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One wrong word.

Two tiny mistakes.

Three white lies.

Four misplaced steps.

Five greedy fingers.

Six bad ideas.

Seven minor crimes.

Eight miles running.

Nine triggers pulled.

Ten dead bodies.

I like to count to ten when I get angry. It calms me down. It reassures me of how I came to be who I am. And how I’m so sick of myself, how I hate myself so much, and how I’ll never change.

“You can change, Randaal.” I have to count again. She speaks again.

“I know you can! It was never your intention to become...” she trails off because she doesn’t want to say what I’ve become. I wouldn’t even speak the word. It’s despicable. Despicable, despicable me.

“Me.” I say it firmly. It is a fact, of course.

“No, Randaal, you are not who you are now, deep down inside you aren’t!” she says, “If you understand what I mean by that.” I understand, but she misunderstood what I had said. I turn to face her. Her blond hair is held back in a not-so-neat ponytail as she relaxes in her bonds. She’s not even trying to free herself. I almost have to start counting, but I feel the need to explain.

“No, Leeda. ‘Me’ was the word I spoke. The one wrong word.” She looks at me strangely. Her purple eyes are captivating, but I will not let those jewels dazzle me in this moment. No, I’m focused. One wrong word. Two tiny mistakes...

“What do you mean?” she asks. Her voice...so clear and innocent. She is complicating my duty. I clear my throat.

“I suppose you deserve an explanation.”

“Before my death? I do think so,” she agrees, quite emphatically. Her absence of fear in this whole situation astounds me. I smile. A genuine smile.

“It was during the 100th Night of the Flickering Lights. The castle was lit beautifully and the streets were full of men and elves in their festivities. A night of celebration and happiness. I was no different, dancing and singing all throughout the town, my voice brought a crowd.”

“You always did. Do you sing anymore?” she asks, a smile tugging at her lips. I hush her, grinning embarrassedly (embarrassed? Me?) and continue.

“In the east section of the town, there is a popular competition between men and elves to see who is the most clever and sneaky. I stumbled upon this gathering and a large, grotesque man asked, from a raised platform, who was willing to step forward and be a contestant this most special year.” Leena’s face is growing pale.

“It was Ridger, wasn’t it? And you shouted ‘me’?” I nod. She shakes her head.

“But what he did...” she trails off because the horror is too great for her to relive, even if it is only in her head.

“But it was before we knew, before anyone even suspected something suspicious.” I almost smile at my simple alliteration, but the pain of the past is too great. I continue. “I was selected along with two other elves and three men. As the crowd cheered, we were taken into the small inn behind the platform. And we were given a choice.”

“A choice? There is only one mission and the first one to complete it wins the competition,” Leeda states. I nod impatiently.

“Yes, yes that is how it normally is run. But we were given a choice. The choice to immediately start the mission or to stay behind and receive special instructions that may help.” I pause. One wrong word. Me. Two small mistakes...

“My first mistake was to stay behind. My second mistake was to agree to do what Ridger asked of me and the other elf and man that stayed.”

“What did he ask?” Leena is drawn into my story now, because she has always hungered for truth and because I think she really is interested in me. Does she care for me? I wouldn’t. But she is interested in me. She is making this much, much harder than I thought it would be.

Suddenly we hear a crash and I turn to see the doorway demolished.

“Garrem!” I exclaim, startled by the blood on his face and the angry shouts coming from the hallway behind him. He is just as startled when he notices Leena.

“Why is she still...did you not extract the...?” he is out of breath and confusion is etched all across his face. I know what he means but I cannot connect what is happening with what he is trying to ask me.

“You told me there would be plenty of time...” my voice trails off as an explosion shakes the building.

“You have to get out of here!” Garrem shouts. “I’ll find you, remember that it isn’t over!” The floor beneath us shakes and Leena yelps. I turn and am greeted by a dark hole where Leena had been tied to a chair a moment before. Garrem tackles me and we tumble into the hole.

I fall. And fall. There is screaming.

One wrong word.

Two small mistakes.

Three white lies...




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