If you haven’t started this story from the beginning, this one won’t make too much sense. I suggest you start here before continuing.
Sarah was torn from her unnatural sleep, unsure if the scream was her own. Her world was so black, doubt doused her again that she had even managed to open her eyes. It was only when she felt her heart fighting her lungs for space in her chest did she realize she couldn’t be gasping and the one screaming at the same time.
Thoughts returned to her all in a rush. She was underground, or at least had been before. Identifying the direction of the sound came from before it died away, she whipped her head left, greeting a headache. It turned out that her eyes were working just fine; she was merely in the dark. The only light in the area fell on a pair of young men: the first, facing her, was Jack – a cold sneer painted across his face. The other was helplessly tangled in a rope that disappeared toward the light that colored the scene. She had never imagined such hatred coming from someone as concerned for her as Jack was. If she was honest with herself, in that moment, he frightened her.
“Jack?” She asked into the new quiet, cautious.
His mask melted away at her question, replaced by the more familiar look of worry. He wasn’t acting in either case – she had spent enough time with actors to be able to read that a mile away – but more accurately seemed to be snapping out of whatever dark place had put that curl in his lip.
“Sarah! You’re okay?”
Her headache was already beginning to fade. “I’m fine.” Her palms found the rocky ground and helped her get her feet under her. “What’s going on?”
A flash of that earlier violence lit his eyes. “Making sure this –” he called the tangled man a crude name – “doesn’t report back where we are.”
He had come down? Of course it made sense, with the rope and their meeting place. Then horror struck her as she fully stood, and fully understood the implication. “Where is Victor?” If this villain had come down, he had to have gotten past the gentle older man. She couldn’t help her rush toward the newcomer. “What did you do to him?”
“Relax,” came the new, silky voice as she reached it. “He wants him alive.”
“Is he still up there?” she demanded, glancing to where the high sun was flooding them. No sign of their guard. If he was hurt, she’d never forgive herself for leaving him undefended.
“Unlikely,” Jack responded offhandedly. Appalled at his nonchalance, Sarah turned to read him. That was acting, at least.
“Jack? Can I talk to you for a moment?”
“Sure.” He met her a few steps farther from the window.
“What’s your plan?” she whispered as soon as her friend was in earshot. They couldn’t exactly leave this man to his own devices, but the longer they waited, the more Victor would need their help. Jack was far better – far more experienced – at this whole thing than she was.
“Hadn’t thought about it.” That seemed out of character. Jack continued his walk until he passed her and turned around, eyes falling distinctly on his prisoner and not her. “He can’t climb away. But he still knows. Kill him, I guess. Maybe get some information from him first, if we can.”
“Woah, uh, no. We’re not killing anyone.” Sarah could barely believe she had to say that out loud.
“You’d trade his life for Victor’s?” Jack asked, really looking at her for the first time.
She knew even as she argued with Jack that Victor was more important, at least to her. “Why can’t we make friends? Would that be so hard?”
Jack jabbed a finger at the prisoner. “He is the enemy, Sarah. He would kill you as soon as look at you.”
If it was true, it was their fault! Victor’s fault, really, drafting her into his side like he had. Too late now.
The man had said “he” wanted Victor alive. Sarah turned from Jack, aiming at the tangled man. “Who has Victor? Where can I find him?” she tried diplomatically.
“I’m not going to be that easy,” the man punctuated his sneering response with an unkind name for her. Sarah shrugged it off. She’d been called worse.
“Come on,” she insisted. “You could use a friend right now.”
“I have friends. You’re the one who knocked them out, as I hear it.”
Sarah stifled the rising horror that accompanied her belief in his statement. Under Victor’s influence, she’d harmed more people in the last week than the rest of her life combined. Villains or not, they had friends too.
“What’s your name?” she tried again.
Nothing. Just that knowing smirk.
“Sarah.” Her own name was Jack’s only word of caution.
