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Chapter Nine

Soon after we left the house and headed towards the harbour to start negotiations. During the walk I thought about the shootings and how they had fired at innocents – it had all seemed very drastic and not at all like how things were done in this day and age. Ollie gave his opinion and said the Captain was classed as a top class criminal to the military and they had used self-defence as their cover story. It made me realise the type of people we were going up against.

Antoine had given us instructions and promised that we were in good hands. He said that there was no way they would make the first move, not without knowing the information we carried, and that under no circumstances were we to reveal his real identity. If they were to find out about his whereabouts he would almost certainly be captured and executed – and in doing so, leave us without a leg to stand on.

Despite his reassurances I still had a bad feeling about the whole plan even though I knew there was no other way. We could hardly run off and set sail without the captain and I was in no mind to leave my friends behind. I didn’t think the crew would stick around too long but they wouldn’t take off without some discussion. Everything was being left to chance and I knew that it was all riding on our ability to barter with this ‘Virgo’ woman. She would not give in easily.

We had parted ways with Antoine who told us that the captain would explain all in good time. In the meantime, he handed us all pistols, telling us that we would almost certainly meet again. By the way I understood it he had implied that he was leaving the town right away but he had given no indication to where he was going and told us there would be no need for any further contact. You will do just fine on your own, he had said.

Now as we waited outside the military ship I wasn’t so sure and didn’t feel nearly as confident as Antoine, but I didn’t want to tell the others. They were worried enough as it was despite their brave faces. The ship itself was a lot better looking than ours and fancier, with a British flag and gold-plated stone along the hull of its interior. It was also far greater in size and more tremendous than the Captain’s, even though he was also with the government. We hadn’t been waiting long when two navy officers came from the hatch of the ship and greeted us formally.

“Your weapons,” one of the men said with hostility. His eyes were small and narrowed in on the guns in our holsters. For a minute I was worried we had to give them up when Aiden suddenly stepped forward and eyed them with confidence.

“Are we prisoners, sir?” Aiden said with an air of authority. They considered him briefly and then with reluctance said that we were here of our own free-will. For now. “And from what I can see you are all armed, too. So are you all willing to drop your guns, too? Until then, I think we will be keeping them. Just in case.”

At that moment I felt such a strong admiration for my friend as he stood before them steeled to the ground and with no sign of fear in his eyes. Ever since I’d known Aiden he had always radiated charisma but I’d noticed he’d really been tested across the last few days. He was only a few years my elder and yet I truly respected his uncomplaining and fortified mettle – something which I didn’t carry myself. I only wished I had half of his bravery.

With reluctance the two men allowed us onto the ship with our guns. They must have seen in Aiden’s eyes that he was not going to back down and they needed to know what we had on their boss. If they came back empty-handed Virgo wouldn’t be happy and as we were connected to the government it was trickier to stop us from using our defences. To mark their dislike towards us they said nothing the whole time and merely directed us once we were inside.

It was very much a similar layout to ours and was as narrow, with plenty of different rooms veering off to the left and right. I guessed there was a bigger crew onboard and occasionally caught a look inside the rooms, which all looked lived in and cosy. The moment we walked in I noticed the place was much better quality than our own, with plenty of furniture and etiquette that gave the ship an almost royal look. I was real impressed, but I didn’t feel all that right, either. It was like they were living too well while out at sea.

They ushered us upstairs and we were taken to the very top where Virgo would likely be waiting. It looked to be almost parallel to our captain’s setup as his cabin was in the same place. After reaching the corridor one of the soldiers moved ahead while we waited. Some minutes passed before he returned again, looking paler and more worried than before.

“You can come in now, but she says that she doesn’t have long so you will have to make this quick.”

