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z-Silvestru

Aberrant: Infinite Earth - Fiction - [A&A] Focul Iadului

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The guards outside the secure area were clearly bored; they had mastered the art of leaning against a wall without actually appearing to slouch. Both of them had the slack-muscled expression that suggested that they were moments from falling asleep on their feet from sheer boredom. There was nothing down there; the hallway ended at a corner. There was nothing interesting to see.

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Until the laundry girl appeared from thin air and lodged throwing knifes in their throats from twenty feet. Both men went down with only the clatter of their twitching bodies. Silvestru retrieved her blades and cleaned them on the men’s uniforms before digging through pockets for the keys. Then she opened the door to the secure area.

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She’d never been allowed this far before. The guards brought the linens to the door and left them outside for her and the other laundresses to retrieve. When cleaned, they were left in the same spot. Silvestru had always wondered why they didn’t allow anyone other than the guards back here and her first glimpse of the area didn’t explain matters. It was just a long hallway, lined by doors on either side. The doors were dozens of feet apart, implying massive rooms or suites of rooms behind each.

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Silvestru didn’t have time to ponder. The sound of approaching feet required her to cloak herself again and press herself against the wall. Four men in the Gestapo uniforms exited a room and paused when they saw the door was open. One of them stepped past Silvestru, his expression confused until he saw the bodies. “Intruder!” he cried in German even as Silvestru winced. “Sound the alarms!”

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Klaxons rang in the air, which was to her advantage. Under the aural cover of the sirens, Silvestru turned and dashed deeper into the complex, seeking the prisoner’s cells. The rooms in this area were interrogation cells and so reminiscent of her time in her cell that she shivered and fought nausea. The Nazis were no better than the Romanian Fascists.

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A door right in front of her opened and Silvestru slammed into it. Another second either way and she’d have been fine, but the timing didn’t allow her to compensate and dodge. She tumbled to the floor, visible, and the guards who’d been emerging from the other side blinked at the sight of the blood-splattered laundress lying on the floor.

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Silvestru kicked up while the first of the three was still gaping, slicing his throat and turning the splatters into a spray of gore across her and her clothing. With the other hand, she grabbed his submachine gun and turned it on his companions. Blood clouded the air in a mist as the bullets minced their flesh and bone and Silvestru turned as the Gestapo she’d been fleeing heard. They were leveling their guns at her as she sprayed the hallway again. When they returned fire, she ducked behind the heavy metal door, glad that it stopped bullets.

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They were alternating shots, trying to keep her pinned down while they advanced on her. Silvestru scowled a moment before moving to the gap in the door formed by the hinges. She nudged the barrel of her gun into that opening and rapidly picked them off, each burst of fire taking out a man.

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Silence followed her last shot and the young dynamic peeked out carefully. There was no sound or motion from the men but Silvestru sprayed the bodies again, just to be sure none of them were playing possum. She quickly exchanged her used gun for a fresh submachine gun.

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Satisfied she’d protected her cover thus far, Silvestru jogged down the hall. Where did they actually keep the dynamic prisoners? That thought made her cloak herself again; where were the dynamic guards?

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The last door in this hallway had a name on it: ‘Bæl’ Silvestru frowned slightly. What was a Bæl? With a shrug, she found the right key and opened the door.

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The two guards in the control room were surprised to see her when the door swung wide, as surprised as Silvestru was. But she recovered first, the submachine gun rattling loud in the small room. The men were good; one of them returned fire as he went down, and Silvestru’s chest sported three holes. At least one of the bullets was in her lung; when she pressed her hand to her chest, it was easier to breath. The girl felt her stomach twist with fear. She wouldn’t die, not here. Not so far from home. She needed to heal, but she was low on energy after the cloaking, and she had a long walk out yet. Hesitantly, she forced the bullets out and stopped the bleeding, but that was all.

