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.
Victor? Anytime you want to take over…. Sarah looked from Marcus’s smug grin to the guns and back.
I don’t think we’re fighting out of this one.
He was right. For the moment, anyway. Don’t leave me?
Don’t get knocked out.
Right. Sarah watched one of the armed men come and pull her door open. “What are you doing, Marcus?”
“You’re not working for Tekina.”
A new voice entered the scene from the doorway to the building. “Who’s the guest, Briggs?”
Briggs? He said his name was Marcus! Sarah spun to the new voice. He was tall and dark-haired, like Marcus, but much older than a brother. Father? Could it be this was the real Renaud?
Yes, Victor confirmed, though she hadn’t asked him directly.
Renaud’s glare moved from where Sarah still sat in the driver’s seat to one of the men standing near the hood of the car. Briggs wasn’t Marcus, then.
Her younger companion stood tall to face his father and answer the question anyway. “She was prisoner with me under Victor and –”
Renaud looked to Marcus only long enough to backhand him, stopping Sarah’s heart at the sight. “Did I ask you?”
“Don’t hit him,” Sarah ordered without thinking, standing now from the driver’s seat to see the newcomer eye to eye. She didn’t like that he could look down on her.
Marcus is the bad guy, remember? Victor reminded her.
Villain or not, no son deserved to be hit by his father.
Renaud glared her direction, seemingly really seeing her for the first time. “You’re the lying little – who walked Victor out from our grasp.”
Sarah couldn’t help but smile at the derision in his words. “I am.”
Renaud lifted his chin to the armed men, and every gun in sight pointed her direction. “Who are you, really?”
No one, Victor provided.
No, Sarah wasn’t going to be trod on, not again. “An interested third party.”
You really think you can lie your way out of this one, too?
She’d do what she had to.
Renaud turned to his son. “And you led her here?”
“She was a gift for you, Father.” Marcus bowed his head.
“Don’t call me that,” Renaud snapped back. “Not until you’ve earned the title.” Renaud then seemed to notice Marcus’s cradled and broken arm. His hand snapped out to it so quickly Sarah almost missed it, but it was impossible not to see Renaud’s lip curl into a smile as he clenched and twisted it. “I gave you a simple task: bring me Jack. Instead you return to me broken and with this –” He jerked his ear toward Sarah whilst calling her another crude name.
Marcus was folding under the crippling pain Renaud squeezed into him, but didn’t move to fight back. This kind of abuse must be common. What kind of father –
Don’t, Victor warned again. Better his ire not be directed at you. He’s a bad guy. Bad guys are cruel.
We can’t call ourselves the good guys if we stand by and watch this bullying. Sarah stepped away from the car, closing the door, ready to interrupt. Victor would back her if she got into a fight, wouldn’t he?
She only managed two steps before Renaud pulled a gun from his back with his free hand, joining every other firearm in pointing her direction. “Stay.” Her stomach would have dropped clear out of her body if Victor hadn’t been there to hold it in place.
Sarah gathered her courage. “Then let go of him.” With Victor’s skills, she’d survive these guys.
I appreciate your confidence in me, but let’s not test that theory, okay?
“Let’s get one thing straight. You’re not in charge here. So shut up and wait your turn.”
His cruel words filled Sarah with rage. She continued toward him as she argued. “Then –”
She only got the one word and two more steps in before Renaud pulled the trigger. The sound alone paralyzed Sarah. Having never heard a gunshot before, she hadn’t realized how loud they actually were. And terrifying. She could see that she was the only one who even jumped at the sound, but in that moment, she couldn’t force herself to act.
But Victor could. You’re not hurt, he comforted. Then he wholly took over, throwing her hands over her head as she dove to the car between them and Renaud for cover. “Geeze!” she heard herself say. “No need to get all trigger happy.”
Renaud nodded Sarah’s direction. “Take her to the room next to Luanne’s.”
“She’s here?” Victor asked through her.
Renaud adjusted his grip on the gun – still aimed Sarah’s direction – while the one called Briggs did as he was ordered. “You don’t care. Right?” The threat was clear in Renaud’s tone, if not his words.
Victor put her hands in the air. “Right. Here I am, not caring.”
Confidence surged in her as gruff hands grabbed her shoulders and arms. Sarah was only mildly aware that must mean Victor had a plan, but it took her half the distance to the door to even have that complete thought.
Hey, Sarah. It’s okay. I’m here. Victor’s calm words seemed unfitting for the unbridled situation at hand. And I know where we are. If they force me out, I can get Jack and we’ll come.
Force him out? Of course, they could knock her silly and she’d lose her grip on Victor. Or, if they kept her here long enough, she’d have to sleep sometime. Still, she didn’t know how to do this alone. Don’t leave me!
I just told you, I’m here for you.
All thoughts of fighting back now returned as Briggs tugged the metal and glass door open, shoving her inside. Victor was here, at least for the moment. It was a coldly-lit hall with unmarked doors on every side. They should take advantage and escape now, while they could.
No, Victor cautioned.
There are seven of them, and we’re unarmed These are narrow halls. The gunshots will be louder in here. Gunshots? Plural? They’re leading us right to Luanne. The whole point of Victor’s and Jack’s mission in life.
