The Train: Episode 85

“One by one they’ve taken Dr. Ricer, Lucy, and now Nicole,” Michael thought. “Where are they? Are they dead?”

“You must not give up. Perhaps they can be saved,” Father Salvatore encouraged Michael.

“What?” Michael asked, struggling to think.

“There is a chance you may be able to save them,” Father Salvatore repeated.

“Yeah,” Michael responded, half listening.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen. He was part of a team. Elliot had said they would clean up things together. How was he supposed to fix anything without the others?”

Michael felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Father Salvatore looking at him through the cracked lenses of an old pair of glasses.

“It’s not too late,” he told Michael.

“I hope not,” Michael said, picking up his shotgun. “If they can be saved, I’ll do it!”

“You can,” Salvatore smiled. “They are still alive.”

“How do you know that?” Michael asked, not sure whether to listen to the priest.

“Did you see them dead?” Salvatore asked. “Did you stand over their bodies?”

“No, but I saw someone grab Dr. Ricer, a tall man inside the burning cabin. And Lucy and Nicole just disappeared.”

“Abraham,” Salvatore said.

“You think Abraham took all of them?”

“I’m afraid so,” Salvatore said. “Abraham Carver was the groundskeeper at Summerhill Medical Center. His father raised him to love that place. In the end, Abraham saw people in one of two ways. Either they were helpless and in need of protection or threats he must eliminate.”

Father Salvatore walked to the doorway, his robes sliding along the dusty floor, and looked up and down the hallway.

“I opened this place in the wake of the Summerhill tragedy hoping to cleanse the property of the evil that had consumed it,” Salvatore said as he turned and walked back into the room.

“I tried to bring Abraham back into the world, back into society, but he had been alone too long, alone with the spirits that roam the halls of Summerhill. He was innocent at heart with a birth defect that made it impossible for him to speak. Poor thing didn’t understand people at all.”

Placing a hand on Michael’s shoulder, Salvatore gave Michael his backpack and said,

“Come with me. We must find Abraham.”

Salvatore turned into the hallway with Michael at his side.

“In the end he really meant no harm to anyone, that is until Scott Morgan had his near death experience. After that, Scott had a twisted view of me, which forced him to believe I had power he could simply take. This drove him to madness and sadly, he eventually took Abraham with him. I was imprisoned before I could stop him, and soon this place fell under his control,” Salvatore explained as they moved farther and farther away from the resort.

“How does any of this save my friends?” Michael asked, growing a little impatient.

“Now that Scott is dead, I believe I can get through to Abraham and have him lead us to your friends,” Salvatore explained.

Michael began to relax a little as a cautious hope crept into his heart.

“Where are we going?” he asked. “The resort is the other way.”

“Abraham spends all of his time in Summerhill, and it is there he will have taken your friends,” Salvatore said.

“Then that’s exactly where we’re going!” Michael said, once again feeling the fighting spirit.

* * *

The hallway lead to a stairwell going down then to a door that opened up onto the grounds of what was once Summerhill Medical Center. Standing like a great monster in the moonlight, the blackened ruins cast their shadow across the grass. The cool night breeze after the rain stirred the leaves of the vines and creaking trees embracing the skeleton that once was Summerhill. As Salvatore and Michael stepped through the door and onto the wet earth, the thunder sounded in the distance as the storm moved on.

“Poor dear Serena,” Salvatore said.

“I’ll say. What exactly happened to her?” Michael asked. “She seemed like the only normal person here. To just kill yourself like that. Strange.”

“Sadly, Serena was never as you say normal. She was the only child of an abusive father. When I found her, her body and spirit were broken. I took her in and raised her as my own child. I was hoping to bring her to a safe place where she could one day go out on her own and start a new life. But the more time I spent with her, the more I realized that while she had escaped addiction to drugs, she was becoming addicted to me. She clung to me. You see, I was the father figure she always wanted. In the end, she failed to protect me. That was more than she could take,” Salvatore explained.

“But why kill Scott Morgan, I mean Suriel, if you were safe?” Michael asked.

“She saw Scott Morgan as someone who was trying to take away everything she held dear. As soon as she had the opportunity, she killed him to protect me then took her own life to punish herself for failing me. Or perhaps she did it because she could not stand the thought of losing me again.”

Salvatore wiped his hands on his robes and looked out over the grounds of Summerhill.

“Abraham is in there somewhere. Of that I have no doubt,” he asserted.

Then he took a deep breath and said,

“Let us go find him and get your friends.”

When Michael reached into his bag, he found that his revolver was missing.

“Where’s my gun?” he asked, checking all the compartments.

“The revolver?” Salvatore asked. “You must have left it back in the room. Or perhaps you lost it when we made our way through the tunnels. Do not worry. Once we have found your friends, we will go back for it. I am certain it will be safe until you return.”

Despite his uneasiness about the lost weapon, Michael decided to let it go, at least for the moment.

“What was all that stuff back there in the rooms?” he asked.

“Scott was simply trying to take for himself the power he thought I had. I told him I have no power. I am just an old man who tries to help people in whatever way I can,” Salvatore heaved a sigh of regret. “But he would not believe me.”

“No, I mean with those prisoners,” Michael said.

“I do not understand,” Salvatore said.

As Michael described what he had seen in the rooms before they found Salvatore, the old man recoiled.

After a moment, a tear glistened in Salvatore’s eye as he said,

“Sadly, I do not know what Scott was doing. This makes my failure at protecting them weigh even heavier upon my shoulders.”

“Sorry,” Michael said feeling pity for the old man.

“What Scott did is not your fault. Oh but that is not what you meant, is it? You are sympathetic because of my distress and trouble.”

Michael nodded, “Yea.”

“Do not apologize. Compassion is a rare quality in a world so consumed with itself. But I have faith that this world can still be saved. We just need to discover a way to fix the mistakes of our past.”

“Fix the past?” Michael asked confused.

“A mere figure of speech, son. I mean we must remove the emotional scars left us by the trauma in our lives.”

As Salvatore continued to talk, Michael reached out from time to time to keep the old man from slipping on the wet grass and mud of the hospital grounds. And with every step, Michael couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching him.

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Published in: on June 18, 2018 at 12:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Prophet of Starfall: Episode 30

On the roof of the Pearson Plasma building, as Martin Armstrong held a gun on Elizabeth insisting that she fly him to safety, Nathan saw three possible outcomes to the events unfolding before him. He hoped he could guide Armstrong to the best one, which really wasn’t that good.

“I’m not helping you escape, Armstrong,” Elizabeth growled. “Now get that gun out of my face before I tear it from your hand!”

“Martin,” Nathan said, trying to sound calm.

His nerves growing more and more frayed, Armstrong’s eyes darted back and forth from Elizabeth to Nathan.

“You have kids don’t you?” Nathan asked.

Armstrong nodded.

“A boy and two little girls. Am I right?” Nathan asked.

At the mention of his children, Armstrong began to focus on Nathan more than he did Elizabeth.

“How long has it been since your wife passed?” Nathan asked.

Armstrong hesitated then said, “Three years.”

“Renee was only two at the time, wasn’t she?” Nathan asked.

Armstrong nodded, tears filling his eyes.

“She won’t remember her mother. Do you really want her to grow up without a father as well?” Nathan questioned.

Armstrong shook his head.

“What was your wife’s name?” Nathan continued.

Armstrong swiped at a tear running down his check and answered,

“Annabel.”

