Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 26

It sped so fast towards her that she didn’t have time to think. With every fiber of her being, she held up her hands and blocked the electric cloud from snatching her. The strength of the force behind it became too much for her, and against her will, it eventually it overcame her. She expected pain or even instant death, but instead, she found herself suspended in the air. She felt as light as a feather and she felt herself floating up the mountain, but before she got close, she felt a cold wind encircle her body. In an instant, the police uniform she had on got replaced with a flowing white dress. She didn’t have time to contemplate what it meant though because the cloud lifted, and she dropped onto the rocky ground.

She quickly looked up to see the other Rebel officers just as confused and startled as she felt. Bernadette had a dress like hers while the men wore loose, white pants with a matching vest that left their chests partially exposed. From behind her, a cold female’s voice greeted her with, “Congratulations! You found me!”

Gwynivara whipped around to see the same green skinned woman that she had seen in her dreams! Her black dress draped coolly over the dark stoned throne that she also had seen before. She leered arrogantly at them with a beast chained to each side of her. Gwynivara cried out, “You!”

The green skinned woman nonchalantly said, “Yes, me!” Gwynivara stood up in a ready position, a gesture that the woman laughed off. “Trying to give a brave face? How do you expect to fight me with no weapons?”

The outfit changes suddenly made sense to Gwynivara now- she had disarmed them! She could see their original clothes and belts in a heap behind the woman, but she didn’t let her eyes linger too long- the less this lady knew, the better! “So, why not kill us now and get it over with?”

She smirked, “That may not be necessary. I hate to waste a good resource.”

“Resource?” Gwynivara puzzled.

“Yes,” she divulged, “The point of my mission is to spread the disease, so it wouldn’t make sense to kill people who have it.” She surmised the Gwynivara would ask, so she explained, “My name is Rafeneita, and I’m captai nof a military brigade on my planet. My people have over-harvested minerals in our planet’s core, and it’s slowly disintegrating. If we don’t find a new planet to move our people to, our entire race will get destroyed, and I won’t let that happen!”

“So, to save one planet, you’re gonna destroy another?” Gwynivara probed.

“Do you really think your planet would tolerate millions of strange beings living alongside them?” Rafeneita asked pointedly. “No planet would, even if they had the room! This was the only way.”

“But why Earth?” Gwynivara inquired knowing she wouldn’t like the answer one way or the other.

Rafeneita revealed, “Because your planet is weak. Your species tears each other apart over the slightest differences- skin color, financial class, gender; such shallow, petty things, and yet these slight variances make some believe that they’re superior to the other. The more advanced planets bind together like a tightly woven piece of fabric, which makes it hard to break through. Your kind is so far apart that it’s easy to penetrate. Earth is divided, and since you’re already pitted against each other, it made it easy to use it to my advantage.”

“I can see how you manipulated your henchmen to do your bidding because of this,” Gwynivara calmly debated, “But why use Venenatus Sanguis? If your planet needs to get re-homed as quick as possible, there must be faster and easier ways to destroy a species.”

Rafeneita replied, “Like I said, why waste a resource? I don’t want to taint anything that may hurt my people. Some weapons leave scars that the land absorbs for decades to come. But why, as you called it, Venenatus Sanguis? Tell me, how long have you had it?”

“Over ten years.” Gwynivara’s interest peaked, but she still remained vigilant. She didn’t know why Rafeneita was telling her this. This knowledge could prove useful to the Rebels, but Gwynivara knew full well it didn’t benefit Rafeneita to tell them any of this. She kept them alive for a reason, and she knew better than to let her guard down.

“Ten years, and you have no idea what it is, do you?” Rafeneita watched Gwynivara shake her head, and when she glanced at the others, she saw that they seemed clueless too. “I gave you power.” No one expected to hear that, and with a devilish satisfaction, she went on, “Your thoughts and emotions emit an energy that can be felt by all that surround you. This disease simply amplifies it. When your heart feels something powerful, it has a powerful effect on this energy. Venenatus Sanguis simply gives this force life. Your planet is so vulnerable that when you do get power, you don’t know what to do with it! You can’t control it! It makes the division between you all much farther apart. You can’t share power, and your arrogance makes you underestimate your enemies. Especially females! The men on your planet underestimate them simply because they have a different set of genitals! No one suspects my involvement or that I’m even capable of such a thing! It made it easy to settle in and watch you all destroy each other! And the juiciest part, no one has any clue how powerful they actually are! Just by strengthening their mind and harnessing their emotions, they’re capable of doing extraoridinary things, and yet your species trains the powerful to think that they’re the weak ones! Earth already very skilled at destroying each other, and all I had to do was help speed it along!”

Gwynivara didn’t like her grim view of humanity, but she inwardly refused to let it get to her. Her explanation made the appearance of Venenatus Sanguis make sense, but she knew that Rafeneita would only sit and talk for so long. She pressed her, “So, you want to destroy the planet, but not all of it? You mentioned something about not wasting resources; how exactly do we fit that role? What exactly do you want with us?”

Rafeneita told her, “You’ve captured my curiosity. I’ve never seen a more diverse group of people bonding together for a single cause! And you, you fought back against my charm! Tell me, have you mastered the power of the disease?”

Gwynivara didn’t want to let Rafeneita know how much she knew about the incantations she had performed, and she especially didn’t want her to involve the rest of the Rebels if she could help it. If Rafeneita had any idea of how powerful they were, she would resort to higher defenses to counter this. If Rafeneita stayed under the assumption that they were still in the infancy of discovering the power of it, she would let her guard down a little, which could give them an upper hand. However, she guessed that Rafeneita could probably sense when people lied to her, so she decided to tell the truth, at least partially. She shook her head, “I haven’t been part of this group for that long.”

