”Phe, wake up! ” said a voice, murky, distant and muffled like there was a great body of water between them. Something was wrong, she knew that, she just couldn open her eyes to see what it was. ”Phe, please! ”

Phoenix woke gasping, her chest heaving, her eyes big and wide as she stared around her. ”Iris? ” she called.

”Right here, Phe, we were caught. ”

She turned then, seeing her sister sitting beside her with her wrists bound to a long metal strip in the wall, just like Phoenixs. Phoenix had never seen this cold, dark corridor before or the other people she could see either side of them, but none of that mattered, not when Iris was staring at her like that and waiting.

”That pocket above my knee, ” Phoenix said. ”Can you reach it? I need my toolkit. ”

Iris nodded, twisting and turning and pressing her heel up into the bottom of that pocket to push Phoenixs toolkit out. It would be a struggle to break out of these bands, not impossible but a struggle, but Phoenix knew Iris could do it. She nodded when she saw the corner of her toolkit push the flap open, knowing it wouldn be long now before she had it, but then Iris went stiff, both of them turning to listen to that loud bang at the end of the corridor.

”Too late, ” Iris whispered.

”What are you talking about, Iris? ” Phoenix hissed. ”Hurry up, don stop. ”

Iris looked back at her, her eyes bright and sharp as she shook her head. ”They take people down there and they don come back, ” she said.

”I can get us out of here, I just need my toolkit. ”

Iris shook her head again, pushing Phoenixs toolkit back in and watching the corridor. ”We have to wait, they
e coming, ” she whispered. ”I counted, we
e up next. ”

”Just keep your head down and stay behind me, ” Phoenix nodded.

Iris did not fight when those men came for her. They were not the same Head-hunters from before, but their boots were just as loud and heavy. Phoenix watched them closely, her eyes darting as they unbound Iris and two others and turned to her. There was a chance she could catch them off guard when they unbound her too, a slim chance but a chance, the question was what she could do for Iris if she managed to. She watched them come closer, her mouth going dry when she watched them skip over her and head to another.

”No, ” Iris shook her head. ”Shes next, you have to take her. ” No one answered her, the man beside her only grabbing her arm and turning her around. ”No, Phe? ”

”Its my turn, ” Phoenix said. ”Take me, you have to take me too. ”

”Quiet, ” one of those men tutted, and Phoenixs blood ran cold.

”Please, ” she said. ”You have to. ”

”Phoenix! ” Iris cried when they began to pull her away.

”No, come back! ” Phoenix shook her head. ”Iris! ”

”Phe! ” She heard her fight and cry, but her voice was already so much quieter.

”Please, don take her! ”

”Phe! ”

”Take me too! Please! ” she shouted, but she wanted to say so much more. She wanted to shout, she wanted to scream, but suddenly she had no voice. ”Please, ” she whispered. ”Please, Ill give you anything you want. Please, don take her… Take me too! ” she cried, but there was no one there. ”Please… ”

She closed her eyes then, banging her head against the wall and feeling that scream tearing through her throat. She couldn breathe, she couldn stop with her chest heaving and those tears streaming down her cheeks. That was twice now that she had done nothing while they had taken her sister, twice that she had failed her when shed needed her the most.

”Iris? ” she called, her eyes flicking open and staring down that corridor. ”Iris?! ” she cried, but no one answered.

She had to figure out where theyd taken her, she had to make this right and save Iris before it was too late. Her heart was a little easier then, her breathing just as heavy, her face just as tight, but this time she did not say a word when they came for her. She watched that blood drip down her fingers as she stood outside a dark, dingy door, feeling how those bands on her wrists chaffed and caught on her skin. One of those men nodded, opening the door, another shoving Phoenix inside, and she wanted to grunt, but all she could do was lift her hands, shielding her eyes from that terrible, bright light on the other side.

It took her a moment to catch her bearings, those spotlights shining right at her and three others. She tried to look, her eyes darting to check for Iris, for a door, for anything that would give her a clue, but all she saw was mirrors, reaching high up, her own reflection always staring straight back at her. She saw a man then, his face shielded by a pair of thick, dark sunglasses, that grin on his face seemingly showing each one of his white teeth. He smiled at her, tilting his head down so he could look at her from over those thick glasses, and then he laughed, holding his arms out wide and turning around.

