Thursday, 28 February 2019

Eighteen: Rule Two: Be Daring

Vandark moved out of the Twelfth Level as the riot broke out behind them, and sighed hard, looking at her with a sad smile. "We could do so much, Yasi. The faster we make peace, the sooner we can move mountains. We could have billionaires seeking permission from the homeless, have congressmen feeding the hungry… We could do so much, if we could just learn to let the past go."
He looked genuinely upset by the violence. So much so that Yasi actually had to remind herself that this man had blown up children to get in here.
It's working on you too. She warned herself. He's buying forgiveness with talk and treats.
The riot had been settled with a minimum amount of fuss. Once Vandark left, the riots had lost focus, and the Riverfolk were still terrifying and largely unknown specters to most of the Lostkind, able to break up the violence quickly.
Yasi flexed her wrist, and judged how much give she had in her handcuffs. She had made a point of moving easily and freely, letting her guards get used to seeing her making gestures while she talked. If she kept it up, there might be a moment where she could make a larger movement without anyone noticing right away. She flexed her wrist, judging whether or not she might be able to use the cuffs as a garrote…
Vandark turned away from her, eyes turned elsewhere, and she slid one foot forward, just the tiniest bit, shifting her weight. Most of his guards had been drawn off by the riots in Twelfth Level…
The gun was suddenly pointed point-blank at her nose. Vandark had drawn and aimed at her before she could even register the movement.
"Not good timing." Vandark glowered at her, barely turning to face her. His voice had gone from soft regret to vicious in a blink, and Yasi settled. Her guards stood closer to her, horrified that she had a chance to think of attacking.
Vandark sent her guards a heavy look. "There's a riot going on outside. Why don't you see if you can help, hmm? We'll talk later."
Doomed, the two Wildmen that had flanked Yasi all week left them alone. Vandark leaned close enough that she could feel his breath. From a distance, it might have looked like a warm embrace. "Yasi, you can't win. The fight is already over. This is mine now. Everything in it is mine. I could make this a living hell for you, but I haven't. I am a killer. So are you. How many of my friends did you cut down when we came in here? Seven? Eight? Given my options, I think I've been pretty good about it. I'm not insane. I don't hurt people for fun."
"Neither do I." Yasi said tightly. "But don't pretend we're partners in this, Invader."
"I know we're not." Vandark said tightly. "But things change. How long are you going to keep fighting a lost fight? How many people have to get hurt? Work with me, and your people will be safe, and happy, and fed, and warm, and prosperous. Or you can keep fighting me."
Yasi got to the point she wanted to make. "Why am I alive?"
"Because others are too." Vandark said. "Right now, the only use you are to me is as a shield. Your guys haven't done anything more than write on the walls. It's not like they don't know where I am."
Yasi was forced to admit that was true. Who is it? Dyce? Trigger? Somebody has to be in charge now… A fight is all we need. Even if one falls down, two more stand up…
"I know what you're thinking." Vandark put in. "You're thinking that if you keep pushing, or if they do… then I will retaliate, and the people here will all remember what a bad guy I am, and fight back. I'm not an idiot, Yasi. No matter how you come at me, no matter what you do… I will not respond in kind against your people. Not ever. They are safe. The only ones that can hurt them now are your people. If Lasa hadn't thrown that knife, he'd be alive and feasting right now. Keep fighting me, and you will be alone in this place."
It was a tough position to argue with, and Vandark swept away from her. An instant later there was a grip around the back of her neck and she was being marched. Yasi was gutted. He wasn't acting like a dictator at all; which was why he was so good at it. How do you fight the hand that feeds you? Yasi racked her brains and came up with nothing.
Secretly, Yasi knew why Vandark wasn't worried about her. He knew she couldn't do anything. Even if she could reach Vandark before her guards stopped her, the one and only time she'd actually fought him, she'd lost. She tried to calculate how fast she could take him by surprise, and didn't like her chances.
The slogan of the Resistance kept showing up on the walls. There was still a chance.
