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Blood Rose Chapter 7

April 23, 2020

The Escape: Part IV – The Finale

 

The girl’s eyes opened, looking about her.  It was dark, she could barely see anything, save for the man carrying her on his back.  Her muscles felt tight, stiff.  Her entire body hurt and she had a splitting headache.

Where was she, what had happened?

A slight groan escaped her as she came to.  She recognised the man as Ollie Poer.  He had found her?

Why was he carrying her?

“What happened,” she slurred, her voice coming out as a low rumble, barely audible, but the man must have heard her.

“You’re finally awake,” he said.  “I was getting worried, you’ve been out for… well, it’s been a while anyway.”

Rose assumed the doctor must not have had the time on him.

The girl tried to remember, though it hurt her head to think.  She tried to sort through the haze in her mind.

She remembered the voice.  Someone had been following her, giving her directions.  They had chased her.  She’d gone the wrong way.  That voice had been practically screaming at her.

Rose had run faster to get away from it.  She hadn’t been looking where she was going.  She tripped, she fell.  She’d been seen.

Someone had found her!  She tried to get away, but something caught her by the leg.  It had pulled her, dragged her, kicking and screaming, back the way she had come.

“Wrong way…” she mused aloud.  It was a vine.  Rose hadn’t listened to the voice, she had gone the other way, so the vine had stopped her and taken her back by force.

“What was that?” Poer asked her.

“They were after me,” she answered, speaking into his ear.  Her head was positioned in just the right place.  It was fortunate, since she didn’t trust her voice to carry her thoughts very far.

“Who were?”

“I don’t know.  Someone… or something.”

“Did you see them?”

“I remember… voices.  I heard voices, behind me.  There was a fork in the road.  You…” then she remembered.  “You didn’t warn me about that.”

“There shouldn’t have been.  The trees are alive, I think they’re moving, changing the paths of the maze.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“I know.”

“I…” Rose put that out of her mind and continued.  “I didn’t know which way to go, but the voices gave me directions.”

“Did you follow them?”

“No.  I didn’t know if I could trust them, so I went the other way, but the voices followed me.  Wrong way, they said, over and over.  Wrong way, wrong way, wrong way, wrong way….”

“New mantra?” the man asked.  Rose wasn’t sure what he meant by that, so she ignored it.  He probably thought it was funny.  “I didn’t do what the voices said, so they got louder.  I couldn’t stop them.  I couldn’t get away.  Then I tripped.  I looked up and saw someone coming for me, so I panicked.  I tried to get away, but I couldn’t.  Something attacked me.”

“I tried to help, but I couldn’t get to you in time.”

“You saw?”  Wait a minute, the man who had chased her… Rose had assumed him to be a guard.  Had he… “Was that you?”

“It was.  I tried to help you sooner, but the vines had you.”

“I went the wrong way,” Rose repeated.  “The voices, they told me to go the other way, but I didn’t listen, so they grabbed me.  Does that make sense?”

“In any other forest in the world, I’d say no.  Here though… anything is possible.  The voices you heard, they were probably a trap.”

“By who?”

“The forest.  I think the voices were in your mind.  Some of the plants in this forest excrete a drug that makes us see and hear things that aren’t really there.  You must have breathed some of it in without realising.  You have some cuts on your arms and legs too.”

“That’s what I get for wearing shorts,” the girl muttered.

“I suppose that was an oversight on my part,” Poer admitted.  “If you had any open cuts, or if you ate or drank anything in here, that could have affected you too.”

Rose remembered the vine constricting around her mouth.  She’d tried to resist, but she couldn’t shake it loose.  Everything she did seemed to make it worse.  In the end, she’d had no choice but to swallow as it pumped her full of its warm, foul tasting, sickening sap.

“It went in my mouth.  I had to swallow, I thought I was going to drown in it.”

“Yeah.  That toxic sap is like the blood of this forest, and its vines are the veins that carry it.”

“There was so much.  I drank the poison, then… everything’s a blur after that.  I got dizzy… I remember falling.  I hit the ground, and then… then I woke up here, on your shoulders.”

“Luckily I was able to save you.  It was close.  I feared the worst.”

“Was I…” it seemed like a stupid question, and she didn’t quite want to know the answer.  “How close was I to dying?”  Rose asked anyway.

“I don’t know exactly, but you said it yourself.  You drank the forest’s poison.  I don’t think it wanted you dead though, just incapacitated.”

“The vines were taking me back?”

“I believe so.  There was a fork in the road, right?  This is all speculation, but it sounds like you followed the path I had set for you.  The forest made a second path, it wanted you to follow the path it had provided; not the one I had previously mapped out, though even that path appears to have changed. I’m not sure what lay at the end of that second path, but it can’t have been good.  Perhaps you’d have wound up back at the facility, or worse, or maybe you’d have run into Rexl.  Who can say?”

“The forest… you’re talking as though it’s actually alive.”

“It is.  The forest is like a sentient organism.  It has a will of its own, and it obeys my brother… as far as we know.  That’s why the paths have changed, it’s the only way I can explain it.  I had the area mapped out.  As long as we didn’t run into trouble, the plan should have gone off without a hitch.  I made sure to map out the forest, but this area, this path we’re taking now, it’s not familiar to me at all.”

“Really?”

“Reallly.  It’s completely foreign.  We just have to keep going and hope we end up in the right place.”

“That’s promising,” the girl sighed.  This was hopeless, it didn’t seem possible.  “Even the trees are against us.”

 

They gradually made their way through the forest, Poer still carrying Rose on his back, her head resting on his shoulder, eyes absentmindedly taking in their monotonous surroundings.  A comfortable silence had washed over them, neither knew for how long.

Finally, Poer broke it.  “How are you feeling, can you walk?”

“I don’t know.”  In all honesty, Rose still didn’t feel well.  She felt tired and her head hurt, but the dizziness had subsided.

Poer put her down and left her to stand on her own two feet, ready to catch her if she fell.

Rose was still a little stiff.  She stretched out her muscles and took a few shaky steps, wobbling on her feet a little.

“Looks like it’s wearing off,” Poer observed.  “You should be fine.  Come on, we should keep moving.”  He placed an arm around her and gently guided her to walk with him.  “The exercise should do you some good.  If you need to, you can lean on me.”

Rose nodded and allowed the man to lead her.  They were moving at a slow, steady pace, likely for her benefit, but the sooner they got out of here, the better.  Rose was tired of this dark forest, she’d be happy if she never had to see it again, or smell its musky odour.

As she followed Poer’s lead, she couldn’t help but notice that this forest all looked alike.  Where were they?  If Poer didn’t know where he was going, then how did he know they’d make it out?  Especially if he was right, and the trees were actually moving.

That was still difficult to believe, Rose could barely wrap her mind around it.  The trees were alive?  They were moving?  She’d say she hadn’t seen them, but what with the vines attacking her, it wouldn’t strictly be true.

What if they were going in circles, walking deeper and deeper into the maze?  Rose just wanted to be out of here.  She wanted a change of scenery.  She was tired of the darkness, the quiet, the foul, muddy smell.

“How do we know this is the right way?” she asked.

“I suppose it’s too bad if it’s not,” Poer replied.  That wasn’t very reassuring.  “We’re going in a straight line.  All we can do is follow the path.  We have to reach the end soon.”

“What if there is no end?  What if we’re just going in circles?”

“You think we’ll just end up walking for the rest of our lives?”

“You said the forest doesn’t want us to leave.”

“Best not to worry about that.”

“That’s your solution, don’t think about it?”

“What’s the alternative?  Are you suggesting we just give up?”

“No… but we can’t ignore the fact that we might be lost.”

“We may not know where we’re going, but that doesn’t mean we’re lost.  Don’t forget, I’ve done all this before.  I didn’t know the way when I mapped this forest out the first time, but I still made it.”

Rose supposed that was true.

“I’ve done this before.  We’ll be fine, we just have to stay positive and keep moving.  Keep your wits about you, watch where you step, and never give up.”

Rose supposed she should change the subject.

If Poer was here… “What about Megan?”

“What about her?”

“Well, the two of us met up here, what if she gets lost too?”

