Flame and Shadow

By Joshua Carr All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Other

Chapter 36

Was this how it would end? Dani bleeding to death right here in my arms? I clutched Dani tightly as her breathing slowed and her eyes closed.

No.

Not this time. If there was even the slightest possibility that she might be able to survive, I would fight for it. If she did have a chance, it wouldn’t be laying here in this weird forest, bleeding out on the ground. I had to do something.

Scooping her up in my arms, I started to run. I wasn’t certain where I was going, but I had a hunch. There was no way in the world that the relatively short amount of time we had spent in the truck was enough to travel to some kind of tropical rainforest. It was almost certainly fabricated. Enclosed. Which meant…there was a way out.

Pushing my tired legs as fast as they could go, I went in what I thought was the opposite direction of the command center. Dani seemed as light as a feather. I hardly even noticed her weight in my mad sprint. I threw caution to the wind, completely disregarding the deadly traps that peppered the forest.

My high-speed dash set off a number of the devices: explosions, trap doors, snares, and hidden blades were activated constantly. I sprinted onward, doing my best to avoid injury, and pushing through when I couldn’t. All the while, I was silently praying: Don’t let Dani Die. We’ll make it out. I know it. Don’t let her die.

Up ahead was what appeared to be a solid wall, obscured by flora. I knew that we had reached the boundary of the arena, but I had no idea how to get past it. Then, I noticed a set of tire tracks leading directly from a part in the wall. It must be a door for vehicles to enter and exit the arena. I was placing all of my bets on the doorway being the weak part of the barrier. Increasing my speed, I ran headlong directly between the tire tracks, lowered my shoulder, and hit the door at full force.

It burst open, and I tumbled onto the hard concrete floor. Dani fell from my grasp, and her body slid just a few feet away from me. The image of her laying there on her back, covered in blood, would forever be burned into my brain. Thoughts of Trinity lying in a similar position still clung with me. There was a difference, though. It wasn’t too late for my girl. I was battered and exhausted, but I couldn’t rest. Not when Dani still needed me.

I forced myself to my feet, picked her up in my arms, and walked quickly through the compound. I didn’t know exactly where I was, but there were people all around, assumedly Tsalderek employees or agents, possibly assisting in monitoring the final exam. I called out to them.

“Please! Help! Is there a doctor, or a medic, or anything? Please!”

Only silence was my response. Some individuals ignored my pleas entirely, others glared menacingly. I continued onward, still crying for someone to help the girl dying in my arms.

“Please! Someone! She’s going to die without help!”

Finally, someone replied to me.

“Serves her right! The cheating bitch!”

I glowered at the man.

“What was that?!”

“You heard me! We could watch every second of the exam from here, and we know exactly what both of you did. That goes against everything Tsalderek stands for. She’s getting exactly what she deserves, and frankly, that’s what you deserve too!”

I ignored the hostile person, and continued looking for assistance for a while, before it became clear that his opinion was the most popular one. No one in that entire place was willing to save her life, all saying that she was simply reaping the consequences of her actions. Any illusion I had of Tsalderek’s righteousness was shattered. They would condemn a girl to death, just for violating what they thought were the rules of engagement. Where would it stop?

Then, I realized that I would find no help for Dani there. I made my way to where vehicles were deployed to the outside (on the opposite side of the compound from the doors into the arena). Once there, I decided to do something that I had learned from the girl that I was now holding in my arms. That was, to borrow a ride.

There was a row of motorcycles along the east wall. I grabbed the closest one, sat Dani on the seat between me and the handlebars, and started it up. A moment later, we screeched out of the compound and into the fresh air outside. Making a large loop, I couldn’t help but notice the engineering marvel that was the testing center. The majority of the synthetic rainforest must have been underground. A gradually sloping dome peaked at around 15 feet above the ground, and was well-masked by the native foliage. Of course the tropical jungle would be indoors; the plants would never survive the harsh Ontario winters.

There was no time to observe the details of its design. Dani was fading fast, and I had no time to lose. After driving for a couple of minutes, I began to recognize where we were. The examination arena was actually less than ten miles from Tsalderek’s headquarters. With that knowledge, I came up with a course of action. I remembered seeing a hospital in the town of Bindmont. My mind was excellent at storing locations and orientations, and I knew I could make it there. Now, if only Dani would survive long enough to get there.