Part of Yasi was tired of fighting. Protecting the Underside had been her only job for seven years, and she had failed. Vandark had given her a straight up shot, and she had failed. Her own mother had been on the battlefield, and she had failed.
Yasi checked her wrists again. The cuffs were strong, but Yasi knew she could slip them with some effort. Maybe if she could get her sword back, she could slice through the chain... The only question was: what could she do after that? What could she do that wouldn't get Keeper executed, or a few of the Gremlins fed to the River?
She would only get one chance, if she hadn't missed it already.
Please, somebody… Yasi thought bleakly. Find a way to set us free.
Vincent checked his watch. Ninety minutes left. "We can't stay here much longer."
Dorcan nodded. "We'll have to go back through the River. Below the surface there are smaller tunnels that branch off into Riverfolk territory. We have to avoid them, but we can't come back up through the Twelfth Level either. We'll have to stay under a while."
"Okay." Vincent nodded. "So where do we go?"
"I told you that part of the Underside flooded, which is why the Evergreen was cut off. There are other places that were sealed off, one of them was a ladder that led up. We stay under till we get to the ladder, we take that up to the Twelfth Level. From there, we can slip through to the Whisper Gallery. The way there is patrolled since Archivist…" Dorcan trailed off a moment, before shaking his head clear of that thought. "We can either sneak in, or fight our way through."
"Owen saw me." Vincent offered. "He'll be looking for me."
Dorcan nodded. "This is going to be difficult." He led the way to the waters edge and paused. "I should stop you." He said plainly. "This goes badly? You'll do more damage than Vandark ever would."
"I know." Vincent swallowed. "But it's not just your home at stake now. It's mine, too. Vandark wants to rule the Underside, so that he can rule New York. Stopping him is…"
Dorcan burst out laughing, sounding loud in the tranquil underground garden. "Son of a bitch. So you're here to save the world?"
Vincent shook his head. "I can't save the world. It's too big."
"So what are you here for?"
Vincent flushed. "Yasi?"
"You thought Yasi was dead." Dorcan scorned. "What are you here for?"
"For me." Vincent said finally.
Dorcan took that in, and nodded at last, leading Vincent back into the water.
"I'm sorry? What was that?" Yasi heard her voice say stupidly.
Vandark was intrigued. "You're certain?"
Owen nodded. "I'm positive. It was Vincent McCall. He's here in the Underside."
Vandark sent a glance over to Yasi, a smile on his face. "Well. Seems I was right about you." He scoffed. "You did have a backup plan. Smart move, keeping your reserve outside the Underside for the whole battle." He rose to his feet and bellowed out to the entire room. "Find him! Bring him here!"
Owen stepped a little closer as the orders went out and all the guards in the room acted. "Is it wise, to bring him right to you?" Owen asked his Master.
"Possibly not, but I've met McCall. I played chess with him." Vandark responded quietly. "He won't be the type to come at me with a gun, or a grenade for the whole room. It's simply not his nature. No, if he's here, he's got an ace; and I want to… politely ask him what it is before he plays it."
Yasi had barely heard any of this. Vincent, what the hell are you doing?
Vincent followed Dorcan up the ladder, and came to a halt because the space above had been sealed. Dorcan felt around behind him, and found an empty space to step back into. Vincent followed, and realized that it was a new addition, the walls were narrow enough that he had to turn sideways, and broken up enough to scratch and claw at him.
"New additions?" He called conversationally.
He could hear Dorcan's smile. "The Wildmen don't have a clue how we get around without them seeing."
They slid their way down the passage until they suddenly emerged upward through the floor of a room Vincent didn't recognize.
"What's he doing here?" A small voice called, and Vincent jumped. It was Kamy. The Lostkind girl was perched on the edge of their entrance, watching like a hawk.
"He's here to save the world." Dorcan snorted lightly, and Vincent got a look at the room. It was the same shape and size as Yasi's chamber, and Vincent realized suddenly that it was one of the living quarters in Twelfth Level. There were a row of swords against one wall, and a row of the Lostkind crossbows along the opposite.