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A thump bought her attention from the hole in her chest. A waist-high window peered into a water-filled room. A man was floating in a diving suit, but he was no ordinary man. His eyes burned like fire behind the faceplate. His hands were pressing on the glass, the source of the noise. He didn’t need to gesture to make his desires known; they were writ large in his face.

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Struggling against shock and dizziness, Silvestru went to the control panel. Most of it was monitors and dials; there was only one button, leeren. Draining seemed logical when you had a man trapped in a room of water, and she pressed the red switch.

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Every day was the same. Days of grey-green, locking in his drowning cell. The creature that called himself Bǣl held only fragments of Valentin Brandt in his psyche. Years of near-starvation, of isolation, of degradation... they had worn away humanity and self-respect and civilised mores until all that was left, the nub of his being, was rage. He had gotten to the point where he'd very nearly forgotten that two lives, dear to him, depended on his compliance. Nearly, but Valentin would not surrender that part of himself, clung to it as an anchor against the dreadful, searing need to burn. He would have screamed with his rage and need, but he had to keep control... had to wait. Wait for the chance to make them pay.

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How I hate them, those men beyond the glass, the men with their guns and the hose and their threats...

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Only now the men had fallen, moving in delightful slow motion as they slumped to the floor under the gunfire of a girl wearing a bloodstained dress. Bǣl moved slowly through the water, watching as the girl clutched at her injuries. Through the water, he could hear the hooting of the klaxons, and he thumped his hands against the thick-paned glass, attracting the girl's attention. She was quick, he realised as she looked first at him, then at the controls. Quick, and desperate too if she was freeing him. Or maybe she didn't know. Against the rising tide of his fury, surging now at the chance of an opening, Valentin tried to remember that the girl had helped him.

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She has killed Nazis. She is freeing me. She isn't an enemy... isn't an enemy...

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The water sluiced away, efficient German designs speeding the process to enable a more time-efficient way of managing him. The chamber could fill again almost as fast, but right now the last cubic metre was swirling down the drains. Bǣl felt his fury crest, and the cell suddenly became a sauna as the remaining water evaporated. From beyond the glass, Silvestru could see only swirling fog as she heard shouting from behind her, men yelling in German, an additional, shriller klaxon joining the original alarm.

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She isn't an enemy!

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In the foggy room, she could see the two blazing yellow eyes suddenly flare like a welder's torch. The heat rose so suddenly that sweat broke on her skin as the door was hammered inwards, and purely on instinct, she dived forwards, shielding behind the low wall. The glass window cracked and exploded outwards, shards of superheated glass creating a chiming cacophony as they impacted the wall and door behind her. From her prone position, she could make out a green-gold flickering on the stonework, eerie witchlight crawling and dancing.

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...NOT AN ENEMY!

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There was a sound like a metal diving helmet hitting the floor. The door was battered in, German soldiers following a makeshift ram. They saw the prone Silvestru and raised their guns.

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...ENEMIES!

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The world turned to emerald fire.

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* * * * *

A split second later, Silvestru raised her head and realised that she wasn't burned.

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True, it was so hot that it was hard to breathe. True also the room, and the corridor beyond, was a swirling, dancing inferno of green and gold flame. Further, the men who had burst into the room were caricatures of men now, sculptures of charred meat and bone with clothing and metal fused into their corpses, and the guards in the corridor beyond could be heard screaming, dreadful screams of pain and suffering. The smell was terrible.

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But she was unburned. The ground on which she lay was not superheated. Everywhere else, the flagstones smoked, but under her they were fine, if a little warm.

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A bare foot came down on a smoking flagstone beside her, not even a sizzle of burning flesh marking the event, and she looked up into a pair of blazing, featureless golden eyes belonging to a youth as beautiful as he was terrible. He was wreathed in shimmering flame, his face composed in an unearthly mask of wrath, but as he looked down at her the expression changed slightly.

