Of Roses and Thunder

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The One Where Talia Gets Kidnapped

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Talia woke up in a stranger’s bed in a strange room with no recollection of the preceding hours that could have led her to this place. She certainly wasn’t in the compound or any other place she recognized. Though, in attempting to figure out where she was, her mind came up entirely blank.

She couldn’t have been so wasted she didn’t remember anything. She didn’t go out last night- not to her memory. Then again, she didn’t really have any memories of the day before. It was as if her mind had been wiped off her recent actions, a tabula rasa, and her memories began just when she woke up.

Cautiously, Talia got up out of the bed and stood up. She was alone, still in her clothes and was resting on top of the comforter, draped in a throw blanket only. What had happened? Listening for any signs of life, anything to indicate there was someone else in the apartment, she was faced with nothing. Slowly, aware of every detail of her surroundings, she opened the white door to the black bedroom. She stepped out into the similar black living room, the brightness of the light streaming in through the large, industrial windows making her squint.

A man in a black suit with long, black curly hair slicked back behind his ears was perched on the couch, perusing through a science fiction novel.

“Oh, good. I’m glad you’re awake. I wasn’t sure how long you would be under for.” He spoke, not looking up from his novel to see Talia.

“Where am I? Who are you?” Talia asked, still in a haze. “How did I get here?”

“I’m Loki, I kidnapped you in the nighttime.”

“Why?!”

“For shits and giggles.” He answered, flicking the novel shut.

“You’re serious? I was kidnapped because you were bored?!”

“Essentially. I feel like we could have fun. You are a devious young woman and I could use some help. The fun part wasn’t just in kidnapping you. I’ve given William Townsend a challenge, we’ll see if he can figure out the puzzle.”

“Okay, that’s kind of sick. But, if we’re going to conquer the world, what time were you thinking? I’ll pencil you in for 3 pm, I need a nap before. You know what, you might as well wake me up at 2:30. I’m going back to bed, we can go run and get Dunkin Donuts, and we’ll wait it out for William to come and get me. I’m going to need to be caffeinated, these are my kidnapping terms. You take me from my home, and I require iced coffee for my troubles. It’s the kidnapping tax.”

“Do you not have confidence in William that he will find a solution to reclaim you?”

“Nah, I’ve just been kidnapped before. This was pretty chill, though, I mean, you could have done a lot worse. I’m pretty sure you won’t let me leave this apartment, but it’s not a bad place to hang out. William will figure it out soon enough.”

As a matter of fact, it’s the first thing William noticed. He woke up and immediately had a gut feeling something just was not right. There was something missing, the compound didn’t feel complete in a way he found hard to describe.

“Jason, is everyone here?” He asked, feeling an uneasy emptiness.

“Yes, sir, everyone except Talia.”

“My daughter?”

“Yes, Mr. Townsend, she is not here. No, I do not know where she is.”

“Huh.” William thought pensively. He walked out of his bedroom and through his office into the common room where the kids were eating breakfast and asking Peter and Maize about their prom night and the adventures that cut it short. The TV was on in the corner, tuned to the news but muted so they couldn’t hear the story about the Metropolitan Museum of Art robbery last night.

William always did everything in his power to avoid getting his kids on the news, because the last thing they needed was the stress of public ridicule. He knew how badly it hurt sometimes, especially seeing a news story that said all the wrong things about what happened. They would never understand what it was like to be in the position to save everyone, and some of the risks they have to take and the decisions they make at that moment. Sometimes things go wrong.

Yet, despite his wishes that his kids were kept off of the national news, lo and behold, there was security footage of Maize and Peter battling with Erik.

“Hey, look, it’s you guys!” Jordie exclaimed, nudging Maize and Peter who was pointedly looking away from the flat screen.

“I thought it was just a rumor that you ran around barefoot on glass and then kicked Erik with a lightning foot. Like, that shit just doesn’t happen. But, with you, anything seems possible.”

Jordie was absolutely right. Nobody, not even Thor himself, knew the limitations and the extent of Maize’s powers. She was incredibly powerful and had more control in her than he could ever dream of. He didn’t consider that she would be this strong, and especially, this worthy. He knew he could be selfish and arrogant, but he didn’t see any of those traits in her. She was painfully unselfish and unhardened, despite the hell and back she had to go through. He didn’t get it; she should be vengeful and spiteful and everything a hero wasn’t- the world treated her badly and she should be using her powers to justify that. But, she wasn’t. She was a true hero and a true god.

