Chapter Twenty-Three

Northern France; June 30th, 2012

Meanwhile, Kierlan and James searched the banks of the River Seine for any sign of the missing girls.

“Check the water, they couldn’t have gotten far!” James ordered, throwing himself to the ground. When searching under the car proved useless, he stood, running in any direction they could have gone.

Kierlan turned away from the dark depths of the waters before him, knowing there was no way in hell he was jumping in there. His eyes fell on Taran first, seated in the passenger’s seat with his legs hanging out the door. He was the picture of ease, twiddling his thumbs while he sat bent over his knees, a smile fixed across his face for the first time since Kierlan had first seen him.

Narrowing his eyes, Kierlan strode toward the car, cracking his knuckles.

Taran didn’t see it coming when Kierlan grasped the front of his shirt, heaving him viciously from the car and off his feet. Suddenly, his back hit the back door, the cold leeching through the fabric of his borrowed shirt. “What the hell—?!” he growled, his pleasant demeanor falling away. The larger man glowered down at him, melting away the last of Taran’s rage as well.

Guilt shone behind Taran’s wide eyes as they ogled up at the thief.

“You know where they are!” Kierlan accused, turning the full force of his rage onto the man in his grasp.

Taran said nothing, shaking him off.

Kierlan let him fall to the ground, running his hands over his shaved head while he fought off the urge to throttle the assassin. “Why?” he bellowed.

James abruptly ran back into view. “What’s going on?”

“He knows where they are,” Kierlan said, shoving Taran into the car.

Taran shook his head vehemently. “I don’t. I don’t know where they are, that’s why I sent them in the first place.”

“What?!” James bellowed.

“Sent them?” Kierlan said. “You sent two teenage girls into a situation where they’d have no way to protect themselves?”

“They wanted to go!” he insisted, narrowly avoiding a punch in the face.

Kierlan’s fist hit the metal of the car. “Of course they thought they did! That doesn’t mean we should let them run into a dangerous situation!”

“You have no idea what you’ve done—!” James roared, crossing his arms. His palms tingled with the promise of blue lightning, a feeling difficult to suppress, especially when he was so angry.

Taran rolled his eyes. “Of course I do! It’s all you talk about. Some things are just more important!”

James scowled, hearing his own words in Taran’s statement. “More important than the welfare of the planet? What could possibly be more important than that?!”

“It doesn’t matter,” he countered through clenched teeth. “Sending them in will serve both our motives.”

Kierlan stepped away, wishing he’d never signed on to this mission. Worse than that, he wished he wouldn’t have to feel what he felt now for the first time in his life. He should have been happy with Taran’s intervention. He’d managed to do exactly what Kierlan was supposed to do. Exactly what he was finding himself unable to do:

Deliver Claire to Natalia.

Now that his job was done, he should be happy. He’d be getting paid soon. But, he didn’t want money. His chest ached, pulled tighter than ever before.

He just wanted to rescue the naïve girl.

He was broken out of his reverie by James’s objection.

“Impossible! All you’ve done since you got here is serve Mainyu’s motive. There’s no telling what he’ll do now that he has them both! What were you thinking?” James couldn’t help but turn away, rubbing the crackling electricity from his flesh.

“Alex—” Taran began, averting his gaze.

The angel spun back in Taran’s direction, his fist pulled back to strike; his palms heated up, glowing blue. “Alex! That’s another thing! Not only did you sell out our last hope of exiling Angra Mainyu, you might have killed the love of my life in the process! You don’t understand the severity of the—”

The shrill cry of a cell phone interrupted his monologue.

The three men glanced quickly across each other’s faces, waiting for the owner to answer. When no one moved to do so, Taran cleared his throat, forcing himself to feel less intimidated by the fury aimed at him. “Answer it,” he squeaked, pulling at his, already-loose, shirt collar. “It’s probably Alex.”

“How do you know that?” James growled, letting the phone in question screech in his pocket.

“Answer it! Before she loses her chance!” Taran snarled.

Needing no other incentive than that, James flipped open the cell phone from his back pocket, seeing an unfamiliar number flash across the screen.

He took the call. “Hello?”

No answer.

“Hello?” he repeated, louder the second time. When he still received no answer but the static, he put his thumb over the button to hang up.

“Citchumns,” a voice crackled between the hisses of bad reception.

“What?” he asked. “Alex?”

“Citchicumbs,” it whispered.

“You’re breaking up,” James said. “Baby? Alex? Are you there?”

After a long moment, her voice screamed through the static. “Catacombs!”

The men looked to each other, already pulling themselves into the car. “We’re coming, baby,” James vowed, throwing himself into the backseat. “Stay on the line with me. Are you alright?”

“Where’s Claire?” Kierlan interjected, throwing the car into drive.

Alex didn’t answer.

Instead, the harsh accent of a woman they were all familiar with met their ears like razorblades. “A phone?! I will kill you!”

The line suddenly went dead.

