Chapter 49: History
IT felt like we’d been walking the dust-ridden halls forever and gotten nowhere. We were following a pair of dice in the hands of a madman, and Abby didn’t have much more time. She’d be dead by the end of the day.
In Harlan’s rush to leave Summerlight and get to his daughter in time, he’d only been able to find three flashlights and only a few extra batteries. According to him, the hidden mountain city had a small thorium reactor supplying practically endless power, so they rarely found a use for flashlights or batteries. Our only option had been to use one flashlight at a time until the batteries were all gone.
And we were on our last set of batteries.
We jogged toward a T intersection and Brother Lawrence threw the dice. “Right,” he said.
We passed him and turned right, but he snatched his dice and overtook us again in no time. Then the passage came to a sudden dead end.
“Oh, my.” The monk scratched his bald head. “That’s odd.”
“Your dice led us to a dead end?” I said.
He rolled the dice. “Yes. But they say to go forward.”
A little more of my hope was crushed. Even the dice were no longer sending us down reasonable paths. They wanted us to walk through walls now.
“I’ll assign seven as the number for going forward,” Brother Lawrence said. “All other numbers are for turning around.” He rolled the dice again. Seven. Brother Lawrence frowned and tried several more times. Seven kept coming up in different combinations. His dice were creeping me out again.
“I don’t get it,” Harlan said.
Brother Lawrence looked up, listening to the voice in his head, I assumed. “Interesting.”
“What’s interesting?” I said.
No answer. The monk just moved up to the wall, inspecting its surface. “Ah, yes. Here it is.” A crack lay beneath his hand. He dusted it off. “The Light would like us to go through the wall.”
I frowned. “Huh?”
“I said the Light would like us to go through the wall.”
“No, I heard you. The ‘huh’ was more like, ‘are you crazy?’“ It was all I could do to keep from blowing up at the monk.
“Hmmm.” Harlan cocked his head at the wall. “You know, I never considered that this part of the city was sealed off from the Old City.”
Maybe he was on to something. I turned to the monk. “Can you teleport us to the other side of that wall?”
“I can only teleport if I feel it well up inside of me, like a push to do so. I feel nothing of the sort right now.” Brother Lawrence shook his head. “The Light must not want me to teleport for some reason. Maybe there’s rock on the other side. I can’t imagine what would happen if we teleported into rock.”
I didn’t understand the monk’s power, but he’d made a valid point. “If the Light’s the one who gives you your powers, can’t He jump us right where we need to go so we don’t end up in the rock? Heck, why can’t He just jump us right into Winter’s Edge?”
Brother Lawrence looked up and nodded. “He says, ‘Life’s not easy. Get used to it.’”
“What the— Are you serious?”
The monk shrugged, palms up.
I was stunned for a moment until I reminded myself that the voice in his head wasn’t really God. But the way he’d found Summerlight so easily still had me wondering. Had he followed Elian or Harlan to Summerlight once before but forgotten, and the Light just his memory telling him the path via a spooky little voice in his head?
There was no way to know so I brushed the thought aside. “Alright, do we have anything we can use to break through the wall?”
“Oh, of course, brother.” The monk handed Harlan his flashlight then reached under his robes and produced a gray block of putty with a small black box attached. “C4.”
“Whoa! Careful.” I backed off. “What are you doing with C4?”
“Oh, no need to worry, brother. It needs a detonator attached to explode.” And then he produced the detonator.
“Whoa!” I stepped back farther. “Where did you get that?”
Harlan stayed where he was, completely unworried about our sudden crazy-monk-with-C4 problem.
“I picked it up from the old senile man’s home in Bennett.” Brother Lawrence held the bomb in his hands like he was proud of his new toy. “I was going to give it to law enforcement, but I never saw any. It would have been irresponsible to leave a bomb lying around, especially considering the poor man’s state of mind.”
What about the monk’s state of mind. What all did he have under those robes?
“Is there anything else you picked up at the old man’s house I don’t know about?”
“No,” he said, “but isn’t C4 great?”
My brow pulled together, a worried smile accompanying it. “Sure.”
He approached the wall and stuck the charger to a large crack as if he’d done it before.
I backed away a little further. “How do you know how to use C4?”
“I wasn’t always a monk, you know.” The nonchalant way he said that was a little unsettling. He inserted the wires for detonation, then began walking backward from the wall until the wires would allow him to go no further. “You two may want to duck around that corner.”
“Where are you gonna stand?” Harlan said.
