Ash stirs. Her body aches and she feels cold to her bones. She gingerly gets to her feet. The teen finds herself in a small, dark room. Ash reaches and pushes on the walls. To her surprised the walls are made of stone. Very old stone.
She runs her hands across the surface. The rock is smooth save for narrow groove. Ash traces the path and begins imagining the markings. The young teen wonders what the carvings mean. Light burns to life overhead.
Ash winces in the sudden change of light.
A cold, mechanical voice emerges from the very walls.
“Why have you kidnapped me?” She yells.
Here eyes adjust to the light. She finds the grooves are runes carved into the surface of the stones. Something about them is strangely familiar.
“Tell me where my friend is!”
“I will not! Not until I know why I am here!”
The light pulses. Red energy crackles across the ceiling. The bolts of energy sweep down. Ash has just enough time to snarl before the field of energy hits. Darkness swallows her up as she falls to the ground.
Ash wakes again in darkness. Her body aches but nothing seems to be damaged. A low growl in her stomach tells her at least two days has passed. The fact that she had been unconscious for that long alarms her. The teen frowns and tries to think. She doesn’t recall a door but she assumes that there has to be one. Her mind turns to the runes.
In her mind’s eye, she retraces the design.
Again the design seems strangely familiar. As if something she passed by every day years ago but never really noticed.
A deep grinding noise rumbles from the walls. Slowly, the wall slides to the side. Harsh white light floods the halls. Ash raises her hand against the light. A shadowy figure cuts against the light. Ash struggles to her feet.
“Who are you?”
“Follow me.” A distinctly male voice says.
“And if I don’t?”
Red bolts of energy crackles in the ceiling above. Ash gets the hint and steps out of the prison cell. The man is dressed in black clothing. His military boots click against the floor. After a few minutes, Ash finds herself in a large room. A single lamp reveals a red circle on the floor. Her guide points towards the circle. The shrugs and walks forward. The man steps back to block the door. Ash strains to hear anything but the room is unusually quiet. Either the walls are sound proofed or she is in the middle of nowhere.
“You are Ash.”
The teen takes a step back out of surprise at the pleasantness of the woman’s voice. A second light flickers to life, revealing a table ladened with food and drinks. Her stomach rumbles again. With an effort, she fights the urge to eat the food.
Ash slowly approaches the table. Her eyes roam across the different items. There is a mixture of cheese, bread, and meat.
“What do you want from us? And where is my friend?”
“He will be joining us shortly.” There is a light laugh, “We have to convince him to leave the ventilation system first.”
Ash suppresses the urge to smile.
“And here he comes.”
Ash turns and sees Talon striding into the room. He joins the young girl next to the table. Like Ash, Talon scans the table of food and drinks.
“Welcome, Talon.” The woman says out of the darkness, “Please, eat.”
He looks up at the darkness. He casts a curious look at Ash.
“I was just as surprised.” Ash thinks.
“Has she said why we are here?” His voice, oddly soft, echoes quietly in her mind.
“You must forgive me.” The woman continues, “Both in the manner of bringing you here and for not allowing you to see me.”
“Why are we here?” Talon asks.
“I must insist that you cease your investigation into the disappearance of one Chloe.”
“What makes you think that we are looking for this Chloe?”
“Your research. Although you have done an excellent job of hiding your true intentions with wide parameters and carefully chosen questions, I know that is who you are looking for. I have ample resources and time to discover that Chloe is the only area that overlaps. From your questions about the history of this town to your exploration of the lake area.”
“Do we admit?” Ash thinks.
“No. Look at the table.” Talon answers in her mind. Then out loud, “Why kidnap us? Are we your prisoners?”
Curious about the instructions, Ash takes another look at the food and drinks. Meanwhile, the bodiless voice continues to speak.
“Not at all. I merely wish to talk to you in private. Once we have concluded our meeting, you are free to leave.”
“Why is this Chloe such an important topic to you?” Talon presses on, “We do not know of any Chloe.”
“Perhaps but your research could complicate… sensitive matters. You are new to this town and have unfortunately been caught up in some squabbles. If you want, you may tell me what your project is about and I can send you the appropriate information.”
“Thank you but we must research it ourselves. Part of our assignment rules.”
“I see. Then I am afraid that you will fail your class. I cannot allow you to stir up trouble.”
Talon makes no answer.
“Please, take some food with you as you leave.”
“Thank you but no thank you.”
“Very well. Mr. Verda. Please take them home.”
The room abruptly brightens with a flash of light.