Nathan smiled and said, “Annabel. But she didn’t like that name, did she?”

Armstrong lowered his weapon just a hair as he replied,

“Said it made her sound like a fairytale princess. She preferred the name. . .”

Armstrong trailed off and Nathan finished his thought with,

“Bells.”

Armstrong nodded and smiled at the memory for a moment. Then he looked up at Nathan and said,

“I didn’t hurt anyone. I couldn’t hurt anyone. Jessica came onto me. It was during a field trip Hastings had arranged for his class. I didn’t take advantage of her I swear. She made the first move.”

Nathan nodded as he slowly moved closer.

“You’re being set up, Martin. I know that. But if you don’t turn yourself in, you’ll not only make it easier for whoever murdered Lincoln and Hastings to get away with it but you may also deny your kids their father,” Nathan said.

“What kind of a father could I be from prison?” Armstrong asked.

“You won’t be there for long, Martin. I promise. Whoever is doing this has targeted me as well. They’ve tried to take me out because they know I’m getting closer to finding out who the real murderer is,” Nathan said.

When Armstrong began to lower his weapon, Nathan’s instincts took over causing him to suddenly duck and turn out of the way just as a rifle fired somewhere behind him. The bullet sliced through the air striking Armstrong in the shoulder and throwing him backwards. As he fought to regain his balance, he fell over the side of the building. Elizabeth took three steps and dove after him.

Slowly Nathan got to his feet and looked around him. The shot could have come from only one direction. Nathan knew the sniper was long gone, so he ran toward the stairs and headed for the ground floor.

* * *

Elizabeth felt the wind rush past her as she quickly caught up with Armstrong and matched his speed. She grabbed his leg then moved to his side. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she spread her wings and slowed their descent.

The moment she touched down, she shouted,

“Need a medic here!”

Detectives Shields and French hurried over and saw that Armstrong was unconscious. Blood from the bullet hole in his shoulder soaked into his shirt.

“You shot him?” French snapped as he applied pressure to the wound.

“No!” Elizabeth defended. “If I had, he would need a priest not a medic.”

“Calm down,” Shields said. “What happened?”

“He—,” Elizabeth began.

“Move aside,” the EMTs interrupted.

“I’ll tell you what happened,” French barked, stepping out of the way. “She tried to kill our suspect!”

“If I had tried to kill him, he’d be dead. I don’t miss,” Elizabeth retorted.

“Everyone quiet now!” Shields ordered as the ground rumbled.

“I’ll ask again,” she said. What exactly happened?”

“Somebody shot him,” Nathan said jogging up to them, “but the bullet was meant for me.”

“What? Someone tried to shoot you?” French asked, his words dripping with sarcasm.

“Yes,” Nathan said, ignoring the insolent remark. “Apparently I’m a difficult target.”

“Thanks for bringing him down safely,” Shields said. “Armstrong has a lot to answer for.”

“I don’t think he’s guilty,” Nathan offered.

“Trust me,” Shields said, patting Nathan on the back, “he’s guilty.”

The moment Shields touched Nathan’s back, his vision went white.

* * *

When his vision cleared, Nathan was standing in the street across from Sapphire City Park. Frantic parents grabbed their kids as uniformed police hurried everyone to safety. Nathan stepped back when a vehicle roared past. Printed on the side in bold letters was CBPD Bomb Squad.

Nathan slipped through the crowd and headed into the park. No one seemed to notice him. A fallen banner announcing the Crescent Bay Founder’s Day Picnic lay across his path. Up ahead on a stone bridge a few feet near a monument dedicated to the sailors who founded Crescent Bay stood Jericho, a bomb strapped to his chest. Nathan saw that it was identical to the ones that had killed Lincoln and Hastings. Detective Cassandra Shields stood just in front of Jericho with the sun behind her.

“I need to get out of here,” Jericho said. “The bomb won’t hurt me, but it could kill hundreds.”

“No, Jericho. Don’t move,” Shields pleaded. “If you don’t stand still, the bomb may go off.”

“I can’t risk anyone getting hurt. If I jump high enough, the bomb should go off in midair,” Jericho explained.

“It’s too risky,” Shields said. “Let the bomb squad try and remove it first.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t let anyone else get hurt,” Jericho said, bending his knees to jump.

“Jericho, wait!” Shields pleaded.

“Perhaps I can help,” a voice boomed from behind them.

Nathan turned around to see a figure floating in midair. The sun behind him obscured him from clear view, but Nathan could see that the sunlight reflected off his suit.

Before he could get a better look, Nathan’s vision went white again.

* * *

When Nathan came to, he saw Detective Shields staring at him with a look of concern.

“Are you okay?” she asked. “You kind of wandered off there for a moment.”

Nathan laughed it off and said,

“I’m fine.”

“Good, good,” Shields said. “Okay you need to spin by the station later to make a statement. I don’t know about you, but the chief will be glad to hear this is all over.”

As Shields walked away, Elizabeth stepped close to Nathan and asked,

“What did you see?”

Nathan paused still trying to take it all in.

“This is not over,” he sighed. “Not by a long shot.”

Unsettled: Episode 12

The Coldwater Crown Hotel was the crown jewel of Coldwater’s buildings. Its penthouse suite was reserved for only the most influential and powerful. Kristina had always hoped someday to spend her honeymoon in one of the spacious plush rooms with its chandeliers and marbled bathroom. Now she was in the hotel all right but gagged and tied to a chair opposite Detective Marquez while Charles Heath watched them with his strange little eyes.

“Sorry, boss,” Charley said. “I did what you told me, but I wasn’t sure if I should kill these two or bring them here. So I brought them here.”

Heath looked up at Charley in exasperation.

“Charley, you are an idiot. I want you to know that. But I can work with your incompetence. Now go on downstairs and wait for our guest. He should be arriving shortly.”

As Charley and Gordon left the room, Heath said,

“It’s tough to find someone this day and age that you can trust.”

Heath looked from Marquez to Kristina waiting for some sort of reaction. When neither of them responded, he nodded.

“Solid point. Wait right there. I want to go tell them what you said.”

Heath turned and headed for the balcony, closing the door behind him.

Kristina frantically looked around for a way to escape, something to cut her restraints. But when she spotted two men watching her, she sighed and started working on a different plan.

* * *

Stationed on the balcony of the Coldwater Crown Hotel were four of Heath’s best men. Councilman Parker was seated beside Police Commissioner Victor Thorn while Shaun Lambert, a member of Coldwater’s city council and Parker’s rival, stood in a tight group with Scott Marshall, owner of Foundation Financial, and Terrance Marsh the mayor.

“Well everyone,” Heath greeted as he walked out onto the balcony. “I’m certain you’re wondering why I called you here.”

“You didn’t call me! You kidnapped me!” Marsh complained.

“Yes, yes. You and Marshall. But I knew you wouldn’t rsvp a party invite, so I had to improvise,” Heath laughed.

“I brought you here because, as you know, things in Coldwater are changing. Unfortunately, I will not always be able to run the day-to-day operations, so I have gathered you here because you will run things for me,” Heath said.

When Parker stood up in protest, Heath held up a hand to quiet him.

“Right through those doors, I have a police detective and a civilian who saw you come out here, so I will put this as simply as I can manage. Join me or I tell them how evil every single one of you is then let them go. Or agree to work for me, becoming incredibly rich, and I deal with the witnesses. What’s it going to be?”

