Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 8

The officers fell silent after Gwynivara announced her idea. She had expected this reaction. After a reckless mission in a high risk zone, she would’ve been surprised if anyone expressed any enthusiasm for this idea. Finally, Bernadette spoke up, “How are we going to find them?”

“When we patrol,” Gwynivara explained. “We would still need to keep an eye out for signs of Venenatus Sanguis and help when needed, but we need to pay attention to the others who respond to it. If they’re not horrified by the results, they may be a part of the origin.”

Kennith objected, “Our protocol is to leave before the police arrive to avoid capture!”

Gwynivara was about to argue, but Kierram did instead, “Protocol can change! Especially when the police could be working for the enemy.”

One officer objected, “That’s too dangerous!”

Emorick scowled at this remark. “Do the rest of you agree with Blake? You don’t wanna do something so dangerous?” Everyone but Gwynivara, Kierram, and Bernadette murmured in agreement. “So, what is training to you? A chance to learn skills you can use to show off and pick up chicks?” The murmur morphed from accord to shame. “I didn’t make you officers so you can act like you got a bigger cock than everyone else! We’re here to fight for the cure! Yes, we have a battle coming, and you’re too scared to do some surveillance work?” The room fell quiet as if everyone were holding their breath. “God, what would you do if I wasn’t around? Hide with your tails between your legs? Sooner or later, we’re all gonna face danger, and you’re here to make sure you’re ready when it does! Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir!” Everyone said, though not in unison.

Emorick shook his head with a mix of bubbling anger and blatant disgust. He ordered, “I’m gonna pair you all up and stagger your release. Before you leave, grab a camera and take a picture of anything abnormal. Wear disguises too! Oh, and if something happens to me, Gwynivara is in charge!”

He stormed out. Everyone turned to Gwynivara, who looked utterly dumbstruck. It sounded like he just made her his successor! The idea of it seemed too incredible to be true! It would be so much responsibility! The fate of hundreds of people would rest in her hands! Actually, if this disease kept spreading, the future of the entire planet could rest with her! It happened so fast that her head was spinning! It was kind of a scary prospect, but she definitely felt honored.

Walking down the hall of shops with Bernadette, Gwynivara couldn’t help feeling a little guilty. She conversed, “I should’ve said no. Everyone hates me now!”

Bernadette differed, “They don’t hate you! They’re just jealous! After Kierram refused the job, Emorick told us he’d observe us and pick one of us when we proved ourselves worthy of the title.”

“No wonder they’re mad!” Gwynivara remarked. “I practically just got here, and he gave me the title! Do you think he’s bluffing?”

“You mean like he just made you lieutenant just to get under their skin and he’ll take it back when they behave?” Bernadette inquired.

“Yeah,” Gwynivara replied. “I mean, he did say it out of anger.”

Bernadette shrugged. “It’s possible. Look, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Just be prepared if he names someone else as next in line. Until then, be prepared to step up if needed. If it makes you feel better, I don’t have a problem with it.”

“Thanks!” Gwynivara grinned.

“And it doesn’t look like Kierram did either,” Bernadette added. “which is weird ‘cause normally he objects to everything! And Emorick has tried everything to snap his attitude into shape! What did you say to Kierram, exactly?”

“I didn’t say anything!” Gwynivara reported. “He told me yesterday he likes my missions.”

Bernadette slyly joked, “You do have nice ‘missions!’”

Gwynivara covered her chest but laughed, “It’s not like that!”

“You don’t know that!” Bernadette winked.

“Oh please!” Gwynivara completely denied the notion. “He doesn’t-!”

The heard a shrill scream coming from the clothing shop, so they immediately ran to it. They found Niqun kneeling over Riley, who laid on the floor in a pool of blood! On the wall, a scorpion-like monster snarled at them! Niqun, who was applying pressure to Riley’s neck, shouted, “I can’t let go or he’ll bleed out!”

As the creature crept closer to them, Gwynivara turned to Bernadette and rapidly asked, “Did you bring any weapons?”

Bernadette quickly answered, “We are a weapon!”

The beast got close, and in unison, Bernadette and Gwynivara thought fast. In unison, they cried out, “One, two, three!” They each conjured a ball of light and threw it at the fiend, who shrieked one last time before it exploded. Everyone who witnessed this clapped and cheered for them, but they didn’t soak it in much. They ran to Niqun and Riley, and Bernadette questioned, “Is he gonna be okay?”

Niqun replied, “He’ll be okay. We can treat his wound here. Someone get my kit!”

One of the people in the crowd ran to get it, and Gwynivara stared at Riley’s pale face in horror. “He conjured a beast? He didn’t seem so miserable!”

Bernadette sagely commented, “Well, you never really know what’s going on inside someone’s head.”

“True!” Gwynivara watched Niqun administer medical attention to Riley and shuddered. “I can’t think about this! I won’t get through this mission if I do!”

“Come on,” Bernadette suggested. “Let’s grab disguises and go before anything changes!” They found a couple of uniforms on top of the mess left in the shops and, turning back to get one last helpless glance at Riley, they darted out and set out on their mission.

Gwynivara and Bernadette walked down the sidewalk with maid costumes on their bodies and somber looks on their faces as they scanned the minimalist traditional, nineteen-fifties houses. “He’ll be okay.” Gwynivara meant to assure Bernadette, but inwardly, she knew she was talking to herself too.

“Yeah…” Bernadette responded sadly. “I hate it when…the kids color on the wall! Crayons are so hard to wash off!” A couple of women walked by with their kids, so Gwynivara figured that she had to improvise to keep their cover. Bernadette whispered, “We can’t talk about that anymore!”

“Right!” Gwynivara tried not to and concentrated harder on the mission so she wouldn’t think about it. At that moment, it began to rain, which prompted them to stop for a moment. Gwynivara glanced down at their uniforms and remarked, “Good thing the colors don’t run!”

Slightly miffed, Bernadette pondered, “Should we take cover ‘til it stops?”

“No.” Gwynivara eyed the houses in the vicinity. “There really isn’t anywhere to-” Gwynivara spotted something that sent chills down her spine. Bernadette looked to Gwynivara for an explanation, but all Gwynivara could do was point. Bernadette turned her head to the direction she indicated, and her eyes widened in horror.

At a white house, by the basement entrance, the words “Not There” were written in blood! Gwynivara snapped a picture and then ran over to it. Bernadette cried, “Wait!” She caught up to her and exclaimed, “We don’t have permission to go into this house!”

“They may not be alive long enough to give us permission!” Gwynivara zipped down the cellar stairs and peered into the window on the door. Bernadette reluctantly joined her, and when they peeked into the house, they saw a man laid sprawled on the washer and dryer with a huge, bloody hole in his chest! Their jaws dropped at the pool of blood dripping onto the floor. Gwynivara took a deep breath and then declared, “We’ve gotta call the police!”

“Are you crazy?” Bernadette hissed as Gwynivara jammed the door open. “We can’t put ourselves in a position to get arrested or the mission will fail!”

Gwynivara reasoned, “No one knows this man is dead! If they’re gonna catch his killer, the police need to know right away!” Gwynviara slowly opened the door and prepared to step in.

Bernadette pulled her back. “What if it’s Venenatus Sanguis? Calling the police wouldn’t do any good!”

Gwynivara considered this for a moment, and she came up with, “If we don’t see any monsters, we’ll call the police and report the murder anonymously. Afterward, we’ll hide from the police and document them like we originally planned. Okay, you document the crime scene while I make the call.” Despite Bernadette’s misgivings, she followed Gwynivara into the basement.

They scanned the entire room for movement as they entered the room. They tiptoed and kept an ear out for any signs of danger. All they could hear was an echoing drip. Once they gave it ample time, they silently determined that there was not likely any beasts around. Gwynivara said quietly, “I don’t see a phone down here. You take pictures while I go upstairs.”

“Be quick!” Bernadette barked because of her shaking nerves. She began taking pictures immediately, and she felt it necessary to get multiple shots from the same angle since she was trembling. She heard Gwynivara talking upstairs, and she muttered, “Please hurry!” under her breath.

