Monday, September 29, 2008

Chapter 103: A Level of Exposure

~ When they reached the top of the stairwell, Andrew paused momentarily to turn and face Jaden and Takyle.

"Do we have any kind of a game plan for this deal?" he whispered. "And am I the only one who finds it kind of strange that we haven't met anybody else on our way up here?"

"You think that they know we're out?" asked Jaden.

"I don't have any idea. Could be coincidence I suppose."

"Well whether or not they know we're out isn't really going to change what we have to do that much. At most it robs us of our element of surprise. An advantage but not integral," Takyle said. "Now let's talk about what it is that we have to do. I have two copies of a set of keys that I was told were for rooms up here. In case we get separated one of you should take a set."

"Damn," muttered Andrew. "If I'd thought about it I bet Thomas had keys on him as well."

"Yeah well, too late for that. The longer we stay here talking about it the more likely it is that someone will find us. Here." Takyle handed one of the small keyrings to Andrew. "First we have to find our packs and then we have to find a way out. We'll try to stay together and search methodically. If we run into anybody we'll hide if possible and if not, subdue. Ready?"

"Yes," said Andrew.

"Yes," Jaden echoed.

Takyle gave Andrew a nod and he edged the landing door open a crack to look out, and then pushed it just far enough to slip through with Jaden trailing him. The hinge made an almost inaudible creak as Takyle let it close behind her and the latch clicked. In the surrounding silence that one sound was like a gunshot.

Team 6 hurried down the wide hallway that they found themselves in. After having grown accustomed to moving with a full pack on, Jaden felt surprisingly light now without it.

"There's always a bright side."

Not far from the stairwell the hallway opened up to transform into a floating walkway extending out over a courtyard some twenty feet below. The walkway and white banister were supported by tall marble pillars, the stone polished to a high luster.

"Where are we?" murmured Jaden, looking out over the expansive tiled court.

"Well if I had to guess I'd say that we're still inside the mountain," answered Andrew.

On the other side of the walkway the walls closed back in and the hall continued with doors on both sides. Andrew approached the first one on the right and listened at it for a moment before trying the knob. The catch disengaged and he pushed it open, his knife raised in the other hand. He took a quick glance around the room and then shook his head.

"It's empty. On to the next." Andrew carefully pulled the door closed and on they went down to the second door on the right which turned out to be similarly devoid of anything at all. It wasn't until Andrew tried the third door on the left that they were given pause.

"This one is locked." ~

Friday, September 26, 2008

Chapter 102: Additional Information

~ "Oh hey, check it out," said Andrew, looking down at his chair as he passed it. "It has electrodes on it. Guess I did get off easy. What's the plan, Boss? Where are we going?" Takyle paused at the door.

"Good question. We need to get our packs back, but I don't know where they are."

"I think maybe I could get us back to that big room we fell into, but we don't really have a guarantee that our packs are still there," offered Jaden.

"Let's go ask What's-his-face in your cell, Jaden," Takyle decided. "Quickly now children." Jaden pulled open the door and glanced up and down the hallway twice to ensure it was clear, then strode quickly back down to the neighboring cell with Andrew and Takyle behind him. They all slipped into it and the man on the cot jerked his head up to see who was there. He looked incredibly disheartened to find that it was only Team 6. Also more than a little frightened.

"Nice going, guys," said Andrew in a tone of approval. He stepped over to the cot and bent to unfasten the gag, but before he pulled it from the man's mouth he paused.

"Ok now buddy, we have some questions for you. I'm going to take this gag out now, but if you yell or scream I'm just going to have to kill you. Am I perfectly clear?" The man nodded vigorously and Andrew lowered the gag from his mouth. Takyle moved over to stand beside the cot.

"Where are the backpacks that you all took from us back in that big room?"

"They were taken upstairs. Kathleen wanted them searched."

"Where "upstairs"? How do we get there?"

"Go left from this cell and take the first right turn you come to. There's an entrance to the stairs just around that corner. Go up three flights. I honestly don't know what room they've got your stuff in, I swear I don't."

