Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Fifteen: The Last Line Of Defense


Gill didn't believe at first. Connie joined in after a while and added some details. After they were done, he asked a few questions, some of which they knew the answers to, most of which they didn't. Gill didn't believe it, but was willing to concede that they weren't lying to him.
Vincent had described the Lostkind. Everything from the dirty, hidden, patchwork people to the elegant, artistic wonder of everything they made and did; and found his eyes were shining. He didn't like to think of Riverfolk running free through the tunnels and dreaded the thought of what had happened far below them while he was reading the cards.
Wiping unshed tears from his eyes, he suddenly realized it wasn't about making a choice any more. The choice had been made. He couldn't escape the reach of the place... and he didn't want to. The Lostkind's fate would be his own.
"You're going back, aren't you?" Gill said finally, seeing the determination growing on Vincent's face. "You're going back down there."
"Yes." Vincent admitted. "I have to."
"What are you going to do?"
Vincent took a breath. "I have a few ideas. But it's going to take some preparation."
"So what do we do now?" Connie whispered.
Vincent bit his lip. "Vandark took my files. All the ways in. And Yasi would collapse as many entrances as she could... But if Owen left without contest, it probably hasn't worked. Which means... I'd have to find a whole new way in."
"Vincent, even if you do find a way in, what do you plan to do?"
"There might be a way. But doing it would mean breaking Rule Number One." He gave Connie a crooked smile. "Yasi would kill me."
"Anything we can do to help?"
Vincent bit his lip. "Connie, I need you to keep Tecca close, because I'll need him eventually. And Gill, I need your help now. We need to track down some rather obsolete equipment and get it here as fast as we can. We're going into the Office, we're going to take this City apart and find ways into the Underside. A lot of them. As many as we can get. I'm pretty sure I'll remember most of them as we go through the files. Any that I can't remember we'll have to explore."
Gill frowned. "There's no shortage of places to hide things, but if these guys collapsed as many entrances as they could, what would finding a bunch of doors into a collapsed maze give you?"
Vincent smirked. "You'll see."
"What about Yasi and the others?" Connie asked. "How long can they hold out?"
Vincent shivered. "I don't know."
~oo00oo~
The Twelfth Level was the last line of defense.
Keeper was in bad shape, but still conscious. Yasi sat with her once the guard was set up. "Hey."
Keeper looked at her daughter, barely moving for a long time.
Yasi didn't know what else to do, so she filled Keeper in on the situation. "It seemed like a good plan, collapsing a lot of the tunnels, turning the whole place into a Gauntlet. I figured it would work for longer, but... Vandark did things I didn't predict. We stopped them, though; stopped them dead-cold at the entrance to Twelfth Level. We've even got enough room to fit everyone semi-comfortably."
"...food?" Keeper rasped.
Yasi leaned a little closer and poured small sips of water between Keeper's cracked lips. "Not enough." She admitted. "He can't get in, but we can't get out. We can only hold out so long. The good news is, the Throne Room wasn't a frontal attack like the Entrance or the Markets. I think it's working. We're wearing them down."
Keeper licked her lips, grateful for the water, and began to speak. "I've been Keeper of this place for sixty years." She rasped slowly. "Rule Number One is to Be Invisible. When you're Invisible, you never get noticed. I have kept this place at the status quo as best I could for my entire life, trying not to... let things change."
"I noticed." Yasi nodded, not really in the mood to provide examples.
Keeper looked around the Twelfth Level, up at the softly twinkling lights of the private living chambers. "I know the names and life stories of each and every one of them, living up there. Some of them are married. I was the one that married them. Some of them have kids. I was the first one to visit every newborn Lostkind." Keeper shivered violently, and settled into sleep. Yasi tucked the blanket tighter around her bony shoulders and stood up.
Yasi looked around slowly, telling herself it wasn't the last time she'd do so. Those that escaped the Throne Room explosion were badly wounded. Burned, laying out on pallets along the second of the Seven Steps. Not a huge number, as far as the world went, but they were her warriors.
And I was their Captain. Yasi thought bleakly to herself. I led them into battle. I led them here.
Kamy appeared out of nowhere, as all the Gremlins did, and tugged on Yasi's belt. The Captain scooped her up and sat on the edge of the Steps. "How's it going?"
Kamy sniffed. "Keeper saved me."
Yasi nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, baby girl, she did."
Kamy's eyes were red. "I'm sorry. We should have run when you told us to."
