Lily looked up at Blackrose "Chinese culture has a lot of dragons in it, maybe they have some kind of ancestral home or something there. Rin is a Chinese-sounding name, so maybe that's where she's based. I don't really know any more than you. She's probably planning something with all of the dragons she has enslaved though, maybe even world domination, who knows?" she said, finishing her coffee. "What I do know is that we should probably get going soon. We have a flight to catch." she added, standing up as she slid from the booth.
Maya looked up at Dr. Strauss with a quizzical expression as he led her away from the cultist, who called after them awkwardly.
"Um... okay. Just be quick... she's waiting." he said weakly and sat down at one of the benches.
"Where are we going now?" Maya asked Strauss quietly as they closed the lab door behind them. "What's a cer-rar-money?"
Rin sighed and checked her watch as Alec defiantly sat on the stone floor.
"Where are those two? I sent for them over ten minutes ago..." she muttered under breath before turning back to him. "I'm sorry to do this, my dear, but it's all about the greater good. " As she said this she drew a pistol from under her coat and put it to Alec's head. "Now contact Merlin this instant or or your future will be very short indeed."
Once Lily had left her chair the four exited the cafe, Goch was waiting for them on the other side of the road among some trees.
"Hurry before someone see's" the voice emanated through all their heads "Climb onto me and then we can leave here."
"Go ahead, pull the trigger; you'll definitely be able to talk to Merlin then." Alec spat at the ground near Rin "If you want me to get Merlin awake you'll need to get me a few things. First, I need a bottle of the fine dragon brew, and second I need a healthy young dragon, and third I want you to never touch Maya, or harm her in any way. Do this and I will talk to Merlin."
A faint buzzing noise started coming from around the front of Alec's head.
Dr. Strauss led Maya back into the lab as he answered her question.
"Umm... its something that a group of people do together... there are different kinds of ceremonies though most of them have to do with religion," Dr. Strauss habitually explained as he tried to hide his mounting worry as he looked over the test results, "With Rin though... I have no idea what it involves."
Dr. Strauss pocketed a copy of the test results and knelt in front of Maya, "But don't worry, I'll make sure you're safe. I promise."
He waited for her response before leading her out of the room to follow the cultist around.
"We can talk over this stuff later, when we're flying," Zetta said. She stuffed the last of her sandwich into her mouth and grabbed for her wallet, pulling out a number of bills and laying them on the table. She chewed furiously as she stood up from the table, then swallowed and gulped down the rest of her coffee. She would rather have taken it along with her to savor it, but she doubted Goch would have drink holders.
"Let's go," she said, not waiting for the others before leaving the diner. Zetta strode over to where Goch was waiting for them, staring up at him with her hands on her hips. "So... how is this going to work? Do we climb up your tail and cling to your back as best as we can, or what?" As she spoke, she glanced behind her to see the others following. Now that they were out of the diner and away from anybody who might recognize Gabriel from the news report, Zetta let the illusion surrounding him drop.
Maya nodded in reply to Dr. Strauss. "Okay" she said simply, then the two walked back out of the lab to the awkward follower.
"Oh, you're ready now..." he said looking mildly surprised "Follow me."
He led them down a long passage that seemed to be carved out of the stone that made up the mountain. At closer inspection it seemed to have been made from widening an existing cave. Despite Dr. Strauss's earlier answer, Maya still didn't know where they were going.
"Are we going to see Mummy now?" she asked the doctor quietly so the follower couldn't hear. At that moment they entered the chamber where Rin and Alec were talking.
"...into that kind of thing!"
Rin looked angrily at Alec and was very tempted to just pull the trigger, but she knew there wasn't any other way to reach the dead wizard.
"Very well." she sighed, trying not to look too annoyed "Bring what he requested." she called out to her followers then turned back to him "Fine, I won't harm the child, it's not like I was planning to anyway. Teach someone from a young age and they'll learn not to disobey, unlike a certain medium in this room. So you want a healthy young dragon eh... I didn't know you were into that kind of thing!"
Goch shifted his arrowed tail around him so it was visible to the four companions. The tree's around him sheltered the dragon enough that he was only visible from the side which Lily, Zetta, Blackrose and Gabriel were standing.
