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.
They were the last words Victor expected to hear from Jack. Since he had woken up, Victor had received nothing but the cold shoulder from his companion. He had assumed it was due to the fact that he had abandoned Sarah in the other room, alone with Marcus. The moment Victor awoke in the library, he started to explain himself. But after a few minutes monologueing without response, he had given up.
Now, about half an hour of silence later, Jack had decided to say something? That, of all things? Victor had been spent the time thinking about what Sarah had said – about finding common ground with Jack somehow. Was this Jack’s attempt to do the same? Victor glanced at the young man, just to be sure he had heard correctly. Jack was watching him with those sad, pensive eyes.
“For what?” Victor asked.
“For helping me.” Jack looked down at the pages of the manuscript he had been studying, clearly intentionally breaking eye contact. Victor couldn’t help but pity the young man, instead watching Jack and letting him speak his mind. “I know you don’t have to help me. This – getting my mentor back – this is my fight. I want you to know I appreciate all you’re doing to help.”
Victor started to reach out, just wanting to comfort him with his touch, but stopped himself. Jack didn’t like to be touched. “You’re not alone in this, Jack. Luanne was my friend too. That hole you’re feeling without her? I’ve felt that too.” When Julia died, Victor didn’t think he’d ever be whole again. Slowly Sarah was beginning to prove that idea wrong. But Jack had suffered enough, hadn’t he? Having Luanne back was the only way Victor could think to jump-start Jack’s healing, not to mention bring a much-needed rest to both their hearts.
Jack was watching him again. “Just thought you should know.” He was back to his usual curt posturing, but Victor could see he was hiding himself in the attitude.
Then Victor got an idea. He didn’t know if it would help, or mean anything to the young man whatsoever, but maybe he should try.
“Come with me,” he commanded, standing.
“We should stay here,” Jack immediately argued. “In case she, you know, wakes up and needs us.”
Victor smiled as warmly as he could. “We won’t be far.”
With another glance at the bookshelf, Jack set the manuscripts on his lap aside and stood. “Where, then?”
Victor nodded his head toward the far end of the library. “I want to show you something.”
“I’ve been back there. There’s no books, or new information. Just… relics.”
Relics. Victor liked the word. Many of the objects were weapons, used by people like him over the centuries. While exploring days ago, he had found two of his own and a rapier he recognized as belonging to Luanne’s predecessor. Jack’s predecessor. Seeing the thin sword obviously hadn’t triggered any memories in the young man, but holding it in his hand just might help Jack feel closer to his mentor now.
Spying the familiar triple emeralds on the end of the pommel, Victor lifted the sword from its place on the rack and spun it so he held the sheath and the handle was in Jack’s reach.
The young man eyed him curiously, but took it anyway.
Before the thin blade had fully left its home, Jack transformed. His eyebrows finally relaxed and his breathing sped up. Even his lips threatened a full smile, not just that sarcastic grin. He may not have Luanne, but the true treasure in this library could connect him to her legacy. Even Victor didn’t know all the stories behind the sword, not like Jack did now.
When Jack finally spoke, he was as breathless as if he’d just run a marathon. “I – I had no idea.” His eyes only briefly left the weapon for Victor. “Why didn’t I recognize it before?”
The honest answer was that the young man would be incomplete until his mentor returned to him. “Muscle memory,” Victor answered instead. “You needed to hold it to unlock them.”
Jack’s tone was purely reverence. “Are there others out there for me?” he asked, eying the collection of relics.
“I’m sure there are, but none more that I know.” Victor’s eyes fell on another sword – his own katana. “That one’s mine, from one of my earliest memories,” he mused. Victor half expected the young man’s impatience to cut him off, but Jack indulged him this time. “I was a samurai. Early 13th century.” The historic weapon could be sold for millions, Victor was sure, if someone so ignorant got their hands on it. He wanted to hold it again, but knew that carrying the katana meant risking it. He had given it to Lucy to keep safe, and she had determined safe was here. “There’s a whip two bookshelves down from when I trained warhorses.”
