Flame and Shadow

By Joshua Carr All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Other

Chapter 25

Now, how does one begin to track down a kidnapper who can make people disappear out of an enclosed underground town? Well, either the guy is capable of burrowing through over thirty feet of dirt and rock, grabbing an unsuspecting person, and digging his way back out undetected, or the kidnapper lives here within Nahalore. That thought made me shudder. He could be anywhere at any time. Possibly masquerading as an Ircabim, no one would suspect an ordinary citizen, in a city where we have all things in common, of perpetrating such a heinous crime.

“Well, guys.” I prompted. “Where do we start? Do we have any leads on this weirdo?”

“Hm…” Josie looked thoughtful. “Well, we know he’s a vampire, so we should probably look in a dark, secluded place for him. They don’t go out in the light, because they sparkle, and everyone would be able to tell what they were.”

I threw up in my mouth. I made a series of retching noises to try to keep it down.

She laughed.

“Just kidding! Twilight sucks butt.”

I could see Kyle struggling not to chortle. I guess it was pretty funny, even if a little irritating.

“OK, you got me. Seriously, though, what do we know so far?”

“We know where the bodies were found.” Kyle contemplated. “And we know that they were all pretty young. Past that, I have no idea.”

I thought about that for a minute. Nahalore didn’t have a police department. The authorities must have just assumed that everyone in the organization would put aside all selfish desires for the good of the community. Because that always works.

“Hm…Kyle, do you know if there’s a specific place where all of the records are kept?” I asked.

“Yeah. I’m just not sure where.”

“I think I know someone who would know. Come with me, we’re going to go pay a friend of mine a visit.”

The three of us hurried our pace down to the chapel. We had to talk to someone who had knowledge of the organization, and I could think of no one in that position that I trusted more than Todd Kopek.

When we arrived at the chapel, the first person we saw was the cardinal, James Hobbes. He was the last person I wanted to see. Hobbes was highly condemning, with a superior, holier-than-thou attitude that rubbed me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, I believed in God and His salvation through Jesus, but the stuffy religion stuff and elitism that everyone seemed to be into around here was not something that I liked. The three of us pressed up against a wall, and waited for him to pass.

After Hobbes was gone, we proceeded into the building. I headed directly for Todd’s office.

“Todd? Are you here?” I called out upon reaching his door.

“Yep! Come in!” He responded.

I pushed open the door, and my friends and I entered the room.

“What can I do for you, Sera?” Then he spotted Josie. “Ah ha! Is this the new girl I’ve heard about?”

Josie hid behind Kyle and me, so I spoke for her.

“Yep. This is Josie. She’s kinda shy at first, but we get along really well.”

“Well, glad to meet you, Josie!” Todd said amiably. “Now, what’s up? I’m sure you didn’t come down here just to introduce your new friend.”

“Right. Well, we’re tracking down the guy who kidnapped and murdered all of those people, and we’re going to bring him to justice.”

Todd’s eyebrows furrowed and his expression darkened. Before he could say anything, I hastened to add:

“We need to have any files or reports that exist on this case. “Do you have any idea if there are any, or where they would be?”

The chaplain leaned back in his chair.

“Are you sure you want to do this? It could be dangerous.”

I nodded.

“Someone has to do it, and we’re just as some as the next one.”

A slight smile came to the man’s lips.

“I can see your mind is made up. Fine. I’ll tell you where you can find the information, but you have to promise me you’ll be careful.”

I smacked my right hand on a Bible resting on Todd’s desk.

“I solemnly swear that I can’t guarantee exactly how careful that I promise to be. But we won’t die, if that’s what you mean. Don’t even worry about that.”

Todd smiled again.

“Alright…I’m not entirely convinced, but I think that, in the off chance that there will be danger, you can handle it.”

He stood up from his chair, and stood at eye level to Kyle, or only a couple of inches taller than me.

“There’s a folder with all of the case files in it in the archives. Everything that we know is in that folder.”

His voice took on a more serious tone.

“I have to warn you, though. You may be dealing with a sadistic sociopath. This kind of person is never happy unless they’re torturing other human beings. They will have no mercy. Please, try to stay out of danger if you can.”

