“What the fuck is she doing here?” Kurada asked.
“What the fuck is she doing here?” Colin asked in return.
Carmel shook her head. Clearly she wasn’t into being used as a distraction. “What the fuck are you doing here, Colin?”
Mary rolled her eyes. “I’m here for the same reason as you. We need to defeat the Purest.”
Kurada blinked. “Come again? You want to what?”
“Not want,” Mary said. “Need. We need to defeat the Purest. Millicent was working on their behalf. I thought she wasn’t with the Terrafiers, and she wasn’t really. She was with the Purest directly.”
“Just like you are,” Kurada said.
“Until they tried to kill me.”
Kurada crossed her arms and glared at Andreus. “So much for a secret meeting. You look like shit, by the way.”
“You’re one to talk. What do you have?”
“You really trust her?” Kurada glanced at Mary.
“I do,” Colin said.
“I’m not asking you,” Kurada said. “I don’t trust you yet, either. I like you, you’re cool, we can be friends, but I don’t fucking trust you.”
Colin froze. He’d never heard her speak so sharply, so bluntly to him. No one else seemed surprised by it, though Mary shot her a warning look.
“You were in the Purest’s pockets as much as any of us,” Mary said. “I know where you spent most of your time. Underground, with them. How do we know you aren’t with them?”
“Because I brought you a present,” Kurada said.
Carmel cleared her throat.
“I paid you,” Kurada said. “It’s mine now.”
Carmel shrugged to say she couldn’t argue the logic. She raised a phone to her face. “Bring her in, Ben.”
A skinny, shifty looking man came into the abandoned office through a broken door, dragging someone behind him. The captive wore a pillowcase over her head, but Colin recognized her.
Kaylee struggled against Ben, who must have been much stronger than his wiry frame revealed. He slipped the pillowcase, one of the decorative ones, with ruffles around the outside, off her head.
She spat at him.
“Aw, come on, Princess, we just want to talk to you,” Ben said.
He slapped her. “Start talking.”
“Hey,” Colin started. “Why don’t you tell us what she’s supposed to be saying?”
“Don’t try to defend me,” she sneered. “I tried to fucking kill you. Don’t try to be a hero.”
“I don’t have the power to save you if they want you dead. I just want to know why you’re here.”
Kurada shot Colin a quizzical look. “So you know she’s the one who poisoned you?”
“I know she injected me with something. She did the same to Andreus, and to her partner. Said she talked to much or something like that.”
Kaylee snarled at Ben. Ben raised a hand to strike her again.
“Enough, Ben,” Carmel said. “We’re looking for information, not a confession.”
“Oh, I already have the information I need,” Kurada said. “Use the bitch as a piñata for all I care.”
“What the fuck did I bring her here for then?”
Kurada shot a look at Carmel. “I thought you and your guys do shit for money. Isn’t that how mercenaries work? Am I missing something here?”
Carmel held up a hand toward Ben. “Let her have this one, Ben. People are dying. It isn’t worth it. And for your information, Kurada, you cunt, we still have feelings. We can still believe in things. If you don’t mind, let’s get this over with.”
“Sorry, Carmel. I’m a little on edge. Sorry Ben.” She smoothed her sleek, black ponytail. “The Purest- they’re not immortal. Don’t act like this is a surprise. They’re not gods, they’re elementals. I don’t know what kind of trippy psychoactive shit they’ve got going on down there, but they’re mortal. Somewhere in that cave are two fleshy bodies with two beating hearts that can be stopped.”
The rest of the group waited in silence.
“I’ve spent just about every free moment down there. Sometimes they didn’t even know it. Most of the time they didn’t know it. They’re afraid.”
Kaylee spat at Kurada, who delivered a slap that Kaylee didn’t even seem to feel. “Fuck you, traitor!”
Ben laughed. “She’s trying to shift. Sorry, Princess, we hit you with a dose of your own poison before you woke up.”
Kaylee slumped. She didn’t die, or convulse, she just appeared to give up.
Kurada nodded for him to take her away.
“What are you going to do with her?” Colin asked.
