Alone In The Dark

From the Story Arc: There's No Place Like Home

Previous Story in the Arc: The Kindness of Strangers by Red Saviour (Wednesday, June 08, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Strategy by Althea Nagy (Thursday, June 09, 2005)

(posted Wednesday, June 08, 2005)



She hit a wall.

At least, it felt like a wall, an invisible wall in the air that she slammed into with so much force it knocked breath and consciousness out of her. Her last waking thought was how far down the lake was.

She spasmed into consciousness.

Noise and confusion all around her, bright white light, the squeal of brakes and mind still bit enough online to recognize where she was. Her head throbbed and her ribs ached. But there were two big men, one on either side of her, hustling her along like a drunk.

Her body reacted as Shen Xue had taught her, without thinking, in the single moment when one was traveling a little faster than the other and they both were off-balance. She used herself as a pivot and assisted the first into the second and the second into a wall.

But she staggered, not ran, away and her head swam with dizziness as a dazzle formed between her and everything else. Her balance slipped sideways, and then reversed. She knew she could never escape them, and her body again reacted without thought, seizing her com and screaming into it the name of the one person likeliest to recognize who she was and that she was in trouble---

“ALEXEI!”

And then the floor rose up to meet her and that was all she knew.

#

She woke again in darkness, the sound of an automobile engine nearby, curled into a cramped fetal position. She couldn’t move enough to make the gestures of magic, and at any rate, her hands were bound at the wrists in front of her. She felt sick to her stomach and her head ached horribly. From many visits to the hospital she knew what those symptoms meant; concussion. Her new leather costume was still damp and smelled faintly of algae; she she had dropped into Silver Lake after all. There was an odd whining sound coming from something behind her back.

Recognition, finally. This was the trunk of an automobile. She heard the car pull over somewhere and stop. The lid came up and she found herself blinking up at three Council soliders.

She did not think; she acted. Dark power blasted from her eyes to catch and hold one of them. But the other two reacted faster than she could target them, one with a blow to her jaw that made her vision fill with stars, the other to slam her head against the trunk-hatch to finish the job and send her into darkness again.
#

She woke. Now not only were her hands tied before her, but she had been blindfolded. She was lying on sand, and the damp musk told her it was in a cave.

Her head should have been splitting…..

Shto?

She knew this feeling. There was a slow, steady trickly of healing energies seeping up into her from---from all the points where she lay on the sand. But how---

She heard Fei Li’s voice in the back of her mind. Breathe! the General demanded. Do not think!

Automatically she fell into a breathing exercise. In through the nose for a slow count of fifteen---out through the mouth for another. Her racing heart slowed; her fear became just another stimulus, like the press of the sand against her or her sore ribs slowly healing. She heard voices in the distance, speaking German. Agitated voices.

She suddenly remembered something that had been in the family grimoire---old magic. Very old and very small magic. How you could find someone by “looking” magically, not for them, but for the little bits of themselves that people left behind. Shed hairs. A discarded handkerchief. A tear fallen to earth. Like the trail of breadcrumbs left by the children lost in the woods…except that no one would find and remove these “breadcrumbs.”

Would anyone else know this magic?

She reached up with her bound hands and yanked a hair or two out of her head, and quickly buried them in the sand.

#
Training: Day one

The series of movements was something like a dance, but dance choreographed for the slow and clumsy. As Fei Li counted out the steps in Chinese, doing them herself where Thea could see them, Thea struggled to get them in the right order. The General wasn’t looking at her, which was a relief.

“Again,” said Fei Li. “But step with the toes, not the heel.”

“Again.”

“Again.”

It went on for hours. Thea would never have believed that a sequence of simple steps could be so exhausting. Finally she fell into the pattern, Fei Li stopped demonstrating and counted, watching her closely.

“Finish each step. Stop. Remain balanced. Do not take the next step until I have called it. You must complete each step in a state of readiness to move in any direction, not jus the one for the next step.”

“Again.”

“Again.”

#

She could hear footsteps crunching in the sand. She was ready when they stopped beside her and hauled her to her feet, using what would have been their rough energy to get herself up without getting a wrenched shoulder out of it. But she hung her head and whimpered to make them think she was worse off than she was.

They hauled her up and down a cave floor for a very long time. Once or twice she heard the clicks and hums of their computer gear, and at that point she crossed a metal grating floor. Whenever she got a chance, she yanked out a hair and dropped it on her trail. No one seemed to notice.

Then into the open, but only for a moment. A car door opened and she felt s shove. She tucked and rolled automatically, tumbling onto the floorboards of the car rather than falling.

#

It was not enough to do the steps now. She must end each step balanced. And if she was not, Fei Li would shove her off balance, or strike the calf of the leg that had gone to far.