With a jolt, Ash sits upright. Immediately she realizes that she is in a park. A cooler sits next to the blanket on which the teen is lying on. A glance to the left and she finds Talon stirring. For all intents and purposes, a stranger would think he came across two teens taking a nap in the late afternoon sunshine. As he comes awake, Talon glances at his surroundings.
“Thoughts?” She asks.
“Bad dream.” He replies out loud, “Not now. They may be watching.”
“Come on. Let’s go home.” She glances uneasily at the parked cars, “How long do you think we’ve been unconscious?”
“I don’t know. We’ve been gone at least a day, maybe two.” He glances at her, “Did you notice the food?”
“Yes. And that worries me. Worries me considerably.”
The two teens make their way out of the park. They choose to leave behind the props used by their kidnappers.
“What do we do?” Ash asks. “Someone does not want us to continue. And they know what we look like.”
“Agreed. I think we need..to become more directly involved.”
“You mean start kicking down doors?”
“No. I mean we need to ask questions directly. We know we end our quest and they know we are seeking answers. It is a matter of time before they take measures to stop us. Just as they had done with… Chloe.”
Ash wrinkles her face, “But the humans will not react well.”
“True. But we just need one human to accept us.”
“Then I should ask first.”
He raises an eyebrow.
“Here, it would seem there is an expectation that females are tender and more innocent than the males.”
“Their belief is based on their own history.”
“For which we appear to be part of.”
“Agreed. Both in your arguments and in making contact.”
Talon glances at the setting sun, “If we hurry, we can reach her by nightfall.”
“If we wish to be obvious.”
“You suggest subtlety? Even they know what we are?”
“Agreed but I have noticed that among this world there are laws that tend to be followed. However loosely or badly bent those laws are taken in, they are still followed.”
“Agreed.” Talon watches as the last of the sunlight vanishes. “Now we shall find the answers directly.”
Verda watches the two teens leave the park. For a few moments, neither one speaks until the reach the street. At that point, they are out of his listening device. He sighs in frustration and puts the small technical wonder away. He pulls out his cell phone and hits the speed dial option.
“Hello.” His employer’s voice says. Business like.
“The subjects have left. No audio was recorded of their conversation.”
She sighs in frustration, “That was to be expected. If what our medical staff thinks is true then they can talk without words. Do not pursue.”
“What if they continue to ask questions?”
“I will have to take care of things. Please be prepared to bring their bodies back to our lab and arrange for our thorns to be taken care of.”
“As you wish, ma’am. Do you have a preference?”
“Bloodless if possible but we must hurry now. There is the… gunman approach.”
“I expect our mess to be cleared up before midnight.”
He hangs up the phone. With a smile, he begins to plan what needs to be done.
Penny wakes up with a jolt. Her breathing is rough and her flesh is damp with sweat. With an effort, she forces herself to calm down. Her nightmare slowly fades away like a bad after image. Penny feels the bed shift as Joseph stirs.
“Sorry. Bad dream.”
Joseph sits up and pulls her into a gentle hug. Penny relaxes into it. For a moment neither speak. Only the muffled sounds of insects disturb the silence.
“Yes?” He tenses.
“Do you think I should let this go?”
She hears her husband sigh in the dark.
“Part of me thinks you should. You are too busy hunting answers to let go and let the healing begin. Someone out there is shooting people.”
“But why? What am I doing that is so terrible people must die?”
Before he can answer, there is a knock at the door downstairs. Penny’s body tenses and icy fear explodes into her gut.
“Stay here. Be ready to call the police.”
Joseph slips out of the room and draws a small box out of his nightstand. Two quiet clicks tell Penny that he has unlocked the gun box and flipped the safety off. Penny grabs her phone and prepares to dial the police. Her hands tremble in fear.
Her husband squeezes her shoulder before descending down the stairs.
Penny listens at the open door, waiting to hear what happens next. There is a creak in the floor as Joseph walks down the stairs. Her heart pounds away, making it seem like the night was too quiet and too noisy at the same time.
Penny waits for the gunshot to fire.
Her mind is filled with images of her husband being gun down. Of being torn apart because of her.
“Penny– it’s okay. You can come down.”
Keeping her hand on the call button, Penny walks to the stairwell. To her surprise, the lights are off. In the weak street light, she can see Joseph standing next to the door. In front of him are two teens.
“Penny, this is Talon and Ash. They’re here to ask some questions.” Joseph hesitates for a moment, “Questions about Chloe.”