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"Not an enemy." he said in a young tenor made rusty by non-use. He looked as though the words were something remembered, something not natural to him any more, and for a moment seemed as if he would say something more. His teeth clenched, though, and the next sound he made was a growl of the purest rage Silvestru had ever heard. There was a knife-edge moment as though the youth were suffering some internal struggle, then his head jerked up towards the open doorway and he strode out into the corridor, past the half-melted slag of the door.

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There were men out there, away from the girl who was not an enemy. This much Bǣl knew: those men were enemies and he could burn them, all of them. A few soldiers had holed up some distance away and, seeing him, screamed and opened fire, their bullets vaporising before hitting the enraged Dynamic. Bǣl screamed his hate in their faces and made a swiping gesture with a clawlike hand, and a sheet of fire roared from the air around him in response to the scream, boiling and rolling down the corridor and enveloping the doomed soldiers, whose screams mingled with their killer's maddened laughter.

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They will all burn!

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Silvestru stared at the carnage around her. She didn’t really have the urge to be sick over the bodies; she had long since learned that Germans were as bad as the Romanians who had taken over her government. The smell was something terrible though, and Silvestru paused to tie her handkerchief over her mouth and nose.

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The girl rose to her feet and hesitantly stepped onto the smoldering stones. The skirt of her dress shifted and moved in the updraft from the stones, and her feet were unpleasantly warm in seconds. The young archer quickly left the room, heading into the cooler hallway. That was relatively cooler, but at least her shoes weren’t in danger of melting off her feet.

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The youth was walking up the hallway, casually setting fire to everything. Silvestru erred on the side of caution and made herself invisible again. It seemed like a wise idea; though the boy—the Bǣl?—had named her ‘not an enemy’, he seemed to be missing a few eggs out of his nest. Ghosting invisibly behind him, she stepped over the gruesome bodies he left in his wake.

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When they reached the more populated areas of the prison she started to worry. There were people here—staff and prisoners—who had done nothing wrong, but the boy wasn’t slowing down in his assault. He’d burned through all of the guards who’d responded to his presence. It was a hell of a diversion, and no doubt that her would-be rapist was a cinder by now. It was all working out in her favor, except for the fact that she wasn’t sure the boy was going to stop with the guards. Guilt rose in her; Silvestru knew better than most that there were innocents in war. Her mother had been one.

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As she was trying to figure out how to try to talk to him, the sound of something metal smashing on stone rang through the air, and the building rattled. “That’s Ironhelm,” Silvestru said when the boy paused. “He’s one of the prison’s dynamic guards.”

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Enemy.” The burning youth knew one word, that was sure.

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“Probably.” Silvestru checked her magazine, scowling when she realized she was almost out. She’d been watching for another gun or more ammo, but her flaming companion didn’t leave much useable behind him. “I’m sure he’ll see you as one. I won’t be much help against him, but if the other guard shows up, I’ll be able to hurt him.” She glanced up at him, assessing his frame of mind. “Do you understand, boy-of-fire? You’ll be alone against a man who’s nigh-invulnerable.”

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"Ironhelm..." the word was a growl that slipped from between clenched teeth. Bǣl recognised the name. Knew the man who wore it. Arrogant, stupid ubermensch who liked to use his strength and size to intimidate and impress. A book-burner. A proud, goose-stepping moron who believed himself invulnerable because bullets couldn't hurt him. There wasn't time for the enraged Dynamic to employ his reasoning further. A moment or two more, and Bǣl would perhaps have cooled a little, enough to think or plan, but even as Silvestru saw the flickers of a more human intelligence replace inhuman rage the heavy steel door was punched dramatically off it's hinges at the far end of the corridor, and Ironhelm filled the doorway.

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And all chance of sanity prevailing disappeared as the fires of wrath roared to life in the depths of the glowing yellow eyes, and the boy wreathed in emerald flame turned from her to face Ironhelm.

