The Auction

01 – Override

6 Months Before Mirrorfall

Curt screamed against the gag.

Caught. Captured. On his way to an execution. Dead. He was dead.

Unfortunately, whoever this capture unit was, they were good. His hands were cuffed tightly behind his back with no wiggle room to do anything. There was supposed to be some trick you could do by breaking your thumb, but he wasn’t even sure he had the leverage to do that.

The gag was hot and wet in his mouth. Spit. Blood. Tears.

The van rounded a corner, and his head slammed against the metal wall.

Across from him, a little fairy boy – probably about five – shook the older girl he was with. Probably his sister, maybe a babysitter. Wrecked wings twitched painfully behind the boy’s back, most of the beautiful, see-through panels of orange and yellow cracked and useless for flight.

They could be fixed. There were a dozen procedures that could make the wings flight-capable again. If they got out of there.

When he’d first met Carmichel – in the middle of a fight for his life – the fairy’s wings had been even more fucked up. But, over time, and with money and therapy, each broken panel had been repaired, each connective muscle and structural support healed or replaced.

Some fairies, Carmichel had told him, preferred to keep the repair jobs looking natural. Others liked to showcase that they’d overcome injury and thrived afterwards.

Carmichel’s wings had become…ostentatious. Gold, silver, and jewels now supported his wings in a way that could so easily have looked tacky but just…worked when it came to Carmichel.

The van took another sharp corner, and he felt himself chiding the driver. The capture team had been professional and thorough, but their driver was going to get them caught. It was protocol to stay as invisible as possible. Stick to the speed limit or a little below, obey all the traffic laws. Drive like you had your grandma in the back, and she had a cup of tea in her hand.

If he could have laughed, he would have.

The worse they drove, the more likely it was that some tech with a drone would be able to pick them out of all the city’s traffic. The more likely it was that Combat recruits would be able to swoop in before they got into a blackout zone.

But the part of him that had too recently been a Solstice could still feel annoyed at their unprofessional job.

Not that his history would save him when they finally got to the “talking” part of prisoner intake.

His history would jump him right to the head of the queue, only behind any agents they had to play with.

And however he was going to die, it would be slow and painful.

Across from him, the little boy looked up, eyes huge and full of tears. But, it finally dawned on him, mostly unrestrained. Cuffed in the front and at the ankles, but not tied to the wall. Fae or not, the capture team was probably relying on the child’s young age to stop him from doing anything to escape.

As for his sister, or whoever she was, a blooming bruise on her forehead said she wouldn’t wake up any time soon.

The little boy crawled over – bouncing and rolling as the van accelerated – crawled up onto his lap, and slowly worked the wet gag out of his mouth.

‘You’re a agent, aren’t you? Help us.’

Curt leaned as far forward as he could and softly bonked his head against the little boy’s, all the comfort he could give from his bound position. ‘What’s your name, kiddo?’

‘Gem.’ He pointed little cuffed hands at the girl. ‘An’ she’s Ori.’

‘And she’s your sister?’

A little nod.

‘Gem, have you practised getting real small?’

‘I’m not good at it yet.’

‘It’s okay, you don’t need to be real good, just a little good, okay? Close your eyes, and focus on your hands. If you can make them a bit smaller, you can get those awful, hurty things off.’

Gem stared down at his hands and flexed them, fingers opening and closing a few times. One by one, staggered, like bad claymation, his fingers grew smaller, then like a cascading reaction, his palm and forearms followed.

The cuffs dropped to the floor of the van.

‘Now back to proper size.’

The change was quicker this time.

‘Look over there,’ Curt said, indicating with his head. ‘Do you see the pad on the back of the door?’

A little nod.

‘Try punching in- Do you know your numbers?’

A look of concentration came over Gem’s face, then a firm nod. ‘Yep. Most of them. Yep.’

The van slowed and stopped, but the engine remained on, at a red light. Hopefully at a red light.

‘Go,’ he ordered gently. ‘Now try-’ The old universal code had been changed and didn’t work. His personal code was out of the system. One last try. He talked Gem through inputting his old captain’s code – an override as long as a credit card number.