“How about the rest of you?” Rafeneita looked to the rest of the Rebels.

Everyone else shook their heads too. Max bravely spoke up, “I just got here days ago really. So much has happened lately that no one has had time to teach me anything.”

“And yet you’re here.” Rafeneita gave them a piercing look as if she were scanning the Rebels for their honesty. “You just went along with it because you like to help?”

“That’s right,” Max confirmed.

She seemed to have detected no signs of deception, so she accepted this answer. “That’s okay. I could teach you.”

Gwynivara got caught off guard hearing this and reacted, “Teach us? Why would you do that?”

Rafeneita enlightened them, “You’re not the first group of people to band together to try to stop me, and instead of spilling powerful blood, I gave them a chance at life. As capable as they are, they still get outsmarted by a group of Rebels who dared to defy societal laws to protect their kind. You take pride in doing the right thing, and that’s a very admirable trait to have, but tell me, how do you choose the lives of some over others?” No one responded. “By fighting me, you’ve sentenced my people to death. What makes one life more important than another? I can either demolish you and your entire family to save my planet, or I can spare you in exchange for your service. All you would have to do is spread this power more. If they seem capable of handling it, we will recruit them to join our side. If not, then we will spare them the agony of living with it. Either way, your kind will find peace. And do not worry about your law enforcement.” She glanced over at the pile of uniforms behind her throne. “We will protect you. So, can I count on your help?”

Gwynivara did not respond right away. She had no intentions of joining Rafeneita’s side, but she knew that by telling her no that a fierce battle would ensue. None of the Rebels had any weapons, and their enchantment skills were very limited. Kierram was very proficient, but Rafeneita didn’t seem to know that. She must have known one of them had attacked one of her men with the power of Venenatus Sanguis, but she probably figured it was a fluke. Rafeneita made a point of disarming them before she brought them up there, and so Gwynivara wondered if defeating her could be as simple as finding a clever way to grab their police belts. But she figured that Rafeneita must have a way to defend herself if she had refused her offer. She didn’t see any backup hiding anywhere ready to fight them at a moment’s notice, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t there. She also considered that Rafeneita had the capability to fight them all on her own. She knew one way or the other, she would have to draw the answer out of her. Only then could she decide if she should play along and sabotage her plans later or if she should stand up to her and never once give her the satisfaction of thinking she had won. Rafeneita’s patience clearly had started to peter out, and all Gwynivara could think to say was, “So, at the end of it all, we have to spend the rest of our lives with Venenatus Sanguis? If there’s no cure, then what would be the point of-?”

Have to?” Rafeneita responded. “I would think you’d want to keep it. It is pure power, after all! But I’ll tell you what, if you help me out and you really don’t wanna keep it, I’ll give you this.” She pulled out a cylindrical vile with ornate silver carvings on each that contained a dark green liquid inside of it. “If you help me, I’ll give you the cure.” She tucked it back into the clothes underneath her chest. “So, the fate of everyone you hold dear rests in your hands. I need a decision now. What’s it going to be?”

Everyone turned to Gwynivara, who still hadn’t made that decision. She closed her eyes and listened to what her instincts were trying to tell her. A swirl of possibilities danced around in her mind, and suddenly, she had an unexpected vision that made everything much more clear. She now knew what she had to do…

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Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 23

Are you serious?” Kierram asked her.

“Like I would joke about something like this!” Gwynivara pulled out the orb, which showed a crude map with a red dot resting just outside the area that Rick lived in. “It’s been sitting there since last night.”

Bernadette inquired, “You think the origin is somewhere in that neighborhood?”

“No,” Gwynivara replied. “If you were the origin, would you let people visit your house willy-nilly?”

“Of course not,” Kierram agreed. “They must have some kind of security check.”

Bernadette surmised, “They found the tracking device.”

“Exactly!” Gwynivara analyzed the evidence, “They would stop somewhere on the way to their hideout but still far enough away so that if they were followed they wouldn’t give away the origin’s location. What would you do if you found a tracking device on your property? Take it off and immediately chuck it right?” Kierram and Bernadette nodded in agreement. “It’s the natural human reaction if you find something unsettling. Once it was off, they probably thought they were in the clear. They could have gone anywhere from there, in theory, but what lies just beyond that neighborhood?”

“The Great Dismal Mountains!” Bernadette exclaimed. “The mountains would be the perfect place to hide, very secluded!”

“There’s a few trails and camping grounds in that range,” Kierram contemplated. “But it starts to get pretty gnarly along the Athas Ridge. If the origin is in a place to avoid detection, it would be there.”

“Totally,” Bernadette concurred. “But there are three peaks in that area- Cinealtas, Obair Chrua, and Misneach. We couldn’t scale them all ‘cause the origin and their henchmen would figure out what we’re doing and stop us before we found the correct one. So, how do we know which one is the right peak?”

“There would be signs before we got there,” Gwynivara reasoned. “When we get there, we can narrow it down.” Suddenly, it all became real to her. She knew all along that this was the end game, but now that the time had come, it frightened her. She thought out loud, “We’re not prepared! I just got here, I don’t know all the battle plans! I only got a couple lessons on harnessing my Venenatus Sanguis! I barely know what I’m doing! And the others- I didn’t get enough skills to teach anyone to do it too! And a lot of the officers are brand new! They didn’t even get weapons training yet! I can’t… I mean, right now? I-!”

“Hey, hey, hey!” Kierram cut her off. “It’s okay! We can wait and do more training if that’s what you think is best, and if this was a military operation, that’s exactly what I’d do. But really, we don’t know what the enemy is capable of. We could be dealing with weapons that we can’t even fathom, so all of that training could be a waste of time. When we get there, if we get a chance to do some reconnaissance, we will, but I think the only way we’re going to know for sure what to expect from the origin is to confront it head on. We need to act quickly, lives are at stake!”

