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.
“I don’t like it,” Jack answered Sarah the moment her plan left her mouth.
“Shocker!’ she teased back. “Any plan with any risk at all, you’re ready to throw in the towel.”
“That’s not true.” She watched Jack purse his lips – a sign she was learning to recognize as indecision in the man. It was plain he didn’t have a better idea.
“Look, your attempts have failed so far, haven’t they?” Sarah knew as much – not only from when they told her, but the fresh memories she had inherited from Victor. Reconnecting with him had brought back everything Tekina had wiped, most potently the guilt from her decision, which she tried to ignore now. Sarah was learning to navigate the characters and memories – with a little help from Victor – but as Jack was quick to remind them, they were on a timetable. “Have a little faith.”
“It’s not faith in you that I lack.”
“This is why you guys called me in. Let me help.” She glanced at the older gentleman, who was contentedly reading on a couch within earshot. “Right, Victor?”
“I don’t think you realize how dangerous this guy is,” Jack continued as if she hadn’t addressed the third member of their company.
Sarah watched as Victor stood slowly and made his way to them. “What if she didn’t go in alone?” he offered finally.
“We’ve been over this,” Jack argued. “He doesn’t like us, remember?”
An idea popped into Sarah’s head, and it was one she immediately liked. “He doesn’t have to know.” Excitement built as the concept burrowed in her head. She turned to Victor. “Can you occupy me, but still let me be in control? Is that a thing?”
Victor looked at her knowingly. “It’s possible.”
“What are you thinking?” Jack asked, cautious.
Sarah had to control her enthusiasm. “I go in there as another prisoner –”
Jack was already shaking his head. “No way. Too easy to get caught in a lie. He’d kill you.”
Sarah wasn’t bothered. “I’ll bluff my way out.” She turned to Victor. “Once I’ve earned his trust, you can take over and ask any questions you want. Make sense?”
“It’s possible,” he repeated.
“All you do is risky!” Sarah argued back.
“And what if you take too much control, Sarah? You’re new at this.” She was well aware of that fact, and frankly didn’t care. She was what they had, and happy to be of use. “You don’t know where that line is. You could accidentally boot him out.” He paused for a breath, sighing as he pressed his palms together and bounced them toward her. “You could end up in there alone with Renaud’s psychopath and I wouldn’t know for minutes, not until Victor woke up out here.”
Suddenly his caution made perfect sense to Sarah. That situation he was describing – that was how Julia died. He didn’t want to watch it happen again, not if all it took to stop Sarah was arguing.
He’d need a better argument, then. “Look,” she softened her tone, sympathetic. “I’ll be in the next room over, not in some distant parking garage.”
His head snapped up to match eyes with her, clearly understanding what she was implying.
She smiled at him, deciding to lighten the mood again. “My safe word is funky, okay?” She bit her lip and smirked.
“Not funny.” Okay, maybe not.
Victor stepped forward again, interrupting to address Jack’s concerns. “She may not know where the boundaries are for not booting me out, but I do. I’ll let her know when she’s getting close.”
“You can do that?” Sarah asked, amazed. “Cool.”
She watched Jack sigh again, hanging his head in resignation. “Fine.” Yay! “But you’re not going in sober.” What?
Having Victor there, with her but not, was the closest thing she could imagine to having a shoulder angel. She knew he was there, even if she couldn’t see him, and could feel him evaluating her. They practiced in the library for a little bit. Throwing him out of her thoughts was an odd sensation, but every time it was intentional. She didn’t know how to unintentionally boot him, and hoped she wouldn’t need to know.
But Sarah was eager to get started. So she took the designated flask from Jack and let him carry her in with their prisoner, dumping her in a corner on the damp ground. Pretending to be knocked unconscious, she kept her eyes closed, waiting for Jack to leave.
“You touch her, and I’ll kill you.” Sarah was pretty sure Jack wasn’t acting there.
The sliding bookshelf scraped into place a moment later. With the final echoes of the sound, Sarah realized she was truly shut in. Alone with the man she had literally stepped on in order to find Victor just days before. Hopefully she wouldn’t die.