Yasi shook her head. "We are what we are. We're tied to this place. It's more than our home. It's us. Keeper wouldn't be our keeper if she wasn't willing to run out into the middle of it to save the kids in her keeping. And Gremlins are always there, just out of sight. If you weren't, we'd have to call you something else. Don't ever apologize for being you. I never have."
At that moment, a calm, cultured voice came whispering from all directions. "Yasi."
Everything froze.
"Yasi, you know where I am. My name is Vandark. But you knew that, too." The voice continued, unhurried and not at all concerned.
Kamy glanced at her. "The Whisper Gallery."
Yasi gave a single nod.
"Your warriors have fought bravely. A credit to their Captain." Vandark continued. "But look what happened. We have undone your defenses, overwhelmed your soldiers and captured your Kingdom. I have been reliably informed that you have successfully sealed off the River, and the Twelfth Level."
The few Shinobi left standing cheered bleakly at that. There was no sense of victory.
"Yasi, I can dig my way in, but with you ready and waiting, people would die. A lot of them. Probably enough that you win. So I won't try." Vandark said. "Ours are two small armies, Yasi; trained and taught by us. We've both lost people we count as our own. I aim to keep what I have made... and what I have captured. So, where does that leave us?"
Yasi glanced up, seeing people coming to the Chamber entrances all over the Level, listening to his voice. It was a good tactic, making the whole thing known to the public.
"Well, I know for a fact that you can't stay alive forever. You try and exit through the River, my allies will stop you. You try to escape any other way, my own warriors will stop you. Your greenhouse is my territory, and we found a lot of your stores in the ruins of the Throne Room. You can't hold out for long. I can hold out indefinitely. And if you think I won't starve every last one of you; you're wrong."
Yasi glanced up again. The Lostkind were looking to her now. Vandark would do it; she knew he would. Time was on his side. If he waited a few days, a few weeks, a few months...
"Idiot!" She whispered at herself in outrage. "You should have had all the stores down here, but no. You were so sure you'd be able to hold them at the Throne Room."
"Yasi, you're the only one left. Archivist had to choose between himself and the History of this place. Keeper had to choose between herself and her kids... You're the only one left. If the fight goes on, you might even win. It's over; because I have decided it's over. All that's left is to pick the winner." He paused, his tone became richer, grander, like he was giving some inspiring speech. "We are the Generals. We are the Warriors-Born. We're not that different, when it comes right down to it. We could decide the whole war, right here. Or we could wait, bluff it out, drag dozens of people we care about into it with us."
Yasi looked to her Warriors. They returned her gaze evenly, shaking their heads. They knew he was baiting her, and didn't want her to go for it.
"Admit it, Yasi; if either of us dies, our team falls with us. Who's going to lead them if you fall? And who will continue the fight for me if I am dead? We can settle this right now. You and me. All you have to do is let me open the door."
Yasi turned her gaze the other direction, at her fallen Shinobi, wounded or dead, laid out in neat rows on the huge stone and concrete Steps. The Lostkind all looked to her from above, holding their breath, waiting for her reaction.
"Admit it, Shinobi; it's the way you'd really prefer it to be. You against me, nobody else involved, nobody else gets hurt... With everything we want as the prize." Vandark said, the eagerness in his voice was clear.
Yasi walked, in no particular hurry, toward the telephone on the wall.
"And you want to see who'll win as badly as I do." Vandark added, coming to the end of his story.
Yasi lifted the phone. "Hello?"
Vandark's voice responded, her phone already connected to the Whisper Gallery. "I'm here."
Yasi spoke. "I want to find out too." She growled into the phone. "Come and get me."
~oo00oo~
Vincent's key was enough to get them into the City Planner's Office, even at that late hour. "We'll do it here!" He declared as he strode into the Archives Room, Connie and Gill flanking him.
Everyone started clearing a space, when Vincent suddenly noticed there was a message waiting in the pneumatic tube. He sent a glance over at everyone, and collected it.
V--
This will be the last message I send before I disable the tubes, so if you get something new, either we've won, or the bad guys sent it.
Tecca knew when the attack was coming, so I sent him up to you.
Understand?
--Y
PS: Merlin is a finicky eater; you gotta give him good stuff. Wish us luck.


Connie came over. "What's that?"
Vincent crumpled the message instantly. "Nothing I didn't already know."
"Here's what I don't get." Gill called over to them. "Your whole plan is dependent on going back to the Underside, right?"