“I hired you to clear my name so I wouldn’t have to worry about prison,” Parker roared. “You work for me, and I will not stand here and let you take over my city!”

Anger flashed in Heath’s eyes and he grabbed Parker by the shirt, lifted him, and tossed him off the balcony. As Parker screamed, Heath waited until he hit the pavement below with a thud then said with a smile,

“There now. You no longer have to worry about prison.”

Turning around to the other men, Heath gestured to the balcony.

“Of course if you don’t like either option, you can always take the express exit. Think about it. I’ll be right back.”

* * *

A few feet away, Billy stood on the sidewalk in the pouring rain and watched as people gathered around the dead body of Councilman Roger Parker.

“Well it would seem their arrangement has come to an end,” Jack said.

“Shame it had to end that way,” Victoria disapproved.

“He had it coming,” Lucas growled.

“Nothing more we can do about him,” Dylan sighed. “We need to rescue the others.”

“Yes we do. My favorite part,” Eddie said with a broad grin.

Billy slipped through the crowd to the front doors of the Coldwater Crown Hotel. The lights were out and the building was empty.

“How did he empty out the building?” Victoria asked.

“Who cares? Gives us the environmental advantage,” Lucas pointed out as he pulled the doors closed and locked them.

* * *

Heath came in off the balcony and walked over to Kristina and Marquez.

“Look. I don’t want to kill either of you, but this is a business deal, so I would like to offer you something other than dying.”

He began to pace as he spoke.

“The man I released from jail, the same one who’s been on my heels a little closer than I like, is on his way here. I need you two to do me a favor. When the smoke clears and this is over, I want you to tell everyone that he was responsible for everything that happened here. After all, what good is a plan without a fall guy? Can you do that for me?”

Heath removed Marquez’s gag.

“Release me at once, and I’ll tell the DA you cooperated.”

“Well that wasn’t what I hoped to hear,” Heath said slipping, the gag back over her mouth.

Turning to Kristina he said,

“Let’s hope I have better luck with you.”

But when Heath removed Kristina’s gag, she snarled,

“Untie me so I can stab you in the neck.”

Heath quickly slipped the gag back on Kristina’s mouth despite her protest.

“Well that was worse.”

“I guess you’ll both just be two more victims for the crime statistics.”

Suddenly the door to the suite opened and one of Heath’s men burst in.

“Sir, he’s here,” he warned.

Heath smiled and answered,

“Good. Now I get to find out how good he really is.”

“Do I tell the others, boss?” the man asked.

“No, no,” Heath corrected. “We don’t want to spoil the surprise, do we?”

* * *

Connor Lawton, one of Heath’s men, led a team of four through the halls of the Coldwater Crown Hotel’s first floor. Their orders were to clear the hotel and let no one slip in. Connor had complete confidence in his team. So far, there had been no radio chatter. This job would be a piece of cake, much too easy given the experience and training of his men.

Up ahead, Connor spotted a light just beyond a small dining room.

“Squad on me. Move with caution,” Connor ordered.

Quietly he and his men crept toward the room, stopping at the door marked Kitchen. The light was coming from under the door. Ordering his men to watch for any movement, he slowly opened the door. Connor knew they would follow orders and watch his back.

Whoever turned on the kitchen light could be hiding somewhere in the kitchen. Connor led in his men, stopped to listen, then continued all the way to the back.

“All clear. False alarm,” he said.

Turning to face his squad, he froze when he saw his men had disappeared.

“They wouldn’t have left me,” Connor thought. “Something’s wrong!”

Just as he reached for his radio, from behind him Connor felt a knife press to his throat.

He stood perfectly still and waited for the right moment to redirect the attack.

“Call for help,” the man behind him whispered.

“What?” Connor asked confused.

When Connor didn’t cooperate, the man reached around with his other hand and removed Conner’s radio. Holding it up to Connor’s mouth, he repeated,

“Call. . .for. . .help.”

The Train: Episode 84

Michael threw his weight against the door as someone on the other side pushed, trying to force their way in.

“We need to find something to pin these doors shut, or the butcher and the baker are going to keep on following us,” Michael said as he looked around for something to use.

“The butcher and the baker?” Serena asked confused.

“You know the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker,” Michael said, waiting for Serena to catch on.

When he saw from her expression that she didn’t understand, he added,

“From the nursery rhyme ‘Rub a Dub Dub’.”

Serena just stared at him.

“What kind of childhood did you have anyway?” Michael asked, struggling to keep his feet from slipping as he held the door.

“Here. Try this,” Nicole said, running up to him with a sharpened piece of wood.

“That would be great if they were vampires,” Michael said, turning and pressing his back against the door.

“Wait!” Michael said. Then looking at Serena, he asked, “They’re not vampires are they?”

Nicole groaned, “No, you idiot.”

Bending down, she shoved the piece of wood under the door. When Michael cautiously released the door, the piece of wood held it in place.

“Same as a rubber ball that rolls up against a door. Acts like a wedge, holding it shut,” Nicole explained.

“Thanks,” Michael said, straightening up.

Down the hallway, they saw a faint red light. Cell doors lined the walls, and hands reached out between the bars as cries of pain and anger filled the air.

“Stick to the center,” Michael instructed, “and stay directly behind me.”

Keeping a safe distance from the bars, Michael glanced into the first cell on his right. In the corner, restrained with a straight jacket, sat a weeping woman, her dark, matted hair falling across her face. The cell on the opposite wall held a bald, toothless man, his eyes bulging as he pressed himself against the door, reaching out and mumbling incoherently.

Michael shook his head in deep pity at these miserable souls.

Spotting a bright light pouring out of one of the rooms up ahead on the left, he told Serena and Nicole,

“Let’s keep going.”

In the next set of cells, a man struggled to free himself from the metal bands that bound his hands behind him. Blood oozed from open wounds on his forehead as he banged his head against the cell door.

“Let me out!” he screamed.

The cell across from him held two men, one tied to a chair with the other standing over him. The man in the chair was writhing in pain as he stared at Michael with eyes whose light was only a flicker. Blood dripped from his mouth, and the man by him held a pair of pliers with a bloodied tooth caught in the pincers.

Serena gasped and shuddered, grabbing Michael’s arm. There was one more cell door to pass before they reached the end of the hall. Michael did not want to look, but he could not help himself. On one side of the cell was a large open furnace, its fire blazing. When Michael touched the cell door, he jerked his hand back from the hot metal. Two chains with weights stretched out from the wall were attached to shackles around a man’s wrists. In his desperation to move away from the rising flames, his strength was rapidly waning.

“Please! I am certain we can reach a peaceful arrangement,” came a voice down the hall.

“Father Salvatore!” Serena exclaimed.

“Serena! Wait!” Nicole ordered as Serena ran up ahead and disappeared into the light of the open room.

Michael and Nicole hurried after her.

The room was filled with candles, and covering the walls were odd markings, scrawled in what Michael hoped was red paint. On the right, an older man rested on his knees, his hands bound to the wall. When Michael and Nicole entered the room, he lifted his eyes, weary from a long struggle with little hope. Across the room from him stood a younger man, his short black hair pulled back into a ponytail with a bit of twine.

“Stop!” the younger man yelled to Michael and Nicole. “Drop your weapons!”

Michael dropped the shotgun, and after a pause, Nicole reluctantly dropped her pistol.

“Suriel! What are you doing?” Serena asked the younger man.

“It is time for the ascension when he must pass his power onto me. His time has ended, and he refuses to let me become what I am meant to be, to take my rightful place,” Suriel protested.