“That already happened.  We all met in the middle, I sent her up ahead.”

You… why?”  Why did Poer insist on splitting up?  Alone, they were vulnerable.  She hadn’t liked it back when he’d first suggested it, when they’d first found themselves trapped in the forest.  That seemed like it had been so long ago.  Why did they have to split up?

“Do you need to ask?  I couldn’t risk putting Megan in danger while I tried to save you.”

“Won’t she still be in danger?  She’s all alone.  We’d be better off as a group.”

“Megan thought the same thing.  She didn’t understand, neither of you do.  She’d only get in the way.  What would I do if the vines got her as well?”

“Would they get her?”

“They almost got me.  I managed to fend them off, but Megan would have been easy prey.  Then what?  What if the vines caught you both?  Would I have to choose which one of you to save, and who to leave behind?”

“So, we all met in the middle?” Rose asked, changing the subject again.  She didn’t know how to answer Poer’s predicament.  It wasn’t a great position to be placed in.  What would Poer do if he had to choose between her and Megan?  Even he didn’t know.

Or so he said.  Perhaps he’d already made up his mind.  He was closer to the younger girl after all, he’d spent the last decade with her, treating her as though she were his own daughter.

Rose didn’t want to think about this anymore.

Poer suddenly spoke, coming to her rescue and changing the subject back, away from this dark hypothetical, breaking through her thoughts as though sensing her unease, saving her from her doubts.  “It’s like the forest led us there, like it wanted us together.”

“Then I came through, bringing the vines with me.”

“It’s like it was all planned.  They want us together.”

“They?”

“Didn’t I say it before?  The forest obeys my brother and his overlords, the true owners of this facility.”

“The director’s not in charge?”

“He is, within the facility, but even he has someone he answers to.”

“Who?”

“Let’s…” Poer sighed.  “Let’s not get started on that.”

“So… why do they want us together?”

“Simple.  We’re easier to catch.  Easier to find.”

“I don’t know about that.”  If they were alone, they’d be just as easy to catch.  If Poer hadn’t come for her, Rose would probably be back within the bowels of the facility right now.”

“You and Megan… as long as I keep you apart, there’s a chance that at least one of you will make it out.  If you’re together….”

“If they catch one of us, they get us both.  I get what you’re saying, but… what if they get us both anyway?”

“All we can do is play the numbers and hope for the best.”

Not for the first time, Rose was less than relieved at the scope of Poer’s plans.  He was relying on faith and pure dumb luck.

She didn’t like it.

She had changed.  Before all this, she wouldn’t have cared about the optimistic brunette.  Megan’s peppy, pig-headed positivity had clearly influenced Poer, given the blind optimism of his plan.  She must have had an effect on Rose too.

It was like she’d told Kayla.  The brunette had grown on her, slowly but surely, without her even realising.

She didn’t like it.  She didn’t like where her mind was drifting.  She didn’t like the reason it had gone there.  Her mind belonged inside her head, not with the brunette.

Rose couldn’t help it.

She was worried about Megan.

 

~X~

 

Slowly, the world dissolved into place around her.  Her eyes gradually focused, finding it easier as the dull pain in her head subsided.

Megan wrestled control of her tired muscles from the lethargy that held them.  Her body wanted her to go back to sleep, but she knew that she couldn’t.

Where was she?  What had happened to her?

The forest.  She was alone.  That thing had gotten Rose.  Megan had been running.  She escaped, she got out, she was free.  Her fingers brushed against one of the branches that formed the archway to her freedom.   Then….

Pain.

Blinding pain, just like when they used to inject her, back at the facility.  Before she was human, before Ollie, her first memory.

Those men, those people; grey hair, pale skin, yellow teeth, foul breath.  As it came back to her, her eyes began to well up all over again.  They darted one way, then the other.  She didn’t recognise this place.

Where had they taken her?

Was this another room inside the facility?

Had they taken her back?

The girl almost lurched as the thought entered her mind.

She had wished for this.  In the depths of despair, she had wished to be back in the safety of her cage.  But not like this, not without Ollie, not with those vile men.

Were they here?  Was she alone?

Her body resisted, protested against her will, but she forced herself to sit up.  Turning her head, she looked around her.

Was this part of the facility?  It wasn’t like anything she’d ever seen before.  The walls were neither a sterile white, nor a cold grey.  They were made of rock.  She seemed to be in some kind of cave.  Had those two brought her to her tomb?

The cave didn’t seem to be too big.  She must have been near mx/entrance, but it felt like a single room, like a shack or hut.  Did someone live here?

The girl looked behind her.

Yes!  There it was, the exit.  If she took it, if she followed it, she would find her way out.  She was sure of it.

She couldn’t just stay here; Ollie and Rose were probably out there waiting for her.  She couldn’t make him worry; she was supposed to be a good girl.

“I am…” she voiced, the words coming out quiet and shaky.  “I’m a good girl.  A good girl.”

Slowly, Megan stood to her feet, stretching out her body.  It was time to get moving.  Those men weren’t home, this might be her only chance, she had to take it.

Step by step, Megan made her way through the long hallway.  It stretched out in front of her, but she thought she could see the end up ahead.  Would this hallway take her outside, or lead her to another room like the one she was just in?

Perhaps this cave wasn’t quite as small as she’d thought.  Megan hoped that she wouldn’t get lost again.

She moved forward.  There was only one way to go, and only one way to find out what would await her.

Reaching the end of the hall, Megan stepped through a doorway, only to find herself in another room identical to the one she’d woken up in.

Had she gone the wrong way?  The girl looked around, it was identical, but it couldn’t be, could it?  How many of these rooms were there?  How big was this place?  Would she ever get out?  Was this really part of the facility?

Where should she go?  It looked like her only option was forward.

The door swung shut behind her, and she heard the latch fall into place with a clank.  The door wouldn’t open.  She was locked out of the hallway she’d just traversed.  Her only option was to press forward in the same direction, but she’d come to the end of the road.

There was no time to think, no time to act, no time to ponder her options, her daring escape was over.

Before she could react, before she was even aware of the foreign presence, Megan felt a pair of arms enclose around her, holding her, binding her.  She felt a body behind her, trapping her, ensnaring her.  She was forcefully turned away from the door, turned around to face the chamber.

It was them!

One of the men was behind her, locking her in a hold.  The other must have been off to the side.  He walked in front of her, into her new field of vision.

Where had they come from?  Why hadn’t she seen them?  Why hadn’t she noticed them?

Had they been following behind her this entire time?

How?  It didn’t seem possible.

“Morning, sleepyhead,” the man before her mocked.  “Did you have a nice dream?”

Megan glared at him.  They’d sedated her; she’d been in a deep sleep for who knew how long, and the drug they’d given her would have made dreaming impossible.  They knew that.

“Not very chatty, are you?” the man continued.

“I think she’s shy,” taunted the man behind her.

“That’s too bad,” said the one in front.  “We’ll just have to loosen you up a bit.  I’m sure a cute girl like you has a voice just as sweet as your face.  Why don’t you sing for us?”  Megan remained silent, staring at the man.  He began pacing before her.  “Come on, sing us a song.”

What were they doing?  Who were these people?

“No?” the man spoke, as if answering for her.  “That’s too bad.  I don’t think she wants to sing for us, do you?” he spoke, most likely to the man restraining her.  His tight, painful grip and foul stench made sure that Megan wouldn’t forget his presence.

“I think you’re right.  I don’t think she wants to sing.”

“You don’t want to sing?  That’s too bad,” said the man in front, coming to a halt before her, still turned to the side.  “If you won’t sing, we’ll have to make you cry.  And if we can’t make you cry, we’ll settle for making you scream.”  The man swiftly turned to face her, his arm following his momentum, the back of his hand smacking Megan painfully across the side of her face.

The girl couldn’t help it, she let out a small whimper, from surprise as much as pain.

“Ah, so you do have a voice.  I’m looking forward to hearing more of it.  Tell me, you didn’t make it this far on your own.  Where’s the man that’s been helping you?”

So, this wasn’t about her after all; they were after Ollie.  Did these men work for Rexl?  Megan didn’t recognise them from the facility.