"There'll be room for all of yer to sit up here, it'll be cramped sure but it'll be faster than one of your human flying machines. Yer right human, climb up my tail and don't lean on my wings, they ain't as strong as they look."
The four climbed onto Goch, then with a grunt he leapt heavily into the air, leathery wings spread wide. There people in the streets below but they didn't notice the dragon as he flew upwards towards the clouds.
"Magic should take care of their prying eyes eh?" he said to the riders. "It'll be a long ride so rest if yer want."
"A healthy young dragon that can fly properly and carry my weight to be exact."
Alec slowly moved the trigger away from his face.
"Let's not do anything stupid now Rin."
Alec said with an evil smile.
Lily settled in to a crevice in the mighty dragon's back, but remained attached to one of his spines as he flew, for fear of falling. "Sleep sounds like a good idea" she said, meaning it as a recommendation to the others, but letting it come out more like a speculation on a foreign matter from someone who had once read a book about it, but never actually engaged in the practice. Closing her eyes and gathering her thoughts, she opened them again and kept them decidedly not focused on the rapidly receding rock beneath them. "You guys should try to get some while I keep watch. Not that I don't trust you or have any way of stopping you Goch, but it's best to be cautious just in case you lead us astray."
Dr. Strauss looked at Maya for a moment before responding. He wished he had a better answer.
"I..." he paused again, trying to remember any scrap of information he had on the topic, but, "I'm sorry Maya, I don't know. But... with Rin around..." He stopped.
Rin glared at Alec's smug smile, gripping the pistol in her right hand tightly.
"Don't you worry about me young man, I hope for your sake you don't do anything stupid. Oh look, you two are finally here."
She turned to welcome Dr. Strauss and Maya, whom the final part of her sentence had been addressed to. She turned her back on the American and spoke directly to the doctor.
"Do you have the results of your tests yet? Many people's lives are in danger here while we don't know what's going to happen..."
Maya felt annoyed that the two adults stood closely together, apparently so she couldn't hear what they were saying, so with a bounce she went over to Alec. She didn't notice that Mr. Kimura was watching her silently with interest from the side of the chamber where a curtain was blocking off another section of the room.
"Why do you want to ride on a dragon?" she asked him innocently.
Gabriel nodded in reply to Lily, he looked with calm interest down at the rapidly diminishing city below them.
"I guess it isn't possible to light a ciggie up here is it?" he sighed and lay down as best he could, silently watching the lights of Paris disappear over the horizon. He didn't trust himself to fall asleep on the back of a flying dragon, but somehow it happened anyway, and for the next few hours he slept peacefully as Goch flew eastwards.
Zetta climbed onto Goch's back very slowly, a weird tingling in her stomach as she left the ground. She'd flown in an airplane before, back when she was a child. It was several years after her mother had died giving birth to her; Maurice had gotten a job offer over in Paris, where he'd always wanted to live, and so he and Zetta had left America for good. She remembered feeling uneasy during the flight, but not too much else. Being up on the dragon's back, though...
"Are you sure we won't fall off?" Zetta asked, wrapping her arms firmly around one of the spikes on Goch's back. She'd whispered the question, though, and nobody answered as Goch took off from the ground. Zetta felt her stomach lurch and her eyes widened, taking in the way the ground below got farther away and smaller as the dragon rose.
She shook her head firmly, squeezing her eyes shut as she fought back a wave of nausea. Somehow, she doubted she'd get any real rest during the trip.
Dr. Strauss reached into his pocket as if to pull out the machine's printout, but then thought better of it. To cover it, he placed both hands into a pocket on either side of his lab coat.
"Its worse than I feared," he almost stammered, "Far worse. Originally, I had only thought it would leave a sizable dent in the global population... but one we could recover from. Now... even if there are any survivors, there won't be nearly enough for a viable population. If my condition worsens, or if I die before we find a cure, it will be released and well... I ran a second test to verify the results... and it gets worse. If the virus is released, there is a very high probability that the virus will mutate overtime and start infecting and killing other species as well. Which reminds me... Rin? There was one unique specimen in the simulator's library... is it... from you? If so, then you should know, it was resilient at first, but even it died eventually."
Dr. Strauss looked for a chair, found one, and sank into it and went silent; not trusting himself to speak calmly any longer.