Everyone’s attention then strayed from the news story to William, who radiated uneasy energy when he walked in the room. Immediately, everyone knew something was wrong.

“William, what’s up? I can’t read what that expression is on your face.” Menoetius asked.

“Talia’s not here, and I just have a really bad feeling about it. Has anyone seen her or heard from her lately?”

There was a pause in the room; everyone looked at each other questioningly. In unison, they shrugged.

“Now that you mention it, we haven’t. But, I can text the group chat to see what’s up.” Maize answered.

“You guys have a group chat?”

“Yeah, just because we have our problems doesn’t mean that we don’t send each other memes every hour on the hour.”

“Can I be in the group chat?” William asked, and he received a unanimous no.

“That’s understandable, I don’t think I want to know what you guys talk about, anyway. Let me know if you get any response. I’ll try and call her.”

After a little while passed and nobody had gotten a response, William spoke to Menoetius softly.

“When is the time it’s okay to start worrying?”

“William, if you have a gut feeling, follow it. They’ve never been wrong. Nobody can get into contact with her and we haven’t seen her for over 24 hours. Do what you feel is right, William.”

“I know someone who can help. She owes me a huge favor anyway.” William said, picking up his phone, scrolling briefly through his contacts and walking away to make a call that was brief, slightly hostile, but efficient.

“She’ll be here in an hour.” William vaguely updated everyone who was wondering who the hell he could possibly call, as William slipped his phone into his pocket.

“William, we’re going to find her. Don’t worry.” Artemis spoke up softly.

“I know, I know she’s a fully-grown adult, but this isn’t like her-”

“You have every right to be worried about her, you’re her father. We’ll figure it out, William.” Artemis reassured.

It wasn’t long before William’s backup pulled up into the gravel driveway in an Audi TT. She stepped out her boots crunching the rocks below her feet, and she pushed the door closed with her hip. She came waltzing in through the front doors to meet William and the crew who were eagerly awaiting the mystery arrival.

“Everyone meet Zelda Varianas. She’s the best damn finder on the East Coast.” William introduced the girl about Talia’s age who had her weight shifted onto one hip, a cigarette between her fingers that held her phone she was typing away on. Zelda’s long brown hair fell gracefully on her shoulders, contrasting her outward appearance of total disinterest. She had one side tucked behind her ear, revealing a constellation of piercings that connected to each other by small chains and charms.

“Aren’t you the senator’s daughter?” Ariel asked.

Zelda scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Yes, everyone knows this, I’ve heard that exact question a hundred thousand times, and no, he’s not interested in being your sugar daddy.”

Ariel was completely shocked; she did not expect that kind of response from Zelda. Obviously, she had some unresolved childhood issues that were causing her problems, and Ariel was going to stay far, far away from her intense persona.

“Um, William, how do you know her?” Maize cautiously asked, confused by the person standing in front of her.

“Don’t worry about it,” Zelda answered, not looking at Maize in the process. “So, are we going to get started, or what?”

“Yeah, here’s everything I have,” William responded, leading her further into the compound.

As Zelda got settled in, she took her jacket off and found a spot in a chair. Maize noticed that Zelda had a tattoo on her forearm with a horseshoe and a banner wrapping around it, “unlucky” written on it.

“Why do you have that tattoo?” Maize asked curiously.

“Because I am the unluckiest person you’ll ever meet. I bring utter chaos to everyone and everything without even knowing it.” Zelda answered, looking Maize directly in the eyes.

“Calm down, edge lord.” Maize muttered as she looked off to the side, a little taken aback by Zelda’s answer. She was hoping Zelda didn’t hear it, but she most certainly did. Then, Maize, for the first time, was actually uncomfortable by her gaze. She shifted in her seat, trying to get away from Zelda’s piercing eyes but even then, she felt like she couldn’t escape them.

“Can I just have Talia’s laptop?” Zelda asked William.

“Oh, right. Of course,” William said, handing Zelda Talia’s MacBook. Zelda plugged in a flash drive into the laptop, the screen immediately turning black and soon running green codes across the screen.

“What are you doing?” William asked curiously.