Victor glanced back to Jack, whose eyes had landed back on the weapon. “Why don’t you carry them?” he asked. “Buried treasure can’t be spent.”
Was he aware he was quoting – or rather referencing – scripture? No matter. “I’d draw attention to them – attention I’d rather avoid.” With a pang, Victor realized that they weren’t really safe here either. Even assuming Sarah’s map had been so terrible that Tekina and Renaud couldn’t read it, the escape plan Victor was about to let through would ensure their location compromised.
“Do you think she’d mind if I carried this?” Victor understood Jack’s concerns. For the rest of the world, it was little more than a pretty antique, but for Jack, it brought with it the skill set of the one who had first carried it.
“That’s up to you,” Victor responded. “It’s yours now as much as it is hers.”
Jackslid the thin metal home again, tying it around his waist as he responded. “It’ll be safe with me.” Victor believed him. The elegant weapon struck him as odd next to the utilitarian cargo shorts, but Jack comfortable – almost comforted – with it there. Slowly the young man’s shoulders squared, and Jack morphed back into a version of himself Victor had not seen since Julia. “We should open the graveside entrance. When they leave, we don’t want her exposing the underwater entrance.” Planning again. Good.
Victor beamed with pride. It was almost like they were a team again. “I’ll get the rope.”
“Trust me, the old man will come first.”
Sarah had no idea how long she’d slept, only that it was dark when she came around, could hear that Marcus had woken first.
“Well, hopefully he brings water,” Sarah responded, maintaining the character she’d established yesterday, despite the terror that encroached on and threatened to paralyze her. Truly alone now, her only hope was that Marcus didn’t notice until Victor could secretly join her again. How, she had no idea, especially without being obvious to Marcus. Never mind. She’d figure it out when the time came. Until then, she’d survive on her talents.
“You think the bossy one will let him?” A snort of derision came from Marcus’s corner.
“Jack? He doesn’t control Victor.” Try as he might. Doubt flashed in her – would her character know that? Yeah. Marcus thought she had been operating under cover with the pair. She’d know that. “When he comes,” Sarah was pacing now, despite the pitch black that swallowed them. The walls weren’t moving. “When he comes, we can attack. You stand on that side –”
“That –” he gave a colorful name Sarah could only assume meant Jack – “broke my arm. This is your fight.” Sarah was grateful for the dark to hide her relief. If it was just her in the fight, they could control – and hopefully minimize – hurting each other. Still, she couldn’t let Marcus know. “What? You’re going to make me do this alone? Sure, I do all the work, and you reap the benefits.”
“Or don’t.” The man’s tone was cold, casual. Probably learned from his dad, at least as Sarah imagined it. “What else are you going to do? Stop me?”
Think like a villain. “Maybe break your ankle? Then if they catch one of us, it won’t be me.” The words that came out of her mouth struck her as somewhat reasonable, in a psychotic sort of way. Assuming she was truly that cold-hearted.
“And after you climb out of this hell hole? Where exactly do you think you’ll go?” Marcus asked smartly.
Good point. “The furniture store.”
“You must be really out of the loop. They abandoned that days ago.”
“You’ve been stuck in here! How would you know?”
“They rotate.” That was interesting information. If only she had a way to send it to Jack and Victor. Oh well. They’d learn it soon enough.
“If you’re so smart, where are they now?” Sarah pressed.
“Hush.” The curt command cut her off before she could continue any insults. She froze her step, hearing a small scuffle from Marcus’s corner. His next words were higher in elevation. “They’re coming.”
Now that he pointed it out, she could hear it too. A small stretching sound before a scraping. A tiny sliver of light illuminated the other side of the room, drawing both their attention. Someone was coming.
Right. Her character. She stepped forward, back to the wall as it slid. Once she saw Victor notice her, she lunged. He turned to her, splashing the contents of the cup in his hand as he swept the other toward her arms, diverting her. Not actually knowing what she was doing, and without Victor inside to guide her, she thumped into the bookshelf without much effort on his part. She shook her head, trying to blow the droplets of water off her nose, but Victor was quick to lunge at her. For a brief, terrifying moment, she thought he believed once again that she had turned on him.
