I jump under the closest stalagmite while Malakim looks on, uncaring.
This is a trap. If there were any doubts, the voice of Semiramis emerging from the construct dispels them.
“Alien essence detected. Scanning.”
Her voice is bored and formal, a sharp contrast to the massive golem’s threatening presence. Its stone skin is covered in runes under which a metal armature snakes, poking out here and there like broken bones through skin. Rays of dark red emerge from its eyes to sweep the floor.
They land on Malakim.
“Primary target identified. Engaging.”
I swear and crawl away from my brother’s standing form. He merely snickers as he walks forward to meet the construct head on. A massive bastard sword with a jagged edge appears in his hand, which he moves around with a flourish.
“Let’s see what you can do then, you piece of scrap,” he jeers.
I search around for a way to protect myself and find one. My eyes land on an opening in the right wall ahead of me and a glimmer of hope grows in my chest, battling the Thirst for supremacy.
If only those two could keep each other busy…
Malakim struts with absolute confidence. What a fool. I have seen golems before, of course. They are rare magical constructs that require an independent power source, most of the time a core formed from precious material and charged by mages over several days. Even then, they have always been suits of armor.
They also have none of the weaknesses of their squishy creators.
Golems are slow compared to us, yet what they lose in power, they make up in durability and blind tenacity. This one was designed by Semiramis to eliminate Malakim specifically, therefore it must have countermeasures to account for the man’s resilience and speed.
I push my head up and watch from the side as Malakim appears before the golem. His sword digs a furrow in the construct’s torso, as if it were butter. My brother is like Siegfried before the imposing mass of his foe.
Perhaps he can win easily after all?
The orange gem on the dragon’s forehead shines—
I am on the ground, The left part of my forehead is slightly singed and I shake under the dreadful memory, the terrible reminder of what I once endured. I want to stay down and hidden lest it happens again but curiosity and the need to escape urge me on.
From the dragon’s gem came a single ray of the vengeful orb. It was a mere spark, a shadow of the real thing, yet that was enough. I raise my head to gaze at the dying shimmer of the orange gem, now spent.
Semiramis can store sunlight! She can unleash it from inside a dark cave, and now, Malakim is missing his head. I can hardly believe it.
The unstoppable force, the unmovable object who swatted me like a fly and filled me with despair falls on the ground, a finger away from death. The golem’s enormous paw will be enough to crush his heart and finish him off, now that he can no longer resist.
Just like that.
I am at a loss.
The dragon golem pounces as I am paralyzed by indecision. The Thirst throws me off and robs me of my ability to think. Malakim is going to die. Is it good? Is it bad? Should I do something?
I cannot think.
The dragon’s clawed foot is as large as Malakim’s chest. It descends, and then it stops.
Against a shield.
A massive half-sphere of purple light has formed over the prone form and cocooned it in its inviolable embrace. The golem’s paw smashes once more against the defense before its red eyes once again glare over the battlefield.
I finally manage to recover enough to realize that I should act while I can. I move to the right, towards the second exit until my back is to it, yet I dare not leave my cover.
“Shield detected. Countermeasures engaged.”
Three silvery talons slide from the paw and on the next bump, the shield starts to crack. Fissures appear in the smooth surface.
It does not matter. As I crawl away, I can feel him coming like a stormfront. This pressure grows and grows until the air feels almost liquid and advancing feels like fighting through molasses.
He is pulling on the world to move faster.
Something clicks in my mind. The weight of fate, which had been silent since last night, tugs on me once more. This is it. This is my chance.
I lift my gauntlet.
The light of the sun has created an imbalance and the spell flows out as if torn from my chest like an eager child. The deepest darkness gathers around me with its welcoming presence.
The first vampire crashes into the cave in a cataclysmic shock. Shrapnel of bronze and stone fall like a hail and with one hand, he blocks the paw.
The world holds its breath. Nirari has one hand on Malakim’s chest and one against the paw, his attention fixed on the construct with such immobile intensity that he has become a statue as well.
“My son,” Semiramis’ voice whispers from some enchanted recess.
A complex expression takes over my sire’s adamant countenance. This is, perhaps, the most lively he has ever looked without making someone else suffer.
Then the scene is broken when both eye-orbs crack and a noise like an angry teapot emerges from the golem. Nirari’s dark glare turns to me as the last tendril of my shadowy cloak forms and my side of the room changes into an inky abyss.
He gives me the tiniest nod of respect.