I nodded, and the three of us left the office. Suddenly, I was struck with the desire to ask a certain question. I leaned my head back into the room, and addressed Todd.

“Um, Todd? Do you believe in me? Do you believe I’m the Fiery One, I mean.”

“I don’t know.” The man frowned. “I don’t know if I’m convinced you’re the Fiery One. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in you. You’re an amazing girl, and I know God has a plan for you, prophecy or not.”

“OK. Thanks.”

I ducked out of the office again, and caught up with Kyle and Josie. That answer did not satisfy me, so I proposed the question again, to Kyle this time.

It was hard to read the expression on his face. It looked like a mix of thoughtfulness and concern.

“You don’t believe in me, do you?”

I was crestfallen. Did anyone in this place believe in me, or was I just doomed to be some kind of pathetic joke no matter how hard I tried?

“No, no! It’s not that! It’s…um…”

Kyle stopped walking, and I did too. He looked into my face for a moment, until we made eye contact. Then he diverted his eyes to the ground nervously. He took a deep breath and continued.

“I believe that you are a strong and beautiful young woman. I believe that you won’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. I believe that you can overcome anything that comes your way. Of course I believe in you, Sera. Most of all, I believe that I love youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu-

-ranium.”

I gave him a quizzical look.

“Come again?”

“Ah, yes, uh, Uranium! I really love uranium. It’s really amazing how it can generate energy through nuclear fission and stuff.”

“OK. What did that have to do with what we were just talking about?”

He scratched his head madly.

“Well, it’s uh, you know, you can generate energy and stuff with your flames, like uranium. It’s really cool.”

“So what you’re saying is…”

“What I’m saying is…Yes. I believe in you, Sera. I would trust you with my life, any day, any time.”

His confidence made me feel magnitudes better. Even if I didn’t even believe in myself, at least Kyle believed in me.

“Thanks man! You don’t even know how much I appreciate that.”

I marched forward, ahead of the other two. Behind me, I heard Josie giggling.

“oothesmay ovemay, overboylay! OW! Hey! Cut that out!”

I had no idea what she was talking about, but I smiled anyway. It was good to hear that they were getting along.

Several minutes later, we reached the town hall, which contained the archives. We just had to take a look at the folder, to see if there was any evidence that we could use to point us the in the right direction. When we went inside, there was a receptionist sitting behind a desk, with his feet propped up. He was reading the book Fifty Shades of Grey, and a glass of ice water was sitting on the desk nearby.

We stood in front of him for nearly a minute, before I cleared my throat to get his attention. His eyes glanced up from his book, and gave us a half bored, half ticked-off expression.

“What do you want?” He droned.

I ignored his rude mannerisms, and proceeded with our inquiry.

“We need to see the case files for the recent disappearances and deaths.” I stated flatly.

The man shook his head.

“Nuh uh. I don’t think so. You think I just hand stuff like that out to people? You have no authority or credibility whatsoever.” He scoffed. “Not only that, but you’re just dumb kids. You have no business messing around with stuff like this. Now move along.”

His eyes returned to his book, and we were left standing helplessly. I wasn’t about to give up.

“Please, we’re just trying to bring justice-“

“No.”

“Todd Kopek said that we could-“

“No.”

“I’m the Fiery One of prophecy, and I demand-

“No! Who are you kidding? You’re nothing special! Now get lost!”

I stomped indignantly away, followed by my friends. When we reached the doorway, I turned to Kyle.

“You know what? You were right about one thing about me. I don’t let anyone tell me what I can’t do. This is one of those times. Now, here’s the plan…”

I whispered into Kyle’s and Josie’s ears what I had in mind. When I had finished, Kyle’s jaw dropped open, but Josie rubbed her hands together like a madwoman.

“I can’t do that, Sera! I could never-“ Kyle sputtered.

“Oh, come on, it’s just a little! He’ll be fine!” I reassured him. “Think we can make this work?

“You bet! This should be interesting!”

The three of us crept back into the large foyer where the lethargic receptionist was reading. We pressed our backs up against the front of the desk where he couldn’t see us.