Then he whispered, low and close so that only she could hear. “Head butt me.”
Trusting he had a plan, she freed her arms from his grasp, grabbed his shoulders, and threw her head toward his. In that moment, she lost control.
Victor’s body collapsed in her eyesight, but she had no ability to stop him. Instead, her eyes followed him down as her body turned to Marcus as if of its own accord. “Ready?” it asked. Victor asked, she realized. He’d hopped over to her, using the head butt as a cover for his transfer. Smart!
Marcus turned to his side, using his good arm to help him hop to a crouched, then standing position. “Finally.”
Welcome back, Sarah thought intentionally, wondering if that was enough for Victor to hear her.
It was. Thanks.
Letting Victor control her now, Sarah watched as they stepped out of the prison hole. There was an audible, satisfied gasp from Marcus as he breathed the fresh air again. But they weren’t free yet. Sarah wondered vaguely what Victor would do about Jack, knowing their distaste for each other.
As if her thought had cued him, her friend emerged from the bookshelves, stopping his stop at the sight of her and Marcus in the library. He had something dangling from his hip now, but he moved into action before she could spot exactly what. New, whatever it was.
A fist came toward her head, easily diverted by Victor, who swept her hand left and stepped in with his right, so they were right next to Jack. “It’s me,” she whispered, taking over temporarily, but not with enough force to boot Victor out. Victor wrapped her arm around Jack’s, twisting it until it was contorted behind the younger. Stepping forward – and forcing Jack to do the same – sandwiched the young man between her and a bookshelf. “Go,” Victor shouted to Marcus.
Obedient footfalls told them all that Marcus was heading out the door, free of the library.
“Move the curtain,” Victor ordered. Sarah assumed that to mean the fake wall that guided visitors away from the library. She didn’t understand why the order, but she trusted Victor had good reason.
“And have fun!” Sarah chimed in, mostly just to let Jack know she was there and cooperating. The last thing she needed was for him to worry.
“I wont’ let anything happen to her. I’ll contact you if she needs help,” Victor finished, using her voice and making her sound like she was talking in the third person.
“Got it,” was all Jack responded with.
Her grip relaxed on his, freeing him. “See you soon.” She smiled at him, trying to be comforting.
Making room for himself and brushing his t-shirt off, Jack was all business. “Go.”
Your turn, she heard Victor say to her. Right. Now that the fighting was done, acting was the higher priority. She willed her feet to move – and they did – out the door and down the carved clay hall.
Marcus was waiting at the painted shower curtain. “Took you long enough,” he grumbled.
“Well, he’s not going to come after us anytime soon, if that helps,” she answered vaguely.
That seemed enough for her companion. He swept the flimsy wall aside, stepping through first and leading the way.
Left. He must mean to lead them out the cemetery entrance.
“Left,” Sarah echoed Victor.
Marcus didn’t argue, and soon they were jogging up the sloping hall, back toward the non-watery entrance. Once they arrived, Marcus’s step stalled. There was a rope, dangling and waiting for them, easily in sight as the natural sunlight poured over it.
“What’re you waiting for?” Sarah asked, approaching it.
“It’s too easy.”
“You think that was easy?” Sarah asked, gesturing back to where she fought Victor and Jack.
He jabbed a finger at the rope. “This is.” He hesitated even touching the rope, then tugging it. It didn’t give much.
It’s not a trap.
“I’m okay with easy,” Sarah insisted, snatching the rope from him. Last time she’d climbed it, Marcus had been tangled underneath. “No chance you’re interested in giving me another boost?”
“And let you leave me behind? No thanks.”
“Hey, I could have left you behind back there. You’re right, I need you.” There was an unsummoned moment of surprise in her gut. Right. Victor hadn’t been there for that part of the conversation. “To guide me to the new lair?”
