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Kari stared at the man in stunned silence. The cure to the…? He must be mad. There was no cure; everyone knew that. If there was, their way of life wouldn’t exist. She shook her head, feeling her hair sway back and forth. Even Richard looked taken aback, though he quickly recovered, “Julius, you said that there was no…”
Julius gave Richard a skeletal grin. Kari sensed Robin shifting nervously behind her; she didn’t blame him. The man was distinctly unnerving. He rasped out his answer excitedly, “I said there was no cure because I didn’t have her in my grasp. I thought the serum was gone, finished. But once we take a sampling of her blood, I can start creating something that will eradicate the virus once and for all.” He paused, seemingly for dramatic effect, “Will you help me save the world, Richard? We can be heroes.”
This should be good. Kari glanced toward Richard, watching a mix of emotions flit over his face before it settled again. His reply was careful, guarded, “We did make a deal, Julius, and I plan to honor that.”
Julius seemed to take that as a “yes.” His face brightened considerably and he waved one hand. Seemingly out of nowhere, two men appeared. They were dressed in matching outfits—dark suits with a red insignia on the shoulder. Kari squinted, looking more closely; it seemed to be a stylized crown. Must be their uniform. I can’t imagine they’d wear that by choice.
Julius spoke up, his voice carrying through the room, “Gerard, Clarence, please escort the girl downstairs.” He glanced toward Kari with a particularly nasty grin, “Then we can get started.”
Kari wasn’t about to wait for that to happen. She’d learned all she needed to know from this encounter, and staying any longer was a danger to her health. She gave Julius a smile in return, batting her eyelashes. Then she jerked her hands apart; the ropes fell to the ground.
The expression on Julius’s face made it all worth it. His smile slid; his white face turned even paler. Kari ducked and then ran for the exit. Robin made a halfhearted attempt to grab at her, but she nimbly stepped aside as Richard screeched behind her, “Get her!”
Unfortunately, she wasn’t expecting Julius’s servants to be so quick. One of them moved to block her way, arms outstretched. Kari jerked to one side, and then punched the man in the face. Her fist connected with a satisfying thud and the man stumbled, clutching his jaw. Kari winced, shaking her hand. That hurt. She didn’t have time to linger, though; the exit was in sight. She darted toward it.
She grabbed the handle and was out the door. Snow flew into her face: fat, wet flakes that partially blinded her. She could hear more shouting from behind her as she sprinted through the woods. Kari felt her face stretch into a grin as she did.
A white creature suddenly reared up in front of her from behind a tree. Kari stifled a scream and slid to a stop, quickly backing away. The monster gave a low moan, reaching forward her with bent fingers. Kari noticed that half of one was missing, leaving only the nub of a bone sticking out of its flesh.
She jerked and turned, dashing the other way. Another white face appeared. Something grabbed her from behind and she yelped, struggling as someone’s hand clamped down over her mouth. Robin’s voice hissed in her ear, “Are you trying to get us both killed?”
Kari mumbled and Robin slowly lifted his hand from her mouth. I hope he washes his hands. She turned her head to the side slightly so that he could hear her as she whispered in kind, “Don’t give me that. Do you really think that Richard would believe that I wouldn’t try to escape?”
She felt Robin’s grip tighten for a moment, a telling instant that made her want to squirm. Kari waited for a moment, counting the seconds. Then Robin spoke again.
“True. By that same token, he’d never believe that I’d take you so easily.”
There was a sharp pain in the back of her head. Not again. Then there was darkness.
She watched Danielle stab the man: once, twice, three times. Blood sprayed outward, coating her hands and chest. So much. Then there was a bang, a shot that reverberated through the forest as the man’s body fell to the ground, his limbs crumpling onto each other like a rag doll’s.
Danielle fell with him, a low cry escaping her lips before she collapsed. Kari placed her hands to her mouth almost without thinking as Robin ran forward. He kneeled next to the bloody bodies, his hands gently pressing Danielle’s side.
Kari stood there for a moment, starting at the scene. She then quickly shook her head. Staring isn’t going to help, is it? This might be her only time to escape. She wriggled her fingers, adjusting her wrists as she pressed the thumb from one hand against the wrist of her other. She pressed downward as she felt the familiar hard piece of metal hidden within the lining of her sleeve. Harder. There was the faint sound of ripping fabric and the small knife was free.
Kari carefully maneuvered the blade, turning away slightly as she began to saw through the rope binding her hands. She could see that Robin was doing his best to stop the blood, but there was so much of it. If Danielle wasn’t properly cared for, she’d probably be dead within the hour. The ropes fell away and Kari slipped the small piece of metal into her inside pocket.
She was free. She could be at her meet point in only a few hours if she pressed herself hard. It would be easy just to leave Robin and Danielle, to escape and continue to lie and cheat and steal. She could have all of the riches in the world, live like a queen. Damn my conscience.
Kari strode toward Robin, laying a hand on his shoulder and pushing him aside gently. He looked at her. For once, his mask had slipped. Kari saw fear in his face: real fear. A few strands of his blonde hair had turned red from the blood. His brow was knitted together, his green eyes wide. As soon as he saw Kari, though, his mouth hardened into a line.
Kari quickly spoke, “You’re not going to save her unless you let me take a look. You did a rum job on my arm, but I don’t think you have the expertise to patch up something this bad.” She glanced toward Danielle and winced; it was worse than she first thought. The bullet had gone into her side; Kari could only hope that it didn’t pierce any vital organs. Danielle had her eyes closed, her breathing harsh against the silent forest.
That’s when Kari noticed the other man, the one that was presumably dead. I never knew a dead man to stare like that, though. She jerked away slightly as a low, chuckling noise issued from his throat. His voice was a wet rattle, flecks of pink spraying as he spoke, “He’ll…kill you all, you know.”
Robin remained silent, but Kari sat up straighter, her eyes narrowing, “What do you mean? Who will? Mr. King?”
The man smiled, flashing red teeth in his warped face, “Not him, you fuckers. Julius. King made a deal…now you’re all dead.” He laughed again, a sound which turned into a cough. It went on for a long time, but finally he swallowed, “I was…going to bring you in. But it doesn’t matter. You’re all dead.” His eyes rolled back as he gasped, then he was silent; his eyes stared blankly at the branches above.
Kari slowly looked back toward Robin. He had put his mask back on, his face inscrutable. He stared back before his eyes shifted toward Danielle. He barked out the next words as if they were painful, “What do you want in return for saving her?”
Did he not hear what the man said? Does he really want to play it that way? I’m always the bad guy. Might as well meet his expectations. Kari slowly knelt beside him, pressing her hand over his on Danielle’s side, “Well that’s easy to answer.” She gave him a wavering smile, one with no real warmth, “You’re going to turn me in to Mr. King. We’re going to play his game, and then you’re going to help me escape.”