“First of all, I’m breaking into her laptop. Second, I created a program that scans every bit of data on this laptop and strings patterns together, with searches, photos, everything. That should group things together for us to narrow down our options to where she is, what she was looking into or talking to. I’m also going to do a simple “find my iPhone” to see where she is. Even if she had her phone turned off or dead, her location would still transmit for 24 hours. Did you get a ransom note yet?” She explained as her fingers wildly danced against the keys as if they had a mind of their own and it was effortless.

“No, I didn’t.”

“So why are you thinking it’s kidnapping? There’s no motive, no person, no ransom note.”

William gritted his teeth. He knew all of that already.

“I have a gut feeling. Something just isn’t right. In my line of work, anything can happen. For all I know, she could literally be on another planet. A lot can happen, and we’ve made a lot of enemies.” William explained. His gut feelings were rarely ever wrong. “You just have to trust me on this.”

“Alright, I will. But this is your one favor, don’t think I’m waiting at your beck and call, because this is it.”

“Okay, I get that. Just find my daughter.” William understood, walking away and pacing the far end of the room.

“So, tell me what you do again?” Maize asked.

“I find people for a living. Why are you still hanging around?”

“Okay, I’ll leave, sorry. I’m just trying to make conversation.”

“Yeah, well, little miss sunshine, I like to work alone. Stop trying to make friends, I’m not going to have a sleepover with you or bake cupcakes. I have work to do. Beat it.”

“I can see why you and Talia would be friends, geez,” Maize muttered as she got up, taking the blow to her ego. She should have known what Zelda would be like from the moment she walked in the room.

She was a god. She had a hammer, rage of the gods, and lightning at her beck and call. She could just put Mjolnir on her lap so she couldn’t move, she could make her hair frizzy, she could do a lot of things... but she wouldn’t. She had to be responsible with her power, and not everybody was raised like her. Not everybody had her heart. She learned that the hard way.

“Talia and I aren’t friends, get that straight.” She snapped at Maize as she was leaving, turning back to her laptop.

Maize knew that Zelda would be alone forever, and Zelda chose that for herself. It was a life full of loneliness, but some people just didn’t want to be saved.

She reminded her of William the longer she was there.

“It doesn’t take a genius to track her phone and look at her recent messages, William. I can’t believe you called me in on your favor for this one! What do you call yourself again?” Zelda called to William from the other side of the room. She was inside Talia’s laptop and her program had grouped similar items together. It hadn’t been half an hour and she was already nearly finished.

“A genius billionaire.” He said softly. “But I like to keep out of Talia’s things, so it’s better you are going through her laptop than me. Plus, I need to find her and if anyone can do that it’s you. I’m not taking any chances.”

“Yeah, you keep saying that. But the thing is, Talia’s got nothing. Like, it was like her laptop was wiped. Hang on, let me try something else to access the files that may have been deleted because nothing really ever goes away on the internet...” She mentioned, confused. “All I can tell you is that she’s at her boyfriend’s house.”

“Who the hell is that guy?!” William exclaimed as Zelda turned Talia’s laptop towards him and showed him a picture of him, and scrolled through the grouping of pictures her program put together of him and her.

“That’s Talia’s boyfriend.”

“This is definitely news to me.”

“Is it really a shock that an adult would not mention a boyfriend to her father? It’s not high school anymore.”

“Yeah, I would know. I’ve never seen this guy before. Talia doesn’t date, and it would be really unusual for her to not say anything about it if she was. Like, I would really, really know. Find that guy. I need to know who he is.”

Zelda found it hard to work with William breathing down her neck. She knew that he was so thirsty for answers that he would take anything, even the little things, extremely seriously. After all, this was his daughter. He would do anything for her, and it was understandable that he would think every crumb of data would be the one thing that took him to Talia. But, she couldn’t get answers with him practically screaming that he had high hopes and was expecting everything from her. Maybe she couldn’t give him anything. Would he still feel better for trying?

“How’s it coming along?” William asked, impatient for an answer.

“I’m having a hard time figuring it out. All I’m finding are dead ends. This guy simply doesn’t exist. His name was taken from a guy who died in 1954 and all these pictures are doctored. They’re done well, but they’re completely fake. But, I can’t figure out the part of who the face belongs to. There are absolutely zero matches for him. William, this isn’t right.”

“I know, and that’s why you’re here!” He exclaimed.

“We’re getting played with, William. This is a lot bigger than I thought.”