Marcus was ignoring her now, analyzing the hole in the ceiling. “Do they have friends? Some that could be guarding the entrance?”
The only chance of someone being on the other side was if it was Marcus’s people. Renaud’s or Tekina’s. Sarah snorted, maintaining her character. “Those two bozos? I’m not even sure they’d consider each other friends.”
Sorry. But it was kinda true. “But they could be recovering right now, so I’d hurry, if I were you.” Jack wouldn’t pursue, she was confident, but her character wouldn’t be.
An odd flash of clarity stopped her movements. How did her life get this crazy? To be hosting Victor, controlling herself, but pretending to play – without a script – another character entirely? Never mind. Move now, analyze later.
“Fine, I’ll go first.”
“Good. Then haul me up.”
How strong did he think she was? “Excuse me?”
Marcus lifted his lame arm to her. “I’m not going on my own.” His glare leveled to her, and she could tell he was used to pulling rank among Renaud’s and Tekina’s followers. “That’s an order.”
Every part of her wanted to find some sassy, snappy remark back, but Victor took over for a moment. “Okay, okay, geeze.” Back to Sarah’s control.
Using all her strength to hoist herself the distance up the rope, Sarah was reminded that she needed to go to the gym a little more often. Her muscles weren’t used to this kind of exercise – climbing or fighting – but rather singing and dancing, or freezing and holding whatever “natural” posture for as long as the script demanded. By the time she was breathing open air again, she didn’t want to do anything else for a moment.
“Come on,” came her companion’s insistent call from below. Victor glanced her eyes around the cemetery – they were alone. Secret was safe for a little while longer, at least.
Marcus was even heavier than she was, and a bear to try to hoist into the daylight. Victor pitched in, correcting her stance so that her muscles didn’t have to work quite as hard to keep it from slipping again. It was like a monumentous, absurd tug-of-war with gravity, but eventually she won, trading the rope for his good arm and yanking him the rest of the way to safety.
Marcus was ready to keep going before two inhales could soothe her lungs. “Come on,” he insisted, pushing himself to a standing position. He grabbed the rope and tossed it up and away so that they couldn’t be pursued, at least not from underground.
Already? Sarah resigned herself to the pace Marcus was setting, pushing herself to stand too.
Once out of the cemetery, he headed directly past the parking lot and toward the road. “That one,” she said, nodding to her own car and pulling out her keys.
He glanced at her quizzically. “They let you keep those?”
Sarah stopped herself from swearing. It was out of character, and if she didn’t think of some excuse quickly, she’d be found out. Anger, she reminded herself. Accusation, throw attention away from herself and back at him. “What do you think took me so long back in the library? I was finding these. You’re really an idiot, aren’t you?”
“Hey, how was I supposed to know?” Marcus shot back.
“What did you plan on walking the twenty miles back to town?”
“If we had to.”
Sarah was less than keen on exercising any more today. “Go for it. I’ll meet you there.”
Marcus was already heading the direction she’d indicated. “No thanks.”
Together they hopped in the car and she started driving. With his guidance, she headed into town and almost immediately back out, to the northern fringes before pulling off the freeway. It was an unpopulated commercial district, near the local newspaper and hole-in-the-wall businesses that didn’t need a popularized store front.
“Right,” Marcus demanded again from the seat next to her.
Sarah obeyed, spinning the wheel and going up a thin road. The only building up this way was a winery, and one she’d never been to. “Here?” she asked when the path ended in a parking lot.
Her question was answered from outside the car, not within. Several men with tactical gear and guns stepped out of each of the four visible doors, surrounding them in an instant.
Marcus flung the door open and stood, shouting something at them in a dialect even Victor didn’t know. The barrels lowered again, but they continued to surround the car, blocking any escape Sarah may have been planning. She was stuck, truly in the lion’s den now. No path now but where Marcus wanted.
She could only watch as Renaud’s man turned back to her, popping his head into the car again with a sly grin. “Now, Sarah, we shall see if you were telling me the whole truth.”