“Where is Poer?” the man asked.  “Where is he?!”

Megan flinched at the man’s loud voice, but otherwise held fast.  At least, until he hit her again.

She felt it, his fist, in her gut.  It was so quick, but the punch was so strong.  Megan lurched forward, mouth spilling open, saliva seeping over her lips.  She’d have doubled over from the impact, if it weren’t for the second man holding her.

His hands bound her wrists behind her back.  His grip was like a vice.  He pulled her arms so tight she thought they might snap.  He was holding her straight, firm.  He was keeping her together, but she wished that he wasn’t.

The first man leered down at her, staring into her eyes.  Megan tried to look away, but he gripped her head in his cold hands.  His fingers dug into her scalp, crushing her head.  She was afraid he might crack her skull; his grip was so tight.  Megan grit her teeth, trying not to cry.

“You can see we’re not above hurting a child.  Don’t think your youth will save you, or your gender.”  The man produced a syringe and removed the cap, readying it for her.  Megan felt herself stiffen.  Her eyes widened as they focused on the needle, on that pointy, metallic harbinger of pain and torment.

No, not again.

“You don’t like this, do you?  Tell me, are you afraid of needles?  I suppose I can’t blame you.”

What were they going to inject her with this time?  Were they sedating her again?  Why?  What purpose would that serve?  Maybe they were giving her that drug to torture her with blinding pain.  Or worse, maybe it was some kind of truth serum.

Still, that wouldn’t do them any good.  They wanted to know about Ollie, but she wouldn’t tell them, she couldn’t, even if they broke her.  They could do anything they wanted to her; it wouldn’t matter.  She couldn’t tell them what she didn’t know.

Megan flinched as she felt the needle pierce her skin.  The drug hurt as it forced its way in, then nothing.  She didn’t feel drowsy, her body wasn’t burning up, the drug didn’t seem to be doing anything at all.  The second man released her.  What was going on?  The drug didn’t seem to be working, but they were confident enough to back away from her.

Megan’s eyes darted to the back of the room.  There was an archway.  Was that the way out?

Natural light spilled forth from that unbarred doorway, enticing her with promises of unfulfilled freedom; the freedom that she had just experienced, if for only a few blissful seconds.  It teased her, taunted her, whet her appetite.  She wanted it, needed it, needed more.

The exit was right there, but the man was in her way.  She’d have to get around him somehow, but she wouldn’t have time.  The man lunged forward, punching her gut once more.  Without the second man to support her, this time she really did double over.  She fell, landing in a heap on the floor.  He’d hit her harder this time.  A lot harder.

“It doesn’t have to go like this,” the first man told her.  “Did you wonder what we were injecting you with?  It’s a new, experimental drug made from extracts of the plants in the forest.  You should feel honoured, you’re the first human to be given it.  The first human trial… that’s a milestone.  How do you feel?”

Megan felt anything but honoured.  As for the drug… it clearly wasn’t finished yet.  In fact, it didn’t seem to be working at all… but she couldn’t let them know that.

“Have you noticed the effects yet?  I doubt it; It’s barely discernible, and almost impossible to trace or detect, but trust me, it’s rendering you quite helpless.  Firstly, it’s a muscle relaxant.  We don’t need to restrain you anymore, I think you’ll find it impossible to resist, let alone escape.”

Were they right?  Megan didn’t feel any different.

“Behave yourself and you’ll be fine, but try anything and you’ll find your body to be quite useless.”

He was basically telling her not to run.  If she made any sudden moves like Breaking into a run or trying to fight, her body would fail her.  Would she go limp and collapse, or would her muscles simply refuse to do what she asked?  Either way, they had just taken away her ability to resist.  Whatever was to come next, she would be unable to prevent it.

In a way, this was even more frightening than the other drugs the scientists had used on her in the past.

“Make it easy on yourself and tell us what we want to know… or don’t.  To tell you the truth, we don’t get to do this very often.”  The man flashed her a vile grin.

Megan could only stare wordlessly.  It was uncanny how everything about the man managed to repulse her.  Megan wouldn’t betray Ollie, she’d stall these men for as long as she could.  They thought she knew where Ollie was, but they were wrong.  They could do what they liked to her; even if they broke her, she couldn’t give them what they wanted; they’d just be wasting their time.

Of course, that fact also scared her.  How far would they go to get what they wanted?  Did they care?  Were they just torturing her for information?  Megan got the distinct impression that they were doing it for fun, mixing business with pleasure.  He’d as much as told her so himself, the men standing before her, towering over her, looking down at her; they were going to enjoy this.

“Tell us where he is.  He must have planned a rendezvous point somewhere, just tell us where you were going to meet him.  Is that so hard?”

Megan remained silent.  She wouldn’t talk to these men.

“These two are supposed to be inseparable,” the second supposed.  “I doubt he’d leave her.  If she doesn’t show herself, he’ll come looking.”

That was true.  Ollie would most likely come searching for her.  With any luck, he wouldn’t find this place, but would he really leave without her?  Did she really want him to?

“Hear that?” the first asked her.  It was a rhetorical question, of course she’d heard him.  “Poer’s going to come looking for you.  You don’t want to make him worry, do you?”

“It’s not like this place is hard to find,” the second interjected, “but all the same, let’s help him out.”

“Call out to him,” the first commanded her.  “Let him follow the sound of your voice.”  Megan wouldn’t, that would be a betrayal.  “Either call for him, or we’ll make you scream for him.”  Megan braced herself for what she knew was coming, but it wasn’t enough.  Still curled on the ground, the girl was vulnerable.

The first man drew back his leg and delivered a swift, hard kick to her stomach.

Megan’s vision left her.  Her senses were gone, except for the feeling of his boot.  She couldn’t breathe, he’d kicked the wind right out of her.

“Don’t think you’ll be getting it that easy,” he taunted her, “We’re just getting started.”  He lifted her by the shoulder, hoisting her roughly to her feet.  Megan’s head was still swimming; she wasn’t quite aware of her surroundings, but she was aware of the next blow he landed on her.  His knee went into her abdomen, causing her to double over once more, coughing and spluttering, trying to regain some sense of composure.  It was difficult just to breathe.

“Call out to him,” the man ordered her again.  “Shout, scream, cry.  Do something, it’s only going to get worse.”

Shout?  Scream?  Cry?  Megan couldn’t have made a sound even if she’d wanted to, it was difficult enough just trying to catch her breath.

The second man, standing behind her, hooked his leg around her ankle and tripped her, causing her to fall forward into the man in front of her, into his waiting fist.

He hit her again and again.  How much longer was this going to last?  The girl bit her lip as the man tossed her to the ground.  They were both going at it now.  They kicked her, stomped on her, spat on her.  The girl could taste blood on her tongue.

She heard one of the men fumble with his belt and her entire body froze solid.  She managed to peek up.  They were both standing over her, and one of them had his… was that…  it was just hanging out of his pants… what was he going to do?

“The fuck are you doing?” the other man asked him.  This wasn’t planned, clearly, but it was too much to hope that he might stop whatever was to come.

“I just need to take care of something.” It was the second man, he had hurt her the least so far, but how much was that going to change?

He wouldn’t… would he?

The girl closed her eyes tight, curling up as though she could protect herself, like a turtle.  She had to force herself not to cry as it rained down over her, as it covered her, as she felt its rancid wetness; as it violated her, as it penetrated her skin with heat; with wet, retch-inducing, sickening warmth.

The man was… relieving himself… all over her.

It ran over her face, in her hair, in her ear.  She was going to be sick.  The girl couldn’t help the shiver that overtook her body, or the ghostly chill that came with it.

It was warm on her skin, but left her feeling so cold.  The feeling burrowed down past the surface, infesting her body like a sickness, like a scald; burning her, and chilling her at the same time.  It was warm, but freezing.

Megan’s mind went back to the first time Ollie had bathed her, how he’d poured water over her head to wash her greasy mess of hair; the warmth of the water had felt so good.

No!  Megan didn’t want her warm memories of Ollie mixed up with these… people, with this.

Ollie had been so kind, so gentle, but these men were nothing but cruel.  Ollie’s water had been poured from a plastic container.  It was so warm; she liked the feeling as it cascaded from the top of her head and down her back.