Blackrose had only been on a plane once, to head to China. Except she hadn't really been in the plane, more-so, trying to not suffocate inside of one of the suitcases. So taking off on Goch was a whole new experience for her. One second she felt normal, and the next she felt like her stomach was being thrown up, down, and all around inside of her. She looked down and saw the ground slowly shrink under them, and grabbed onto the nearest spike and grabbed on with a deathgrip.
"Um, Goch, what happens if we slip or fall or anything?" She asked, hoping for an answer better than the one she was thinking.
"Then I catch you" Lily said, trying to keep her tone firm. "I said I'd keep watch for a reason. I don't think any of us have much chance against a dragon, but I can at least keep us alive if someone falls for whatever reason. If you just slip and I miss you though, I'm sure Goch can catch you." she continued, keeping her tone reassuring and silently thanking her lucky stars that she was at the front of the dragon and wouldn't be expected to turn around. She hadn't ever flown before, as being a native Parisian, her summers were spent in the south of France, in Marseille or Nice, a couple of times she had been to Cannes, and once been taken to Barcelona for the summer, while winters were spent at a family chalet in the Alps. She had been to most of the neighbouring countries with her father, accompanying him on business trips and the like, but always by fairly ecologically viable means. Having an environmentalist lawyer for a father had its upsides, but now she found herself flying, she wasn't sure whether she was going to throw up, pass out or start laughing maniacally at the thought that she was actually defying gravity.
Lily risked a glance to the ground, and found herself confused as to what she was looking at. She scanned the city, looking for something familiar. Eventually, she found the circle with a cross running through it that must have been the Bois de Vincennes, and just south of that, the Seine. As they flew over it, she fought the urge to tell Blackrose that if she were to jump off now, she would be in-Seine. Smirking to herself, she decided she quite liked flying after all, though that did nothing to settle her stomach.
Rin followed Dr. Strauss to where he was sitting, her face remaining calm despite his terrible news.
"Well? Do you have a cure? I don't think such a future will come to pass so there must be a solution. What do you intend to do?"
Meanwhile on the other side of the room, a follower entered leading behind him what Alec had requested. The dragon was far smaller than the one they had ridden earlier, anything bigger wouldn't have been able to fit inside the narrow tunnels leading to the chamber, but it was large enough for one adult to ride on. Without a word the follower passed the reins for the beast to the American and handed him a glass containing a deep brown alcoholic drink.
As this happened Maya watched until she felt a hand on a shoulder. The little girl shrieked and looked around to find Mr. Kimura behind her, as he was sitting in a wheelchair his head was only slightly higher than hers.
"Ahhh... who are you?" she squeaked and jumped closer to Alec.
"There's no need to be frightened" the old Japanese man said in Mandarin Chinese in an accent that reminded her of Takeda. "Are you Hui's daughter?"
Maya nodded "How you know about Mummy?" she asked suspiciously, switching to her native language too.
"We used to work together many years ago before you were born. Did she teach you such good English?"
The child nodded again, this time more eagerly "Her job was changing writing from English to Chinese, or the other way around sometimes. She wanted me to work in America when I grow up so she made me learn it".
"Very sensible of her. Rin told me that she's ill at the moment, I'm sorry to hear that. Did she ever mention me, or the Tao Zheng company, or even Japan to you?"
Maya shook her head for the first two but at the mention of the third she changed her expression.
"Oh yeah, she told me how evil and bad Japanese people are" she said enthusiastically "I hate them more than anything!"
Mr. Kimura looked deflated when he heard the small girl's last statement, even though he could tell she thought he was Chinese.
"I thought she might tell you that..." he said dejectedly.
The day passed quickly as the four companions flew towards the Xinjiang region, western China. Them flying in the opposite direction to the movement of the Sun meant that most of their journey was in darkness, only when they were on the edge of the Flaming Mountains did light finally return. The terrain beneath them was now barren and deserted, red in colour.
Wakey wakey, we are here now...
Goch's voice boomed through their heads, even those who were still asleep.
They say the redness of these mountains comes from long ago when a hero slew a dragon who had been eating local kids. That dragon was my uncle and I can confirm to yer that it was definitely already that colour before he was killed, and he didn't eat kids. Well, usually...