"Very good," Andrew told him. "I hope you haven't lied to us about any of this stuff though..."

"I haven't, I swear I haven't."

"Well then I guess you don't have anything to worry about," Takyle told him cheerfully. Andrew slipped the gag back between the fellow's lips and straightened. He looked from Takyle to Jaden, who was standing at the door, keeping a watch on the hall. Andrew raised an eyebrow.

"Guess we're ready to go then."

Takyle nodded. "Onward and upward."

As they left the cell behind and moved down the hallway, leaving hostile and unknown ground for yet more hostile and unknown ground, Jaden noticed a strange feeling in himself. It wasn't trepidation; that had been a constant undercurrent throughout the entire race. Jaden recognized this new feeling to be a waning of eagerness.

Yes, he wanted to get off this level and, no, of course he didn't want to be caught, but he was terribly tired. His body ached all over, both from the various beatings it had taken and the near constant heightened state of arousal and hyper-awareness that it was being forced to maintain. At this point Jaden almost felt that any sensation at all; sight, sound, touch, even instincts and feelings, were very nearly painful in their vividness. He could feel everything around him and the sensational overload was almost staggering.

He could not shut down though. Of all places, he could not shut down here, where other people were counting on him. He felt a hand touch his shoulder and he whipped his head around. It was Andrew. He smiled at Jaden.

"Doin' alright there, Jay?" Jaden nodded quickly and began to turn back to continue on down the hall but Andrew's hand gently restrained him. "Why don't you let me take point?" Andrew asked.

Jaden glanced back at Takyle and she nodded her agreement with a concerned look in her eyes. Gratefully Jaden moved back a spot in the line, giving Andrew the lead while Takyle took up the rear.

"You just chill there for a bit," Andrew counseled him. "We've got this."

Jaden immediately felt the muscles in his shoulders relax. Never in his life had he known anyone who could make him feel as safe as Andrew could with a word. Most of his childhood and adolescent relationships had been marked by their capacity for upheaval, whether good or bad. And the trend had been mainly bad.

As they proceeded on their way Jaden did not completely zone out, but he did have total confidence in Takyle and Andrew to respond to any incidental danger. Slowly his guard relaxed and some of the ache behind his forehead began to fade.

"You're pretty lucky, Jaden," his mind told him.

"Yeah, I know," Jaden told his mind. ~

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Chapter 101: Timely Resolution - Bonus Chapter

~ This time Jaden led the way back up to Andrew's cell door. He placed himself to one side of it, and Takyle stood opposite of him. They paused for a moment and Jaden drew a deep breath. He could hear Andrew's voice faintly inside. He lifted the knife in his right hand and placed his left on the door handle. Takyle nodded as he met her eye and without further pause he flung the door inward.

As he burst into the room, time slowed for Jaden and he used that split second to take stock of his surroundings. In the center of the room Andrew sat bound to a chair. A cot was pushed against one wall and there was Thomas, perched on the edge of it, hands on knees. Jaden saw him look up, surprise sweeping over his features. His right hand began to drop, down the outside of his leg, toward the top of his boot.

By the time Takyle and Jaden had taken the two strides to reach him, he was rising to his feet, unsheathing his small dagger as he straightened. With his fist wrapped around the hilt of his knife, Jaden threw a punch into Thomas' stomach, twisting to the left as he did to place his body between Andrew and Thomas. Before Thomas could make another move Takyle delivered a kick aimed at his wrist, flinging his knife from his hand and across the room with a clatter. He recovered more quickly than they would have hoped and knocked Jaden away with two hard punches. As Takyle leapt at him, he caught her in the air, slamming his elbow into her chin and throwing her to the ground.

Jaden had scrambled to his feet and flew at Thomas again, knife poised to end this, when something happened that took them all by surprise. As Thomas came around to finish Jaden, so he thought, Andrew somehow managed to stand halfway, still bound to the chair, and whip it around, smashing its legs into the side of Thomas' knees. Thomas cried out in pain, his legs collapsing beneath him.