And in the room was the Resistance. Five Shinobi, plus Dorcan, Three male, two female. Some of them were wounded, some of them barely standing, all tired, all determined. And none of them were smiling at Vincent.
Dorcan spoke first, waving them all down. "Guys, this is Vincent McCall."
His name rolled over all of them at the same instant and their eyes turned on him. Vincent had the feeling of being dissected.
Dorcan made introductions. "This is Dyce, Trigger, Gritt and Takal. This is what's left of the Shinobi. The ones that stuck around." There was bitterness in his voice, and Vincent could see a similar sentiment on all their faces.
"Stuck around?" Vincent repeated. Meaning, someone left? But Dorcan sent him a look that told him not to comment, and he dropped it.
"So, what's he doing here?" Dyce demanded. "Look at him, he's got to be a good ten pounds above normal."
"Got good clothing though." Gritt put in. "Maybe a little soft."
"Soft ain't a deal breaker." Dyce put in, amused. "Just means he can block more blades headed our way."
"Unless he runs away."
"Soft means easy to catch."
Vincent smirked, feeling like he was being hazed by Benji and Tony again. It was so downright normal that it made him smile.
Dorcan, however, was not smiling at all. "As much as I'd like to watch you all keep going with this, we're on something of a clock right now. Kamy?"
The youngest of the Lostkind stood up and began reading notes off her arms. "Fourteen Riverfolk in the Main Intersection, twenty five at the Twelfth Level, five in each of the Marketplaces. I couldn't get into the Whisper Gallery. All the Wildmen I saw were with Vandark, always."
"How many Riverfolk are there?" Vincent asked. "Because Dorcan said that they couldn't go far above Twelfth Level; but two of them were guarding the entrance."
"They're not all real Riverfolk. Vandark has some of his people dressed up in costumes... He knows that the Riverfolk are terrifying monsters to our people, and he's taking advantage. We thought that the Riverfolk had been cleaned out." Dorcan said quietly. "There were Riverfolk bodies showing up years ago... Not a lot of them, but Yasi thought that the River had been taken over. That's why we added more razor nets."
Kamy pointed to the maps on the walls. "There's enough of them that Vandark can keep his people close to him. Before he went back to the Gallery, Archivist told me that the ones that we've got running around aren't the ones in charge. The Riverfolk Captains? I haven't seen any of them."
Dorcan nodded. "Those bodies Wotcha found three years ago were the victims of a coup. Vandark had the loyalty of the Riverfolk years before we knew his name."
Kamy bit her lip. "Vandark is smart, huh?"
Dorcan nodded. "Yes."
Vincent spoke up. "The slogan you guys have painted on the walls, about the Three Rules. Have the Riverfolk broken them?"
Dorcan barked. "Answer him. Have the Riverfolk broken the Three Rules?"
"No." Kamy said. "Not that the Gremlins have seen. They don't have to. They've got everything they need right here."
Dyce hissed angrily. "With them all over the place, we can barely move without being caught. If it wasn't for the Riverfolk as reinforcements, we'd have the city back in ten minutes!"
Dorcan looked at Vincent, who nodded. "We might be able to make that happen." He said seriously. "We had planned to do hit and run attacks, but with Vincent's inclusion, that can't happen." Dorcan informed his people. "This war is going to end today."
The gathered Shinobi were stunned. "How?"
Vincent started to speak. "I have a friend on the surface, who will-"
Dorcan put a hand out. "They don't need to know that part. If they did, one of them might try and stop you, and then we'd have Yasi to answer to." A chuckle went around the room at that.
"Always be nice to the Captain's Pet?" Trigger quipped.
The second she said it, the room fell into a sudden awkward silence, and Vincent froze. Are they talking about Merlin… or me?
Dorcan set his jaw. "While Trigger takes her foot out of her mouth, here's the game plan: We have to cover Vincent while he makes contact from the Whisper Gallery."