This man’s shower was much less wholesome.  His… liquid was the same temperature as her bathwater had been.  The heat radiated through her skin, but chilled her to the bone.  It left her feeling cold.  She was shivering.

The liquid falling over her was a similar sensation, but it didn’t feel the same at all; it may as well have been ice water.  The girl lay with her knees pulled up to her chest, shivering, shuddering, stifling a sob.

This was no bath, Megan felt anything but clean.

“Did you really have to do that?” the first man asked after the second had finished.  Had he crossed a line that the first was uncomfortable with?  “How am I supposed to have my fun after you’ve pissed all over her?”

Of course not.

“When a dog in the wild sniffs out another’s scent, he simply covers it up with his own.”

“Not exactly ideal,” the first countered.

“Forget about that, a little urine is the least of her worries.  Your methods aren’t working, so I say it’s time to step things up a notch.

“Girl!” he barked.  Megan jumped at the sound, but otherwise made no movement.  “I’m giving you one more chance.  Take us to meet your illustrious doctor now, before it’s too late.  Trust me, he’s not going to want to see you in the state you’ll be in once we’re done with you.”

Megan remained silent.  It was all she could do to hold back her soft heart’s urge to cry.

“I don’t think she’s going to help us, either willingly or unwillingly.  Doesn’t matter what we do to her.  Seems like her situation isn’t quite desperate enough.”

“I guess you’re right,” the first man agreed.

“Seems like she values Poer’s life more than her own… why don’t we put that to the test?”

“You… you want to kill her?”

“I just want to see how resilient her will is once she realises her life is on the line.”

These two… they would go to any lengths to get what they wanted.  Megan’s body felt like it was made of ice.  A kind of ice that wouldn’t melt, but was easily fractured.

She couldn’t call for Ollie, that was what they wanted, that would put him and Rose in danger.  This was her fault, she’d been careless and gotten caught, despite what Ollie had told her.  She had to face the consequences of her actions, no matter how harsh.  There was nothing she could do but wait for the inevitable.

All the same, Megan couldn’t help the desperate wish stemming from the deepest depths of her core.  Although it would put him at risk and could condemn his entire escape attempt to failure, she desperately wished that Ollie would save her.

 

Megan looked up at her attackers.  They hadn’t made a move against her.  What were they waiting for?

“I wonder just how tough our little girl really is,” one of the men said.  Megan braced for impact, preparing for the next assault, waiting for him to hit her, kick her, hurt her; waiting for the next beating, but it never came.

Why?  It wasn’t as though she wanted these men to hurt her, but this reprieve didn’t exactly fill her with high spirits either.  She had a bad feeling.  It was crazy, but part of her would welcome the pain of another barrage; that would be better than this tense anxiety, awaiting and anticipating the worst.

They had stopped, but why?  What were they thinking, what were they planning to do now?  They must have had a good reason.  They weren’t giving her a break out of mercy or generosity.

No.  They weren’t finished yet, they were only getting started.  Everything up to now had just been a preview, a taste of what was yet to come.  It was going to get worse, much worse.

Megan had peeked into the minds of her attackers, and what she saw there made her want to cry.

One of the men, the more vulgar of the two, the one who had used her as a toilet; he stepped forward.  Megan shrunk back, had she invited this?  Part of her had wanted the tense interval to be over, but now that the time had come, she wasn’t ready for round two.

She didn’t want this, she didn’t want to be here, with these two animals.  She wanted Ollie, she wanted Rose, she wanted to go home.  She wanted to go back to her room, her prison, her cell; where she’d be alone, safe and secure.

The man leered down at her like an animal, like a predator.

Megan couldn’t help the whimper that escaped her.  She was his prey, that’s all she was.  Megan stared into the man’s cold, grey eyes; seeing what lay beyond, peering into his diseased mind.  She closed her eyes tight, unable to look at what lay within, but unable to look away, unable to move.

She cowered at his cruel intent.  Even without her sight, she could feel the man’s presence.  She peeked through her eyelids to see him standing over her, a malicious grin plastered upon his face.  He leaned over her, placing a hand on her shoulder, gripping her tight; not like a man, like a creature; his hand was a claw, digging into her bone.

She winced at his touch, and at his smell.  He brought his body closer, coming low over her.  His foul breath wafted over her when he spoke.

“It doesn’t look like our little friend is going to cooperate… not to worry.” The man placed his other hand on her, pulling her close to him.

Megan felt a chill run down her spine.

The colour seemed to drain from the world around her, taking with it all semblance of warmth.

She heard her clothing rip.

She felt his bony fingers.

She smelled his foul breath, the scent of the dead.

His visage consumed her eyes, there was nothing else.

She was his plaything, and he would not be careful with her.

This one had a tendency to break his toys.

Megan’s head was spinning.  She felt sick, but she lacked the energy to retch.

Nobody would save her.

Nobody could help her.

She would suffer, and she would die.

Megan looked straight ahead, unable to look away.  She saw through his fleshy body.  She saw the devil within.

She knew what he wanted.

She knew he would get it.

She knew what he would do to her, it played out in her head, and soon it would play out on her body.

Megan was powerless to stop it.

Megan was helpless.

The man threw his doll down onto the ground, standing over her, a look of feral ferocity overtaking his hideous face.  He produced a small knife, the flat of the blade felt cool against Megan’s skin.

When he spoke, his human mask cracked and split into what looked like a smile.

When he spoke, his words pierced her soul.

When he spoke, he sealed the girl’s fate.  Megan lay as still as the dead, waiting to join them.

“There’s more than one way to make a girl scream.”

 

~X~

 

Ollie made his way through the forest, the path laid out before him.  How much longer would they have to walk?  The psychiatrist moved at a deliberately slow pace for Rose’s sake, and she walked beside him, seeming to have recovered from the sap; that was a good sign, it seemed that the forest wasn’t trying to kill her after all; merely sedate her.

He still wasn’t entirely sure of the sentient flora’s intent.  On the surface, it seemed as though it were taking Rose back to the facility.  Perhaps Rexl really had gotten the forest under control.  Perhaps Ollie would have to ask him, he hoped he would never get the chance; he looked to the girl that walked beside him, staring straight ahead; the journey had been thankfully uneventful since her reawakening.

“Doctor?” Rose asked, perhaps feeling his stare.  How did she do that?  Did Rose have eyes at the back of her head?  Maybelle and Megan had both developed what could only be described as ‘psychic powers,’ was this something similar?  The psychiatrist suppressed the urge to chuckle at the idea.  Psychic Powers, such an unscientific term for the results of their experimentation and research.  What a fantastical notion.

Still, as funny as it might have seemed, it was equally frightening.  This all felt like the setup for a comic book; it didn’t seem real.  They’d broken the laws of probability, of reality.

There was more in the world than man had ever dreamed of.  Ollie knew this, his own awakening had been quite a shock; it might have made him question his own sanity.  Still, as melodramatic as it sounded, he couldn’t help but mentally recite the cliché.  They’d broken the laws of nature.  Megan could read minds.  Maybelle’s ability took that one step further and allowed her to control another’s thoughts.  Ollie wondered what strange, ludicrous ability had manifested in Rose’s mind.  If he’d been more cooperative with Kayla, would she have made him privy to such sensitive information?

Ollie resisted the urge to snort.  He’d almost forgotten what the vile woman was like.

What strange ability had their mad experiments gifted to the solemn redhead beside him?

Gifted… that wasn’t quite the word he was looking for.  Whatever supernatural mutation had manifested within the unfortunate girl, she’d earned it through her unimaginable pain and suffering.  They’d been torturing her and pumping her full of Rexl’s strange concoctions for the past decade, and for what?  For humanity?  For science?

Rose had spent the greater part of her life drunk on a cosmic cocktail of chemicals.

They’d broken the laws of nature.

They’d broken the laws of humanity.

Ollie could only hope that the end result was worth it.  That still didn’t answer his question though, did it?  Ollie didn’t know exactly what the girl had been through, and he still didn’t know what she’d gained in return for her suffering.

