closed the vacant eyes, and stumbled back toward the trees. When she got home, she would call someone, and they would come and bury the bodies. Unmarked graves from an unremembered night.
She took Carnina by the hand and led her home. Tomorrow she would tell her that Rhys wasn’t coming. She would start to heal. She would process what had happened. But that was not for today. Today, she would rest so that she would be ready when tomorrow came.