Moments later we were face to face not only with the woman Virgo, or Isabelle – I had to force myself to keep my mouth shut – and our Captain cuffed to one of the chairs. He looked up at us and didn’t give away much except for a toothy grin that spoke louder than words. I was amazed that he wasn’t more affected by his imprisonment. The woman, on the other hand, looked stressed by our arrival and eyed all of us anxiously as we walked into the room. Her long brown hair was tangled and hewn down to her shoulders, while the royal outfit she wore gave off an almost judicial air.

My first impressions changed quickly after she took out a cigeratte and began to puff away at it with frantic anxiousness. She paced across the room, her eyes looking haggard and drawn. Finally she acknowledged us and motioned for us to sit, although not without instructing her guards to come closer. There were four other men sitting behind the chairs with their guns facing upwards, sending a clear message out over their feelings.

Aiden led our group and sat at the far right, while Ollie and I took up the other chairs. We looked at the Captain and he nodded towards us without making a sound. He still carried the faint sign of a smile.

Virgo sat opposite us and crossed her legs in an attempt to show calm. Her elbows lay loosely on her lap while she still dragged away at her cigarette, like it was some kind of life support machine. Eventually her eyes settled on us as she said: “You’re here talk, then. So let’s talk. What do you want to know?”

“Firstly, I want to know why you’ve taken our Captain hostage.” Aiden said with some restraint. He looked composed but I could tell the emotion was bubbling underneath. Virgo’s lips writhed into a grin as she thought about his question.

“Your Captain is a descendant of a legendary crime unit. Something which he was quite happy to announce publically, or so I recall. I don’t think I need another reason? I’ve already radioed the forces in Britain that we will be bringing him back with us. They might even bring an aircraft if they don’t want to wait.”

“You might want to reconsider that,” Aiden said. For a moment he’d looked knocked by that but then I guessed we’d always known they would be in touch with the government. It was very rare for the naval ships to be as involved in military matters of this type. “I won’t go into the history of the Zodiac, even though I can see that you know nothing about their real history. Or that’s the image you want to get across, at least. But if I were you I’d start thinking of a good alibi.”

Virgo’s eyes narrowed as she considered Aiden for the first time and cottoned on that he wasn’t just any young man. She took a long drag of her cigarette this time and scratched her shoulder intensely. For a while her eyes darted across the room and towards the ceiling as if she wanted more than anything to be somewhere else. Finally she looked to will herself to face Aiden again and I could tell that fear was written across her face.

“You’re very lucky we haven’t taken the entire crew prisoner,” Virgo said sharply. There was a touch of desperation in her voice. “I know for a fact that he had some helpers. You must be feeling very confident about your sources.”

Aiden leaned forwards which gave Virgo the answer she needed. I noticed that she cowered in her chair a little. “You might want to explain why you were trailing behind us in a fairly obscure part of the country. It’s not very often two government ships happen to come across one another. Though that’s the least of your concerns. We have a lot more on you than you think.”

“There’s nothing to know,” Virgo said. She sounded confident enough but her face told another story. The Captain barked out a loud laugh that caught the attention of the guards. Then his eyes pierced into Virgo’s and even I felt a chill go down my spine as I saw the look on his face. He looked like the devil himself.

“I’m going to tell you straight, Isabelle,” Aiden said, stressing the syllables for effect. “We aren’t playing around here. If you don’t want us to reveal our sources, and you don’t want your men here to find out, I recommend you keep this private.”

Her eyes ballooned up at this and I could tell she knew we meant business. Once again she gave off that look of resignation as she dwelled on her current situation. It would look suspicious to send her guards away, but it wouldn’t do for them to hear her secret either. Even if we couldn’t prove it right away we would’ve planted the seeds of doubt which could never be unsown, and as I looked at Virgo I think she knew that too.

“I am conscious of the time and for the sake of negotiation, I will agree to your petty conditions,” Virgo said. Her guards looked shocked by this and appeared to protest but Virgo insisted on their compliance. She made her excuses and tried to look indifferent by it all, as if we were just a mild inconvenience, but I could still see the trace of anxiety lit up in her eyes. There was some concern over her safety when Virgo patted her holster and said: “They know they can’t take on a whole crew. And if they shoot me then their precious Captain gets it straight away. I don’t think they’re planning on a suicidal mission.”