“Kierram’s right,” Bernadette added. “We can train the officers and make them experts at everything and still have shit go wrong. Either way, this could be a suicide mission. The important thing is that we take a stand, let the origin know that what they’re doing isn’t acceptable! No matter what, if we all live or die, the origin would hear our message. The fact that we stood up to them at all would let them know they’re not infallible and someday, our planet will stop them! We’re all capable of telling them that, so, I would say we’re all ready for this.”

Gwynivara knew they were both right and calmed down as much as a person could in a situation like this. She mulled it over for a bit and concluded, “We’re not all going to die. If all of the officers perish, we still have Rebels staying here who would carry on our message. And we could appoint a designated survivor to recruit more officers. We could tell him where we’re going so if we don’t return, he could find us. Oh, and we can let the origin know this so she knows even if she slaughters us all, she’s not safe! We could use that as leverage for…”

She stopped mid-sentence as she heard footsteps approaching. She quickly stashed the orb away as Agnes poked her head in. “We got lunch for all of you if you’re hungry.”

“Oh yes, thank you!” Gwynivara tried to maintain a normal tone, but she could tell Agnes suspected something was up. Agnes didn’t say anything though, and after she left, Gwynivara whispered, “How are we going to do this?”

In a large dining room, several Rebels ate sandwiches with Agnes in an awkward silence. Gwynivara couldn’t tell if it was due to a similar sense of wariness that they all picked up on or because she was a stranger to them. Riley broke the spell by saying, “Great sandwiches, Mrs. Ashling!”

Gwynivara wondered how she would convey vital information while Agnes was present, but she suddenly got an idea. “Oh yes, they remind me of the ones we ate by the Athas Ridge, remember Riley?”

“Athas Ridge? We never ate any sandwiches by the…” In the middle of his sentence, it clicked for him what Gwynivara meant. “Oh right! I remember now! Yes, these are very similar.”

Catching on to Gwynivara’s tactic, Kierram casually suggested, “We should take the Rebel officers there for a hike.”

“When?” Riley replied.

“How about tonight?” Bernadette proposed.

Trying to hide his growing anxiety, Riley probed, “Tonight? So soon? Shouldn’t we wait to do an outing like that?”

“If we don’t do it soon, it could be too late and we’ll never get another chance.” After Bernadette spoke, she saw her mother glance up, so she quickly added, “The first snow of the season is due anytime.”

Riley remarked, “I understand. I guess it makes sense to do it tonight, but some of your Rebels aren’t very experienced with…hiking. Are you sure you want us all go tonight?”

Gwynivara told him, “Actually, I was thinking that you should stay here and teach them everything you know. Then if we…get lost or something, you can lead them to where we went.”

“You want me to stay behind?” Riley’s eyes widened and his voice crackled a little, but he did his best to maintain a normal tone. “But if something happened to you all, that would make me in charge! Are you sure I’m the most qualified person to-?”

Kierram interrupted, “You’ve been with the Rebellion the longest. You know what needs to be done. If you can’t do a specific task, you know who to appoint for the role. No one could do it better than you. So, we’ll take the Rebel officers tonight, and you can hold down the fort here, okay?”

“But…!” Riley saw the logic, but Gwynivara could see that emotionally, he didn’t want to let them go.

Unexpectedly, Agnes put in, “Oh, come on boy! There’ll be other hikes! You can handle things on your own for one night! Personally, I’d take any excuse to stay home! Hiking is too much work! But whatever floats your boat, I guess. Just make sure you bring something to fend off those mountain lions!” To their relief, Agnes appeared to have totally bought that hiking alibi.

Riley sighed, “As long as it really is just one night!” Gwynivara, Bernadette, Kierram looked to the other Rebel officers in the room, who all nodded at each other. It suddenly got hard to eat the rest of their meal normally, not now that it was official- they were going to confront the origin tonight!

As the Rebel officers walked down the street in that neighborhood leading to the mountains, no one spoke. They were naturally a little nervous, but the tension didn’t really surface very much. The whole situation felt like a dream, and as they traveled, they wondered if they would ever get a chance to see any of it again- the houses, the flowers, the trees…A cold wind blew past them, making them tighten up their black hoods. Gwynivara glanced at the others and saw that her theory on walking in the middle of the road to avoid the streetlights had panned out, but from what she could see, she could tell everyone was lost in thought. Gwynivara remembered the old cliché that a person’s life flashes before their eyes when he or she approaches their time to die, but she didn’t feel that. It felt more like nostalgia, thinking about who played a large role in her past, wondering what could have been. John and Max just got here. They escaped a horrible fate in quarantine only to come to this days later. She wondered if Rebekah and Cody would end up married. Niqun would probably adopt the children that Kennith had saved, she had been thoroughly enjoying watching over them lately. Riley would probably hire new leaders and continue his administrative role. She hoped she would get to find out for herself someday!

She glanced to her left and discretely watched Kierram. Her heart fluttered just to have him there at that moment. She longed to hold his hand and receive the comfort of his touch during this harrowing ordeal. She wondered if they had the opportunity to have more time if they would ever have gotten together. She had no idea if he even felt the same about her. It saddened her to think that she may never know. Gwynivara mused about actually achieving this mission successfully and how nice it would be to run off with him. Or would they separate when it was all over? If they accomplished this, she thought, she had no idea if any of the Rebels would stay friends actually. Kierram looked in her direction, so she quickly switched her gaze to Bernadette. She didn’t want him to know she had been staring at him for a while. If he didn’t have feelings for her, she would hate to have an acute awkwardness to distract them at a crucial time like this. Still, even though she looked away, her heart pined for him.

