Morrigan hung dazed from her shackles, her back numbed from the overwhelming pain. Blood ran freely down her back. The cat-of-nine-tails had carved her flesh and what remained resembled a criss-cross pattern of grotesque wings on each shoulder blade. Morrigan had ceased crying long before, not for lack of pain but lack of tears.
Lord Byron strolled to the door where two marshals still stood guard. “I believe that it enough for now. It does me no good when your body is in shock. I shall return when you have recovered, and if you do not give me the information I seek, well… you ought to give me the information I seek.”
Lord Byron exited, his crimson cloak flowing behind him. Morrigan had not the energy to even hold her head upright. She felt the sharp, stinging sensations replacing the dull ache across her back. Morrigan’s chest heaved in sobs. Her emotions had finally overtaken her. Morrigan knew she wouldn’t leave this facility alive. Lord Byron was searching for information she didn’t have, and he would go to extremes to extract it from her. The marshals stood guard, unfazed.
The door opened once more.
She steeled herself for the next onslaught. Exhausted, she barely managed to lift her head to see her executioner. No crimson cloak walked through the door, however. Instead, Morrigan watched as the two marshals standing guard dropped to the ground. Three men, clad head to toe in black, entered the room. Each had body armor strapped to his torso and dark lenses covering his eyes. A slender woman in a flowing, ankle-length green dress sauntered in. Morrigan recognized the long, curly red hair and hazel eyes that looked on her with compassion.
“Hello, Morrigan,” the woman said. Her voice was sweet and soothing to Morrigan.
“You,” Morrigan started. “You’re the woman from earlier. But you were captured.”
“Mm-hmm,” the woman said, nodding with a polite smile.
“But how did you escape?” Morrigan asked, confused.
The woman smiled. “I had a little help from some friends. And now we’re here to help you.”
“Who are you?”
The woman approached Morrigan and examined the restraints that held her in place before motioning to one of men, who worked on releasing Morrigan’s bonds.
“My name is Shylah,” she said. “Shylah Callimhar.”
“Shylah,” Morrigan said slowly, as if the name struck a memory deep inside. Then her brows knitted together. “Wait. How do you know my name?”
Shylah smiled. “We met once before at your home.”
Memories connected, and Morrigan recalled Shylah’s face from only months ago. She remembered Shylah walking into her father’s office and the truth dawned on her.
“You,” Morrigan exclaimed, wide-eyed. “You’re the one from Ieros that contacted my parents.”
Shylah nodded, then glanced over her shoulder. “Yes. I am a member of Ieros. I came to try and enlist the help of your parents for a special project.”
“But why would my parents get involved in something like this? They worked so hard to stay on Haven’s good side. No, they were tricked.” Morrigan threw an angry look at Morrigan. “You tricked them. You tricked them and now they’re getting tortured by Lord Byron.”
“Morrigan,” Shylah said, putting a comforting hand on Morrigan’s shoulder. “Perhaps we should discuss this later. For now, we need to get out of here.”
Morrigan wrenched her shoulder free from Shylah. “Why should I go with you? You’re the reason we’re all here. You could be working for Haven. A spy. You don’t even look like you’ve been tortured at all. How am I supposed to believe you’re against Haven?”
“Trust me,” said Shylah, eyes to the floor. “They have done enough to me. Now, please. We should leave.”
“Not without my parents.”
Shylah smiled weakly. She glanced to one of the men by the door who returned a nod to her.
“They’ve found the room where your parents are. They will take care of your parents, but you must come with me.”
“No,” Morrigan insisted. “I’m not leaving without my parents.”
“We don’t have time to argue,” said one of the men through his black mask. “Just bring her with us. We’re going to have to risk a little more to get to that room anyway. Here.” The man produced two pairs of darkened glasses similar to the one the three men wore. “You’ll need these.”
The glasses wrapped securely around both Shylah’s and Morrigan’s eyes. Morrigan watched as the lenses showed an infrared image of everything in front of her.
“We’re going to have to go dark to get the other two.”
Morrigan and Shylah followed the masked men through the stark hallways of the holding facility. The soldier in the lead watched the screen wrapped around his forearm that revealed a schematic layout of the building and led them toward a red dot in the center of the compound.
