Where…ow my head…what happened? I groggily attempted to remember what had happened last, while at the same time trying to figure out where I was. That was a degree of multitasking that seemed to be beyond what I was currently capable of.
Oh yeah! We had just kicked some butt against the armed soldiers, and freed the jungle natives. Then that dart…I must have been hit with a knockout tranquilizer or something. I wonder if Milo and Sera are OK! With the mystery of the past solved, I could focus my efforts on figuring out the present.
Well, it was dark. Like, really dark. I couldn’t make out any details of the room, other than it was dark. I also felt something on my hands. Shackles? Was I in chains? I stretched out my arm to see if I could reach anything. I bumped into some living form. My hand retracted instantly as the creature I touched moaned slightly. Then a light flickered into existence against the darkness. Sera. She was in here with me, and from the glow of the flame, I spotted Milo sprawled on the floor. Presently, he began to stir.
Well, wherever we were, we were together, and everyone was OK. Sera sat up on the floor and rubbed her head. I could see from the flame she had lit in her other hand that she was shackled with chains as well.
“Man, those guys are so cool. Ya know, shooting us in the back after using their buddies as a diversion. Top notch. Is there no integrity among bloodthirsty mercenaries these days?”
Milo sat up as well, and tested the strength of the chains.
“I’m pretty sure they took us on board the riverboat. This is the room where they probably would’ve kept those natives, if we hadn’t gotten in their way.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet they’re pretty ticked off. I wonder why they brought us in here, instead of just killing us.” considered Sera.
“Maybe they have something else in mind for us…” I suggested.
“Well, whatever they have planned, at least we’re alive.” Milo determined. “That means we have hope of finding what the prophecy sent us here for.”
“Yep.” Sera agreed. “First thing, we’ve gotta get outta this cell. Then we can look around the ol’ boat.”
Just then, a beam of blinding light pierced the blackness of the slave chambers. Although my vision was overwhelmed by the sudden influx of photons, I could make out at least four guards burst into the room. They were not brandishing lethal weapons, so it appeared that they were merely there to rough us up a little, and retrieve us for whomever their boss was.
Milo must have figured this as well, because he leaned into me and whispered.
“I know we could beat these guys, but let’s let them take us to the owner of this barge. Maybe it’ll be like at Eisenaki’s headquarters…”
I silently nodded, and prayed for strength to endure whatever was coming. Sera, however, did not get the memo. When the first soldier approached her, she immediately struggled against him. He then struck her hard across the face. Recoiling from the blow, she growled with fury, and attacked back with a headbutt to the gut. Then, she ignited a flame in each hand, and prepared to fight them, chains and all. Milo got her attention by coughing and inserting her name (coughSERACough).
She snapped her head around to see what he was talking about. What she saw came as quite the surprise. Milo and I were submitting to the men who had grabbed our chains and proceeded to drag us forward. Apparently she understood the unspoken command, because she sighed, and extinguished the fire.
Despite the fact that she was no longer fighting back, the man retaliated violently. He punched her in the stomach, and when she doubled over, he shoved her onto the hard floor. She managed to subdue her temper, although I could see that she wanted to burn her attacker to cinders.
The mercenaries led all three of us out of the slave’s quarters by the chains between our hands. We were marched through the bowels of the ship. Presumably, they weren’t giving us the grand tour, but the cell was in the lowest deck, and we were being led toward the cabin of whoever their boss was.
Eventually, we climbed up a flight of stairs, went down a wood-floored hallway, and entered some kind of lavish office. The sharp cool of air-conditioning contrasted greatly with the smothering humidity of the rainforest. It was packed with all sorts of sinful devices and relics from different cultures. And there, behind a large hardwood desk, sat the man himself: Elmer “Alcatraz” Sharpe.
He was an enormously overweight man, with a bulbous, balding head, bulging eyes, and a wide wicked smile. I had heard of him, well, nearly everyone in civilized countries at least knew his name. He was a notorious crime lord, with no affiliation to any particular country. He had dealings in drugs, weapons, slaves, and basically everything vile and/or illegal under the sun. As evidenced by his stretched-to-the-limit Hawaiian shirt, he was infamous for having an insatiable appetite for everything the world had to offer, not simply food and drink. No one was entirely certain why he went by “Alcatraz”. Some say it was because he had escaped from Alcatraz in his younger days. Others say it’s because he was embarrassed by his name, and thought that Alcatraz sounded cool. Either way, it was not pleasant to be face to face with him.
“Welcome to my humble boat! Part mansion, part slave depot. I trust your accommodations were comfortable?”
“Actually no.” Sera mouthed off. “I think next time I’ll spring for the deluxe, and avoid the hard floors and abusive room service.”