The dragon descended at a steady pace, looking shiftily at one particularly high peak a few miles in the distance. He landed and gave the four the opportunity to slide off.
This is as far as I can take yer, any closer and Rin's followers spot me straight off. It won't take more than a hour to get to the base where yer friends are. Don't forget to get the sword first, then go the dragon chamber to end our servitude. Words and spells don't matter, the magic is strong enough to work on yer intentions alone.
Zetta slid off the dragon's back with a loud sigh of relief. "No offense, Goch, but I really hope we won't have to fly back the same way so soon," she said, rubbing her arms briskly. They were pretty high up, where the air was thin and cold. It wasn't bad enough to be dangerous, but enough to be slightly uncomfortable. Either way, she was glad to be safely back on the ground again.
"Well." Zetta pursed her lips as she stared out into the distance. She was silent for a moment, then she turned to look at the others. "Shall we go? Once we get close to the base, I can make us invisible to anybody who happens to be keeping watch. I think I feel good enough to hold an illusion like that for a while."
Lily nodded, taking in Zetta's suggestion as she carefully climbed down from Goch's back, taking a few wobbly steps before regaining her balance after the extended stay in the air. Noticing Zetta's shivering and slight anaemia of the group as a whole, she berated herself silently for not protecting them from the oxygen-poor air. She had done so herself without noticing, but had neglected to follow suit for the rest of the group. "Better we get going sooner than later" she said, stretching her limbs and beginning to walk in the direction Goch had indicated.
Dr. Strauss inhaled deeply in an effort to calm himself as he got up to stand face-to-face with Rin.
"Rin," he said, "I honestly have no idea if a cure is even possible. My results show that it isn't just one viral or bacterial strain we're dealing with here, but dozens at least... maybe even hundreds of different strains. And in the short time between both simulations I ran... they evolved considerably. At the rate they were going... they would likely adapt to any potential cure before they were wiped out. The more I review the results, the slimmer the probability of developing and deploying a viable cure seems. Containment is the only option. We need to initiate a quarantine of this facility immediately."
With that, Dr. Strauss started pacing around the room looking over the two sets of results he had on him, hoping there was something he had missed the last several times he had checked them.
Rin shook her head indignantly at Dr. Strauss's request.
"That's impossible, you realise we are in the middle of no-where yes? Surely isolating yourself in one of the labs upstairs will be sufficient... if it won't be then I'm afraid I'll have no choice but to eject you from the mountain. My dragons have spent years making this place exactly as I require it and I can't afford to waste it on your grave! Well, what's it going to be?"
Meanwhile on the other side of the room Mr. Kimura and Maya continued their conversation whilst Alec inspected the dragon he'd be brought.
"What's your name?" Maya asked Kimura, not remembering whether he hadn't told her yet or if she had simply forgotten.
"Chojun Kimura" he replied after a pause "Say Maya, it's rather boring in here for a child and what they're planning isn't much better, why not come with me? I've got something in my room you might like to see."
"Okay" Maya said innocently and with a quick glance at Dr. Strauss, who was still focused on Rin, she followed him as he wheeled himself out of the room.
Gabriel moved groggily at first after the hasty departure of the dragon, glad that Zetta was keeping the four hidden from any onlookers at the mountain base.
"Jeez, it's hot here guys" he whispered to his companions even though there was no-one else in sight "I wonder how long it'll take to get there?"
Luckily it took less time than they expected for what seemed like less than an hour later they reached the bottom of the solid rock mountain. The land around it was completely barren, even devoid of plants, at closer inspection it seemed that much of the rocky landscape had literally been singed.
"Can you see any way in there?" Gabriel said in a low voice, his hands shaking slightly due to the length of time since he had lit up.
Alec shook. He almost exploded as he drank the brown liquid eagerly; holding the reigns of the beast half-heartedly. A few seconds passed and fire burst from Alec's lips; small but strong, the fire melted the glass container Alec had in his hand. Something clicked and beeped in Alec's head. He took the reigns of the dragon:
"It's ok dragon, I wont hurt you but I will make you work eventually. Nothing too hard though."
He pulled the dragon close.
