Tanim burst through the roof door and quickly scanned his surroundings, hoping to find a fire stair or some other means of escape. He ran to the ledge and stopped, staring down at the empty street below. “Fuck,” he cursed, panting for breath. The ground was simply too far; he would never survive the fall. As if to make good on that promise, the wind ripped at his long black coat and plastered tangled hair against his face as it tried to drag him over the edge.

“Dead end? How unfortunate.”

Tanim whirled around and favored his triumphant adversary with a wicked grin. Blood gleamed on his lips and trickled down his jaw; spreading stains beneath the torn fabric of his shirt hinted at serious wounds. “The captain is already gone, you know,” he taunted despite the weary rasp in his voice. “You’re too slow.”

Alice shrugged as she moved out onto the roof, keeping herself between Tanim and the door. “Then I guess you’ll have to do.” Moonlight glimmered off her sword as she pointed the deadly blade at her captive. “Now tell me: what are you doing in this world? What does Mage want with Stratus? Hurry and speak, otherwise I’ll finish what I started down on the street. You’ve lost quite a bit of blood already, you know.”

“You think that butter knife scares me?” Tanim barked a short, mocking laugh. “You won’t kill me. You don’t have the guts. You’re just a little girl playing at war, too frightened to take on the burden of her enemies’ deaths to protect what she loves. Until you stain your hands red, that’s all this will ever be – a game.” He threw out his arms. “Go ahead, cut my throat open. I dare you.”

Alice struggled to mask her hesitation as Tanim called her bluff. I have to take him to the lighthouse, she thought desperately, scrambling to switch tactics. We’ll get Mage’s plans out of him one way or another. “You’re right,” she conceded, lowering her weapon begrudgingly, “I won’t take any life, even my enemy’s. But you’re cornered, unarmed, and severely wounded. You’ve no way out, so you might as well surrender peaceably and come back to Sanctuary Island with me. If you don’t cause any trouble I can promise you’ll be treated fairly. We’ll even see to those injuries, too.”

Tanim’s bloody lips twisted in a disgusted grimace, an expression of pitying condescension flashing in his stormy eyes. “There’s always a way out,” he replied softly as he stepped back onto the rooftop ledge. “Have you learned nothing, foolish child?”

Realizing how the man intended to escape her, Alice threw out one arm. “Tanim, stop!” she cried, horrified. What has Mage done to them? the girl wondered madly. “You don’t have to throw your life away for her! She’s using you, don’t you see that? You’re all she has, just cannon fodder to fuel her vengeance!” She took a cautious step forward, struggling to reason with the man who bled from the bite of her own blade. “How many times have you died for her already? How many times has he died for her? Aren’t you supposed to protect him?” She offered him her hand. “Come with me. You’d both be safe on Sanct. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself again.”

“Lying bitch,” Tanim snarled as he fixed Alice with a frozen glare, all humor wiped from his gaze by sudden rage. “You think I don’t know your world doesn’t want us? That we don’t belong there? We were never children, him and I. We were never given the chance to be naive enough to believe we could run away to some fucking Neverland. Your pretty little lies won’t work on us, Deceiver; go find some other poor souls to fill full of false dreams. I rejected your world when it rejected us.”

Tanim slid one foot back until his heel hung over the edge of the drop off.

“You’re running out of time, Alice Pan. No one can escape their pain forever. Even the Lost must wake eventually. Are you ready to do what you must to protect the ones you love?” He spread his arms wide to embrace the howling wind. “Don’t worry, I’ll make it easy for you. I’ll be your first.”

“NO!” Alice lurched forward but could not grab hold before the man tipped over the ledge. She dropped to her knees and clamped her hands over her ears to block out the sound of his impact on the cement far below, yet his bitter words still echoed inside her mind.

“Until you stain your hands red, that’s all this will ever be – a game.”


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