Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Golden Lily Chapter 22

SHOTS RANG OUT across the arena, taking down several more armed Warriors. I realized that Dimitri and Eddie weren't alone – because neither was holding a gun. The shots were coming from the roofs of the compound buildings that surrounded the arena. Chaos broke out as the gathered spectators jumped to their feet to join in the fray. My breath caught as I realized that many of them had their own weapons too. I was shocked to notice that the fallen Warrior on the ground next to me wasn't bleeding. A small dart hung from his shoulder. The sharpshooters' â€Å"bullets† must have been tranquilizers. Who were they? I looked back toward the entrance and saw that a few others with the look of guardians had entered the arena and were fighting with some of the Warriors, including Chris. This provided cover for Dimitri and Eddie to free Sonya. A flash of strawberry blonde hair caught my eye near them, and I recognized Angeline's lithe figure. Dimitri efficiently cut Sonya's straps then helped lift her toward Eddie. A zealous Warrior came at them, and Angeline quickly knocked him out – as though he were a motivational speaker. Beside me, one of the masters shouted, â€Å"Get the Alchemist girl! Hold her hostage! They'll negotiate for her!† The Alchemist girl. Right. That would be me. In the roar of fighting, hardly anyone heard him – save one. The bleach blonde girl had managed to evade being tranquilized. She leapt toward me. My adrenaline kicked in, and I was suddenly no longer afraid. With reflexes I didn't know I had, I reached into my purse and pulled out the so-called â€Å"potpourri.† I ripped it open and flung it out around me, shouting a Latin incantation that translated roughly to â€Å"see no more.† Compared to the scrying spell, this one was astonishingly easy. It required will on my part, certainly, but most of the magic was tied into the physical components and didn't need the hours of concentration that the other one had. The power surged through me almost instantly, filling me with a thrill I hadn't expected. The girl screamed and dropped her gun, clawing at her eyes. Cries of dismay from the masters sitting by me showed they too had been affected. I'd cast a blindness spell, one that would affect those near me for about thirty seconds. Some part of me knew that wielding magic was wrong, but the rest of me felt triumphant at stopping some of these trigger-happy fanatics, if only temporarily. I didn't waste any of that precious time. I jumped up from where I was sitting and ran across the arena, away from the fighting near the entrance. â€Å"Sydney!† I don't know how I managed to hear my name above all that noise. Glancing behind me, I saw Eddie and Angeline carrying Sonya out through the door. They paused, and a pained look crossed Eddie's face as he glanced around, assessing the situation. I could guess his thoughts. He wanted me to come with them. Most of the gathered Warriors had raced to the center of the arena, trying to stop Sonya's rescue. They outmatched me by a long shot, creating a wall between my friends and me. Even if I didn't have to actually fight anyone, it seemed impossible I'd slip by unnoticed – especially since several people were still shouting about â€Å"that Alchemist girl.† Shaking my head adamantly, I motioned for Eddie to go on without me. Indecision warred on his face, and I hoped he wouldn't attempt to break through the throng to get to me. I pointed at the door, again urging him to go. Sonya was the incapacitated one. I would find my own way out. Not waiting to see what he'd do, I turned and continued the way I'd been going. There was a lot of open space for me to cover, but fewer Warriors to stop me. Several buildings ringed the arena, some with doors and windows. I moved toward them, though I had nothing to break the glass. Two of the doors had padlocks. That left two without. The first one I tried turned out to have some unseen lock and wouldn't open. Frantic, I ran to the second and heard a shout behind me. The bleach blonde girl had regained her sight and was coming after me. Desperately, I turned the doorknob. Nothing happened. Reaching into my purse, I pulled out what the Warriors had mistaken for hand sanitizer. I dumped it out, spilling acid over the metal knob. It melted before my eyes. I hoped that would kill the lock. I threw my shoulder into the door, and it gave. Then I dared a peek behind me. My pursuer was lying on the ground, another victim