Despite the distraction and impatience of waiting for an opportunity to get on with our real reason for being at the medical facility, the tour was actually incredibly interesting. On the surface and at first glance, the place looked like any old normal Bystander hospital. But it was far more than that. Doctor Therasis showed us rooms with various magical healing runes that were used to enhance Heretic regeneration, other rooms where they used these special tools to extract various Stranger venoms and poisons, and even an area where they kept patients who were being hurt by some outside influence. If a Heretic was marked by some creature that could control, hurt, or otherwise affect them and there wasn’t an easy or quick way to fix it, they were brought to that last section. The place was heavily shielded somehow against any magic or ability, so it kept the affected Heretic safe until they could be fixed.
“This place is huge,” Columbus spoke up thoughtfully as we walked down another corridor. “Where is it, exactly?” He looked toward our guide then, along with the rest of us. “In the real world, I mean.”
Doctor Therasis, who seemed overjoyed by any prospect of teaching or sharing information, brightened considerably. “Oh, that’s a good question. Actually…” He lifted a finger run over over all of us until he was pointing directly at me. “You especially should find this quite interesting, Miss Chambers.”
I blinked at that, confused by what he could possibly mean. “Me? Why me in particular, sir?”
His smile broadened. “Well, because our facility here is located in the heart of your home state, of course.” As my mouth fell open, he continued. “Well, technically our roof is located about two hundred feet below the surface, with the rest of the facility below that.” He considered that for a moment before going on with a thoughtful voice. “Still, I believe it’s considered within the state by Bystander laws.”
“But why is this place in Wyoming?” I asked immediately. “And how far from Laramie Falls are we?”
“Oh, that’s quite simple, Miss Chambers,” the man answered easily. “We are in Wyoming because the baron of this state has been very helpful and supportive of our work, and provided both the land and the funding for our construction. He also remains very involved with the hospital whenever the opportunity arises. As for how far away we are, the town called Laramie Falls is about two hundred miles north.”
Once more, my mouth opened and shut. “Um. Should I… oh god, might as well. Who is this Baron?”
“There’s a picture of the man now,” the doctor replied, lifting a hand to point to a painting on the wall.
Turning slowly, I lifted my gaze to stare at the painting in question for a few seconds. “Oh… Wow.”
“What?” Sean pressed, eyes flicking back and forth between me and the painting. “You know the guy?”
“Nope,” I answered while continuing to look at the image of a young-looking, handsome man with shoulder-length auburn hair. “Never seen him before in my life. But the way everything’s been going, I kind of expected him to be my next-door neighbor or my Freshman English teacher or something.”
Chuckling with clear amusement, Doctor Therasis explained, “Jeremiah Dallant has been the baron of this state for the past fifty-three years, ever since the previous baron, his own father, disappeared.”
Something about that tickled my brain, and my mouth opened while I was still trying to figure it out. “What—umm, what do you mean he disappeared?” Meanwhile, I was thinking rapidly. Fifty-three years. Why did fifty-three years stand out to me so much? What had happened fifty-three years earlier?
It was Sands who kicked my foot lightly, clearly forcing her voice to sound casual. “Fifty-three years. That’d be about nineteen sixty-four. Isn’t that around when you said your uncle’s family got split up?”
Uncle’s family? I’d never said anything about a—oh. Sands wasn’t talking about an uncle. She was talking about Deveron. And by ‘split up’, she meant it was when Abigail and Wyatt were abducted by Ruthers’ people. So the infants had been taken away, and then this baron guy had disappeared in the same year? It could’ve been a coincidence, but then again, my mother had been put in Wyoming. Maybe it was for a reason. Either way, I had a feeling that I needed to talk to this Jeremiah Dallant.
Eventually, we continued on and the man led us to a heavy pair of metal doors. The doors had a frankly absurd number of locks on them, plus there were various magical runes on and around them that looked purposefully intimidating and flickered every once in awhile. Also, there was a silver line about two feet from the door that was identical to the one that surrounded the Pathmaker building at Crossroads.