And then, I am gone. I move faster than I ever have in my life to the exit I chose. I race down a tunnel dug into the very rock with no care for traps or spells. I kick open a locked door, turn left into a side alley by stepping on the wall and rush forward without pause.
The world rocks under a massive explosion.
I am thrown forward. Down becomes up. Scathing air flails my back. Ears pop.
I wait, hands over my neck.
I stand up on uncertain legs, brush the dust and pebbles covering me. Light above is still diffused by those yellow lines.
Behind me, the passage is obstructed by collapsed rocks as large as slabs. The blockade must go on up to the golem cavern and farther in the other direction.
Nobody is going through there for a long time.
I did it. There is now a physical barrier between me and my captors that cannot be crossed. I am not safe yet, however. I need to exit the complex and find someone to drink. It must happen tonight. So THIRSTY. But no, I must focus and take precautions. Quick, quick, then I go.
I make sure my earrings are securely fastened. They are. Now, to take care of the rest.
I kneel and force my fleeting attention to my aura. Subdued is not enough; gone is required. I pull my power in. It feels like rolling and wringing my own mind, which I find eminently unpleasant. My control wavers at some point and I start to unravel, yet a last supreme effort brings me as close to aural invisibility as possible.
I feel constrained as if I wore far too tight clothes. The discomfort adds to the craving pain in my abdomen and makes me want to claw myself open. I will move after one last thing.
I raise my gauntlet and gather every last dredge of focus I can. Sinead uses this to escape detection by vampires.
“Nu Mahiken Oe…”
I cough and the spell wavers. Dust. The feedback burns into my veins until I seize firm control of it. I wrestle the construct back under control.
The corridor around me turns… smoother. The wall loses its granularity; rock powder falls to the ground.
“Nu Mahiken Oessi Nok.”
Let the imprint be gone. With this, my smell should disappear almost entirely. It will last for as long as I feed it power and keep it at the back of my mind.
I need blood. I really do. Time to find it. Wait, no, time to escape. VITALITY. Same thing really.
The corridor moves forward and I follow it at a run. No time to waste. The beautiful canvas of the world needs some more red in it. Down with all that dreary grey! Three paths. Left, forward and right, all of them twisted so I do not see where they lead. Unless I missed something, I should FORWARD. Wait, no. From his throne room, I went forward then right then forward then right then right again into the golem chamber. Then I turned left. Right will head me back towards the throne room. Forward or left. FORWARD is fine. Go.
I run without a sound. Another passage. Another three-way path. Strange glyphs on the wall looking like Akkad but not quite. Drawings? I hurry hurry hurry. It does not smell like much, just strangely fresh air and old magic.
A dead end.
I turn around and retrace my steps and pick another way. Left. No, Right! Right is left now. Yes. I go. I find another cross. So many ways! Where does this all lead? Forward forward forward with all haste I just need a way out I just need to find someone this is all that matters now I just need the blood and everything will be fine. Everything will be fine in the world.
Where am I?
How many times have I turned?
FORWARD. No, I need to keep track. I bend and dig a mark with my talon in the raw stone. The sound and sensation force me to grit my teeth, nothing that a little blood cannot solve. Forward now. A dead end. Back and to the side. Another mark. Another crossroad. Another.
This is a maze. A large maze with symbols for keys and I do not remember them and I cannot remember how I got here and it HURTS.
I lean against the wall, then on my knees, a hand grasping my chest.
Calm down, Ariane, calm down. I am not in a maze per se. I already guessed that Semiramis travels around by messing with space. I recall that her ‘home’ back when I met her was larger on the inside. I must be within a sort of transit system, and the glyphs are the key. I could just follow the same glyph and probably emerge somewhere. Which one? I do not recall.
I stop where I am and inspect the symbols. There is a sort of turtle, a stylized circle, a cloud and a twisted arrow.
I rush left. A sort of wolf, a honeycomb, a field, three mountains.
No match. Maybe I saw wrong?
I return. I double check. Turtle, circle, cloud, arrow.
It makes no sense.
Another path. No match.
I come back to the one I chose as reference.
Turtle, Scale, lantern, square.
No. No no no no no no. No. No, I must be losing my focus. Keep it together, Ariane, you are just THIRSTY. Unfocused. I just need to…
I stop and take a few shaky breaths to fight back against the pointless urge I feel now. My instincts have always been things to control and use, just like pain itself. Now, they are merely obstacles. Yes, I know that I am falling apart, thank you very much. No, I do not need to be reminded of it every last fucking second. Dear beastly me, things would go better if you just let me focus for one Watcher-forsaken minute. Fuck!