Could he ask her, did she even know?  Rose hadn’t noticed the physical changes to her body, though that was forgivable.  With no mirror through which to examine her reflection, how could she have known about her new, unnatural eye colour?  She’d probably experienced a premature puberty as well, like Maybelle, but in her isolation, she’d probably considered it normal.

The girl’s only human contact throughout most of her captivity had been with Kayla after all, and who knew what lies that woman had filled Rose’s head with?  The girl had no benchmark with which to compare her own experience.  Whatever strange, unfathomable abilities may have manifested within her, Rose probably thought that those too, were normal.

Rose had missed out on so much.

“How are you doing?” he asked.

“All things considered?  I’m fine.  I’m tired, thirsty, my head hurts, and I’m done with this hike.  Other than that, I can’t complain.”

“Well, as long as you’re having fun,” Ollie replied.

“You’re funny, doctor,” Rose replied, the sarcasm dripping from her words thick enough that it might have created a tripping hazard.

Ollie was about to reply when his blood suddenly ran cold.

That sound, it pierced his ears.  A chill ran down his spine.  His body didn’t want to move.

That sound, was it?  Could it be?

No… surely not.

That sound was the realization of his worst fear.

“I have a really bad feeling,” Rose voiced.

Ollie could only agree with her.  That noise, that voice.  Was it her?  Ollie turned to Rose, and their eyes met in the darkness.

“Do you think it’s…?” the girl trailed off, perhaps unable to speak the name that was on the tip of her tongue, unable to give voice to the worst possible outcome, the worst-case scenario.  All the same, even if they didn’t speak her name aloud, Ollie knew it was on both their minds.

Not Megan.

Surely not Megan.

They heard it again.  That cry, off in the distance.  It curdled Ollie’s blood.  His mouth went dry.  His vision blacked out, consumed by the darkness that surrounded them, as though his flashlight had chosen this moment to give out.

That cry, full of fear, full of pain; he hadn’t heard a sound like that in so long; it reminded him of when Rose was a child, when he’d first brought her here.

Had he… had he sent Megan to her doom?

No….

Oh God, please no….

Ollie’s eyes widened, the horror overcoming him.  There was no time, he had to save her.  He’d put Megan in danger, it was his fault.  Had he really sacrificed one girl for a chance at saving the other?

No, he hadn’t wanted it to go like this.  This wasn’t supposed to happen.

He heard it again, her voice filled his ears, inebriating his brain like liqueur.  It was off in the distance, not too far away.  Could he make it in time?  From the sound of it… she was up ahead; he had to try.

Was Megan still in the forest, or had she… had she made it out?

Rose’s warning rang through his mind.  In the forest, they could hide; out there, they’d be exposed.  Out there, they’d be in the open.  Out there, Megan had no hope.

Ollie’s plan had failed.

That cry sounded once more, only to be cut short.

The darkness that surrounded them tightened its grasp on Ollie’s throat, choking him, squeezing the air from his lungs, extracting the hope from his heart.  No, it couldn’t be… could it?

“Doctor?” Rose asked him, her voice sounding unsure.  She must have been thinking along the same lines.

There was no time.  Maybe they had a chance, maybe.

Ollie grasped Rose’s hand, squeezing it tightly in his own; he thought he heard her hiss in pain, but ignored it as he took off in a run.  “Come on!”  He could feel her dragging him back, Rose was too slow.  Megan was in danger, he had to get there in time, he had to save her.

She couldn’t be… Megan couldn’t be dead.

Ollie felt Rose’s hand slip from his grasp.  “Keep up!” he ordered.

He had to hurry, Megan was up ahead, just a little farther.  Just a little farther.

Each step brought him closer to her.  Each bounding step brought Megan just a little further from death, didn’t it?

It wasn’t too late, it couldn’t be.

He would save her.  He would get her out of this place.  He would take her far, far away from this hell.

Just a little more.

Just a little more.

Just a little-

“Poer!”

Ollie stopped abruptly, turning back.

How had she fallen so far behind?

Rose, she had stumbled, she had fallen.

What was she doing? What was-

What was he doing?

“Damn!” the man cursed loudly, his voice echoing, announcing his presence to anyone who might have been nearby.  It didn’t matter anymore.

Rose had fallen, it was clear she hadn’t fully recovered.  She wasn’t well enough to keep up with him; he’d pushed her too hard.

As he approached, he saw her struggling to stand.  Her muscles must have been overworked, she needed rest.

He turned his back to her and bend down on his knees.

“Doctor?” she asked, unsure.

“Climb on my back,” he told her, calming himself, “I’ll carry you.”

“You go on ahead, I can probably catch up.”

Ollie sighed.  They didn’t have time to argue.  “I put Megan in danger when I left her behind to help you, I’m not going to leave you behind now so I can run off to save her.  We’ll never get out of here if we keep making the same mistakes over and over again, from now on we stick together.  This is the only way.  If you can’t keep up, then I have no choice but to carry you.”

Hesitating for only a moment, Rose placed her arms around the man’s shoulders, wrapping her legs around his waist as he stood to full height.  “Hold on,” he told her as he took off in a run.

The girl on his back rested her head against his shoulder, she must have been exhausted.  The vines had taken a toll on her, she was drained.

Strangely enough, she was less of a burden on his shoulders, than she had been trailing behind him.  The girl’s muscles were struggling under their own weight, Rose was unable to support herself.  She was so light; even carrying her on his back, Ollie could move a lot faster than he had been before.

Ollie felt bad for even thinking it, but the girl’s malnutrition was actually a bittersweet positive in this situation.

Now they just had to get to Megan; Ollie could only hope that it wasn’t too late.

Ollie had been right, they had been close to the exit; he could see it up ahead.  Megan must have made it out, and then been ambushed.  That was assuming that in their haste, they hadn’t already run past the scene of the attack.

No, Ollie didn’t think that likely.  Megan had made it out.  She’d escaped, and then they had descended on her; Rexl’s last line of defence.

Ollie didn’t know exactly what was responsible, but whatever it was, he was sure it worked for his brother.  Was it a plant, an animal, or a human?  Probably a guard positioned just outside the exit.  If Megan weren’t careful, she might have walked right past him without noticing.

Is that what had happened, or had he attacked her head on, before she had a chance to escape?

In any case, she was in trouble, that much was certain.

The closer they got to the exit, the brighter their surroundings became.  Ollie turned off his flashlight and pushed forward, the newfound brightness of the early-morning sun hurting his eyes.

The sudden realization hit him in the face, his mind processing its meaning while his eyes adjusted to the bright exterior surroundings.

The sun was out.

What time was it?

How many hours had they spent wandering about that dark, deadly maze of a forest?

This escape had taken much longer than the younger Poer brother had planned.

As the giant mess of trees fell behind him, Ollie looked about the expansive field.  Where was Megan?  Where could she have gone?

He turned to look at the girl sleeping on his shoulder, the exertion of their trek had really taken a toll on her.  “Wake up,” he gently nudged her with his voice, “we’re here.”

“I’m not asleep,” she quietly drawled, though the lethargy of her reply indicated otherwise.

“Just resting your eyes?” the man asked, an endearing smile gracing his features, unseen by the girl.  She didn’t respond.

Suddenly, Rose’s eyes opened wide with a start.  She didn’t have time to take in her new surroundings, however.  With an animal-like instinct, the girl’s head snapped to the side, eyes staring intently in a new direction.

Just at that moment, their ears were once again haunted by a pain-filled cry.

That scream, a sound that could curdle milk and peel paint from a wall.  It sent shivers down Ollie’s spine, like nails on a chalkboard.

Like Rose, his gaze was drawn to the source of that horrible noise.

It chilled Ollie to the bone.

The movement in the air ceased.

His heart stopped. 

The blood in his veins froze solid, and time stood still.

It was only a moment, but that moment seemed to drag on for an eternity.  The sound consumed him, filling him with dread, with horror, with despair, and strangely enough, hope.

It was her voice, he knew it.

It was Megan.

As much as he hated the thought of Megan in pain, her cries filled him with bittersweet relief.

As long as she was emitting that cry, she was alive.

As long as she was emitting that cry, she still had a chance, they still had a chance.