“What do I need to do to earn your trust?” If he trusted her, she could find Victor and maybe even negotiate his freedom. No violence necessary.
“Let me go. Help me take out him –” a violent jerk of the man’s head toward Jack was all he could do to indicate – “and I’ll put in a good word to Renaud for you.” The price he asked was far too high.
But it was a step in the right direction. “Jack walks away,” she countered, “and you take me to Renaud directly.”
Jack decided to join the conversation then. “Even if you freed him, he’s not climbing out the way he came in.” Sarah couldn’t be sure, but she thought she detected a threat in his tone. It was as if to tell her she could do what she offered, but there would be consequences – from him – if she tried. “And he’s not going any deeper.” To the library, she knew Jack meant.
Sarah spun back to him. “You’d really trade Victor to protect that?” she turned his own accusations against him.
There was no hesitation in Jack’s eyes. “Victor would too.”
What the heck was in that library that was so important? Relics, books furniture. Nothing worth killing for, and definitely nothing worth sacrificing a friend for.
Sarah searched Jack’s eyes a moment longer, but he was unmoving in his stance – arms folded defiantly, emphasizing his muscles – nor his ideals. “What’s your plan?” he asked, echoing her earlier question of him.
A sudden recklessness overwhelmed her at his obstinacy. She didn’t need him. She could figure this out and save Victor on her own. “Excuse me.” Sarah pushed her way past both of them, hand on the rope. Jack could deal with the consequences of his own actions, and when the time came, she’d deal with hers.
The rope seemed secure enough, and unless she missed her mark, this guy had climbed down using it, so it should hold her weight. It would be just like the rope climb at the gym. With a person knotted at the bottom instead of being anchored to the floor.
“Sorry,” she apologized to the invader. Then, before either could stop her, Sarah jumped up. She was uncomfortably close to him, stepping on his unarguing body and using her arms to lift herself past him.
“Sarah.” She could hear the break in Jack’s stoic nature by his tone alone, but it didn’t slow her.
Before long, she managed to get herself above their heads, propping her feet against the ground to help her the rest of the way up.
“What if you pass out again?” he called from below.
She looked down to see him staring back at her. “I had warning last time.” She’d figure out how to respond when and if she needed to.
“How are you going to find him?” Jack asked as he stepped out of the light.
She hadn’t thought about it. “Dunno.” She shouldn’t leave things bitter between her and Jack, she knew. “Want me to close this?” she offered back. Looking down, she could only see the rope and the man holding it taught, not the one she was questioning.
There was a resignation lacing his response. “Untie it first?”
“Can do.” She obeyed, watching the rope snake out of sight before putting her shoulder to the statue. It was heavy, but yielded, trapping Jack underground. As it clicked in place, Sarah was reminded that it took two people to open. Jack would not be freed until she found Victor.
A familiar nausea settled in her as she met the fresh air. It had churned in her most of last week, and had only gone away once she met and been near Victor.
Could it really be that simple? She had found him last night by following her instinct. No reason not to try again now.
Victor didn’t know the town well enough to recognize the trees and office buildings that flicked by the car window when he woke. The sun was high, now on his right, telling him they were headed east and back into town, but not much else.
Renaud, or more accurately his minion, sat beside Victor in the back seat, watching him without commentary. With the help of their technology, they both knew the man who truly held him captive could hop to the driver even if he managed to take out the one next to him. Unlikely in his current condition.
“What’s your real name, I wonder?” the young man beside him asked, almost as if to himself. Everyone leaned slightly in the car as it turned right. South.
Renaud and those like him went by the names belonging to the first, most dominant personality instead of the one most recently added to the collection.
Victor didn’t dignify him with a response.
Still, the young man beside him kept talking. “You don’t remember, do you? All that knowledge, that legacy, forgotten. It’s a shame, really.”
Victor was comforted by the fact that they were all part of him still. If not the names, at least the lessons remained in those who had learned them. The wisdom persisted, and that was what was really important. Not that the council would humble themselves enough to realize it.