He sucked in a breath as Gem hit the last number. Unsaid prayers came true as the lock indicator turned green.

‘Okay, kiddo, come here.’ Gem crawled across the van floor, then plopped himself into Curt’s lap. ‘I’m an agent,’ he said to the tousled mop of hair just under his chin. ‘So you know you can trust me, right?’


‘This is a bad situation. I can get you both out of here.’ A lie, but if it saved one life, it would be worth it. ‘But I’ve got to get you out first, then I can save Ori. The green circle next to all the numbers, that will open the doors. Now, what I want you to do is-’



‘Mum said never leave Ori. I’m s’posed to stay with her.’

‘Gem, you have to- You gotta do what I say, okay?’

Gem crawled back a couple of feet and crossed his arms. ‘No.’

He could yell. He could scream. He could tell a four-year-old kid that he would die if he didn’t escape. Some combination of scaring the shit out of a child would work.

And he had to.

A moment of being terrified, a moment of-

The van slammed on its brakes, there was the scream of metal, of tyres skidding and popping, and then everything started to roll.

‘Hold on!’

Gem launched himself backward and grabbed hold of his sister.

The van rolled, hit something that scraped away part of the wall behind the fairy siblings, and then abruptly stopped.

He hung at a strange angle for a moment, then something behind him snapped, and he fell onto the new floor of the van, his hands still cuffed behind him.

Somewhere to his left, Gem was screaming and crying, again begging Ori to wake up.

‘Kiddo, kiddo? Are you okay?’

A painful wail was his only response.

‘I think this is a rescue,’ he mumbled, unsure if he was talking to Gem or himself.

Almost in perfect tandem, whirring blades slid down the length of the van’s back doors, cutting through anything that attached them to the body of the wrecked van.

Then, as soon as they withdrew, the doors were pulled away, and bright lights shone into the van, flooding them with an almost painful amount of light.

‘Just prisoners,’ he shouted to the shadowed shapes that were hopefully Combat recruits.

One shape stepped forward, finally visible, and he’d never been happier to see a fluffy, lacy skirt.

Magnolia-don’t-use-my-fucking-surname, aide of the Combat Division, everything that was terrifying and arousing about a woman in one goth package.

The first time he’d met her, she’d been dressed like one of those anime goth girls, a very cute black and white outfit, definitely at odds with what he’d expected of a recruit.

He hadn’t commented on it, though, not knowing if it was cosplay, a bet, or her usual attire.

It had only taken a couple of days to realise that this was her standard wardrobe. Corsets that hid knives, multi-layered skirts that sat above combat boots, always predominantly black and white to go with her magpie aesthetic.

Mags wasn’t what he’d expected of the Agency, and that had made his transition from a piece of shit Solstice to recruit just…much more complicated than he’d wanted.

It was easier because at least one person didn’t treat him like he was complete worthless shit.

It was harder because it stood out in sharp contrast to how everyone else treated him.

Two of the Combat recruits helped him stand. One snipped the short length of chain that held the cuffs together so that at least his arms were free.

‘Thanks, mate,’ he said, then backed up a few feet to let them do their work.

Another recruit emerged, carrying Ori’s bruised and unconscious form, and Gem followed, his hand clutching his sister’s.

‘Anything I need to know before you fuck off?’ Magnolia asked, coming up to his side.

‘Just get someone in Tech to check the lock configuration. If it’s web-enabled, then one more access code is probably burned.’

‘Easy.’ She looked down, noticed blood on her glove, and wiped it against her skirt, a dark stain on the black fabric.

It was a small motion, and being thrown around the van had slowed his brain a bit, but- He could only see the people who’d been in the back of the van. Gem. Ori. Himself. Neither the driver nor the assistant was being manhandled by the recruits.

‘People who fuck with kids don’t get second chances,’ she said as she saw him staring at her glove.

‘No argument from me,’ he said. ‘Send me back? I don’t want to stand here bleeding all night.’

She nodded, and with a couple of words into her earpiece, he was beamed away.

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