Fingers of moonlight streamed through the fractured windows and crept across the wall. The crumbling mansion was little more than ruins rotting away on its foundation. How long could it withstand the unwavering demand of gravity before it collapsed?
Alex moved the beam of her flashlight across the remains of the grand foyer. She kicked up a thick layer of dust that covered the floor. A set of shoe prints in the grime led deeper into the house. The musty scent of rotten wood filled the air and reminded Alex of things better left forgotten. She listened attentively, in case someone lurked in the shadows, as she searched for anything on the Cosa Nostra. The gang had been silent for far too long for their liking. Alex hoped it was one step closer to find their parents’ murderer, but seem like just another mission for The Pyka.
She pressed the button on her earpiece, her only lifeline to her brothers “Clear in the foyer, moving to the library.”
Static crackled in her ear. Nikolai was the first to respond. “Basement’s clear. Found some boxes. Ry and I are taking them to the jet.”
“Kel and I are waiting in the jet for you.” Lev spoke.
Alex radioed in. “Copy that. On my way to the last room, then headed back.”
“Copy. Stay safe.” Nikolai spoke.
Dust covered every table and cupboard. Tea-cups encrusted in mold sat on the coffee table. Cobwebs billowed on the banister as she passed.
Goosebumps rose on her arms. She spun, searching for the source of her unease. The flashlight sent wavering beams down a dark corridor. No eye-shine or indication of another presence, but she couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched.
When she eased through a door off its hinge, she stepped on something. Books scattered across the wooden floor. Stacks of paper littered the desk and the floor around it. A large cracked painting hung crooked on the wall. Bending down to pick up a book, Alex brushed the dust off. She examined the book, only to find it blank. Puzzled, an open book caught her eye. Maps, signs. plans. Everything she needed. She reached up to contact her brothers. The approaching footsteps echoed down the hall, Alex dropped her hand from her earpiece. She took the safety off her gun, raising it a bit.
“Alex? Everything okay?" Kellin’s deep voice spoke over the radio. “I can sense fear spiking in you, that’s not your usual M.O.”
She sighed. Thank God for that empath.
She hesitated, her finger twitching above the earpiece button, then squeezed it tight. “Kel, I think someone is—”
A blast roared from the hallway blinded Alex sent her flying into a bookcase. Small pieces of burning debris fell around her as she clutched her head in pain. Books scattered the wooden floors, small flames burst all around her.
She spat blood, grabbed the shelves of the bookcase and pulled herself up, peering through the smoke.
A figure walked through the flames, and Alex’s breath choked in her throat.
“Ryder? Nik?” Her gaze fixed on the approaching figure, dark shirt, dark pants. Squeezing her eyes shut, she focus through the pain. Alex tried to focus on the person in front of her.
“Who are you?” Alex coughed against the smoke swirling from the bookcases.
“Hello Alexandria,” the figure spoke. “It’s been awhile.”
That voice. It was the voice. The voice that haunted her vision. Her nightmares.
Fear travelled in her veins, but never made it to her facial muscles or skin. Her complexion remained pale and matt, her eyes steady.
“Come back.” Alex demanded. Smoke swirled around the broad shoulders of the man’s back, clouding him, clouding the room, until it filled her vision. She closed her eyes, leaning back against the wall.
Did I hit my head that hard? He wasn’t here. He wasn’t here!
Fire fed on the mansion’s ancient wood, the flames burning dangerously close. She stumbled through the room to the door, stepping over debris that covered the blackened floor. A burning pain seared her arm, a scream escaped her. She clutched her aching arm to her chest, eyes stinging, as she searched frantically through the dense smoke for a way out. Harsh coughs erupted from her, as she bent over to avoid the choking grasp of the smoke. The glowing embers leaped and twirled in a fiery dance, lighting the room for Alex. She crouched to see under the thick smoke, the acrid smell of the fire burning her lungs. It smothered the door. There was no way she could get out through .
