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Once a Runner

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Sena ran.

His empty stomach churned, his bare feet seemed to find every pebble and crack on the pavement, and his back was on fire where the coarse, cheap fabric of his shift clung to the recent whip marks, his every movement making it stick, then tear free, then stick again. 

That was the least of his problems if he got caught, though. It couldn't have been more obvious to anyone watching what he was, a bottom-of-the-barrel slave making a last-ditch escape attempt. Someone was going to stop him and turn him in. Why had he done this? Why did he always have to be so stupid?

Because he had no choice, a voice said inside him. He was worth nothing, less than nothing if you counted the cost of his meager upkeep. He wasn't a second-hand slave, or third-hand, or any number of hands that could be counted anymore. If by some miracle he was purchased before the dealers cut their losses, there was only one type of person who would buy a cheap, throwaway slave like him. The kind that would make death seem like a mercy—

Sena's thoughts were interrupted by the feeling of running into an invisible wall, throat-first. It took him a choking, stumbling moment to realize that a hand had shot out with insane precision and grabbed the back of his collar, halting him in place. He half-turned, half-collapsed and followed the hand up to the most terrifying visage he'd ever seen, the face of a demon, gazing at him with an intensity that pierced him.

"Rotti's Fine Fleshmarket," the demon read, from the collar he still grasped.

"Please," Sena begged, not knowing what else to do. "Please don't turn me in." The demon was looking him up and down, lingeringly, and so he added on instinct, "I'll... I'll make it worth your while," not knowing what the demon could see in him to warrant such scrutiny, and terrified to find out.

"Rotti's is barely a block away," the demon mused, gaze settling pricklingly around Sena's exposed knees and calves. "No chase. You're worthless to them."

Sena shivered. He knew he should protest his uses, but all he could think was how true it was.

"They're not feeding you." The demon gripped his upper arm now, and the circle of his long fingers wrapped around it entirely. "If I put a burger in your hands, it would snap your fucking twig arms right off. But your run..."

Sena held his breath. There was some sort of calculation turning behind those demonic eyes. Sena couldn't imagine any way this could turn out well for him, but he babbled, "I'm obedient, I've never run, I mean I wouldn't ever run, please..."

The calculations seemed to have come to an end, and the final sum caused the demon's face to light up in glee. Sena shivered, and changed his mind: this face was ten times more terrifying when it was smiling. Against his protests, the demon began to drag him back the way he'd just fled from, back to Rotti's. It was true, he was in poor shape: food was a distant memory, and his torn-up back was making its complaints heard now that the wild adrenaline was wearing off. He didn't have any energy to resist, and found himself stumbling helplessly along, rather than be dragged.

Rotti met them at the entrance, where he took one look at the demon's face, his possessive hand wound around Sena's arm, and gamely tried, "Ah, good sir, you have found my valued merchandise—"

"What, this garbage you left out for curbside pickup?" cackled the demon. "If I save you the bullet, I'm doing you a fucking favor."

"Okay, all right." Either Rotti had decided Sena wasn't worth the hassle of arguing, or he really was grateful to be spared the cost of putting him down. "He's yours, I'll have my man draw up the papers. But only because you're such a valued customer, Hiruma," he couldn't help but throw over his shoulder, as he waved for some assistants to come help. "We look forward to your continued business..."

Hiruma paid the man no mind, and looked down at his new acquisition, his grin seeming to get even wider, and even pointier. "Yes, you'll be just the thing."