It’s okay, Sarah. I’m here. He can’t hurt you. Victor’s words were like her own thoughts, but in his voice.
He was right – she could do this. Sarah opened one eye, and upon seeing Jack had left a light on in with them, opened the other. The place was the size of a restaurant bathroom, and carved squarely and intentionally out of the clay mountain. Knowing she had an audience, but pretending she didn’t, Sarah pushed herself up to a seated position and dropped the flask out from under her armpit, grinning to herself.
“I thought you were corrupted. Like them.” The voice came from her left.
She spun open the top of Jack’s flask, buying herself time to figure out the right response. “Well, apparently they’re smarter than you are.” She took a long pull. Gin. Yuck. She hissed from her throat at the flavor.
Careful. She couldn’t tell if he was cautioning against her words or actions.
Couldn’t make it too easy for the baddie, though, or he’d never buy it.
“Give me some of that.” Then again, he could always make it easy for her.
She held the metal flask close to herself. “Whose are you?” she asked suspiciously.
“Renaud’s. You’re Tekina’s, right?” That was fast. Maybe too fast.
“No offense,” for Victor’s sake, she stopped the opening of the flask with her tongue, pretending to drink again, “but I don’t trust you.” Did Victor get drunk if Sarah did? She should have asked. No, if Jack thought that were the case, he wouldn’t have allowed the plan, much less suggested it.
In her peripheral vision, she could see the guy lean his head against the wall, closing his eyes again. “Definitely Tekina’s.”
Guilt washed over her at the accusation. She had fallen prey to Tekina all too recently, and given too much information to Jack’s and Victor’s enemies already. “They know where we are.” She said the words as if comforting the guy, but knew it was true, and her own fault.
“If that were the case, they’d have come already.”
Sarah crawled the four feet over to him, offering the flask this time. “Sorry to burst your bubble. I told Tekina the same day you and I first met.”
He took the flask but paused before drinking it. “Then they have a plan.” He stole two gulps for himself, visibly swallowing the foul alcohol much easier than she was. Just the offering of her presence – either friendship or alcohol – was enough to get him to start opening up to her. She could feel Victor’s approval without him saying a word to her.
“If they do, they haven’t shared it with me.”
She could tell before he spoke that his next words were – not exactly angry. More like impulsive. “That’s because you’re –” he caught himself – a “you.”
What does that mean?
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sarah echoed Victor’s question, snatching the drink back and taking another gulp for herself. When Renaud’s minion didn’t respond, she pushed. “You think you’re special? That you’re somehow better than me?”
“That’s because I am,” he snarled back.
We need to know who he is.
“Then how come I never heard of you?”
“Because you’re expendable.”
Sarah gave a short, cold laugh. “We’re all expendable.”
“Not me.” What did that mean? He snatched the flask back, drinking before speaking again, lifting his chin to the sliding bookcase entryway. “You’ll see when those idiots do.”
“I want in on that, then.”
“Whatever it is you’ve got going with them.” She grabbed the flask, pulling it out of reach and taunting him. “If you’re not expendable, then I don’t want to be either. Tell me how.”
Jack paced the library for about ten minutes before deciding he should sit down. So, he picked up the book Victor had been scanning and sat in the armchair across from the unconscious man. He stared at the handwritten pages without seeing it, mind still stubbornly on the next room over.
Sarah was in there alone. No, not alone. That was the problem. The villain she was supposed to be getting information from was violent and deadly at worst and obstinately silent at best. But he had to acquiesce – they hadn’t successfully been able to get him to speak otherwise. Victor was right.
There was a strange comfort in the man lying across from him. Not only did that state itself tell Jack that he was still in there with her, but despite Victor’s previous actions, Jack chose to believe the man had the best intentions for Sarah, and would protect her.