Andrew stumbled and fell to the ground as Thomas pitched backwards against the cot, smacking his head on the rail at the foot. Jaden jumped over Andrew and dove at Thomas, putting all of his weight behind a punch that crashed into Thomas' face. Jaden scrambled back, shoving himself off of Thomas, fist raised for another go, only to stop himself when he realized that his last punch had already put Thomas out cold. The large man lay half on the cot, half off, blood pouring from his nose, his head cocked over at a weird angle.

Jaden looked immediately to his right to locate Takyle, finding her just getting back to her feet, a hand on her jaw. Jaden fell to his knees beside Andrew on the floor.

"Andy, did he hurt you?" he gasped, only now noticing that he was out of breath.

"No, I'm ok, but I can't get up with this chair strapped to me."

"Hold still," Jaden told him, running his hands over the straps binding Andrew and finding them to be fastened with locks. Takyle knelt beside him and Jaden noticed a line of blood dripping from her mouth.

"I think I might have the keys for these locks," she said, pulling the rings from her pocket and sorting through them. In short order she had found the correct one and had managed to release Andrew. He pulled himself free of the broken chair and sat up, rubbing the shoulder he'd landed on.

"You look awful Jay, you ok there?"


Andrew gently tilted Takyle's chin up to look at her face and she quickly wiped the blood from her lips.

"And what about you, Ta?" Andrew asked softly.

"I'm fine."

"He hit you pretty hard; did you bite your lip?"

Takyle nodded. "Yeah, jaw's a little numb."

"Well thanks for saving me, guys. I was beginning to think that I might be in some real trouble there."

"You were," Takyle informed him with a smile, getting to her feet. Her teammates stood with her and Andrew turned back to Jaden.

"Thomas told me that you got out briefly and that he beat you up. Sure you're alright?"

Jaden nodded. "Yeah, still hurts like hell, but I'm getting used to that." He almost said something then about Ms. Scarlet, but stopped himself. He'd tell Andrew about that later. Maybe.

Andrew stepped over to where Thomas' knife had landed and picked it up.

"Ok, well let's get the friggin' hell outta here while we still can. Oh, and by the way, I'm very glad that both of you are still alive." ~

Monday, September 22, 2008

Chapter 100: Complications

~ Jaden followed Takyle a short distance back up the hallway as silently as possible until she stopped and gestured at a door. For a moment Jaden stood still and listened to what was happening on the other side of it. Distinctly he heard Thomas' voice, speaking in a conversational tone. Jaden beckoned to Takyle and they backed away from the door.

"That's Thomas in there," he whispered to her. "The fourth guy that was in charge of the ones that caught us." Takyle made a face that told Jaden she definitely remembered Thomas' leering attitude towards her. It also told Jaden that she probably wouldn't pass up the chance to give a little back if it were handed to her.

"Think we can take him together?" she asked in a murmur.

"Probably, if he's the only one in there."

"Let's not assume that he is," advise Takyle, passing Jaden the knife she'd taken. "Here, we're going to need to go in fast and use whatever element of surprise that we have. Keep in mind that he has Andrew in there and may be in a position to hurt him."

Jaden nodded, hefting the knife in his hand to get a feel for it. The thought that Andrew was in the middle of a possible hostage situation very much bothered him, but at the moment there was nothing for it. He startled when, off in the distance, he heard footsteps.

"Someone's coming," he hissed urgently. Takyle did not wait to hear the sound for herself.

"One? Which way?" she mouthed and he nodded, pointing back in the direction they had come from, past the room that he'd been kept in. She immediately spun and rushed back that way, Jaden imitating without question as she ducked back into his cell. She pushed the door closed but for a tiny crack, pressing her face to the frame to watch the hallway. Jaden saw her stiffen and knew that someone had come into view. She turned to him and mimed the plan. He nodded and she laid her fingers on the door handle, her improvised blade in the other hand. At the very last moment she shoved it in her pocket and pulled the gag out of her waist band instead.

