Agony tore through Jack as Renaud’s man dug his knife deeper into his palm. It was all he could do to just toss a lame punch at the man, but it landed unnoticed on the hard shoulder. All the favorite pressure points were protected by Kevlar or out of reach. Jack tried again, this time throwing an elbow – the target was close enough – but to the same result.
Renaud was standing over there. Too far for Jack to slap that smirk off his face.
Blood was flowing freely down Jack’s arm, dripping off his elbow with a splat onto the tiled floor. It made the symphony of struggle that much more encompassing.
Jack heard Luanne’s words, understanding them this time. But he couldn’t obey. Couldn’t let them win. Couldn’t succumb and let Renaud win. Having Jack here, linked with Luanne, was all Renaud had wanted from them. If Jack didn’t fight, the council would get the names of everyone that had trusted his mentor with their legacies. Renaud would win.
Let go, Jack.
Hearing his mentor say his name tore at the emotional dam in Jack’s heart. No – he didn’t want to feel this. He wanted to be angry. To fight. Not to weep.
The knife had made its way past the center of his palm, snagging on where the bones met there. The pain had strangely fallen to the background, but he could still feel the pull of the fragile bones as the knife tugged against them.
Jack. She was more insistent this time.
He was the one who was supposed to rescue her! Not the other way around.
Trust? How many times had trusting failed him in the last couple months alone? The only one he could trust was himself.
And his mentor.
Jack let go.
The instant Luanne took over, Jack’s free hand flew to his pinned one, pulling the penknife from it and flicking the small blade Renaud’s direction. Jack could see Renaud shift his shoulders to dodge it, but was confident Luanne hadn’t, as she was already wrapping his hand around Jack’s attacker, embracing the large man in a brotherly hug before yanking his knee up, between the legs.
Jack’s primary attacker doubled over, blocking the others from coming any closer. The larger blade clattered in the pool of blood it had been creating.
Suddenly free, Luanne slid a foot right, putting him in the corner of the room. From here, they could see everyone. Another goon charged.
Jack merely watched, terrified as the man grew closer, as Luanne waited. Then, when the fist was nearly down his throat, Luanne snapped Jack’s foot out, kicking just below the goon’s knee while all the weight was on it. With a crack, that knee bent entirely the wrong direction, and the goon crumpled.
“There you are, Luanne.” Renaud was just watching, blocking anyone’s escape through the door.
The last untouched peon didn’t bother closing the distance, but glanced at his fellows and pulled a handgun. Seeing the barrel, Jack knew it would be too far away to wrangle with, especially with the man who had cut into his hand still on the ground, struggling to find his breath, between them.
“Are you done?” Renaud asked. “I have more out there, if you’d rather.” He gestured to the open door.
In the stillness, pain returned to Jack’s hand, so strong he almost accidentally took over again just to let his body react.
“I will not give you what you want,” Jack heard Luanne say in his voice.
Renaud simply cocked his head to one side, like a curious puppy. “You will.”
The beat-up men were starting to stand again, though the only standing act of aggression was the gun.
“You can put that away,” Luanne said in her sassy motherly kind of way. It sounded strange coming out of his mouth. He would have to get used to it, he supposed. “If you kill me now, all my knowledge goes too. We all know Renaud would kill you just for causing that inconvenience.” It was true.
The man’s expert shooting stance faltered.
“Out,” Luanne demanded. “All of you, off you go.” Jack’s eyes were pulled to Renaud. “You too.” His hands flicked blood as she gestured for them to leave.
The goons collectively looked at Renaud, who nodded. “Stew in your failures, Luanne. You haven’t won.” He glanced at the old woman’s dead body as the men collected their various weapons and departed. Renaud simply tipped the brim of an invisible hat, smirked, and shut the door behind him.
Sarah couldn’t find a comfortable place for her tongue inside her mouth. There were 83 tiles on the floor, and 17 in the ceiling. Without a clock or windows, she had no clue how long she’d been in there, only that she was so bored! It only took her an hour to get tired of trying to run lines, as she had committed very few of them to memory since meeting Victor and Jack.
The walls were painted in a plain stucco-style white, and the shapes were too amorphous to offer any stories to even her imagination. The only thing to break up the monotony was the door, which looked exactly like any office door would expect to look, except for the part where it locked from the outside. No desk to give clues as to the owner’s personality. No chairs. The set designers for the villain’s lair must have been sorely disappointed when they found out this was what they had to work with.
She couldn’t feel Victor, either. If he was nearby, she wouldn’t know. There was no sickness at being far from him, and no pull toward him. Had she had whatever it was injected into her after she had been wiped, she might not have known anything happened at all, apart from the soreness in her lower back. She’d had worse cramps than that, though. Nothing to write home about.