"Right." Vincent confirmed.
"But if Vandark took your secret list, then what does rebuilding it matter? Because if I was the bad guy, the first thing I'd do is burn the bridges behind me."
"Very likely." Vincent agreed.
"So we can tear through all these files and blueprints, but if they all lead to the Labyrinth, then we're still left with just one way into their Secret City. So why do we need a thousand ways in? How is that supposed to help the good guys win?"
"Who said anything about helping the good guys win?" Vincent responded innocently.
~oo00oo~
"You're going to die, doing this." Keeper rasped weakly. "You know that, right?"
"Keep, this might just be the only way to save us all. I win this... and we can mop up what's left easily. They won't fight for a dead commander."
"He knows that too." Keeper said softly. "If he starves us out, he wins. So what the hell is he thinking?"
"He's thinking that we shouldn't be left down here too long alone." Yasi reasoned. "He's thinking that he can't run New York through manipulation and man all the needed posts in the Underside with what's left of his army, so he needs us. He doesn't want us wiped out, he wants us to surrender control. He's thinking that if he doesn't win this fast, he doesn't know what happens. I'm the only way this ends quickly. And both sides need to end this quickly."
Keeper weakly raised a hand and traced a finger gently over Yasi's tribal marks. "I was the one that inked that mark into your face, child. I was so scared for you that day. Proud, but scared. It's been seven years since the Lostkind were in danger. The last time, you were the one that saved the day. And now... When Archivist and I made you Captain, our great fear was that it would happen again."
"You didn't think I could handle it?"
"Oh, of course you can." Keeper scoffed. "But I'm your mother. The less Duels you fight for the fate of the City, the happier I am."
She was drifting, losing steam. Yasi pulled away. "Rest. When you wake up, we'll be safe again." She promised, and sent a glance over to her team.
The Shinobi were clearing away the rubble, opening one entrance to the Twelfth Level. Every now and then, one of them would look over at her. They knew she was their last line of defense. They were actively letting the bad guy in, just to give him a free shot at their Captain.
They gave Yasi a wide berth as she rose from Keeper's side. Not one of them wanted to intrude on her thoughts, letting her prepare her mind for what was about to happen. Yasi took her time, testing her armor, checking her sword.
When the tunnel cleared enough that both sides could see each other, her team jumped back, expecting a sudden attack that did not come.
Yasi wasn't worried. She knew. Vandark wanted this. He wanted to be the one that won. He wanted to do it himself, and be able to say that he conquered the Underside single-handed.
The Wildmen poured through, fewer than a dozen left of them. Our tactics worked. Yasi thought. Their numbers have been worn down. But with only half a dozen Shinobi left... One more fight and we would have had them, but we didn't have our stores in the right place. Stupid, Yasi; real stupid.
The Wildmen did not spread out, instead forming two rows, on either side to the tunnel. They formed two rows, stood at attention.
And then between them, emerging into the Twelfth Level, was Vandark. He wore jet black body armor, under a rich purple cloak. He wore a sword at his hip and a dagger in a sheath slung across his chest.
Almost as an afterthought, Owen came out of the tunnel too; staying well back.
"Yasi." Vandark said with a grin as he spread his arms wide. "There's no need for more people to die here."
Yasi could feel a thousand eyes beating down on her from every chamber in the Dome. As much as she wanted to fight to the last man and woman... It would have been a short fight. "I agree." She said with anticipation.
Vandark grinned, filled with a dangerous energy. "Are you feeling up to it? You've been working harder than I have today."
Yasi grinned toothily. "Might just make it a fair fight for you then."
Vandark stepped forward, and cast aside his cloak.
Yasi stepped forward, and slowly drew her sword, letting him take a good long look at the gleaming curved steel.
Vandark grinned, and pulled out a gun. Yasi didn't move, as Vandark grinned cruelly and tossed the handgun to Owen. Vandark drew a sword of his own. A large, heavy blade, made from a thick black metal.
Yasi settled into a combat crouch, a pose that she had used often, practiced endlessly. The energy of the moment was explosive, years of training, years of exploring, years of leadership... It had all boiled down to this one fight to see if it would mean a damn. The silence in the huge underground dome was hushed and powerful, the pressure great enough to crush every last one of them into silence; but Yasi was exultant, electrified.
Vandark charged, and Yasi was more than willing to meet him halfway.