She heard Gwynivara slam the receiver down, and she breathed, “Oh good!” As she heard Gwynivara’s footsteps head back, she heard a very different sound coming from the other entrance. She turned to see a wolverine-like creature lick his lips while it stared at her! She gasped, but before she could arm herself to fight it, she noticed something strange about it…Before she could fully comprehend its meaning, she felt something on her back that made her scream!

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Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 6

“Have a seat!” a woman with busy hair invited. Gwynivara sat down in a small reception room. Her heart pounded rapidly, and her nerves raced throughout her body. She pushed these feelings aside and sent out a vibe of innocence and naivety. Her pastel themed clothes matched the role perfectly, so now she just needed to convince them. As the woman studied her application, Gwynivara discretely looked around. She didn’t expect to find any pertinent evidence up front like that, but she needed to check just in case. The light wood-paneled walls were pretty bare except for a bulletin board over her top left shoulder, which had healthcare posters not out of the ordinary for a medical facility. They gave this room more of a homey feel by adding a rusty brown shag carpet. The secretary herself wore very vibrant clothing and had kooky knick-knacks on her desk. Gwynivara found this odd, almost like they were trying too hard to look normal.

As she pondered the motives of the room’s decor, the secretary spoke to her, “Miss Summer?”

Gwynivara snapped out of her torpor. “Yes?”

“What’s your availability like this week?” the secretary asked.

Gwynivara answered as sweetly as she could, “Oh, I’m not doing anything important. I can start right now if you want me to.”

Later, Gwynivara came out of a janitorial supply closet wearing a new uniform-a white hospital dress with a scarlet blazer. She adjusted her wardrobe to make sure her security credentials showed clearly. A cart with a trash can and various cleaning supplies waited for her, and after taking a deep breath, she pushed it down the hallway, which bustled with doctors, nurses, and patients. She avoided eye contact with everyone as she made her way to the elevator, which she managed to get to without incident.

The elevator door opened to the upper level, which was a completely different atmosphere than down below. The empty hallway made no noise, at least not until Gwynivara wheeled her cart out. She didn’t notice a slight squeak downstairs, and she silently prayed that the sound her cart made wouldn’t attract too much attention. Past the stairwell, she saw unmarked doors on her right but not much else. The minimalist walls were unwelcoming, and she couldn’t imagine coming to work each day in a place like this! She shuddered a little but still kept her eyes out for clues. She saw nothing of note until she finally came across a door on the left labeled: Research. This was exactly what she was looking for! Ripe with anticipation, Gwynivara opened the door and let herself in.

She stood too astonished to move. The room itself impressed her with its vast size, but moreover, hundreds of people in uniforms like hers sat on tables flipping through leaves in books. The speed at which they turned the pages were timed so coordinately that they emitted a sound similar to the ticking of a clock. No one talked to each other, in fact, they hardly even moved other than to change the page. The tables they sat on, the walls, and the floor were all white, making the only colors in the room come from the jackets and the books. She felt a chill go down her spine, but she had to quickly shrug it off. She had a job to do.

None of the researchers gave any indication that Gwynivara had even entered the room, so they paid no mind as she made her way through one of the two aisles. She stopped at every station to check into a white trash can placed at the end. They were virtually empty, so she didn’t understand the point of their presence at all. Even so, she still took a good, long look at them while trying to catch a glimpse of what they were reading. She saw medical journals and dissertations of how different diseases got spread. Nothing really stuck out to her yet. She saw that everyone had a notebook and pen in front of them, but almost no one actually wrote anything down. She eventually noticed some material on the flu. She remembered that they researched a variety of ailments, and she wondered where the Venenatus Sanguis section could be found.

Some movement caught her eye, and she looked up to see Kierram sweeping in the other aisle. Their eyes met for a moment, but both of them immediately turned away. To maintain cover, the three of them agreed that it would be prudent to pretend to not know each other. She ardently wanted to search for Bernadette, but her persona wouldn’t care where the other volunteers were at. If any one of them appeared to care about anything other than cleaning, it would cause an alarm. Gwynivara’s notion on this deepened based on the mechanical behavior of the researchers. Still, despite Bernadette’s confidence on her ability to handle this task, Gwynivara was most worried about her since she grew up with a maid and really didn’t know how to clean. They all agreed that if something happened to one of them, the others would continue the mission, but she really hoped that it wouldn’t come to that!

In the midst of her thoughts, something caught her eye-a title that read: Venenatus Sanguis. She found the right section, and her adrenaline flushed her with excitement! Now she had to find excuses to linger even longer as she worked. Even though this particular bin ahd almost no trash, she still pulled out the garbage bag in order to replace it. As she very slowly tied it up, she peered over a man’s shoulders. The article he read talked about how the cause of Venenatus Sanguis appeared to be through the bites of the beasts, so the author theorized that something in the creature’s saliva could contain the disease. Gwynivara figured as much already and quickly finished replacing the bag.

After a while, she heard the door she came in open up, and when she casually glanced in that direction, she saw two orderlies enter the room. They were very big, surly men, and they eyed the room like security guards. Gwynivara shrugged them off. She had to focus on the mission, and besides, she wasn’t doing anything wrong…nothing that the others could detect anyways. Still, these men were obviously more vigilant than the researchers, so Gwynivara knew that they would have to exercise more caution when it came to sneaking a peak at their research, which increased the pressure she already felt. She took a deep breath and kept going.

Soon, she came across a table where one of the researchers actually got up to leave. Gwynivara used this opportunity to her advantage and wiped down his entire station, giving her a longer chance to read the material he had been studying. The books he was looking weren’t marked or titled. She frowned but remained undeterred. As she wiped the table, she “accidentally” knocked his books to the ground. Naturally, she bent down to pick it all up. While she was under the table, she caught a glimpse of a chart. “It can’t be!” she said under her breath.

Before she could make anymore observations, she felt a cold piece of metal on the small of her back. A deep voice whispered, “Come quietly and one gets hurt!” She realized she had a gun held against her! While she wracked her brain of how to get out of this situation, she had no choice but to comply. When she stood up, she saw Kierram standing with one of the orderlies. At first glance, it looked as though they were merely standing next to each other, but she could tell by the gleam in his eyes that he also had a gun to his back. Gwynivara could see that he, too, didn’t know what to do, and she dearly wished she could give him some answers.

They walked forward without making anymore eye contact with each other. Between the four of them, they barely made a sound at all. Gwynivara wondered why they were acting so secretive. The orderlies were conducting official security business, so she found it odd that they were making the extra effort to avoid getting noticed. She could understand making no noise so as not to disturb the researchers, but it didn’t make sense to her that they were hiding their guns. Actually, she didn’t think orderlies carried weapons at all, which made her wonder if they were actually Public Health Center employees. If not, who were they?

At the end of the aisle, they saw Bernadette stooped down to push dirt into a dust pan. The orderly who held a gun to her held onto Gwynivara’s arm tightly so that he can threaten Bernadette. Before he could though, Gwynivara punched the orderly in the face! The researchers all stopped what they were doing and gasped as the orderly threw Gwynivara to the ground and pointed a gun at her. The orderly told the room, “Great Dismal Falls Police! These three are frauds that must be executed immediately!”

As he cocked his gun, Gwynivara quickly noticed that he was left-handed. As he pulled the trigger and fired, Gwynivara kicked his arm so that it pointed left, which directed his shot to the other orderly. As he got distracted by his partner falling to the ground, Gwynivara, Kierram, and Bernadette ran out of the room. The other orderly ran after them and let out a couple of shots. The researchers all screamed and hid as he chased them out of the room.

When the three got into the hallway, an alarm sounded. They saw people with snares run out of the unmarked rooms, and they rapidly realized that they were about to get surrounded. The elevator door opened, and Bernadette, Gwynivara, and Kierram ran inside. Luckily, the doors closed in time before anyone could grab them. Gwynivara stated, “They’ll be waiting for us at the ground floor!”

Bernadette, who was closest to the level buttons, responded, “So, we won’t go there!” She pushed the button for the basement, and everyone’s hearts beat wildly as they descended. When the doors opened up, they cautiously peaked to see if anyone was waiting for them on this floor. Fortunately, all they saw was a small, dingy basement. They ran up the narrow, wooden staircase, but before they could open the door at the top, they heard the cacophony of an angry mob, so Bernadette locked the door and asked, “Is there another way out of here?”

