Ari tightened his fingers around the knife in his hand to hide the tremble that flickered through his entire body. The soldier standing before him was the biggest damn man Ari had ever seen in his life. He stood taller than the wooden doorframe.
Ari didn’t move other than to try and draw some much needed air into his lungs. He wasn’t stupid. He knew he was facing off against a Spartan warrior, one of the fiercest fighting machines ever created.
The three black tattooed lines on the side of the man’s face were a dead give-away. All Spartan had them. Each line was a mark of rank. Ari had no idea what this man’s rank was but he hoped it was high enough up that he could keep the others from killing him—assuming he didn’t kill Ari himself, which was a very real possibility.
Ari had seen the Spartan warriors in the cities during the war. He had seen them fight and seen them kill. He knew what they were capable of and he was fully aware of the fact that he didn’t have chance in hell of beating the one standing in front of him or the ones standing behind him.
“Who are you?” the man repeated.
“Ari.” Fuck, man this guy was huge. Ari swallowed hard, trying to bring some moisture back to his dry throat. “I live here.”
“No one is supposed to be on this island.”
Ari cocked his head to the side, a small frown of confusion working its way across his forehead. He slowly lowered the knife in his hand but didn’t let go of it. He would most definitely lose a fight with this soldier, but he’d cause a lot of damage as he died.
“Who told you that?”
“My superiors informed us that this island was uninhabited.”
“They were wrong.”
Ari gulped when the man’s lips thinned in obvious anger. He quickly held his hand up to placate the guy, and hopefully keep his head attached to his shoulders. “I’m sure they thought the island was uninhabited but it’s not. There are a lot of us here.”
Ari groaned when the warrior’s eyes narrowed at him. He knew he talked too much when he was nervous and a person couldn’t get much more nervous than he was right now. If he didn’t tuck his lips in he’d start spilling about every damn thing floating through his head.
“How many are here?”
Ari pressed his lips together and shook his head rapidly. He was in enough trouble. He wasn’t taking anyone else down with him. The next instant, Ari found himself disarmed and lying down on the floor on his back, his arms pinned down above his head and the biggest damn warrior in the group sitting on him.
“Speak,” the man growled, low and menacing.
Ari swallowed again, just knowing he was enjoying his last few minutes on earth, and then he shook his head. He might not like everyone that was stranded on the island, but he refused to divulge their numbers or whereabouts to a bunch of soldiers.
Nothing in the world could have prevented the squeak that fell from Ari’s lips when he felt the very sharp edge of a knife blade press against his throat.
Yep, he was going to die.
Shaking his head was out. He’d just end up cutting his own throat. “No,” Ari said with as much bravado as he could muster up considering he was so scared he was about to piss himself.
“Then you will die.”
Ari almost rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I kind of figured that.”
“Then speak.” The Spartan sounded confused; almost as if he couldn’t quite understand why Ari wouldn’t speak if refusing to do so meant his life would be forfeit. And maybe he didn’t understand.
From what Ari had seen during the war, many people would give up their mothers for the right incentive. Ari’s mother had died during the war. Ari barely remembered her. But that didn’t mean he didn’t have people in his life that he cared about.
Ari refused to give the others up. He might not like some of them, but he had made friends with a lot of them. Besides, Ari had always known he would die at some point. It was kind of a fact of life. And he’d rather go out protecting his friends than from starving to death or getting a cold.
“Do you want to die?”
Ari’s lips twitched. He almost felt like laughing. “Not really.”
“Then speak,” the man said in a deep voice void of emotion. “Tell me how many others there are.”
“You might as well kill me now because I won’t tell you anything.”
“So be it.”
Ari braced himself, waiting for the killing blow. But instead of dying, Ari was yanked to his feet. He found himself spun around then he was picked up and tossed over the large warriors shoulder. The Spartan started out the door, pausing on the doorstep to look back at the other warriors.
“Burn it,” he said before carrying Ari out of the building.
“No!” Ari screamed as he started to struggle, visualizing all of his hard work going up in flames. “No, please, don’t—”
“Then speak,” the Spartan said as he dropped Ari down to his feet.
Tears blurred Ari’s vision as he glanced at his house. It had taken him nearly two years to get the place livable, to carefully cultivate his garden and get all of his food stores canned and in his pantry. He had worked so hard, often from sun up to sun down. He couldn’t watch it all go up in flames.
“No,” Ari whispered as his shoulders slumped. Even if it meant his home, he couldn’t betray his friends. His house could be replaced. His friends couldn’t.
A lone tear slid down Ari’s pale cheek as he watched the first flicker of flame come to life on the torch one of the warriors held. He knew once the torch was fully engulfed with flames, the Spartan would toss it on his house, beginning the process that would take everything from him.
He’d seen it before.
Ari jerked back when the large Spartan with onyx eyes wiped his tear away with a single finger. “Why do you cry?” the Spartan asked. “This is your decision. Tell me what I want to know and I will not order the building burned.”
Ari’s nostrils flared as he inhaled hard. “Fuck you!”