Bernadette let out a soft sigh. Gwynivara felt a surge of gratitude for her presence. She didn’t need to take part in the Rebellion at all; she could have taken her mother’s money and hid like she did. She chose her morals over material goods and personal safety, which Gwynivara found to be a very selfless and admirable choice. She was incredibly kind and loyal, a great teacher…Gwynivara wouldn’t have made it this far without her! Interrupting her train of thought, Bernadette pondered reflectively, “When we were kids and dreamed about the future, we sure didn’t think we would end up here!”

Gwynivara slowly nodded. “When you and I were kids, we couldn’t drink out of the same water fountain or swim in the same pool! Thank god people fought back against society on that! Those rebels made the world a better place!” She realized how much her words tied into their current situation, and it became an odd moment between them all. Without saying it out loud, everyone wondered if their won Rebellion would have that kind of impact. Gwynivara reminded them all, “That’s why we’re here! Don’t forget, that’s why we’re doing…”

Before she could finish her sentence, a bright light ahead of their path blinded them all. Gwynivara’s mind had already been in a dreamlike trance, and this haze added to her confusion. She didn’t understand what was happening until a figure emerged that made her blood curl…

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 18

We think he got kidnapped!” Bernadette revealed.

“Kidnapped?” Gwynivara couldn’t wrap her head around the idea. It just didn’t seem possible, and her mind just wouldn’t accept it. “Kennith is a big, strong dude who could easily fight off an attacker! With or without his Venenatus Sanguis abilities! He’s one of the least likely people for this to happen to! Are you sure?”

Riley explained, “When you all left for the mission, I formed a search party like you said. We hadn’t even left the graveyard when we ran into two kids, scared to death, hiding behind a couple of tombstones. They told us after they escaped quarantine, they were trying to run to their grandmother’s house when some really tall man snatched them up and tried to bring them in his house. The kids were kicking and screaming enough to slow the man down, and Kennith heard them. He held a sword up to the guy’s neck and ordered him to let the kids go, which he did, but then he slapped the sword out of his hands! They started fighting physically, but the other guy was so big that it was easy for him to get the upper hand. At one point, he threw Kennith to the ground by where the kids were, and he whispered to them, ordering them to run to the graveyard. The man used this split second distraction to knock Kennith out. The kids did as they were told, but before they got out of eyesight, they looked back one more time and saw that he was gone.”

Gwynivara knew that the kids more than likely didn’t lie about the situation-they’d have no motive to do so, but something still didn’t feel right to her. “You said you think he was kidnapped. Kidnapped, not killed. How do we know he’s still alive?”

Bernadette told her, “The search party staked out the place. They saw what looked like a backhand slap to someone on the couch. No one actually saw him, but they heard some banging around. We were waiting until you started the officers’ meeting to determine what to do about this situation.”

Gwynivara found this so odd. She tried to comprehend what would possess the man to capture Kennith and hold him against his will. She mused whether or not the man got off on pain and torture or if he had a more sinister desire. She briefly considered calling the police and letting them do some good for a change by putting this prick behind bars, but that would risk Kennith getting arrested for quarantine evasion. She concluded that they would have to rescue him themselves, but something still gnawed at her. Before kidnapping Kennith, he tried to take the kids…that’s when it clicked for her. She uncermoniously got out of her seat, brusquely telling the others in the room, “Come on!”

They followed Gwynivara as she marched into the training room. The officers that had already assembled got startled by Gwynivara’s abrupt determination and snapped into attention. As soon as Bernadette, Riley, and Cody fell into place, Gwynivara stood before them and stated boldly, “It’s a trap!”

The officers were surprised by her assertion, and one of them reacted, “How do you know?”

“Because,” Gwynivara justified her belief, “the man tried to kidnap the kids first. He didn’t try to take them to authorities to claim the reward for capturing quarantine escapees. Then, when he’s stopped from doing that, he kidnaps someone totally different than who just tried to nab. Who does that? Criminals who prey on people stick to a type, and yes, I suppose it’s possible to kidnap anyone who just happened to be available for the sole purpose of torture, but how likely is that? The victims do have one thing in common though- they all have Venenatus Sanguis. If the man knew that, why would he risk his own life by putting them under extreme stress and making them conjure up a beast? What are the odds a kidnapper would pick up people at random not knowing that they all have this commonality? The only other explanation is that this guy works for the origin, and they’re trying to lure us in. They know we’re getting close to the truth, and they’re hoping we’ll feel we have no choice but to go in and save him. As soon as we’re inside that place, they’ll give us nowhere to run and do us in. That scenario seems more likely, don’t you think?”

Another officer inquired, “So, you’re saying that we shouldn’t rescue Kennith?”

“No!” Kierram refuted that notion. “She has a plan to use this knowledge to our advantage. We’re going to pretend to buy into it and spring a trap of our own!”

“Exactly!” Gwynivara didn’t expect Kierram to rush to her defense like that, but she felt so grateful to have that kind of solidarity. She continued, “We’re going to use this opportunity to plant the tracking device. We’ll deliver them what they want, at first…”

If it wasn’t for the adrenaline from anticipating an ominous mission, Gwynivara would have been exhausted! The walk took longer than she thought it would, and she wished that it wasn’t so far out so that they could get this done and over with! To keep her nerves from paralyzing her, she made small observations about her surroundings. The houses lined some grassy hills, and she guessed that the residents here liked being nestled close to town while simultaneously living almost within walking distance to the mountains. This neighborhood seemed like it was lower middle class, and she briefly wondered if they stood out walking through the area with their crisp, black suits. Kierram noted, “We’re almost there.” Butterflies fluttered through her stomach. She rubbed her head slightly, wondering if the wig would stay on during the battle. She didn’t know for sure what would happen, but she had a feeling it wouldn’t be so easy to rescue Kennith or to outwit the origin!