They scanned the room and saw no other exits. Kierram saw a couple of small windows above a washer and dryer, but they weren’t large enough for anyone to fit through. He closed his eyes and conjured a ball of light. He threw it towards the windows, creating a giant hole with access to the sidewalk in the alley outside. “There is now!”

They climbed on top of the washer, and as they heard the pounding of a battering ram, they crawled out of the hole. All three were on the sidewalk outside just as the Public Health Center workers burst through the door! They ran down the crowded street, and thankfully, they blended in with the crowd. The workers had no choice but to give up!

Dusk had begun to set as they reached the outer limits of the city. They were far enough away from danger where they could slow down and catch their breaths. Gwynivara probed, “How did they know we were frauds? They don’t do background checks on volunteers!”

“Do you really think those men were cops?” Bernadette inquired.

Kierram replied, “If they were, they didn’t follow protocol. Either way, someone clearly knows we were close to getting information on Venenatus Sanguis that they don’t want us to know, and they have people helping them protect the secret!”

Bernadette lamented, “I wish we could’ve stuck around long enough to find something worthwhile!”

“Well, I did learn one thing that makes this mission worthwhile,” Gwynivara piped in. “They’re studying other planets in solar systems I’ve never even heard of! Whoever created the disease isn’t human!”

 

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 4

No!” Gwynivara screamed. A gargoyle with long fangs hovered over a man in bed. The creature saw her and lunged towards her direction. She slammed his bathroom door shut, but it still burst through, sending her flying backwards! Gwynivara landed on her back with both the door and the beast on top of her! Her sword laid just out of reach, and her breath started to run out. The creature leered over her, snarling and drooling over her. All she could think was that if she died, all of her efforts would have been for nothing. She wouldn’t have been able to help the Rebellion at all. Being a soldier down would make it harder for them to find a cure, and more people would get hurt, like the lady in the video! And the man in bed! His fate could end up just like the lady in the video! No, she couldn’t let that happen!

Her body ignored the fact that it was running out of breath as rage burned deep inside her heart, and when it got to the height of its fervor, she saw a ball of light rise from her chest. It had a warm glow but beamed a vibe of powerful energy. Without thinking, she moved her arms back and pushed them forward, which sent the ball of light flying towards the gargoyle. The creature shrieked and shot backwards, crashing into the back wall of the man’s bedroom!

She tried to push the door off of herself, but the ordeal had, apparently, weakened her since it wouldn’t budge. Before she could groan from self disgrace, a man, whose thick, medium-length, dark hair covered his smooth, peach face, picked up the door and moved it out of the way. He gruffly offerd a hand to her, which she accepted. When she got up she felt a small jolt of surprise from his crystal-like blue eyes. His strong jawline and short stubble made his visage very becoming, but her stupor of his looks quickly vanished as she observed a deep scowl. He bellowed, “What the hell were you thinking?”

His words stung, but before she could really process the motive of his temper, Emorick, using a master key, unlocked the man’s door and entered with a few concerned bystanders. They saw the gargoyle’s body in his room, but they heard shouting from Gwynivara’s room, so they craned their heads that way. Gwynivara defended herself, “I saved your life!”

“You don’t think I had a plan?” he yelled. “You put yourself in danger for no reason! You’re lucky you didn’t get killed!”

“That wasn’t luck!” Gwynivara argued. Now she was thoroughly vexed from his attitude. “I’ve had Venenatus Sanguis for ten years-I’ve got skills!”

He seemed unruffled by her response. “That doesn’t give you the right to help when it’s unwanted! Next time, mind your own damn business and-!”

“Kierram!” Emorick scolded. “That’s enough!” Kierram huffed and walked away. Gwynivara’s ire ebbed slightly, but she also felt a little guilty. Kierram had made a good argument, and she questioned her judgment now. Emorick observed both of them and noted, “Besides bruised egos, it looks like no one got hurt. Thank god! Do you want us to remove the body or do you wanna wait a couple hours for it to disappear on its own?”

Kierram snided, “Put it in her room since it was her fault!”

“I didn’t create this beast!” Gwynivara snapped. “If you had fought the thing yourself, it still would’ve died in your room, you know!”

Kierram looked as though he wanted to utter a mean retort, but he saw his father’s non-verbal warning, so instead, he pouted. After a moment, Emorick lamented, “I thought the nightmares stopped.”

“I can’t help what I dream!” Kierram spat. “Sorry, I can’t forget what I went through as easy as you did! I still get…visions…!”

“What, you think I don’t see them too?” Emorick shot back.

“No, you don’t!” Kierram cried. “You sent people like me to the front lines! Don’t act like you know what I’m going through ‘cause you don’t!”

“Stop it!” an African-American woman about Gwynivara’s age stood between the two men, both of whom wanted to continue arguing but stopped themselves by her mere presence. Beneath her silky robe and elegant up-do was an air of sheer strength. She didn’t even need to raise her voice much to get their attention! “If you two don’t calm down, we’ll have another beast in here, so stop acting stupid!”

They realized that she was right, but neither of them admitted it. Each of them took a moment to compose themselves, and then Emorick coolly told Kierram, “Since you’re not gonna sleep anyways, why don’t you go relieve Niqun from guard duty?”

“Fine!” Kierram picked up a book and stormed off.

Emorick exhaled loudly, clearly venting his frustration. Gwynivara felt compelled to apologize, “I’m sorry!”

Emorick had forgotten she was there and almost jumped when she spoke. “What are you sorry for? Killing a monster?”

“Speaking of which…” The girl who broke up the fight studied the body of the gargoyle. “How did you kill this thing?”

“I saw this ball of light,” Gwynivara explained, “and I just threw it at the beast. I mean, I didn’t touch it, but I made it move…”

“Wait, you did an incantation?” Emorick’s mood instantly lifted upon hearing this information.

The woman from before congratulated her, “Nice going! It took me weeks of training to conjure anything! Oh, I’m Bernadette by the way.” She extended her hand.

Gwynivara shook Bernadette’s hand. “I’m Gwyn.”

“Glad to meet another female officer!” Bernadette grinned.

Emorick addressed the bystanders, “Alright, show’s over folks! We gotta a lot of work to do in the morning!”

A man in the crowd sarcastically joked, “What? Finding a cure for this disease is hard?” Emorick gave him a dirty look, so he quickly iterated, “It was a joke! Sheesh!”

After the bystanders left, Emorick turned to Gwynivara and assured her, “Don’t worry about Kierram. You did the right thing!”

“Really?” Gwynivara’s confidence had gotten shaken by Kierram’s reaction, so she really needed to hear this.

“Not everyone will appreciate your help,” Emorick remarked sagely. “That shouldn’t stop you from helping those in need, just keep that in mind.”

As he left, Bernadette whispered, “Kierram has a huge chip on his shoulder, but deep down, he’s a good guy. If he’s a jerk to you, don’t pay any mind to it.” She winked and left.

Once everyone had left, Gwynivara stood still in her place. She felt like she just woke up from a strange dream, and yet her wildest dreams were never this strange! She saw the creature’s body still lying in Kierram’s apartment and cringed. She didn’t need any reminders of their ugly exchange, so she shut the door. After she did so, she realized that Kierram’s bathroom door was still in her space, so there was no escaping it, she figured. She got into bed but didn’t lie down. She sat up, wide awake from the adrenaline of it all. She sighed, “How can I sleep after all of that?”

She turned on her radio and listened to the music playing for a moment. She rested her head between her knees, not really knowing how to feel. When the disc-jockey began talking, she startled herself when she realized that she hadn’t actually heard the song that had played previously. She felt a little disturbed that she could listen to something and not hear it. She then noticed some dirt that had got onto her from the fight and tried to rub it off.

The disc-jockey went on, “…only days away, so don’t forget to vote! Now, we gotta go to commercial, but stay tuned everyone! We’ve got more funky hits right after the break!”