of the tranquilizers. I breathed a sigh of relief and pushed through the door. I'd expected to enter another garage like the one I'd first been taken to, but instead I found myself in some sort of residential building. The empty hallways turned this way and that, and I felt disoriented. Everyone was at the free-for-all in the arena. I passed makeshift bedrooms, filled with cots and partially unpacked suitcases and backpacks. When I noticed what looked like an office, I hesitated in the doorway. Papers covered large foldout tables inside, and I wondered if any contained useful information about the Warriors. I wanted so badly to go in and investigate. These Warriors were a mystery to the Alchemists. Who knew what intel these papers contained? What if there was information that could protect the Moroi? I hesitated for the space of a few heartbeats then reluctantly kept going. The guardians were using tranquilizers, but the Warriors had real guns – guns they wouldn't be afraid to use on me. Better to get out of here with the information I already had than not get out alive. I reached the far side of the building at last and peered out a bedroom window. It was so dark outside now that I could hardly see anything. I didn't have the benefit of torches anymore. The only thing I could tell for sure was that I was no longer adjacent to the arena. That was good enough for me, though it would've been better if there was a door leading outside. I'd have to make my own. Grabbing a chair, I swung it into the window and was completely astonished when the glass broke easily. A few shards hit me, but nothing large enough to cause injury. Standing on the chair, I managed to climb out the window without injuring my hands. I was met by a warm, dark night. No electric lights were visible ahead, just open black land. I took this to mean I was on the opposite side of the compound where Trey had brought me. There were no roads, no sound from the highway we had traveled. There was also no sign of life anywhere, which I took as a good sign. Hopefully all the Warrior guards who normally paroled the grounds were off fighting guardians. If Sonya was out now, my hope was that the guardians would begin retreating – and grab me along the way. Even if they didn't, I wasn't above walking back to I-10 and hitchhiking. The compound was sprawling and confusing, and as I walked around it and still saw no sign of the highway, I began to grow uneasy. How turned around had I gotten? I only had a limited amount of time to get off Warrior property. They could be hunting me right now. There was also the disconcerting problem that once I made it to the periphery, I'd have to deal with the electric fence. Still, it might be best to forget looking for the freeway and simply make for the edge of the Warriors' camp so that I could – A hand grabbed my shoulder, and I screamed. â€Å"Easy there, Sage. I'm no gun-toting crazy guy. Crazy, yes. But not the rest.† I stared in disbelief, not that I could really make out much of the tall, dark figure standing over me. â€Å"Adrian?† The height was right, as was the build. As I stared, I became more and more certain. His hands steadied my shaking. I was so glad to see a friendly face – to see him – that I nearly sank into his arms in relief. â€Å"It is you. How'd you find me?† â€Å"You're the only human out here with a yellow and purple aura,† he said. â€Å"Makes you easy to spot.† â€Å"No, I mean, how'd you find me here? At the compound?† â€Å"I followed the others. They told me not to, but†¦ well.† In the faint moonlight I could barely see his shrug. â€Å"I don't follow directions well. When Castile came out with Sonya and started babbling about how you'd gone out some random door, I thought I'd take a quick walk around. I don't think I was supposed to do that either, but the guardians were kind of busy.† â€Å"You are crazy,† I snapped, despite how happy I was to know I hadn't been abandoned in this miserable place. â€Å"The Warriors are so mad that they'd probably kill a Moroi on sight if they saw you.† He tugged my hand forward. Even through his banter, there'd been a hard tone to his words. He was fully aware of the danger we faced. â€Å"Then we'd better get out of here.† Adrian led me back in the direction I'd come, then went around the opposite side of the building. I didn't see the freeway lights yet, but he soon turned and began running toward the property's far edge, away from the building. I ran alongside him, still holding his hand. â€Å"Where are we going?