“You do know that’s all the council is trying to do, don’t you? Make sure no one gets forgotten?” He shook his head. “It’s not even our project. We’re just the ones with a sense of honor enough to complete it.”
Lucy – Jack’s predecessor. It had been her project, they all knew. Without the library, all that information was solely in Jack’s mentor now, and she was still securely in Renaud’s custody. For a split second, hope soared in Victor that he might meet his friend again, even in the clutches of their enemy. But reality quickly followed, reminding him that she was firmly in the clutches of the council, far from here. It was more likely Renaud wasn’t there than Victor’s friend was.
“Come on, Victor. Isn’t this easier? More peaceful? Fighting me will only harm yourself.”
Victor could have scoffed. If Renaud didn’t want to fight, he wouldn’t have sent this pair to get him.
“Don’t think we won’t kill you. It’d be a shame to lose another, especially for such a foolish cause as ignorance, but we will do what we must to protect our own. I think you know you’ve annoyed Symon enough; he’s taken it personally. Has plans for you.”
It was probably true. Symon was the one Victor had made a fool of when making his grand exit from his own seat at the council. Last time he had attended, anyway. It was two years ago now, when they started this mad campaign.
“Either way, you will tell us as much as you remember. Fill out your own pages in the tomes. For posterity, you know.”
Victor refused to tell them anything.
At least it didn’t get worse the closer Sarah got to town. Jack’s precious trailer was untouched when she pulled out, which told her that it was never the target. Jack had been, but they made do with the one they found: Victor.
She could only guess that she was matching pace with them on her way back into town. Once she reached the middle of the city, she pulled over into a shopping center, trying to get a grasp of her own instincts. She closed her eyes, listening to the sound of traffic as it passed the row of cars behind her. The crew winding in her gut continued to twist, tighter the longer she stalled. She just needed a direction!
Her eyes snapped open at the sound of her name. Paul, the actor cast to portray her love interest in the upcoming play, came around the hood of her car. His hair hadn’t been cut for the show yet, still combed back as if it had just escaped a ponytail. Pidgeotto hair, she called it.
“Whatcha doing here?” he asked, one arm landing on the arch of her door frame.
“Waiting to hear back from a friend,” she improvised. It was easier than trying to explain a truth she didn’t fully understand.
“Not inside? Gonna be a hot one today.” He shot her a suave grin, but she honestly didn’t pay much attention. Her stomach was getting worse. Terror shot through her as she realized she might start seeing things soon if Victor got much farther away. That would be difficult to explain to Paul, if he were still around.
“He didn’t specify which coffee shop, but he did say –” she glanced at the clock. 1:08. “– 1:15. Just waiting on a text now.”
Paul seemed to like the idea of getting a drink. “There’s a shop right over there. Want to hang out until then?”
Sarah appreciated his efforts to get to know her, but really wasn’t in the mood, especially when Victor’s life was on the line. So she pulled out her phone, fully expecting the empty screen that met her, and pretended to read it. “Rain check?” she asked Paul.
He seemed to get the hint. “Sure.” He slapped a palm on the roof of her car before going back the way he had come.
Great. Now she had to start moving. She turned on the car and pulled out of the parking lot.
How had this worked last time? She’d driven aimlessly until instinct took over, and practically stumbled on Jack and Victor. But Sarah’s bond with the older gentleman was stronger now. She’d connected with him again, and gotten to know him better. She should be able to figure out something.
Fortunately she was stopped at a red light when the first hallucination took her. It was brief – only a fraction of a second – and a shock to her system. But that quickly transformed into comfort. This time, at least, she recognized what she saw.
It was here, her hometown. There were two freeways that headed south out of town, and this vision was clearly of the western one. There were lights and crossroads instead of off ramps. Unless she was very much mistaken, they were near the pizza place where she had gone on her first date.
A honk startled her out of her thoughts. The light had turned. Sarah waved her hand out the window at the impatient driver behind her as she slid her car forward.