"Go fly free. I wont let anyone hurt you. All I ask of you is to come to me when I Scream out the code word."
Alec whispered it to the dragon and turned to Rin.
"I always needed to get high, but seriously I'm ready now."
"Rin, I would strongly advise against 'ejecting' me from this facility." Dr. Strauss began, "There is every chance that I would die before leaving the Earth's atmosphere, thus releasing the virus before it is starved in the vacuum of space - assuming that's even possible. In which event, the virus would still wipe everyone out... it would just have a delayed start. And you would also lose your best chance at finding a cure for it as you would've lost the only medical mind that is even aware of its existence, and the source - the only way to study it before it is released. As for containment... well... I seriously doubt you have infinite resources to throw at keeping me alive indefinitely AND keeping my immune system in prime condition AND develop a perfect filtration system to prevent any incidental infection. I know I said that a cure is unlikely at this stage, but it is still possible. And right now it is the best chance we have. Whatever plans you have for the world don't mean a damn if you and everyone else is dead."
Then Dr. Strauss realized he had been shouting at Rin.
Oh just bloody great. he thought.
"Hm..." Zetta stood with her hands on her hips, looking around the area with narrowed eyes. "Looks like the dragons did some work on this place," she commented, eyeing the various areas of scorched and scraped earth. There was no building in sight, though the facility should be close. Tunnels, then?
Zetta had already laid a blanket of invisibility over everybody, although there had been absolutely no guards in sight the entire way down. Still, it was better to be safe than sorry; Rin and her lackeys were likely to have cameras hidden away to watch the mountain face.
After a few minutes of surveying the area, she spotted a large slab of stone in the near distance. Zetta made her way over to it, wondering if it was a marker to an entrance. As soon as she reached it, her guess was confirmed; there was a large hole in the mountain face by the boulder. There was nobody around it and there were no cameras, and even though she was invisible, Zetta strode forward to cautiously peek inside. The hole was the entrance to a tunnel, sloping gently down into the mountain. It went straight for a bit before turning, and so she could see no farther.
"Guys," Zetta said, waving the others over. "Looks like the place is built right inside the mountain. Should we go? I know we're invisible to anybody who might be watching and all, but..." She paused, taking a deep breath as she scrutinized the tunnel's entrance. "Well, this place looks unguarded. I know it's not like us flying up here on the back of a dragon would be the first worry on Rin's mind, but doesn't this seem almost too easy?"
I hope I'm just being paranoid, Zetta thought as she waited for the others to answer. Then again, maybe I'm not being paranoid enough. We need to be real careful from here on out.
Rin gave Dr. Strauss a look of contempt at his suggestion and tone of voice.
"Don't be silly, you know that's not what I meant by ejecting. Followers!"
She clicked her fingers and a couple of obedient followers appeared, each taking one of the doctor's arms. She smiled maliciously and bent close to whisper in Strauss's ear.
"Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if the human race underwent a bit of pruning?" The woman then took a step back and spoke loudly to her followers "Take this man to one of the secure air-tight lab rooms, give him anything within reason he requests and don't let him leave until I say so."
The two followers began to tug hard on Dr. Strauss's coat, being careful to avoid touching his exposed skin. Rin turned away without another word to Alec.
"Finally. Come behind here and... wait a minute, where's Chojun and the child got to now?" The woman sighed and rolled her eyes "It's too bad I guess, they'll have to miss the summoning. Look behind this curtain and you'll see my dear Merlin's body. Do... what you must."
The old wizard's body was dressed neatly in clean white robes not that unlike the colour of his beard, his drooping pale skin a light blue colour now and his eyes firmly closed. The corpse was lying on a long table covered by a sheet, a wooden stick lay besides him.
Maya put a skip in her step as she followed Mr. Kimura, she had at-least for now put the events of the previous day out of her mind. She couldn't wait to see her mother again. He led her into a small warmly lit room with a bed and wooden desk and begun rummaging through a drawer for something.
"Ah... here's what I was looking for."
He passed her a faded photograph of himself and a young woman. They were holding each other and smiling happily, like a newly-wed couple on holiday. In the background was a busy city with many tall skyscrapers and shining buildings made out of sheets of black glass. Though it had be taken a decade earlier, Maya recognised who she was immediately.
