“I’m sure you thought you’d gotten away with it,” Wyatt announced in a low tone. “I’m sure you were convinced that none of us could possibly see through your elaborate disguise. But you overplayed your hand. I see the truth. I see your evil intentions.” Slowly, the man paced around the target of his interrogation, his tone turning more accusing. “Were you planning on killing everyone on the island, or would you have warned the youngest to flee? How many were you willing to massacre to achieve your ends? How much blood is already on your hands!?”
“Wyatt?” The voice came from the back of the otherwise completely empty classroom, as Reid Rucker, the second in command of the school’s security forces, stood in the doorway. “Buddy? That’s a coffee cup.” He lifted a hand to indicate the thing that Wyatt had been pacing around, his voice somewhat audibly pained. “You’re interrogating a coffee mug, man.”
“Am I really?” Wyatt shot back immediately as he straightened to snap his hand into a sharp salute that bounced off his forehead. “Or is that just what they want us to think?”
Slowly stepping into the room, Reid raised an eyebrow. “What who wants us to think?”
Head bobbing up and down quickly, Wyatt elaborated… sort of. “They, they. The ones who could turn one of their elite assassins into a coffee mug. Infiltrators. Monsters. They’re all around us.”
There was no they, of course. At least, not in the way that Wyatt was implying (as far as he knew, anyway). And he wasn’t quite crazy enough to actually believe that the coffee mug on the floor was some kind of threat. But he also didn’t want Rucker to have any idea what he had actually been doing, which was scraping gum from the bottom of the desks. Gum which had been planted by him in the first place, after being enchanted to record any conversations that happened within a few feet that contained the names of Flick, Avalon, or any of the others.
It was unlikely, of course, that he’d actually manage to catch one of the Seosten or their allies being stupid enough to talk about it like that. But then, they had made stupid mistakes before. And this was more of a test run before he would plant his eavesdropping gum elsewhere. All he had to do was stick the wad of used gum somewhere, wait for awhile, then go back and collect it. Putting the first run of the gum here in the classroom under several desks was the first test.
But again, he didn’t want Rucker to know any of that. As attractive as the man might have been, he was not on the vanishingly short list of people that Wyatt actually trusted. That list was actually so short that it might have been better referred to as a sentence. And not even a long one, at that. He might have had a bit of a crush on the man, but he wasn’t stupid about it. Hence the quick ruse he’d set up about interrogating the coffee cup as soon as he’d detected the man’s approach and noticed him listening outside the door.
After that ‘explanation’, Reid gave a long, low sigh while shaking his head. That charming smile stayed on his face while he gave Wyatt a look. “Hey man, you let me know if you find anything interesting in your interrogation, okay? But for now, we should probably clear out of here. I think Professor Vandel is going to be in here in a few minutes to set up for some project he’s working on.”
Just as Wyatt started to nod, there was a chirping sound within his pocket. It was the sound of his phone (or one of a dozen he kept on hand, anyway) announcing a new text message. His hand automatically moved to pluck the phone from his pocket, giving the screen a brief look.
Got the milk, do we need eggs? That incredibly ordinary-seeming message had been delivered from a incredibly ordinary-seeming number. Clearly a mistake, a text sent to the wrong person.
Except that it wasn’t. Even as practiced as he was at hiding his true thoughts from all the people who would have killed him if they had known how much he actually knew, Wyatt still barely kept his expression passive. His eyes skimmed over the message before he shook his head.
“What’s up?” Reid, looking curious (though Wyatt didn’t know it if was natural curiosity/the man’s own friendliness or something far more sinister) asked while gesturing to the phone.
“Either a wrong number,” Wyatt started, “or another attempt to embed a secret code phrase into my brain, so they can take over and control me. But I won’t let them.” Tossing the phone to the floor, he stomped on it hard enough to utterly destroy the device, sending small pieces scattering along the floor. A flick of his hand pulled all the pieces into the air, and Wyatt produced a small brown bag before letting the pieces fall inside. To Rucker, he added, “They keep trying. They think they can shove these messages in my head. But I don’t fall for it.”