Ollie felt Rose’s weight shift on his shoulders; he felt the heat of her breath on the back of his neck.  She directed him like a mount, wordlessly, her motions telling him what to do, where to go, as though their minds were connected, in perfect synchronisation.

They both wanted the same thing.

They needed Megan.  They needed to see her, needed to hold her, needed to tell her it would be all right, that they would take her far away from this place.

Ollie took off in a run, toward the source of that sound, toward the source of that harrowing cry.  They were so close, just a bit more.

Hold on Megan, the man thought; just a little more, we’re almost there; just hold on.

The sound ceased once more, but Ollie kept his pace.  Before long, he found himself at the mouth of a cave.  Was Megan inside?

The man slowed his pace as he stepped into the cave, feeling a chill as the sun left him behind, refusing to follow him into this dark place, as if warning him.  The sun was telling him to brace himself.

Whatever he found in there, it wouldn’t be good.  Ollie knew he wasn’t going to like it, but he had to press on, Megan needed him.

The pair found themselves in a large circular chamber.  It was sparsely decorated, but Ollie got the distinct impression that something called it home.  Something human.

There were various knick-knacks lining the walls of this naturally crafted lobby, but Ollie didn’t care to examine them.  They appeared to be alone.

There was a door on the far side of the chamber.

Did somebody really live here?

The man rushed over to the door, it was unlocked.

Opening the door, he stepped inside and traversed the long corridor beyond, barely noticing as the door swung shut behind him.

Another door lay ahead of them, unlocked; and beyond that, another round chamber, indistinguishable from the last in all ways but one.  Perfectly identical, save that this one was occupied.

Megan lay in the centre, curled up in a heap on the floor, used up and thrown out, discarded like refuse.

What had done this?

Who had hurt her?

Ollie heard her breathing hitch, the girl on his shoulders.  Rose was always so distant, cold, and unemotional.  She acted as though Megan were an annoyance to be tolerated, but seeing her in this state, it must have caught the elder sister off guard.

Ollie felt his miniscule burden ease.  Rose slipped off his shoulders and landed on the ground behind him.  She took a moment to steady herself, leaning against his back; perhaps she was suffering from vertigo.

Once she was ready, Rose stepped out from behind him and moved forward to take a closer look.

“What… what happened to her?” she asked.  It was a rhetorical question.  Ollie didn’t know any more than Rose, but he could speculate.

The brunette was strung out on the ground, bruised, battered, the ground stained with blood.  Her clothes were ripped and torn open, her body exposed, adorned with cuts; her hair was matted, and she was drenched; in sweat, or something worse.  A bruise covered her left eye and her nose was broken.

Who… who could have done this?

“M-Megan…” Ollie uttered, his voice quavering.  She stirred, still conscious.

She tried to speak, but could only manage a dazed groan.

Rose made to approach the poor girl, but Ollie stuck out his hand to stop her.  Something was wrong.

At first glance, it appeared that Megan had been tossed aside, her abusers apparently growing bored with torturing her.  They’d left her behind, as though she weren’t worth killing.  Perhaps the prospect of ending her life no longer bore any thrill for the sick individual involved, or perhaps they intended to come back.  Perhaps they wanted to prolong her suffering.  Had they abandoned her to die alone, or would they continue her torture at a later date?

Perhaps they would come back to finish the job, or perhaps they simply meant to continue where they left off.  Either way, they didn’t want to kill their victim just yet.

On the surface, it did appear that they’d left her for dead, but perhaps they’d simply left her for Ollie to find.

They’d tortured her, hurt her in every way they could think of.  Megan had always been strong for her age, always so happy and optimistic, despite her sad situation.  To make her scream and cry like that… the evidence was before him, but Ollie couldn’t hope to imagine what Megan had been through in his absence.

Megan, he thought, as though preying to her like a deity, as though she could hear his thoughts; I’m sorry.

“Doctor?” Rose asked him, his arm was still out, blocking her path.

The culprit couldn’t be far away; they’d played Megan like an organ, her screams of pain their toccata; her sad song had sounded only moments before.  She was strung out on the floor, left for him to find, with no one else around.

This was too convenient.

Oh god… was there… was there a rhyme and reason to this madness?

Had they done this intentionally, just to draw Ollie out, so that he would bring Rose to this place?

Were these Rexl’s men?

Was his heartless, bastard brother responsible for… for this?

Ollie’s outstretched hand clenched into a trembling fist.

“They hurt her to get to you,” Rose said, her voice low, coming to the same conclusion as Ollie.  “They must have captured her, and then used her to draw us out.  This is a trap, isn’t it?”

“What do you propose we do,” Ollie asked.  Megan was still alive; it was all too clear the reason why.

If they moved to save her, they’d likely be ambushed, but if they left her to save themselves… if they abandoned her to this cruel fate, then Megan would suffer more of the same.

“Would you leave her,” Ollie asked the redhead beside him, “could you?”

“Do you still have that gun?” the girl asked.  Ollie looked at her, he hadn’t expected her to say that.  Sure, he still had it on him, but how much use would it be?  How many shots did he have left?  How many men were lurking here?  How many could he take out before they managed to incapacitate him?  Or kill him?  Would they be armed?

Or did Rose have something else in mind?  A mercy killing, to put Megan out of her misery?  No, there was no way, neither of them could even suggest such a thing.  Ollie put it out of his mind, he wouldn’t consider it.

“First of all, we don’t even know what we’re up against.  How many are there?”

“However many there are… they all deserve to die.”

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of how.”

“Then we don’t have a choice,” Rose concluded.  “You of all people should understand this kind of plan, you’ve been carrying them out all night.”

“What are you suggesting?”

Rose looked to him, then to Megan.  Their eyes met once more, hers staring silently into his own, unmoving, void of emotion.  “Simple,” she finally spoke, “we spring the trap and hope for the best.”

Ollie sighed.  Why couldn’t anything be easy?

Rose stepped forward once more, moving toward the battered girl on the ground.  As they had thought, the trap around them sprung the second she got close.

A chain, previously hidden beneath the dust and dirt covering the rocky cave floor, suddenly lifted, pulling tight, pulling Megan out of their grasp.

Megan cried out in surprise as she was unceremoniously dragged out of their reach by the ankle.

It was just like before, just like with Rose.  Just when he’d almost caught up with her, just when she was almost safe, she was ripped sharply from his clutches to be dangled before him, just out of reach.

The girl was dragged all the way across the room, to the door on the far side.

The door opened, and out stepped two men; Ollie had no idea who either of these two were, he’d never seen them around the compound.  They were difficult to look at, so shabby and unkempt.  So unclean, their hygiene left a lot to be desired.

Did they live out here, in this cave?

Could it be called a cave?  Though mostly bare, it was divided up into rooms; corridors and chambers.

The men laid hands on Megan; Ollie seethed, his own hand making its way inside his shirt, reaching for the gun.  “Get your hands off her,” he ordered.

“That would put us in a vulnerable position,” one of the men argued.

“You’re in no position to be making threats,” said the other, yanking at Megan’s chain, pulling her upright and producing a knife; he pressed the blade threateningly against the soft white skin of her throat.”

Megan stiffened, eyes wide, staring intently at the two interlopers, the closest thing she had to family.

“You’ve become quite accustomed to this, haven’t you?” the man said into her ear.

Ollie could see the girl trembling in front of him.  She shut her eyes, a whimper escaping her.

She was crying.

“I can’t let you get away with this,” Ollie said.

“What are you planning to do about it?” asked one of the men; his companion was the one with the knife, leaving him as an unnecessary attachment.  Ollie drew his pistol and aimed for the space between the man’s eyes.

The man moved quickly, removing himself from Ollie’s line of sight, ducking behind the man that held Megan hostage, at knifepoint; hiding behind a beaten and battered girl like the coward he was.

The man with the knife spoke.  “We’ve been waiting for you.  The girl here was being a little uncooperative.  She didn’t think you’d come for her.  We asked her where you’d be, but she was stubborn, you see?  She was acting up, so we had to straighten her out a little.

“Straighten her out?” Ollie asked through grit teeth.