Jaden didn't have time to question any move that she made as at that very moment the footsteps drew even with the cell door. Just as the heavy tread passed it, Takyle whipped the door open and they leapt out right behind the man. Without hesitating she threw the gag over his head, keeping a hold on both ends to drag him backwards. He dropped the glass of water he'd been carrying and his hands flew to his throat, a look of complete surprise on his face. The glass smashed on the concrete floor, splattering water on Jaden's legs as he leapt forward to help Takyle pull the man back through the doorway into the cell. Jaden shoved the door shut behind them and then pressed his knife into the small of the man's back.

"Hands on your head, now! And don't say a word," he ordered. Takyle let up the pressure on the man's neck enough to allow him to breath. After one more quick prod from Jaden's knife, he did as he'd been directed.

"Put him on the bed," Takyle breathed. Jaden pushed him towards the cot while Takyle kept the gag tight around his neck. "Lie face down," she directed and as soon as he was down she placed a knee in the small of his back and nodded at his legs. While she held the man's upper body down, Jaden swiftly buckled the man's ankles into the thick leather straps, and then bound his wrists as well. Takyle pulled the gag from under the man's neck and stood up. She looked over at Jaden, and drew a deep breath.

"Wow, second time that method has worked for me today. Maybe I should stick with it." She bent and gave the man that they caught a quick pat down, removing two keyrings that looked exactly like the ones she already had, and another knife, along with a small radio.

"Ok, we have another knife, so that's good. Shall we take another shot at getting Andrew?"


Takyle took a moment to slip her gag into the man's mouth and fasten it around his head. "There now, you just stay here and be a good boy." She turned back to Jaden and nodded. "Ok, let's do this." ~

Friday, September 19, 2008

Chapter 99: On the Up and Up

~ Jaden lay in his cell where Thomas had left him, bound securely to the cot; his mind persistently interrupting his desperate search for some way out with thoughts of his teammates and worry for their well being. He had just reached the point where he was beginning to think that there was absolutely no hope for escape when he heard a soft sound outside of his cell. He fell still and turned his face towards the door. After a moment's pause there was what he thought sounded like someone gently tapping twice.

"What the hell?" For a split second Jaden's mind scrambled to explain the noise, and he only found one answer. Heart in his throat over the thought that it was only a futile wish that it might be Andrew or Takyle, he opened his mouth. And then shut it again. What could he possibly say?

"Um, hello?" He jumped when a bolt clanged followed by some faint scrabbling and finally a lock click. The door opened a crack and a familiar face peaked around it.

"Takyle!" Jaden gasped, keeping the presence of mind to hold his voice low, even through his surprise. Takyle flashed a grin at him and slipped quickly through the door, pushing it almost to behind her after she'd pulled a key on a ring out of the lock. She was beside the cot in a blink and bent to inspect Jaden's bonds.

"How did you get loose?" whispered Jaden in amazement. At this point he wasn't completely convinced that he wasn't hallucinating.

"Good story; I'll tell you the whole thing later. Suffice is to say that it was awesome. You alright? You look like shit."

"Well I feel worse than shit, but I'll live," he answered. Takyle unbuckled the strap across his abdomen and pushed it off, before going to the ones on his ankles. "Is Andrew out too?"

"No, his cell is just up the hall. When I passed it I could hear at least one other person in there talking to him. We need to get out of here as quick as we can."

"No arguments here," murmured Jaden as she moved to release his hands from over his head.

"Happen to know where we might be able to get more weapons?"

"No idea."

"Alright, I guess we' it by ear," said Takyle as she freed Jaden's left wrist.

"Ok, whatever you say." As soon as his other hand was loose Jaden swung his feet off the cot and sat up. As he came to his feet he glanced at his wrists. They were both bloodied and lined with bruising.

"Tried to get out on your own, huh?" asked Takyle.

"Yeah, think I almost had it too, just before you came in," he groaned, flexing his shoulders gingerly. Takyle laughed quietly and moved towards the door. Jaden followed. "Thanks Takyle. I owe you a solid, that's for sure."