“Aha, of course you all know what this is.” Doctor Therasis indicated the line with a smile as we all came to a stop well away from it. “And just like the Pathmaker building, it is meant to ensure that no unauthorized people enter this area. Though, as you can see,” he indicated the locks and the runes, “that would be rather difficult even without such a measure. Still, better safe than sorry, as they like to say.”
“So what’s in there?” Sands asked, her eyes lighting up with interest. “I mean, considering how secure this place is already, what’s so important that you have to go through all this to keep people out?”
The grandfatherly man gave us a conspiratorially look, his own eyes twinkling with mischief as he lifted a hand to the door. At his gesture, the two dozen or so locks and bolts on the door all released themselves, and several of the runes glowed briefly before the door cracked open slightly. “Would you like to find out?” he asked pointedly while stepping over to open the door the rest of the way.
As a group, we looked at one another before starting over to join the man. He led us through the open door and into a cement corridor with metal doors every couple of feet on both sides. Each door had its own set of locks and runes protecting it. The place looked kind of similar to the magic training rooms back at the school. There was even a slot that could be slid open up to see the inside of each room.
Doctor Therasis moved to the nearest one and slid the viewing port open, gesturing for us to take a look. One by one, we stepped up and peered through. When it was my turn, I leaned in to look through the glass in the port. I found myself staring at a long, narrow cell with a handful of creatures that looked like geckos about the size of Cocker Spaniels, with feathered tails and six eyes on their faces.
“Tabilten,” Therasis explained. “Vicious creatures, can’t get along with anything other than each other. Everything else is prey. But they have the unique ability to periodically cleanse their bodies of certain exotic toxins that many of our other healing abilities cannot affect. This makes them quite useful to us.”
“You… keep them, and then when someone is hurt by one of those… poisons or whatever that you can’t affect, you have them kill one of these things?” I managed a little slowly, thinking about the Peridles.
The man’s head bobbed up and down quickly. “Precisely! Yes. All of these cells are filled with different Stranger animals which possess various healing-related abilities that can be useful to our patients.”
When I’d found out about the school bringing in the Peridles for us to deliberately kill in order to get our first regeneration ability, I hadn’t thought too much about it. They were just little bugs, after all. And in a way, I could also understand this. I wasn’t some crazy vegan about to go off on people for eating cows or sheep or whatever. Besides, when it came down to it, saving lives was a noble goal. But still, even knowing all of that, I couldn’t help but look down through the rows of cells and wonder just how many of them were actually ‘animals.’ If there were any actual sapient, thinking creatures mixed in with all their ‘animals,’ then this was… it was… I stopped myself from thinking about it much further.
For now, anyway. I wasn’t done with this place. Not by a long shot. But it would have to wait for later.
The tour continued, and we eventually passed by the wing that Doctor Therasis said was meant for ‘long-term, extended care’ patients, people who they couldn’t fix right away or didn’t know exactly what was wrong with them for any number of reasons. That had to be the place where Professor Tangle was.
Still, I didn’t say anything just then. None of us did. We waited until the tour had brought us near the cafeteria a couple minutes later. Then I gave Avalon a pointed look and nodded toward her.
She gave me a disgusted look back, looking stubborn briefly until I squinted at her and nodded again.
To say that Avalon had hated this part of the plan was an understatement. She had argued long and loud against it. Still, the rest of us had pointed out why it was the best way, and the other girl couldn’t really prove otherwise. Not that she hadn’t tried until she was practically hoarse. In the end though, we won.
Still, the other girl hesitated for a moment before letting out a long, silent sigh. Finally, she made the slightest, faint groan before coming to a stop. Standing there on her crutches, Avalon breathed in and out, pretending to pant heavily while staring at the floor so that Therasis wouldn’t see her annoyance.
Coughing, I spoke up deliberately loudly over the sound of the man talking. “Avalon? You all right?”