The dirt wouldn’t come off, but Gwynivara didn’t feel like getting up to wash it, especially since the gargoyle’s body probably hadn’t disappeared yet. She licked her thumb and scrubbed her skin as a very calm female’s voice sounded, “Deadly disease-it can happen to anyone, which is why the Public Health Center of Great Dismal Falls works tirelessly every day to research treatments and cures for fatal illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and even Venenatus Sanguis.” Gwynivara dropped her focus from cleaning herself and paid attention the announcement. “But we can’t do it without your help. Please, act now and save a life today! For information on how to donate or volunteer, please call us at one eight hundred…”

The announcement concluded after she listed the rest of the phone number, but the wheels in Gwynivara’s head began turning. She didn’t know how much progress Emorick had made in finding the cure, but judging from their small clinic, she figured that the researchers at the Public Health Center probably had made more progress. She wondered what the Rebellion knew about the government’s understanding of Venenatus Sanguis. Even if they got it completely wrong, in order to solve this thing, they still need all of the facts and figures on the disease. And if the Public Health Center was looking for volunteers…

On top of a craggy rock, a woman sat on a throne made of dark crystals. Thunder clapped and lightning clashed as snarling beasts tugged on their chains. Men wearing animal-skin capes and loin cloths marched near the edge of the surface. None of the things that made Gwynivara nervous phased the woman on the throne. In fact, she sat regally as she lorded over the scene. Upon creeping closer, Gwynivara noticed that this woman had light green skin. At first, she thought her eyes were playing tricks on her, but the closer she got, the more she knew she saw it right. Despite her strange skin color, the woman had a well sculpted body draped in a low-cut, golden dress as well as long, jet black hair and beady, black eyes. Despite her appealing allure, her expression was menacing, and her vibe made Gwynivara scared enough to stay rooted to the spot. When she spoke, her voice had a booming echo, “The more you learn, the closer you come to your demise! Stay away from the source!” Her eyes glared angrily, and then…

Gwynivara’s alarm went off. She had no clue that she had fallen asleep until now! That nightmare didn’t make sense to her, and she had no idea why such a thing would even pop into her head! However, she decided to shrug it off. It seemed pointless to dwell on it. “It’s not like dreams are even real!” She got up and went into the bathroom. Peeking cautiously into Kierram’s room, she felt relieved to see that the gargoyle had vanished. Kierram hadn’t come back either, which was probably for the best since they still needed to fix his bathroom door. As she brushed her teeth, she gazed into the mirror, and as she looked into her own eyes, she suddenly got deja-vu so overwhelming that she actually shuddered. She began to second guess her previous conclusion. “Dreams aren’t real…right?”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Growling sounded from behind a nearby shrub, and Gwynivara’s nerves filled with dread. She stood with her sword at the ready, but Emorick pushed her arm aside. “That won’t be necessary.” Despite her nerves still needling inside her, she relaxed her arm more, yet she watched warily as a creature stirred the bushes. An almost metallic-looking hyena emerged, and everything in Gwynivara’s impulses made her muscles tense up in anticipation of a fight. She kept glancing over to Emorick, who stood coolly as the beast crept closer and closer. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her questioning expression, so he assured her, “Wait for it!” When it came to the point between the catacombs and a large tree, it activated a tripwire, which made a gun in the tree blast it in the chest. With a final yelp, it fell backwards and remained motionless. As Gwynivara’s body flooded with relief and admiration, Emorick grinned. “What? You think I’d establish a hideout without any protection?”

His comment made her laugh a little, but soon after, she apologized, “That was probably from me, sorry!”

“Never apologize for being human!” As Emorick pulled the stone slab far enough for them to enter, he told her, “Besides, it happens a lot around here.” She realized that he had a point and decided to let it go, which became easy to do now that the door had opened.

Upon the first impression, the inside had all the markings of what one would expect from a catacomb tomb. Cavern rooms were barricaded by small, rod-iron fences. A few torches lined the walls to give the space a dim light. The center of the vast room was empty save for the stone floor, but as Emorick put the stone slab door back into its original place, Gwynivara observed that each cavern room contained two polished, wooden coffins, which prompted her to ask, “Whose bodies are in there?”

He finished closing the stone slab door and then answered her, “An old family. We like to think their spirits help protect us, but, more often than not, we find that anyone who ventures down here doesn’t have the gall to stay long.”

Emorick led Gwynivara down the long row of cavern rooms, and, at the end, a broad indentation filled the center of the wall. An ornate coffin propped up inside a glass case took the majority of the space, and a fresco painting of early townspeople covered most of the facade behind it. Emorick went behind the casket, and after Gwynivara joined him, he told her, “If you’re ever followed by police or anyone else who isn’t welcome, make sure they don’t see this.” Giving him the utmost attention, Gwynivara watched as he pushed the fresco wall, and to her astonishment, it opened up like a door! They stepped inside quickly and shut the door.

They stood on a foyer where the walls, ceiling, and floor were all made of stone. The end of the platform had a steep staircase whose darkened walls gave no indication of what may exist on the other side, but Gwynivara could see a small light glowing at the end of the staircase. At that moment, an elderly woman’s voice called out, “An bhfuil tú ina chara?”

“Is cara liom!” Emorick called back. He turned to Gwynivara and instructed, “Memorize that.” Gwynivara nodded and whispered it quietly to herself.

They watched as the tiny speck of light grew larger and larger. The echo of the individual’s footsteps sounded soft but grew louder as someone climbed up the stairs. A woman surfaced with a lantern in her hand. She had to be at least in her eighties, but she had a vibrant glow in her skin suggesting that she had an almost youthful amount of energy. She had a very gaunt body, but the way she carried herself conveyed that she was by no means frail. Gwynivara heard her speak in Gaelic, so she was a little surprised to see that she was Asian. Her wide eyes flickered over to Gwynivara and gleamed delightfully. “Oh, ni hao! I’m Niqun!”

“Gwyn.” She extended her hand.

Niqun shook her hand and said, “Welcome! Follow me!”

Niqun headed back down the stairs, Gwynivara went after her, and Emorick brought up the rear. Emorick explained, “Everyone takes turns guarding the front entrance. We’re not likely to have any problems, but if an adversary ever shows up-”

“They better not cross me!” Niqun interjected. “They’ll be sorry if they do!” Gwynivara giggled a little by her abrupt boldness. Meeting Niqun made her feel more at ease about her time here. She had hoped that the rest of the residents here would offer an equal amount of personality. At the bottom of the stairs, Gwynivara saw a cushioned bench and a long curtain rod with red drapes that obviously had the purpose of providing the door guard some privacy if they required it. Niqun dimmed the lantern and flopped back onto the bench. “Okay, Gwyn! Here we are! Wan’an!”

Gywnivara smiled and replied, “Thank you.” She could hear a quiet babble of conversation and commerce coming from the other side of the curtain. Her anticipation surmounted as Emorick strode over to the curtains. He noticed Gwynivara’s eagerness, grinned, and announced, “Welcome to the Rebel Hideout!”

He pulled back the drapes, and Gwynivara was pleasantly astonished to see a warmly lit hallway with large, cavern rooms where a small array of folks roamed in and out. The vast hall stretched as far as the eye could see, and the people roaming the hall all seemed so relaxed for the most part. A few people had despondent faces and walked alone, but the majority had a cordial demeanor. Like the catacombs, everything from the ceiling to the floor was made of stone, but the amber light and amiable conversation gave it more of a homey feel. Gwynivara remarked, “Wow!”

Emorick chuckled, “Were you expecting a rat’s nest?” Gwyinvara didn’t want to admit it, but she also didn’t want to lie, so she smiled sheepishly. Emorick didn’t seem offended by that at all. “That’s alright. Generally, criminal hideouts aren’t so nice. But considering we’re all suffering from a disease that feeds on darkness, I didn’t think it was smart to have us live in doom and gloom.”

Gwynivara nodded in comprehension. “That makes sense!”