If she let him. She hadn’t booted him out so far, at least. Someone with her kind of proclivity for linking should have no trouble regaining control over Victor’s non-combative personality. Hopefully she would heed his advice – he knew which questions to ask, assuming he played by the rules – and a sincere cooperation should propel them forward in their investigation in a way that might begin to make up for their recent lack of progress. Yet Jack couldn’t deny he didn’t like it. This moment, even if no one else verbally acknowledged it, meant Victor was officially her mentor now, and she wholly his student.
Julia had been replaced.
Jack shouldn’t be bothered by it. Sarah was a natural and talented choice, and Victor couldn’t be expected to die with his legacy just to appease Jack’s broken heart.
But so soon? Victor had waited decades before deciding he should even take a student. And now, a little more than a month after Julia had been snuffed out by their enemy, and now he’s taken another. Better.
No, not better. No one was better than Julia, talented at this or not.
Giving Sarah alcohol to share with her enemy in there may not have been the best idea after all. He could be an angry drunk and her a sleepy one. If she fell asleep, she’d unknowingly boot Victor out. No, he’d know that, and keep her awake. Whatever else happened, it would likely get their prisoner talking until then.
Either way, they should be feeling the effects of the drink by now.
Jack didn’t remember putting the book down and continuing to pace, but suddenly found himself next to the sliding bookcase again. He should go in – just to check on them. Make sure everything was going as planned. First, he needed to find an excuse, just in case things were normal.
Julia had never been much of a drinker, especially when Victor was supposed to be with her. He had never occupied someone intoxicated before. He could tell Sarah was playing it up a little – pretending to be more affected by the gin than she truly was – but he knew she was still feeling it, and didn’t like it.
Their conversationalist, it turned out, was more stoic, at least at the moment, than Sarah. He needed to start feeling it too if Jack’s plan was to work.
Get him to stand up. Sarah was good at reading his communications, often anticipating his questions before he voiced them to her.
“Have you tried escaping?” she asked suddenly, pushing herself off the ground to her feet.
The other one wasn’t moving. “To where?” He was watching them, at least. Well, watching Sarah. “You can carve into the walls all you like, there’s plenty of mountain that way. The only way out is through that door.” It was true, and Victor knew it.
Sarah leaned over, grabbing the hands of the unmoving prisoner. “Well, there are two of us now, and they can’t have thought of everything. Come on! Why not try?” A little bit of Sarah’s eager personality was leaking out there. “If they’re not coming for us, then we need to get back to them.”
“They’re not coming for you,” the young man clarified. Victor accidentally turned Sarah’s head to him, looking at the young man. He was confident, and Victor therefore uncomfortable.
“What makes you think you’re so special?” She had already tried to ask that question several times over.
“Because I’m Renaud’s son.” Finally an answer. Jack’s plan had worked!
Wait – what? “So?” Sarah’s reaction was far different from Victor’s.
“So I’m his true heir. He’s going to give his legacy to me one day. I’m chosen. He can’t let me die in here.” The information was news to Victor. He had been on the council centuries and he had no idea Renaud had ever had a child.
“He’s sure taking his time rescuing you, though, isn’t he?” Sarah pressed.
“Like I said, he has a plan.” Something in his tone made Victor less than convinced. “Just because he hasn’t told me –”
“Means he doesn’t value you,” Sarah countered. Don’t push him too far. “He could be using you.” Her words were compassionate.
The prisoner was suddenly angry, slamming his fist against the ground and standing to match her eye level. “He’s my father. He wouldn’t do that.” His reaction told Victor that he had at least thought as much as Sarah accused.
“Have you met the man?” Sarah slipped. Victor fed her information. He still had to obey another guy in the field when they captured me. “I mean, he’s not exactly father of the year, letting you fight and get captured and stuff.”
“Oh, and Tekina’s so much better, you think?”
Sarah scoffed. “No, I am. I know my place, and when the time comes, I’m going to throw it in her face.”
A sudden frosty pause gripped the room, starting at the prisoner and blasting out to all of them. “You’re talking treason,” he said eventually.
