Paris, France; June 30th, 2012
The rat in the chair cried out as the final rope burned against his wrist, recoiling when his protest was followed by a sharp slap to the face. The rat, immensely proud of himself only moments ago, trembled so hard against the dining room chair binding him that it shook with him. His shoulder blades were pressed flush against the back of the seat, trying fruitlessly to melt further into it and away from the ashy smell of Kierlan’s breath. Perfectly straight, yellowing teeth grinned at him, barely two inches from Russell’s nose.
Claire hugged Alex tightly, holding herself together and her emotions at bay. She grasped a brown paper bag in her hand, breathing deeply into it to the point of lightheadedness. She felt fragile, seeing herself now as what everyone else seemed to see; a glass figurine. She was shattering.
Blowing away like dust in the wind just as the last remnants of her grasp on reality did. James hadn’t returned since Mainyu’s escape, leaving them to wallow in Kierlan’s vengeful threats as well as their worry for Scottie and Hayden. If not for the unnatural abilities he’d freely demonstrated that day, they would’ve worried that James had been lost to Mainyu as well.
And, of course, there was the case of Kierlan and where he fit into all of this.
She’d tried to explain what had happened before they’d come back to the hotel when Alex asked. She couldn’t form the words. Rather than sit through a long bout of stammering, the two girls sat in silence, trying to tune out Kierlan’s voice and think of nothing. The cries of pain from behind them brought images to their minds of Scottie and Hayden and all the things that could possibly be happening to them.
Alex stared longingly out the broken window, seeing the God jump through the glass behind her eyelids. She wanted to sleep, to receive some reprieve from the worry and the world they seemed to know nothing about. Every time she came close to falling under, another shriek erupted from the other side of the room, dragging her back to the surface. While she was entrapped in consciousness, she put on a brave face for her best friend beside her, but, in truth, she was nearing a mental break.
The suite’s door swung open and closed so quickly, it was almost too fast to be humanly possible.
Claire was the first to her feet, along with Alex, who, at the sight of James, ran headlong toward him, throwing her arms around his middle. The blonde man hugged her back for a split second before he stepped away from the guest she hadn’t noticed. With a gasp, Alex flinched away from him. “Who’s he?”
Sighing warily with a roll of his eyes, Kierlan pulled his newly acquired gun from the waistband of his pants. He said nothing as he directed the barrel in their direction.
“Wait!” James pleaded, standing in front of the silent addition.
Taran’s breathing was labored from running, otherwise he would have said something. Or, more likely, he would’ve tried. He wanted to beg for help or, at the very least, demand an explanation for the horrific sight he’d just seen, but neither reached his lips.
“James,” Alex snapped, standing behind the man with the gun. “Who is he?”
The angel gestured calmly to Taran. “Just somebody else Mainyu will be looking for. He’s no threat to us.”
“I don’t really care about him,” Kierlan growled, keeping his gun trained at the doorway. He gestured pointedly to James. “I’m more worried about what I saw you do. With your hands!”
James ground his teeth; he didn’t have time to explain again. “Ya, I understand you have a lot of—”
“Hell ya I got a lot of questions,” Kierlan said. “Questions I want answered. And if I don’t get them now, I’m gonna put a bullet in your skull.”
“I’m sure we can explain everything when the situation isn’t so extreme,” James mumbled, taking a step further into the room.
“Don’t take another step!”
James froze, humoring him. “Now’s not the time.”
“Perfect time,” Kierlan challenged.
He rolled his eyes. “I swear to God, Kierlan, I’ll explain later, just put the gun down!”
No such thing happened, everyone caught in a deadlock.
Skeptically, Alex watched the two of them. Sighing dramatically, she pushed Kierlan’s arm back to his side. “Oh for the love of God!”
Kierlan cast her a withering glare.
She nodded to Taran. “It’s just…James, it’s getting a little crowded in here.”
Taran looked around for the first time, finally seeing the man tied to the chair fervently mouthing pleas for help. When their faces met, Russell paled, letting his head fall. He stared at the floor.
“You?” Taran growled, crossing the room despite the gun that suddenly smacked his face. Whatever he’d thought of these people originally, he felt immediately safer knowing that they were obviously on the same side.
He definitely recognized the captive from when he’d been abducted from New York. His face appeared in Taran’s drug-altered memory of those days before he’d met Janie.
He spun to face Kierlan. “Is Natalia here, too?”
Kierlan shook his head, but it was James who answered, “She’s in league with the man who attacked us on the sidewalk.”
Taran snorted. “Man? That thing was a monster!”
James nodded. “He is a monster. If you’d let me explain, you’re in danger—”
“Don’t explain,” Taran interjected, rolling his eyes. “We don’t have time for that now. I need your help.”
“H…How do we know he’s not working with R…Natalia, too?” Claire mumbled, eyes glued on Russell and Kierlan.
“I know,” James said. “He’s…like you, Claire.”
“Oh,” she muttered. “Oh!”
“I’ve been starved and kept in a dark room by Natalia for days,” Taran explained.
Claire and James shared a knowing look. “How’d you get away?” he asked.
“I had a friend there; she’s been there since December. She showed me the way out and we ran, but she was injured. She couldn’t get away.”
“What happened to—?” Alex began.
Looking toward the window and wondering how long it had taken him to reach this point, he begged. “I need your help to get her out of there. She needs a doctor, badly. If she stays there much longer, she’ll die!”