Emorick informed her, “Everything you need for day to day function can be found in one of these rooms. The first room on the left has women’s clothes and shoes, men’s clothes are on the right. Feel free to take what you need, but keep in mind we only get supplies a little at a time, so no hoarding. Let me get you settled in before you explore though.” Gwynivara agreed, and they walked on. “This room has any toiletries you may need-shampoo, toothpaste, et cetera. Over here, we have snacks and dry food. Next to that is a shared kitchen. We have volunteer chefs that prepare meals for large groups sometimes, but if you’re hungry any time, feel free to use it. Across from the kitchen is our first aid station. We can treat minor injuries and illnesses, but if you have any major injuries, we’ll have to rush you to an actual hospital. Next to that is a ceremony room that people use for worship services; Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, or whatever other religion is welcome! Across from that we have an activity room with games and other things in case you get bored.”

They reached a fork in the road, and whether Gwynivara looked left or right, the cavern rooms all seemed much smaller than the ones behind them. She also noted that these rooms all had doors. Before they went on, Gwynivara inquired, “How do jobs get assigned?”

“It’s all volunteer based,” Emorick answered her. “Each room has a schedule, and generally people are pretty good about making sure the vacant spots are filled before it’s too late. Now, if you go all the way to the left, we have a large auditorium where we practice combat. You’re going to to live in the far right with the other officers. I purposely put our practice grounds on the opposite side of our living quarters so that the officers have to pass by everyone and help anyone in need.”

“And I’m an officer?” Gwynivara was surprised by this title.

“Clearly, you’re a fighter and have the mentality of an officer!” He bent in close and whispered, “You saw the video. We need strong minds to make sure that never happens here.”

Gwynivara’s eyes widened with concern. She sincerely hoped that an incident like that occurred seldomly in the hideout. As they passed by the houses, Gwynivara noticed that some people kept their doors open, but most people had them shut. She hoped that this was simply due to the hour of the day and not a usual occurrence, otherwise she didn’t know how she would be able to watch over the other inhabitants.

At the end of the hall, Gwynivara saw one cavern room that appeared to be larger than the rest. Emorick explained, “That’s my room. It’s also the armory. For safety purposes, we can’t have easy access to dangerous weapons. If anyone would like to learn how to use more advanced weapons, they’re certainly allowed to stop by and request lessons though. I do give everyone a large dagger for protection, just in case.”

Gwynivara briefly wondered where the weapons and the other supplies came from, but she now felt a little tired and decided to ask about that at another time. So, she simply asked him, “Which one is my room?”

“Two doors left of mine,” Emorick answered. He opened her door, and Gwynivara’s eyes sparkled as she saw her new living quarters. Even though her space comprised of a single room again, there was more space than what she had before. The bed looked a little larger than her last one, and the pillows and sheets seemed more cushiony than the old one too. She had a nightstand with a radio like she had previously, but this one stood next to an ornate candlestick. The side opposite to the nightstand had a small fireplace nestled nicely into the wall. On her right, next to the dresser, she saw another door. Emorick saw where her eyes rested, so he revealed, “That’s a bathroom. You’ll have to share it with your neighbor, who happens to be my son. You guys…should get along.” Gwynivara noticed the hesitation in his voice but decided not to ask. If there was any issue involving his son, it was probably none of her business, she thought. “If you need more batteries for the radio or matches for the fireplace, you can find them in the toiletries room.”

“Thank you so much!” Gwynivara truly felt grateful for everything. At the same time, it also felt so strange! When she woke up this morning, she was just a janitor renting a room in a mobile home, and now she was an officer in a rebellion! Her new surroundings and title definitely were an improvement, but it was so different than before and she still found it hard to believe. Everything changed so fast that she found it difficult to accept it mentally!

Emorick softly pat her back. “If you need anything, you know where to find me. Training begins at o eight hundred hours. See you in the morning!”

“Good night!” she chimed as he left. She took a moment to soak it all in. It still didn’t feel real to her. She saw what time it was and decided to get ready for bed. She set her sword down by the dresser, and she remembered that she had already dressed in her pajamas, so she didn’t need to do much to get ready for the night. She shook off the disbelief in her thoughts and went into the bathroom.

The bathroom was small, but the way it was built almost made it seem luxurious. The shower door was made of glass, but the rest was made of stone. They had a small bowl in place of a sink, and there was a faucet right above it. The toilet gave the feel of an outhouse, but it didn’t have a bad smell to it at all. Gwynivara vaguely wondered who was responsible for cleaning it. Since she got appointed as an officer, she relished in the fact that she was, most likely, done with janitorial duties!

As she washed her face, she noticed another door on the opposite side. That had to be Emorick’s son’s room, she figured. She saw a razor and shaving cream on the sink, and she pondered what it would be like to share a bathroom with a guy. So much curiosity surfaced now! She had so many questions about who he was. He must be an officer too, she thought, to live in this section. She wondered about his history and how he got Venenatus Sanguis. She figured that she would find out tomorrow at training and would get to know her new neighbor in the morning. It would be rude to introduce herself at this time of night; after all, he was more than likely sleeping right now. Or was he…?

She heard a loud crash coming from his son’s room! She pressed her ear to the wall, and it sounded like flapping wings. It sure sounded ominous, but she wasn’t sure if it was what she thought it was. If she was wrong and it was a pet or the radio, she would feel terrible for barging in. However, she remembered that Emorick had mentioned that it was part of her duties to watch over the other members. She decided it was best to take the risk and apologize later if she was wrong. She opened the door slowly, and in an instant, she knew that she wasn’t wrong!

Sabotage, Chapter 19

Carmen’s mind stood still in a dream-like trance. None of this felt real. Seth wasn’t supposed to be here! She wasn’t supposed to be facing a gun! People always said that before a person dies, their life flashes before their eyes. That didn’t happen to her. It was more like the effect one has at the end of an epic film-everything came together like a puzzle that was now complete. She couldn’t believe that this was it. She had a hard time accepting that her life didn’t mean more than this; she had goals, dreams, she wanted to make a difference in the world! She searched for a solution, a way out, but she drew a blank. This really felt like the end.

A simple question drew them back into reality. Zartex asked, “How did you get in here?”

Seth answered, “The door in the back was unlocked.”

“There was a door?” Zartex cried out incredulously. “We sure did it the hard way!”

Jorden used Seth befuddlement over that interaction to her advantage. She took out a gun and gently pushed it to Carmen, who quickly scooped it up. Arius reacted vehemently, “What are you doing?”

“Traitor!” Elden declared.

“She saved my life,” Jorden pouted. “I can’t do it! She has a fighting chance now. My conscious is clear.” She folded her arms, clearly upset that she couldn’t stomach her duties to Mirage.

Carmen pointed the gun at Seth, who turned his attention away from Jorden and finally realized what the situation was. Carmen felt uncomfortable toeing the thin line between taking a life and protecting herself. She had no experience with guns, so she really didn’t feel confident at her shooting ability at the moment. If she missed, she would get killed. Or worse, she could get an innocent bystander hurt. She concentrated as much as possible, going over every fact she knew about a gun based on the handful of times her mom took her to the shooting range. She really hoped the police would interrupt this standoff so that she wouldn’t have to make this difficult decision. Inwardly, she knew she couldn’t show fear to Seth right now, so she sarcastically said, “By the way, I’m declining your Head of Security job offer!”

Lilith made an almost hissing noise, but Seth just laughed, “Look at you, pretending to be brave! You never were good at hiding your emotions. You were always scared to go to the field, everyone knew that. I kept waiting for the day it would snap together for you, but you never got it. Truth is you didn’t have the guts to be a manager!”

“She didn’t need to be fearless!” Garith couldn’t refrain from shouting passionately. Zartex had to physically hold Garith back, who was basically shaking from anger. “Each day, she faced her fears! She was braver than you’ll ever be! She walked away from Mirage! She rejected you, not the other way around! She walked away because she was too good of a person to ever rank up! Don’t you dare try to make her feel inferior!”

Arius and Elden pulled out their guns, but Seth just chuckled. “Give them to me!” Even though they were confused, Arius and Elden handed over their guns. “Yours too, Lilith.” Scowling, Lilith reluctantly gave Seth her gun. “Guys, she’s not gonna shoot me!” He put down his own gun and put his hands up. Carmen wasn’t sure what his intentions were, but she didn’t trust him, so she refused to stand down. “Go ahead, shoot me!” Everyone at the scene looked from Seth to Carmen, back and forth. Seth, totally cocky, taunted Carmen, who concentrated only on his movements and fixing her gun at him. “You’re too goody-two-shoes to pull the trigger. That’s the difference between you and us-we do we gotta do to succeed. You have the upper hand! You can solve your problems right now by eliminating me! But you won’t! You’re too weak!” Carmen was starting to get irritated and hoped that it wasn’t apparent. Seth did notice and did a little dance to egg her on. “Shoot me, bitch! Shoot me! Go on, shoot me! Do it! Come on, do it!”