It didn’t really make much sense, even to Wyatt. But he’d had to think quickly, and he was distracted by the actual meaning of that message. Besides, it wasn’t like most people really paid attention to the things he said anyway, after a certain point. As long as it sounded crazy so that they could easily dismiss it, that’s what mattered. And that definitely sounded crazy.
“Right.” Rucker shook his head, stepping back. “Well, let me know if they try again. Maybe we can track down where it’s coming from. And Wyatt, man…” He paused then, giving him a look as though he was trying to decide exactly how to say what came next. “You’re a good guy, okay? And you’re a great security guard. You’ve just gotta take a breath sometimes.”
“Breathing,” Wyatt agreed distractedly while nodding as he moved to the door. “Right, yes, I will keep breathing. Good advice.” He went through the doorway then, saluting one more time before setting off. He can feel the other man’s eyes on the his back as he strolled down the hallway. With effort, he forced himself to keep his pace even, right up until he turned the corner.
Then he ran. Sprinting down the hall and past a few startled students, Wyatt activated the spell on the bag that he had deposited the shattered pieces of phone into. A second later, he opened the bag, still running, and dropped the newly repaired and functional phone into his hand.
Highlighting the message that he had gotten and copying it, he pasted the words into a separate program on his phone, one that he had created himself. As the words went through the translation program, they came out as a set of coordinates. The coordinates of where Flick had apparently just appeared on Earth.
That was what the message had been. He’d had the phone connected to the spell back in his apartment. The second that it had registered Flick’s reappearance, the thing had encoded the coordinates and sent them to his phone in the form of an apparent wrong number. That little bit of obfuscation was just in case anyone else had been looking at his phone when the message had come in. One could never be too careful, after all. And given how many enemies they had to deal with, getting an open text broadly announcing where Flick was would have been stupid.
Flick. Flick was back. She was on Earth once more, apparently somewhere in southern Arizona, according to the coordinates he had received. The point was, she was back! Wyatt sprinted even harder, almost running right over a couple of students who were making out. If he hadn’t been using his stolen vampire speed, the man wouldn’t have been able to adjust course. As it was, the two twitterpated teenagers broke apart with a look of confusion, looking around in the wake of the blur of motion tearing past them so closely that they felt the rush of air.
Wyatt just kept going, turning the corner once more on his way to the nearby stairs. Taking those stairs three at a time, the man practically threw himself to the top. He went skidding around a corner, nearly falling flat on his face before his gawky legs managed to correct just in time (mostly thanks to the enhanced reflexes and coordination he’d inherited from all those dead vampires).
The whole time he had been moving, Wyatt’s fingers were flying over the phone, as he sent a text to Professor Dare. The message was simple, and would seem to have come from a random phone from somewhere back on Earth to any of the security staff (or other faculty) who looked at the record. It read simply, ‘Wanna see a movie?’ Totally innocent, as far as most people would be concerned. And far better than just sending something like, ‘Hey, Flick is back on Earth!’, like some kind of idiot.
Almost no sooner had he sent the message, than the woman in question abruptly appeared right in front of him. There had to be some kind of time-manipulation effect going on there, given how fast she had apparently reacted. Either way, she stood directly in front of him, her eyes wide. “Is it–”
“Shhhhsssssttt!” Throwing his index finger in front of his mouth, Wyatt hushed her frantically. Giving a quick, suspicious look around the admittedly empty-looking (but that’s just what their enemies would have wanted them to think) corridor, the man quickly activated several different privacy spells, layering them over one another in an intricate web before he was even slightly satisfied. Only then did he nod. “Yes, yes, the tracker on Felicity popped up again. Southern Arizona, almost to the border. She’s back. She’s back. How did she get back? Is it the little Seosten in her? Did they take over?! Is she Flick or is she a monster?!”