“Listen to me, Suriel,” Michael said. “I’m sure this all makes perfect sense, plenty of reasons why what you say should happen. But have you considered the reasons why it shouldn’t?”

“Quiet!” Suriel said. “You are an outsider! You know nothing of our beliefs.”

Suriel’s head twitched as though struck by sudden pain. He turned his pistol away from Salvatore and began to strike himself on the forehead as he said,

“I have to think.”

“Son, trust me. This is not the answer. Please let me help you,” Salvatore begged.

“No! You will only lie to prevent the ascension. You refuse to give up the power that is no longer yours. I am the rightful heir,” Suriel insisted, slamming his hand against his chest. “It is my place to rule our people.”

Suddenly there was a loud crash out in the hall behind them. When Nicole jerked her head in the direction of the noise, she saw the two men who had been slowly moving toward them in the other hallway.

“Michael,” she said through gritted teeth, “this situation is getting worse. We need to do things my way.”

“I can still fix this,” Michael said, desperately trying to think of an answer.

All at once, a shot rang out and Michael and Nicole dropped down. As Michael rose to his feet, he saw that Suriel’s hands hung limply by his sides as blood from a bullet wound in his chest soaked into his shirt. Serena stood next to Michael, Nicole’s gun in her hand.

“What happened?” Michael asked.

But when he turned to Nicole, she was gone. Hurrying out to the hallway, he looked up and down but could find no trace of her.

“Nicole!” he shouted.

“Are you all right, Father Salvatore?” Serena asked.

“I am, my child,” he assured her, “but you should not have killed him.”

“I am sorry, Father Salvatore, but I had to keep you safe,” Serena explained.

Then she stepped back and said,

“Everything I did, I did to make you happy. Are you happy?”

“I am, child,” Salvatore replied.

“Then I am at peace,” Serena smiled.

With that, she lifted the gun and pressed it under her chin.

“Wait!” Michael exclaimed.

But before he could stop her, Serena pulled the trigger. She dropped the pistol and fell to the floor dead. Michael looked down at Serena’s body as her blood pooled around his shoes.

“Dr. Ricer, Lucy, and now Nicole. They’re gone,” Michael said in defeat.

“Not yet,” Salvatore said. “There is still a chance to save them.”

Published in: on May 17, 2018 at 1:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 97

After the king’s meeting with the envoy of Acimeth, Princess Lillian had slipped away to the royal garden, a place where she always found peace. The sound of birds’ morning songs filled the air as Lillian moved slowly through the soft grass. Closing her eyes, she breathed in the sweetness of the lilacs’ pleasing fragrance and listened to the hum of bees, busy about their work at the brilliant purple and bluish blossoms. Lillian longed to remove her shoes and run through the grass barefoot as in the days when she and Allaster were children. But when she had grown from a child to a youth, her father posted guards with strict orders to bring her in should she do anything unbefitting a princess.

“This marriage will unite our two countries, my daughter,” the king had stressed. “You must show character and bravery as well as meekness. If this arrangement fails, King Stephanus will take us to war.”

Although Lillian knew a war would hurt her people, she could not deny her heart’s desire. She wanted only to marry Allaster, her childhood friend. Now it seemed as if disappearing, fleeing from her homeland, was the only way she could be with him.

Hearing the soft fluttering of birds’ wings, Lillian glanced up to see a male bird, carrying a bit of food in its beak, returning to a nest where patiently waited his hungry mate sitting on a clutch of eggs. As the princess watched in awe, the male fed the female then quickly flew away in search of more food. Lillian’s spirit was lifted for a moment at the wonder. But then her grief overcame her and she bowed her head to hide the tears. It seemed that the price of her happiness was war with Acimeth. Yet, she reasoned, the king was strong and wise. He would surely find a way to keep the peace. Lillian considered this for a moment as she eyed the guards and struggled with what to do.

Then she remembered Allaster’s words as he looked into her eyes, “We cannot run away, Lillian. It would break your father’s heart and put your brother Nesmoru in line for the throne.”

Cursing his logic as she paced, she began to consider how she could keep her brother from the throne and still be free.

When the answer suddenly appeared, she stopped in midstride.

“I will wait until I am queen then bring Allaster back as my personal advisor,” she said to herself.

“Once I am queen, I shall do as I wish,” she said aloud, her head lifting. “My father used to say that the most fearsome day is when the lioness first discovers her howl.”

Hearing a twig snap behind her, Lillian whirled around to see Derali standing there, his manservant just behind him.

“For it is with this voice she will establish her place and protect her family,” Derali said, finishing the proverb.

Lillian recoiled, worried about how much Derali had heard.

Derali laughed, “Do not fear, Your Highness. I have seen many arranged marriages. Some prospered, others not. This I can tell you, though. Prince Lanidus is a good man who is only concerned. . .”

Derali paused glancing back at his servant. . .”for the welfare of others.”

Lillian smiled and took one last look of longing at an open spot between the guard and the hedge surrounding the garden. Then she turned to face Derali.

“In truth, I am not at peace with this marriage, but I will respect my father’s wishes and do what I must to guard the safety of my people,” Lillian said.

“Safety?” Derali asked confused.

“It is well known that King Stephanus has his eye on Ethion. My family has ruled over this land since the days when Tobias Ashblood freed it from the children of dusk, and your idle threats of war and fear mongering will not daunt King Isembart. He will not fall into defeat.”

Derali was taken aback.

“I know not of what you speak,” Derali answered, his brow furrowed. “The only purpose of King Stephanus is the marriage of his son. Prince Lanidus is the fifth of six sons, and King Stephanus only wishes his son to wed well.”

Derali’s servant coughed suddenly.

“King Stephanus is a gentle soul,” Derali said, glancing back at his servant. “And Prince Lanidus is far more uneasy about your reputation than your father’s.”

“My reputation?” Lillian asked.

“Far and wide, word has spread of Princess Lillian’s wild heart and unmatched beauty. My king was certain that when you saw Prince Lanidus, you would flee,” Derali said.

Lillian slightly blushed, turning away to hide her guilt.

When Derali’s servant coughed again, Lillian saw a smile work its way across Derali’s face.

“That is not to say that the prince is hideous. In truth, many maidens were distraught by the news of his marriage.”

“He sounds quite spirited,” Lillian said. “But he must know that I will not be a queen who sits by waiting for his consent before I act.”

Derali laughed, “Of course, Your Highness. The prince is an honorable man of courage with a fierce loyalty to his kingdom and its people. He is the best among his brothers.”

“You know him well?” Lillian asked.

“I grew up with him,” Derali said. “Although I am merely a humble guardian, the prince is like a brother to me.”

Suddenly the joy fell from Derali’s face as he yelled,

“Step aside, Your Highness!”

Just as Lillian turned out of the way, the guard nearest her fell, a bloody wound in his back.

A man wearing colors she did not recognize walked toward her. When she looked toward the second guard, she saw that he was already down while another man in matching colors stood over him.

“Get behind me, Your Highness!” Derali warned, drawing his sword.

“I can take care of myself,” Lillian said.

“I do not doubt that, but please allow me this,” Derali said.

Before she could answer, two men ambushed Derali from behind, striking him and grabbing his servant.

“Let us be gone,” one of the two men yelled.

As Derali’s servant fought against their hold, the two men struggled to drag him out of the garden.

“Are you injured?” Lillian asked Derali.

