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The snow was falling in earnest now. It swirled around Robin’s face and made the dim shapes of the restless meld with the trees. He hefted the girl on his shoulders, turning back toward Julius’s house. Behind him he could hear hissing breaths, low moans, a cacophony of pain and misery. Perhaps I should have kept her conscious. No use crying about it now. Robin began to jog as the snow slapped his face and blinded him. He could see the house ahead with several dim shapes in front of it—Julius’s guards. He slowed just enough to keep them from attacking. They nodded and ushered him back inside.
Julius was waiting for him. His pale, sickening face stretched into a morbid grin as Robin approached, “Ah, very good. Richard, you must tell me where you find your men these days. This one seems very…skilled at what he does. Perhaps I’ll hire him myself once all of this is over.”
Richard waved one hand nonchalantly, his eyes immediately turning toward the girl, “You’re assuming I want to get rid of him.”
“True, very true.” Julius turned and started walking toward a nearby hallway. Robin could hear him pause and then start descending metal stairs. His hoarse voice floated behind him, “Come along. Bring her down here.”
No choice. Robin adjusted the girl’s weight slightly and followed. The hallway was lined with carpet, though it was quickly interrupted by a hole in the floor where the metal staircase started. He could sense rather than hear Richard and Julius’s guards following. This is going to makes things far more difficult. Why did I sign up for this? He began descending the stairs.
It didn’t take long. He found himself in a room lined with metal tables and trays filled with shining instruments. A drain was located at the center of the room along with what appeared to be a large, glass case. Robin stared. One of the restless was moving inside, licking the glass as if it were someone’s marrow. He suppressed a shudder, keeping his face impassive. At least it’s not one of the bigger ones.
Julius gestured to a table with one hand. A sheet had been laid over it, providing minimal relief from the cold metal beneath, “Set her down here. Then we can begin.”
Robin carefully lay the girl down on the table. Her head lolled to one side, reddish brown hair falling over her face. He brushed it aside absentmindedly and then stepped back, glancing toward the skeletal man who was now running his hands over an array of needles, “Yes yes…this will do well. We have the girl in place and now we just need some blood. Then it will all be over.”
Richard cleared his throat. Robin noted that as usual, he was dressed in suit and tie. His brightly colored shirt jarred with his drab surroundings: a splash of bright blue in the midst of grey and black and white. “Julius, you still haven’t explained exactly how this will work. How can the girl’s blood provide any kind of cure to…?”
Julius flapped one hand as he prepared a needle, his pale eyes skimming his instruments, “Think of it as trying to use building blocks as a ladder to reach a window…no…better yet, think of it as a trap door instead of a window. You have to place the blocks carefully so that they don’t topple over.” He paused, wiping the needle with a damp cloth before turning toward Kari’s prone body and continuing, “Right now, I have all of the blocks in alignment. I have almost reached the trap door. I just need one more block, and that particular block is in her blood…inert…useless, unless I place it on top of my carefully constructed tower.”
Richard adjusted his tie, and Robin noted that he turned away from the table as Julius approached with the needle, “And what will happen once you construct that tower, Julius?”
Robin watched as Julius approached Kari. He took one of her limp arms, rolling back the sleeve of her coat before thrusting the needle deep beneath her skin. A deep red liquid began to fill the syringe. Julius licked his lips and then withdrew the needle, “Then the real work begins.”
She fell and his heart stopped. She was a small figure on the ground, her limbs crumpled, blood soaking her wrists and stomach. It stained the leaves beneath her, turning yellow to red. The metallic scent of it filled the air, blocking out the smell of the coming snow.
What choice did I have? Robin glanced toward the thief, the girl that he had been tracking for so long. Her auburn hair fell into her face as she stitched up Danielle with practiced accuracy. Fortunately, Danielle had passed out; the thief’s work looked anything put gentle.
Why do I even care? It was a good question. A better one would be why he had let his prey get the upper hand. He was treating her as an equal, a friend. Then again, letting Danielle die in the cold would only complicate his situation. Let the criminal believe that she is an equal. Then I can deal with her in a way to make sure she doesn’t have the option of escape.
Robin stood and approached what was left of Jay. His face was still contorted, but some of the lines had smoothed after his death, leaving him looking more peaceful. But no less dangerous. Robin unsheathed his blade, swinging it above his head before bringing it down against Jay’s neck. The head separated from the corpse with a dull thud. He glanced back toward Kari, “How long is that going to take you?”
Kari didn’t glance up, instead focusing on her stitches, “Few more minutes. This isn’t the easiest to do with the materials on hand, you know.”
Robin didn’t answer, instead letting his eyes scan the woods. It was too quiet, “Just be quick. I have a feeling we’re going to have to run soon.”
He heard a quick intake of breath and the faint sounds of thread sliding through flesh. There was a faint snapping noise, the sound of string being broken. Robin didn’t glance down; he couldn’t afford to with the woods so quiet. Even the faint sound of Kari’s whispering didn’t break his concentration, “King needs me, Robin. I assume for some kind of medical experiment for this Julius person considering what happened when we encountered each other last.” She paused for a brief moment and Robin heard a faint whimper; Danielle, most likely. Kari continued, “That means that he’ll need other subjects…which probably means that you’re going to be handed over as well.”
Either she’s spinning a half lie, or she’s telling the truth; no one would come up with something this fantastical and hope to be believed, otherwise. “More than likely I can accept payment and leave. Why should I take your word?”
“Because if you’re wrong, then all of the money in the world isn’t going to do you any good.”
“Why not escape? Going to see Mr. King seems to be the opposite of what you want to do.”
There was another pause and Robin heard the sound of ripping cloth. Bandages now. He counted the minutes before she spoke again, “Let’s just call it curiosity of a morbid variety. I need you to act like you’re bringing me in…but keep the binds loose so I can escape easily if need be. Once I give you the signal, though, you’re going to do something else for me…there, done.”
Robin chanced a brief glance toward the two women. Danielle was still bloody, her face pale, but her wound was now closed, wrapped with questionably clean cloth. Kari was wiping her hands off on Danielle’s clothes, removing the worst of the blood.
“And what exactly do you want me to do for you? Keeping the ropes loose means I’m helping you escape. Why should I do anything else for you?”
Kari glanced up at him, a half smile crossing her face, “Because you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into.”