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.
“You did what?” Jack had heard Victor’s words clearly, but still had trouble understanding them.
“I couldn’t stay. Symon –”
“Has Sarah now as his personal guinea pig!” Jack finished, livid. “You abandoned her!”
“My hand was forced.” Victor’s calm explanation did nothing to soothe Jack’s fury. “I came to get –”
“Forced?” Jack could barely breathe, choked by his hot emotions. It was all he could do to lower his volume to a calmer whisper, which came out sounding more like a hiss. “You do realize what this is, don’t you?”
It was clear the old man understood him perfectly. “No. It’s not what you think.”
“It’s a pattern, Victor. This is Julia all over again.”
“This is nothing like that.”
“It’s exactly like that!” Jack’s voice found its roar again at the same time his hand found its rapier. Pulling it now seemed only a natural expression of his anger.
Suddenly a darkness shifted over victor, and those weak eyes leveled to a glare on him. “Jack. Put that away.”
“Or what? You’ll leave me too?”
“Trust me –”
“Trust you?” Did the man even hear himself? “That’s exactly the problem, isn’t it? I trusted you. Sarah trusted you. Julia –” Jack couldn’t finish. Couldn’t speak more than her name.
“Julia is dead.” Didn’t Victor realize Jack knew that? “I watched them close in on her. She knew what they were going to do. She’s a hero, and died for it. But Sarah is still alive. We got confirmation Luanne is there too. If we don’t work together on this, both of them will join Julia.”
Jack could almost laugh at the old man’s audacity. “You’re asking me to trust you.”
They stared at each other for a moment, neither backing down or even breaking eye contact. Victor must be insane if he thought that Jack would trust him after this. He was fool enough to trust Victor too many times. Not again. “No.”
“Sarah isn’t the one they really want. She’s innocent in this. Guilty only of trusting you.” The words clearly stung Victor, but Jack wasn’t even close to considering stopping. A semblance of a plan was only starting to come together in his head as he spoke. “Once I reunite with –”
“Not a chance.” Victor’s words were firm, but Jack saw his wrinkled eyes flicked toward the weapon again. “Put that away first.” Jack had forgotten it was still in his hand. “Then we can talk about this.”
Jack didn’t. “What exactly is your plan? Hm? Do you even have one that won’t end up with everybody we know dead or dying?”
“You can’t go to them. That’s giving them exactly what they want.”
“Why not?” His life for Sarah’s? It seemed a fair trade to Jack. At least he had chosen this life.
“I know Symon. It won’t be just death for you, Jack. It’ll be torment. He’ll drip the information out of you, until there’s no legacy left.” The man put his hand on the carved armchair, as if that would help support his plan as well as his weight. “Sarah’s position is regrettable, and I will do everything in my power to help her –”
Jack could only scoff.
“– But please, her life isn’t worth sacrificing your legacy.”
Did he even hear himself? “You’re ready to let her die, after you literally walked her in there.”
“We need a plan. Surely you can understand that.”
Jack had a plan. They’d take the trade, he was sure. Then she could at least have the choice to trust Victor or be free of him again. “Not your plan.”
“I’m protecting us! All of us left with a legacy!” Victor’s shouting shocked him. Victor didn’t raise his voice, rarely even arguing back against Jack. The old man took the breath he had robbed from Jack, then continued. “Their endgame is bigger than you and me. Certainly bigger than Sarah. They want to find them all, and be the only ones left with this power. We – you – can’t give that to them. Please.” He used that word too often for it to have any value left.
“You selfish son of a –”
“I’m not done. Sarah is out there, depending on us to get her to safety. Now you tell me you have confirmation Luanne’s in the same building as her? We know where they are. I will not be the one to sit on my hands and let them suffer a moment longer than necessary.”
“I’m not suggesting that’s what we do. I didn’t think I’d have to tell you – of all people – but take a moment. Think this through.”
Jack’s rapier sliced itself through the air, cutting off anything more the old man had to say. “Enough!” Jack was done waiting. “I’m going. You can either back my play and keep up, or don’t.” With Victor’s success rate when it came to people the old man supported, Jack almost preferred to go alone. Either way, he wasn’t getting anything done arguing here.
Even after the pain subsided, it left Sarah shaking. Some part of her knew that – after what she’d been through in the last couple weeks – she should be getting used to it. But without Victor there to hold her together, she crumbled every time.
Seeing the shined support structure of the bed sideways, ear to the polished concrete as it reflected the sole beam of light, she would rather shut her eyes again. Shut out the world. She knew she should be able to think of something – anything – but in that near-silence, the only thought her imagination conjured was that she wasn’t thinking. Of anything.