Carmen’s scowl deepened. It was too tempting to pull the trigger. That SOB would deserve it! He was evil and hurt a lot of people! She would but doing the world a favor…Ultimately, she knew she couldn’t hurt anyone unless she absolutely had to. She kept thinking of solutions that didn’t involve anyone dying, including herself. She tried to think of ways to subdue him without killing him. He kept mocking her, which made it hard to concentrate. The situation was tense, no one knew what would happen. If Seth reached for his gun again, she knew she would have to hit him before he could shoot her. But where could she shoot him that would stop him physically but not fatally? Seth saw her arms grew weaker, so he remarked, “That’s what I thought!” He bent down slightly to the left where his gun laid. Instinctively, she aimed her gun and pulled the trigger!

The girls shrieked, and the guys moaned in sympathetic pain. Seth screeched louder than anything Carmen had ever heard. He rolled and writhed in pain as blood flowed from…his groin! Lilith, Jorden, Arius, and Elden timidly turned to Carmen, who still held up her gun. “Get down on the ground!” The four got onto their bellies, peeking at Carmen as she spoke to Seth, “You’re right-I’m not like you. I don’t need to kill people to reach my goals! No, I didn’t spare your life out of pity or remorse. The thing I realized was that upon your death, your body would be at peace. You don’t deserve that! There are things so much worse than death!”

“That’s so cliche’!” Seth groaned. He felt some sharp pain, which made him cry out. “Ugh! You bitch! You bitch!”

“I’m the bitch? I got your balls! You don’t!” Carmen mocked him. She put down her gun and turned to Garith and Zartex, who had a mixed look of sheer terror and utter admiration.

Before anyone could say anything, a group of police swarmed in and surrounded the Mirage executives. “You’re all under arrest!”

“What?” Seth roared out. “She tried to kill me!”

The police informed him, “The amusement park caught you guys breaking in and ambushing them. Thought they were trespassing, we’re gonna let that go ’cause clearly you attacked them!”

Seth argued, “She killed Colt Duncan! We were trying to apprehend her so she could go to jail-where she belongs!”

At that moment, a man in a nice suit flashed his police badge at them. “Detective Disung. I’ve been in touch with the Grand Junction police. Colt’s autopsy showed that he got killed by someone who’s left handed. Carmen is holding a gun with her right hand. We are starting to doubt that she did it.”

Still writhing in pain, Seth pointed out, “So, she shot with her left hand to cover her tracks!”

Detective Disung took out his phone, where he read his notes, “She had the opportunity to let one Teddy Amsan die, but she risked her own freedom to get him help. That just doesn’t seem like the behavior of a guilty person.”

Crying in anguish, Seth yelled, “She wants you to think that! I demand that you arrest her!”

As an ambulance came and began to render him first aid, the police all shrugged at each other. Garith stepped forward and asked, “When was Colt’s time of death?”

Detective Disung gazed at his notes answered, “Colt’s time and date of death: October thirteenth at seven-o-three p.m. Unless you guys have proof of your whereabouts at that date and time, we’ll have to arrest Carmen too.”

Carmen’s heart sunk. She couldn’t believe after everything she went through that it would end this way. As a police officer approached her, Zartex unexpectedly interjected, “Wait, I have proof!” This statement stunned everyone, who watched him with total anticipation as he dug through his pocket and gave something to Detective Disung.

Carmen glanced over the detective’s shoulders, and her sunken heart reinflated. Zartex gave him the photo that they took with the cardboard cutouts at the Green River railroad station! She finally broke her silence, “Look, there’s the receipt stapled to it with the date and time of the transaction! I wasn’t even in the same state as him when he died! I’m innocent! This is proof!”

As Seth got strapped to the gurney, he insisted, “Anyone can fake that! She did it!”

Detective Disung suggested, “Watch what you say-just ’cause you’re going to the hospital doesn’t mean we won’t use what you say in the court of law! Plus, you should be grateful to be alive right now. She could have killed you! I would have!”

As the ambulance wheeled him away, he shouted, “No, she did it! She went into his office and shot him in cold blood! She left him there to bleed all over his family’s picture!”

Detective Disung grinned. “Funny, that detail wasn’t released to any public records!” Seth realized his mistake and cringed as the ambulance loaded him in.

Carmen stood in disbelief. Was it really over? What just happened? What will happen now? The park manager stood before his crew and scolded them, “You guys have GOT to start locking the doors!” Suddenly, it clicked for her-she didn’t have to run anymore! Everyone knew the truth! She was free!

At that moment, something caught her eye that made her beam from ear to ear! She ran in pure joy. She never thought she would ever see…

Sabotage, Chapter 18

“Whooooo-hooooo!” Zartex cried out in jubilee as the dragon roller coaster cascaded down the tracks. He appeared to be more animated about the experience than the kids that were also on the ride, which the park manager was quick to notice. Carmen simply explained, “He’s European.” The park manager seemed to take that as a justifiable explanation and walked away.

As he walked away, Garith slipped a newspaper in his tool belt. Garith told Carmen, “That was my last one. They’re all out!”

“Great!” Carmen responded listlessly. She joined the crowd of parents watching the roller coaster to watch Zartex enjoying himself. All the newspapers were out. The bombshell information about Mirage now could be seen by people outside the cult. Their secrets were now out, which is what Carmen had been waiting to do for a long time. And yet, now that this moment was here, she actually felt pretty depressed.

Garith seemed to notice this and joined her in watching the ride. “It’s not exactly happily ever after, is it?”

“I guess I was hoping that once the article got out that people would get outraged by the truth and that Mirage would go down immediately. It would set me free from sneaking around and I wouldn’t have to survive assassination attempts anymore. But people aren’t reading it. I know they gotta look after their kids, but not one person has read it! So, that means we gotta keep living like criminal nomads for a little longer. Or a lot longer, who knows! I just wanted this nightmare to end!” Carmen sighed.

Garith assured her, “These things take time. At some point on our way back to the Bay Area, the right person will read the article and spread the news. It doesn’t end here, trust me!” He pat her back, which made her feel a little better. She couldn’t shake the surge of disappointment, but it was nice to have someone who had faith in her.

Zartex surfaced by them with an exhilarated expression and slightly staggered walk. “I’m a little dizzy and a little nauseous, but I would do it again in a heartbeat! These machines are awesome!”

“So, now what?” Carmen asked.

“How about the teacups?” Zartex suggested.

Garith pointed out to him, “I think she meant travel-wise. Besides, you were lucky enough finding one ticket, good luck finding three more!” Zartex took him literally and began to search the grounds. Garith talked to Carmen, “We don’t have much money left, but I do remember that there’s a charter bus that goes to San Francisco for a discount. If we leave at six a.m., our tickets would only be a dollar. I think people would be too groggy that early in the morning to pay to us. What do you think?”

“I think I would pick a green teacup,” Zartex remarked.

Carmen noted, “We’ll have to spend the night here again. But yes, I think you have a good idea. I don’t feel much like walking long distances again! Once we get there, I could take the BART to…wait, I don’t have any money. I could borrow a phone to call my dad to come get me. Oh, but they’re probably monitoring his phone calls. I don’t know! Ugh!”

Garith put his hand on her arm, “You’ll figure it out. You always do.”

Carmen smiled. Even though she didn’t quite believe it, she found comfort not necessarily in his words but for the fact that he really cared. Before she could respond, Zartex showed them something. “Hey guys! I found three tickets! Isn’t that great?”

“Yeah…” Garith and Carmen said unison.

Zartex didn’t catch their tone and grabbed their hands. “Yes, let’s go!” Zartex dragged them towards the teacup ride. “Garith, I thought you wanted to have more fun?”