Virgo faced us all after they left and had such edginess about her that I was worried she might flip out. She moved across the room, pacing back and forth, eyeing us all with a piercing look of contempt. We watched in silence for a while until Aiden started up negotiations again. This time he was more diplomatic and less threatening, his voice softening as he talked about what we wanted.

“We know who you are,” Aiden said calmly. Virgo kept moving and was at a loss. “You and the Captain were supposed to be forming an alliance, until you betrayed him. You are one of the Eleven – an Earth sign. You were supposed to be the grounding influence, the mould that keeps them all together. Instead you handed over one of your own to a government that has no interest in its people.”

Virgo finally stopped next to the high windows and looked into the waters with a sense of longing. She seemed to slip into her own world and showed no interest in a conversation as she stared dreamily into the world outside. Suddenly a voice came from the other side of the room as Sagittarius finally began to talk.

“Grounding influence, my ass,” Sagittarius said gruffly. “I shouldn’t have trusted her in the first place, but I didn’t have a choice at the time. Would you believe that out of all the Zodiac members she was the easiest to find? I don’t know where the others are, but it looks like I’m the only one interested in honouring our legacy. When I found out who Virgo was, I was keen to start a revolution of sorts. She doesn’t even realise just how disgraceful her actions are.”

“I have a life here!” Virgo said in protest. She’d finally snapped out of her trance and turned to look thunderously at Sagittarius. “I have worked hard to bury my past. For years I have served the government and then you came along with your ideals! I almost believed you for a time. Then I realised that the only person you really cared about was yourself. So I took the opportunity.”

I didn’t know much about the Zodiac and I knew nothing about their past but I was certain of one thing. Every sign was individual in its own right and shared very little in common with one another. One might carry an ideal that the other would find repugnant and I could tell by their exchange that they were polar opposites. The captain was clearly in favour of independence and taking action at all costs. When I looked at Virgo I could tell she didn’t believe in her own inheritance. She had doubts and thought that the world didn’t need them – that somehow, they were just fancy myth from the past.

I might have hated her if I hadn’t read her diaries, but what I saw in front of me was a woman who was still very much afraid of the future. She was still running away from her own inner demons.

“We haven’t got time to hear your story,” Aiden said, taking control once again. “I’m going to lay on the table what we have against you, Virgo, and then you’re going to let us go. You will have to come to terms in your own time with what you’ve done. We have evidence from your past of your real identity. Your diary. Your letters of correspondence. We know all about your relationship with your father.”

Virgo’s eyes faltered at the mention of her father and this time she didn’t stop even to have a smoke. I’d never seen anyone look speechless before but that was how she looked as she stared back at us – her eyes now empty shells. For a split second I could’ve sworn that I saw the same vulnerability she would’ve had as a young teen, but then her expression changed and she was looking stressed again. There was nothing she could do to tell us we were wrong and I could tell she was getting desperate. One moment I thought she might even try and shoot us. Then her senses came back.

“I never gave anything away on paper. All little girls take an interest in their star signs from time to time. It doesn’t prove anything. If that’s all you’ve got then you’ve had a wasted trip.”

“Your father is alive and well, my dear,” Sagittarius said, surprising them all. Virgo’s world seemed to collapse with those words. “The man you loved most never died in the war. He had such high hopes that one day you would truly become his little Virgo. Instead you did everything you could to destroy your memories of him. If you get in the way of what I’m trying to do, Virgo, I promise you that he will tell the authorities all about your connection. Is that proof enough for you?”