“I am unharmed, Your Highness, but they have taken him!” Derali said in anguish.

“Your servant?” Lillian asked, confused by the messenger’s distress.

“Do not fear. My father will see that your servant is returned.”

“He is not my servant! He is Prince Lanidus!” Derali confessed.

Lillian looked up to see that the men had reached the edge of the garden. Glancing over at one of the fallen guards, Lillian quickly reached down and lifted his pike. When she threw the weapon, it arched through the air and pierced one of the escaping men, pinning him to the ground.

The other man fled, taking Prince Lanidus with them.

“Who were those men?” Lillian asked.

“They work for Riscio, a disgraced guard captain who, after failing to depose King Stephanus, fled with those loyal to him. Since his defeat, he has been searching for a way to take the throne for himself. The man you struck is Drilli, once a trusted guard before he joined Riscio’s band,” Derali said.

“My father will find those who took Prince Lanidus and see that he is released. You must not worry,” Lillian said.

“His life will be preserved, but I fear he will be held captive until King Stephanus releases all of Riscio’s men from the prisons of Acimeth,” Deralli explained.

The Prophet of Starfall: Episode 29

Martin Armstrong sat in his office nervously typing away on his keyboard, paying no attention to his fingers as they pounded the keys. He just needed something to keep his hands busy while he figured out what to do next. His relationship with Jessica Alexander had been a stupid mistake. Yeah, it was completely mutual. In fact, she had come onto him. But now she was talking to the cops saying he had taken advantage of her, claiming he was responsible for the deaths of Daniel Lincoln and River Hastings.

“That’s not possible!” Armstrong snapped as he suddenly struck his desk. “Lincoln was a little toad. Why waste my time killing him? And Hastings? Hasting was a dear friend of mine. No way would I kill him. Besides, I had far too much to gain from the position he was in. Killing him would only hurt me financially.”

Someone knocked on his door.

“Not now!” he yelled.

“I need to talk to my lawyer,” Armstrong told himself.

Turning the chair around, he snatched up his cell phone off the desk and punched in the number.

After three rings, voice mail picked up.

“Pierce, this is Martin Armstrong again. I need your help. Where in the world are you? Call me back as soon as you get this. I don’t pay you to sit on the beach and seduce interns.”

When Armstrong ended the call, he thought about how good it would feel to slam down a phone handset a couple of times.

The knock at the door sounded again.

“I said not now!” Armstrong yelled.

“Jessica probably just wants money,” Armstrong said. “Well fine. When Pierce calls me back, I’ll just tell him to pay her off. This whole thing is ridiculous!”

When the knock came again, Armstrong stormed over to the door and jerked it open shouting,

“What’s your problem? I said not now!”

Standing just outside the door was a large man with short-cropped hair clutching a large manila envelope. He shoved the package into Armstrong’s arms and turned to leave.

When Armstrong stepped out of his office to watch where the man was headed, he saw his secretary Charlotte lying dead on the floor, a bullet hole in her chest. He froze in horror then looked up to see that the large man had stopped and turned toward Charlotte’s body. He seemed to be waiting for something.

“Waiting for what?” Armstrong wondered.

Inside the envelope, a phone began to ring. Armstrong tore open the package and jammed his hand inside. As his fingers fumbled for the cell phone, they brushed against something metal. Once he pulled the phone free, he held it up. The caller ID read Unknown.

Lifting the phone to his ear, Armstrong answered,

“Hello?”

“Martin Armstong.”

The voice on the other end was scrambled, making recognition impossible.

“Y-y-es?” Armstrong stammered, glancing down at Charlotte’s dead body, its blood soaking into the thick carpet.

“The police are on their way to arrest you, Martin,” the voice said.

“For what? I didn’t do anything wrong,” Armstrong defended.

“That doesn’t matter now, does it?” the voice said. “Daniel Lincoln is dead, River Hastings is dead, and soon Jessica Alexander will be dead, a victim of your terrible vengeance. All that’s left to complete our tale is the fall of the villain.”

“What villain?” Armstrong asked.

“You, Martin. Don’t you see? All this is for you,” the voice said.

“Are you insane? Why me?” Armstrong asked.

“In time, Martin, in time. Right now there are only two choices left for you. You can leave the building in handcuffs or a body bag. Choice is yours. I know what I would prefer, but if you choose handcuffs, you must understand that anything less than a full confession will result in a very uncomfortable time for you in jail. If you do survive the ordeal, I doubt you will choose to remain among the living afterwards,” the voice said.

“Who is this? You have nothing on me. I have a great lawyer, pal, and he will—”

“Sue me?” the voice interrupted. “Ruin my reputation? There is nothing he can do that you haven’t already done. And before you ask that inevitable, cliché question ‘why you’, I will tell you the answer. Because you are a bully. You hide behind the law and manipulate it for your own gain. But now you’re done, toppled. Okay so maybe I had to break a few rules to do it, but that was necessary.”

Armstrong could hear the man on the other end of the call stop to catch his breath. He seemed to be trying to calm himself.

“There is no one who can help you. In case you were stupid enough to reach into the envelope instead of looking inside or emptying it out first, I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. You have left your fingerprints all over the very pistol that shot your precious Charlotte and your favorite bloodsucker Pierce. There’s no one left for you, Martin. Do yourself and the rest of us a favor. Take yourself out of this world!”

Suddenly the line went dead. Armstrong felt clammy and nauseous. He slowly looked up and saw that the man who had been watching him had disappeared.

“What should I do? What should I do?” Armstrong cried out in his mind.

He fled down the hall toward the elevator, but when he turned the corner, he saw two men dressed in identical suits standing by the elevator door. He stopped himself and slowly backed down the hallway until he was out of sight.

Retreating to his office, Armstrong paused at Charlotte’s desk to think what to do next.

“I’m ten stories up, but taking the stairs down won’t be so bad. I can do that,” Armstrong assured himself.

He ran for the stairwell and breathed a sign of relief when he saw that the stairwell door was unguarded. But when he pulled it open, he froze. A guard was positioned by the stairs going down. As he closed the stairwell door and turned back toward his office, he saw two men standing in the hallway. The only escape now was the roof, just above the floor of his office. Aware that he was being herded, he pulled open the stairwell door and made his way up the stairs to the roof.

When he reached the door to the roof, he opened it and slowly stepped out, the wind whipping his hair.

Walking to the edge, he looked over and felt his legs go weak. Police cars filled the parking lot below. Armstrong reached into the envelope and pulled out the pistol. Five shots left.

 

*          *          *

 

Nathan pulled up outside Pearson Plasma’s office building. Police cars were out in full force. As he turned off the bike’s ignition key, Elizabeth touched down next to him.

“You think Martin Armstrong is being set up?” Elizabeth asked.

“Someone is going to a lot of trouble to make sure Armstrong and Jericho are killed, or at the very least ruined,” Nathan said.

Nathan walked past the cops as they cleared out employees and gawkers. When he reached Detective Shields, he saw that she was busy giving orders to a group of officers.

“Detective Shields,” Nathan called.

“In a minute,” she replied.

“It’s important,” Elizabeth pushed.

“She said not now,” Detective French snapped, moving them back out of the way. “Interrupt again and I’ll arrest you both for obstruction.”

As French walked away, Elizabeth returned,

“Try it.”

“That won’t do any good,” Nathan said.

“Who cares? He deserves it,” Elizabeth sneered.

Nathan closed his eyes, trying to focus on Martin Armstong. After a few seconds, he opened his eyes and said,

“We need to get to the roof.”