Zelda, now more than ever, needed to be alone to do her work. She wouldn’t let William down, not after everything she had found out. She wouldn’t leave him high and dry on the search for his daughter, because he couldn’t do it without her. He wouldn’t have gotten that far alone. She knew that William needed her, and now she was determined to give him an answer. She traced back the origin of the pictures, the location, the IP address, anything she could find that would lead her to the person that doctored the images of Talia and the mysterious man. But, she kept getting error messages for every attempt to find the source of the images.

“I’m being fucked with!” Zelda explained. “I knew it! This is total mischief.”

“Mischief?” Thor asked, poking his head in.

“Yes! Like, these pictures don’t exist, they have no trail, but they should. It’s almost as if some other force had put them there, made them look like we’re seeing these pictures, but they’re not actual files.”

“So, who do you think could have done this?”

“Someone who thinks it’s funny to make me run around in circles and cause trouble.”

“Sounds like my brother.”

“Who’s your brother?”

“Loki, the god of mischief.”

“That sounds about right. That’s the best lead I’ve got right now, the best explanation for all of this.”

“He could do that. A god can make things appear like those pictures on her laptop. Loki is not the god of all laptops, but he sure can send people on a wild goose chase by giving one all dead ends.”

“Can you like, get him and tell him to stop?”

“Even better. I can take William Townsend to him.”

After William and Thor left to go meet Loki, Zelda was all alone in the large room in the compound. She was less focused on Talia’s laptop and more focused on refining her program. Ariel made a brave move, despite everyone telling her to just stay away from her, and Ariel sat down in the chair across from Zelda in the room.

“Can I sit here?” Ariel asked, friendly.

“I’d rather you not, but I have a feeling you’re going to anyway.”

Zelda was right, and Ariel sat down.

“Thanks for helping us out today, Zelda.”

“I mean, I couldn’t really say no to William, but I’m glad I could help.”

“Yeah, about that! So, why you? How do you know William and shit?”

“If I open up, will you go away?”

“Yes. I promise.”

Zelda closed the lid of the laptop, set it on the glass table in front of her and looked up at Ariel who was intrigued.

“Well, I was born with a congenital heart defect in the same hospital within days of Talia. I was in the Neonatal ICU after I was born, and I wasn’t expected to live very long after that. My heart had scarring on it and was damaged beyond the capabilities of conventional medicinal repair. Mr. Townsend’s technology has kept my heart beating my whole life. I owe my existence to him. He saved my life, that was his big favor to me. I always told him he could ask anything of me, no matter the magnitude so I could try and repay my debt. So, this is how he knows me and I’m repaying him for my life by helping him find his daughter.”

“That’s really special, Zelda. You’re pretty neat.” Ariel said with a smile, getting up from her chair and leaving the room, as promised.

At the same time, William and Thor arrived at the building where Loki was camping out. They made it up to the top floor where the loft was, and William was becoming more skeptical about the location and the likelihood of finding Talia there, too.

“How do you know Loki is here?”

“My friend Heimdall told me.”

Thor seemed confident, so William would follow him inside. Thor took no mercy in Loki’s privacy, broke the doorknob off with a twist and a burst of brute strength, finding Loki parading around the apartment, trying to figure out if he liked the taste of iced coffee or not.

“Mm, brother, are you a fan of this mortal drink?” Loki asked as if his visit was cordial.

“Yes, I quite like the taste. Tell me, brother, where Townsend’s daughter is, and I demand to know why you have her.”

“We were going to dominate the world at 3, we had it written in our planners,” Loki answered with snark, and that marked the end of both Thor and William’s patience.

“We aren’t here to play games, Loki. Show us, Talia.” William stated very seriously.

“None of you are any fun.” Loki sighed, letting the façade fall to reveal Talia. She was tied to a chair and had slashes across her face, indicative that their interactions were not all friendly.

“Loki, brother. What are you doing this for? Truly, don’t you have anything better to do?”

“Hm, yes,” Loki reflected. “But, I’ve put it off for this. You see, this isn’t exact revenge. I prefer to call it... murder, he wrote.”

“Loki, you’re not a murderer. I know you, and killing isn’t a hobby, something you can take up, like knitting. As a matter of fact, maybe you do need a hobby. Go to bingo, brother. Maybe you should learn how to knit. You like to be seen from the ground from those kneeling to you, but if you kill Talia, you will never be king.”

“No, I’ll never be king because I was always an afterthought. I have been overlooked my whole life. I stood in your shadow, Thor. I don’t want to kill Talia. As a matter of fact, I quite like her. If she stays with me, nobody will be sacrificed. We can rule together. But if you insist on taking her back I will spare her life, but I’m going to take another.”