"I like it." Dyce scoffed. "Simple, elegant, ridiculous. You're basing the whole fight on someone who… quite frankly, is the main reason Vandark was even able to get in here! And his plan is one we've tried before, and failed. Didn't losing Archivist tell you anything?"
"It told me that we weren't finished yet. Archivist's message was meant to inspire resistance. Vincent's message is meant to inspire an unconditional surrender." Dorcan was silent a moment. "If Yasi were here, she'd say that Rule One worked against us. We were so used to going unnoticed by the world, and suddenly it was all out in the open. Some ran away because of that. But we didn't, and it's better to have a dozen people you trust than a thousand you can't. Yasi trusted you, and I trust you too, and with good reason: You repaid that trust at every step of the darkest hour this place has ever seen. Yasi trusted Vincent, and now he's come here to repay that trust. That's something we have in common with him, even if he's not Lostkind."
Everyone glanced at Vincent again, and he kept his chin up. It was easier to take pride in what Dorcan had said, because all of it was true.
Dorcan reached out a hand and checked Vincent's wrist. "The clock's ticking. We'll take the ropelines to the top of the Seven Steps, then the tunnels from there to the elevator. There are enough of us that we can look like a band of Borrowers, as long as we keep the weapons hidden. We just make our way toward the Labyrinth, and slip off when we get near the elevator to the Whisper Gallery. I want cover, but stay behind us from the ropelines on, and close with us once we get into the tunnels, out of sight. Any questions?"
"What happens then?"
Dorcan's face was a perfect stone wall. "You'll see."
"Why didn't you tell them the rest of the plan?" Vincent asked.
"Because I honestly think they'd rather take their chances with Vandark." Dorcan said lightly. "Just between you and me… How do you see this ending? Because even if we get you to the Whisper Gallery…"
"I know." Vincent admitted thickly.
It was the first time they'd had a moment of privacy since leaving the garden. The two of them were suspended in mid-air in one of the basket elevators, slowly making their way on the pulleys toward the ground below.
"How many people up there know the plan?" Dorcan asked him.
"Does it matter?"
"Not in the least." Dorcan said seriously. "But we have at least a minute of waiting for the basket to hit concrete, and the silence is going to make me crazy given the stakes; so I'm looking for unimportant chit-chat."
"Okay. How about this? Are you still in love with Yasi?" Vincent challenged suddenly.
Dorcan swallowed thickly, biting down on his first response. "Jeez, a little less important than that would have been nice." He repeated finally. "It was that obvious?"
"To everyone." Vincent confirmed.
"Except her." Dorcan snorted. "To answer your question: no. I followed her around like a puppy, and got kicked in the face for my trouble. There's only so many times you can get that before you quit coming back for more, as I have."
Vincent nodded. "Okay."
Dorcan looked out of the corner of his eye at him. "Do yourself a favor, and don't try with her. She's the Sword of the Underside. Just steel and edges. She stands alone, and always has. You think you can change that?"
Vincent was about to respond, when the basket lurched, and Vincent looked up in horror. A Riverfolk was less than six inches away. Above, looking past him, Vincent could see a second basket full of enemy troops, jumping down from one ropeline to the next.
Dorcan struck, slashing out with his sword. The Riverfolk dropped properly into their basket, and Dorcan was all but smothered. "Out! Get out of this thing!" Dorcan snapped, pummeling the Riverfolk with short jabs.
"Where the hell should I go?" Vincent blurted, pressed against the inside wicker wall as tight as he could. Above, he could see Dorcan's allies using their sheathed swords as handles, sliding down the ropelines themselves, letting gravity bring them to the battle that was unfolding in mid-air above the Seven Steps.
Like that? A terrified, analytical part of his mind thought.
The basket bounced again, hard enough to almost toss them all out, as a second attacker dropped to pounce on them. Dorcan was surrounded, with no room to strike back properly. "Vincent, GO!"
There was no choice.