She was still curled on the floor, hiding what she could of herself in the narrow shadow of the table, when the door clacked open, interrupting her whimpers.
“Get up, please,” came the short order a second and a half later. Symon. Despite his politeness, Sarah had no trouble imagining anything kind in the man. Not after their last encounter.
“Up!” Renaud this time, she was pretty sure. Opening one eye in the harsh light to peek at the sounds served to confirm her theories. She shut it again.
Sarah had no idea how long she had warmed that particular chunk of concrete, only that she didn’t want to leave it now.
“It’s Sarah, isn’t it?” Renaud tried again. His voice was close this time. Sarah opened both eyes now, this time finding him squatting by her. “Well, Sarah, Victor’s not coming for you. You’ve known him for what – two weeks? I’ve known him for centuries. So believe me when I say that he’s already given up on you. Cut his losses. You’re bereft of allies, so you may consider cooperating. For your own good.”
When she didn’t respond, she saw him glance to the other illuminated figure: Symon. The scientist merely shrugged, content with fiddling with the knobs on his machinery, but that didn’t placate Renaud much.
Sarah couldn’t even struggle as the gruff man clenched his powerful grip on her shoulders, lifting her wholly off the ground, and dropping her in a seated position on the not-a-massage table. “Look. You are going through that door in the next hundred seconds. You don’t want me to have to carry you.”
The threat hit her like a slap in the face: alarming, but effective in waking her from her stupor. Her eyes were able to trace past the face in front of her, seeing a third, silent member of their company standing just outside the pool of light.
His eyes were down, facing his feet, but that dark hair and those square shoulders were clearly his. Seeing him next to Renaud now, the resemblance was uncanny.
Surely he wasn’t the one they needed the room for? For Renaud to mistreat his own son in front of his comrades was one thing, but to allow – enforce, even – Symon to experiment on Marcus that way? It was unthinkable.
“What are you going to do to him?”
There was a shared glance between the older men. Marcus hadn’t even looked up.
“That’s a brave question to ask,” Renaud answered. Sarah had no intention of bravery. More like terror had knocked her filter far, far away.
Then she realized he hadn’t answered. Didn’t seem interested to, either. Instead Renaud put his hand on her back – almost comforting for that brief moment – before shoving her off the soft table. She only had a split second to decide if she’d stand or fall face-first in the same spot he had lifted her form. When it was almost too late, she chose the first, so that her legs got the memo, but her hands didn’t. She went down to her knees, heels of her palms slick with sweat and stinging as they barely caught the rest of her weight in the fall. Worried he might attack her exposed back, Sarah sprang back to her feet as quickly as she could manage.
Renaud hadn’t moved to further abuse her. Rather, he was back to glaring at her. “Off you go.”
Then the rest of her mind finally caught up with what Renaud was implying. Were they letting her go? She only managed one step before she caught sight of Marcus again. As much as she wanted that freedom, she couldn’t leave him here. True, he was the one who put her here in the first place, as her head was ready to remind her heart. But what kind of person was she to even consider abandoning someone who so clearly needed her help?
Two explosions of pain erupted in her kidneys simultaneously, cutting every thought from her again. Her back arched, sending her eyes to the garish and only source of light in the room.
She could barely hear Renaud’s next words over the sounds of her own agony. “Don’t make me ask again,” he snarled.
Right. She was no match for any of them, especially without Victor, and they all knew it. Marcus’s pride wouldn’t accept her help anyway.
She ran at the do.
The crash bar fell away under her still-stinging palms, blasting her with warm air and the brighter light of the sterilized hallways. Path was clear to her left, but she had come from the right.
Tekina stood in her path there, arms crossed and watching her perceptively, as if studying her. The door to the heartless warehouse behind her slammed, loud in the silence of the hall.
Sarah had to say something, and fast, if she wanted to get Tekina to clear the path to freedom. “They’re all waiting for you in there.”
“I was waiting for you, actually.” She said the words like a harsh schoolteacher: matter-of-fact, but still annoyed.
For her? “Why?” The last time they’d spoken, Tekina had made a mess of Sarah’s brain, then wiped it clean.
“Two days ago you were back to normal and boring. You didn’t recognize any of us. Yet here you are, back in the game.”
Sarah was getting tired of the cold woman’s games. Though, she had to admit to herself, they were at least preferable to Symon’s or Renaud’s. In a war of words, at least, Sarah could consider herself armed. “What do you want, Tekina?” Sarah asked, diverting the woman’s coy nature by being forthright.