As he said the words, asking the questions that Dare clearly wouldn’t know the answers to, Wyatt felt a hard stone settle into his stomach. All this time, all of his precautions and tests, and his own little sister had been possessed!? Of course, the Seosten possessing that Pace girl that his other sister had all-but adopted… Theia, apparently, had said that the Seosten possessing Flick hadn’t been actively controlling her. But still! The fact that he’d had no idea, that this apparently young Seosten had hidden herself from him while possessing Flick, it was… it was…
It made him want to shake that girl’s hand and demand that she tell him absolutely everything she knew about detection and hiding spells, and everything else. Because if that girl was good enough to keep herself hidden for what had to have been a very long time… visions of an apprentice danced in his head. An apprentice who could actually teach him some things. Partnership! A worthy partner!
Of course, if it turned out that she meant Flick harm, there would be no apprenticeship or partnership. Because he would make sure that she never had a chance to hurt his family, or anyone else, ever again.
Dare was shaking her head. “We’ll find out, as soon as we get there. Find Gaia, I’ll pick up Deveron.” Her eyes focused on him. “Do not tell anyone else, okay? We need to find out what the situation is before we pull any more people into this. That includes Avalon and the rest of her team. And Koren. Nobody. If they know what’s going on, they’ll want to help, and… and we need to make sure that Flick is safe first. And why she’s not with the others.”
With that, the blonde woman waited just long enough for Wyatt to give a short nod before she disappeared once more. Wyatt had a feeling she was using that time manipulation again, to avoid wasting as many precious seconds as possible.
Although he couldn’t follow her example exactly, he could pick up the pace himself. Another brief sprint carried him straight to the entrance of the headmistress’s office.
Despite his rush, and excitement, the man didn’t go knocking loudly and wildly on the woman’s door just like that. He had a little more sense. Instead, Wyatt paused for a moment, head tilting a little as he listened. Of course, he wouldn’t be able to hear anything from within the office. Gaia was entirely too security-minded for that, something that he greatly admired her for. Not that there was any shortage of reasons that Wyatt admired the woman who had given him this job, but her attention to that kind of thing was a pretty big one in and of itself.
So no, he wouldn’t be able to hear anything happening within the office itself. Anything that was actually said would be completely masked. But, he would know for certain whether the headmistress was actually in the office, since the privacy spell that she used gave off a very faint, yet recognizable hum when it was active. And it was only active when the woman was actually present. As he listened, Wyatt heard that distinctive hum. Gaia was definitely in there.
Schooling his expression as best as he was able, Wyatt raised his hand to knock. Just as he was about to, however, the door itself swung open, and he came within a hair’s breadth of smacking Peterson Neal right in the face before catching his swinging hand.
For his part, Neal took a quick step back, muttering a brief curse. His reflexive retreat made the man collide with the people behind him, who turned out to be those Committee representatives, October Atrean and Patrick Dinast, the ones who had been sent to keep an eye on things.
“Whoa,” October blurted, catching Peterson with one hand while looking past him to Wyatt. “We didn’t interrupt an impromptu boxing match, did we?” Beside him, the man’s partner remained silent, though his intense gaze seemed to stare through Wyatt as though trying to read his mind. Not that that was possible. Wyatt had at least seven active spells preventing something like that at all times. After all, he wasn’t a complete amateur at this kind of thing.
“No,” Peterson retorted, pulling himself from October’s bracing grip before pointedly straightening his suit and tie. “Only a rookie security guard who should watch what he’s doing.”
“Is everything alright?” The words came from Gaia herself, who had stepped into view. She paused at the sight in her doorway, before carefully asking, “Mr. Rendell, did you find another Ganesha in the toilets?”
A Ganesha in a toilet would have been impossible, of course. The enormous, elephant-headed Alters would have had a hard time fitting into the bathroom itself, let alone into the toilet. The words were a code, and just to make that code more realistic, Wyatt had officially reported being quite certain that he had found one a couple weeks earlier. If another week had gone by, he would have reported something else absurd that would have become their new code.
“No,” he automatically replied, “it’s flitting about somewhere. But I’ll find it soon enough.”
