After Malcolm left, Carina sat silently at the table for a full hour, staring blankly without even taking a sip of water.

Her well-heeled upbringing and the comforts that came with it sheltered her from actual malignant adversaries. Her most serious incident was simply caused by jealousy among little girls, literally child’s play at this point when compared to Malcolm. He was the first “proper enemy” she ever encountered.

He had ruined her life, slowly laying out it’s bare, harsh realities before her eyes.

It was the first time Carina experienced such powerful sensations of fear and abhorrence. Throughout her days on the island, she would dream of diminishing Malcolm in her sleep, making him pay for every single horrible thing he’d done to her.

However, when the day actually came, a time when the opportunity was ripe, and victory was nigh, Malcolm simply strolled into her room, looked her in the eye, and told her that she had the wrong man all along. The man who had destroyed her family, and locked away her father, was, in fact, someone else.

Carina considered the possibility of Malcolm lying, and that it was just another deceitful narrative he conjured out of desperation to throw her off. Although she hated to admit it, she knew deep down inside that Malcolm’s rationalization actually made sense.

Of late, she had been in a state of continuous disillusion, unsure of herself and where she was actually headed.

Everything seemed a little too smooth this time around. Although Carina was forced through dire situations before, to the verge of bankruptcy at one point, Malcolm and the black-market alliance didn’t take drastic measures to defeat her in her most trying times – very unlike Malcolm. On top of that, they even located Eugene without much hassle. While it took significant effort to persuade him, Eugene’s resistance wasn’t as vehement as expected.

Compared to previous clashes, Malcolm’s standards seemed to have fallen short this time. It would all make sense if Redmond had secretly intervened, though.

Carina simply found it hard to accept that after all this while of chasing him down, Malcolm wasn’t the perpetrator. It was as if she had been traversing an arid desert for an eternity, heading in one direction, and just when an oasis was in sight, it suddenly disappeared like a mirage.

Nonetheless, wherever the truth lay, Malcolm’s offer was indeed, very tantalizing. Not only would the black-market alliance officially recognize her pawn business, but they would even agree to a whole list of favorable terms. The most important thing was that they promised to set her father free and help her exact revenge. Now that they shared a common enemy, she didn’t have to worry about Malcolm and his bothersome antics anymore.

Carina was slightly tempted.

“Is this your escape plan?” Lola asked, looking baffled. “We have first to take out the two guards at the gate, then avoid the night patrols to sneak into the torture chamber and rescue Daisy and Nadya? Then, we pray hard that we didn’t alert anyone, right? After that, we just have to run to the gate, kill a whole team of highly trained guards, and finally, make our way to the beach? Forgive me for being blunt, but this is not an escape plan, this is suicide!”

Leah tried to explain, “No, Laeli will eventually bring in more people, and we’ll take care of the guards at the gate together. And he’s already prepared a carriage that will send us to the beach.”

“But it still doesn’t change the immeasurable danger we have to face before all that. You can’t just pray for the guards to go blind, or for the guard at the chamber to magically disappear. There’s no way we can fight so many with just two blunderbusses and eight daggers.

“We will kill the two guards outside the gate, and that itself is a huge risk. After that, we go straight to the main entrance. You’ve seen how the slaves sent to the chamber were treated. Come tomorrow; Daisy would’ve been in there for a day, and more than twenty days for that Nadya guy. Even if we manage to get them out, could they even walk in that state? I don’t need to be dragging along two deadweights while trying to escape!”

“They are not deadweights; they are my companions,” Leah insisted firmly. “Without them, we would have never contacted the people outside. It if hadn’t been for Nadya and Daisy’s perseverance, we would’ve ended up in there with them. So we either leave together, or no one leaves at all!”

“Your stubbornness will only kill us all!” Lola bemoaned with wide eyes. “You are like a tiny canary that Malcolm caged up for too long. You have no idea how cruel the world is outside this place.”

“So, it seems this is all about your personal resentments. What about you, then? Do you know how cruel it is?” Leah retorted.

“Of course, I do!” Lola stripped off her dress and pointed at the thick scars pockmarking her chest. “At least I’ve actually tried escaping before. How else do you think these came about?”

Leah stared in stunned silence. After a while, she blurted, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know about this.”

“Of course, you don’t. You weren’t even here yet.” Lola slipped her dress back on and said earnestly, “I have attempted escape before, and I’ve seen many others do the same. I know better than anyone just how dangerous it is to do so. You have to do all you can to lower the risks involved. Perhaps you’ll have a chance to succeed then. I know that they are very important to you and I also know that you don’t want to disappoint them. But sometimes, Leah, someone needs to make the difficult decisions.”

For a minute, Leah stared silently at the floor. Then, she looked up and replied, “I’m sorry. We either go together, or none of us leaves.”

Lola felt deep frustration coursing through her veins, and in a rage, she erupted in curses. 1*^[email protected]!#! I’m so stupid! I should never have gotten involved in this!”

“I’ll understand if you want to back out now. But no matter what, I will always be grateful to you. Without you, we couldn’t have gotten the weapons, and we wouldn’t have communicated with our allies outside the manor,” replied Leah, sincerity brimming in her eyes.

“Do you still not understand?! I have nowhere else to go! If you fail, you will be tortured until you confess and sell me out!” Lola punched the shelf next to her before taking in a deep breath and composing herself.

“Alright, you win. I give in. We can go save your friends, but we cannot rush it.”

“Any ideas you can think of?” Leah asked humbly.

“There’s no way around being noisy if we break into the torture chamber. Since that’s the case, we just make a louder noise. We’ll distract the patrols by setting fire to the granary east of the manor, as well as the firewood store. That way, we’ll have enough time to save your friends.”

“But with so few with us… it can’t be done, right?” Leah wondered out loud.

“Yes, which is why we have to convince more to join us!” Lola answered resolutely.