† I asked. â€Å"The guardians assembled near the back side of the compound, so they wouldn't be spotted. That part of the fence has been deactivated – if you can climb it.† â€Å"Of course I can climb it. I'm practically a prodigy in PE,† I pointed out. â€Å"The question is, can you, Mr. Smoker?† The fence began to come into focus as we approached, mostly because its shape blocked some of the stars. â€Å"That's the section. Behind the scraggly bush,† Adrian said. I couldn't see any bush but trusted in his eyes. â€Å"Go a little ways past that, and there's this country highway that the guardians used as a staging point. I'm parked there.† We came to a halt in front of the fence, both of us a little breathless. I peered upward. â€Å"You're sure it's still off?† â€Å"It was when we came in,† said Adrian, but I could hear a little uncertainty in his voice. â€Å"You think those guys would have gotten their act together enough to fix it already?† â€Å"No,† I admitted. â€Å"But I'd still like to know for sure. I mean, most commercial electric fences won't significantly hurt someone, but we should know.† He glanced around. â€Å"Can we throw a stick at it?† â€Å"Wood doesn't conduct.† I rifled through my purse and found what I wanted: a metal pen with a foam grip. â€Å"Hopefully, the foam on this will block the worst of it if the fence really is hot.† Trying not to grimace, I reached out and touched the pen's barrel to the fence, half-expecting some intense charge to send me flying backward. Nothing happened. I slowly ran the pen along the fence, since most electric ones had an intermittent pulse. Sustained contact would be needed. â€Å"Looks clean,† I said, exhaling in relief and turning to Adrian. â€Å"I guess we're good to – ahh!† A bright light shone in my eyes, blinding me and killing whatever night vision I'd gained out here. I heard Adrian cry out in surprise as well. â€Å"It's the girl!† a male voice exclaimed. â€Å"And†¦ and one of them!† The flashlight was moved out of my face, and although spots still danced in my vision, I could make out two hulking figures rapidly approaching. Were they armed? My mind raced. Whether they were or not, they were still an obvious threat since Warriors apparently liked to practice bashing each other in their free time, and Adrian and I didn't. â€Å"Don't move,† said one of them. A blade shone in the gleam of the lowered flashlight. Not as bad as a gun, but not great either. â€Å"You're both coming with us, back inside.† â€Å"Slowly,† added the other. â€Å"Don't try any tricks.† Unfortunately for them, I still had a few up my sleeve. Quickly I put the pen back in my purse and grabbed another souvenir from Ms. Terwilliger's homework: a thin, round wooden bracelet. Before either Warrior could do anything, I snapped the wooden circle into four pieces and tossed them on the ground, calling out another Latin incantation. Again, I felt the rush of power and its exultation. The men cried out – I'd cast a disorientation spell, one that messed with equilibrium and made vision blurry and surreal. It worked a lot like the blindness spell, affecting those around me. I lunged forward and pushed one of our assailants down. He fell easily, too incapacitated by the spell to resist. The other guy was so distraught that he'd dropped the flashlight and was practically on the ground already as his attempts at balance failed. Nonetheless, I gave him a good kick to the chest to make sure he stayed down and grabbed his flashlight in the process. I didn't necessarily need it with Adrian's night vision, but these two would now be helpless in the dark when the spell wore off. â€Å"Sage! What the hell did you do to me?† Turning, I saw Adrian clinging to the fence, using it to hold himself up. In my eagerness to stop the Warriors, I'd forgotten the spell affected everyone near me. â€Å"Oh,† I said. â€Å"Sorry.† â€Å"Sorry? My legs don't work!† â€Å"It's your inner ear, actually. Come on. Grab the fence and climb. One hand in front of the other.