“No,” James gasped, calling it back several times with no success. “No. No! If she dies, I’ll fry you, Taran!”

“She’s not dead,” Kierlan said. “Natalia wouldn’t take her if she didn’t need her for something.”

“You know Natalia?” Taran inquired innocently.

Kierlan twitched when he realized his mistake.

Unfortunately for him, James realized it too. “How do you know Natalia, Kierlan?”

He couldn’t come up with a lie fast enough. “I—?”

James couldn’t help but give out a harsh chuckle. “I knew it,” he murmured.

“No!” Kierlan interjected. “James—”

“A private I? After Russell?” he mocked, a menacing smile splitting his face. “You’ve been working with them this entire time, haven’t you?”

“No!” Kierlan insisted, keeping his face directed entirely on the road.

“Shut up!” James yelled, his voice painfully loud against the ceiling. “You’re caught! Now tell me how much you’re getting paid to keep us from Claire and Alex!”

“It’s,” Kierlan paused, swerving to avoid an oncoming car he’d drifted into the path of. “It’s not like that.”

“What’s it like, then?” the angel snapped, gripping the seat.

The car raced down the street to the soundtrack of blaring horns, and, though he couldn’t die when he was technically already dead, James urged the driver to go easy on the car, if only to remain unnoticed by the authorities. He didn’t know what would happen if they were brought into custody in a foreign country. He wasn’t eager to find out. “Slow down!”

“You wanna find ‘em or not?” Kierlan challenged.

Taran’s head hit the glass beside him…again. Glowering up at the larger man, he muttered, “What do you care?”

“Alright, listen!” the driver roared. “I’m taking you to the catacombs because I’m going to help you save Claire and Alex. That’s the only reason! And if you have a problem with me, then save it ‘til this is over!”

James’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t believe you.”

“I don’t care if you believe me or not! I’m here to help and you can’t stop me.”

“Why would you do that?” Taran demanded.

Kierlan gulped. He didn’t know what to say; he could answer it to himself. Finally, after moments of contemplation and in voice that didn’t sound convincing, even to himself, he clarified, “This whole…thing…has just been blown out of proportion. I didn’t sign on to start the apocalypse, I was just supposed to steal from a museum,” Taran’s eye twitched, “and bring Claire to the catacombs. Besides, it’d be pretty hard to spend that money when the world’s come to an end.”

James nodded, biting his tongue. “I…I guess that makes sense. After all this, though, I don’t think I can trust you.”

“What other choice do you have?” Kierlan demanded incredulously. He jerked the steering wheel in the direction of the street they’d occupied this morning.

James nodded. “You’re right.”

Silence passed between them for the rest of the journey. As the entrance of the catacombs came into view, James broke the silence. “Why didn’t you do it?”

“Do what?” Kierlan asked, pulling up to the curb a few blocks down when he noticed guards at the threshold to the underground.

“Why didn’t you bring Claire to Natalia?”

Kierlan shifted uncomfortably. “I tried, but Russell brought us back to the hotel. He wanted to deliver all of you at once.”

“But…” James trailed off. Something still wasn’t adding up. “I left you alone with them for hours,”—internally, he mused, stupid, stupid, stupid—“and you didn’t even try—?”

“No,” he barked. “I didn’t.”

“But, you had the perfect chance—?”

Kierlan threw a withering glance back at James, urging him to let the conversation end with this. “But I didn’t. I was supposed to. I was being paid a lot of money to. But I didn’t. I just…I couldn’t bring that girl to that monster. She was like a kid, and I couldn’t put her in danger like that. Even for money.”

James smiled. “Glad to have you on board, let’s go.” The angel threw the door open, ready to take on the mortals guarding the catacombs.

Taran hung behind, placing his hand on Kierlan’s shoulder to keep him firmly in place. When James was out of earshot, Taran’s dead face met Kierlan’s startled expression. “You put her in that prison, didn’t you?”

“Who?” Kierlan asked, staring down at the hand on his shoulder.

“The girl with the pictures. Janie.”

Guilt washed over Kierlan in a way he’d never felt before, but he didn’t let it show on his face. Breathlessly, he muttered, “Yes.”

If possible, Taran’s face fell further. He paused, mouth opening and closing as he contemplated his next words. Finally, he deadpanned, “She’s dying. Because of you.”

Kierlan shook his head. “No, she’s dying because of Natalia. I haven’t touched her since I brought her into that place.”

“To die.”

“I didn’t have a choice!” Kierlan swore.

“No choice? Unless it’s a cute blonde, right? Then you can do whatever the hell you want, right?” Taran spat venomously.

Kierlan exhaled slowly, clenching and unclenching his fists. “She had pictures I needed. If she’d given them up, I wouldn’t have had to—!”

“I don’t care why you did it!” Taran growled, pushing his door open and stepping out to begin their last adventure. Over his shoulder, he exclaimed, “If she dies, so do you!”

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