"Mummy..." the little girl breathed "She... she looks happy."
"Yes. She does." Mr. Kimura said simply and then put a hand on Maya's shoulder, looking her straight in the eyes. "There's something I have to tell you, it's not easy to say but I have no choice. You see Maya... Rin's being lying to you."
"Huh?" Maya stared at the man wide-eyed, apprehensive about what would come next. "What is it?"
"It's your mother, she isn't in hospital... she... she's dead. I... I'm really sorry."
Gabriel looked over Zetta's shoulder and peaked into the tunnel carved into the solid red mountain-side.
"Maybe Rin isn't worried about anyone out here? It's not like this place is teeming with life and I guess since we've come this far there's no turning back. Lily and Blackrose, you guys want to lead the way?"
"Very well then. Lead on MacDuff" Lily said, stepping into the cool tunnel, echoing her words from the previous day. That seemed so long ago, it felt like a year had passed because of the sheer volume of things that had happened in such a short amount of time she thought.
The air certainly felt different, as if Lily had just walked into an air conditioned room from a hot day, but... Stranger. She kept going, back straight and head held high. It wouldn't do to let herself falter at a time like this, not at such a late stage in the game. Lily sent out a low level pressure pulse along the walls, floor and ceiling, but felt nothing, and there were no explosions, so she assumed the hallway was safe enough, whatever it might be used for.
Dr. Strauss glared at Rin with a murderous look in his eye... one that was also eerily calm... as if he could see something in her future that she couldn't. He grinned for a moment, and then dropped back into a neutral face as the followers dragged him out of the room. Once he was sure he was out of ear-shot of the meeting room and that there weren't any cameras nearby, Dr. Strauss planted his feet firmly in the floor and used his weight to throw the rather skinny followers off of him. Once they were on the floor, he kicked both of them in the jaw to knock them out.
Once free of Rin's cultists, he started dashing through the hallways to find a way out or a way to sabotage the whole place. Then he bumped into Maya and Mr. Kimura. Dr. Strauss didn't hear much of their conversation, but the look on Maya's face told him enough. He tapped Mr. Kimura hard on the shoulder a few times to get his attention.
"Hey," he said, "what the hell do you think you're doing, scaring Maya like that? What the hell is going on?"
Without waiting for Mr. Kimura to explain, Dr. Strauss kneeled down and hugged Maya carefully.
"Whatever it is," he told her, "I'll do everything I can to help you and make sure you're safe."
Alec found the body of Merlin to be most disturbing. He tried to fix it with life. He raised his hands not knowing what he was doing, and raised Merlin like a puppet by the strings of life. The weight of life was too much and Alec fell as Merlin stood.
"Here's your Merlin, gosh I need to lie down. This never happened before, I think. I never raised anyone from the dead. Merlin must have some sort of power of his own; a will to live again, stronger than most peoples'."
Alec crawled over and grabbed Merlin's hand.
"I have committed a harsh crime. I raised someone from where they belong. You are in debt to me. All I ask now is the freedom of the dragons. Can you do that for me, your savior?"
Merlin turned his head mechanically towards Alec, but immediately it was clear something was deeply wrong. The old man's skin was still just as pale and flaccid as when he had been a corpse on the table and his eyes were missing their pale blue spark. Instead they seemed empty, as if he was some hideously ugly puppet being operated from somewhere above by invisible strings. The wizard, or at-least his body, stared down blankly at the young man holding his hand until Rin pulled the American back by his arm.
"This... this isn't my Merlin!" she hissed in horrified voice, her hands shaking as she gripped Alec "What have you done to him?"
"He... he said my mummy is dead!" Maya sobbed, her short arm's wrapped tightly around Dr. Strauss's neck. Mr. Kimura shifted uncomfortably in his wheelchair, he hadn't expected to be intruded on so quickly.
"Sorry, now I realise that might not have been the best way to tell her... I'm not very experienced with children... but sadly it's the truth. I spent almost seven years searching for Hui and when it was only when the police reported her body as having been discovered that I finally found her again. Rin must have known this, knowing what she could do. She's a liar and a manipulator, as I'm sure you've discovered Doctor, the truth had to be told if we are to have a chance of beating her. I'm very glad you're safe, by the way Maya."