OK, on three!” I whispered, before mouthing the countdown. “One…two…three!!”

Suddenly, I popped up from my hiding place, shouting “HIYAH!” With one quick movement, I snatched the book away.

The man screamed, and nearly fell out of his chair.

“Wouldn’t the bishop be fascinated to see this being read on the job? I’m sure you’ll have one heck of a confession to make!”

He attempted to snatch the book back from me. “No! Give it back! Please! Not the bishop!”

Instead of giving it back, I tossed it to Josie,

“Whoa! Hey!” She shouted. “I don’t want to touch this, you keep it!”

So she tossed it over the receptionist’s head back to me.

We did this back and forth several times, keeping it out of the reach of the desperate man. While we caused the diversion, Kyle approached the man’s glass of water, glanced around to make sure no one was looking, and stuck his finger in it. A tiny amount of purple exuded from his finger, and the water grew ever so slightly cloudier.

Seeing that the deed was done, I tossed the book back to our adversary.

“On second thought, you can keep it. It’s burning my skin. Here.”

Kyle, Josie and I hurried out of the room, leaving the flustered man alone again. We crouched just outside the door, observing him through the glass.

“Patience…”

He sat back down, settling in with his book again. I watched with glee as he lifted his glass, and took a drink without prying his eyes from the pages.

“It is now only a matter of time…”

It was a matter of not very much time. Within seconds of consuming the drink, he made a series of strange faces and gestures, before rushing from his desk to the restroom.

“Score!” I pumped my fist. “Nice work, Kyle! And they said poison calling wasn’t good for anything!”

“Poison calling is for destruction, but mine is so weak, I have pretty precise control over how dangerous it actually is.”

“Well, this is one very good application. Good job, man!” I congratulated, running toward where the receptionist had been.

I quickly circumnavigated the desk, and started searching through the file cabinets behind it.

“Nope, nope, nope, nothing, Ah Ha! Found it!”

I emerged from the drawer with a manila folder, marked “Kidnappings”, and had a series of dates on it. That sounded right. Josie and Kyle joined me as I thumbed through the files. Honestly, there wasn’t that much to see. There was only a page or two for each incident. I randomly grabbed a packet consisting of two pages stapled together, and took a glance through it.

The subject of the packet was a 14-year-old boy with electric powers. His name was John. He had disappeared three years ago, without a trace. There was very little helpful information. Just a picture, age when he disappeared, current age, and other similar data. No observations of the perpetrator, no leads as to the location of from where, or to where he was taken, nothing. There was one thing though…

Kyle leaned over my shoulder.

“Have you found anything interesting?”

“Well, I’m not sure. Take a look at this.” I flipped through the reports again. “There is one, and only one, representative of each elemental type. See? Wind, electricity, poison, beam…”

“OK. What does that mean?”

“I’m not sure exactly, but I think it might support our idea that the kidnapper is running some kind of experiment.”

“What kind of experiment?”

“I don’t know, exactly.” I admitted. “But it’s pretty suspicious. I wonder if Tsalderek is behind it after all, or if there’s someone else out there who wants to destroy us.”

Josie gave a somewhat confused glance.

“Destroy us? Why?”

“Well…” I wasn’t sure how to explain something like this. Did she really not know anything? “There are people out there, who think that we’re evil. They believe that they’re right, and we’re wrong. And they want to kill us for it.”

“Wow. That doesn’t sound good. What’re we going to do about it?”

“We’re going to put an end to it, as soon as we find them.” Then I considered what our course of action should be. “I guess we should go check out where they found the bodies. Maybe we can find some kind of lead there.”

“But, that would require us leaving the city!” Kyle worried.

“Hm, well, I could always check it out on my own. I really don’t want to get you two in trouble or hurt or anything.”

“No way!” Josie exclaimed. “We’re coming with you!”

This was not going how I had planned it to go. I was hoping to leave them out of it altogether, but they were getting in pretty deep now. Well, I guess they might as well come. It couldn’t hurt to have a couple of extra minds and bodies on the scene.