That earned her a slap from one of the mercenaries, still holding our chains. Alcatraz chuckled. He then eyed us over carefully. I shrank back from his gaze. I didn’t like the way he was looking at me.
“I think I could have some fun with these three. Hang them up, if you please, but first, remove the marked one’s shirt. I want to see what’s going on underneath.”
What?! No! Anything but that! I attempted to resist the actions of the mercenaries, but they were far stronger than me. I seriously wanted to make a protective force field, but I knew that I couldn’t. I had to bear it until it was revealed for what purpose the prophecy had brought us here. Lord, give me the strength to endure this.
The men had to unlock the shackle on my left arm to pull off my shirt and scarf, before replacing my bonds. Then, they lifted the chain up, and attached it to a metal hook on the ceiling. I was hanging by my arms about 5 inches off the ground. I saw the guards suspend Milo and Sera in the same way, except Milo was tall enough that his toes could touch the ground. Obviously, this had been done here many times before.
One of the men tossed my outer shirt and scarf to Alcatraz, who caught it with one hand. The air conditioning felt icy against my skin, but that didn’t bother me at all in comparison to the gaze of the crime lord’s bulbous eyes. Hanging by my arms in my underwear, I felt a bit like Princess Leia. Curse these markings! They draw so much unnecessary attention to myself. This was the last thing in the world that I wanted. If only my force fields came with a side of invisibility.
“Exquisite. Amazing. I’m not disappointed at all.” He grinned lecherously. “I think I’ll keep this one. She would make quite an exotic addition to my collection.”
“YOU BASTARD!!” Sera shouted, and gripped the chains to lift herself higher off the ground in anger. “She isn’t yours to do with as you please!”
“Ooh. You are fiery, aren’t you? I think I could have fun with you, too.”
“YOU FAT DISGUSTING SLIMY INSIDIOUS DESPICABLE PERVERTED ORC-PIG!! How about you just-“
The crime lord chuckled.
“See? I was right about this one. Maybe this wasn’t a waste of time after all!”
I was too embarrassed to talk back to him, but Sera certainly wasn’t.
“Waste of time? Whaddaya mean?”
The fat man adjusted his position in his seat.
“I’m a multi-national crime lord. I have mansions in five different countries, as well as a number of luxurious yachts. Why would I spend a second in this miserable, hot, humid rainforest? This magnificent air-conditioned riverboat makes it a bit more bearable, but I only come down to oversee the gathering of more human product, and I want to get out as soon as possible. When you interfered with the harvesting, I thought about having you killed on the spot, until I recognized who you were.
“I have some connections in Teklos, and I knew they’d pay quite a pretty penny for me to hand over a certain threesome of fugitives. However, now that we’ve gotten to know each other a little better, I’m beginning to get another idea. I think I’d like very much for you girls to join my collection. You can’t say no, of course. I’m quite accustomed to getting what I want.”
I looked down, and tried not to think about what he was saying or where he was looking. Sera glowered furiously at Alcatraz, her blood practically boiling. She was muttering lethal threats under her breath. The armed guards in the room had their guns trained on her to discourage her from doing anything violent. Milo had remained completely wordless, and I knew he was silently attempting to control his rage.
The perverted creep must have made note of this as well, because he addressed the young man.
“You haven’t had much to say, but I suppose that’s my fault. This hasn’t really been about you.”
Milo only glared back at him. He could barely keep from retaliating at the treatment of his companions.
“I figured that I had no use for you, and I’d sell only you to Teklos. I’m sure they’d think one was better than none. But then I got to thinking…your skills are pretty impressive. Maybe you’d be interested in joining my small army of soldiers?”
Milo remained stoic as Alcatraz continued.
“You could live a good life. Never have to worry about responsibility ever again. It’s like a get out of jail free card; all you have to do is help me out with my business, and you can do what you please. I’ll even let you use some of my ‘collection’ every once in a while. How about it?”
Milo did not answer right away, but seemed to look intently at the desk in front of the crime lord.
“It’s either me, or Teklos. What’re you gonna pick?”
Milo would never be persuaded to join a freak like this guy! Even if it meant death, he would always do the right thing. In the time that I had known him, he had always put his own desires aside for the good of everyone else. If there was ever anyone who would-
“Fine. I’ll take the job.”
WHAT?! I couldn’t believe this. He wouldn’t just leave us like that, right? He wasn’t just gonna…
The obese man smiled.
“Perfect! You won’t regret this! You’ve made the right choice, trust me.”
Sera was not at all pleased. She bounced up and down on her chains, trying to kick her brother.