“Yeah… I managed to loosen her tongue, if you know what I mean, but she still wouldn’t tell me what I wanted to know.  I don’t think she likes my friend here too much.”  Ollie assumed the man to be talking about the knife in his hand, rather than his human companion.  “I’m sure she’ll grow accustomed to it eventually.”

“There’s no way in hell,” Ollie spat.

“Oh, I don’t know.  You’ve spoiled the girl, you know that?  Give it a few years.  Some rebellious teenagers develop a taste for body modification.  Tattoos, piercings, other, more extreme procedures….”

Mutilation… Ollie tightened his grip on the gun, teeth grinding painfully.  “Don’t you lay one more finger on her!”

“Oh… it’s not my fingers you want to watch out for.  It’s the blade, you know?  He was thirsty, he needed a drink, and if he doesn’t get what he wants, he tends to get a bit stabby.”

Why was the man talking about his knife as though it were an actual person?

“I think our kids are going to get on just fine.  My blade had her squealing like a single mother on a street corner before, but who knows; in a couple of years, she may grow to love it.”

In a few years?  No, Ollie had to get Megan out right now.  He knew that now more than ever, as if it weren’t an absolute before.

“You’re insane, both of you.”

“You’re the expert, doc.  Are you going to cure us?”

“You’re beyond help.”

“Come now, I’m sure we can settle this quite amicably.”

“You did all this to bring me here, right?  What do you want?  Who are you?”

“We’re here to make sure you don’t walk out with the Director’s property.”

Ollie was taken aback by that.  He’d suspected as much, but all the same, to have it confirmed… these men did work for his brother.

His property… did he truly regard the girls as simple objects?

Why should Ollie be surprised, he already knew the answer to that.  “Just tell me what you want.”

“How about a trade, one of yours for one of ours?”

Were they serious?  Ollie caught Rose’s eye.  He looked between the two girls.  Did they seriously expect him to offer up Rose for Megan?

Rose met his gaze, looking to him for an answer; it seemed she was curious about that as well.  Did she really think he’d consider it?

Ollie’s heart sunk a little; she still didn’t trust him.  She expected him to abandon her and run off with Megan: or at least, that was her fear.

He’d done all of this for her.  Everything that had happened this past day, everything the girls had been subjected to, everything that Megan had been forced to endure; it had all been for Rose’s benefit.  How could he betray her now?  If he left Rose behind, then it all would have been for nothing.  Everything Megan had been through, everything that these men had done to her; the marks they’d left on her body, not to mention the ones they’d undoubtedly left on her mind; it all would have been for nothing, a sacrifice made for no gain, a means without an end.

A betrayal of Rose at this point would be a betrayal of Megan as well.  There was no way he’d consider such a thing, he refused to even entertain the thought.  He wouldn’t, he couldn’t.  There was no way, no way in hell.

Ollie glared at the men.  “Do you expect me to give up now and bow to your demands, after everything we’ve been through!  Do you seriously expect me to trade Megan for Rose?”

“Perhaps you misunderstood,” one of the men answered him.  “My brother here wasn’t very clear.  You’re not trading girls, you’re trading lives.  Yours, for the pretty one you came in with.”

“So you can do to her what you did to Megan?”

“Oh no… we were careful to keep the little one alive; she so wanted to see you again.  We won’t have to be so careful with the older one.  We can kill that one,” the man sneered, “eventually.”

A crack appeared in Rose’s porcelain mask, fear; she wasn’t quite as emotionless as she might have liked to appear.

These men, they planned to murder Rose.

No, ‘eventually,’ they had said.  They wouldn’t murder her outright, they would to torture her first.  They wouldn’t intentionally kill her, but at the same time, they had no concern for her safety or the preservation of her life.  They didn’t plan to kill her, but they would.

They didn’t plan to kill her, but she would die.  It was simply an afterthought, a result of the sadistic games they would play, a consequence of their inhuman actions.

They would kill her… eventually.

Had Rexl already accepted his eldest child as a loss?  Had he written her off?  Was this some manner of punishment for her attempted escape?  Was Rexl truly so petty?  He’d be hurting himself as much as anyone else; what about all his talk of legacy?

No, Ollie didn’t believe it; he wouldn’t, he couldn’t; even Rexl hadn’t sunk that low.  There was no way he’d signed off on this, these men were acting on their own, Ollie was sure of it.

“I’d like to say that makes my decision easier,” he spoke, “but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really make much of a difference.”

“So I assume that means no?” the man asked.

“I’m afraid it does.”  Ollie was sure he saw Rose relax a little, only to flinch at the cacophonous sound of his gun firing as he squeezed the trigger.

The second man cried out, sinking to his knees.  The bullet had hit him square in the chest.

“How about I offer you a deal?” Ollie asked.  “Untie Megan, hand her over, now.”

“Daddy…” the girl stared at him listlessly.

“That’s not a deal,” the man with the knife argued.

“No, it’s a given, here’s the deal.  You’re standing in our way, step aside, let us go and I won’t kill you.  Nobody in this room has to die today.”

“That’s still not much of a deal,” the man replied.  Ollie supposed that to be a refusal.  The thought was all but confirmed by the man’s next action.

Megan cried out as the knife penetrated her, plunging into the flesh of her arm.  The man tossed her to the ground like rubbish.  “Fuck you!” he screamed, “and fuck your deals.  Nobody has to die?  I’ve got a better idea.”

“The fuck are you doing?” the second man asked, clearly unsure of his brother’s actions.

“How about we all die together?  My treat!”

The man charged at Ollie before he had time to react.  It was like Kayla all over again, though at least these two didn’t seem to have her inhuman agility.  That sociopathic scientist must have been sampling her own supply, using herself as a test subject.  Thankfully, these two weren’t so reckless or brash.  These two were far too cowardly to use the drugs themselves or splice their own DNA.

The man didn’t have Kayla’s unnatural speed, but that didn’t mean he’d go down easy; Ollie tried his best to aim at the moving target, firing shot after shot.  Of all the stray bullets to fire from his gun, only one managed to connect.

He’d hit the man, he’d shot him, though it wasn’t a lethal wound.

Ollie charged forward.  He had to be merciless, he owed the girls that much.  He had to get them out of here, no matter what it took.

Ollie closed the distance between them, took aim at the man’s head, and fired.

Click.

Ollie’s breathing hitched, eyes wide.  He… he was out?

His gun was empty.

Why now, of all times?

The man before him sneered, a smile that could strip the walls.  His eyes were like black pits.  He moved to strike back.  Ollie didn’t have time to defend.

The next thing he knew was pain; sharp, shooting, in his abdomen.

It was so hot, blood flowed from the point of entry, where the knife had penetrated his skin.

A knife?  Another one?  Ollie hadn’t expected the man to carry a backup, but he had, the man had stabbed him, Ollie was impaled; he looked into the man’s cruel eyes, taking a cautious step back.

Ollie had failed.  What could he do?  They were all going to die.

“Daddy!” he heard Megan cry out to him.

The pain was bearable, but only just.  It hurt to breathe, but Ollie was still standing.

“You think you’ll get away with this?” he asked the man through grit teeth.  His voice had just enough strength to carry his words, but they didn’t come out nearly as threatening as he might have hoped.

“Me?  I’m just doing my job.”

“This… is your job?  My brother paid you to hurt his daughter?  To…” Ollie trailed off, unable to finish that sentence.

“He wanted you all captured, and here you are.  I’m sure he won’t mind that the package happened to get a little sullied on the road.”

“You threatened to kill his firstborn, his daughter, his legacy.  It’s not as though he cares about her as a person, but he has plans for Rose.  What do you think he’d do to you if she died?”

“That’s a good question,” spoke another voice, coming from behind him.

Speak of the devil.

Rexl circled around the two men, taking in his surroundings.  He looked Rose over thoughtfully.  “A little damaged, but not too bad.”  He spared a glance at Megan.  “That one however… she’ll live,” he dismissed.

Seriously?  Rexl had seen the state she was in.  Was he really about to shrug that off?

Rexl stood behind the man, now unarmed, his knife still lodged in Ollie’s abdomen.

Ollie felt a gentle pair of hands on him, suspecting Rose, but soon realised it was another.  It was a woman, one of the medical team.  Was she a doctor?