The doctor turned that way, blinking once before he stepped that way. “Oh dear, did we push too far?”
Taking a breath, Avalon started, “No, I’m–” Catching herself, she made a noise that sounded like a groan of pain. Probably because it physically hurt her to admit any kind of weakness. Especially false weakness. The idea that our plan hinged around her being injured and in any way less than perfect seemed to cause Avalon actual physical pain. When she spoke, it was through gritted teeth as she forced the words out in spite of her own reluctance and annoyance. “Maybe I should sit down for a minute.”
“Well, there’s the cafeteria,” I pointed out while hoping that Avalon’s reluctance would be seen as pain.
Sands quickly bobbed her head up and down, right on cue. “Yeah, why don’t Flick and I stay with Avalon and get her a drink or something until she feels better, while you guys go on with the tour?”
Doctor Therasis looked a little reluctant. “Are you sure you want to miss the next part? We could all take a break here until Miss Sinclaire starts feeling up to continuing. I wouldn’t want you to miss out.”
After a brief hesitation, Avalon managed to shake her head. “No, go on, it’s okay.” She made what sounded like an at least somewhat convincing groan of pain and exhaustion. “I just need a little break.”
“We’ll catch up with you if she starts feeling better, sir,” I promised. “Or you can meet us back here.”
“Well…” the doctor paused before gesturing. “Okay. Here.” From his pocket, he produced an orange card. “Use this to get whatever you’d like to eat. We’ll be continuing straight down this corridor, then downstairs another level. Just follow the blue arrows. If you miss us, find one of those phones on the wall and ask them to page me.” To Avalon, he added, “Get off your feet, Miss Sinclaire. Take it easy.”
The three of us made a show of moving to the nearest table, Sands and I helping Avalon sit down. Once the others left, however, we got right back up and started back the way we’d come. The hospital was a maze of corridors and floors. However, thanks to the power that I had inherited from the Blemmye, all I had to do was think about the right spot and I was able to lead us straight back to it.
There was a nurse at a desk beside the entrance into the long-term care wing, but it wasn’t hard to wait for her back to be turned and then quickly slip past the woman. We hurried down the corridor, looking into rooms as we went on. Sands knew what the woman looked like, so she kept examining every patient until finally stopping short at one door about halfway down the hall. “There she is,” she pointed.
“Great,” I smiled. “So her patient file should be around here too. Probably back up at the nurse’s station.” Gesturing, I added, “You guys see if you can get anything from her, I’ll try to get a look at it.”
“Take this,” Sands dug into her pocket before producing what looked like a small camera with a wide lens. “Hold the button down and then run the lens up along the edge of a stack of papers. It’ll scan them all, front and back. It can do about an inch thick stack in one pass. We can read them together later.”
Nodding, I took the scanner and turned my attention to Avalon curiously. “You sure you got this?”
In response, the other girl leaned on one of her crutches to hold her arm up. Her gauntlet produced a tiny, scalpel-like blade. “It’s fine. If she’s faking, we’ll find out. If it’s not really her, we’ll find that out too.”
Reminding myself yet again not to get on my roommate’s bad side, I nodded. “Be careful. If anyone comes, just say you know her from school and wanted to see her. Pretend you’re sad or something.”
“You be careful too,” Sands urged. “Now hurry up and get those files before Therasis gets done with the tour. Scout and the boys are still trying to stall, but… well, let’s not push our luck too much, okay?”
With a nod of agreement, I hurried out of the room and back along the corridor. I passed a couple doctors or healers or whatever they called themselves going the other way, but neither paid any attention to me. I figured there were probably plenty of people that came to visit the patients here.
Once I was at the front, just on the other side of the nurse’s station, I peeked around the corner to see what was going on. The woman had her back to me, and was focused on typing something in her computer. My eyes spotted the filing cabinet just below the desk, and I realized that it was similar to the one back in the security station back at Crossroads: small, yet able to produce any number of files.