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The large Nazi was moving, ripping a section of flagstone up from the floor and hurling it as he charged down the corridor. The black leather of his SS jacket and the black metal helm which was his namesake gleamed in the flickering green light, muscles bunching under his clothes as he moved with terrifying speed toward them. Silvestru dove and rolled for cover, wincing as the scorching stone pressed hot against her, but Bǣl never moved but to raise his hands.

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The first blast of unnaturally hot flame reduced the hurled chunk of rock to droplets of molten stone which hit the ground and walls with a sizzling pattering noise that put the resistance fighter in mind of rain hitting a hot skillet. Bǣl stepped through the shower of glowing droplets without a care, teeth bared in a rictus grin as Ironhelm pulled back one ham-sized hand to squash the slender youth flat-

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There was another blinding flare of emerald light, talons of fire wreathing around the struggling, screaming Nazi ubermensch and slamming him into the nearest wall, holding him down. He spat out a curse in German and fought free, raising himself to one knee before he felt a hand clamp over his face. There was another viridian flare of light and a rapidly cut-off scream, and from her vantage Silvestru could see Bǣl standing over Ironhelm, his face a mask of hate as he poured his fire into Ironhelm's mouth, into his eyes and nose, melting through skin and bone and tissue until the helmet glowed searing cherry red and the girl could actually make out a green glow from inside the large German's body through his clothing.

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Then Bǣl released him, stepping back somewhat shakily as the smoldering corpse crashed to the ground, the helmet coming loose and rolling to a stop, trailing smoke as the open face spun towards Silvestru. She could see the charred remains of a head inside, nothing but scorched and blackened bone, flickers of green flame still dancing in the depths of the skull.

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There was a groan from the boy she'd freed, distracting her from the horrible spectacle. Bǣl was leaning against a wall, the flames around his body dying away, the searing fires of his gaze fading.

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"Tired..." he murmured, blinking rapidly as he struggled to focus on her. "Can get us free, fraulein. Can get us away. Maybe... maybe..." The boy seemed delirious now, weak and drained, no longer clothed in the terrible raiment of fire and death. "Other guard. Cold. Ice. Can't fight now." he slurred. "Too angry... too tired." He tried to push away from the wall and fell forwards, landing on his hands and knees. "Fire..." he pointed at a still-blazing room. "Get us to the fire."

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Silvestru had a second to choose. She didn’t ponder long; tossing away her stolen gun, she scurried to Bael’s side. She couldn’t think fast enough to come up with a story and she needed to get away from this place. I can always say I was kidnapped by him. The young woman threw the boy’s arm over her shoulder and dragged him to his feet. “Hurry,” she told him as she began to haul him across the floor. “The other guard will be coming.”

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“Yes,” he agreed, leaning on her so heavily that she thought she might fall. Instead, Silvestru gritted her teeth and pulled harder on him, feeling her knees shake with the effort. The archer did most of the work to get them across the room to the doorway of the next; as Silvestru shoved him against the doorjamb, panting, she gasped, “Just… a moment…”

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“No time, frualein.” Silvestru looked up to see the cloud of condensation in front of Bael’s face. It was the same for hers, she realized; when she looked back at the entrance Ironhelm had torn through, Silvestru saw the rime that was coating the edges. The Killing Frost was coming. The image of ice crawling toward her propelled the dynamic to new levels of urgency. She all but thrust Bael toward the fire, expecting him to catch himself at the edge of the dancing embers.

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Instead, he fell into the flames—and grabbed her as he dropped. His fingers caught her around her upper arms and Silvestru tumbled into the fire. There was a dizzying sensation of movement and then Silvestru landed on top of Bael. The fire danced around their legs, but above the knees they were lying on an old hardwood floor. Actually, Bael was lying on the floor—Silvestru was still sprawled on top of him.