"Anytime; the pleasure was mine. Now let's go rescue Andrew's skinny ass and get out of this damn place."

"Ok," said Jaden as Takyle pulled the door open and slipped out into the hall after a quick look both ways. "We might as well get the rest of him too while we're at it," he added in a whisper. ~

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chapter 98: Essence of Time - Bonus Chapter

~ For the present time Takyle's main concern was that it would only take one person wandering down the hall to hear her three captives shouting and let them out of the cell. When that happened she had no doubt that the level would be immediately locked down, and she would be found. Locating her teammates and getting at least off of this "cell block" was of the most vital importance.

She kept close to the wall, as if she were ready to melt into the white paneling if someone happened upon her. Several yards up from her cell the hallway ended in a tee. She leaned out, carefully checking both ways only to find it empty, and turned left again.

When she had been blindfolded Takyle had been the last in line and just before she'd been out in her cell she remembered taking a left turn. When her blindfold had been removed neither of her teammates had been in that hall with her. Because of this she deduced that when she'd been turned, those in front of her had continued going straight. She would not describe herself as being comfortable with that logic, but for the moment it was all she had to go on.

Only a few yards from the tee in the hall, Takyle approached the door of what appeared to be another cell judging from the locks. She slipped up to it, standing a bit to the side and leaning close to catch any sound that escaped it. Faintly she heard a man's voice, speaking in a reasonable tone. There was a long pause and then a second voice answered; a voice that Takyle recognized immediately as belonging to Andrew. A glance down revealed the bolts on the door to be open. Based upon that, Takyle assumed that Andrew must be restrained. As of yet, she'd only heard the one other voice but she had no guarantee that there was no one else in the room. What she did know beyond a doubt was that the longer she lingered in the hallway, the greater the chance that someone would see her.

For a very brief moment Takyle was torn, but at least for now whoever was in the room with Andrew seemed to simply be engaged in conversation. She decided to leave Andrew, try to find Jaden and assess that situation, and then come back, hopefully with Jaden and a few more weapons. With that resolution Takyle turned swiftly from the door and continued on down the hall. She was shocked by the immediate brick that fell in her stomach at the idea of leaving Andrew. She glanced back at the door, listened to his voice for a half second longer, and then moved quickly off, swallowing any hint of trepidation that threatened to give her second thoughts.

"Girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do," she breathed. ~

Monday, September 15, 2008

Chapter 97: Necessary Actions

~ "Put your hands against that wall," Takyle ordered. "Do you have the keys for these cuffs?" The man nodded. "Unlock them. One false move and I'll slit your throat."

Takyle watched the man closely as he reached into his pocket and slowly drew out a ring of keys. He chose a small silver one and raised it to his neck. Takyle pushed her left wrist out slightly to allow him to unlock the cuff, keeping the blade in her right hand pressed to his skin. As soon as the lock clicked she transferred the blade to her left hand and the process was repeated.

"Drop the keys and put your hands behind your back," she ordered, taking a step back. Within a moment Takyle had slapped the cuffs on her former captor's wrists. "Down on the floor; lay on your stomach."

Once the man had gotten to his knees she made him pause long enough for her to quickly pat him down; removing his belt, a small knife from his boot, and another ring of keys.

"What are these for?" she asked, holding them over his shoulder for him to see.

"They're for upstairs."

"How many more people are out in the hall?"

"Just one," he said. Takyle assumed that he was lying.

"What are you supposed to do in the event one of your prisoners gets loose?"

"Subdue them. If they get off this level we sound the alarm."

"Well thank you. You've been incredibly helpful." Takyle pushed the man down on his stomach and bound his ankles with the strip of cloth she'd taken off the bed. She then looped his own belt through the chain on the cuffs and the knots on his feet, pulling it tight so that his knees were bent, leaving him quite literally hogtied. Takyle pocketed both keyrings and stood.

