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Behind me, Hikari was ready to either charge at full speed or flee like the wind depending of what would happen next. Mayvin, true to himself, was watching the scene with his arms crossed on his chest, unconcerned about what may happen. I was about to make the first move when Zapp suddenly rose both of her arms in the air to signal her pacifism.
"There is no need for bloodshed," she then proclaimed in a clear and loud voice. "I have no desire to fight any of you."
Somehow, I knew that I should have been relieved to hear those words and that I should have welcomed them. But pride or stupidity or both took control of my mouth.
"What you desire is of no concern to me. I have come here to make you pay and I won't leave before I've done just that."
Ignoring me, Zapp turned toward Mayvin, who looked back at her without flinching.
"Where's Jek?" she asked him in a voice that sounded genuinely worried. "If his prisoner is here, then does that mean...?"
"Yes," simply replied Mayvin. "Dead."
"Well that's not good," said the firebender, bringing her thumb to her lip to chew on its nail. Then she looked back at me and I felt the burning intensity of her glare again. "So what is it gonna be?" she asked impatiently. "Because of what you did, I have things to do now, so if you're gonna fight, do it now."
Infuriated by how low she thought of me, I prepared to raise a dust cloud around us to blind her, but stopped when I noticed a little girl of no more than seven years old coming from behind Zapp.
"Zera! Zera!" she cried in her high-pitched, flustered voice. "She's almost... almost..."
After giving me no more than a quick glance, the firebender turned her back to me and kneeled to meet the small girl.
"You have to come," she continued. "She wants to see you before..."
"Let's go," Zapp said gravely as she lifted the girl in her arms and started running away from us.
Utterly confused, I stood still as my opponent was getting away, without knowing what to think of this situation. From what I understood, someone was about to die, or at least to go away, and Zapp, who must have been known as Zera around here, was close to her. But what connections could an Imperial agent have with a small village like this one.
Looking for answers, I decided to scan the village once more. As I did, I first noticed nothing more than I had when I arrived. But then something stroke me when I focused on the people hiding in their houses. There were no grownups. The oldest of them were no more than young adults, and most of them were maimed to some extent.
"It's a slave refugee village..." I muttered in confusion.
A long time ago, when I had only just begin my life as slave, I've wondered why the people who were acting as the Spares' leaders, Spade and Needle, were barely older than me. But then I realized that when a Spare reached the age of twenty, they were taken somewhere, never to return. Spade once told me that it was because adults were far less easy to keep under control, so they had to send them somewhere else. He doubted they killed them, for the new children they kept bringing had to come from somewhere.
"I need answers," I decided as I went after Zapp and the girl.
Their path led me to the biggest house of the village. Inside, a whole bunch of bed were filling the entire space, all empty save for one, around which folks were gathering. A teenage girl was lying on it, shaking terribly and breathing heavily.
When I reached the front door, Zapp was already at the sick girl's side, holding her hand and whispering words to her ear. As I was about to enter, two boys seemingly younger than me came out and blocked my way. One of them, the smaller one, was standing slightly behind the other, who stood with confidence before me.
"If you still have business with Zera, it will have to wait," he said firmly in a still maturing voice.
"Or what?" I replied disdainfully, fully aware that a boy of this age would easily bite to provocation. My thoughts were quickly confirmed when the boy unsheathed the sword at his waist.
"Or you'll have a taste of this blade." His words were confident, but I could sense his heart beating at an incredible pace. Behind him the other boy took out a big knife while behind me people from other houses had started to emerge and approach. I had no time to deal with all of them.
Without warning, I moved some fingers and a layer of hard rock rose from the ground to my arms, armoring them like gauntlets.
"Out of my way," I said very calmly to the boy. In many situations, a cold and imperious behavior could be way more intimidating than to shout threats like a beast. However, as soon as the boy took a step back, panicking, I knew that I had made a mistake. I quickly raised my guard as the boy charged towards me, eyes closed and screaming his lungs out.
"Anvil?" suddenly asked a voice from the crowd behind me. My body froze. It was a voice I had known for years.
"Chisel?" I asked back, as the cold metal of the boy's blade penetrated my chest.
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