Right, I needed a way to distract her. My mind raced, until the sound of a squeaking cart caught my attention. Glancing that way, I saw an orderly walking by with a cart full of what looked like plates of spaghetti and bowls of jello. Obviously, the man was delivering lunch to some of the patients.
He stopped at the desk, stepping around his cart to talk to (and obviously flirt with) the nurse there. Smiling in spite of myself at the opportunity, I crouched down and looked both ways before sliding my staff out of its container. Hoping no one would walk past, I slipped a little closer while using the counter for cover. Straining outward, I barely touched the tip of the staff to the underside of the cart’s flat top, just beneath the trays of food. Very carefully, I deposited the smallest possible kinetic mine that I could. I did the same thing to the other end of the cart before quickly stepping back out of sight. Then I waited.
It didn’t take long. After a few seconds, the orderly moved back to his cart and started pushing it down the corridor again. I leaned around the station once more, hand on my staff as I waited for the man to get far enough away, yet still in sight. Grimacing then, I offered a silent apology before triggering the mines.
The reaction was instantaneous. The cart jumped off the floor, and the trays of spaghetti and pudding went pretty much everywhere. The man cursed loudly, stumbling backward as the food he had been escorting pretty much literally coated the walls and ceiling.
There was a noise of surprise from the nurse, and she quickly moved around the desk before running over to see what had happened. The second she was gone, I stowed my staff and gave myself a quick boost up and over the counter. Dropping down in front of the file cabinet, I put my hand on it while remembering how Sands had done this before. Then, of course, I had to remember what the woman’s first name was.
“All records related to Tangle, Giselle,” I finally spoke quietly but firmly. As soon as I finished speaking, the drawer popped open, revealing a stack of folders several inches thick. Glancing up to make sure the nurse and orderly were still busy, I quickly took the files and started to use the scanner on them. From what I saw with my brief once-over, it was Tangle’s full medical file from the beginning of her education at Crossroads decades earlier. Obviously, a good portion of them were from after the ‘shark attack’ that had landed her in here without any explanation.
Knowing I had to hurry, I scanned all the files I could before quickly shoving the folders back into the cabinet. Sliding the drawer shut so that they would go back to wherever they were actually stored, I glanced up again and saw the nurse clearly finishing up and getting ready to walk back. Before she could come around and see me, I vaulted over the counter once more and dropped down just as the sound of her footsteps began to approach.
Unfortunately, those doctors that I had seen earlier were standing in the middle of the hall. They weren’t facing me, but they were blocking the way into Tangle’s room, and I didn’t want to draw attention that way if I didn’t have to. Grimacing to myself, I looked around before stepping through the nearest door and into another room.
There was one bed in the place, and an older man lay there. His face was covered in some kind of burn, and he appeared to be sleeping. So I tried to be as quiet as possible while I waited for the doctors to move on so I could get back to Sands and Avalon.
In the meantime, I produced the scanner once more and turned it around to start flipping through the images it had taken of the files. Gradually, I skimmed to see if there was anything interesting.
“Hmm…” My eyes scanned one of the pages, and I paused as a frown touched my face. “Wait.. blood sample? What blood sample?” It wasn’t hers. The woman had submitted some kind of sample for testing about eighteen years earlier. That was followed by another sample from a different subject a short time later. Neither sample was from herself, but the doctors had sure been interested in where she got them from. There was something in the file about genetic comparisons and a bloodline, along with an annotation to something later in the file.
Flicking my finger along the screen to flip ahead through the files until I found the part in question, I read quickly. Then I paused, leaning back against the wall as I thought about it before flipping once more. I read even faster then, my eyes barely picking up what it said until I finally took out my phone and dialed.
“Tristan?” I spoke quietly as soon as the boy answered. “Are you with Vanessa? Right, could you ask her if she recognizes the name Liesje Aken?”
There was a pause until I got my answer. Barely managing a thank you, I hung up. Then I slumped back against the wall, my mind reeling.
I knew why someone was so intent on killing Avalon. And why they had been trying ever since she was born.