Brother Lawrence glanced down at his spot. “Right here, of course. The wires only extend this far.”
Harlan frowned. “You’ll be killed.”
“Oh, no, brother, the Light says I’ll be fine.” Then his tone became a little eerie. “But He gave no assurances about you two.”
Gee, that was reassuring.
I raised an eyebrow. “What if the Light’s version of fine means dead?”
“Oh, that sounds wonderful!”
I looked at him in disbelief. Without my power, I couldn’t save him by holding the detonator telekinetically. If this were what he wanted to do, he was going to do it no matter what anyone said. And Abby’s life depended on it.
Brother Lawrence’s way was the only way.
Harlan shook his head in amazement and clapped Brother Lawrence’s shoulder. “Good luck.”
Harlan and I walked back down the hall and took cover around the corner. We stuck our heads out and shined a light in his direction.
The monk looked back. “Ready?”
“Ready,” we said. We watched as the monk held up the detonator.
“Here we go.” His voice was excited as usual. Was this like extreme sports for insane monks?
We pulled our heads in behind the cover of the wall and stepped back several paces, covering our ears.
A small click sounded off, then a deafening explosion rang out. The ground shook as fire and debris shot past up ahead at the intersection. Dust filled the air and the echo slowly died off deep into the distant passages.
After things settled, we crept back to the corner and peeked to see if the monk had survived. Dissipating smoke stirred in the air above piles of rock that lay where Brother Lawrence had been.
“Is he dead?” I whispered, squinting to spot the monk. My chest was heavy. I hadn’t known him for long, but I’d grown fond of the little crazy man.
“I can’t tell,” Harlan whispered back. “I don’t see him. Why are we whispering?”
The old monk’s affinity for excitement had finally gotten him killed. If we’d just—
“Oh, that was most exciting!”
I nearly jumped to the ceiling at Brother Lawrence’s voice behind us. The weight left my chest, turning into relieved laughter. I hugged the monk tightly for a quick moment, until I realized how strange that might look, then abruptly let go of him and looked to see if Harlan had noticed.
Harlan stared at me with a raised eyebrow.
“What?” I turned my palms up and shrugged. “The dice probably wouldn’t work without him.”
Harlan’s expression didn’t budge. “Uh-huh.” He handed the flashlight to the monk. “Let’s get going. That flashlight’s not gonna last much longer.”
Relief at Brother Lawrence surviving sank into fear. Fear of not getting to Abby in time. Fear of being lost down there forever. Fear of starving to death in those darkened halls.
I buried the anxiety deep as I stepped through the hole created by the C4. Maybe if I buried enough of it, my powers would start working again.
On the other side of the hole lay a large, circular room with four doors.
Brother Lawrence rolled the dice and we took the door on the right.
Harlan pulled out a bottle of something and took a long drink, guzzling it. “So you were exiled after only three months, eh?” His breath stank of alcohol.
I brushed it off, not wanting to offend him by asking about it.
My tone dropped noticeably. “Yeah, I liked it there.”
“It’s a nice place. I enjoyed it,” he said. “But I prefer Summerlight now.”
“How did you find Winter’s Edge?”
“How did Winter’s Edge find me, you mean.” Harlan snorted a laugh. “I was having lunch at a café in Denver one day when a gorgeous young woman sat down at the table next to mine. Once I mustered up the courage, I sat down with her and introduced myself. She looked confused, almost frightened at first.” Harlan took another long swig from the bottle. “I told her she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever laid eyes on, and I couldn’t help but talk to her. That embarrassed her to death, but she finally spoke to me. She had a beautiful British accent. Said her name was Asa, and that she couldn’t be bothered to date anyone. It crushed me, but I didn’t give up. I gave her my number and told her to call me for lunch sometime if she changed her mind. I couldn’t believe it, but in a few weeks, she actually called. Wanted to meet at the same place.”
I stifled a wince at Harlan’s breath. He was drinking some strong stuff.
“So, every few weeks, I’d get a call from her wanting to have lunch. Then one day, everything went very wrong. She’d been tracked by a team of Hunters. Mind you, I didn’t know anything about Hunters at that point, so it surprised me when she got really nervous and made up an excuse to leave. I knew something wasn’t right, so I followed her. She took a back alley trying to reach her car.”
Harlan emptied the rest of the bottle down his throat and tossed it as he slipped another out of his bag.