A sudden click from the doorway must have seemed quiet in the real world, but here, it echoed and amplified. Someone was coming? Was she being rescued? Sarah hurried to a standing position, putting on a big grin and holding her palms facing the door. Jazz hands.
The door swung inward, striking the drywall with a slam. Before Sarah had a chance to react, a person was thrown head-first into the room, landing hard on the shoulder and facing away from her. The instant the feet slid clear, a burlap-sleeved arm reached in and tugged the door closed again.
Not the jazz hands moment she expected.
Ragged breathing, punctuated by a click of the door, filled the room. The person wasn’t moving, but Sarah was immediately forming an idea of who it might be.
“Marcus?” She risked a step closer.
The shivering form froze solid for a half second before the head whipped around to face her. It was him, though his eyes were red and his skin was far more pale when she’d last seen him, head down in that big empty room.
“What did they do to you?”
Instead of answering, he turned back over, apparently preferring to face the wall than her.
“You can talk to me. I won’t hurt you.”
He didn’t move this time, but he answered. “You’re the reason they did this to me.”
What? “You brought me here,” she retorted. “It’s your fault I’m stuck in this hell.” That they both were here. He couldn’t honestly blame her.
Marcus looked at her again. “Why’d you have to go and be so – so nice?” he accused.
“I don’t understand.” It was weird, looking down at him as she stood there. He may talk tough, but from here, he just looked vulnerable.
He must have recognized it too. He rolled over, getting his feet under him unsteadily before letting himself fall against the wall in a sitting position. “I shouldn’t have come back. Not without Jack.” They were his father’s words, not his.
“Or you could have gone anywhere else. Been free of him.” Sarah knelt, wanting to be eye level without approaching in a way that might seem aggressive. Marcus wasn’t the real bad guy here. Still, he didn’t meet her gaze. “No father should treat their son the way Renaud treated you. You tried.”
Marcus snorted. “I should have killed you. Used you to get Jack to come.” A softness flickered past his eyes, and Sarah knew he didn’t want what he claimed.
She sat all the way this time. “I’m glad you didn’t.”
“A lot of good it did me.”
“You did the right thing.”
“Ever notice how doing the right thing never ends in your favor?” Marcus asked in a sudden display of energy. “It only gets you deeper into trouble.”
Him maybe. But then again, he spent his time with Renaud and the council. “Not with the right friends.”
“How many friends do you have?” Sarah asked, genuinely curious. “Outside of this building.”
Marcus looked at her like she was insane. “Friends are liabilities. That’s why you’re still alive. So that you can be used against your ‘friend’ Jack to get him to talk.”
“No. Jack will be the one to rescue me. Victor too.” Once they learned to work together.
“Jack’s already here, and he wasn’t looking for you.”
His mentor first, then. Sarah was disappointed, but couldn’t say she blamed him. “What about Victor?”
Marcus shrugged. “Best guess? He’s cut his losses and moved on.”
Remembering Victor’s advice against attachment, against loving anyone, Sarah realized Marcus was probably right.
No. They were friends, and friends didn’t abandon each other, not to the likes of the council.
“Well, I’m your friend, Marcus.”
“Don’t –” he stopped himself. “Just… don’t.”
“Why does that bother you?”
“Why must you insist on it?”
Because she needed it. Because without a friend, there was no way of getting out of here. No reason to get out of here. She needed to think there was a way, and Marcus could be a good person, if he wanted to be. Everyone could. “You can’t stop me from being nice to you,” she told him stubbornly.
“Fine. Whatever.” He rested his head against the wall behind him. “Just don’t expect me to be nice to you.”
Sarah watched him for a moment, but when he didn’t continue, she had to ask. “Do you have a plan?”
Wasn’t it obvious? “Getting out of here.”
“And going where? There’s no where on God’s green Earth that we can go to escape the council. Especially now that they have Jack.” With Jack, they’d be able to reach out to other legacies around the world, and they’d have no allies left. Assuming Sarah even maintained her sanity until she found Victor again. No reason to make his job more difficult, though.
“We can hide from them. Somewhere where your father can’t hurt you.”
Marcus shook his head. “It’s too late. I’ve linked with him.” Sooner or later, the separation would kill him. “No, it’s either service to him or death. If not by his hands, then by my own.”
That seemed a little dramatic. “We can figure it out.”
“If you’d been part of this whole thing for longer than a couple weeks, I might actually believe you.”
“Jack. And Victor. They’d be able to help, if you asked.” Assuming they all survived.
“They wouldn’t help me. Renaud’s son and heir to that legacy? They’d sooner kill me.” Heir? More like host, as one hosts a parasite. Jack’s first words to her struck Sarah, and she only realized then how right he had been.