With single-minded determination, I cranked the throttle, and the engine roared loudly on the course to Bindmont.

Some time later, I stood powerlessly by as Dani’s unconscious body was loaded on a mobile bed and wheeled away by an assembly of doctors. We had made it to the hospital in record time, but it still may have been too late. Her wounds had been severe, at it had been at least 20 minutes since she had been mutilated. I had done all that I possibly could, and now her life was in the hands of the medical professionals.

If only I could have done more. My anger and concern stewed silently within my soul as I appeared to stand calmly in the hallway of the hospital. A while later, a nurse exited the room where Dani had been taken. She approached me, and my heart sank, fearing the worst.

“She’s lost a lot of blood.” The woman said woefully. “We’re doing all we can, but I’m not sure if she’s going to make it. She’s pretty far gone.”

I nodded silently, and the nurse awkwardly stood by for a moment, before walking back into the room. My spirits were abysmally low. I did this to her. If I hadn’t caught her up in all of this serious rivalry and prophecy stuff, she wouldn’t have been in any danger whatsoever, and wouldn’t be going through this right now. I should have known better. I was dangerous. Anyone who ever gets close to me would get killed.

Just then, something in my pocket vibrated ever so slightly. I dismissed it at first, attributing it to nerves or injuries in my leg. Then, it occurred again, and I remembered placing the earpiece receiver in my pocket, back in the arena. Reaching into my pocket, I retrieved the device, and hesitantly placed it into my ear. After a second, a deep, unfamiliar voice sounded in my ear.

“Milo. This is Razo.”

Commander Razo himself! I had never even heard him speak, and, if Master Sagar were to be believed, neither had anyone else. What could he possibly want with me? Was he personally issuing my death warrant for running away?

“I saw everything. I saw your test, your female companion’s injuries, and your flight. Based on these actions, you are deserving of capital punishment.”

Just what I thought. I immediately began thinking about a plan of retreat. Where could I run?

The voice continued.

“However, I am offering you a one-time chance at redemption. You will be reinstated into Tsalderek, promoted to agency, and I will personally ensure that your friend receives the most advanced medical treatment available on the planet.”

My ears perked up, and my heart jumped. This sounded too good to be true! Everything could be back to normal, and, most importantly, Dani would have the best chance at survival possible with Tsalderek’s medical technology. What conditions could he possibly have for such a generous offer?

“The only thing you have to do, is obtain something for me. Our enemy Nahalore has come across a written section of the written prophecy that guides your future. If you can steal it from their headquarters and return it to me, I will make good on my offer.”

I was equally elated and despondent. That sounded like a very significant task, and I would love to see the prophecy for myself. However, no one had ever even found Nahalore’s base of operations, much less managed to break and enter and escape with their lives. Was Razo sending me on a suicide mission?

“Nahalore has recently suffered an attack from Teklos, the same organization that struck us six years ago. They are weakened, and their security systems are still down. Now is the time to infiltrate. Only I know the location of their headquarters, and soon, you will too. My associate will deliver to you the directions.”

My mind was swirling with thoughts. Why would he choose me? If they were that much weakened and he knew the location, why not send an army of our best trained agents to destroy those Nephilim once and for all? I could not ponder any further, as a dark skinned nurse wheeled an empty cart down the hall, and rolled it to a stop against me. I looked at her for a second. I knew her from somewhere, of that I was sure, but she was wearing a surgical mask, and I couldn’t place her face. In a moment, she was gone. I glanced down at the supposedly empty cart. Underneath a pile of medical charts and papers, I found a pistol, and a small black electronic device. I picked up the device, and looked it over in my hands.

“The item that you are now holding contains a map to Nahalore’s headquarters, as well as a method of entry. I trust that you will depart immediately.”

He then paused for a moment, before resuming in an intensified tone.

“Milo. I need you, and you need me. Not only is this the chance to unlock the secrets about your destiny, but it’s the only chance to save your friend’s life.”

I nodded. There may very well be fine print in this deal, but I could sort that out later. Dani needed me, and I guess the rest of the world did too. I knew what I had to do.

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