They came to a pair of thick, secured double doors. The lead soldier spoke quickly in a hushed voice. A few seconds later, the power failed. The soldier removed an object from a small pack on his belt and worked it into the crack between the two doors. Slowly, the mechanism pried the doors apart, and Morrigan could hear the clamor of Haven security on the other side.
“They’ll be switching to infrared about now,” the soldier said, pulling a rectangular stick from his pouch. “Don’t look at the light,” he insisted.
Morrigan looked away as the soldier broke off the tip of the stick with his thumb and underhanded it through the opening. Morrigan heard a quick popping sound followed by several agonizing screams. The three soldiers ducked through the opening into the corridor, and soon the screams were silenced.
“Let’s go,” Shylah said, pulling Morrigan through the doorway. They followed the soldiers until they stopped in front of another secured door.
The lead soldier motioned to the other two, who kept watch of either side of the hallway, and then worked on the door. He attached a small box onto the door frame, and two sparks leapt from opposite sides of the box. The white flames traced the perimeter of the doorframe until they met each other once more. The sparks faded, and the soldier kicked a couple of times at the door before it fell inwardly with a loud crash.
They all stepped inside, and Morrigan saw a room similar to the one in which she had recently been imprisoned. This room contained two tables instead of one, and she noticed a small screen on the wall. Otherwise, the room was empty.
The lead soldier walked to the tables and kneeled. He ran a gloved finger along the floor and then examined his fingertip.
“This is fresh,” he said, “but where are they?” He turned his head, as if he was listening to something. “They’ve been alerted. They’re sending in marshals. We have to go.”
“Wait,” Morrigan said. “What about my parents? Where are they?”
The soldier ignored her and headed toward the door. In her infrared vision, Morrigan noticed the floor where the soldier had knelt. The wide pool of blood made her gasp.
“Where are my parents?” she demanded. “You have to find my parents.”
“Morrigan,” Shylah said, trying to soothe her. “We don’t have time to look for them.”
“I’m not leaving without them,” Morrigan screamed.
“Look,” the soldier said sharply. “We don’t have time to run around this facility on a wild goose chase. Marshals are on their way. More of them than the three of us can handle. We either leave now, or we don’t leave at all.”
As he said this, the lights flickered on, and so did the screen on the wall. Morrigan saw a video feed into one of the other holding cells.
“That’s the room I was in,” she said slowly. “Why would they have a video feed into my room?”
“Morrigan,” Shylah said, a motherly warmth in her voice. “They were torturing your parents. What do you think would be worse for them than to see their daughter being tortured?”
“No,” Morrigan said. “They can’t do this.”
“We have to go now,” the soldier said.
Morrigan stared at the screen on the wall. Shylah tugged on her, but she wouldn’t budge.
“Morrigan,” she begged, “we have to go.”
“No,” Morrigan said, on the verge of tears. “I can’t leave without them.”
Shylah tugged harder, but Morrigan still resisted. When Shylah pulled even harder, Morrigan jerked her arm from Shylah’s grasp. The lead soldier motioned toward Morrigan with his head, and one of the other soldiers walked to Morrigan.
“No,” she protested and tried to run away.
The soldier grabbed her around the torso.
“Where are my parents?” she screamed to the point that her voice cracked. She thrashed about, making it difficult for the soldier to contain her.
She felt weightless for a split second. The soldier had thrown her across his shoulders and now carried her fireman-style out of the room. She wanted to fight back but knew it would be pointless.
“I need a quick exit,” the lead soldier said.
In a few seconds, his schematic of the building lit up with a yellow pathway to the nearest outer wall. They heard footsteps rushing down the hallway where they had originally come in, and six marshals peered through the opening of the double door.
“Let’s go, now,” the lead soldier yelled and rushed off in the opposite direction.
The rest of the group followed him as the marshals squeezed one by one through the opening. They ran though the hallways, Morrigan and the soldier carrying her in the rear of the group. Every time they came to split, the lead soldier would glance down at his forearm and then follow the yellow pathway. The clomp of rubber-soled boots constantly chased them.