“Would you be able to find her, again?” James asked.
Taran nodded zealously. “Yes! We have to go now!”
James looked around, his eyes falling scathingly on Kierlan’s back. He couldn’t take them all to go looking for this girl, the consequences could, and would, be dire. On the other hand, he couldn’t leave the girls alone or, worse, with Kierlan.
He’d done nothing to prove himself trustworthy and James still had his doubts.
But, he had no choice, knowing Taran wouldn’t stand a chance when Mainyu, inevitably, came for him.
“You all stay here,” James instructed, striding toward the exit.
“Wait!” Alex begged. “What if Mainyu comes back? You can’t leave us here alone!”
“I have to side with her on this one,” Kierlan announced. “The last time he showed up, my gun didn’t do anything. What are we supposed to do if he comes back?”
“He won’t come back,” James assured them. “If anything, he’ll send Natalia or another mortal. With all the damage he’s sustained, he won’t risk going out in the open again.”
“Even if you’re right, I think we have some things to discuss,” Kierlan added, feeling the severity of the situation crashing down on him.
“Like what?” James asked, ignoring the look on Taran’s face, urging him to follow him out the door.
“Your weirdo parlor tricks for one thing. Besides, we should probably think of a plan,” Kierlan said, gesturing broadly to the girls behind him. “One that doesn’t involve anymore of us getting taken by these…people.”
“What did you have in mind?” James grunted through his forming headache.
“I have connections that can have us out of the country in an hour.”
“We can’t all leave. A blood sacrifice is the only thing separating Mainyu from God-like power,” James explained. “We need to kill him now, while he’s still vulnerable, otherwise we won’t be able to kill him.”
“My team will handle it in your absence.”
“I can’t trust that responsibility to you and your team. I’ll stay behind to help. You’ll need my powers to kill him. No mortal weapons stand a chance against him, even in his vulnerable state.”
“Woah, woah, woah,” Alex snapped, crossing her arms, “we are not leaving without Scottie and Hayden.”
James nodded along with her. “I know, baby, but…I think…we should do as he says.” As the first protest left Alex, he put his hands up in silence. “I don’t mean leave Scottie and Hayden. I’ll go out myself and get them. But, you two, at this point, are a liability, and we should send you home.”
Claire shook her head while Alex gave a resounding, “No!”
James had expected such a reaction. “Alex, baby—”
“No,” she repeated, lip quivering. “I wanna help, you can’t send us back! What if—?” she halted abruptly.
James narrowed his eyes. “What if what?” he demanded.
“Nothing,” she sighed.
“What if what, Alex?” he said.
She didn’t answer. Beside her, Claire, thinking in the same direction, ran her fingers roughly through her hair, dropping the paper bag in her hand. “W…Why did they take Scottie and H…Hayden, James?”
His eyes flickered momentarily to the blonde, but the only response he gave was the shake of his head.
“Is it because they want a trade?” Alex added.
“James!” she continued. “If you send us home, you know they’ll kill them! Don’t you care?”
He exhaled deeply. “Of course I care, Alex. Some things are just more important now.”
Alex gasped, stepping away from her boyfriend. “I can’t believe you just said that.”
“It’s the truth, Alex,” he insisted quietly. “My job is to protect you and Claire. Scottie and Hayden’s lives just aren’t as important.”
They hung suspended in the silence for a long time, the girls glaring at James while he, guiltily, averted his eyes. The only sound in the room was breathing, and some of them didn’t dare to do even that. Kierlan looked away, focusing on his captive while they dealt with their issues. On the other hand, Taran was quickly losing his patience.
“Are you going to help me or not?” he snarled, walking backward toward the door. “I can’t afford to lose anymore time.”
“I will, we’ll go now—” James replied, eyes flickering to Kierlan.
“So,” Alex growled, nearing him dangerously. “Is this ‘friend’s’ life more important than Scottie and Hayden’s too?”
“I’m not saying that, Alex,” he groaned.
“What are you saying, then?”
“Look,” he annunciated. “He says that they were kidnapped by Natalia. Scottie and Hayden were kidnapped by whoever Natalia works with. Maybe, wherever this girl is, Scottie and Hayden are there, too.”
Alex’s eyes lit up. “We’ll go, too.”
“No,” he reflexively shot back. “You stay here. I can’t find them and protect you at the same time.”
“I don’t need you to protect me, James, I’m coming with you.”
“No,” he repeated with finality.
She smiled a knowing grin. “You can’t keep us here, James. We’ll find a way to follow you, whether you want us to or not!”
“Can’t I?” he taunted, returning her smirk. Scratching the back of his neck, he made a quick decision as he looked up to Kierlan. “They do not leave this room!”
“Hey!” the thief snarled. “I’m no babysitter!”
James closed his eyes, silently willing everyone to stop being a pain. “Kierlan, please,” he said.
Grunting in distaste, Kierlan curtly nodded, stepping away from Russell’s chair.
“James, you can’t be serious!” Alex shrieked.
“D…Don’t leave us with him,” Claire pleaded.
“We’ll only be gone a few hours,” he promised, following Taran out the door. “They do not leave this room!”
“James!” Alex reached uselessly for him, hindered by Kierlan’s massive body stepping between them.
“I’ll bring them back, I promise,” James vowed before the door finally separated them.