"Rule Two." Vincent told himself with quiet desperation. "Be Daring."
Heart pounding, he shrugged off the long coat and stepped out into the open space, clinging to the side of the basket as tight as he could, and threw his jacket over the ropeline, using it as a handle… And he pushed off.
Smothering a scream, he slid down the line, feeling himself get faster and faster as he sped toward the ground, faster than he could ever remember moving before…
Refusing to look down, he looked back the way he came, and saw Dorcan doing the same. A level above them, his team of Shinobi were getting into the fight with the Riverfolk reinforcements…
And then someone back at the basket got careless with a blade, and the rope snapped. Vincent dropped, his momentum sending him skidding along the surface of the Step, rolling out of control toward the edge. Every time he rolled he came over hard on the crossbow, harder on his face, again on the crossbow.
He felt the ground vanish beneath him and knew he was finished, when Something slammed into his leg, and everything came to a wrenching halt.
Upside down, battered and bruised, Vincent looked up and saw Dorcan had managed to check his momentum and stop Vincent from falling. It took a few seconds to organize themselves into a position that Dorcan could haul him back up.
And those few seconds was all the time needed for the omnipresent guards to start moving in on them.
"Run!" Dorcan hissed, and roughly pulled Vincent toward one of the tunnels leading away from the Twelfth Level, into the Underside's many pathways.
In this area, there were always people moving. Borrowers with heavy burdens, making their way to the surface, Runners taking messages, Gremlins marking new paintings on the walls…
Dorcan clapped a hand on Vincent's shoulder and yanked them both to a halt. "We can't lead the Riverfolk Guards into these people up ahead." He said, breathing hard. "And the plan is shot to hell anyway. Vandark's going to know where we're going before we get anywhere close. He won't be able to miss a running, screaming fire-fight the entire way to the Whisper Gallery."
Vincent checked his watch. "Forty five minutes. You got a better idea?"
The Riverfolk had organized themselves at the mouth of the tunnel, and began running the length of it, looking for the two of them. Dorcan looked at Vincent darkly. "It's on you now. Good luck, and tell Yasi… ahh, she knows."
A chilling premonition struck Vincent and he tried to stop the Shinobi from drawing away. "No! Dorcan, no!"
Dorcan pushed Vincent's hands away, and drew his sword. "Do the job. Save the Underside. I'll buy you as long as I can."
Heartsick, feeling hopeless, Vincent ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction, as Dorcan made his way down the tunnel to face the pursing forces. A moment later there was the sound of steel on steel, but Vincent didn't look back.
Yasi tensed as Owen came back into the Throne Room. Vandark had kept her within three feet of him since finding out about Vincent's return. Three guards on her every second, instead of the usual two; plus Vandark. Her odds had not improved. The guards had their weapons drawn, and one of them aiming at her at all times.
"What's the latest?" Vandark demanded.
Owen looked nervous. "We tracked down the Gremlins. They were hiding in a room on Twelfth Level, which belonged to the father of one of the Shinobi. We found their weapons there."
Vandark just waited.
Owen steeled himself. "We found the ones in hiding, but they were able to fight their way out and esc-"
Everyone but Yasi cowered. She wasn't worried. Vandark could go from friendly to homicidal in a heartbeat, but he wasn't crazy. He played crazy from time to time to keep people running for their lives, but he didn't scream in anger. The move was meant to intimidate, and it did.
Owen spoke again, quietly. "Vincent was with them. We caught them in motion. They fought their way off the ropelines and we lost them there."
"They weren't in hiding, they were going somewhere." Vandark thought aloud. "Vincent's not a warrior, not even Lostkind. So what would he be looking for? What would his move be?" He tapped a finger on the arm of his chair, and focused his gaze on Yasi, who stared back evenly. It wasn't the first of these long unsettling stares he had given her, and she wondered briefly if he could read her mind.
"What are you planning, Yasi?" Vandark wondered out loud quietly. "What's he doing?"