The anger helps me push the pain back into a recess of my mind, yet I know this is merely a short reprieve before its needy talons dig once more into my vulnerable psyche. What to do? I am TRAPPED.
Trapped, trapped, trapped.
I would use fate to guide my feet, but I cannot manage to focus enough. I never thought I would need magic specifically to escape a labyrinth either…
Wait, I know! The air is fresh but I have not detected any runes to that effect. There must be circulation and I can just follow the draft to an exit, hopefully. Even if it comes from a small opening I cannot use, it will surely drive me closer to my goal.
I close my eyes, wet my right index finger with a little bit of saliva and wait. It grows cold on one side and this is where I go.
I repeat the maneuver at the next crossroad and am pointed in another direction. I hope I can finish this little treasure hunt before I run out of saliva. That would be awkward.
At the next crossroad, the wind points me back the way I came, and I am not even surprised. I run back, paying more attention to my perception to see where exactly the spatial fuckery occurs.
I cannot tell.
Two more crossroads succeed each other and I can feel it now. The air grows cold and windy, not charged with the perfumes of soil and plant life but crisp and clean like a mountain.
The last passage I follow does not lead to another choice. This one snakes up and up, through the earth, until the beautiful canvas of the wall shifts from grey to a deep sapphire blue. The temperature drops to lows I had never experienced before in my life, not even during my werewolf hunt in the heart of winter.
My feet lose traction though I do not fall and keep rushing forward. The arch above me is pure cobalt under the midnight lights, and then, dotted black.
I am out.
An incredible vista rolls before me to the horizon, a blanket of pure white carried to the end of the world and buffeted by howling gales that lift snow in the air like clouds of powdery diamond. The lack of relief makes the sky enormous and filled with an infinite sea of stars, and from them fall strange curtains of purple and green, bleeding up as if into another realm. The wind here plasters my hair to my skull and carries with it a complete absence of smell. No sap, no smoke, not even a hint of grass or fish.
The otherworldly beauty robs me of words.
I may as well be on another planet, with all the implications.
This beauty is sterile. It cannot bear life. Even now my flimsy dress grows rigid under the arctic onslaught. Fuzzy spikes of ice grow on it like crystalline mushrooms. In a few minutes it will be frozen solid.
There is no one here.
For a world and a half.
Some mountains rise up to my left, so far that I may not even reach them in a full night. The biting cold should not hurt me, yet even I feel myself growing languid. This is a dead-end into a barren world as desolate as the surface of the moon. No blood. No blood at all.
For the first time, it occurs to me that I may go rogue here and shackle myself in madness instead of in bondage. I could haunt those labyrinthine depths like a wraith until Semiramis finds me on her way and turns me inside out. Trapped trapped trapped.
I step back in.
There is only death outside. I run and rake my claws over the frigid wall, digging deep furrows. The tinkle of broken ice soothes me for an instant before the Thirst surges back in a tide of blinding need. I force back a moan and stop. Why force back? Why? I keen and growl and run because it does not matter and neither do the squiggly lines by the crossroads, as undecipherable to me as hieroglyphs. Pointless. Useless. Wasted. I run and I HUNT.
NEED IT. THE SWEET NECTAR.
Passages go by. STRAIGHT IS NOT STRAIGHT BUT BACKWARDS AND INWARDS TOGETHER. I kneel by each access with my nose on the ground sniffing out PREY. Hum a little song to keep the pain at bay. Canvas of grey needs canvass of green to lead to my goal. Outside. I run and I moan a keening sound, something sharp and discordant that no human throat can produce. The world fades at the edge of my vision until something fragments. The shards break apart, unravelling at the seams. They are of no use. They get in the way of blood.
Quick quick, faster. I find a useful shard that pulls me in a certain direction. Nice little shard that will give me ink for the canvas, crimson ink vivid and fragrant for little me to keep going.
After a time, but not too long, I feel another draft. I move faster now and shed more shards. I smell it first.
Quickly now I rush up and through the twisted path until I…
An obstacle? CANNOT MOVE! Earth and trees and the familiar smell of tall grass beyond. Shuffling steps.
I grab a shed fragment. Bring it back. Discarded clarity returns for a moment. The way is barred. A metal grid of silvery fabric, with a… a cross. Cannot get past. Feet approach.