Before I said my conclusion out loud, I started to put the folder back in the drawer. Just then, I decided we might as well keep it with us. As I turned back around, a small scrap of paper fell to the floor. I quickly picked it up. The only thing written on it were two typed out large font words:

Come Alone

“What’s that, Sera?” Kyle inquired.

I hesitated for a moment.

“It’s nothing.” I finally answered.

I deliberated for a moment. If I wanted to leave my friends out of this before, the feeling was doubled now. This could be really dangerous. It was my idea, and I’m the only one who should be at risk here.

“Hey, guys?” I got their attention.

“Yeah?”

“I’m changing my mind. We shouldn’t go outside the city unless it’s our last resort.” I tapped the folder in my hands. “Let’s try talking to the families of the victims. We might be able to get a good lead from there.”

“OK.”

“Sounds good!”

Alright, so far so good. As we walked out of the town hall, I removed several stapled packets from the folder.

“We’ll be able to interview the families faster if we split up. Here.”

I handed each of them two reports.

“We’ll all see what we can find, and meet back at the town hall when we’re done. OK?”

“I don’t know…” Josie was hesitant. “I really don’t want to go alone like this. Can’t I come with you?”

“Josie, the only way we’re going to be able to get a lead in any reasonable amount of time is if we interview the families as fast as possible. The best way to do that is to get three done at a time. Come on. This is for the best.”

And it’s for your own good.

“Um, OK. I’ll try.” The girl took a report, and slowly walked away.

Kyle took his packets nervously.

“Are you sure it’s a good idea for us to be splitting up like this, when we know there’s a kidnapper around?”

Come on, Kyle! I’m trying to keep you safe here!

“Yeah, it’ll be OK. I mean, he hasn’t kidnapped anyone in a couple of years. This is practically a cold case. What are the odds that he’d do it again now?”

“Yeah, you’re right. I still don’t like it…”

Although he wasn’t happy about it, Kyle still agreed to interview a couple of families, leaving me alone at last. OK. I’m going to check out where they found the bodies. In the folder, there was a report on the discovery of the corpses. I took a look at it, and found that it had a depiction of a map, as well as a verbal description of the location. Alright. I’d start looking there. Maybe I could find some clue as to the identity or the location of the kidnapper.

Several hours later, I found myself wandering through a thick wood outside of the underground city. I turned the map 90 degrees to the left, then again, then back and forth in different angles. Damnit. I’m horrible with directions. I only recently stopped getting lost on the way to the chapel inside of the underground city, and that took almost six years! Now, here I am out on the surface, trying to find a place I’ve never even been. What was I thinking?

At least it was a beautiful day. The sun shone through gaps in the trees above, and I could hear all manner of birds singing. Well, even if this search yielded nothing, at least I could try to enjoy being outside for a while. It was pretty rare that I left the town.

Eventually, I stumbled across a river which cut its way through the forest. Was this the same river where the bodies were found? If so, I could just follow it down until I found something. As I walked along the gentle flow, I peered through the contents of the folder again. What was this guy’s modus operandi? I could find no discernable pattern, with the exception that all of his victims were under the age of 20.

And one of each elemental type.

Suddenly I started to get very nervous. He had already taken one of every single elemental caller. But I’m the first fire caller who has ever been found in Nahalore. Even though the day was not too hot, I started sweating. My eyes darted frantically at the sound of every creaking branch, or rustling leaf.

The kidnapper must have known that I would try to investigate this. He had planted that note for me to find, in hopes that I would come alone to keep my friends safe. I needed to get out of there, and get back to the town as quickly as possible.

Suddenly, the narrow, gently flowing river began to grow turbulent. The waters frothed and raged for no apparent reason. Then, an enormous wave emerged, growing 20 feet into the air. This couldn’t be real, could it?

It certainly felt real as it crashed over me, dragging me down into the river. I struggled and thrashed against the powerful current for a moment, but I knew it was hopeless. The same terror that always paralyzed me when I entered the water gripped my body, and I was unable to swim. The water stung my eyes, and flooded my nose and lungs. I tried to scream, but the water rushed into my mouth, choking me. The world started to grow black as I sunk beneath the turbulent tide.

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