Looking behind him, Ollie saw more men shuffling into the cave.  His brother must have brought the cavalry with him.  As the woman tended to his wound, the men advanced, moving to the back of the chamber.

The woman used a cloth to apply pressure to his wound and pulled the knife from him without so much as a warning, Ollie hadn’t even had time to brace himself.

As she dressed his wound with bandages, Ollie was able to hear his brother’s conversation, though it was difficult to focus.

“I did as you asked,” the vile man said, pleading his case, explaining himself.

“Did I ask for this?” Rexl asked, gesturing to Megan on the far side.

“You’re brother’s a coward.  He was hiding, I had to draw him out.”

“A true coward wouldn’t have come at all, no matter what you did.”

“Then he was a soft coward, but a coward nonetheless.”

“I don’t recall telling you to do this to her.”

“Your girl is stubborn, she wouldn’t cooperate.”

“Did I give you permission to break her, to do what you did?”

“You told me to do what was necessary, to secure both girls.”

“I see.  And you thought this was necessary?  Turn around, look at what you’ve done.”  The man did as he was asked, and Rexl took up a position at his back.  “Look at the state of her.  This was necessary?”

“I did my job.”

“It seems more like something you would do on your own time.”

“I won’t pretend I didn’t enjoy myself.”

“And you were intending to enjoy yourself again, weren’t you?  With Megan… and with Rose.”

“You’d have gotten them back, I promise.  Perhaps a little worse for wear, but still functional.”

“You mean they’d still be alive.  What a relief, I thought perhaps you’d forgotten.”

“You know I wouldn’t kill them, I was careful, I made sure the girl was still alive.”

“What about the other one?  Project Rose is all that matters to me.  Her survival is the most important, and yet you were planning to… have your way with her.  Am I phrasing that right?”

“What?  No, you’ve got it wrong!”

“Do I?  I heard what you said, I’ve seen what you did; this shelter of yours is under surveillance.  Did you really think I would let you lose in here and not keep an eye on your activities?  You kept Megan alive, but would have spared no such caution for Rose, despite her being integral to the project, to our entire operation here.”  Rexl’s tone took a dark shift.  Perhaps he did care after all… in a utilitarian way at least.  “Those were your exact words.”  The director pulled a concealed gun, pointing it at the back of the man’s head.

The man made to turn around, but froze at Rexl’s order.  The director spoke once more, his voice calm, devoid of emotion.

“What you have done here is unforgivable.  You served your purpose, I’ll admit that much, but for what you did, what you didn’t do, and what you planned to do, I’m afraid I can’t let this go.  I’m afraid I must let you go.”

“So what, you’re going to fire us?”

“In a sense.  Disciplinary action must be taken, don’t pretend you don’t deserve it.”

“Just like that?”

Bang!

Rexl pulled, the gun fired, the man fell to the ground, dead.

“Just like that.”

“Bro?” the second man asked, as though unsure of what he’d just witnessed.  “You killed him!”

“He was a mistake,” came Rexl’s soft reply.

The man scrambled to his feet, stumbling backward, his hand latching onto Megan’s cowering form.  He pulled her roughly to her feet by the arm, forcing her to stand, restraining her in front of him.  He ripped the knife from her arm, eliciting a scream, blood spewing from the wound.  He put the crimson stained blade to her throat.

“Don’t come any closer,” he warned, voice cracking.  “I’ll kill her!”

“No!” Ollie cried.  There was nothing he could do.  Hadn’t Megan been through enough?

“Relax,” Rexl replied, pulling out his phone.  What was he doing with that?  How was he so calm?  That was his daughter, did blood mean nothing to him?  “You’re too emotional, Oliver.  It’s unbefitting.”

“And how should I be, like you?  You’ve seen what they did to her.  She’s your daughter, isn’t she?  Don’t you even care?”

“Always so dramatic….” Rexl said in a way that mad Ollie imagine a shake of the head or a roll of the eyes; the gesture was implied, a verbal judgement.  “You!” he called out to the desperate man at the far end of the cave.

“Shut up!  Don’t talk to me, don’t come near me.  I’ll kill her, I’ll do it!”

“Don’t be stupid.  Am I to believe you’d throw away your bargaining chip so easily?”

Ollie understood.  Rexl was calling the man’s bluff, but… “Don’t expect him to act rationally,” he warned his older brother.  “You see how much stress he’s under, he’s not thinking clearly.  If you push him, he’s liable to do something stupid, something we’ll all regret.”

“I’m not going to let you leave with my property,” Rexl continued, obstinately ignoring Ollie’s council.  “Give up.  Just let her go and surrender.  This is the only chance you’re going to get.  Give up now and I’ll be merciful.”

The man didn’t deserve mercy, but Ollie decided it was best to keep his thoughts and opinions on the matter to himself.  Rexl did have a plan, didn’t he?  Ollie didn’t want to interfere.  If there were a way to get Megan back alive, he’d offer up any compromise, no matter how bitter the pill.

“Fuck you!” the man replied from behind his hostage, the desperation in his voice saturating his tone, impairing any leverage he may have hoped to gain.

“Is that a no?” Rexl asked, nonchalantly browsing his phone.

“The fuck you doing?  You playing with me?  Don’t you want your girl back?  Call off your goons and let me out!”

Rexl sighed.  “How tiresome… I will not suffer a stalemate.”  Messing with his phone once more, it appeared that he bore no interest in the scene before him.  Was he planning to wait it out, despite of what he’d just said?

Right at that moment, the man lost his balance and fell forward, landing on top if his hostage.

Megan cried out, trapped under the weight of his body.

What had happened?  Was this a result of the gunshot wound, or something else?

“Seize them both,” Rexl ordered to his men.  “Put the fool in a cell with his worthless brother.  Let them both rot, let this be their tomb.”

The men advanced, pulling Megan free from her prison and dragging the bodies of the two men away.

“What was that?” Ollie asked his brother.  “What just happened?  That man, he just… collapsed.”

“Insurance.  It was obvious I couldn’t trust either of those two to act on my behalf, so I had a device implanted into each of their brains.”

Ollie’s eyes widened at the admission.  A remote device?  Some kind of tiny explosive, or a toxin?  He must have activated it.  That’s what he was doing with his phone?  It was just like what that scientist had done to Maybelle.

Rexl was some kind of trap master.  He’d set this up well in advance; he’d been willing to kill these two men with no hesitation, no sign of guilt, like it was nothing.  How could he be so blasé about it?

Ollie swallowed that line of thinking before the taste soured any further.  At least Megan was safe; that was something, at least.  She was going to be alright, wasn’t she?

Ollie looked over to the girl.  The doctor was patching her up, bandaging the girl’s wounds, just as she had for him.

“We can treat her,” Rexl assured him.  “She’ll be fine, given enough time.”

Ollie released a sigh of relief, that was a weight off his shoulders, he felt so much lighter without the burden of worrying about her.

He had to thank his brother’s intervention.  If Rexl hadn’t been here, he didn’t know what would have happened.

It really was such a relief.  “Thank you,” he uttered under his breath.

The feeling wouldn’t last.

“Now,” Rexl said.  Ollie looked into his stern, serious eyes.  ‘Now?’  Now what?  Ollie’s brows furrowed in his confusion, until a piercing cry shattered the glass prison of his bewildered reverie.

“Daddy!” Megan cried out.  Ollie’s breath caught in his chest, a chill ran down his spine.  The warning bells in his head were deafening him like tinnitus.

“Poer, look!” Rose exclaimed.  He looked to her concerned gaze, then to Megan’s fear-filled form in the distance.

The doctor had patched her up, but Rexl’s men weren’t helping her, they were containing her.

She was restrained.  The girl tried to struggle, tried to resist her captors, but after all that had happened, she had no strength left to fight them off.

She was helpless.

Again.

Ollie had been so caught up in his relief that he’d forgotten who the enemy was.  He’d forgotten that he couldn’t trust Rexl.

“It was a trap within a trap,” Rose deduced, her voice low.

“I believe,” Rexl spoke, his voice as cold as his eyes, dull and emotionless as ever, “this puts you in check.”

 

~X~X~

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