"Now I want you to scream like I'm killing you. And if you're not convincing, I actually will. Get my drift?" The man nodded. "I'm going to stand behind the door there and you'll do your thing," Takyle informed him, stepping away to take up her previous position. When she gave him a silent nod, the man hesitated for only a second before opening his mouth and yelling loudly for help as he'd been told. Takyle heard a scuffling outside in the hallway and then the door swung open and two men charged in.

The first one stupidly ran right over to his compatriot on the ground, while the second man recognized something to be awry and skidded to a stop just inside the door. Takyle ducked out from her hiding place and the man dove at her, just missing as she jumped out of the way. As the man turned around for another go she leapt out of the doorway, catching the handle and slamming it closed just as he reached it. She drove one of the bolts home only the barest fraction of a second before the man would have been able to jerk the door open again.

Takyle quickly whipped her head around to see if there was anyone else in the hallway and found no one. The ridiculous levels of adrenalin that had allowed her the quickness of wit and foot needed to pull off that last stage of her daring escape left her hands shaking and her heart pounding in her throat. She refused to think about how close that last man was to pulling the door open when she'd bolted it, nor what would have happened if all the locks had required keys. Faster than these men she was; stronger, not a chance.

Keeping her vent cover turned blade and the knife she'd requisitioned to hand, Takyle turned immediately to her left and moved quickly and silently off down the hall. Time to locate Jaden and Andrew. ~

Friday, September 12, 2008

Chapter 96: Planning Takes Priority

~ All things considered, Takyle had made better progress than either of her team mates. As soon as she'd been put in her cell, she'd immediately looked for windows or cameras and, finding none, set to removing herself from her bonds. She'd gotten her hands around in front of her by stepping through the loop of her arms, very nearly dislocating her shoulders in the process, and then proceeded to remove the gag that had been placed in her mouth. Once that was out she'd spent a second seeing if it would be possible to free at least one hand from the cuffs. She quickly decided that the effort was futile, and so gave up and went to planning an escape instead.

She kept the gag in her hand, in case it should come in handy later, and searched the room for any more potential weapons. The pallet against one wall didn't have any blankets or sheets, but it did have a cloth cover sewn over the thin layer of padding. Within moments Takyle's fingers had found a weak point in the fabric near one of the seams. With a quick jerk she ripped a long strip of cloth free and, hanging it around her neck, continued searching the room.

After a moment Takyle noticed the vent on one of the walls. She quickly tucked her erstwhile gag into her waistband and stepped up on the bed to take a closer look at the small metal cover. She bent and unlaced a boot, then caught one of the hooks under a lace and torqued it outward. When the small metal tab was at about a 90 degree angle she lifted it to the metal cover and used the bent lace hook as an impromptu screwdriver. Her boot did not prove to be the most efficient tool ever made, but the cover came off easily as soon as she'd loosened the four screws enough to complete the job with her fingers.

Once she had the vent cover off, Takyle hopped to the floor and stomped her boot back on. She studied the cover for a moment, considering her options, and then knelt on the ground and used the heel of her hand to begin to bend the four short sides of the vent cover down. She stood and gave the edges of the cover several good stomps to finish the job. When she picked it back up what she had was a nearly perfectly flat, sharp-edged square of metal. Almost good enough.

After several minutes spent rubbing the edges of the metal on the concrete wall, Takyle had even managed to sharpen the edges a bit more.

"Hello MacGyvered throwing star and/or knife," she murmured, studying it thoughtfully. A second later Takyle heard footsteps outside of her cell and she quickly sprang backwards to stand behind the doorway. A lock clanged.

Go time.

Takyle braced herself, placing one of her feet slightly further out to keep the door from hitting her if it swung too far inward. There was the sound of one more lock and a man's voice saying something unintelligible, and then the door opened.

As the man who had taken her prisoner stepped into the room Takyle leapt forward, simultaneously throwing the chain on her cuffs over the man's head, jerking it tight across his throat, and slamming the door behind him with a quick kick. In her right hand she held her improvised blade, it's sharp edge pressed to his skin. She reached up to whisper viciously right into his ear.