† I caught hold as well and urged him up. It wasn't the most difficult fence to climb – it wasn't electrified or barbed – and having it for support negated some of Adrian's disorientation. Nonetheless, it was still slow going as we made it toward the top. This spell lasted a little longer than the blindness one, but I was painfully aware that as soon as Adrian was free from it, the Warriors would be too. Against all odds, we made it to the top of the fence. Getting over to the other side was much more difficult, and I had to do a fair amount of acrobatics to help Adrian make the transition while keeping myself steady. Finally, I wrangled him into the correct position to climb down. â€Å"Good,† I said. â€Å"Now just reverse what you did before, one hand down in front of the – † Something slipped, either his hand or foot, and Adrian plummeted to the ground. It wasn't that long of a drop, and his height helped a little – not that he was in any shape to actually use his legs and land on his feet. I winced. â€Å"Or you can just take the short way down,† I said. I quickly scaled down after him and helped him stand. Aside from the spell's debilitation, he didn't seem to have suffered any damage. Slipping an arm around him and letting him lean his weight on me, I attempted to run toward the road he'd mentioned, which was now slightly visible. â€Å"Running† was difficult, however. It was hard work keeping Adrian up and I kept stumbling. Still, we made our way slowly from the compound, which was about as much as we could hope for. Adrian's state made him clumsy and heavy, and his height was a real inconvenience. Then, without warning, the spell wore off, and Adrian instantly recovered. His legs strengthened and his unwieldy gait straightened out. Suddenly, it was as though he were carrying me, and we practically tripped over each other trying to adjust. â€Å"You okay?† I asked, letting go. â€Å"I am now. What the hell was that?† â€Å"It's not important. What is important is that those guys have recovered too. Maybe I knocked them down hard enough to slow them down.† That seemed kind of unlikely. â€Å"But run anyway.† We ran, and even if he undoubtedly had the respiratory system of a chain smoker, his long legs made up for it. He could easily outdistance me but slowed so that we stayed together. Whenever he started to get ahead, he'd grab my hand again. Shouts sounded behind us, and I turned off the flashlight to make us harder to spot. â€Å"There,† said Adrian. â€Å"See the cars?† Slowly, out of the darkness, two SUVs materialized, along with a much more conspicuous yellow Mustang. â€Å"Very covert,† I muttered. â€Å"Most of the guardians have gotten away,† said Adrian. â€Å"But not everyone.† Before I could respond, someone grabbed me from behind. In a maneuver that would have made Wolfe proud, I managed the backward kick that he'd tried so hard to teach us. It caught my attacker by surprise, and he released me, only for his companion to shove me to the ground. Three figures ran toward us from the cars and hurled themselves at our attackers. Thanks to his signature duster, I knew Dimitri led the group. â€Å"Get out of here,† he called to Adrian and me. â€Å"You know where to meet. We'll cover you. Drive fast – they'll probably be on the road soon.† Adrian helped me up, and once again we ran together. I'd hurt my ankle in the fall, so I moved slowly, but Adrian helped me along and let me lean on him. All the while, my heart was threatening to pound out of my chest, even when we reached the safety of the Mustang. He guided me to the passenger side. â€Å"Can you get in okay?† â€Å"I'm fine,† I said, sliding in and unwilling to admit the pain was growing. I prayed I hadn't slowed us too much. I couldn't stand the thought of being the one responsible for Adrian's capture. Satisfied, Adrian raced over to the driver's side and started the car. The engine roared to life, and he followed Dimitri's orders to the letter, peeling out at a speed I was envious of. Out on this country highway, however, it seemed unlikely there were any cops. I glanced behind us a few times, but by the time we made it to I-10, it was obvious no one had followed us. I sighed gratefully and leaned my head against the seat, though I was still a long way from being calm. I couldn't assume we were safe yet. â€Å"Okay,† I said. â€Å"How on earth did you guys find me?† Adrian didn't answer right away. When he did, I could tell it was with great reluctance. â€Å"Eddie put a tracking device in your purse, back at my place.† â€Å"What? He couldn't have! They searched me.† â€Å"Well, I'm sure it didn't look like one. I don't know what he ended up getting. He got it from your people, actually. As soon as Trey confirmed the meeting tonight, Belikov was on the phone with every guardian in a two-hour radius, trying to recruit backup. He called the Alchemists too and convinced them to share some tech.