“Out of nowhere, four men who looked like S.W.A.T. ambushed her at her car. I rushed in thinking I was gonna protect her, but she didn’t need my help. She disarmed them with her power then attacked them.” Harlan shook his head. “I couldn’t believe it. I’d never met anyone like me before. So I grabbed one of the men and threw him all the way across the parking lot. You would’ve thought Asa had seen a ghost.”
He took a long drink of the new bottle of alcohol. “So, we took out the last two Hunters and she told me to get in her car. She asked me if I’d come with her to a place where our kind would be safe. A place with people like us. I wasn’t sure I could separate from my life just like that. I had a job. I had responsibilities. People depended on me. But I thought I might lose her if I said no.” He threw on a crooked smile only a love-sick guy would wear. “So I said yes.”
I smiled. “That’s a nice story.”
“What about you? How’d you end up in Winter’s Edge?”
I shrugged. “My story’s not as interesting as yours. Mathis found me while I was on the run from Hunters.”
“Ah, Mathis,” Harlan said. “Good man. Good Watcher, too.”
“Yeah, seems to be.”
Harlan took another drink. “He wasn’t one of the Watchers who was killed was he?”
I shook my head.
He smiled with relief. “So how’s Abby doing?”
“She won’t be doing very well if we don’t get to her soon.”
Harlan nodded up ahead. “He’s moving as fast as he can.”
“I know. I just wish we were moving faster.”
He turned a corner, following the monk. “Me, too.”
“Abby was doing well.” I winced. “I don’t know how she’s doing now that I’m gone. She has this thing about guys leaving her.”
Harlan sighed. “I suppose that’s my fault.”
“It’s not your fault someone framed you.”
“Yeah, well…I feel like I should’ve known, should’ve seen the signs.” Regret was thick in his tone. “How’s everyone else doing?”
“Everyone’s been worried since the first murder, but now that I’m gone, they probably think everything’s fine. Abby’s too smart to fall for it, though. She’ll be searching for the killer.”
“Good.” Harlan sounded relieved for a second. “I think.”
“She’s tough. And smart. If anyone can find the killer, it’s her.”
“Huh.” He seemed happy to hear that.
“Other than that, everyone in Winter’s Edge seemed good.”
“How’s Artie? Still building crazy contraptions?”
I laughed. “Yeah. He’s got some crazy robo-pug he built as a guard dog. Named it Killer.”
“Sounds like Artie.” Harlan snorted a laugh. “What about Joseph?”
“Joseph’s fine, besides the whole tossing-me-to-the-Hunters thing. He probably hates me.” I sighed. “Not his fault, though. He was set up just as much as I was…unless he’s the killer.”
He seemed taken aback. “You’re taking that awfully well. I was raving mad when he tossed me to the Hunters.”
“I was, too, at first, but I figure he’s just trying to protect his friends. I can’t blame him for that. Besides, I’m tired of being angry.”
He frowned at me. “You’re a lot more level headed than I was back then. Took me a long time to forgive him.” He raised an eyebrow. “So they never caught the person who framed me?”
I shrugged. “I guess not. They probably figured they got the right guy.”
“And you said you were framed the same way I was?” He shook his head. “I wonder if it’s the same person resurrecting old habits.”
We followed the monk around another corner.
I shrugged again. “I hadn’t thought about it. I’d just heard that there was a murder a long time ago and someone was exiled for it.”
“Yeah, I doubt that’s something they’d want to talk about.”
I nodded then changed the subject. “So who were the trainers when you were there?”
“Joseph was the only one teaching the training classes back in my day, and Asa helped out, too. The women fight a little differently than the men. But Asa was more interested in figuring out the powers.”
“I haven’t seen Asa train anyone, but she still likes to figure out the powers. Jesse and Reilly are the trainers now.”
Harlan finished off the second bottle of booze then dropped it in the hall. “I don’t know Reilly or Jesse.”
“Reilly’s a good guy,” I said. “Jesse’s… Well, Jesse has his moments. Abby says they’re like big brothers to her.”
“That’s good to hear.” Harlan smiled, pleased. “I always wished we’d had a boy first so Abby’d have an older brother to look out for her.”
We followed the monk down a long corridor that curved to the right.
“Let’s see, who else… Oh, there’s another restaurant now. Kat’s Kitchen.” I bit off the name as I said it, still furious with her. I didn’t want to say anything about her being the killer until I was sure, though.
“So Murph has some competition now?” He looked surprised. “How is Murph, anyway?”
“He was freaking out the night before I got exiled. He thought Abby’d damaged his Taurus.”
“Oh, that’s not good. He didn’t burp on her, did he?”