When they neared the end of the yellow pathway, the lead soldier screamed, “Ten seconds.”
They turned the corner and saw four marshals waiting. Each raised his weapon, preparing to fire, but the wall next to them exploded. The group ran to the hole in the wall and found an armored car waiting for them. They piled into the car and sped off.
Morrigan looked up at the dome high above the city. The clouds outside churned and changed colors as they rode. When they had gone a few blocks, the lead soldier spoke up.
“Were you able to find out anything about the purifying agent, Shylah?”
Shylah’s face fell.
“They’ve completed it. We failed. They’re planning to release it soon. There’s nothing we can do at this point.”
The soldier grunted.
“Release what?” Morrigan asked. “What are they doing?”
Shylah hesitated. “I may as well tell you since you’ll find out soon enough anyway. They’re calling it Genetic Bacteriodestabilization, but what it really is is genocide. They’ve developed a bacterial agent that specifically targets Naturals at the genetic level. Once it enters its host, it renders the host unable to replicate DNA.”
“You mean…” Morrigan started, but the lead soldier finished.
“It makes people like you and me powerless to reproduce.”
“How can they do that?” asked Morrigan. “That’s so inhumane.”
“They don’t see us as humans in the first place,” the soldier replied. “To them, we’re just an inferior species to experiment on. That’s why we’re trying to stop them.”
“It is too late for that,” said Shylah. “At least here in the Southampton dome. They’ve already distributed the agent around the city and will soon release it. We must get out of here as soon as possible.”
“I have to go home,” Morrigan said.
“That’s not possible,” the soldier said. “If we have to leave, we need to get back to headquarters and pack up.”
“No, I need to go home.”
“We don’t have time,” said Shylah.
“You don’t understand,” Morrigan insisted. “If my parents were working on some project for Ieros, then they wouldn’t have just destroyed everything. They would have left something somewhere. I know my dad. He would have hidden the important stuff somewhere. We have to go back and get it.”
Shylah gave the lead soldier a pleading look. He looked at Shylah, then at Morrigan, then at Shylah again.
“We’ll drop you off and make a quick run to headquarters. You won’t have more than ten minutes. The marshals will assume you’ll go back to your home. If you don’t find that information in ten minutes, you get out of there.” He looked at Shylah. “You know what to do.”
The car pulled up to the estate and dropped the two of them at the front. Morrigan and Shylah hurried through the crumbled entryway and directly to her dad’s office. All of the computers had been wiped, so they wouldn’t have any information on them. Morrigan turned the room upside down looking for the information. She threw all of the desk drawers in the floor and flung books from their shelves.
Of course not. He wouldn’t have left it in such an obvious place where anyone could find it. It would be somewhere that only Morrigan and her parents would think to look. Morrigan’s brows furrowed as she stood in deep thought for several long seconds. She jumped when she felt something brush against the back of her leg.
“You’ve got to stop doing that, Cabal,” she sighed. “Don’t scare me like that.”
The golden retriever puppy threw his forepaws onto Morrigan and licked at her while she absent-mindedly scratched him on the head. She looked around the room, trying to think of any other places the information could be.
“I thought it would be in here somewhere,” she said.
She heard a metallic clinking, and when she looked down, she saw Cabal scratching at his collar. Shylah glided in.
“Have you found anything?”
Morrigan shook her head.
“Neither have I. I’m afraid we must leave. Don’t worry. If your father left the information somewhere, we’ll find it.” Shylah offered her hand to Morrigan. “Now, let’s go.”
“Hang on,” Morrigan said. “I just need to a couple of things from my room.”
Shylah smiled politely, hiding her slight annoyance. “Be quick about it.”
Morrigan hurried to her bedroom and dug through one of her dresser drawers. After she succeeded in digging out her treasure, she held it up in front of her face. A small garnet gem, shaped like a teardrop, hung suspended from a black leather cord. She tied the pendant around her neck and then headed for the closet. She grabbed a couple of outfits and stuffed them into a satchel.
Cabal followed Morrigan down the hallway to the foyer. When Shylah saw this, she gave Morrigan a disapproving look.
“Come on,” Morrigan pleaded. “He’s all alone. I can’t just leave him here.”