“I don’t have a student,” the woman pondered without moving. “They keep dying.”
“Good to know.” Not that Sarah could do much with that information now. Just to experiment with her options, she took a step forward.
Tekina didn’t move. She didn’t adjust to block her silently detected bath, nor go the other direction to clear it. “You’re good at this, Sarah. With a little help, you could be great. Last time I met someone so adept, she ended up being, well, me.”
“What’s your point?” Sarah asked, not bothering to filter her exasperation with Tekina’s crafty and pointless words.
“Don’t take that tone with me,” Tekina snapped back. “I’m offering you the chance to live forever here. To be my student.”
Huh? “I already have a mentor.” Even if Sarah were tempted, she couldn’t have two. Could she? In that moment, she couldn’t recall Jack or Victor saying so. But it must be impossible.
Tekina scoffed. “Victor’s going to get you killed. Waste all that talent.” Tekina moved finally, though it was little more than shifting her weight and unfolding her arms.
“Doesn’t matter. You’re too late.” Then an idea struck Sarah: She may not know if it was possible, but Tekina would. Sarah just had to say something to get her to reveal the truth. “Even if I wanted to, that space is already occupied.” She let the statement hang there, ready to be countered. Tekina may be studying her, but Sarah was studying the woman too.
“Symon thinks he’s found a way out of – let’s just call it unoccupying that space. Nearly worked with Julia, and she –”
“Julia’s alive?” Sarah interrupted, heedless of the evil woman’s glare.
“Why would we kill her when we could use her?” Tekina asked as if the revelation she’d just dangled in front of Sarah had been obvious. “Back to the point. Symon reckons he’s figured it out now.”
“Why do you need me if his experiment on her worked?”
“Things got a little addled in the process.” Tekina fluttered a hand by her head. “She wasn’t fit any longer.”
“Wasn’t?” Was Julia alive or not?
“It’s a mercy what we did to her, if you ask me.” The sly woman’s words twisted her lips into a smile that held no warmth. Sarah doubted it ever had.
“Agree to my terms first.”
“Okay. Yes. Fine.” Sarah would figure a way to weasel out of them later.
“You didn’t even ask what they were.” Sarah couldn’t tell if Tekina’s eyes had lowered to a keen stare or a glare. “You have no intention of following through.”
Guilty. “Worth a shot,” she shrugged, nudging a little closer again.
Tekina’s weight shifted in response, but her feet didn’t move. “Take another step and I’ll make sure you meet her face-to-face.” Sarah couldn’t tell past the woman’s snarl if it was a threat or an invitation. Depended on if Julia was alive or not.
Sarah wanted to know. She took the step.
Before he foot could even land properly, Tekina’s fist launched at Sarah’s face, backhanding her with surprising violence.
Sarah blacked out before she hit the pristine ground.
Victor stared at the empty parking spot, heartbroken. He had chased Jack as best he could, but the young man was an adept and swift swimmer, and quickly left Victor behind in his wake. Jack had beaten him to the truck and its trailer, leaving nothing behind in their place. Leaving Victor standing in the middle of that campground by the lake.
Everyone Victor had let himself care about was gone at the hands of the council. Luanne was being kept in a coma under their thumb. Julia was murdered; Sarah as good as dead. Now even Jack was hell-bent on self-destruction, giving the council everything they wanted.
No. Not everything, not exactly. They wanted the book of lineages – which was snuggled safely tucked away in the library – but with Jack, they’d settle for its author. Victor had no doubt they’d find a way to get the answers they sought through his young friend.
Why was it the only people that seemed to remember their mission was their enemy? Yes, Victor was silently weeping at the loss of Sarah and Jack both in one day, but the council would soon have everything they wanted, and their real mission could being: Finding and wiping out any legacies that opposed them. Nothing stood in their way of that now. No one except him.
A reckless idea snuck into Victor’s mind as he struggled to maintain his calm: he had the book. He could trade it for Jack’s life, Sarah’s if they still had it, and anyone else he could manage to convince them to spare. In a month they’d have that same information anyway, and this way at least Jack would be spared from Symon’s skills. Victor may as well save those he could. Break this curse of those he was closest to being martyred for his sake.
It was a stupid plan. As reckless as Jack had always accused him of being. Giving the council that information would only speed their own demise, and those of so many others. But it was the only way he could minimize the damage to his friends.
Already wet, Victor waded into the lake as deep as he could go before taking the plunge back toward the library again.