Yasi said nothing, but inwardly she was relived. As long as Vandark thinks it's my plan, Vincent's odds might be improved. Maybe. A little.
Vandark turned to his men. "Post extra guards in sensitive areas. Yasi used explosives to collapse the tunnels on our way in, I want them guarded heavily. I want the cross passages sealed, and the Labyrinth is to be closed. Nobody in or out." He turned to Owen. "And you. I have a special mission for you."
Vincent stayed with the Borrowers. His face was grimy enough after his tumble that he could blend in. He was stiff and hobbling, so nobody noticed that he didn't have a pack. It was the posture of someone carrying a heavy load, so he fit right in with the small group that trudged toward the Labyrinth.
When the movement stopped, Vincent realized faster than anyone why the Labyrinth was closed again. They were keeping anyone from going out, or coming in.
Already past the point of no return, Vincent checked the baskets they were carrying, and took an oil-cloak. It had a hood, and he pulled it up to cover his face, putting the coat he wore in its place. Borrowing, not stealing. He told himself. There's a difference.
We have a way of finding things when we need them. Yasi's voice came to him, and he smirked.
The Riverfolk were checking everyone, looking for him, looking for Dorcan and his Resistance... Vincent chose his moment and branched off from the group he was hiding in. One or two of the Borrowers looked at him as he left, but most of them knew instinctively what he was running from, even if they didn't know who he was. He was confident they wouldn't turn him in... Or at least, that most of them wouldn't.
He still wasn't moving as fast as he should, but secretly, he considered that an advantage. Owen would take a closer look at someone in a hurry, but with the hood up and his back bent he was an old man.
It got him halfway to his destination, and he was suddenly aware of how much bigger the place was on foot than he had considered. It really was a small city, laid out in three dimensions.
His progress was slowed further by the Riverfolk. They weren't all identical, but they all had the same uniform. Grey, form-fitting wetsuits, mottled enough that it could be mistaken for animal skin, large red goggles that gleamed, and muscular bodies crossed with bandoleers and weapon slings. They had the run of the Underside, abd Vincent had to blend in with a crowd, or brazen it out and hope he looked like he belonged there.
Rule One. He told himself. Be Invisible.
When he reached the old antique elevator, he knew his luck had run out. There were no guards, but there almost certainly would be in Archivist's Whisper Gallery. And the only way he had left to get there was an elevator with see through iron gates for walls. He would be a sitting duck.
He checked his watch. Thirty two minutes left.
With Dorcan MIA, he had no other options. He could try creeping around looking for another way in, but he knew he'd get caught by then. The Underside was running out of time...
Trying not to think about it, he boarded the elevator, and started it moving.
Gill was pacing the length of the Archives Room, looking at his watch every two seconds. He kept fiddling with his suit as a nervous habit. It was the first time he'd worn a suit in a while.
"You look good."
Gill turned around swiftly and found Connie coming in the door. "People are going to start wondering what's so interesting down here. Vincent was the first one to open that door since the office went to computer records."
Connie nodded. "Yeah. They probably think you're growing mushrooms down here."
"Mushrooms or something else." Gill commented. It was nervous, pointless small talk. The things they said because they had nothing to say and didn't want to think.
"Thought you'd be halfway to your mom's." Gill said finally.
"I did too." Connie admitted. "But I couldn't. Vincent, Drew, Tecca... Everything in the world that I love is here. I can't leave. I don't know what I'm going to do, but I have to be here."
Gill nodded. "So. You think this is going to work?"
Connie shrugged.
Gill looked miserable. "It's all on me when the clock hits zero. Nobody's ever trusted me with something like this before."
Connie put a hand on his shoulder. "Vincent has faith. You can always tell the ones that do. You see Vincent with the homeless, at the clinic… People who haven't eaten in weeks leave the Kitchens smiling on days when he's there, because they know he cares. He walks through the world with hope, and people respond to that." She smiled impishly. "I did."
Gill smiled a little. "So did I. There was a day when I gave up on everything, and Vincent was able to give me justice, give me hope, even saved my job."
