Vitamins, Supplements, Sport Nutrition

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

As the princess stormed out of the cell, Lucia resisted the urge to go after her. She knew Des's words had hurt; normally she would have gone to comfort her friend. But everything had changed when she'd walked into the cell and recognized the man chained to the wall.

The Huntress was staring at her, smiling. The Iktotchi was evil. Twisted. She had enjoyed watching Serra torture the victim; she had relished in his suffering. Lucia suspected she took pleasure in Serra's emotional torment, as well.

She returned the assassin's gaze but refused to speak. For a moment their eyes locked, and then the Iktotchi turned away with an air of indifference, as if Lucia was beneath her notice. The bodyguard continued to stare at her back as the Huntress followed in the princess's wake, leaving her alone with the prisoner.

At first a part of her had actually wondered if Des deserved what was being done to him. After all, he was a Sith Lord now. She had fought on the side of the Sith during the war, but she was only a soldier. Like Lucia herself, most of her comrades-in-arms had enlisted because they saw no other way to escape the suffering and hopelessness of their lives. They had turned against the Republic out of desperation, but they were still decent men and women.

The Sith Lords, however, were monsters. Ruthless and cruel, they cared nothing for the soldiers who followed them. Sometimes it even seemed they enjoyed the death and suffering inflicted on the enlisted personnel under their command. Their mere presence inspired terror in the ranks, and at night the troops would share stories of the horrors they inflicted on their enemies:or their allies who had failed them.

Lucia never thought she could feel pity for a Sith Lord. But she also never imagined Des would become one of them.

If Des really had murdered Caleb, Lucia reasoned, then he had brought this on himself. But when questioned, he insisted he wasn't the one who had killed the healer, and Lucia was convinced he was telling the truth. Even the Iktotchi assassin had seemed to believe him. But despite all the evidence-the accounts of the Jedi, the Huntress's mention of a mysterious blond woman at the scene, and the refusals of Des himself-Serra had not been swayed from her course. The princess had refused to listen to facts or reason. Her hatred blinded her to everything else.

She had stormed off in anger, but Lucia knew it was only a matter of time until she returned to subject Des to another round of torture. She had seen the madness in Serra's eyes. The princess hungered for revenge.

Lucia recognized that look; she had seen it in the eyes of her fellow soldiers when the enforcers had dragged Des away in cuffs. Whether he was guilty of the crime didn't matter: Serra was going to make her prisoner suffer for the death of her father. And there was nothing anyone could say or do to make her change her mind. And even if he didn't kill Caleb, he's still a monster. He probably deserves to die.

During the interrogation, she had listened with growing horror to the words coming from the prisoner's mouth. It was clear Des had embraced the teachings of the dark side in ways she could never have imagined. He was not the man she remembered; the camaraderie of the Gloom Walkers meant nothing to the creature he had become.

But it means something to me.

Lucia still believed in the ideals of the Gloom Walkers. They looked out for one another; they counted on one another to survive. There was honor in their code of unity, symbolized in the secret greeting reserved only for other members of the unit: a closed fist rapped firmly on the breastbone, just above the heart.

Whatever Des was now, she still owed him her life. He had saved her-the entire unit-too many times to count. Yet when the enforcers had taken him away she had been powerless to help him. Now fate was giving her another chance to repay her debt.

A small pool of blood was forming on the floor, dripping from where Serra had sliced open his cheek.

You're not just doing it for Des, Lucia told herself, turning her attention to the color-coded needles resting on the cart.

Serra's hatred would only fester and grow. She'd become more and more twisted each time she returned to inflict pain on her helpless victim. The loss of her husband had pushed her to the edge of madness, and this would take her over the brink.

She had watched as the princess had administered the various drugs, pumping them directly into Des's system through the thick artery in his neck. She didn't fully understand what the compounds were or what they did, but she had seen enough to gain some understanding of each one's effects.

The black needle induced the spasms Serra had used to torture her victim; the yellow caused the convulsions to end. The green seemed to force Des back into his stupor. But the red needle-the one her mistress had given him at the start of the interrogation-had seemed to wake him up. It had to be some kind of stimulant or antidote, something to offset the drugs that kept him helpless and non-responsive.

Glancing over her shoulder to make sure nobody in the guard room just outside was watching, she picked up one of the red hypodermics.

There were too many mercs for her to fight her way out-trying to win Des his freedom that way would only get them both killed. But she didn't have to break Des out to save him. He had always been capable of looking after himself, even before he gained the mystical powers of a Sith Lord. She knew he was more than capable of escaping on his own if she just gave him a little help.

She gently pushed the tip of the needle into his thigh, hoping the drugs would enter his system more slowly and less violently than when Serra had plunged them into his neck. She knew it was possible she might accidentally overdose him, but even if Des died it was better than leaving him alive to be tortured over and over again.

Placing the needle back on the cart, she turned and quickly left the room. She didn't have time to wait around and watch the effects. She needed to find the princess. If the drug worked as she suspected, he'd quickly regain his faculties. And once he was able to call upon the terrible power of the dark side, no cell in the galaxy would be capable of holding him.

She made her way back into the guard room. The mercenaries had returned to their card game, oblivious of what she had done. Serra and the Huntress were nowhere in sight.

"Where did the princess go?" she demanded.

There was a long silence before one of the mercenaries grudgingly looked up from the hand and answered, "She didn't say. She just left."

"And you let her go off alone?" Lucia demanded angrily.

"That Iktotchi was with her so we just..." the man answered, his voice trailing off under her withering glare.

She realized they were mere hired guns. They didn't care for anything but the credits they'd been promised.

"Lock the cell door," Lucia spat out. "If anything goes wrong, hit the alarm." That should give me enough of a warning to get the princess out of here in time.

Two of the soldiers reluctantly got up and moved to obey her orders as Lucia climbed the staircase to the hall above.

She didn't care that when Des broke free he'd slaughter the guards. These men and women weren't her friends or colleagues. She knew they'd kill her without a second thought if the price was right. They were mercenaries; their lives meant nothing to her.

But she still cared about Serra. Despite what she had done, she was still loyal to her mistress. She was still sworn to protect her life. When Des broke free, she knew he'd come looking for the princess. When the alarms went off warning of the prisoner's escape, Lucia wanted to be there to help Serra get away to safety.

And if he catches us before we get away, she silently tried to reassure herself, maybe he'll remember me. Maybe I can convince him to let Serra live. First, however, she had to find her.