The savagery of the first attack was a surprise to everyone but Yasi. For all the damage he had dealt, for all the cunning he had shown, this was the first time the Lostkind had seen Vandark himself in combat, and it was terrifying to witness. Even Yasi barely managed to dart aside, and the blade came down like a sledgehammer, cracking the concrete floor.
Yasi danced away on quick light steps. If it had connected, that slash would have carved her right down the middle, but she wasted no time on surprise, slashing back with her sword from his side.
Vandark blocked the blow with barely a blink, taking the strike on his gauntlet. The black metal of the armband let loose a bright flash of sparks, and Vandark struck again.
Yasi was pure grace and speed, Vandark ruthless power and savagery. The balance between them was a terrifying dance, hanging on the verge of being a sudden slaughter, but for which side nobody knew. For every bone-crushing strike that he made, she managed to twist her body somehow, just barely enough to spare her life. For every blow that she landed against him, nothing seemed to work. She slashed and kicked and gouged and hit him with every type of attack she could think of, and he shook them off instantly.
Yasi got in closer, trying to blunt his power, give him no room to make a wide attack. Her sword was smaller and lighter, but he was able to block her attempt to cut at him. It worked, cutting off his attacks, but slowing hers too, enough that he could get a grip around her blade with his armored hand, sending it sliding away.
Yasi didn't care, practically climbing up her opponent's torso to pile-drive her fists into his face, his throat, his neck, his eyes... Every blow moved seamlessly into the next, without a wasted motion of any kind. It was an impressive display or raw speed and skill, that finished up with a spin kick that spun his head around sharply to the left. It was a flurry of lightning fast strikes that would have killed any ten Riverfolk...
And Vandark started laughing at her.
Yasi swallowed, using his shoulder as leverage to flip over him, and make a break for her sword.
Vandark grasped his scimitar with both hands and swung it in a full 360 like a baseball bat, using the wide flat of his blade rather than the edge. The strike wouldn't cut, but it made the scimitar too wide for her to dodge around it, slamming into her midsection. The air burst from her lungs like someone had swung a safe into her gut, and she staggered away as best she could.
Something horrifying occurred to Yasi suddenly: Vandark was going to win. He was big enough to make her look like a child, fast enough to match her, able to absorb everything she could throw at him without flinching...
And if she fell, everything she had known and loved in her entire life would fall with her.
Except she had absolutely no idea how to beat him. And looking at the sly grin on his face, he knew it too. And apparently, so did everyone else. The Wildmen were cheering, loving the show, the Lostkind were dead silent, seeing a disaster unfold.
Vandark decided he was tired of playing and sheathed his sword. He showed no concern, was in no particular hurry as she dove for her katana, coming up swinging. She put everything she had into one last attack. He had her measure now, and she had his. They had tested each other and seen where the balance of power in this contest was. She poured everything she had into one last attack; because she knew that she would never get another.
The long samurai blade came down, quick as a lighting strike... and Vandark clapped his hands together. For a frozen moment, Yasi couldn't believe what she was seeing.
Vandark had caught the blade flat between the palms of his hands.
The swing stopped dead in an instant, Yasi's strength nothing next to his. Vandark pushed the blade away and struck, slamming his boot into her ribs. Yasi let out an explosive shout, feeling a grenade explode in her middle. Vandark did it again and again, and she felt the stone floor jump up and slap her.
Yasi weaved, tried to get a grip on his leg. Vandark kicked her off like she was something to be scraped off the sole of his boot. And at that moment, she pretty much was.
Vandark rolled his shoulders, sending his gaze up over his audience. "Yasi." He gestured down at her grandly. "The Captain of the New York Ninja, your Warrior-Elite." He looked back down at her and laughed pityingly.
Yasi looked up blearily, head pounding, eyes rolling in opposite directions. "...s... is the fight over?"
Vandark looked down at her. "Yes." He said simply, and held a hand out to Owen, who immediately handed him that gun. He looked down at her without aiming. "Surrender."
Yasi tried to spit at him and missed.
Vandark sighed, bored with this part already. "I imagine putting a gun to your head would be a waste of time." He turned and made for the row of cots along the Steps. Yasi saw it and gasped, trying to stop him, barely able to crawl.
Vandark waited for her to catch up, standing at the head of Keeper's bed. The old woman slept, never looking more frail, while Vandark stood over her like the Grim Reaper.
Slowly, painfully, Yasi dragged herself over to the two of them, trying to cover Keeper with her own body, putting herself between her mother and Vandark's gun. Vandark leaned down and grasped Yasi's leg, dragging her back beside him.