“I’m not going to kill her, if that’s what you’re asking,” Kurada said. “But I’m not letting her go. You’re awfully quiet, Mary.”
Mary scratched her arm. “I think I’ve got an idea who’s been swayed by the Purest. But I don’t know for sure. If I make a few calls, we might be able to get a pretty big fighting force together.”
“If you make a few phone calls, you might get a fighting force together on the wrong side,” said Kurada.
“She’s on our side,” Colin said. “Let her make the phone calls, but first tell us how you think we’re going to kill them. I understand they’re not gods, but they’re too close to it for comfort.”
“Get them out of here,” Kurada begged Andreus. “I don’t trust them.”
“But you trust her? No offense, Carmel. I would just assume that this information would come at a price.”
“Like I said,” Carmel said with a strained, forced, calm. “I have feelings. But the assistance of my men comes at a price. So I need to know what they’re being hired to do before I can set that price. I need to be here. They don’t.”
“I have the entirety of CERT behind me,” Mary said. “This moment is exactly why I built the damn thing. So that when we go to war, we have a fucking army.”
“You built CERT around the Purest. What percentage of your army is going to choose you over them?” Carmel challenged.
“Look,” Kurada said. “We can tell everyone that we’re trying to save them or something.”
Mary and Carmel both turned on Kurada.
“I’m not lying to my people!” Mary shouted.
“Are you insane?” Carmel yelled.
Kurada gave a sheepish shrug. “Hey, I never said I was the idea guy. Fine, Mary, Colin, stay. Everyone stay. Should we bring Ben and that other bitch back, too?”
“Cousin,” Andreus said. “I’m very tired. If we’re going to fight, we need to get on with it.”
Colin took a step closer, ready to catch Andreus if he fell.
Kurada nodded. “We could sap their elements. Soak up all the water and dig out all the dirt. We expose their human side and kill them then.”
“That sounds impossible,” Mary said. “They’re underground. Are we supposed to dig to the Earth’s core?”
“Of course not,” Kurada snapped. “We send in our own people to cover the cave walls, Mother Earth won’t be able to heal or hurt us if we cut off her supply. If we could sneak in and cover the walls, we could win this.”
“And Old Man River?” Mary asked. “He’ll drain our bodies to heal himself. We can’t shield him from the actual river.”
“There is no actual river,” Kurada said. “Well, there kind of is, but it’s a closed system. He brought it all in, it’s like a fountain, it’s just on a loop that he keeps going. We can’t make a barrier between him and the water, but we can take it all out.”
“Do you know how many of us that would take?” Andreus pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Get back at me with numbers and I’ll tell you how many I can provide,” said Carmel. “I’ve got a couple who would do it for free, like me, but nowhere near enough to accomplish that.”
Mary chewed her lip. “How long do you think we have before they act against us?”
Kurada shrugged. “Depends how many people we tell and how long it takes someone to betray us.”
“How are we supposed to get the water out of there without also letting the Purest escape?” Colin asked. It didn’t feel right, including himself as part of the fighting force, but he wasn’t going to let them fight and die without doing his part.
“I thought about that,” Kurada said. “You know that thing Isaac and Katrina do, where they both shift and he picks her up and carries her and they make it rain?”
“Yeah,” Mary and Andreus said.
“Well, if they can teach other air and water’s how to do that, we can keep the entrance blocked off, except for our people, let our waters out, have the airs pick them up, make it rain, come back and do it again.”
“How many of us will that take?” Mary asked.
“I have no idea. Depends how many of us can figure it out and how much water we can carry.”
“And you’re absolutely sure they have human sides?” Andreus asked.
“They can be killed,” Kurada confirmed.
Mary turned to Carmel. “I’ll get back to you in an hour with those numbers. I think we’re going to need all the help we can get.”
“I’ll be waiting. Later guys,” Carmel said before leaving. The busted door swung partially shut behind her.
“I’ll make some phone calls,” Mary said, following.
Andreus and Colin remained a moment longer.
“This is the place, isn’t it?” Colin asked. “This is where your wife died.”
Andreus nodded. “It was.”