† There were so many crazy things about what he'd just said, I didn't know where to begin parsing it. All sorts of wheeling and dealing had gone on without me realizing it. And even when it had been settled, no one had told me about it. Plus, the Alchemists had been involved? Helping the guardians to track me? â€Å"The earrings,† I said. â€Å"That's where they came from. The tracker must be in one of them. I never would have guessed.† â€Å"I'm not surprised, knowing the way you guys work.† The rest of tonight's reality began to sink in. The last of my fear subsided – only to be replaced by anger. â€Å"You lied to me! All of you! You should have told me what you were doing – that you were tracking me and planning a raid! How could you keep that from me?† He sighed. â€Å"I didn't want to, believe me. I told them over and over they needed to get you in the loop. But everyone was afraid you'd refuse to take the device if you knew about it. Or that you'd somehow slip up and give away the plan to those nuts. I didn't believe that, though.† â€Å"And yet, you didn't bother telling me yourself,† I snapped, still outraged. â€Å"I couldn't! They made me promise not to.† Somehow, his betrayal hurt worse than all the others. I had come to trust him implicitly. How could he do this to me? â€Å"No one believed I'd be able to talk the Warriors down, so everyone just made contingency plans without me.† Never mind that I hadn't been able to talk them down. â€Å"Someone should have told me. You should have told me.† There was legitimate pain and regret in his voice. â€Å"I'm telling you, I wanted to. But I was trapped. You of all people should know what it's like being caught between groups, Sage. Besides, don't you remember what I said just before you got in the car with Trey?† I did, actually. Almost word for word. No matter what happens, I want you to know that I never doubted what you're going to do. It's smart, and it's brave. I slouched further into my seat and felt like I was on the verge of tears. Adrian was right. I did know what it was like to have your loyalty stretched between different groups. I understood the position he'd been in. It was just, some selfish part of me wished that I'd been the one his loyalty had been strongest to. He tried, an inner voice said. He tried to tell you. The meeting spot that Dimitri had told Adrian to go to turned out to be Clarence's house. The place was crawling with guardians, some of whom were patching up each other's injuries. No one had been killed on either side, something the guardians had been very cautious about. The Warriors of Light already thought vampires were twisted and corrupt. They didn't need more fuel added to the fire. Not that tonight's raid was probably going to help matters. I had no clue how the Warriors would react or if there might be some lethal retaliation in store. I supposed the guardians and Alchemists had taken that into consideration. I wondered bitterly if any of them would share their opinions on it with me. â€Å"I know better than to offer to heal you,† Adrian told me, as we squeezed past a group of guardians. â€Å"Grab a seat in the living room, and I'll get you some ice.† I started to say I could get my own, but my ankle was growing increasingly painful. With a nod, I left him and made my way to the living room. A couple of unknown guardians were there, along with a beaming Clarence. To my surprise, Eddie and Angeline were also in there, sitting side by side – and holding hands? â€Å"Sydney!† he exclaimed. He immediately released Angeline's hand and hurried over to me, astonishing me with a hug. â€Å"Thank God you're okay. I hated having to leave you there. That wasn't part of the plan. I was supposed to have gotten you out with Sonya.† â€Å"Yeah, well, maybe next time, someone can fill me in on the plan,† I said pointedly. Eddie grimaced. â€Å"I'm sorry about that. I really am. We just†¦Ã¢â‚¬  â€Å"I know, I know. Didn't think I'd go along with it, were afraid something would go wrong, etc., etc.† â€Å"I'm sorry.† I didn't entirely forgive him, but I was too tired to push the matter much further. â€Å"Just tell me this,† I said, lowering my voice. â€Å"Were you just holding hands with Angeline?† He blushed, which seemed ludicrous after the fierceness I'd seen him pull off back at the compound. â€Å"Er, yeah. We were just†¦ talking. I mean, that is†¦ I think we might go out sometime. Not at school, of course, since everyone thinks we're related. And probably not anything serious. I mean, she's still a little out there, but she's not as bad as I used to think. And she was really great in that battle. I feel like maybe I should get my head out of the fantasy with Jill and try some normal dating. If you'll let me borrow your car.