Cannot get past? I grab another fragment, then another, pull myself back together piece by piece even though it will fall apart again.
“P—please! Please…” I beg.
A young man in a leather duster with a scruffy black beard jumps, scared. DELICIOUS. He turns around, and his eyes widen at my sight.
“Hold on miss, I’ll get you out in a moment. Jesus, what happened to you?”
He comes forth. The grid holds in place because of… of…
One more fragment. The pain is unbearable but I need to know what, I need to know how. I need to get past.
Hinges freshly mortared in. Quite possibly a rush job.
The man’s hands slow as they take out a set of keys. His brow furrows. No. No!
“What are you doing here, anyway?” he suddenly asks, his voice dripping with suspicion.
More fragments. I need to Charm… but the cross blocks me, just as unyielding as before. I bend over in pain and collapse against the wall as a wave of unimaginable agony overwhelms me. I scream and cry. Distant voices sound on the other side.
“What’s going on, Beckett?”
“A woman, sir. She looks hurt.”
“A woman, you say?”
Another face. Fragments split again, useless. No! This is my chance. My only chance. Just one last little push is all I need.
“Please… it hurts…”
“For the love of God, Beckett, step away from the bloody door, did your branch teach you nothing?”
“I haven’t opened, sir!” the bearded man protests.
“You there,” a newcomer with greying hails, “who are you and what are you doing here?”
It hurts so much.
“I gave you an order, woman!”
“Bloody hell! What is this?” the bearded man cries.
“I can’t believe it, the reports were true! There is a nest in Texas. This is a blood-starved vampire!”
No. They won’t open. Why won’t they open?
Push against the barrier.
Cannot. Enough! I need to… I… What?
Unravelling. Breaking apart. I just… Find a way. So close…
“Should we shoot her, sir?”
“No, that would be a waste even if we hit. If she is truly blood-starved she will stay there until dawn. Either she burns or we open the gate and follow her in, kill her while she is asleep. Jesus am I glad we placed a cross here.”
More fragments. Come on, one last time.
I need a projectile. The wall is sheer with no convenient bricks. This plan will not work.
I struggle to regain some lucidity in one last-ditch, supreme effort of will. I have a tool.
I raise my gauntleted hand. Tool. It can… open things. From afar.
Cannot remember. What was I doing? Barrier Yes, I must break it. I have a tool. I can do it.
Soul-rending suffering. Why am I holding my arm up? No, I must…
Someone is coming?
Many ink bottles covered in pretty leather, so close yet so far. There were two, now more have come. Behind, ephemeral constructs of things that do not matter. Tents. A fire.
They all stare at me but someone is coming. I feel a scent in the air. An aura of a kin.
One of the canvases on the left looks to the side but too late. I heard it first, the panicked neigh of a useless thing, a ‘woosh’ of displaced air.
A reinforced cart lands on the assembled group in a cataclysmic crash of steel and bone, wood and flesh. The fracas is deafening and the aftermath is screams and cries. The half-broken wheel of the chassis turns and turns and captivates me, until a new form arrives.
A massive vampire in dark iron armor, face entirely covered by a medieval helm strides forward with energy. He stops before me and considers the grid. He approaches, but his hand is blocked.
Our eyes meet. I do not know if he sees the agony there, the melting psyche. I only know that he speaks.
“I will always be here for you, Miss Ari,” he solemnly declares.
Then he does the impossible. Massive armored gauntlets grab the bars while flames of burning blue devour the flesh underneath. He bellows with a roar that shakes the trees. With a crack of broken stone, the masonry gives way on one side.
Can slip by.
Slip by. Find a man on the ground. Bite down.
A pleasure like no other washes away everything in my mind. It sweeps away the pain, the memories, the will, my senses, the world around me. I only exist in ecstasy, a trance like no others that erases everything.
Too soon, it ends but I am in luck! There are other broken things on the ground that still draw breath. More nectar for me.
The other vampire comes and kneels by my side as I raise a struggling man and expose his throat. He removes his helmet to reveal… a familiar face?
The cleft lip is mostly gone though his smile remains lopsided. His swarthy complexion is paler now though he is still quite ugly. I know him well.
He stops me with a hand on my shoulder. I allow it because it is him.
“Miss Ari. Come back.”
He stops me and he is very strong. The blood is here. It will taste so sweet. I want to fight him and rip into him because he is a rival, except, this is not entirely correct. A small part of a fragment whispers something else.