More code. If he had said it was still there, the translation would have been that Flick was still missing with no sign of her. If he’d said that he thought he’d actually caught the Ganesha, it would mean that he had Flick in hand (so to speak). And if he’d said that the Ganesha had gone home, it would mean that he knew where Flick was, but she was being held prisoner. This, saying that the thing was ‘flitting about’, meant that he knew where she was, but didn’t know the exact situation. And ‘find it soon enough’ translated into an appeal for Gaia to move quickly because he had no idea how much longer the girl would stay where she was.
“Wyatt,” Peterson Neal started then, “if you’re just here to bother the headmistress with another trivial report about one of your insane–”
“It’s okay,” Gaia interrupted. “Mr. Rendell and I need to have a conversation anyway. Thank you all very much for stopping by, and I will take your suggestions under advisement.” Stepping back, she gestured for Wyatt to come in. “If you aren’t too busy protecting our school, of course.”
“No, ma’am!” Wyatt promptly replied, putting himself at rigid attention. “I am at your disposal.”
Dismissing the other three, Gaia waited for him to step in before giving a wave of her hand that made the door shut. “Where?” she asked immediately, not needing to waste any time on frivolities, which he appreciated.
“Southern Arizona, ma’am,” he promptly answered. “Professor Dare is collecting my father–” That felt weird for him him to say. “– and will be straight back here as soon–”
There was a knock at the door, and Gaia waved it open to allow Deveron and Dare to enter. The young-looking man who was Wyatt’s biological father strode straight in, giving him a brief smile before starting with, “What the hell is going on in Arizona? Why is Flick there, and why aren’t the others with her?”
“We will find out presently, Mr. Adams,” Gaia informed him calmly, before pausing as her head tilted. “Hold one moment.”
She stood like that, silent for almost five seconds before letting out a low breath that sounded like an annoyed sigh. “Apparently we must find out very quickly. The Committee has been informed of Miss Chambers’ presence.”
“What?!” Dare demanded. “How did they–what?”
Gaia’s head shook. “That much is unclear. Edward Teach was simply kind enough to send a message just now announcing the location of Miss Chambers in case we didn’t have it, along with the promise to delay the other Committee members for as long as possible. But they will be on their way shortly.”
“So we need to go,” Deveron announced then, his fists tightening. “Now.”
Nodding, Gaia looked to Wyatt. “Mr. Rendell, the exact coordinates, please?”
He provided them, and the headmistress created a portal. Together, the four of them stepped through, and into the desert. A desert that was littered with bodies. None of whom looked like Flick, to Wyatt’s great relief. They were soldiers clad in armor.
Ahead was a long, metal structure that looked somewhat like a tube or a cylinder, with a single ramp at one end leading up into it.
With a wave of her hand, Gaia turned herself and the rest of the group invisible to most senses, allowing them to slowly and carefully approach that ship. They passed all the bodies, Wyatt aching to check over them for anything useful. But there wasn’t time.
Then they heard voices. Flick’s voice, saying something about getting ‘her’ back, whoever ‘her’ was. That was followed by another voice, just as they reached the top of the ramp. It was a voice that was equally surprising: Tristan Moon.
“What I wanna know,” the boy was saying, “is where exactly this transport was supposed to go, and why it was aimed for Earth in the first place.”
They were there, past a line of what looked like cryogenic freezing pods full of figures, at the far end of the tube. Flick and Tristan. Wyatt could see them then, along with Vanessa Moon, though the latter was slumped onto the floor, apparently unconscious. Standing near them was another blonde woman, whose hair was cut quite short and who wore a clingy red jumpsuit. A smaller blonde figure, a child, stood between Flick and the woman, clinging onto the former in a tight hug while her eyes gazed with what looked like hero-worshipping adoration at the latter. All of them (aside from the unconscious Vanessa) seemed focused on a console that the woman was working at.
In response to Tristan’s last words, Gaia waved her hand once more, dropping the power that had hidden them.
“Perhaps, Mr. Moon,” she started, “that is a question that we should be attempting to work out together.”