“Is there another way out?” Alex asked her brothers. Her vision blurred and bile burned in her throat.
“She’s trapped in there, Nikolai,” Lev turned in his chair. “Hurry it up.”
Nikolai slapped the blueprints to the house onto Lev’s chest. “You’re the expert. Find her another way out.”
Lev pulled up the blueprints of the three story house. His fingers flit across its crinkled surface. Nikolai leaned over his shoulder. “I’m going as fast as I can.” Lev pressed the button to initiate contact with Alex. “Your left. There’s a door behind the bookcase.”
“On it.” A cough erupted over the radio, then an intake of breath and gasp of pain. This wasn’t good. Alex was injured. They didn’t know to what extent, but it still made Lev nervous.
“She’s going to get herself killed,” Nikolai said.
Lev was sure that Nikolai didn’t mean for any of them to hear it. He couldn’t help but agree. She trained everyday, and the dark circles under her eyes screamed of exhaustion. He was surprised that Nikolai had allowed her on this mission, but he had to admit they needed her.
“She’ll be fine.” Ryder said. “She won’t learn if we keep pulling her out or going in to save her.”
“She won’t do anything if she’s dead, Ryder.” Nikolai shouted.
The steam coming off the two heated the air between them.
“Guys, Alex’s life depends on us.” Kellin put himself between the two.
Lev turned back to the blueprints, “Alex, you still there?” He asked.
“Where else would I be, Lev?” Her voice hoarse.
Lev smile, able to relax for a moment. “Tell me what you see, Alex?”
“Just a long corridor.” Another cough erupted over the radio.
Lev pointed his finger onto the blueprint. “We’re gonna get through this. Go straight and take your second right.”
“Hurry. The smoke is turning black.”
Lev nodded, glancing out the jet’s window. The smoke had turned black. Bad timing. “Gotcha, sis.”
A wave of dizziness blurred the room. Alex staggered then leaned on the wall behind her and closed her eyes. The fire raged, crackling with a roar. She pulled herself towards the bookcase. Black dots formed in her vision as she tried to push it aside.
“It’s not moving.” Pain tore through her abdomen as she leaned against the wall.
“Come on, Alex.” Nikolai spoke. “Get out of there.”
Using all her strength, Alex pushed the burned bookcase aside. Just as Lev had said, it led into another room.
“Get to the jet, Alex.” Nikolai commanded over the radio. “The house is about to cave.”
“Where’s Kellin?” Alex scurried out of the room down a dark corridor.
“Just got back,” Kellin answered.
“Alex, get out. We got everything we need.”
“But what if...”
Ryder said, “Get out! The house is coming down.”
Alex ran her hand against the rough rock walls. “I’m in some kind of underground tunnel.” She shone her flashlight down the dark tunnel. “Lev, where does this end?”
“Go straight, then turn left then climb up. You’ll come out at the start of the forest.” Lev said.
Following her brother’s direction, Alex found the stairs and climbed up. She opened the hatch. A breath of fresh air rushed over her.
Disoriented, she paused to get her bearings, ignoring the pounding pain in her head.
“I’m out. Where are you guys?” Alex looked around for anything familiar. The smell of burnt wood filled the air.
“Head left into the field.” Lev spoke.
Alex leaned against a tree. The relief of survival washed over her. The house stood in her eyesight. Black smoke spilled from the structure, choking the stars with its heavy clouds. The mansion’s roof collapsed onto the lower floors as the fire continued its feast. Alex watched the scene, releasing a breath that she was holding. What would have happened if she was still in there? Would her brothers finished their mission?
The man in the smoke with the red eyes, she heard though, it wasn’t the first time she heard it.
All of this trouble for a stack of boxes. She hoped they’d find something in them.
Looking back at the remains of the house one last time, Alex ran towards the jet in the field.