“You know what sounds fun right now?” Garith responded, “A stiff drink!”

As they stood in line, Carmen inquired to Zartex, “You steal these tickets, did you?”

Zartex handed them each a ticket and revealed, “Of course not! I found them in a puddle!” As soon as it hit their hands, they felt the wetness of the paper and grimaced.

Jayesh Chakrabarti brought up the last of their belongings from their day trip to their apartment. He took a deep breath to decompress from all of the exercise he just did. For a moment, everything was peaceful. Suddenly, a teapot whistled and his toddler came out of the kitchen, bawling. His wife, carrying their six month old, chased after the screaming child. “Oh good, you’re finished! Change his diaper!” She handed the baby to him.

Jayesh groaned, “Sweetheart, can’t I rest a moment?”

“Do I get to rest? she snapped. “It’s hard enough to cook dinner with a child who won’t-!”

“Alright, alright!” he relented. His wife gave him the stink eye but quickly got back to what she was doing before.

As Jayesh reached for a diaper on the changing table shelf, he realized that the shelf was empty. He grumbled a little and grabbed the diaper bag. After he unzipped it, he saw a map from the amusement park they were just at. He did not want to remember that chaotic experience at the moment and threw it to the ground. As he reached for a diaper, he felt a newspaper. That was strange since he typically didn’t read a newspaper let alone pack one for a family outing! He unfurled it and began to read out of sheer curiosity. Something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye, and he dodged out of the way just in time to avoid getting sprayed by his son.

After he quickly changed his son’s diaper, he went to the third bedroom where his home office stood. He had several shelves of law books behind his desk, which had a computer and a few case files on it. He sat down and red the entire article, growing more agitated the more he read. When he finished, he set the paper down and looked up a phone number on the computer. He got on his office phone and waited for someone to pick up. When someone did pick up, he immediately jumped in, “Hi, this is attorney Jayesh Chakrabarti. We need to take immediate action against Mirage…”

“Noooo!” Lilith growled. Limping quite a bit, she hobbled over to Seth, who was asleep at his desk. She shook him, but he did not budge. She turned on the light, revealing his decadent space with ebony walls, tabriz carpet, oil paintings, a marble fountain, and yew desk. As he groggily sat up, she turned her laptop towards him. “They got the article out!”

Rubbing his eyes, Seth told her, “So? Just delete the article from whatever site they published it on. It’s not like the first time someone has tried that.”

“The article isn’t online,” she informed him, growing more and more angry by the minute. “Our tech caught an email conversation between a lawyer and a government official! They want to find Carmen and this reporter so they can testify against us! How do we stop them?”

Seth, finally awake, read everything on her screen and concluded, “Their article isn’t a nail in the coffin. They want to talk to get more details. Well, they can’t prove anything if they don’t have their witnesses! We’ll have to get to them first.”

Lilith thought for a moment. “If they didn’t publish their article online or on television, they must have distributed it on paper. So, this lawyer must have visited wherever they are hiding! I’ll have our tech look at his credit and debit purchase history.”

“While you do that, I’m gonna start packing!” Seth took his gun out and cocked it.

Meanwhile, Hank couldn’t sleep. He got out of bed and started pacing. He often got inklings that Carmen was in trouble, and he did his best to figure out where she was. He turned on his newly purchased police scanner and opened up his laptop. He searched crime news from various stations in Northern California. Orlando jumped onto the bed and rubbed his head on the police scanner. Keeping his eye on the screen, he spoke to the cat, “I haven’t seen any articles about spotting her. I lost track of her after she left Reno. I know she was in Reno ’cause a man named Teddy got attacked by a bear. That isn’t a coincidence! But where is she now?” Orlando began meowing, but Hank ignored him. “I just need some clue or sign where she might be!” He couldn’t ignore Orlando’s meows anymore and snapped, “What?”

When he turned to the cat, he noticed the police radio next to him. That’s when he heard an officer report, “That’s a negative. Truck was clear. Suspects are likely still in Sacramento.” Orlando was now silent but stared at him expectantly.

“How did you…? Oh, whatever!” Hank bolted out of bed and grabbed his jacket as he ran out the door.

Carmen opened her eyes, but she had not slept. She feigned sleep for the sake of normalcy, but she couldn’t relax. Something about this part of the journey made her incredibly nervous. She reasoned that perhaps it stemmed from the increase in police presence. She felt like a mouse getting chased by a cat; the moment she got caught, her life was over. “You could just get a lawyer,” Garith suggested.

Carmen jumped slightly. She thought she was alone in not being able to sleep. “Can you read my mind?”

Garith chuckled, “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what you’re thinking. You’re innocent. How can they convict you?”

“Because Mirage executives are professional liars!” Carmen told him. “Besides, do you think that they would get a conviction out of me and leave it at that? There’s nothing to prevent me from talking in prison. And I’m willing to bet they have connections on the inside. No, they didn’t involve the police to put me away. They used them to make it more difficult to get away from Mirage! They used them to trap me.” The thought hadn’t occurred to her until now, and it completely creeped her out.

“They also probably wanted to discredit her,” Zartex chimed in. At that moment, a notification sounded on his watch. He viewed it and frowned, “Uh, guys…”

“We know, it’s time for us to go,” Garith responded. He hopped out of their hiding spot and began to help Carmen down.

“Well, it’s time for you to go,” Zartex said sadly, “I’ll be going home in a few hours.”

“What?” Carmen and Garith replied in unison. Out of shock, Garith stood still, and Carmen was so stunned that she didn’t realize she was dangling off the pergola.

“No!” Garith lamented. “You gotta leave the planet today?”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Carmen asked ruefully. Her arms began to feel sore. “Uh, a little help?”

As Garith’s attention snapped to her, Zartex also climbed down and explained, “I requested an extension, and since my subject was in mortal peril, I really thought they would grant it. I got denied, so they’re going to beam me back today.”

“Wow, this really sucks,” Carmen said forlornly.

“We’ll miss you!” Garith remarked. “I can’t imagine going on without you!”

“Guys,” Zartex related to them, “I still have a little while. It’s not time to say goodbye yet!”

“I disagree!” Seth seethed. With the utmost horror, Zartex, Carmen, and Garith turned to see Seth, Lilith, Elden, Jorden, and Arius all smirking as one does when they catch their prey. Seth cocked his gun.

Sabotage, Chapter 17

“I think this would be a good spot,” Zartex declared as they rowed down the river. It was still dark, but Zartex had been navigating with the map on his watch to pinpoint a good spot to land the canoe. They rowed towards the shore, but when they police lights, he revoked his previous opinion, “Never mind!”

“Duck!” Carmen instructed. Gartith, Zartex, and Carmen got low as the police searched the river. Zartex, with a little stealth, stuck his hand outside of the canoe and pushed it away from the land so they could get out of the police’s eye.

After they felt it was safe enough, they brought the canoe to the shore. Garith asked Zartex, “Are we still downtown?”

Zartex checked the map on his watch. “Yes. If we go down Sutterville and turn left on Land Park, we’ll be there…unless we run into more police!”

“I’m gonna be optimistic,” Carmen asserted. “We won’t run into anymore police for a while.” They heard sirens in the distance. “And I’m done with optimism!”

They ran down the road, but they heard the sirens coming from the street they were supposed to turn on. Instead, they ran straight, coming to a concrete wall. Zartex grabbed Carmen and said, “I’ll see you inside!”

“What?” Carmen responded. “We don’t know what’s in there!” She saw flashing lights coming closer. “Ah, who cares?”

Zartex tossed her over the wall. She landed on some gravel. Garith landed next to her, and Zartex teleported in front of them. They stood still as the flashing lights and sirens passed them. Afterwards, they gave a sigh of relief. “Well, whatever place this is, there’s no vicious dogs coming after us, so I think we’re okay!” Garith commented.

“I’m not so sure!” Carmen pointed to the black box on the wall behind them. “Whoever owns this place is practically watching us right now!”

“They might have caught a glimpse of you,” Zartex stated, “But as long as you stay with me, they can’t catch you on video tape.” The other two stared at him quizzically. “If I push a button on my watch, I can temporarily suspend the program, but the Universal Coalition put in a security measure to block me from appearing on film. Our identity is top secret, so we can’t risk anything leaking to the media.”