“All right, brace yourself,” Elizabeth advised.

“Wait!” Nathan protested. But before he could resist, Elizabeth had wrapped her arms around his waist, spread her wings and shot into the air so quickly that Nathan felt his stomach plunge.

In only a moment, Elizabeth had covered the distance to the roof and released Nathan.

Nathan looked at her and asked,

“Why is it I needed to save you from falling off the Crescent Bay Queen?”

“Because my wings were bound. Shut up,” Elizabeth said.

When Nathan and Elizabeth took a step toward Armstrong, he warned,

“D-d-don’t try to stop me!”

“Armstrong, look. I know you’re being set up,” Nathan said.

“Can you prove it?” Armstrong asked.

“Not yet, but I will. You’ve got to give me time,” Nathan pleaded.

“There’s no time left. He said either I leave here in cuffs or in a body bag. I can’t go to jail. I’ve seen TV. I know what happens to guys in prison. I won’t survive!”

“You don’t have to go through that,” Nathan said. “Give me time, and I’ll find the one responsible for this.”

“No, no. It’s too late. There’s no way out now,” Armstrong said.

Nathan saw two possible endings to this scenario. Neither were good. His only chance to stop this was to get through to Armstrong.

“Please, Armstrong, I need you to trust me.”

Armstrong looked at Elizabeth, and after a moment he realized something, something that gave him hope.

“You have wings. You could fly me out of here to safety.”

“I’ll fly you to the police department, but I won’t help you escape the police,” Elizabeth declared.

Suddenly Armstrong pointed the gun at Elizabeth and said,

“I’m sorry about this, but I’m desperate, and there’s no time to ask nicely.”

Unsettled: Episode 11

Outside city hall, Detective Marquez pulled her car into a parking spot and killed the engine. As she drummed her fingers on the dashboard, she looked up at the single light coming from the mayor’s office.

Ever since her partner Detective Ethan Snow had been murdered, life felt like an out-of-control roller coaster. She had no one to talk to, no one to trust. Her father, a retired lawyer who spent most of his time with his nose in a spy novel, had warned her not to trust anyone.

She remembered his words the last time she saw him.

“Even those who say you can trust them could be lying.”

She noticed a homeless man down the street rifling through a trashcan. Every now and then he jerked his head up, as though afraid someone were watching, then after a moment went back to his digging.

“Until you can figure out what motivates them, what they have to gain by deceiving you, it’s best to assume that everyone is out for themselves,” Marquez repeated her father’s warning.

Opening the door, she slipped out and crossed the street to the large front doors of city hall.

The empty building smelled a bit musty as she headed for the elevator, her heels echoing on the tile floor. Coldwater City Hall, one of the smallest buildings in town, held the mayor’s office as well as the city council and a handful of other government offices. When the elevator doors opened, Marquez stepped inside and punched the button for the second floor. She smiled when she thought of her personal trainer’s reaction if he found out she had taken the elevator up one floor and missed her opportunity for a quick cardio workout on the stairs. But it had been a long day, and at this point, she was too tired to care.

When the elevator doors opened, Marquez stepped out and walked down the hall to the mayor’s office. The door was open and the front office empty since the mayor’s secretary had left at five o’clock.

“Mr. Mayor?” Marquez called out.

“Joselyn, please come in.”

Terrance Marsh had been the uncontested mayor for eight years now. Slightly graying when he won his first election, his hair was now completely white and his face showed signs of wear.

“You called for me, sir?” Marquez said.

“Yes,” Marsh said. “Please have a seat. Recent events have opened my eyes to corruption that has run unchecked through the city’s infrastructure. I fear that this corruption, now exposed, has taken its anger out on our city.”

While he spoke, Marquez noticed some stacked boxes and smoke coming from a metal trashcan by the window facing the alley. A fire had recently burned out.

“Have you ever done any gardening, Joselyn?” Marsh asked.

Something in her made Marquez want to correct him for using her first name, as though they were friends, but she let it slide. Given his loose tie and disheveled appearance, something was going on far more important than the proper way for a mayor to address constituents.

“My grandmother did,” Marquez answered.

“In gardening you tend to your garden by turning the soil, watering the plants and pulling weeds. A weed digs into the soil and steals nutrients that the other plants need to survive. Pulling weeds is necessary, but when they come up, they take the soil with them, soil that could have been used to feed your garden,” Marsh said.  “Do you understand where I’m going?”

“I believe so, sir,” Marquez said.

As Marsh paused, searching for his next words, William Brannon walked in followed by a girl with short hair, one of the people Marquez had seen with him earlier.

“A tick,” Brannon said with a British accent. “A tick would have been a better analogy.”

“Who are you? What are you doing in here?” Marsh demanded.

“Removing a tick takes great care. If not done properly, a part of the creature will be left behind. And trying to remove one without the necessary skills can cause a great deal of damage to the person to whom the tick has attached itself,” Brannon explained.

“What are you talking about?” Marsh barked.

“We’ve come to save your life,” Brannon said, this time without an accent as he turned his face toward Marsh.

“My life? Why would I be in danger?” Marsh asked, laughing nervously.

“Because like most politicians, you’re dirtier than a train station bathroom,” Brannon said as his demeanor and posture suddenly changed.

Marquez watched the way Brannon moved, the subtle ways he changed every time he spoke. It reminded her of her college theatre days, watching the actors. Each time they got into character, their posture, their mannerisms, even the pitch of their voice changed.

“Listen, young man,” Marsh defended, “I promised the people who elected me that I would root out corruption—”

“And snuggle in tight with it,” Brannon interrupted.

“I am not corrupt!” Marsh snapped.

“Ladies, ladies. No need to fight,” a man with an Australian accent said, strolling into the room with a large man at his heels.

Under a black coat, he wore a gun belt around his waist and a knit cap covered his head. The large man behind him stood 6 feet 6 inches, his thick arms dangling by his sides like a gorilla.

Before Marquez could reach for her weapon, the Australian man had both his pistols out.

“Nice try, Sheriff, but we’re gonna do things my way,” he joked.

“This is Gord, and you can call me Thunder,” the Australian man laughed. “As in the thunder from down under.”

“But your name is Charley,” Gord said in confusion.

“Shut it, Gord,” Charley scolded.

“Anyone try anything, and I’ll kill each of you before you can blink,” Charley warned.

“But the boss said we’re supposed to bring them in alive,” Gord reminded him.

“Shut up, Gord!” Charley snapped. “I’m going for a certain effect here.”

Suddenly Brannon leapt at Charley, knocking him backwards. The guns flew from his hands, but before Brannon could get to them, Gord grabbed his arms and threw him out the window.

“No!” the woman who had come with Brannon yelled.

Marquez reached for her pistol but Gord grabbed her hand with a vice-like grip.

“Enough!” Charley said getting to his feet. “That bogan ruined everything.”

Looking out the window, Charley yelled down, “I hope you broke your big stupid neck!”

“But the boss said he needed him alive,” Gord repeated.

“I said shut up, Gord,” Charley barked. “I swear you are the stupidest mongrel I have ever worked with.”

Gord looked at Marquez and said,

“I’m not stupid. I’m smarter than Charley. He just gets mad and yells at me. My name’s Gordon.”

“Don’t bother, Gord. She wouldn’t give you the time of day,” Charley said. “Boss says she used to be a model.”

“Whatever your boss wants, I’m certain I can get it for you without anyone else getting hurt,” the mayor assured him.