Doubt filled her even as she took the designated road south. They had called these flashes memories. That meant what she had seen was likely from a previous adventure, not Victor’s current one. Still, she had no clue how it all worked, and no alternative destinations, so south it was.
She could tell the instant her prey stopped, as her gut immediately started to ease. A little pride rippled through her a moment later. Not only did that mean she was on the right track, but Sarah was also learning to read – and wield – this… whatever it was. Past the casino, then the long-dead ice cream truck. She ended up circling the block with the gas station and abandoned furniture store twice before deciding on foot might be less conspicuous. This place, anonymous as it was, somehow felt right.
Without a real plan, she went up to the front and knocked.
The door opened immediately, chain stopping it less than a second later. On the other side, a face glared back at her. “Can I help you?” he asked, clearly annoyed.
She needed to get in. Once she found Victor, she trusted he’d know what to do. But first, she had to get this guy to open the door and let her search.
“Hi, my name is Anna Pitt. I’m with Channel 20 News.” It was the name and title of a real local reporter, on the off chance they had done research on the area before taking it by storm. “Are you the owner of this place?”
She could actually see the man thinking, deciding whether to lie or admit he was trespassing. “Boss is this way.”
The door promptly shut in her face, but not for long as the chain slid free of the lock. As the door opened again, she got a full look at the man. His broad shoulders were lumpy with knotted muscle, like a balloon animal that had been stuffed with walnuts instead of air.
“Come on,” he nodded her in. Every advice her mother had ever given her screamed against obeying, but Sarah needed to find Victor. She stepped in.
The air in the abandoned building was stale, with burn damage scarring the far wall clear by the flourescent light. Water from the once-enthusiastic sprinklers had damaged much of the lower six inches of the remaining merchandise, long since wicked away by the scorching summer sun.
She had to walk past a display wardrobe before seeing the group she was being led to. Suddenly there were four people in her line of sight, two with their backs turned to her. The faces she saw were unfamiliar: one young man, which seemed to be the running theme for the people moving against them, and a dark-haired young woman with an icy glare at one of the people across from her. Her gaze flicked up at Sarah’s entrance.
She didn’t move to stand until they were much closer to the group, however. “Is this the Julia look-alike I’ve heard so much about?” she asked Sarah’s guide. Sarah could see the backs of the heads – one old and one the same young – and had to assume that the gray-haired one was Victor, though he didn’t turn.
“My name is Sarah,” she clarified. There was no reason why she should be known as someone she had never met. She held out her hand, hoping to do things the way Jack had refused to: diplomatically.
“Tekina,” the woman responded. She was powerfully built, and expressed complete command over herself and the others in the room. As she drew nearer, Sarah could tell Tekina was nearly half a foot taller than herself.
“That’s an interesting name. I don’t recognize the origins.”
The woman stepped beside Sarah as she turned and guided her back to where she had been sitting with the others. “Mongolian, actually,” Tekina explained. “I’m glad you’re here. I’m afraid Victor hasn’t been very talkative.”
Sarah’s heart thrilled at her success of actually finding Victor. Her instincts had led her true! Coming closer to the couch, she could see Victor’s head hanging plainly. He was here! Now she just needed to figure out his plan and her part in helping him escape.
“Have a seat.”
Sarah started to move to the cushion by her mentor, but the man sitting next to him jutted an arm out between them.
“Don’t touch him,” Tekina snapped at the same time.
Right. Sarah had only wanted to comfort him – he looked like he needed it – but any touch was seen as a threat to this group.
“Other side of Renaud is fine.”
She sat where she was told. “So you’re Renaud today?” Sarah asked as politely as she could. She had never met this man before, nor Renaud as herself. But she understood enough to know he was the bad guy.
The man beside her instead looked at the woman that had been called “boss” earlier. “So what’s your play? Kill her to get him to talk? Or kill him, get the information to her, and get her to spill the beans?”
Sarah swallowed. Maybe she should have thought this through.