“Let’s go,” Alex said, her voice shaking as she leaped into the cockpit, her brothers spun to look at her, their faces wreathed in concern. She dropped in the seat behind Lev. “What?”
“You look terrible,” Lev grinned. “And smell worse.”
“I feel terrible. You guys yammering in my ear wasn’t helping anything.”
“You need something for the pain?” Alex saw concern in not only Lev’s eyes but her other brothers as well.
“Relax, guys. It’s just a headache.”
“Everyone set?” Lev asked, turning the attention away from her. He pushed the controls forward. Engines roared and the siblings were pushed back in their seats.
Alex’s head pounded and her ears popped. She turned away to hide her wince.
“Here, take these,” Nikolai offered her some aspirin.
Alex straightened and put the pills into her mouth. She closed her eyes.
She reopened them to see Nikolai’s face faltering in and out of focus. “Concussion.”
“And a few other things.” Nikolai said. His eyes searching hers.
“And a massive bruise.”
As Nikolai touched the emanating bruise on her left side, Alex sucked in air hoping the world would quit swimming. “It never fails that one of us always get injured in some way or another,” Turning to grab the seat belt behind her, a stabbing pain in her ribs jolted her forward. She gripped the armrests and took sharp breaths through her clenched teeth until the pain subsided
She gazed upward. “Nikolai. I’m not dead.”
Nikolai beckoned to Kellin. “Come here.” Alex frowned.
“I don’t need the whole family for a bruised rib.”
“What you’re going to get is a doctor, so shut up.” Nikolai replied.
“Don’t move.” Kellin said. “You might puncture a lung if you keep at it,” He folded his arms and frowned. “We leave you alone for ten minutes and you end up injured.” He doused a rag with water from a bottle.
I’m fine, Kel. Just leave me alone. She tried to dodge him, however, Kellin caught her jaw, so he could wipe off her face. “You ought to see what you look like.”
Alex raised an eyebrow and winced. Two Kellin’s, two mouths, two pale hands shaped in her vision. She squinted back tears. “Kel? I see two of you.”
“Hold on,” Kellin whispered, pushing her hair to the side, continuing to wipe off the blood and grime on her temple.
Kellin’s hand glowed a brilliant blue as he moved it towards her forehead.
The pain eased off; the large bruise dissolved into a small spot until it was gone. Her headache eased off to a dull throb. She moved her shoulders to ease the tension, rolling her neck side to side. Alex felt her brothers’ stares bored through her. They were searching for more injuries.
“Should be good as new,” Kellin spoke. He winced a bit before downing some pills.
“You don’t have to keep doing that, you know?” Alex watched as her brother try to hide the headache he had.
“I’d rather I be in pain then you, sis.”
The jet lurched as Lev banked a hard left, rattling the crates behind them.
Alex smiled. “Let’s see what we found.”
She grunted when she got up and walked over to the boxes they’d recovered. Hauling out a few envelopes, she opened them up.
“What? These aren’t going to read themselves.” Scanning through the folder, Alex looked back to her siblings. ” I know what you’re going to say but we need to get ahead of Dimitri. We rest and recuperate, while he get a step ahead. I’m sick of it.” Alex shut the folder, quieting herself, but she couldn’t give Dimitri a chance to escape. She needed Dimitri to hurt as much as she had since her parents’ murders. Could this be the answer they needed? Was Dimitri apart of their parents’ deaths?
“Rest.” Ryder motioned his hand in a circle and the folder flew across the jet into his hand. The folder dropped onto the floor, as Ryder shook his hand.
“Dimitri isn’t resting,” Alex challenged, however, Nikolai push her back into her seat. “I’ll take a look at them.”
“Fine.” Alex sat back in her seat. Her mind played tug-of-war amongst resting and alertness as she attempted to stay awake. Her eyelids grew heavier by the minute, battling to stay conscious. Nikolai’s voice entered her mind encouraging her to sleep.
Damn that mind control freak.