What would he say about this? Having Marcus in there now? Jack would probably insist that Marcus had been placed in there just to stop Sarah from escaping. Looking back on their conversation, he’d be right. But she couldn’t do it alone.
Victor stared out the cab’s window, book safely tucked away in his messenger bag. It was heavier than the scale might tell, but it was his only bargaining chip. It was Victor’s responsibility to keep it away from where the council might find it, at least until he chose to show his hand. That would have to be soon, but on his terms. Jack’s and Sarah’s lives hung in the balance.
First, Victor needed to find an ally. Someone the council wouldn’t recognize. There were a few in this half of the U.S., but none either physically or emotionally close enough to risk themselves for a couple of students. He and Jack were new to this area, and had intentionally made no friends.
That led him to conclude the key to finding an ally – to success – rested in Sarah’s friends. It took Victor a moment to remember the name of her date: Paul. He cared about her, and was already somewhat familiar with their world. No legacy, of course, but he might be useful. Especially if he was half as good at acting as Sarah was. Is. He couldn’t start thinking that she was gone already, not yet.
Finding Paul proved more difficult, but Sarah had left her phone with Victor when they had gone into the makeshift jail cell to talk with Marcus. Unlocked, he was able to find Paul’s name, then his Facebook profile. It was the extent of Victor’s proficiency with social media, but the information was there. Paul worked at the area mall during the days. With any luck, he’d be there now.
Victor paid the cabbie and left, sure to keep his bag close.
He hated malls. High population, low number of exits – they were almost as suffocating as casinos. For Sarah and Jack. Victor pushed himself in, finding the Orange Julius mercifully near the entryway he had been dropped off near. The cashier there was female, helping customers without making the drinks they paid for. There must be another somewhere in the back doing the actual work. Victor stepped closer, peering around the corner to the well-lit kitchen.
There – he’d recognize that hair anywhere. It was pulled back, trapped in a net as Paul stepped lightly from station to station. Victor tried to wave him down, but Paul wasn’t paying attention.
“Can I help you?” the young woman in the front called the short distance from behind the counter, interrupting Victor’s attempts.
“No,” Victor did his best to smile and nod, though he couldn’t wait to be rid of her. “Thank you.”
She watched him for a moment, but another customer had stepped up to the register, freeing Victor from trying to converse with her.
Paul spun in place, a waxy cardboard box of fruit in hand, glancing Victor’s way. Victor waved, causing the energetic young man to double take.
The instant he recognized Victor, Paul’s chipper demeanor vanished, replaced by a glare and a scowl. Oops. Maybe he wasn’t the right ally to pursue. Paul may be protective over Sarah, but he clearly wasn’t keen on Victor, and cooperation now was a must.
“I’m taking my ten,” Paul called audibly to the young cashier. He waited for her to nod, then pulled off his apron and hairnet, pushing the saloon door on his way out to the public area. “You,” was all the cheer his demeanor could hold.
“I’m sorry to interrupt your work like this –” Victor started.
“Where is Sarah?” No nonsense, then. Victor could appreciate that.
“Taken.” How much should he try to explain here?
“Then why are you here?” Paul asked, evidently exasperated.
“I need your help to free her.” Victor swallowed his pride. “Please.”
“Free her?” Paul ran his hand through his voluminous hair. “Gods, what has she gotten herself mixed up in?” Paul had no idea. “What do you need from me?”
“The afternoon, at least.” Victor glanced back to the cashier.
Paul sighed, then turned to Victor with a sudden glare. “How do I know I can trust you? Last I saw Sarah, she was with you. Now –”
“She volunteered.” Victor had to be clear on that point. “She just got in over her head. I know where she is, but I can’t rescue her alone.”
Paul eased again, nodding. Apparently Sarah had a knack for doing more than she could handle. Victor wasn’t surprised. “I assume you have a plan?”
Victor patted his bag. “If you’re up for it.” It crossed Victor’s mind that he could execute it by just taking over Paul and using him until Sarah was safe, but he couldn’t. Not if the council was going to take Paul at his word, and if Victor didn’t want Sarah furious with him afterward. A sacrifice he’d be willing to make, but not unless he had to. Cooperation first.
“And it can’t wait?” Paul asked.
“The longer we wait, the longer they have her.” Victor wasn’t about to explain who ‘they’ were in the middle of a public area.
Paul seemed ready. “Just let me call someone in to cover my shift.” It seemed like a lame reason to wait, but then again, Paul had to get back to his life after Sarah had been rescued. Same planet, but two very different worlds.
Victor kept his gaze on the people around him, but there was no sign of Renaud or his goons. They must all be back at the winery. They must have Jack now, so there was no reason to watch the streets anymore. For all their sakes, Victor could only hope that Paul was a good enough actor to pull this off.