The Favourite’s Gamble

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The child’s wide and stupid eyes regard Ezurath, its black pupils wet and sparkling in the dim white light.

His hand tightens around its thin throat, enough to feel the blood pumping within.

‘Everyone out.’

A moment’s hesitation, then the circle of muzzles and blades aimed at Ezurath’s head lower. The Reavers stalk past, their glowing teal gang tattoos fading as they filter through the hall’s large doors.

Ezurath stands opposite the grand command throne. Beyond that, the hall’s massive viewing window. Reavers and their jetbikes whip around the stadium below, igniting the gloom with the purple-white flares of their jetbike’s thrusters. Above them, secured all around the stadium’s roof, ranks of anti-air lances slowly swivel in their mounts. The gentle thrum of their generators resonates throughout the structure, a melodic swell and fall, akin to a leviathan’s heartbeat.

‘Marvellous, isn’t it?’

Birashi sits back easily on her padded throne of cool metal and dark leather. Her wychsuit is rolled down to the waist, revealing her personal heraldry of corkscrewing teal tattoos.

‘The view, I mean. Did you know we’ve not missed a night of races for over a year now?’

Ezurath watches her, his eyes wandering across the dense musculature of her body, noticing how her ivory skin shimmers like ice between the glowing tattoos.

‘So…’

He shakes himself back into focus.

‘You have broken free of the slave pits, kidnapped my son, and forced an audience.’ A genuine smile breaks across her blue lips. ‘I’m impressed. Now let me guess… You’ve come to force an exchange? One child for one fallen Lordling’s freedom?’

Ezurath nods. ‘You will provide me with a mount and allow me to leave. The child will be left unharmed somewhere in the city. I assume you’ll have me followed, so finding it will be no issue.’

Birashi grins. ‘Or I could just kill you now.’

Ezurath shakes his oversized slave collar, rattling the excessive amount of explosives within.

‘If you were willing to risk the dead-man’s trigger or your bodyguard’s aim, then I’d already be dead.’ 

Birashi’s eyes linger on the infant. ‘I always denied that I picked favourites… But he really does resemble you, doesn’t he?’ She leans back in her throne, slowly refastening her wychsuit.

‘Very well. I accept.’

In lieu of consoles, a data cable with a serpentine head extends from her armrest. Needles unsheathe from its maw and reopen a patch of scar tissue on her wrist as they bite.

They shift hungrily within her flesh, decoding identity through blood, then settle.

She gestures, and Ezurath’s collar chimes, unlocked and disarmed.

Ezurath’s hand shoots up, fingers playing over deliberately frustrating release catches.

‘Which garage do you want?’

The collar finally opens, dropping from his neck. ‘Clear the upper-’ Ezurath only just catches the movement. The alignment of Birashi’s shoulders with his chest, the coy rising of her hand from beneath her throne’s armrest.

There was no cover, but he could reach the throne in two bounding steps.

As Ezurath launches forward, something glints in his periphery. The infant, its onyx eyes wide.

Over a hundred years of life in the dark city had honed Ezurath’s instincts to a razor’s edge. From high society to realspace raids and, finally, the slave pits, they had never failed him. Until now, when all at once, they betrayed him.

He pivots hard, putting himself between the infant and Birashi. 

A punch rocks Ezurath forward, sending him face-first into the floor. He rolls with the fall, the rest of his body landing on its side to shield the infant.

He can’t move, his limbs unresponsive. He tries to breathe, but stabbing, sucking pain steals his air and sets his ribs to grinding. He hears the familiar gushing of blood and the sloshing of crystal shards within meat. Hot wetness envelops him, his vision swimming with dark arterial red. 

He manages to turn his head.

The infant is still looking up at him, nonplussed. A small nick has appeared on its nose, but it is otherwise unharmed.

Long fingers reach down and pluck the child from Ezurath’s limp grip. He watches as it wriggles in Birashi’s arms, only calming when she places it down on the seat of her throne.

She returns, a syringe ejecting from her glove as she stabs down hard into Ezurath’s side.

Freezing pain sears through his chest as foam instantly expands and dries within him. A jet of hot blood vomits from his lips, followed by a dry and ragged intake of breath.

‘There. Can’t have my favourite pet dying on me.’ She seizes a chunk of hair and lifts his face up to hers.

‘You especially should know me better. I hate ultimatums, and this child is not the key to freedom you think it is.’ 

Ezurath’s response is a breathless wheeze. ‘I wouldn’t be so sure…’

Birashi’s eyes narrow, then follow Ezurath’s own to just over her shoulder.

The infant glares back, its soft face twisted into a playful smirk. Blood runs from the data cable clamped to its arm, the serpentine head satisfied with the familial ichor.

The room stills as the gentle thrumming of the generators falls silent.

Birashi has time to drop Ezurath and turn before the window explodes and a pack of leering Hellions glide through the dust cloud.

Birashi’s dismissed bodyguards surge back into the hall, filling the air with splinter shards as they meet the hovering Hellions with rifles and blades.

Ezurath wheezes forward, crawling on his belly, one side of his body in unresponsive agony.

The infant sits contentedly on the throne, watching as splinter shards, blood, and severed heads smash into the ground around it.

It turns, watching its father finally reach it and pull it down into relative safety beneath the throne.

Ezurath holds his son tight, looking down again into his wide and intelligent eyes. ‘We really do look alike, don’t we, little one?’ The infant smiles, and Ezurath can’t help grinning back.

About the Author

Solomon is an aspiring writer and film director who should probably read more… After spending a few years in the “real world” Solomon has already had enough of it and is now pursuing his original dream of a creative career. So far he has found some success working within freelance film production, and continues to both write and direct his own prose and film projects. Alas, why didn’t anyone tell him that becoming a writer wasn’t as romantic as it seems? Oh well, I’m sure he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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