You’d trade my life for hers?
No one’s dying in here. His warm, grandfatherly tone comforted her only slightly.
Except the bad guys, Sarah finished.
They’ll die on their own soon enough. Wait – he didn’t plan on wiping them out? Ever?
“Who do we have here?” A new voice greeted them, and the oldest she had heard yet. Except Victor’s.
What little confidence Sarah had managed to cling to dissolved as the name triggered Victor’s memories in her head. The man was the definition of the phrase that touted that knowledge was power. Through the centuries, little else had preoccupied the man except the acquisition of information. Because of this, Symon also held the title of the fewest hosts by a fair amount, only abandoning one when its mental capacities started to fade. Often this meant little to no training for the new host, as wasting time that way was inefficient. He’d pick out one who could carry him, then take over, leaving the new host’s family with no idea why their brother or son had disappeared.
Symon rounded from behind the group right into Sarah’s line of sight. “You – you’re not young Julia. You must be Victor’s latest puppet. I don’t think Tekina told me your name.” Unlike Renaud, his words held no malice, instead a simple inquisitive nature. “What are you doing here?”
Sarah decided it was best to keep her mouth shut this time. Sure, this Symon didn’t have a gun, but the collection of goons escorting her still had several each. Maybe she could open up to him? Symon didn’t seem that terrible.
“Marcus just delivered her,” Briggs replied. “Renaud ordered us to –”
“I don’t believe you are the one I was asking,” Symon pointed out simply. His eyes merely glanced the speaker’s way before studying Sarah again.
Despite the lack of cruelty in the man’s tone, she could still hear a gulp from Briggs. It was clear all of Victor’s fears about Symon were valid.
“You were the one I was asking.” Symon peered at her, as if trying to determine if she were as stupid as the rest. She was confident she wasn’t.
Don’t, Victor warned. That seemed to be his favorite word today.
“You don’t have any bruising; your hair still tightly bound in that ponytail. A little mud on your shoes, but not from a scuffle. Climbing perhaps? You clearly weren’t forced to come here. Yet here you are.”
“It’s like he said. Marcus tricked me into coming.”
“That boy did not inherit his mother’s knack for deceit.” Symon looked away from her finally. “Either you’re incredibly dull or you’re here intentionally.”
“I’m not –”
Sarah! Victor’s sudden, harsh tone cut her short.
For a moment, no one moved. Then, slowly, Symon turned his ear to her. “Sorry? I didn’t catch that.”
Sarah took Victor’s advice this time and clamped her jaw shut.
Symon’s eyes locked with hers, and in that moment, the rest of the world faded away from them. They were an icy blue, almost grey, but sharp, keenly absorbing every bit of information she offered. “Are you alone in there?”
Panic swept Sarah at the accusation. Help! She could force Victor out, but didn’t know how to make the man take control from her. He certainly didn’t on his own. “I don’t know what you mean,” Sarah managed. It was a terrible lie, and everyone in the room knew it.
“Well, there are several ways to find out.” Then, to her escorts, “She’s coming with me now.”
Sarah didn’t know if it was instinct or Victor that drove her eyes to search for an escape route. Either way, she didn’t find one.
“But Renaud –”
“Renaud must be simple for letting her get this far without checking her for stowaways.” It was a bold accusation for anyone in these halls, and likely only dared to be uttered by Symon or Tekina.
The vocal member of the gun-wielders – Briggs – stepped back, letting Symon have her. “What do I tell Renaud?”
“What I just said should suffice.” Unlikely.
The group melted away, leaving Sarah more-or-less alone with the scientist.
Now’s your chance, Sarah thought to Victor once Symon took the lead, long stride taking a concerted effort for her to keep up. He’s old. Do something. Fight!
I’m going to have to leave you soon.
What? That was the exact opposite of what she was asking! But –
Fighting won’t help. Quite the opposite.
That doesn’t mean you have to desert me!
If he finds out I’m in here, he’ll kill us both in one go.
He doesn’t have to know. Sarah was practically begging as she silently traced Symon’s steps down the maze of halls. I can act!
Symon opened a door that looked like every other and held it for her in a gentlemanly fashion.
Even you can’t fool his tools, Sarah.
Without anything else to do, she stepped through the portal, noticing first that it was cooler in this room than the hall. It was also vast, like a warehouse, with a pool of light off to her left, leaving the rest of the room in an inky blackness by comparison. Within the light was a collection of equipment – some mechanical, the rest electrical, boasting a myriad of screens with no obvious power source – and what looked like a massage table, soft and bleached white. It struck her as sinister as a Disney villain. Too bad Symon didn’t have a decent mustache to twirl.
She didn’t want to.
I’ll get Jack. Don’t worry – we’ll come for you as soon as we can.
How long is that? Sarah was ready to tell Symon everything just looking at the scientist’s gear. Unnoticing or uncaring of her panic, Symon swept past her toward the only lit place in the room. Sarah nearly jumped as the door snapped home behind her, letting the darkness swallow her.
Soon. Do as he says, Sarah. Survive.
Don’t abandon me!