Carmen found this information suprising, but Garith seemed to be a little vexed. “So, you’re telling me all this time we could have stayed in vacant hotel rooms?”

“I thought you wanted to sleep outside!” Zartex defended himself, looking slightly guilty.

“We avoided hotels to avoid being seen on camera!” Garith admonished him.

“Shh!” Carmen put her hand on his mouth. “Hold onto your anger until we’re safe!”

She removed her hand, and Garith admitted, “I guess I deserved that.” He paused, mentally collected himself, and inquired, “Where are we?”

Carmen dared to step forward and felt something on the ground. She stooped down and grazed the object since she couldn’t totally see it in the dark. When she realized what it was, she was puzzled. “They’re train tracks! Small ones though. How strange!”

The three of them followed the track until they saw something glimmering in the moonlight next to the track. They took a closer look and saw twisted metal. Carmen’s mind couldn’t comprehend this place. They stood on tracks, but there were different tracks above them. She didn’t know what to think until Garith snapped his fingers. “It’s an amusement park!”

Carmen chuckled, “An amusement park in the middle of a city park? That’s so random!”

“Well, odds are no one would think to look for you here,” Zartex surmised. “And with no lights, this place can’t function ’til daylight. Shall we find a place to sleep here?” Carmen and Garith shrugged but agreed.

They followed the train tracks until they came to a couple of towers that supported a pergola, which rested above some wooden picnic benches. Garith noticed, “It looks like there’s a small platform between the towers. We can probably hide in there.”

Zartex lifted Garith and Carmen up, and then he climbed up after them. They had a good view of the amusement park from up there, but they couldn’t see much in the dark. They did see large shadows lurking where the rides must have been located. Carmen opinionated, “Amusement parks are kind of creepy at night!”

“So, people pay money to go on these machines?” Zartex said judgmentally.

As Garith got comfortable, he told Zartex, “You would probably love it! I’d buy you a ticket, but the last thing we need is for you to go on an emotional overload.”

Carmen situated herself next to Garith and Zartex so she could comfortably sleep. “Zartex, you love machines. You spent all night reading instructions on how to use the printing press, remember?”

Garith, who was half asleep, remarked, “I’m sure he was just killing time since he doesn’t need to sleep. He’s gotta do something to pass the time!”

“Actually,” Zartex informed them, “I do require daily sleep. I just haven’t been able to.” Garith and Carmen’s eyes flew open and looked greatly concerned. “It’s okay. It’ll be worth it in the end. Plus, I’m due for vacation time anyway.” He surveyed the area directly by them. “There aren’t any cameras pointing over here, and you guys won’t move much if you are sleeping. I will be back before you wake.”

Carmen bolted up. “You’re doing it tonight?”

“With the police so intent on finding you,” Zartex reasoned, “I think it’s now or never.”

Garith sat up and put his hand on Zartex’s shoulder. “You have no idea how much we appreciate this!”

“Yes I do!” Zartex pointed to his emotional reader. “I only have one question-why is it called the Sacramento Bee?” Carmen and Garith shrugged. “Oh well. Just don’t move until I get back!”

Zartex teleported out of the park, and Carmen laid still for a moment. The three of them had been inseparable for two weeks, so it felt strange for one of them to leave. They knew it would be temporary, but it felt oddly lonely with their buddy missing. They both laid down, but neither of them could fall asleep. Suddenly, Garith exclaimed, “Uh oh!” Carmen sat up, looking concerned. “How are we going to go to the bathroom?” Carmen wanted to roll her eyes, but she realized he had a point, so she pondered it for a moment.

Zartex appeared in Hank’s living room, which was totally dark. He wondered aloud, “How am I supposed to find a black cat in the dark?” Orlando jumped onto the coach and mewed. “Oh, hi!” He lifted the cat’s sweater, but before he could get the article, Orlando hopped down. “No, don’t do that!” He went a couple of steps to find him, but he didn’t realize that the cat went in front of his feet, so he tripped. Zartex managed to catch himself by holding on to the couch, but he knocked over a lamp in the process. The lamp did not shatter, but it scared Orlando, causing him to howl and scurry upstairs. “Oh great!” Zartex muttered. At that moment,  the lights flickered on. Automatically, Zartex put his hands in the air and spouted, “I’m not Mirage!”

“I know,” Hank replied. Clearly, Zartex had woken him up because he was still in his pajamas and had a woozy stance. He did not give off an angry vibe but instead looked a little concerned. “Those s.o.b.’s would be a lot more sneaky and quiet if they broke into my house. Plus, I got your message that a tall stranger would come by to get the article, though I didn’t expect you until tomorrow.”

“We had to speed things up,” Zartex explained. “So, you’re probably wondering how I’ve been able to teleport all this time. The thing is-”

Hank interrupted him, “You’re an alien.”

Zartex’s jaw dropped. “How did you know?”

“Well, no one on Earth can teleport objects or beings,” Hank rationalized. “My wife has access to the best technology on the planet and has yet to find anything remotely like this. Plus, there was Universal Coalition emblem stamped on the bottom of the papers. I put two and two together.” He paused for a moment, and then he commanded, “Orlando, come!”

He sat down on the stairs, and the cat hopped onto his lap. As he retrieved the rolled up papers, Zartex observed, “Your personality is so much like Carmen’s!”

Hank’s head jolted up,and his eyes glistened a little. “How is my daughter?”

Zartex mulled over the best way to answer that question. “She is safe and sound, all things considered. Once we get the article out, it won’t take long for her to come home.”

Hank got the last paper out and handed it to Zartex. “Watch over her, please!”

“That’s literally my job!” After Zartex said that, he saw tears well up in Hank’s eyes. “She’s in good hands.” He put a sympathetic hand on his shoulders, and then he teleported out. Hank listlessly turned off the lights and slowly trotted upstairs.

When she heard a scream, Carmen jolted awake. For a moment, she had forgotten where she was, and she didn’t even remember falling asleep. She glanced over and saw the scream had come from a child on a roller coaster, and her heart rate began to slow back down. Garith, apparently, had also worried that the scream came from a place of danger and now looked relieved. “Where’s Zartex?” Garith wondered.

“I wish I knew,” Carmen told him. “We will have to get down though or eventually someone will see us up here.” Garith and Carmen used the pergola and a small, concrete wall to carefully climb down. Thankfully, no one had noticed them. They half hid in the picnic bench area, surveying their surroundings. Just ahead of them, a very bored teenage boy blew a bubble with his gum as he watched his ride spin fast. A mother desperately tried to convince her toddler to climb down from a giant, ceramic airplane. One of the teenage girls that worked there casually answered a text message as her ride began to gather a group of impatient children. A woman hurried off the carousel ride carrying a small child, who was throwing a tantrum. A worker grumpily swept up a puddle of popcorn as a kid inadvertently kept spilling his food as he walked. “This is great!” Carmen commented. “Everyone here is too distracted to notice or care what we’re up to!”

“I agree!’ Zartex, who carried a hefty satchel of newspapers on his back, sauntered up them looking tired but satisfied.

“There you are!” Garith said happily. Carmen, too, felt a surge of relief. They didn’t totally believe that he was in any kind of peril, but it was good to verify any inkling of doubt. “Where have you been?”

“I had to walk back here,” Zartex informed them. “Unfortunately, these papers don’t teleport even if I’m wearing them. I should have foreseen this complication. But, in any case, I got it done before they opened up for the day and made it back here without incident…unless you count my interaction with a vagrant man. He asked if I had a quarter, and I asked ‘a quarter of what?’ Then we were both confused. Anyway, to distribute these, we’ll need to find a very public place where people are too busy to care what we’re doing but plentiful enough to have a few people actually take this home and read it. Can you guys think of anywhere like that?”

After he said that, a small child asked loudly, “Mommy! Where’s the bathroom?” She looked down at her dress and said, “Never mind!” A bunch of little kids screamed and ran away from her. The workers all pretended like they didn’t see it happen until the manager came over to see what happened and demanded an explanation. Carmen remarked, “I don’t think we’ll have to look far!”