Maya hadn't been listening though, she had buried her tear-streaked face into Dr. Strauss and was wiping her streaming nose onto his lab coat. After the hope that she had been given by the lie that her mother was alive and in hospital, the terrifying truth seemed even more crushing. Until recently her mother had been the central constant in her life: the sole person who provided for her, taught her and was there for her when she was in need. Now the small girl had no idea what would happen to her, even Dr. Strauss's caring hold couldn't prevent her feeling more alone than ever before. The recent loss of her friend Takeda seemed like small potatoes compared to this.
Mr. Kimura reached forward and patted Maya awkwardly on the head, not really sure what he should do, then slowly sat back and took a small package wrapped like a parcel out one of the drawers of his desk. He stroked the brown paper as he addressed Dr. Strauss.
"Rin must be stopped, she won't tell me what she's planning but she took all my records of special people I've collected from across the world. I have something here that could put a big hole in at-least part of her plan. For this I need Maya to use her ability, could you help me convince her what must be done, even at a time like this?"
Down at the end of the tunnel which the four companions walked there was the sound of two voices, both male but a little on the high-pitched side. They were speaking fast and only a few words could be picked out from the distance they were at.
"Yes... I know... Excali... she want... but where?.. I... chamber... "
Neither of the speakers were visible yet, but from the sounds of their footsteps it seemed they would come into sight in any second. Gabriel raised his eyebrows at the others, looking a lot more calm than he felt.
"Ah, looks like we have company, do you reckon it's worth getting information off them or too risky now? Did the dragon say where we actually have to go?"
Dr. Strauss wasn't listening either, as he hugged Maya back. He put a hand on her shoulder from the hug to reassure her... trying to communicate that she wasn't alone in this. He struggled to stay in the present for as long as he could but...
Dr. Strauss remembered trying comfort his daughters when they found their mother dead. Trying to reassure them that things would be fine, that they would have to go on without her... that she would want them all to be happy. But then...
Dr. Strauss started crying as well. Then, a few minutes later, after he could no longer feel the tears that were still pouring out of his face, he backed away a little to face Maya. He handed her some tissues he took out of his pocket. Then he placed his hands on her shoulders.
"Its okay Maya," Dr. Strauss said, "No... no it isn't. Its never right or fair when we lose our loved ones. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. You didn't deserve any of this. You, of all people, deserve to be happy. I don't know if I can give you a happy life, but I would like to try. I would like to take care of you Maya, and I will... if you want me to."
"No, Goch never gave us directions," Zetta replied, her voice quiet. While she and the others were still invisible, she couldn't do anything to hide the sound of their voices. "Chances are he himself didn't have any idea where we have to go. Do you think we should interrogate them?"
"Wait." Blackrose held up a ghostly hand to signal to the others to stop. She closed her eyes, opening her mind to the thoughts of the men at the end of the tunnel. Most of the thoughts at the forefront of their minds weren't all that clear to her. There was one, however, that stood out. Blackrose wondered if she should dig a little deeper to see if they knew where Excalibur was, but her head was already starting to hurt.
"I don't know where we have to go, really, but Rin has Strauss working for some cure in a lab somewhere," Blackrose finally said.
"A cure for what?" Zetta wondered, but the other girl shrugged. "Well then... We've got a choice to make, I suppose. Either we hurry up and get answers from those men down there before they walk away, or we sneak around invisibly and find the sword by ourselves. What do you all think?"
Maya sniffed loudly and looked up at Dr. Strauss, her lips were still quivering but she had stopped crying. She reached up to hold one of his hands that was resting on her shoulder.
"Yes..." Maya said simply, she didn't know much about the doctor but from the brief time they had spent together she knew that he was kind and would look after her. That was enough. "...Daddy?" she said hesitantly for the first time in her life.
"Sorry, that probably wasn't a good idea to tell you that now, I didn't realise how... greatly that would affect you."
Mr. Kimura's nasal voice yet again cut into the emotional scene, an unconvincing smile upon his lips as he watched the odd pair.
"Now that's all well and good but we're still being held in Rin's mountain. Dr. Strauss, if you really want to help your new... daughter" he seemed to spit out this word, as if it pained him to even speak it "then be a man and assist me bring the old witch down!"