“That’s right, mate,” Charley said. “What the boss wants is you.”

Charley raised his pistols and said, “You’re coming with us.”

“What about these two?” Gord asked, pointing to Marquez and the girl.

“Bring them too. Can’t never have too many hostages. Besides, maybe the boss will let these lovely ladies fight each other over who gets to live,” Charley laughed.

“Yea,” Gord chuckled, “in a tub of Jell-O.”

“Why you gotta make it weird?” Charley asked.

“I’m sorry,” Gord apologized as he and Charley moved everyone out to the car waiting downstairs.

 

*          *          *

 

 

“Gotcha!” Ray cheered, clapping his hands.

Rory suddenly jumped and demanded,

“What?”

“Scott Marshall,” Ray said. “He’s the owner of Coldwater Financial, the second largest bank in Coldwater.”

Rory stood up and walked over to the computer.

“That’s the guy you couldn’t id?” Rory asked.

“Until now,” Ray said proudly.

“Billy!” Mavis cried out, sitting bolt upright on the couch.

“Relax,” Rory said. “He went with Kristina to warn the mayor.”

“No!” Mavis shouted, panic in her eyes. “Something’s wrong. I can feel it.”

“What do you mean?” Ray asked.

“He’s in trouble, Ray!” Mavis said. “We need to get to him now.”

“Okay,” Ray said. “Let’s go.”

Trying to calm Mavis, Rory insisted,

“I’m sure he’s fine. Don’t worry.”

 

*          *          *

 

 

As Detective Marquez, Kristina and Mayor Marsh were shuffled into the waiting car, Billy stood just inside the shadowed alley watching.

“What do we do now?” Victoria asked. “They’ve taken Kristina and the police detective.”

“We need to alert the police,” Dylan said.

“They won’t help us if they’re working for Heath,” Eddie pointed out.

“Heath’s motives are obvious,” Jack said. “He is cleaning up the corruption before taking over. Coldwater is the board he speaks of, and the corrupted officials are the pieces. He won’t listen to reason. He’s too close to his goal.”

“Then we follow them,” Lucas said.

“And do what?” Dylan asked.

“And deal with it. . .our way,” Lucas said.

A few feet down the alley, pressed against the wall in fear, a homeless man was still shaking from the sight of a man suddenly jumping out of the trash bin where he had landed when he came flying out a window overhead, a man who now stood at the entrance to the alley talking to himself.

Published in: on May 17, 2018 at 1:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Coming Soon to Unsettled….

The Train: Episode 83

Through the manhole cover, Michael and the others climbed down a long ladder until they reached the bottom. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, Michael saw that they were in a musty sewer of putrid waste. Searching through his bag, he pulled out a heavy flashlight and swept the beam along the walls and floor. On the surface of the foot deep water, he spotted traces of blood.

“This way,” he directed.

Bugs crawled along the slimy brick walls as an occasional rat scurried off into the darkness.

“Why would Saint Suriel bring Father Salvatore down here?” Serena asked.

“No idea,” Nicole answered, the barrel of her pistol aimed just over Michael’s shoulder.

A few yards down, the sewer opened up into an empty room with a flight of iron stairs.

Michael slowly swept the flashlight’s beam across the water’s surface, and when he found no signs of blood, he pointed to the stairs.

“He must have gone this way. It’s the only way up.”

A faint light poured down the steps.

Keeping a wary eye out, Michael slowly ascended the stairs, pausing to listen for voices. At the top of the steps was a heavy wooden door. Slowly he turned the knob and pushed the door open with his shotgun.

When he stepped through the door into a long filthy hallway, its tile floor cracked and stained, he was certain he heard a faint cry. At the end of the hall, a pale green light cast a glow onto the floor beneath a closed door, and up and down the hallway, the weak light of open rooms cast shadows on the walls.

“Where are we?” Michael asked Serena.

“I do not know,” Serena said.

Stay close,” Nicole advised, her gun raised.

Leading with his shotgun, Michael crept down the hall toward the first room.

When he reached the doorway, he took a step back and froze.

“Why did you stop?” Nicole asked.

When Michael failed to answer, Nicole took her eyes off the hallway and looked inside the room.

Hanging from the ceiling were twelve cloth bags, each six feet long. The cloth had been tightly wound to form a sort of cocoon.

“What are those things?” Serena asked.

Michael cautiously stepped closer and slowly reached out to touch one of the bags.

When the tips of his fingers brushed against the damp cloth, something inside the bag began to move and make a soft noise.

“What is that sound?” Michael asked, struggling to identify it.

“Sounds like moaning to me,” Nicole said. “Somebody’s inside that thing.”

With her free hand, Nicole removed her knife from its sheath and took a step toward the bag.

When Michael heard a low rustling sound, he looked around the room and saw that each of the bags had begun to move.

Suddenly Michael spotted a man standing at the other side of the room. He wore a gas mask and was dressed in a long white lab coat splattered with mud and dark patches of blood.

As he turned around and looked at Michael through the mask, his black rubber boots squeaked. Then with a black rubber gloved hand, he reached out and stopped one of the bags from moving.

His eyes focused on the tall man, Michael put his arm out to keep Nicole from cutting into the bag.

“What?” she asked.

When Michael pointed to the man standing motionless as he watched them, Nicole slipped her knife back in its sheath and aimed her pistol.

Michael’s instincts told him to shoot, but the unarmed man didn’t seem aggressive as he kept staring at them.

“He’s not in here. Please. Let’s keep moving,” Serena pleaded, pulling on Michael’s sleeve.

Michael hesitated but then said,

“We’ll be back for them.”

He stepped out of the room and slowly continued down the hallway, uneasy at turning his back on the man in the gas mask and dirty coat.

Nicole took a quick glance backward but the man didn’t seem to be following them. A few feet farther down the hall, she glanced back again and saw that now the man was standing still in the hall watching them.

“That room must be for those guests who need extra help relaxing,” Michael joked, trying to calm his nerves.

“I do not know what purpose this place serves,” Serena insisted.

When Nicole looked back and saw that the man was standing even closer, she insisted,

“Michael, we need to find a way out of here!”

Turning away for just a moment, she looked back and saw that he was closer still.

As they approached another room, Michael could feel cold air wafting from inside. A pale white light poured out from the room as he turned slowly into the doorway, afraid of what he might see.

For a moment, Michael felt as though his heart would stop. The room was filled with gurneys, each gurney holding a sheet-draped body. Crates marked with different numbers had been stacked at the back of the room, and blood dripped from some of the crates. Fluorescent lights flickered overhead as a man entered the room wearing black rubber gloves and boots, welding goggles and a breath mask. Carrying a saw caked in blood, he stopped and wiped it across his blood soaked apron then looked at Michael in silence.

“Michael, we need to get out of here now! Every time I take my eyes off that man back there, he moves closer,” Nicole informed.

“Not much better in here,” Michael said, staring at the man with the saw.

“Either we get out of here or I start shooting,” Nicole warned.

“Please don’t,” Serena begged. “If Saint Suriel knows we are here, he might kill Father Salvatore.”

Michael saw another door less than 15 feet away. Glancing back into the room with the bodies, he saw that the goggled man had exchanged his saw for a large hammer and was coming closer.

“Okay. Run for that door up ahead,” Michael motioned. “I’ll keep an eye on these two.”

Nicole took Serena’s sleeve and hurried her toward the door while Michael shifted his gaze from one man to the other. Each man came closer every time Michael looked at the other.

