Cheska’s strangled cry brought the two men’s attention towards her. She clutched her head; eyes wide with unseen horror and mouth open in a silent scream. Her legs suddenly gave out. The man was ahead of Fred and caught her before she could hit the pavement. The stranger said something to her that was too low for the doctor to hear. His forehead creased in concern when the woman didn’t respond.
Sirens wailed in the background. The police and ambulance were coming. It meant help for Cheska and inquiries for him and the stranger…and, eventually, her.
Fred approached the woman. He called her name softly.
How in the world are we going to explain this situation? They’ll haul us into the nuthouse if we tell them, he thought.
The silence dragged on.
“Cheska.” He lightly tapped her cheek. Her breathing quickened. A panic attack, his instinct told him. “Cheska,” Fred said firmly this time. He held her face in his hands to force Cheska to look at him.
She was stuck in a dark place he couldn’t reach.
Where are you, Cheska? Fred searched her eyes for awareness. Please. Come back to me. Then her gaze met his. Recognition flickered within the depths of her fear-filled eyes. Hope flared in his chest. Quickly and calmly, he spoke to her: “Cheska. I need you to breathe through your nose, alright?” Fred held her hands. They were ice cold, so he began to rub warmth into them. “Inhale. Exhale.”
“Sis!” Louis broke through the jumble of cars and the gathering crowd. He took his place next to her, gave the doctor a questioning glance, and skimmed over her body for injuries. Satisfied with his examination, Louis’ gaze wandered to the unconscious men and the dead driver. His mouth pursed into a thin line.
Even the descendant of the Mysts’ founder would be at a loss on how to explain the incident to the authorities and the media. Too many witnesses, Fred thought. A number of phones were directed at them. One tap on an app’s button and their story would become viral online. Fred fervently prayed Louis had a plan this time around.
“Is everything set?” Louis asked.
Fred frowned until he noticed Louis wore an earring. The stone had blue light blinking at the center.
“Two minutes. Good. On three then.” Louis glanced at Cheska once more. She had stopped hyperventilating and stared into space. He picked her up. “Ready when you are. One. Two. Three.”
A phone rang nearby, followed by another, and another until the whole area was a cacophony of ringing phones. Louis dashed into the throng of people, whose eyes were riveted to their smartphones and some on their neighbors. Fred and their rescuer ran after Louis.
At their two o’clock, a bearded man answered his phone, saying “Hello?”
“Hey! How’d you get this number?” A muscular man with cropped hair said, his meaty hand spun the other fellow to face him.
“I-I didn’t call you! You called…”
It’s a diversion, Fred realized, staring at Louis’ back. His gaze flicked to the younger man’s burden. Long locks of reddish brown hair swayed and bounced at Louis’ every movement. Her messy bun had come undone sometime between the crash and their escape from the scene. Right behind them, he saw the rescuer studying Louis and Cheska closely. A flash of annoyance coursed through Fred and shook his head. What is it with this guy that irked him?
He didn’t have time to process it further. When they entered a narrow alley, the street they had come from vanished. Tall ancient trees surrounded them instead. Louis didn’t bother to stop and the rescuer was unfazed at being transported into a different world.
They ran in a straight line. Trees and plants moved to let them pass then returned to their original positions afterward.
The forest was silent. Leaves and twigs crunched and snapped in their wake. Not a single creature did they encounter from the time they arrived. They were quite alone, yet his skin prickled at the back of his nape. Someone or something was watching them. He caught the rescuer glance at him sidelong. The man gave a curt nod then stared straight ahead. A muscle at his jaw twitched. He had sensed it as well. For once, Fred was glad the rescuer was on their side. If they were in danger, he could at least rely on one more person in a fight.
A wall of creeping ivy appeared up ahead. The uneven ground leveled into a manmade road; the sudden change almost made Fred lose his balance.
They were back in the city. Fred searched for landmarks to identify their specific location. The place was familiar, though he couldn’t recall where they were.
Louis stopped near the wall. His lips moved near Cheska’s ear, but Fred missed what he said. Her reaction was to wrap her arms around the younger man’s neck. A sob escaped her. Instantly, Fred stepped closer at the same time Louis backed a step from him.
“Let’s just go,” Louis said in a quiet voice, avoiding Fred’s gaze. Then he thrust his hand into the thick vines. A beep sounded under the foliage.
“Please state your identity,” a computer voice requested.
“Robert Louis Roucan,” he promptly replied.
“Identity confirmed.” A partition slid open. “Lockdown will commence in three seconds. Three,” Louis tilted his head towards the opening, urging Fred and the rescuer to go in first. “One.” The door shut, the entrance concealed once more by ivy.
Fred pulled his gaze away from the wall. Louis continued to set a quick pace. For his size and stature, he was surprisingly strong to have carried Cheska all this time.
The humidity was thick in the air. Plants and flowers surrounded them, their scent heavy in the air. Compared to the world they had set foot in earlier, they were still in the city. Species of the kingdom Plantae were labeled and grouped by genus and a footpath was available for their use.