"I've got two different ways I could kill you here; I suggest you do what I say." ~

Monday, September 8, 2008

Chapter 95: When Negotiation Fails

~ A surprisingly short distance from Jaden's cell, Andrew was not having as easy a time of it as Jaden had wished for him. At the moment he was being strapped into a questionable looking chair, still gagged, and hands still cuffed. The man who seemed to be in charge of him had not forgotten that Andrew had nearly broken his nose and he was, as a consequence, a good deal less gentle than he could have been. The fact that Andrew couldn't fight back at all emboldened the man who was, like most bullies, cowardly in nature.

Once he had Andrew firmly strapped into the chair, he pulled the gag from his mouth. Andrew coughed, glad to finally be rid of the object. His tongue was dry and his throat felt parched. His captor stepped to the door and opened it.

"He's ready," he said to someone outside. "Go tell Thomas." Andrew wondered who Thomas was and if he might be slightly more inclined to be helpful than this guy. He heard a door close not far away and in a moment a man stepped into his cell. It was the fourth man from the group that had taken them. Andrew thought a few choice expletives but kept his face neutral.

"Thank you, Chase," the fourth man said, not taking his eyes off of Andrew. "Go and get an update on Kathleen for me."

Chase nodded and slipped out of the cell, closing the door behind him. Thomas walked a slow arc to stand behind Andrew.

"You seem to be at my mercy."

"Yeah, and your point?" Before the last word was clear of Andrew's lips he felt the sharp point of a knife pricking the back of his neck.

"Well my main point was that your life is mine if the idea happens to strike my fancy."

"Fair enough." The knife withdrew and Andrew heard it being re-sheathed. Thomas circled back into his view. Andrew couldn't see where he'd put the knife. It wasn't on his belt, so probably in a boot. A quick sweeping glance revealed no other weapons on the man that were immediately obvious.

"But I don't want to be forced to kill you," Thomas continued. "I'd prefer that you just give me what I need and then maybe I'll let your little friends off in relatively good health."

"How do I know they're not dead already?" asked Andrew.

"You don't."

"May I have a drink?"

"Sure." Thomas opened the cell door and spoke a quiet word to whoever was outside, and then closed it again. "While we're waiting for that, why don't we talk?" he said, sitting down on the pallet and leaning forward, elbows on his knees.

"Alright," conceded Andrew. "How about we start with you telling me what all that noise was out in the hall just a little while ago?"

"You really want to know what that was?" asked Thomas. Andrew nodded. "That was your friend Jaden trying to make a run for it and consequently getting the shit beat out of himself. But don't worry. He's still alive, for now. Says that he might be able to draw the map that was given to that pretty young lady that you were with. What do you think about that?"

Andrew shrugged, choosing to ignore the baited way the man had mentioned Takyle. "Maybe he can. How should I know?"

"Well, if you know that he can't then you might want to speak up now. Kathleen is already awfully angry with him; I don't imagine that finding out she can't get the map from him would help his case much. If he can't, it'd be best to just get that out now, before I tell her what he said. Get me?"

Andrew nodded solemnly. "Oh yeah, sure bro, I feel ya'." He kept up his perfect poker face even though his mind was racing frantically. "Quick question: If I can draw the map for you, would you let them go?"

"Why sure! No reason to keep them here if you can supply us with the map!" agreed Thomas, just a tiny bit too enthusiastically. He was obviously lying through his teeth. Andrew sighed. He hated lose-lose situations. ~

Friday, September 5, 2008

Chapter 94: Unexpected Questions

~ Jaden frantically jerked at the restraints binding his hands above his head and when that had no effect, forced himself to calm down and try a more methodical approach. As he worked at the strap holding his right hand, he lifted his head enough to look around the tiny room. It sure looked like the same cell. The door was closed and he could hear no sounds from the hallway, but it would be stupid to assume that he was alone at this point. The ache all over his body had settled back into a dull throb with several points retaining their former glory to serve as white-hot nexuses of pain.

Several minutes later and the only headway Jaden had made was to rub both of his wrists raw in his bonds. The bolts on the door clanged and he went still. Thomas stepped inside.