“Murph has an awful power. When he gets agitated, it does something to the acid in his stomach. He usually doesn’t mean to, but if he belches, it’s like tear gas.”
I had to laugh at that. “No, he didn’t burp on us. The car was fine.”
“Well, you’re lucky.” Harlan pulled a third bottle of alcohol from his bag and took another drink. He didn’t seem like the type to get drunk, but it looked like that’s what he was trying to do. He didn’t seem tipsy in any way, though. “I was on a gold run once and put a dent in his car running from Hunters. When he found out…well…let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.”
I tried to stifle a laugh, unsuccessfully. “Why do they keep that car around if the Hunters have seen it? I figured they’d get rid of it.”
“Nah, Murph just has it repainted every time and changes the rims.”
I snickered. “Yeah, I guess that’s a pretty easy solution. Lots of Taurus’s out there. Easy to blend.”
The long corridor ended and the monk took us down a passage to the right. I’d lost track of which direction we were headed not long after we’d dropped into the Outskirts.
“Let’s see. Who else…” I thought for a moment. “Oh, yeah. Lena. She lost her memory and powers right after I got to Winter’s Edge. Didn’t even remember her own name after the Hunters got through with her.”
Harlan winced. “Poor girl. She was only eleven years old when we found her. She always was a bit of a handful. How’s she handling the memory loss?”
“Pretty good, actually. Everyone says she’s much nicer than she used to be.”
Harlan’s brow furrowed. “So a blow to the head took out her powers? That’s hard to believe. Our kind can take quite a beating and come out without a scratch.”
“I saw the Hunter hit her with a car door. It looked pretty bad. Cracked her skull.”
“Wow. That’s impressive. I can’t imagine the force it would take to break one of our bones.”
“She’s doing a lot better now.”
He took another long swig. “Did she ever tell you how we found her?”
“Lena? No. I barely talked to her before she lost her memory.”
“She was only eleven years old,” Harlan said. “She didn’t even know she was perpetually using her power. Probably aged herself a little that day. Mathis picked up her pulse and we tracked her down. She was with her little sister at the time.”
“Lena had a sister?”
“Yeah. Maybe a year or two younger than her.” He pursed his lips, apparently not liking the memory. “Lena’s pheromones were attracting every man who walked past. It was actually kind of funny to watch them play off their attraction to an eleven-year-old girl.” He snorted a laugh, but soon, he grew sad. “Unfortunately, the Hunters found them about the same time we did. We nearly lost her, but Jonathan and I managed to fight off the Hunters enough to get away with her.” Then his tone went dull, along with his features. “They got her sister, though.” His voice was unsteady. “I still have nightmares about that day now and again, seeing her taken away, screaming.”
Silence hung in the air for a moment.
He sighed. “I always worried she blamed me and Jonathan for not saving her sister, too, but I never got the chance to ask her.”
“I don’t know Jonathan,” I said. “I still haven’t met everyone in Winter’s Edge.”
“Oh, you wouldn’t have met Jonathan. He’s dead.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. It was a long time ago.”
After a few moments passed, Harlan changed the subject. “So Joseph threw you out of a car same as he did me when he handed you over to the Hunters?”
“That was the plan,” I said. “Didn’t work out quite like he wanted, though.”
He swallowed a huge portion of the bottle. “So you caught on?”
“Good man.” He nodded his respect. “Joseph has a method to everything. He told me and Mathis that he’d brought everyone on that supply run who was a suspect and to be ready if the fingerprints pointed to one of them. I didn’t expect the fingerprints to be mine, though.” He shook his head, then gave me a sideways glance. “How’d you escape the Hunters?”
“Abby’s partly to thank for that,” I said. “She came back to help me. She may have saved my life. I’m not sure I could’ve handled them all on my own.”
“How’d she escape?”
“Kat came back for her.”
Harlan finished off the last of the third bottle and dropped it.
That’s when I finally got the courage up to ask about the drinking. “What’s with all the alcohol?”
He looked at me, not a hint of drunkenness in his eyes. “Preparation.”
My brow wrinkled. What did that mean? Did he think he needed to be drunk before he could handle seeing his wife and daughter again?
I let it go, not wanting to push the issue further.
That’s when something he’d said earlier came back to me, connecting the dots in my mind. “Oh, no.”
“What’s wrong?” Harlan said.
“We have to hurry. I know who the killer is.”
And just then, Brother Lawrence’s flashlight went sickly dim.
We were about to be stuck in the Outskirts forever, leaving Abby at the hands of a cold-blooded murderer.