“You stinking rat! You call yourself my brother! You’re nothing but a sick selfish traitor with avocadoes for brains! I oughta…”
Alcatraz ignored her.
“I look forward to a very productive relationship together.”
He used a key to open a large drawer in his desk, then he slid it out and removed a stack of papers. It seemed to be made of copies of the contract he used for his employees. My eyes widened as I spotted what was beneath the pile. It was a very old-looking weathered piece of paper. A page from the prophecy!
That was exactly what Milo was waiting for. With one powerful motion, he jumped from the floor and pulled hard on the shackles holding his wrists. The boy flew up to the ceiling, where he pushed off with his immense strength. The force of his momentum broke the hook that his chains were attached to, and he hit the floor with a summersault.
At almost the same moment, Sera melted through the chain that was on each wrist. She had been gripping it and increasing the temperature of her hands for some time, before seeing the opportunity to finally break free.
Ah! Milo had never intended to betray us! He was just trying to keep Alcatraz talking, and to see if he could find the location of something related to the prophecy! Sera must have figured that out, and played along. Well, I wasn’t going to let them put themselves in danger without me doing something! I formed small force fields around my hands, and increased the size until the shackles around my wrists burst. Several pieces of broken metal clattered to the floor an instant before my feet landed.
The surprised guards raised their weapons to fire, but I responded quickly with a protective shield between us and them. Several bullets were deflected and they stopped shooting for fear of ricochets at such close range. The moment they ceased fire, I dropped the force field. Sera leapt forward aggressively, and burned the spit out of them with a series of fiery attacks. I turned my head around to see Milo confront Alcatraz.
The boy whipped the chain still binding his wrists across the fat man’s face. He instantly fell to the ground and begged for mercy.
“You don’t deserve mercy after everything you’ve done, freak.”
Milo then stomped his boot into the crime lord’s face. I’m not sure if he broke his neck or not, but Alcatraz was definitely unconscious. Milo then grabbed my shirt and scarf and walked over to me.
“Um…here.” He handed me my clothing, while looking off to the side uncomfortably.
“Thanks.” I took the items, blushing awkwardly.
As I pulled my shirt over my head, Milo walked over to Sera.
“Did you find the guy with the keys?” He asked.
“No.” She replied. “but I could just melt your chains off like I did mine.” She rubbed some remaining molten metal off of her wrists.
Milo quickly walked over to Alcatraz’s fallen body, and searched for his keys. It took him a few moments, but he eventually found the correct key to remove his shackles. After they fell to the ground with a loud clank he reopened the large drawer, and removed the aged piece of paper. Sure enough, it appeared to be another page from the Book of Prophecy.
“Alright, we’ve gotta get out of here.” Milo declared. “More guards will be here any second.”
“Rodger that!” Sera agreed, and dashed out of the office.
Milo and I quickly followed her. As the three of us ran through the corridors of the large riverboat, we heard footsteps. Choosing our path pre-emptively based on the sounds, we managed to avoid running into very many of the mercenaries. Sera created a fireball, and when several enemies appeared from around the corner, she immediately hurled the projectile in their direction. They didn’t bother us anymore.
When we reached a split in the path, Milo slowed down and called out:
“You two head for the deck! I’ve gotta take care of something.”
He went right, and we went left. Sera and I encountered some resistance from the guards, but with my shields and her fighting skill, we made it through unharmed. It took us far longer than expected to reach the exterior of the boat, but eventually we did.
It was quite dark outside of the ship, the only light coming from the moon and stars. More time must have passed while we were unconscious than I had thought. We were right in the center of a much wider section of the river. The two of us ducked behind some deck furniture to use as cover while waiting for Milo to emerge. Momentarily, he darted out of the door that we had used, while carrying some kind of metal container.
“Ready?” He asked.
“What the heck is that?” demanded Sera.
“I spotted the engine room earlier when we were being led from the cell up to the office. I just made a couple little breaks in the line, and poured a trail of fuel from there to here.” He tossed the empty can back into the interior of the riverboat.
“You’re gonna blow it all to bits?!”
“Yep. Got a light?”
Milo held out a piece of cloth that seemed to resemble a familiar-looking Hawaiian shirt.
Sera smiled, and lit a small flame on the tip of her index finger. The young man coaxed the fabric to ignite, then dropped it onto the liquid trail. A flame immediately began consuming the fuel, and traveled through the door back down toward the engine room.
“OK. Time to go.” He stated.
“Wait a minute, what?!” Sera questioned, but it was too late.
Her brother had already leapt from the second-story deck down into the dark water below, and I followed suit.