Gabriel shrugged and put his hands in his pockets casually.
"We haven't exactly shied away from attacking them before, it's not our fault they're working for a psychopathic time-travelling woman who wants to kill us. It's not even like we have to kill them back if we don't want to."
The voices were getting louder, in a few moments the followers would pass the four companions by if they didn't reveal themselves first.
"Let's call it... collateral damage!" Gabriel whispered to the other three as the two robed men came back into sight.
"I...I never did this before. Merlin wasn't supposed to be raised I know, but I couldn't reach him any other way."
Alec crawled away from the zombie.
"He will never be the same again, ever."
A dragon scooped up Alec and flew high into the air out of Rin's reach.
Dr. Strauss took hold of Maya's hand and smiled at her, trying both to express his own joy at becoming a parent again and his knowing sympathy for what Maya had just gone through, as he got up, and made a point of putting himself somewhat between Mr. Kimura and his new... daughter.
"Just..." he said, "Just back up for a moment. What are you talking about? What 'has to be be done'? I don't trust Rin at all, but why would I trust you either? You could be working for her or something... or maybe you just want to get us out of here so you can carry out your revenge in private." Dr. Strauss gave Mr. Kimura a brief glare that said 'stay vague about what happened between us or so help me...' and silently hoped the CEO would get the message.
Mr. Kimura indicated the package sitting on his lap, which had no distinguishing features other than being wrapped in light brown paper marked with the letters TCR.
"Well well well, funny that you should be the one asking me why I should be trusted" he tipped his head but didn't say any-more on the subject, instead passing the package to Dr. Strauss. "There's no point beating around the bush, what you're holding there is a bomb. I've been making it over the last few days, with the help of a few extra things I managed to smuggle in when Rin took hold of my data on magical people. There's a location where if this was detonated it could be a potential ender for Rin's plan, I hope. However all it's entrances are guarded by followers so I'd need someone small who could avoid being seen to sneak in and place it there, someone like Maya here. I wish there was another way but you must have realised this woman is crazy and who know's what she'll do to either of us, or the child, next? From what she's told me, Rin's kidnapped you, sent you on a wild chase after a sword, attempted to use Maya and her late friend as assassins, lied to you about your family and doesn't take the infectious risk you pose seriously, which after our last... meeting... I certainly do! Why would you trust her over me?"
The dragon let out a roar and tried to rise into the air, but it was hemmed in by the relatively low ceiling of the chamber meaning it's legs were barely 5 feet off the ground. A couple of the followers leapt for the beast's hind limbs in an attempt to bring it back down to earth but they were bowled over by a flick of his tail.
What yer planning? the dragon urgently asked Alec through his mind Flying out of 'ere won't be easy and Mrs Rin won't like it either, if she asks me to do something I have to do it!
Rin meanwhile was still transfixed by Merlin's apparent revival, the pale old man was standing in front of the kneeling woman, staring down at her with empty blue eyes. After a pause, he spoke one or two sentences in an unintelligible language, or at-least it was for most of the room's inhabitants as a shocked-looking Rin nodded in reply, apparently struck dumb by the unexpected turn of events.
"I don't trust her any more than I trust you," Dr. Strauss replied, "You've both sent me after Excalibur. Of course that was bloody pointless. And yes... I kind of always had a feeling that she couldn't help my family come back... but, what other hope did I have exactly? And wait a minute... RIN told you all of that? How... how long have you been working with her exactly? You... you knew didn't you? You're the reason I was kidnapped in the first place, aren't you!??! And now you want me to set off a bomb here? Are you mad? What would that "
Dr. Strauss unconsciously held onto Maya's hand a little tighter as he struggled to calm himself. Then he remembered something else that had been bugging him about what Mr. Kimura said.
He kneeled back in front of Maya and looked at her.
"Rin did what!??! She tried to use you for what?!?!?"
To convey that he didn't blame her for having been manipulated by Rin as he had been...
he hugged Maya tightly and carefully.
After a few more moments, Dr. Strauss turned his head towards Mr. Kimura and stretched out one hand while still hugging Maya with the other.
"Give me that," Dr. Strauss, "I've had enough of Rin."