“Just give me my daughter back,” William commanded though he was in no place to do so.

“Dad, stop!” Talia explained. She didn’t want anyone to die, and she didn’t think it would be so Gad living the rest of her life out with Loki. She was old enough to make the decision for herself, but she wasn’t listened to.

“You’re willing to let someone else die?”

“I said what I said. Give me my daughter.”

“Have it your way, Townsend,” Loki responded with a grin before disappearing. Talia’s restraints dissolved into thin air, and she fell into her father’s open arms. They shared a rare tender moment of rejoicing and gratefulness before Talia directed their next steps.

“Why did you do that, dad? I could have gone with him; I would have been fine.”

“I know you would have, but I’m a selfish bastard and I wouldn’t have been okay without you.”

“I think it’s just about time I got home, don’t you think? Get me out of here!” She exclaimed with a bit of a bewildered chuckle. When William brought Talia back inside the compound, William immediately knew the life Loki was going to take. He made eye contact with a pale, sweating Zelda who was standing at the end of the hall, her body trembling.

“William, help me, please.” Zelda pleaded with a quiet, desperate voice.

Zelda suddenly collapsed on the floor, clutching her chest. She was pale and ashen and gasping for air. William ran to her side; Talia called an ambulance.

“Zelda, what’s happening?” William asked.

“I don’t know, my heart-” she choked out.

“Yes, we need an ambulance immediately, a 22-year-old girl is having a heart attack,” Talia spoke calmly, sitting next to Zelda and her father on the floor.

“Talia, get the aspirin, quickly!” William instructed, trying to do what he could to help Zelda.

“William, aspirin won’t help; I’m going to die.”

“No, you’re not. The device in your chest isn’t supposed to fail, I literally did it to myself before you. You’re going to be fine; you have to. It’s fail-safe, Zelda.”

“That’s what they said about the Titanic. Tell my dad I’m sorry.” Zelda breathed out before her body relaxed in William’s lap. He pressed two fingers to her wrist, but he didn’t need to take a pulse to know her heart had stopped. He laid her down on the floor and began doing compressions, but he didn’t know how much more stress her heart could take. He didn’t know if she would be able to make it.

He stood aside as the paramedics and EMTs worked together to cut her clothing off and gather details about her condition.

“Did she take anything that could cause this heart attack?” They asked William.

“Nothing. She has a heart defect.”

“Does she have a pacemaker or any other device?”

“It’s not a pacemaker, it’s nuclear powered-”

“Can we use the AED on her?”

“I don’t even know. Do what you have to.” William answered, letting the paramedics take a chance on her with the AED pads.

“Hands off,” the lead paramedic said, and the team all held their hands up as the shock was delivered. Nothing. The machine read her irregular heart rhythms, and nothing was working.

They pronounced Zelda dead on the scene.

Zelda was right: she was, in the simplest terms, unlucky.

The hospital morgue walls were confining, and the fluorescent lights flickered above them. The basement of Metro Hospital resembled the belly of the beast, the worst part of the monster. It was a horrible place because it was where William and Talia were told exactly what they already knew, and it was that their friend shouldn’t be dead.

This one, this was on William’s shoulders. He felt it weigh down on him, and it was heavy.

“Mr. Townsend, we simply do not have an explanation for this. The arc reactor is perfectly intact. It didn’t fail. She doesn’t have a raised level of cardiac enzymes that follow heart attacks. She didn’t suffer a stroke, her heart just stopped, but the arc reactor that should have kept her alive was in perfect working condition.” The medical examiner explained to them, confirming their suspicions.

“Loki took her life. The power of gods rules over the laws of humanity.” William spoke to the floor. “I’m going to call her father.”

“And I’m going to get a drink,” Talia said, nearly sprinting out of the hospital and over to the nearest bar.

This was a day that shouldn’t have ended in death, Talia thought. As a matter of fact, no day was a day that should end in death. She was overcome with survivor’s guilt, and with the knowledge of her life being spared but Zelda was the one who suffered, she downed a straight whiskey double. She would treat her outside wounds with rubbing alcohol, and those would heal. She would treat her inside wounds with liquor, but there was no guarantee that she would ever recover. Zelda would never recover.

Death was permanent, and Talia would forever be wounded by Zelda’s sacrifice. But she, too, would one day get her revenge.

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