A few minutes had gone by when Fred saw, at the corner of his eye, blurry figures following them. He halted in his tracks and faced them directly. One of the men also stopped and stared back at him. Yellow hair. He raised an arm and the man did the same. Fred looked above him. A glass dome separated him and the outside world.
A greenhouse. Fred shook his head. Why hadn’t I realized it sooner? The security at the entrance was a dead giveaway. Then again, he had been distracted with Cheska’s condition. He pushed the thought at the back his mind only to think about the owner of the place; the only person who could stop Libya’s President-General’s plan of world domination. Fred sighed. It sounded so cliché to him. People had outgrown the notion of conquering the world after the water levels rose throughout the planet; and subsequently, the rise of the Mysts from the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Libya’s dictator, however, proved that some people stuck to the old ways, Age of Discord – the period of greed, power and corruption.
He looked up from his musings and discovered he had been left behind. But Fred now knew where they were and didn’t bother running after them. The path would lead him to his group.
Later, he found them sitting on the bench – rather, Louis sat and Cheska used his thighs as a pillow while the rescuer paced to and fro. Louis leaned on the metal armrest, his chin resting on his hand. He watched over a sleeping Cheska, though he himself looked far more exhausted than the rest of them combined.
Shadows played on Cheska’s tear-streaked face as light filtered through the canopy of leaves above them. Fred rarely saw the women in his life cry, especially after his parents’ divorce. He felt helpless whenever a female shed tears unrelated to physical discomfort. Worse still, Fred felt responsible for Cheska’s distress. His hand itched to wipe away the tears tracks on her face. He involuntarily took a step forward.
“Ahem,” the rescuer cleared his throat.
Fred welcomed the distraction and looked at him.
“Shouldn’t we be going to…”
Louis’ eyes narrowed before demanding: “Who are you?”
“I saved the couple.” The statement sounded more like a question. The rescuer gave Fred a pleading look.
“He did,” Fred admitted.
“Usually, when I ask someone that question, they give me a name,” Louis said.
“Today isn’t what you’d call a usual day,” the rescuer said, shrugging.
“Do you know this man?” Louis’ head slightly turned to Fred, his gaze never leaving the man he was interrogating.
All I know is, he can annoy the hell out of you, Fred wanted to say. He said instead, “No.”
“Since that’s the case,” Louis said slowly, “we’ll just have to wait for security to pick him up for questioning. They’re worse than the police, by the way.” The last bit was directed at the rescuer whose Adam’s apple bobbed.
“Just a name?” Fred raised a brow.
“His real name.”
“It’s Gerry,” the man said in a resigned tone. His eyes darted everywhere but to them. Then they landed at last on Cheska. “Your father knows who I am.”
“He doesn’t deal with people like you.”
Gerry lifted an eyebrow this time.
“Not directly, anyway,” Louis muttered. In a louder voice, he said, “Do you have proof?”
The man’s gaze slid back to Cheska. It seemed to take him a while to answer. The easy-going mask fell away replaced by an inscrutable expression.
“Well?” Louis demanded impatiently without raising his voice.
“Oh. I do have one.” Gerry’s brown gaze shifted to him. “But I can’t tell you. Part of the deal I have with daddy dearest, see?” He grinned then winked. “For now.”
“Gerry, Gerry, Gerry.” Louis shook his head in mock disappointment. “You’re with two very powerful men—”
“You are? You look like you should be in school, junior.”
“—who could do serious damage to you. I can suck the information along with your precious memories with a single touch. Fred—”
“You watch too many movies.”
“—on the other hand, can fry your brain by will.”
“Okay. That did not make sense at all. If you fry my brain, you can’t harvest it for information.” Gerry chuckled in amusement, earning him a death glare.
“I could still zap you,” Fred cut in. He lifted his hand and made a show of sparking electricity across his fingertips. “Just enough to get the truth out of you.”
“There’s always a first time,” Fred smiled tightly. Gerry was right, but having it stated in a matter-of-fact manner pushed him to actually consider it.
Gerry met his gaze squarely for the first time since the fight at the scene of the accident. Calculation took over his expression. “Maybe. Not today, though. He slightly turned to the sound of footsteps against the cobblestoned path.
Men in dark suits strode over to them and spread out, surrounding them completely.
“We have them,” one the men spoke in an earpiece similar to Louis’ earring. “Copy that. There is one unidentified foreigner with them.” Pause. “Understood.” He stepped towards Louis and said, “Sir, your father wishes to speak with you and the doctor.”
“Gerry’s coming with us,” Louis drawled, behaving like he didn’t care a whit of what other people thought of him.
“Wait, what?” Fred asked in disbelief.
“Gerry’s coming with us.” Louis covered a yawn with his hand. He reclined languidly on the bench with Cheska peacefully asleep on his lap.
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: Sorry this took a while. Had to revise the chapter several times. I wasn’t happy with it… Plus, I have reports, assignments, and 3 projects to finish this term. That means less time to write and edit. Huhu.
Again, am apologising for the delays and thanks for patiently waiting.
Anyway, likes and comments are welcome and much appreciated. 🙂
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