"So you're still alive," the man said, conversationally. "You might wish I'd done a bit more damage later on. Kathleen is pissed."

"Yeah I guess so," Jaden answered, watching Thomas carefully. Perhaps if he played his cards right he could get another chance at this.

"Did you look at the map that the girl you're with supposedly lost?" asked Thomas. Jaden was slightly surprised at the change of subject.

"Maybe. Why?"

"Can you draw it?"

"Shit," thought Jaden. This could easily go very well, or very, very badly for him. He had done no more than glance at the map that had been given to Takyle, so there was no way he could actually duplicate it even if he wanted to. If he said yes though, maybe Thomas would at least give him one hand free. Then again maybe not.

A chance was a chance.

"Yes, probably most of it at least." That was sort of the truth. He remembered it being square with some mountains on it.

"Good. Maybe that will give you something to help convince Kathleen not to kill you quite as fast as she would have. Fast being a relative term of course."

"If she's going to kill me anyway, why would I give her information that she wants?" demanded Jaden. Thomas shrugged.

"People do strange things when they're in agony. Sometimes the shadow of a thread of a hope is enough to make them grasp."

Jaden gazed at Thomas impassively for a moment.

"Well thanks a lot for this bit of heartening conversation, Tommy. Very cheering. The message of hope you spread is invaluable to those of us in dire straights."

Thomas smiled. "I do what I can."

"That being the case, perhaps you could answer a question for me," Jaden said casually.


"Once I've died my long, undignified, and horrible death and Kathleen has what she wants, what's going to happen to my friends?" At this point Jaden was assuming that neither Takyle nor Andrew had violently rejected someone's sexual advances or, put more succinctly, rape attempts, and subsequently tried to stage an escape.

Thomas turned towards the door. "Well that might depend on whether or not you get that map right." He stepped out into the hallway. Jaden let his head roll back.

"Shit." ~

Monday, September 1, 2008

Chapter 93: Not All Fun and Games

~ Jaden was shocked at how drastically having his hands cuffed behind his back slowed him, but even so he thought he still had a fighting chance at outrunning Thomas. The man didn't exactly have a sprinter's build after all.

Jaden darted around the first corner he came to, intent on lengthening the distance between himself and his pursuer, and barreled right into the man that had captured Takyle. With surprising speed the man's fist connected with Jaden's face, knocking him to the floor with a powerful blow that left his ears ringing. Through the fog drifting across his vision Jaden saw Thomas come around the corner and skid to a stop above him, breathing hard.

"What the hell is going on here?" demanded the first man.

"The little son of a bitch kicked Kathleen! Get somebody down here to take care of her right away; I'll deal with him."

Jaden felt the man who had punched him move off and he forced his eyes open. Thomas bent over him.

"That was a stupid thing that you did, little buddy. I'm going to fuck you up so bad; but it won't be anything compared to what she's going to do to you."

Jaden closed his eyes.

"I had to try."

Thomas' first kick drove into Jaden's side and the second caught him in the stomach. By the third kick, aimed at the side of his head, Jaden's tenuous grasp on consciousness was mercifully slipping. His last coherent thought floated up from the depths of his mind in a ludicrously cheerful voice.

"Way to not kick a man when he's down there, Bucko!"

Jaden's first thought upon waking involved his mind demanding why in the hell he was here and how could he get out while he retained his life, accompanied by overwhelming pain that seemed to radiate out from his very core in angry, pulsing waves. He forced his eyes open and winced at the bright light glaring down on him. After a moment he figured out that he was staring at a concrete ceiling. On one side of him was a concrete wall with a small vent on it about halfway down.

"Ow, ow, ow, ow!" chanted one half of his mind, while the other side frantically scrambled to catch up with reality.

"How long was I out? Am I back in the same cell?" He attempted to sit up and discovered that he couldn't. His arms and legs were bound to the iron bars of the pallet he was lying on and a thick leather strap was cinched tight across his waist.

"Well this can't be a good thing," his mind contributed helpfully. ~