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Quickly, she bounced to her feet, her eyes darting around the room warily. They were in a kitchen, a modern one and probably German given the lettering she could see on the food around the room. The entire room was tidy, and under the smell of warm, fresh bread, Silvestru could smell the distinctive tang vinegar, the universal cleaning agent. Warily, she looked around; spotting a knife, she snatched it off the counter just as an old woman came into the room. Silvestru lifted the knife—she wasn’t trying to be threatening, but she was holding the kitchen tool like she knew how to use it, and she was wearing a bloody dress. The look of fear on the old woman's face was justified.

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"Großmutter!" the youth on the floor called out, and Silvestru relaxed a fraction. Grandmother... the woman was this Bǣl's grandmother? "Don't hurt her..." he said weakly, rolling over onto his front and rising shakily, staggering sideways into a table before catching and supporting himself. Now that the searing light of the emerald flames was gone, he looked less fearsome... mostly. The red-gold hair fell to his shoulders in waves of flame, and his eyes were the molten colour of fresh gold. He was also bleeding from his nose and the corners of his eyes, but still managed to give Silvestru a defiant glare.

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"Valentin!" the elderly woman cried out softly, rushing to his side as a man, also white-haired appeared in the doorway, his expression shifting from pleased surprise to grave thoughtfulness as he took in the tableau. Bǣl, his words slurring, tried to reassure the old woman, but she nevertheless bullied and badgered him into an armchair near the fire. "Valentin. Little Valentin. You have been gone so long, so long." she moaned as she covered the naked youth with a blanket and fussed over him. "Look, Ernst. It's our Valentin. He's hurt, he needs a doctor."

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"Relax, Petra. Relax." the older gentleman said as he moved to the stove and put a kettle onto a hot plate. "Ach, he is a dynamic, our boy. He has exerted himself too much, that is all. Keep him warm and make some food for when he awakes - he will be hungry. And make some food for his friend, too, the lovely young lady with the knife. You are his friend, are you not?" Ernst Brandt's piercing grey eyes examined Silvestru cautiously. "You do not look like a facist. If you are not, then you can relax here."

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"And if I am not his friend?" Silvestru had to ask.

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"Then I hope you are not his enemy, at least." Ernst said equably. "You look as though you have been fighting."

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Silvestru put down the knife uneasily. Her own grandparents had died before she old enough to remember them, or in her father’s case, before her birth. She’d heard stories about the wondrous things that were grandparents, though, and a tiny part of her envied Bael his before she shut the emotion down brutally. “I am not his enemy,” she said softly. “I released him, and he helped me to escape.”

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“You let him out of his cell?” Petra rose, gazing at her with tear-filled eyes. “Thank you, child. What is your name?”

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Such was the magic of grandparents that she almost said ‘Silvestru’. “Gretel.”

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“Ah, Gretel!” Petra hugged her, making Silvestru squirm with discomfort at a stranger’s touch. “God bless you, sweet Gretel! You have returned our little Valentin!”

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Ernst merely offered her a hand, clasping it in both of his rough, wrinkled ones. His gray eyes thanked her with German stoicism before patting the back of her hand and releasing it. It was moderately embarrassing, how much they thanked her for being fairly selfish. She’d released Bael… Valentin for her own reasons, not to return a lost grandson. Nervously, she got out of the way of the fussing grandmother and let her coddle the flame-manipulator for a time.

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“Where are we?” she asked Ernst suddenly.

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“Our farm, a few miles from Frankfurt.”

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Silvestru’s eyes widened in alarm. “We are still in Germany?”

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“Of course, where else would we be?” Ernst asked with a hint of concern.

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“They know that… Valentin escaped. Are you his immediate family? What of his parents? We need to get him into hiding, before they send more dynamics after us. After him.”

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“We are his only family working speaking of. What of you, child?” Ernst asked.

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Silvestru laughed mirthlessly. “They think I am a laundry woman. And that is what I want them to think.” She shook her head. “We must hide him or move him, or both is better.”

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