"That why you're doing this?" Connie asked. "Because you may not be down there, but you're taking a risk too."
"If this works, I'm out of a job." Gill said finally. "If it fails... We'll have rewritten every book ever written about New York... and Vincent is most likely dead."
The Whisper Gallery reminded him of the Archives Room, with its endless miles of shelves and plenty of huge hardcover volumes. But the ceilings were a lot higher, there was no dust on anything... and at the opposite end of the chamber was the steam pipes.
Vincent crept through the huge room, and his instincts were screaming. The room was empty, and that just didn't make sense. He was creeping along the shelves, peeking around corners, expecting an ambush any minute... But there was nothing. Just him, the shelves, and the whispers.
No guards. Why are there no guards? Vincent thought bleakly to himself. There's something going on...
The pipes went upward, and then split up into many directions. The omnipresent whispers were all coming from the city above. He knew that the pipes could carry echoes; he'd been told all about it. He had to figure out how to open or seal the pipes to carry his voice. The largest pipes led straight down and would be the loudest. He opened them. The iron pipes, the ones that weren't copper; they were part of the Underside, something the Lostkind had built to bring warmth to their rooms. He opened them carefully... Every City Planner knew enough about engineering to do their jobs, and it took everything he had to figure out how to set these pipes right.
"You're pretty close."
Vincent spun in horror, and found Owen had walked into the room, with a full team of Riverfolk guards behind him. Owen smiled smugly as Vincent paled. "You didn't think it was a little strange that we had nobody in here?"
Limping after the battle, aching from a dozen gashes and cuts, Dorcan looked up swiftly at the sound. It was Owen, speaking in whispers from the pipes. His voice was quiet but clear. "We knew you were here, but none of us believed you had it in you to try a doomed rescue. There were maybe three things you might be trying to do, since we've cut off access to the surface... and Archivist tipped your hand. He tried it already, and failed. You think we were going to fall for that twice?"
"Stay back!" Vincent's voice came next.
Dorcan started running.
Vincent tightened his grip on the crossbow, sweating bullets.
"Look, we've been here before. You think you have it in you to pull that trigger?" Owen didn't seem that worried, despite the arrow pointed at the middle of his forehead. "I'm betting you don't."
Owen moved forward silkily, one foot in front of the other. Unhurried, and perfectly at ease, Owen held out a hand. "Give me the weapon, Vincent. This is almost over."
And behind him, were three Riverfolk, weapons drawn and muscles bulging as they stalked along behind Owen patiently.
"Two years, Vincent. In the two years we worked together, you never so much as raised your voice to anyone; let alone kill an unarmed man." Owen scorned. "You're not a killer, Vincent. You just don't have it in you."
"Willing to bet your life on that?" Vincent challenged, with a strength he really didn't feel.
"Yes." Owen decided, and strode forward.
One step. Vincent was looking back and forth between Owen and his guards. Two steps. Vincent felt his grip begin to shake slightly. Three steps. Owen was way too close for anything else...
Too late.
Owen grabbed the bow straight out of his hand. Disarmed, Vincent tried to back away, as both Riverfolk charged forward, and took him by the arms. Owen made a quick, methodical search of him for any concealed surprises and found nothing.
Owen stepped back and took the moment to just stare at Vincent. "Two years, Vincent; and not one thing you've ever done has surprised me. But I am surprised you came back. So what the hell is happening here?"
Vincent gave him nothing.
Owen just glared. "Fine. You can tell me... or you can tell Him."
Vincent shuddered. In a few minutes, Vandark would be grilling him personally. A few minutes after that, Gill would go ahead with the contingency plan and... A great sense of calm washed over Vincent suddenly. It was over. There was never really much of a chance, but as long as there was one, Vincent was on the hook. But now it was finished. The plan had fallen apart.
But even so, Vincent couldn't help but glance at his watch. Twenty five minutes left. He told himself, as he was taken to meet Vandark.


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