The water was still warm from the day’s solar energy input, and the splashing entry did not even cause me to gasp. I sunk several feet down into the murky river before popping back up and beginning to swim to shore. We did it! We had another page from the Book of Prophecy, and Alcatraz and his men would be unable to follow us in a few more seconds, so all we had to do was make it back through the forest to the airport, and we’d be out of here! It was then that I noticed Sera had not entered the water.
Turning my head around, I saw Sera standing on the edge second-story deck, frozen with fright. I started swimming back toward the boat, calling her name. Milo was already closer to his sister than I was, and exhorted her to get into the water. She didn’t even respond.
“Damnit, Sera! You only have a few seconds before the whole thing blows! Jump!”
She still didn’t listen. Just then, several mercenaries came around from the front of the ship, and started firing at her. The girl finally moved, and ducked behind the cover again.
“Come on! Jump!” he yelled again.
“I CAN’T!” she screamed.
“You have to! Come on sis! I’ll get you through safe! I promise!”
“I don’t need your help! I’m the big sister! I don’t need help!”
“Oh for the love of- PROVE IT! JUMP!”
The soldiers were closing in, and Sera still pressed against her makeshift barricade. I knew what I had to do. I swam as fast as I possibly could back to the ship, grabbed a hold of a ladder, and climbed up toward my friend. She was going to make it. I would make sure of it.
When I reached the top, I rolled behind the cover beside her.
“Come on! We’ve gotta go!”
“I know! I want to but-“
We both ducked as another volley of bullets passed overhead.
“I CAN’T! Whenever I go near water, I freeze up! There’s something in my brain that won’t let me do it! Just go!”
I grabbed her shoulder, and tried to make her look into my face, but she evaded.
“I know you can do it, Sera. I’ve seen you do way harder things than this. I believe in you.”
Sera finally made eye contact.
“Yeah, I do. Now come on, before it explodes! You won’t even get wet!”
Keeping low, we moved as quickly as possible toward the edge, and threw ourselves off. While we were still in mid-air, the riverboat was rocked by an enormous internal blast. I wrapped my arms around Sera’s middle, and created a bubble around us both. The force from the explosion hurled us through the air, but I focused all my strength on holding that shield. We went sailing over Milo toward the shore.
Upon touching the river, our velocity was sufficient to cause us to skip across the surface like a smooth stone. In fact, we made almost all the way to the riverbank, before my concentration on the force field slipped, sending us tumbling into the shadow water. Sera thrashed in the dark river, coughing and sputtering. I waded over to her quickly, and tried to get a hold of her hand.
“Sera! Stand up! It’s not too deep!”
After a few moments, I was able to help the girl to her feet. She was still chocking on water, and had her hands over her face. The water wasn’t at all cold, but she shivered violently.
“Are you OK?” I ventured. “See, it’s not so bad, right?”
“Y-y-yeah, n-n-not s-s-so b-b-b… …g-get m-m-me out of h-h-here…”
I led her stumblingly through the shallow water, until we reached the shore. As soon as she made it out of the river, she collapsed onto her face, gasping for breath. I flopped down beside her, exhausted from everything that had happened. A short time later, Milo swam up to the riverbank.
“There you are!” He cried and hurried over to us.
“We’re good.” I responded. “I’m glad to see you’re OK. How did you escape the explosion?”
The young man ignored my question. Instead he slammed his wrist mounted gadget to the ground beside me.
“Hal! Why do you keep acting like you’re expendable!?”
“You’re so willing to put yourself in danger or even sacrifice your own life for us! Why!?”
“It’s because you’re very important. The fate of humanity rests on you.” I tried to explain.
“You’re important too! What make you think that we’re so much more important than you?!”
I smiled grimly and looked up from the ground at him.
“The prophecy only speaks about two. The Fiery One and The Shadowy One. There was no third prophesied one in any of the oral traditions. I’m just here to protect you both, even if it costs me my life.”
“I’m sorry…for yelling.” Milo’s gaze softened. “Hal…you’re very important. You’re just as important as we are. We never would have made it this far without you. And um…we can’t read the Book of Prophecy without you. And honestly, you’re probably more important than Sera.”
“I heard that.” The girl mumbled.
Milo smiled slightly.
“Joking. Seriously though, don’t go…you know…dying on us. OK?”
I nodded and looked away. I wasn’t really sure how I should take this. Was he saying he liked me, or maybe just couldn’t risk not being able to read the prophecy, oh gosh.
“OK. I’ll, um…try not to.”
“Fine. Let’s go into the jungle a little ways and set up camp for the night. We can make it back in the morning. We’ll need to make a fire to keep the animals away. Sera, would you-“
Before he could even finish, she was back on her feet.
“Yeah, I’ve got this. Name the place.”