”And now, my honoured guests, weve come to lot number 34, ” when he spoke his voice was impossibly loud, louder than anything Phoenix had ever heard before. ”Please check your screens for information on bids already posted and I have to remind you that the lot can be purchased as a whole or individually. ” He waited a moment, nodding to himself, that smile never wavering, as he stared out at all those mirrors. ”I also have to remind you that Woodlander purchases are limited to one per auction. ”

She stared at him then, her chest heaving, her mouth dry. She wanted to tell him that he had to take her to Iris, she wanted to tell all those mirrors that she wasn a Woodlander and she wasn for sale, but she bit it back, her eyes darting, always searching, always looking for her sister. That man moved then, surprisingly quickly, his steps light and easy as he grabbed a young girl by the arm. She cried, a short, shrill cry that was more like a squeak, her free hand clutching at the front of her shirt, her face scrunched up in a tight wince.

”First up, this lovely, little thing! ” he grinned. ”A nineteen-year-old from the Outlands, perfect for a House-slave or a Pet. Isn she sweet? Her name is Mia. I have to mention that she is of unapproved parenting, but don worry, she has good genetics. Perfect for anyone interested in breeding programs. ”

Phoenixs skin was tingling, her stomach burning as she watched them. Pets and breeding programs, it was all so much worse than she had ever thought. What had he said about Iris and where had they sent her?

”My honoured guests, it appears we have come to an agreement. ”

Her eyes went wide then, her hands tight fists as she stared at the two of them. That man let the girl go, not even stopping for a moment when she started crying. How many others had he sent off like this and how many of their names did Phoenix carry in her heart? Suddenly she wanted to know, suddenly she wasn sure if she could handle the truth. He came to stand next to a beast of a man then, his one shoulder wide enough for Phoenix to sit on, those fists at his sides as big as her face, and the auctioneer laughed, his hands clasped behind his back as he nodded.

”Isn he wonderful? ” he asked. ”A fine Fighter, no doubt, ” he nodded again. ”Please find his information on your screens now, but I say just look at him. With the right training he could bring honour and glory to any household. His name is Boris, aged twenty-seven, but-! ” he laughed. ”I should say no more, weve come to an agreement! ”

She almost wanted him to come for her next, a part of her wanting this to be over, a part of her that died when she saw him looking at her, but then he circled around, coming to stand by another man, that smile finally leaving his face, his head shaking side to side.

”My honoured guests, we have something unfortunate here for you now, ” he said. ”An Offender! ” he shook his head. ”Fit for only one purpose: The Mines! ” he said, and even Phoenixs blood ran cold.

She did not know much about where she was heading, she had no clue where Iris was now, but she knew for certain neither of them were going there. Even in The Forests, they knew that there was only one place worse than The City, and this man with his sun-kissed skin and long, thick dreads, was heading there. He stood a little taller, his chin sticking out, his face grim and tight, his hands shaking.

”Of course, you could also use him for experiments, ” the auctioneer nodded. ”His name is Belfire, hes only twenty-five so he should last a while. ”

Phoenix wanted to shake her head then, she wanted to look away and not have to see this. Suddenly being a House-slave or a Pet didn seem so bad, suddenly she didn know what to think. Belfire stared ahead, not once looking at that auctioneer beside him, the colour draining from his cheeks, his forehead lining in a crease.

”It appears we have come to an agreement, ” the auctioneer said, and that was all he said before he rounded on her, that smile back on his face, a smile that twitched like it was fighting to become a grin.

He looked like he wanted to grab her like he had Mia, his hand reaching out for her arm, but Phoenix pulled away, her hands clenching into fists as she glared at him, and that smile did become a grin then, his arms going wide as he spun back around.

”Four! ” he said. ”She took out four Head-hunters before she was caught! Almost killed one of them! ” he nodded. ”What we have for you here, my honoured guests, is a full-blood, free-born Woodlander with the start of a reputation. It doesn get better than that, ” he laughed. ”Phoenix, her name is Phoenix, and shes only twenty-two, think of where-! ” he cut himself off, his hands rising and his head bowing. ”Weve come to an agreement and well be including her gear as a thank you for the generosity shown here tonight. ”

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