“I’m talking revolution,” she countered quietly. “Look, we don’t have to have a legacy to have power here. You don’t have to be Renaud’s any longer. I don’t have to obey Tekina.”
“And go insane? No thanks. I’ll keep –”
The door started scraping open. What was Jack thinking? They were finally getting somewhere, and he had to come in and interrupt now?
All eyes stared the seconds as the door opened enough for him to slide in. Victor watched him assess the situation and see he had kept Sarah intact. Then he got angry.
“You little –” Jack called Sarah a name that made Victor cringe, approaching angrily. “You stole it! Give it back, now!”
Sarah may not be able to read Jack beyond knowing he was acting, but Victor could anticipate him. The fist toward her gut was low, almost invisible, but Victor forced Sarah to react before it landed, selling the blow and bending her over to him, as if she were bowing to some Japanese emperor. The follow-up would come quickly as an uppercut to her jaw, so Victor threw her up, back and down again, landing safely on her back.
“Where is it?” Jack asked again, still pretending to be livid.
Victor was detecting a thorough joy from Sarah at them throwing her around. She was an odd duck, to be sure.
“Here.” The prisoner’s single word preceded his toss over Sarah’s head.
“You need a bigger flask, mate,” Sarah responded not bothering to get up. She must be waiting on Victor’s say so. “Go back to where you came from.” Jack should recognize those words, and obey.
He did. “Just for this little stunt, I’m not bringing any water for a day. Alcohol should dry you out by then. Serves you both right.” With that, the young man left, scraping the shelf back into place.
You two do work well together. The words were Sarah’s thoughts, intended to converse back to Victor. They hadn’t practiced that. I knew you had it in you! She was extra enthusiastic.
Victor rolled her onto her side, pressing her hands to the ground and pushing to get her feet under her. Sarah swayed a little as her body obeyed, but they were okay.
It was impossible to get back to the place they were at before with the prisoner, though.
“Thanks for that,” Sarah told him, brushing her hands on the sides of her pants.
“Marcus.” His name. It was huge information, and finally gave them something to work with, to research. See if his story held up.
“I like you, Marcus.” She held out her hand to him. “I’m Sarah.”
This was pleasant and all, but Victor needed her to stay on mission. Any chance he’ll tell us where they’re holding Luanne? Bringing her back to the library would not only be a comfort to her, but them all. Victor selfishly wanted to know she would be okay.
“You wanted to get out of here?” Marcus asked her.
“Duh.” She watched him. “What are you thinking?”
“That bookshelf might just slide with two of us, even from in here.”
“Sweet. I’m ready when you are.” Drunk, and with Victor at her side, they wouldn’t get far.
“Not now.” Marcus glared at the doorway, a cruel smile forming on his face as he thought. “Get some rest. Then we can get some water for ourselves.”
You sleep, and I’m booted out, remember?
“Why not now?” Sarah asked.
“Because that idiot’s on edge, and clearly outmatches you.”
“He outmatched you too,” she defended. Sincerely, Victor noticed.
“That other one must be out there somewhere too.” Victor. He was. Well, sort of. “Sleep.” The order was comfortable, but Victor knew it also served to confirm in Marcus’s mind that she was acting of her own accord.
What’s your plan, Sarah? Victor asked as she settled down, closing her eyes. With the alcohol in her system, he was immediately aware how close she was to obeying Marcus’s order.
Sleep, then get him to lead me to their base of operations. Find Luanne, right?
Did he have to remind her again? Alone?
I’ll find you during our escape attempt. Jack might get slapped around a little by Marcus, but you can warn him, can’t you?
If it were anyone else, Victor would be terrified she’d be caught. But he’d hardly had to guide her during her conversation with Marcus, and they all knew from experience how good an actress she was. She just might be able to carry it until Victor could reunite with her.
It was a solid plan. Careful. It would take intentionally misstepping at this point for the prisoner to suspect her.
Don’t let Jack kill you before the escape attempt, okay?
Victor had to stop himself from making her laugh. No guarantees.
Victor left her to sleep then.