They didn’t need to see the address to know that they had come to the right spot. The house looked as though it had never been painted, and the wood was so dilapidated that Gwynivara was surprised that it stayed structurally sound. The fence, made of the same shabby material as the house, was lopsided in some areas, and the holes gave them a clear view of the unkempt grass on the side of the yard. When they rounded to the front of the home, they saw a void in the grass by the backyard gate, and the two of them instantly knew that this was where Kennith got knocked and dragged into the house. They both exchanged worried glances and tried not to think about it as they entered the front yard.

The pathway to the front door, made of that same rickety lumber, buckled slightly under their feet. Reaching the front porch didn’t provide much relief for them. Dirt covered everything except for the dead plants, and the state of the windows and door gave the place an almost abandoned feel to it. The only personal touch came from the slender, white figures dangling from the low hanging ceiling that made an unusual clinking sound in the wind. Kierram commented, “Wow, what strange wind chimes!”

Gwynivara studied them, and a sickening feeling rose in the pit of her stomach. “Those aren’t wind chimes!” Kierram took a closer look and realized that they were pieces of bone! He practically jumped away from fright, and Gwynivara inquired, “Do you think they’re human?”

Kierram pulled himself back into focus and replied, “Either way, it’s not a good sign!” Gwynivara grimaced and knocked on the door.

The few seconds it took for someone to answer seemed to last forever. Gwynivara heard footsteps creaking towards them, and she quickly fell into character. That didn’t stop her heart from pounding wildly as the door swung open. She expected to see a stereotypical convict, but what she got was a very tall man with straw-like hair matted down by a cowboy hat with alligator teeth around the base, which clashed terribly with the olive-drab green zebra striped vest he also wore. For a second, his cartoonish appearance threw her off, but the pronounced scowl and intense glare let her know that they had found the right guy. He growled, “Can’t you read?” He pointed to a sign that said ‘No Trespassing.’ He seethed, “Get off my property!”

Gwynivara coolly pulled out a piece of paper and informed him, “FBI. We have a warrant to search the premises.” While he read the sheet in total astonishment, Gwynivara pushed him aside and entered the building with Kierram.

Kierram and Gwynivara pulled out their flashlights and scanned the small living room. Bernadette had told her that the search party had seen the man slap someone in this room, but all they could see was old-fashioned, hardly used furniture. Gwynivara reasoned that he must’ve moved Kennith to somewhere less conspicuous, but that didn’t comfort her much. Although they had planned for this, she had partly hoped to get in and get out quickly. While they roamed the living room, the man staggered over and remarked, “I ain’t hiding no quarantine children!”

Kierram responded, “A witness placed them in your yard the night of the fire. If you’ve got nothing to hide, then you don’t have anything to worry about.” He saw some mail on a coffee table and casually glanced at the name on the address. “So, I assume you’re the homeowner, Rick Actaeon?”

He answered snidely, “I dunno, am I?”

“That’s him,” Gwynviara confirmed. “If he wasn’t, he’d deny it.” Rick pouted, not being able to refute her logic. As she peered at the couch by the window, she noticed blood spatter on its arm. “What happened here?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Rick said spitefully. “It ain’t kids’ blood.”

From behind a pair of wooden swinging doors, Gwynivara and Kierram heard a loud bump. Kierram asked, “What was that?”

“None of your business,” he retorted.

“We’ll see about that!” Gwynivara stated. They each took a door and slowly eased it open. The doors revealed a decrepit, neglected kitchen with flies hovering around a sink full of dirty dishes. The room appeared empty, but they were not so easily fooled. They tiptoed into the room, ready for an ambush. They heard another bump coming from a room in the nearby hallway. While Gwynivara crept towards the hallway, Kierram put his back to hers and eyed the room before him.

Gwynivara peeked down the hallway, which seemed dark and empty. She knew that they had not fully vetted the kitchen, but there was no signs of Kennith there. However, she did not budge. Something didn’t feel right. She thought, perhaps, it stemmed from the lack of escape routes in that part of the house, but her instincts seemed to indicate that they weren’t done in the kitchen. She heard another bump sound from what looked like the bedroom, but this area gave off an aura of being completely vacant. Puzzled and unsure of what to do next, she stayed rooted to the spot. A split second after she made that decision, a familiar male’s voice leered, “Well, well, well! What have we got here?”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 16

Concentrate!” Kierram’s voice echoed through the training room as he gave Gwynivara direction. She stood before him with her eyes closed and her hand clasped tightly onto the lustrous orb. “Send all of your energy to what you want to happen.”

“I’m trying!” Gwynivara’s voice cracked a little when she spoke.

Kierram gently instructed, “Ignore any thought that says you can’t do this! Take a deep breath and really feel it in your core!”

Gwynivara took a deep breath and turned off her thoughts for a moment. She listened to her heart pouding, and after a while, she could feel a vibrant fore pulsating through her veins. She sent her entire focus on everything going to the orb, which she held in her left hand. That entire arm tingled as it quickly flowed to the purple glass. Suddenly, the orb lit up and became very warm very quickly! She opened her eyes as it emitted a couple of sparks. Automatically, she opened her palm and dropped it. Kierram caught it before it hit the ground. “Sorry!” Gwynivara was alarmed from how breathy her voice sounded, and then she realized that she felt pretty physically drained.

“Are you okay?” Kierram’s eyes swept over her left arm, looking for marks. Gwynivara had to take a deep breath, but she nodded. Kierram let her catch her breath and saved her from the effort of speaking by checking for injuries himself. He brought her left hand to his eye level and examined it. Once it seemed like she was breathing normally again, he asked her, “Is that what you were trying to do?”

“No!” Gwynivara shamefully admitted. “I was too busy trying to send energy to it that I forgot to tell it what to do!”