The cool air hit her throat, then her core as she felt the warmth of Victor’s presence evaporate.
Victor! Sarah was so desperate for his guidance that she nearly shouted his name aloud.
No response. No words to tell her to calm down. Nothing but herself.
Victor had barely even left any party advice. What was it again? Survive? Do as Symon demanded? What kind of advice was that?!
Sarah’s eyes honed in on the only other person in the hollow room. He had given her an order. What choice did she have but to comply? Sarah stepped forward.
“What’s your name?”
“Hello Sarah. I’m Symon.” She knew that, of course, but she realized in that moment that he had never actually told her so.
“Pleasure to meet you, Symon.”
“Do you really think so?” The older man patted on the cushioned table as if he were a doctor and she his patient. Everything she knew about the man told her he would not be making her well, though. Still, trusting Victor had some sort of plan, she obeyed. Not that she had much of a choice.
It wasn’t until she noticed Symon watching her expectantly that she realized he had asked a question. “I’ve heard about you,” she responded, dodging an honest answer.
“I’m flattered.” He didn’t seem to be. “Tell me, Sarah, is there anyone else here right now?” The not-a-doctor picked up a thick syringe with a needle thick enough to stick a spaghetti noodle inside.
“No,” she answered, staring as Symon flicked the vial and squirted the tiniest bit of clear liquid out the top.
Seeing him like that, she clung to the Disney villain idea. It helped her not run from there in pure terror. Symon was just another silly, broken-hearted soul that could be fixed by a simple montage sequence followed by a song and dance. Right? He just wasn’t showing any emotion now. No bad guy monologue meant she wasn’t at the end of her story yet. She’d survive until then, and everything will turn out wonderfully with sunshine and sprinkles. She didn’t want to go through the scary parts, but she would have her happily ever after.
A thought struck her as she watched him. “Why ask if you’re going to use that anyway?”
Symon glanced from his work to her for a moment, seemingly pleased with her question. “Testing the waters. Face down on the table, please.”
Sarah saw the headrest – slightly smaller than a toilet seat cushion – on the far side and leaned toward it.
“See, assuming you’re being honest, this won’t be quite as excruciating. There’s a difference in the screams, you know.” What? What was that supposed to mean? His voice muffled slightly as her ears pressed against the sterilized cloth. Still, the man’s thoughts were terrifyingly discernible. “Lift your shirt for me, dear.”
Sarah was suddenly grateful she was face down. Fearing something worse if she didn’t, she pulled up the hem of her pink shirt a couple of inches, but not high enough to expose her bra. It didn’t matter what Victor had said – she wasn’t going to do that, not without at least trying to run or fight.
But Symon’s intentions seemed purely scientific. She was still somehow surprised at the piercing pinch as the cool needle stabbed into her lower back, between the vertebrae and straight into what she knew must be the spinal cord. Agony quaked through her, with that shard of metal at its epicenter, enough that she couldn’t argue because her teeth had ground themselves shut.
“This particular concoction keeps you from hosting anyone until it wears off.” She barely heard him. The liquid iced her from the inside, flooding her back and stealing the air from her lungs. “The side effect being, of course, that if you are hosting someone, they get torn from you. I’m told it’s quite painful.”
For the moment, Sarah felt nothing but trauma of the needle as it finished with her, leaving a simple chill literally running up and down her spine in its wake.
“You can sit up now.”
Sarah first pulled her shirt back into place before pushing herself up. Seeing Symon note something in his journal, Sarah remembered the cartoons she watched as a child and summoned her courage. “What’s going to happen to me now?”
“That’s up to Renaud,” he answered absently. “Wait here.” At that, Symon clicked his pen once and tucked it into his shirt pocket. “I’ll be back when it kicks in.” He turned for the door, rapidly disappearing into the darkness.
“How will you know?” she asked his back as it faded from view.
“You’ll tell me.”
With another snap the door opened, letting in hallway light and silhouetting Symon. He paused only a moment before it closed again behind him. She realized with that clack that she was truly, utterly alone. Part of her immediately wanted to go, run amuck through the vast room she had been told to wait in, but there was a safety in the light she couldn’t ignore. Besides, there would be time enough for exploring later, she imagined.
For now, she wanted to hug herself and pretend none of this was actually happening to her. This brave hero that was starring in this story was simply a character she portrayed. She even tried to think of a cheery tune to sing as she waited, but couldn’t summon one.
Minutes ticked by with only the hum of the waiting machines to keep her company. What now? Victor should be waking up at any moment, and Sarah expected jack would give him a full dose of his wrath once he noticed. Sarah smiled at the thought. Jack may have been a hard teacher, but he had always protected her. Victor was more her style – impulsive – but in his own way quite wise. The wisest of all of them, with his history and legacy to school him.
Her history now, she guessed. Didn’t feel like it. But it was part of her, or at least this hero character, and she had to admit to herself that she liked belonging. That was one of the many things that had drawn her to theater: the acting, yes, but also the new family she got with every show she did. Victor and Jack were part of that now. Then why would Victor –
Suddenly every nerve in her body interrupted her thoughts, flashing in an untethered spasm of pain.