It was not enough to do the steps. Now she must learn to fall, roll, and spring to her feet, ready to meet whatever came next. And Fei Li would take advantage of any opening at any time to pull her over into a painful tumble instead of a controlled roll.

It was not enough to do these things; now she must learn how to evade Fei Li’s attacks---moving smoothly out of the way and turning the attacker’s energy against him---

And it was not enough to do all these things, but she had to learn to still her buzzing mind.

And then, one day, it all fell together. She was staring into the General’s eyes as Fei Li probed her defenses and---she felt it. That state she also fell into when studying. In the moment; no distractions, no busy thoughts---how had she not understood that this was what Fei Li had wanted?

But even that was not a thought that intruded. She sensed, and reacted to each little probe the General made, reacting only so far as kept her out of Fei Li’s reach. The General’s eyes narrowed and she sped up her little thrusts and feints. And finally, it ended. And it ended with Thea standing over Fei Li, who was crouched on the other side of the room after Thea, for the first time, allowed the General to put herself into a tumble rather than the other way around.

“Hen hao,” said Fei Li. “Not so bad. Again.”

#

Another tunnel, but this time one with the fetid stench of the sewers. A shove between her shoulder-blades sent her forward, but she had felt the palm and twisted just slightly sideways so that most of the energy of the shove was deflected and she did not end up sprawled face-down in the putrid water. Hours of sewer missions had made her feet wise; she concentrated on what they were telling her and reacted to the rise and fall of the tunnels. She concentrated on what her ears were telling her from the boot-falls of the captors ahead of her and on leaving a hair, now and again.

#

“Now,” said Feil Li, “You learn to control your magic.”

She held up a box, which buzzed angrily. “There are five wasps in this box. One has been marked with a dot of paint. You must use your magic to kill them before they sting you, but you must take the one with the paint first.”

And she released the wasps.

By the time that day was over, Thea had been stung more than fifty times. But by the end of that day, no more wasps were reaching her.

“Hao,” said Fei Li. “Tomorrow, twenty wasps.”

#

Sense an automobile before herself. Drop a hair before being shoved in. Be hauled out of an auto. Drop a hair. Hear a door open. Drop a hair outside.

Feel what they were about to do and deflect their energies, or roll with a shove, for a tumble was another way to drop a hair.

But she was getting exhausted, her endurance down to a trickle. She had been tired when this started and now---now she was so drained she was actually falling asleep when she wasn’t in motion. How long had it been? A day? Two? Three? It felt like forever. She couldn’t think now, she could only react sluggishly.

And then, just as she crossed another threshold, she felt a sting against her neck, and the bottom dropped out from beneath her.

#

Alexei---

She saw him. She was floating above the Arena in Galaxy City. Alexei stood on the roof of it with another person. This was not October Star. This was an exhausted man, shoulders braced against despair, in civilian clothing. His eyes were dark-ringed with fatigue, and he stumbled a little as he approached the other.

Oh, Alexei--!

“You know where she is? Where?” he was crying hoarsely.

It was a woman---someone she had seen with Bella?

His eyes were blazing with anger at something the woman said.

But she spun away from them both before she could hear anything more, spiraling up into consciousness.

She was on the floor of a small room. She had never been in a prison cell before, but this had all the earmarks of such a place. Her hands were no longer bound, and the blindfold was off. Slowly she sat up.

“You are causing us a great deal of difficulty, Althea Nagy,” said a voice from a loudspeaker grating near the door.

“Then release me,” she replied.

“Alas,” the voice said mockingly. “We cannot do that. We have promised our nosferatu allies that the Nagy bloodline will end.”

They were going to kill her.

They were going to kill her permanently.

She would never see Alexei or her parents again---

For a moment, she was engulfed in fear and grief; she closed her eyes and concentrated only on breathing. Fear and grief got her nothing.

She thought a moment. Alexei, at least, was looking for her, if her dream was true. If she could buy time, perhaps he could find her, and perhaps he could persuade enough people to help him that he might get her free. It was a small hope, but it was the only hope she had. Words were weapons too. “You must maintain your balance by keeping your enemy unbalanced,” Fei Li’s voice said in her head.

“Whatever makes you think I am the only daughter of the Nagy line to be sent out of the House?” she asked, keeping her voice calm, and herself centered. “I am only the last of many. The bloodline will continue, whether I am gone or not.” She paused. “Now, I will sleep. You may wake me if something important happens.”

And with that, she moved closer to the wall and turned her face into it. And when she was reasonably sure they couldn’t see her, she cried.

Because the dream might not be true. Probably was not true. There was no one looking for her. Probably they felt they were well rid of her.

No one wanted her here. She was an inconvenience at best, a burden at worst.

And very soon, she would be dead.

The flame of hope sputtered and died, leaving her alone.

Alexei…..