“Don’t beat yourself up! You made something happen, and that’s a start.” Kierram assured her, which made her smile gratefully. Gwynivara noticed that Kierram still had her hand, and he rubbed his thumb across her palm. “It’s still warm! You’ve got a lot of potential there. Be careful!”

“Well, obviously!” Gwynivara sassed him, grinning while she did so.

“Okay, wise guy!” Kierram playfully threw her hand back at her. Gwynivara chuckled, and Kierram had a very toothy smile. Gwynivara relished in the fact that his mood was light enough to render such a reaction. It was quite the change from when they first met, and she hoped that it would last, especially because he had such a great smile. At that point, she became very aware of how close they stood to each other. She would have stepped aside for anyone else, but for a reason she couldn’t explain, she stayed rooted to the spot. She thought it should feel awkward right now, but it actually felt very natural. For a brief moment, they didn’t move or think, they were simply gazing at each other.

The spell was over as fast as it came. The training room door opened, and officers began to pour in. They stepped apart in order to assume their roles in this upcoming meeting. Gwynivara silently wondered what just happened, but she quickly dismissed it, reasoning that this sort of enchantment involved a lot of high emotions, which will always leave a strange effect in people. She saw Bernadette’s eyes flash a shade of twinkling, which made her decide that practicing before meetings were a terrible idea, especially today’s session. The Rebels would soon embark on a dangerous mission, and she needed everyone’s mind on its serious nature.

Once the majority of the officers had assembled, Gwynivara noticed something different about the group. “Where’s Kennith?”

The other officers looked around to confirm that Kennith had not shown up. They looked to each other for explanation but answered with a shrug. Riley flipped through the notes on his clipboard and told her, “Officers have been trickling in all night. Jose came in a few minutes ago actually.” Jose nodded to acknowledge the accuracy of this statement. “Let’s see…nope. I don’t have a record of Kennith returning. He could still turn up.”

“While we’re out, keep an eye out for him,” Gwynivara ordered. “If he doesn’t return within a couple of hours, form a search party.”

“I take it we’re going on a mission?” Bernadette inquired.

“Yes,” Gwynivara replied. “To pull it off, we’ll have to evaluate our newcomers and recruit as many officers as possible. After that, we’re gonna need a hell of a lot of disguises…”

Inside a military supply store, one worker sat behind a glass case of guns and played solitaire while another worker perpendicular from him sat behind a cash register while reading a newspaper and eating a donut. The shop is small, but since it was totally empty, every time one man flipped a card or turned a page, it echoed. The man playing solitaire gave a bored sigh. As the man with the newspaper flipped a page, he noticed a moving mass out of the corner of his eye. At first, he dismissed it and kept reading. After it registered in his head that this was an unusual sight, he lowered down his newspaper and squinted his eyes to see what it was. He could tell it was a group of people, but he couldn’t see who they were or what they were doing. He told his coworker, “Hey Ed, can you take a look outside?”

The man playing solitaire seemed confused but complied. “What the hell?” He could see that they were coming closer, and once he got a better clue of what was going on, he reacted repulsively, “Oh no!” He flung his cards down and stepped out from behind the counter just as they burst in.

A group of hippies chanted angrily and held up protest signs as they filled the store. The man with the newspaper barked, “Hey! You need to leave! This is private property!”

Bernadette responded, “No way, man! You’re encouraging violence and destroying the planet!” The rest of the Rebel officers vehemently agreed with her.

The disguised officers spread across the front of the store, shaking displays and knocking items down. The two clerks were so distracted by their chaos that they didn’t notice Kierram sneaking through the aisles and searching through the shelves. After a minute, he found the box he was looking for. He stashed it inside a wooden guitar case and dashed back to the crowd. He shouted, “Make love, not war!” The rest of the officers began to shout that too and started to pile out of the store.

Gwynivara expected them to head back to the Rebel headquarters without much fuss, but she knew trouble could be lurking around any corner. What she didn’t expect was to encounter it as soon as she left the store! A police officer pointed a gun at them and commanded, “Freeze!” Everyone stopped and put their hands in the air. The policeman radioed for backup, and the Rebel officers waited calmly. They had been prepared for this to happen eventually, and even though they didn’t know it’d be this soon, they weren’t too worried. “You dirty hippies are under-!”

“We didn’t do anything wrong!” Gwynivara interrupted him. “We made our point and left. There’s no law against that!” The other officers expressed their agreement with this point.

The policeman eyed them suspiciously, but after a moment, he reluctantly stated, “Fine. You’re free to go. But if I hear you guys causing trouble in this town again, your asses are all going to jail.” He picked up his radio and ruefully said, “Dispatch, this is two-four-five. Go ahead and cancel back up.”

As the Rebels started to leave, another police car showed up. The policeman immediately jumped out and brandished a knife. “Freeze! Don’t move!”

The other officer remarked, “What are you doing? I just canceled backup!”

The policeman ignored him and circled the bunch like a bird of prey closing in on their hunt. “All of you, hands up!” Everyone complied, but worry began to set in as his behavior became more and more unhinged. When he passed Gwynivara, she instantly recognized him as the surviving orderly! She now understood what sparked his behavior at the moment, but it didn’t help much. She thought furiously of a way to get out of this situation before he eliminated the threat on behalf of the origin!

The mad officer noticed that Kierram only had one hand up. “Put down that guitar!”

“Screw you!” Kierram spat.

The rogue policeman’s lip curled, and he brandished his knife, ready to strike. Gwynviara had always felt protective of her people, but something about seeing Kierram in harm’s way woke up her primal instincts. Before he could strike, she stepped out and seethed, “Leave him alone!”

The policeman, amused by her audacity, strolled over to her. “Sup babie! Allow me to introduce myself- I am the law! What I say goes- ya dig?”