“Come on!” Nicole snapped.

Michael turned and bolted for the door. When he reached the door, he spun around to watch the hallway. Reaching behind him, he pulled the door open and slipped through, leaving the two men standing in the hall watching.

As he quickly pulled the door closed, he looked for a bolt to lock it. There was none.

Turning around to Nicole and Serena, he saw that they were in a hallway twice as long as the one they had just left. The hall was dark except for the faint light that streamed from each of the open rooms. Michael quickly flipped on his flashlight and was searching the hallway when suddenly he heard the door behind him begin to open.

Dragon Fire: Episode 96

As the carriage of Prince Lanidus neared the kingdom of Ethion, two of Riscio’s men lay in wait. Drilli, the more adventurous of the two, rested his arms on his knees as he leaned against the stone wall of the narrow passageway and looked up, watching the wind sweep the clouds. Riscio’s orders had been clear. Drilli and his comrade Brakor were to stay hidden in one of the many alleys branching off the main road of Ethion and watch for a sign of the carriage bringing Prince Lanidus to King Isembart and his daughter the princess Lillian.

“My head aches from a night of too much ale, and I grow weary of waiting in this dank place of fish bones and rotten fruit!” Drilli complained as Brakor kept his eyes on the road.

“Last night you merrily embraced dank, rotten things,” Brakor pointed out.

“What do you mean?” Drilli asked.

“The wench in the tavern,” Brakor laughed.

“Why she was as beautiful as the morning sun,” Drilli insisted.

“She was not a she,” Brakor teased.

“What?” Drilli roared.

“Be still! Remember why we are here,” Brakor fussed. “I only spoke in jest.”
“No,” he continued. “Your morning sun was a woman, although at one point you praised the beauty of the tavern owner’s mongrel.”

Deciding not to respond, Drilli closed his eyes and remembered the previous night. It had been a night of drinking and laughter.

“Ah. We filled our bellies with good ale, did we not? It was a fine celebration,” Drilli smiled.

“It was ill advised,” Brakor scolded.

“Ill advised? Our brothers will soon be free,” Drilli said.

“Perhaps,” Brakor answered with uncertainty.

“Do you doubt Riscio’s plan?” Drilli asked.

“The plan seems sound enough, but we must not strike too soon,” Brakor explained. “Why kidnap Prince Lanidus before he is king? Once he has taken the throne, we will have so much more to bargain with.”

“Riscio said that our brothers must be freed at once. Then we will have our revenge on the son of the man who imprisoned them,” Drilli said.

“I too wish for our brothers’ freedom, but we shall have a greater advantage if we wait until Lanidus sits on the throne,” Brakor insisted.

“You do not trust Riscio. For that he will surely hang you,” Drilli warned.

“Disclose this and I shall tell everyone that you kissed the tavern owner’s dog last night,” said Brakor.

Surprised by the threat, Drilli’s eyes grew wide as he protested,

“They will know it is but folly!”

“Perhaps some, but those who have seen you swill your ale will believe my account,” Brakor maintained.

“Last night I—,” Drilli began.

“Peace! A carriage approaches,” Brakor interrupted.

The clop of horses and rumble of wooden wheels grew louder as Drilli struggled to his feet. When Brakor cautiously peered into the street, he saw a carriage with the distinct markings of King Stephanus’ court. The driver pulled to a stop and Derali, captain of the royal guard, climbed out followed by Prince Lanidus.

“Why this pretense whenever we meet someone new?” Derali asked.

“Because no one will be at ease if they recognize me,” Prince Lanidus explained, removing an old dusty cloak from the carriage.

“But they will suffer no discomfort with me?” Derali asked.

“Not if they see you as a simple messenger. They will merely look down upon you and treat you as a servant. With this cloak, I may discover with whom I shall be shackled until I breathe my last,” Lanidus said.

“Word of your deception will one day spread across this land and you shall have to lay it aside,” Derali pointed out.

“No, my friend. My fate has been written. I shall marry the king’s swinish daughter and run the kingdom for my father while she produces a beastly heir. And for the rest of my days, I shall proclaim my love for her until sweet death releases me,” Lanidus sighed.

“Let me tell her you said this, and I will go along with your ridiculous plan,” Derali laughed.

“Please do. I shall be spared the untruth of loving her,” Lanidus said.

As Lanidus slipped on the large worn cloak and covered himself, he added,

“And remember that I am your servant, and you are but a messenger sent ahead to announce that the arrival of Prince Lanidus has been detained.”

“Yes, yes,” Derali said. “I remember what to say from the last time you did this.”

As the two men climbed back into the carriage, Brakor told Drilli,

“We must go at once to tell that the prince has arrived and has disguised himself.”

Quickly the two men slipped away to bring Riscio the news.

 

 

*          *          *

 

That same day as King Isembart sat on his throne, he raised his hand to his face and lowered his head in weariness. The High Priest Zephryses had just brought news of the prisoner Alaster’s escape.

“Why does this happen on the very day I am to receive the man who will wed my daughter?” Isembart sighed, looking toward the princess Lillian. At his glance, she quickly turned her head away, refusing to meet his gaze.

“Forgive me, my liege, but it would appear that the burned priest has followers. My men were beset upon, mortally wounding many in the escape. But I pledge to send my best men after him. I will not rest until he is ended,” the high priest assured the king.

“Grant that this is not an omen of things to come,” the king groaned. Then pointing to the priest Zephryses, he commanded,

“You will remain here in the castle while your men search the countryside. They are not to return until Alaster, this burned priest, and his followers are captured! While you are here, you will protect me as well as my daughter, and you will take measures to insure that her marriage suffers neither interruption nor ruin.”

“As you wish, my liege,” High Priest Zephryses answered.

“It is enough that he has infected my daughter’s mind. Now I must suffer the threat of his return to avenge his punishment. I fear for the lives of this court and my people.”

At that moment, a herald appeared in the doorway.

Bowing low, he said,

“Sire, a messenger has arrived from Acimeth.”

“Very well,” Isembart said as he forced a smile on his face.

Once the king bade him enter the throne room, the messenger stepped forward, followed by a second man who wore the robes of a servant. When they bowed subserviently and waited, the king commanded,

“You may approach.”

As the men came nearer, the messenger said,

“I am Derali of Acimeth. I bring word from Prince Lanidus.”

“Yes, yes. What is your news?” King Isembart asked.

“Prince Lanidus has been detained and will not arrive until tomorrow,” Derali said.

“He is well, I hope,” the king responded.

“Yes, your majesty. Affairs of state delay his arrival,” Derali explained.

Looking at the high priest Zephryses, King Isembart said,

“It appears that you have been given one more day to set things in order.”

“Also, your majesty, I have a message for Princess Lillian,” Derali said.

When Princess Lillian rose and drew near to Derali, he realized that the paintings of her had not done her justice. Stepping slightly to one side, he made certain that Lanidus could see her. Suddenly, Prince Lanidus loudly snorted and began coughing. Derali, understanding the prince’s reaction, smiled at the princess and said,

“Prince Lanidus offers his most sincere apologies for his late arrival. He wishes me to tell you that although word of your beauty has reached the Kingdom of Acimeth, he is certain that it far surpasses the hand of even the most skilled of poets and artists.”

Princess Lillian politely offered a quick smile, bowed then returned to her father’s side. Derali noticed that her countenance was woeful as she turned her face away from King Isembart.