Finally I saw in her eyes that she knew she had lost. There was nothing else she could do to try and convince us otherwise. Without her father we would’ve been clutching at straws. When I looked at the lost look on her face I knew that everything had changed in that moment. She believed us. I didn’t know much about her but I could tell that a part of her never truly bought the story that her father had been killed in the war, and that there must’ve been some other explanation. Sagittarius had revealed to her something which in her heart she had always known.

Then she did something I feared she might, and pointed her gun at the Taptain. I was thumbing for my own when Aiden and Ollie already had their pistols directly aimed at Virgo. She looked as if she had lost her mind, exaggerated by the wisps in her hair that added to the madness in her appearance. We waited there for a moment, fully armed, while the captain remained nonchalant.

“What’s to stop me from shooting all of you here and now? I can end it all in this room,” Virgo said, looking like the little girl she had once been.

“There’s no chance you’ll get a bullet on all of us, Virgo,” Ollie said gently. He looked to be trying to calm her down. “If you pull that trigger there’s going to be some unnecessary killing and your father will reveal the connection anyway – is this what you really want?”

She kept her gun cocked but made no other gesture. The captain didn’t even look her in the eye even though his life hung in the balance. My finger flittered near the trigger but I didn’t believe that I could ever do it, and it hit me there and then just how quickly everything could escalate and with such drastic consequences. I held my gaze on Virgo and she faltered slightly, not fully knowing what to do with the gun in her hand, and after a few moments of internal conflict her hand finally dropped; the gun sounding noisily as it hit the ground. I tensed and watched as the other two lowered their aim.

“I never meant for any of this to happen,” Virgo said, her voice toneless and depressed. “I was just a girl. I didn’t know anything about the Zodiac. I was left on my own after he left – and I was expected to carry on in his name. I was so angry at him, I couldn’t hold onto his memory forever. I had to leave.”

“So you changed everything about your past to build a new future,” Ollie said, his voice levelled with sympathy. “When you found out about Sagittarius’s plan, you were filled with doubt. In the end, you chose to go against your father’s wishes to hurt him. All for the wrong reasons, Virgo.”

“If I had known that my father was still working with you all along I’d have waited and plotted a better plan,” Virgo said. Her expression was almost vengeful. “After all those years he had never thought to tell the truth, all for his Zodiac!”

“Your father understands its importance,” Sagittarius said. “It’s called service. He gave his life to something he believed. That is not cowardice. It is loyalty. Now the damage has already been dealt, Virgo. We will already have enough problems hanging over us when we leave here. What do you think will happen if you hold onto us now?”

Virgo didn’t need to give an answer, because she knew that wasn’t an option now. Once they revealed their source she would almost surely be imprisoned alongside him. By letting him go she would raise suspicion and the rest of her crew wouldn’t stand for her excuses. She was in trouble either way and couldn’t see another option.

“You have no choice but to join the Zodiac, Isabelle,” Aiden said, becoming gentler now after speaking her real name. She looked up at him at a loss and was surprised by his suggestion. “You have no choice but to go into hiding and look into finding your real tribe. They will not abandon you. We will keep the truth secret.” He met the Captain’s eyes and for a moment I thought he might protest, until the old mariner nodded his consent. This stunned me as I’d expected him to react more strongly but Aiden’s mercy must’ve rubbed off on him.

“I had reason here,” Virgo said. She took one final drag and stubbed out her cigarette. I didn’t think she was talking to us anymore and was just talking out loud instead. She seemed to be deep in thought. “I was someone. Now who am I? I’m nothing but an outlaw.”

“This might give you the chance to come to terms with who you really are,” Ollie said. “There’s nothing for you here. Whatever you might believe about the Zodiac is only one side of the story. Don’t you want to find out for yourself?”

“Virgo. We haven’t got much time,” Aiden said softly. “We need your help to leave this ship without your crew kicking up a fuss. Sooner or later the others are going to arrive and we need to be setting sail right away. You need to take us off the ship alone and let us go.”

“Alright, I know,” she said. I noticed a new surge of strength come into her body as she moved towards us. “I have an idea.”

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