“That man is also the law.” Gwynivara pointed to the other policeman, who looked too scared and confused to move. “He let us go, so you need to leave!”

The malicious officer stepped up to her face and growled, “I’m not going anywhere!”

Gwynivara could see his face twisting in thought. She inferred that him being this close to her allowed him to see past her disguise and stirred up some memories for him. She couldn’t let him identify her, and with fresh rage still pulsing through her veins, she acted swiftly. “Yes, you are!” She felt the heat of the moment surging through her body, and she quickly sent it to her fingertips. Purple sparks beamed electricity at him, sending him flying backwards! The Rebel officers were shocked, but the other policeman as well as the spectators who had gathered couldn’t even fathom what just took place! Gwynivara suddenly felt drained and almost collapsed. Kierram and Bernadette caught her, and everyone ran away before anyone else tried anything on them.

The green skinned woman awoke suddenly from her sleep. She immediately dug inside her dress pocket and pulled out a green orb. She needed confirmation! When she saw the orderly policeman unconscious and laying on a newspaper stand with papers scattered everywhere and electricity still popping up on his body, she knew that this could only mean one thing. Outraged, she let out a blood-curling scream!

Gwynivara jerked out of her sleep and let out a gasp. Bernadette covered her mouth and whispered, “Shh! We’re almost there!”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 5

Today is my first day in the Rebellion, and out of all the things to worry about, I’m most worried about what to wear!” Gwynivara remarked as she shuffled through a rack of clothes in a cavern shop. “I know, typical girl issue, right?”

A man with pepper-gray hair slicked to the left, large, thing metal glasses, and pale skin smoked a pipe as he sat behind as he sat behind the counter and casually kept an eye on the store. He shrugged and told her, “Listen sweetie, everyone wants to make a good impression on their first day! Sometimes you don’t get a second chance, so I get it!”

Gwynivara examined a garment, trying to decide if she wanted wear it today or not. “Ugh! I don’t know! What do the other officers wear?”

The man raised an eyebrow. “You’re an officer? That’s impressive! You got more guts than I do!” Gwynivara smiled gratefully, but before she could figure out what to say back, the man went on, “Most of the other officers are men, so they don’t care that much. Bernadette came from a rich family and brought most of her clothes with her, so don’t expect to find anything like hers here!” Gwynivara giggled, but that statement struck a chord with her; how Bernadette went from luxury to this environment must have quite a story to it! The man concluded, “Just go with anything that you would exercise in.”

Gwynivara found some lightweight pants and a matching shirt, but she suddenly noticed, “It looks really close to what I have on now!” She glanced at the clock on the wall behind him. “Crap! I don’t have time to look for something else!”

“It’s only for one day, dear! If you want, I can take a look around and find some items your size and set them aside for you,” he offered.

“Really?” She got a little thrown off because she wasn’t used to so many people treating her so kindly.

He shrugged again. “I got nothing better to do.” Gwynivara handed him the clothes she picked out, and he found the tags on them so he could see her size. “Okay, got it. Come by at the end of the day, and I’ll show you what I find.”

“Thank you so much, uh…” She fished for his name.

“Riley.”

“Gwyn.”

They shook hands, and Gwynivara complimented him, “You’re so nice!”

Riley chuckled, “Most of the time I’m pretty sarcastic, but you’re obviously new, so I’m on my best behavior right now.” Gwynivara laughed, and Riley concluded with, “Have a good first day!”

“You too!” Gwynivara replied automatically, but after she processed the interaction, she cringed. “I mean…”

“I know what you meant, darling.” Riley took a smoke but grinned. “It’s okay, you can go!” She smiled gratefully and left.

In the kitchen, Gwynivara didn’t have a lot of time, so she searched for food that could get prepared quickly. She settled on toast, and as she waited for her bread in the toaster, she heard someone enter from the entrance behind her. When she turned around, she saw Kierram and turned right back around. Kierram grumbled, “If you’re expecting an apology, you can forget it!”

Gwynivara shrugged and casually said, “Okay.”

“I-!” Kierram got thrown off by her nonchalant attitude. “What do you mean, okay?”

“I mean I don’t expect an apology from you.” Her toast popped up, and she began to put butter on it. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“What, now you’re mocking me?” Kierram accused.

Continuing to spread butter on her toast, she told him, “No. Actually, I genuinely don’t want your apology. I want to make my breakfast and do well in training. I could care less what you do or don’t do.”

Kierram scoffed, “Oh, now you don’t care! You cared enough last night to barge into my room and put your nose into my business, but now-!”

Gwynivara, who had already finished preparing her food, looked him square in the eye and stated, “I care for you as much as any other person or animal in that I don’t want you to die, but I have my own life to worry about, so I don’t care what you do or don’t with yours!” Kierram didn’t respond other than to look utterly stunned. While she walked out of the room, she regarded him coldly, “See you at training!”

“I don’t do training!” Kierram sneered.

Gwynivara turned her head and gave him a piteous glance. “Oh, okay then.”

As she walked down the hall, Kierram called after her, “I could, I choose not to!”

Not looking back, Gwynivara responded listlessly, “Good for you!” Kierram viscerally growled in frustration and went back into the kitchen.

Later that morning, Gwynivara found a heavy oak door at the end of the left hall. With great effort, she pulled it open and nervously entered. The training arena reminded her of a high school gym except for the dark, rocky floor. The spacious, well-lit room had soft, foamy mats placed strategically throughout the area. Nine men and Bernadette were already practicing sword fighting with slender, wooden poles. Emorick hadn’t arrived yet, so she surmised that they did this as a warmup exercise. With everyone else paired up, she thought it’d make sense to approach one of the men who formed a group of three. However, it felt too awkward to just in like that since she was so new to the group, so she hesitated. She silently debated whether or not to join them or to wait for a calm moment to introduce herself to everyone.