† I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. â€Å"Sure,† I said. â€Å"Far be it for me to stop a budding romance.† Should I tell him Jill might not be such a fantasy after all? I didn't want to meddle. Eddie deserved to be happy, but I couldn't help but feel a little bad that I'd told Jill he might be interested. I hope I hadn't made things more complicated. Adrian returned with a bag of ice. I sat down in an armchair, and he helped position the ice on my ankle after I propped it up on a footstool. I relaxed as the ice began numbing the pain and hoped I hadn't broken anything. â€Å"Isn't this exciting?† Clarence asked me. â€Å"Finally, you were able to see the vampire hunters for yourselves!† I wasn't sure I'd describe the night with that much enthusiasm, but I did have to concede a point to him. â€Å"You were right,† I said. â€Å"I'm sorry for not believing you sooner.† He gave me a kind smile. â€Å"It's all right, my dear. I probably wouldn't have believed a crazy old man either.† I smiled in return and then thought of something from earlier. â€Å"Mr. Donahue†¦ you said when you encountered the hunters before that a human named Marcus Finch intervened on your behalf.† Clarence nodded eagerly. â€Å"Yes, yes. Nice young man, that Marcus. Certainly hope I run into him again someday.† â€Å"Was he an Alchemist?† I asked. Seeing Clarence's puzzled look, I tapped my cheek. â€Å"Did he have a tattoo like mine?† â€Å"Like yours? No, no. It was different. Hard to explain.† I leaned forward. â€Å"But he did have a tattoo on his cheek?† â€Å"Yes. Didn't you see in the picture?† â€Å"What picture?† Clarence's gaze turned inward. â€Å"I could've sworn I showed you some of my old pictures, back when Lee and Tamara were young†¦ ah, such good days those were.† I worked hard to stay patient. Clarence's moments of coherence were sometimes hard to get a hold of. â€Å"And Marcus? You have a picture of him too?† â€Å"Of course. A lovely one of the two of us. I'll find it one day and show you.† I wanted to ask him if he'd show it to me now, but with his place so crowded, it didn't seem like the right time. Dimitri arrived shortly thereafter, along with the last of the guardians who'd been at the compound. Dimitri immediately asked about Sonya, who I'd learned was resting in her bedroom. Adrian had offered to heal her, but Sonya had had enough clarity of mind to refuse him, saying she simply wanted blood and rest and a chance for the drugs to wear off naturally. Once Dimitri got this report and could rest easy about Sonya, he came straight to me, looking down from his lofty height at where I sat with my ice. â€Å"I'm sorry,† he said. â€Å"I know you must have heard by now what happened.† â€Å"That I was sent into a dangerous situation with only half the information I needed?† I asked. â€Å"Yeah, I heard all about that.† â€Å"I'm not a fan of lies and half truths,† he said. â€Å"I wished there'd been another way. We had so little time, and this just seemed like the best option. No one doubted your ability to reason and make a compelling case. It was the Warriors' ability to listen and see reason that we didn't believe in.† â€Å"I can see why you guys didn't trust me with the plan.† Near me, I saw Adrian flinch at the way I said â€Å"you guys.† I hadn't intentionally meant anything by it but realized now that it sounded very condescending and Alchemist – so Us versus Them. â€Å"But I still can't believe the Alchemists went along with that – that they condoned keeping me out of the loop.† There were no free chairs left, so Dimitri simply sat down cross-legged. â€Å"There's not much I can tell you about that. Like I said, it was all short notice, and when I spoke with Donna Stanton, she felt it would be safer all around if you didn't know what was coming. If it makes you feel better, she was very adamant about us keeping you safe once we were there.† â€Å"Maybe,† I said. â€Å"It'd be better still if she'd thought about how I might feel when I found out I wasn't trusted with vital information.† â€Å"She did think about it,† said Dimitri, looking slightly uncomfortable. â€Å"She said you wouldn't mind because you understand the importance of not questioning your superiors' decisions and that you know what they do is for the best. She said you're an exemplary Alchemist.† Don't question. They know what's best. We can't take any chances. â€Å"Of course she did,† I said. I never question anything.

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