I do not wish to fight him, merely to drink. I pull more fragments in and now that the pain is gone, they rejoin the whole more easily. They have stopped disintegrating. I pull more to find a key, a way to make him leave me alone.
“Go back to the Dream, I will be there shortly.”
The hand stays strong and his face, placid.
“No, Miss Ari, I cannot obey you this time.”
What? He should. The fragments say that he is… loyal. Always here for me. I need the blood so he should give me the blood. Only fair.
“You are safe and sated. Come back Ariane. I am here now.”
I taste the word. It feels familiar. Ariane. Ariane. Ariane is me. I am Ariane.
“I am Ariane.”
“Yes, good, you are Ariane of the Nirari. We are near Fort Texas. You are here to fulfill an oath.”
“Fulfill an oath.”
Oaths are important. I have made oaths. I cannot die before father. I am the sister of Jimena. I will respect the Accords. I will aid the White Cabal. I will find my nephew.
Little by little, all the little shards I had discarded return to me as they were about to slip into the abyss. I pull them back from the edge even though I could let go and drink and stop hurting. Several times I am tempted to give up but the voice of the man before me centers me, until I am almost whole again.
“Yes, it is me, John. I am back.”
“No but, Miss Ari. You have to focus. What are you here for?”
“No, you are here for an oath.”
I was here for blood but then I had some and I do have an oath. I just mentioned it. Ah, yes.
“I am here to rescue my nephew. He was captured. He may be held in Matamoros. I was on my way to Matamoros. I…”
Eight fangs. Malakim and Nirari. Captivity. The traps. The cult. The golem. Back home, the werewolf’s second village as their population explodes. Chicago expanding as well with Melusine’s subtle influence. Metis. Torran.
The last parts of me fuse back and I let out a few shaky breaths. The agony is gone and so is the temptation of oblivion. They recede like a tidal wave, leaving the land behind scraped and raw.
I sit heavily on the blood-stained ground, ignoring John as he finishes off the last broken Gabrielites.
I almost went rogue.
No, I went rogue and John pulled me from the brink before I was too far gone. Freed of the pain, I am still shaken and fragile. I need some time.
“Are you alright, Miss Ari?”
I nod, not trusting my voice.
Oh wait. John. Natalis vampire.
“How?” I ask. He only blinks in answer.
“How are you a Natalis vampire?”
He stops to reorder his thoughts and this time I notice that his mind seems faster, or perhaps his focus has improved?
“I was weak. You were safe. Lord Jerak invited me to his land and offered to turn me. I served him for a bit over two years and had two children. I saw what kind of man he was and accepted the gift. I served him since and so does my family.”
“But… you are here now?”
“Nirari came. He said that we had to keep his presence secret and not interfere while he worked in return for being left alone and payment. Lord Jerak agreed, and we only had half an hour to send messages warning that we would close communication. Our mage could not join you. Lord Jerak freed me from his service, so I would not be bound by the agreement. I came here with the mage who was also freed. We felt Nirari’s spell at the village and saw you with a spell. We followed you and him to another entrance close by. He left earlier tonight and condemned the entrance, but we had already found this one here. We came and there were Gabrielites. I saw you. I came to rescue you.”
He smiles proudly at that, the bright expression odd above his armor-clad frame. Goliath could not have been more intimidating.
“You did,” I admit, “thank you.”
I move next to a chest and sit on it heavily.
“I need some time.”
Do I have time?
“Nevermind,” I grumble, and stand back up. I move as if through water and the earth grasps at my heels. Flowers and shapes undulate at the edge of my vision, only to feign immobility when I turn around. The world looks strange.
“Would you like to keep this?” John asks.
He holds a strange thorn plant, now severed at the end. It clicks with something in my memory.
“Where did you find this?” I ask with suspicion.
“Inside the corridor. Where you were trapped.”
The root — or is it a branch? — shines with the luster of polished obsidian.
I touch it and it disappears in a flash of blue.
This happened before when I faced the werewolves, only larger this time.
Just like that time, I have no real way to investigate what this is, except perhaps mention it to someone like Sephare. Enough of this.
“We need to leave. I don’t want my sire to find us.”
“They left. Or so Owens told me. Owens is the mage. We should go see him.”
“Yes, lead the way.”
John casts a last worried glance backward but he obeys. We leave the camp of the Gabrielites behind us and climb up a small slope to find the same landscape as before: tall grass over fertile black loam and the occasional meadows. I take a few wobbly steps before a familiar stomp makes me turn my head.