"No!" Yasi put a hand out, punch-drunk and swaying back and forth on her knees. Vandark put a boot on her back and forced her down to the floor.
"It only takes one of you to give the surrender order. I only have to keep one of you alive, Yasi." Vandark said simply. "And the fact of it is... between you and Keeper? You're prettier to look at."
Yasi struggled to lift her head. "NO!"
It made no difference. Vandark's gun went off.
Everything. Stopped.
The sound of the gunshot echoed off the entire Twelfth Level, everyone reacting to it in the same way. Guns were forbidden in the Underside. The Shinobi, the Watchers, even the Wildmen never touched them. But Vandark had used one so casually...
Yasi fought to lift her head. The concrete ground next to Keeper's head had been torn into chunks by the heavy bullet.
Vandark looked down imperiously at Yasi. "Scary, isn't it?" He lifted the gun again. "The way to the Chapel is open. The Healers are there of course, treating my wounded. Shall I take your Shinobi up there for treatment? Should I keep them here? What about Keeper? Half an inch to the left and the question is academic. You tell me. What do I do?"
As if to punctuate the question, Owen tossed Yasi's sword down next to her. It clattered loudly, only a few feet away.
A thousand terrified eyes looked down on them from all over Twelfth Level, as their Champion lay beaten, literally under Vandark's boot.
Yasi's hand inched over to the hilt of her sword, grasping it slowly.
Vandark didn't move, didn't react at all.
With excruciating slowness, Yasi crawled out from under Vandark's foot, and lifted the blade painfully; to hold it out to him, handle first. Yasi mumbled.
Vandark didn't reach for the sword being offered. "I didn't hear that?"
Yasi swallowed thickly. "Treat them."
"Ask me nicely."
Yasi's eyes blazed for a microsecond, before going dull. "I surrender. The New York Underside surrenders. Please treat our wounded; save my mothers life. Please... my Lord Vandark."
The huge Warrior reached out and took the sword she offered him, sending Owen a nod.
Owen walked to the River, following along the lowest of the Steps. He was the only one moving on the entire Twelfth Level, and every teary, terrified Lostkind watched, as he made his way to the razor nets... winching them up out of the water, making the water clear to travel through below the surface.
Seconds later, the River boiled with movement, and as Vandark raised The Sword of the Shinobi Captain over his head, an army of Riverfolk marched up to the Steps. Nobody moved. The Riverfolk were expecting a fight, weapons drawn and muscles tensed.
But they first thing they saw, was The Man Himself with Yasi laying beaten at his feet, and the sword of the Shinobi held over his head in triumph.
Vandark roared a victory cry; taken up by every voice in his triumphant army.
The Secret City belonged to Vandark.
~oo00oo~
Gill was clearly overloaded by the story and the plan. Connie called a halt to the evening, giving him the time he needed to process; taking Vincent to her apartment for Tecca. They had a small bet in the car as to whether or not Tecca would have given Benji the slip, even though the boy had nowhere to go.
"Here's the thing." Connie said carefully as they climbed the stairs. "If Tecca has bolted, we're going to have to tell Benji something. And if he hasn't, Benji's gonna wonder where Tecca came from."
Vincent nodded. "I know. It's not the first time you've babysat a kid who came into the clinic overnight. So what are the odds Benji could keep track of him?"
"Not terrible, unless something shiny came along..." Connie sighed. She checked to see if her apartment door was locked, and found it wasn't. Drew opened the apartment door to Connie and Vincent swiftly.
"Drew." The both chorused in surprise.
"Is that Connie?" Benji's voice called from in the apartment.
"It sounded like Vincent was with her." Tony's voice answered.
"Think they've made up?"
"Didn't they do that already?"
"Were we there for that?"
Drew still hadn't said a word. He just rolled his eyes at his sister. "They really need to take that act on the road."
"It's two in the morning, and I asked Benji to sit in six hours ago." Connie retorted. "Don't the three of you ever go anywhere alone?"
"If we did that, they might have to get our own breakfast." Drew snorted as Connie pushed past him, into her apartment. Tecca was fast asleep on the couch.
Drew closed the door quietly. "So. Do I want to know where the hell you two slipped off to all night? Or who this kid you wanted us to babysit is? Or... well, what the hell is happening? Because there's something going on. Every time I see you two together for the last six months, you're either glaring at each other across the room or whispering quietly to each other."