Her decision got made for her as one of the men in the group noticed her. He stopped in his tracks, nudged his buddies, and pointed behind them. They turned around were surprised to see someone standing there. The three discussed something, and one of them walked towards her. Gwynivara felt a rush of gratitude and really respected the Rebellion for its thoughtful people. When he got closer, she observed a smug smile on his face, the kind of smile that a person bears when they’re good-looking and know it. Gwynivara sincerely hoped that this interpretation wasn’t true, but the way he posed in front of her, leaning on his pole while maintaining way too much eye contact, she was certain her presumption would prove to be accurate and groaned.

The man very smoothly asked her, “Come to watch us practice, bunny?”

Scowling, Gwynivara informed him, “Actually, I’m here to practice. I’m an officer too.”

He raised his eyebrows in mild admiration. “Oh really? Well, feel free to practice on me anytime!” He either didn’t notice her disgusted expression or he didn’t care because he went on, “Seriously, I’d love to see your sword-work!”

Before Gwynivara could let out a noise of revulsion, she heard one from behind her. She turned around and was surprised to see Kierram standing there! The man must not have noticed Kierram giving him a dirty look because he urged, “Come on, let me have it!”

Reaching into a tall crate next to him, Kierram suggested to her, “You heard him, let him have it!”

He tossed her a pole, and anger impulsed her into it. She raised her arm and, using all of the strength in her muscles, she whacked him in the stomach! The force of her strike took the air out of him for a moment. The room fell silent as Emorick entered. Gwynivara still felt miffed about the situation, but she hung her head shamefully, fearing the worst from Emorick. Instead, Emorick ordered, “Keep going!” Although this slightly shocked her, Gwynivara obliged and hit him in the arm and then again in the opposite leg. Hiding his grin, Emorick regarded the man, “Come on, Kennith, fight back!” Kennith genuinely tried to fight back but couldn’t get a hit in.

When Gwynivara got a good hit on the back of his head, Emorick instructed, “Alright, that’s enough. Stop!” She adhered to his direction, feeling vindicated. Emorick stood over Kennith, who rubbed his head pathetically, and told him, “All soldiers will treat each other with respect if they want to remain in it. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir!” Kennith responded civilly.

“Good,” Emorick addressed him, “Now go get an ice pack from the first aid station. You’re dismissed for the day!” Kennith could not get away fast enough and dashed out of the room! As soon as he was out of sight, Emorick directed, “Alright, everyone, gather ‘round!” He sat on an apple box on the other side of the room while the others sat cross-legged on the floor before him. He saw Kierram hesitate to sit, and clearly Emorick did not expect his presence. “Kierram? You’re here!”

Everyone turned to him incredulously. Gwynivara expected him to say something snarky, but instead, he pointed out, “You act like I’m the new one here!”

That brought their attention to Gwynivara, who clumsily waved hello. “Hi! I’m Gwyn!”

Emorick added, “She’s our newest officer. You’ll have to get to know her later though. We have more distressing news to discuss before we practice.” He reached into his pocket and brought out that purple orb. He showed it to the group, and when they leaned in close, they saw a local news article that showed a middle-aged man with light colored, slicked back hair, a bushy mustache, and a thin physique standing proudly with his hands on his hips, which had the effect of showing off his police badge on his belt. The headline read: Chief Forsythe Cracks Down on Venenatus Sanguis Fugitives. Emorick informed them, “It says that he’s hiring more officers specfically for the purpose of rounding up more people with the disease to bring them into quarantine!”

“No!” a couple men cried out.

Bernadette commented, “Well, looks like we’re about to get more crowded in here!”

“That’s true!” Emorick agreed. “We’re gonna increase our patrols in the city, of course. However, Chief Forsythe is relentless and won’t stop until every last one of us is exterminated! Our patrols will only be like a tourniquet-we won’t truly stop the bleeding until we fix the wound. We’ve gotta do more research on the cure!”

“How are we supposed to do that?” one of the men asked. “Every time we go to the library, every book written on the subject is checked out.”

“We could see if the hospital has any brochures,” another man suggested. The others murmured in agreement.

Gwynivara didn’t share their sentiment. “I worked for that hospital for over a year and a half, and trust me, their brochures aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on!”

The others were a little disappointed to hear this but accepted her input. The man who made the suggestion snidely inquired, “Do you have any suggestions?” He crossed his arms, clearly not expecting her to come up with a better solution.

Gwynivara shyly brought up her idea from last night, “The Public Health Center is doing research on Venenatus Sanguis, so they must have access to a lot of resources on the subject. Now, I know only authorized personnel would have access to the material, but I heard that they were looking for volunteers. So, if we signed up to help them out, we could sneak in and peak at what they’ve got.”

For a moment, no one spoke. Eventually, one man remarked, “That’s suicide! If we got caught-!”

Kierram interrupted, “I think it’s a great idea!” Everyone, especially Gwynivara, seemed stunned by his new-found allegiance. He affirmed, “What knowledge we could gain is worth the risk. I’m in!”

“Me too!” Bernadette asserted.

Emorick probed, “Are you sure you wanna take on a task so dangerous on your first day of the Rebellion?”

“We don’t have time to waste!” Gwynivara answered with absolute certainty.

He couldn’t argue with her logic, so Emorick consented, “Alright, Gwyn. You have my permission to head this mission.”

Kierram and Bernadette stood behind her. Hardly believing her fortune, she mentally started to prepare herself to plan this out. She began to head out, and the other two followed her. Before they could leave, Emorick called after them, “Just do me a favor…” Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram all turned around and listened. “…Come back to us alive!”

Gwynivara vowed, “We will.” As soon as they turned back around and left, the three of them tried to hide their ominous sense of foreboding.

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!”