Metis’ massive head bumps against my chest, almost sending me stumbling.
“Yes, I was worried too, my best of all Nightmares,” I whisper as I pet her luscious coat. She moves forward and I climb on her back. I see John relax.
He opens the way, moving much faster now, and Metis follows him.
The smooth motion and rolling muscles of my mount rock me and distract me from the constant fear that this is only the illusion of freedom. I cannot flee in the state I am in, therefore I must place my faith in an unknown mage’s observation. John and Metis’ presences soothe me.
And now I have some time to think.
John saved me. He turned himself into a Natalis vampire and forfeited his mortal existence out of loyalty to me unless I am mistaken. Now, he obeys another. I am grateful, of course, yet the implications are many. If he truly was released from his obligations, I will ask him to serve me. But he could be used as a spy. Can I truly trust a member of my inner circle when I know that a word of his Master will turn him against me? Lord Jarek and I are allies now, but it will take almost a century for John to gain his independence.
Ah, who am I kidding? Urchin is in the same position and I have involved him in many of my ploys. This is John. He will be by my side.
Next, the great question.
Why did fate lead me here? What did I gain from this harrowing experience? I know I learned something from turning rogue, even if it was only for a minute: an intimate understanding of my limits and the process of losing oneself to instincts. That is only a side-benefit. The true knowledge is different.
Nirari can cast spells via Malakim’s dragon skin armor. The shield was his, I am sure of it. I do not know how he managed that incredible feat, but I assume it has something to do with the shackles binding Malakim to his service.
Malakim and Nirari know how Semiramis moves around. It is only a matter of time before they back her into a corner. Nashoba was right, their game is coming to a close.
Speaking of which, Semiramis can store the Watcher-forsaken sunlight.
That is quite impressive considering that I was told it was virtually impossible. Sunlight can be captured for a variety of things, but once stored it loses whatever makes it anathema to us. From cleansing fire to shy lantern, it fades, but not for her.
Beyond the myriad things I have discovered, the most valuable experience I take from my confrontation is that time is running out and accruing power is not enough. It will never be enough. An alliance will not suffice to stop two gods, no matter how many soldiers I bring to the fray. Nirari cannot be overwhelmed. He forged himself against this eventuality.
I need a special weapon, or three. I will find trump cards, powers and items he will not expect. Unpredictability will carry the day.
I also know how to kill Malakim as well. I am surprised I did not think of it before.
Yes. There is much work to be done. We still have some time. Perhaps a century, perhaps less, and I will be ready. I will have to be.
Back outside of my mind, we arrive at a very small camp nestled against an overturned tree. A lanky black man with a short beard and a pair of round glasses sits on a folding chair, his spindly fingers held around the water basin on his lap. He wears a deep green suit over white shirt and tie.
He and John look like quite the pair indeed.
“Good evening, you must be Owens” I greet.
“And to you too milady. You will forgive me if I do not rise, I need to keep an eye on our departing friends.”
Ah yes, he uses the water in the basin as focus for a heaven’s eye spell, something that can track people from afar. I remember that it is quite taxing on the mind. My sire most likely detected the scrying and allowed it on account of his agreement with Jerak. If Owens had tried to spy inside the cavern, things might have gone differently. The mage was wise to keep it light.
“Lord Nirari and his lost souls, yes. They are on their way east.”
I can scarcely believe it. He would truly let me go without a fight? He did not seem so eager to pursue me, but I would think that he would make a token effort to get me back if only for the sake of his reputation.
“And Malakim? His servant?”
“They are together. His servant appears… indisposed. He was missing part of his head before being shoved into a coffin.”
I consider his words in silence. I was… so full of questions and uncertainty but they all flit around my head, escaping my efforts to concentrate. Clarity eludes me. There was something else though, something quite important…
“Do you have any news about my nephew? He was a prisoner of the Mexicans, last I checked.”
“Ah, then you will be delighted to learn that following the victory of the United States at the battle of Palo Alto, an exchange of captives was agreed and that your nephew will be returned safe and sound.”
I glare at Owens, whose expression turns instantly worried. Is that it? I came to rescue someone and they just… rescued themselves? And I had to rescue myself too?
I feel cheated. I am also relieved that I would not fail my promise, even if through no fault of my own. Very well then, I shall complete my mission then return north. The Rosenthal and I have much to discuss. The future of the world depends on it.