Connie pushed her glasses up her nose, not looking at her big brother.
"Connie, there was a time when you'd have a fight with a friend, or a boyfriend, and you wouldn't be able to stop yourself. You'd come to the three of us and pour your guts out and we'd crowd around you and make you all better again. With Vincent, we get silence. That worries me. I don't know whether to strangle the man or shake his hand. Connie... what the hell is going on?"
Connie was silent for a long moment. If she told him everything, Vincent could not blame her. He had come clean with Gill to ask for help. If she did the same with her brother...
Connie spoke at last. "Thanks for helping out tonight, Drew." She gave her brother a kiss on the cheek. "Go home and sleep."
Drew gave her a long look and nodded, not happy. Benji and Tony were within earshot enough to pick up the tense family moment, if not all the words, but they went with him. As they left the apartment, Connie sat down on the end of the couch without waking Tecca. "I hate keeping secrets from my brother. If you had any idea how often he's saved me from having bad days..."
"I know." Vincent sighed.
"He knows I'm hiding things, Vincent. In our family, that's as bad as lying to him. This is why I never wanted a part of that world. I wanted to be honest with the people I loved, and now I'm lying to him."
"I know." Vincent said kindly. "I'm sorry."
"I could tell him." Connie tested, just wanting to see how he'd react.
Vincent nodded. "You could have told him at any point over the last six months. I only told Gill because he had to know. But I still told him. What's been stopping you?"
Connie didn't answer, but she didn't have to. She'd wanted to protect the Lostkind too, and she wanted to keep her brother out of the whole dangerous mess.
"We can't send Tecca back." Connie said softly. "There's nowhere for him to go any more. He comes over a few times a week, tells me all about being a Watcher. The things this kids knows about people, Vincent... He's still a baby and he can practically walk through walls... He sees me reading the paper sometimes, fills me in on what the news stories don't say. About the constant gang wars, the secret clubs that the mayor's staff belong to... Yasi sent him up here for a reason, and it wasn't to protect him. It was to protect all those things he knows."
"No." Vincent said quietly. "There was another reason too."
"Well, whatever she did it for, this is probably a stroke of luck." Connie said, thinking logically. "He could probably help you. Finding a way into the Labyrinth is one thing... after that, it becomes a whole other game, and not one you know much about." There was no disparagement in her voice, she was just stating the facts.
"I agree." Vincent said honestly. "But I need you to keep Tecca here with you while I prepare." She looked confused, and he pressed the point. "I mean it, the entire time."
"Why?"
Vincent bit his lip. "There are two options here. One: I can tell you what I think. I doubt you'll believe it. Option Two: You keep him here as long as you can because a war's being won or lost downstairs and we want him far away from it."
Connie nodded. "That works for me. But Tecca won't fall for this if he thinks we're protecting him."
"Protect him, distract him, tie him to a chair and gag him if you have to. Just give me some time." Vincent said as his cell phone rang. He answered it. "Yeah?" He listened for a moment and squeezed his eyes shut. "Hell. You're sure? Thanks, Gill."
"Bad news?" Connie said quietly, mindful of Tecca sleeping; even after the phone had gone off.
"He can't find the parts." Vincent sighed. "He's been through all the databases, taking apart every storeroom we can get to. He can't find the equipment we need."
"What about the info? Frequencies? Blueprints?"
"That stuff is all over the Internet." Vincent waved it off. "But we can't use modern cameras. We need the original stuff."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure of exactly nothing with this plan, which is why I'd rather not take any chances."
Connie grinned. "Heh. How about that? It's all on me now."
Vincent blinked. "Sorry?"
Connie gestured around grandly. "Look around, McCall. All these bits and pieces from across land and sea, and I got it all without leaving the apartment. You think there's anything at all that I can't find and buy somewhere? I've raised the knack for finding obscure talking points to an art form."
Vincent laughed triumphantly, because he knew it was true.
"Get my laptop, would you?" Connie said primly. "And when you manage to pull this off, tell Yasi that her Kingdom is safe, and it's all thanks to me. And if you can get a photo of her face when she hears that, I will consider us even."
Vincent chuckled and fetched her laptop. What he appreciated most was not her willingness to help, or even her long refined skills suddenly being so helpful. What he appreciated most was that she hadn't said the far more likely scenario out loud.
Even if Vincent could rescue the Secret City, Yasi was almost certainly dead by now.


~oo00oo~~oo00oo~~oo00oo~

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