“Very well,” Shylah relented. “Now, let’s go.”
As they turned to leave the house, they both heard footsteps on the concrete outside. Shylah pushed Morrigan out of sight from the hole in the front of the house and peeked outside.
“Morrigan,” shouted a voice outside. “Morrigan.”
“Harrison,” Morrigan said. “Harrison. That’s my friend.” Then, she called outside. “Harrison.”
The young boy with curly blonde hair poked his head through the open.
“Morrigan,” he said as he stepped into the ruined threshold of the front door. “Thank goodness you’re alive. What happened? Who is this?”
“Harrison, you have to get out of here, now. The marshals are coming.”
“The marshals? What do the marshals want with you?”
“It doesn’t matter Harrison. You have to get out of here.”
Harrison began to speak, but only a spatter of blood came out of his mouth. He dropped to his knees, and his eyes went vacant.
“Harrison, no,” Morrigan screamed and ran for him.
Shylah caught her by the arm. “No,” she said, yanking her back. Morrigan caught a glimpse of marshals outside and a vehicle driving up the driveway. “It’s too late,” Shylah said. “We must go.”
Shylah tugged on Morrigan’s arm and pulled her through the hallway to the back of the house. Morrigan called for Cabal, who came running along after them. A thunderous crash shook the house, and Cabal yipped. Morrigan turned and saw Cabal on the ground. A large bookcase had fallen on top of him and pinned his legs underneath.
Morrigan ran back and strained against the bookcase, but it would not give.
“Morrigan, we have to go,” implored Shylah.
“Help me, Shylah. I can’t leave him.”
“Morrigan, the marshals are coming.”
“Please, Shylah. Help me.”
Morrigan continued to strain against the bookcase. She felt the case move and saw Shylah beside her, lifting. The bookcase raised a few inches, and Morrigan called for Cabal. The puppy crawled out from underneath but could not stand on his hind legs. Whimpering, he laid his head on the floor.
“Come on, boy,” Morrigan said, scooping him up in her arms. “I’m not going to lose you, too.”
Shylah followed Morrigan to the back yard, where they both heard the whir of an airship closing in. They ran down the hill across the precisely manicured lawn chased by a half dozen marshals. They reached the street and nearly collided with a black truck that screeched to a halt in front of them. The lead soldier from earlier thrust his head out the passenger window and yelled, “Get in the back.”
After Morrigan and Shylah climbed into the bed of the truck, the wheels screamed against the pavement, and the truck took off. The airship they had heard zoomed overhead, flying low above the buildings in the dome. The truck turned down a small side street heading south. They weaved through narrow streets and took to crowded thoroughfares as the fixed-wing aircraft gave chase, firing a barrage at the truck anytime it had a clear line of sight.
Morrigan heard the soldier in the cab screaming, “Get to the tunnel. Now!”
If they could make it to the tunnel that ran underneath the river, they would be free of the aircraft and out of the Southampton jurisdiction. That wouldn’t stop the marshals by any means, but it would at least get the Southampton peacekeepers out of their way.
Morrigan examined Cabals hindquarters as they careened southward. His tail lay limp and bleeding, and both hind legs appeared broken in a couple of different places. Cabal whimpered and occasionally howled in pain.
“Is there a first aid kit anywhere?” Morrigan asked Shylah.
Shylah banged a fist on the rear window and asked for a first aid kit when the soldier slid it open.
“What’s wrong? One of you hurt?” he asked.
“It’s for the dog,” said Shylah.
“The dog? Why in the world did you bring a dog with you? We’ll be lucky to get ourselves out of here alive, much less carrying an injured dog with us.”
“I couldn’t leave him for Haven to do who-knows-what with him,” Morrigan screamed. “I’ve already lost enough important people today. I don’t want to lose everyone.”
The soldier did not respond but handed a small box with a red cross to Shylah. Cabal squirmed in Morrigan’s hands when Shylah rubbed some alcohol wipes on his bleeding wounds and then wrapped them in gauze.
“Here we go,” said the soldier as they neared the tunnel.
The road ahead of them exploded, and the truck veered off to the right. Morrigan watched helplessly as the truck hit the curb and launched into the air.