Chapter 21:Well-Laid Plans
“I don’t trust them!” Jacobs cursed for the about the tenth time since they stored the captured archon mana away in the reserve cells that Sarah’s team had constructed in the house’s north wing.
Sarah and her team had relocated their rooms there to properly guard their stash of super-concentrated, mana-powered energy. Hal Jacobs, Michael Creed, and Sarah Keating shared a set of connected suites that were located at the end of a hall where the rest of her team resided. Anyone coming for them would have to fight their way through a gauntlet of trained soldiers or engage in a battle with them at their backs and the deadly vortex guns – as the soldiers had been calling them – before them.
A lone figure walked those halls as if he had not a care in the world and casually knocked on the door.
“Yeah, what is it?” Jacobs called.
The door opened, and Jornell, in the body of Nathan Leider, current operations director of the Calvin Foundation and its nigh-unlimited resources, entered the room. He wore a dour expression that boded neither mirth nor kindness.
“What the fuck do you want?” Creed sneered.
“Leave us,” Jornell simply said without expression, and both men began heading for the door before Jacobs managed to stop himself.
He shook his head clear and drew his modified pistol, a retrofitted vortex gun, at the deadly archon. “Don’t try that again!” he warned.
Jornell didn’t even bother turning his way. He merely stared evenly at Sarah, and the faintest touch of a smile graced his lips.
“It’s okay. Go,” Sarah said calmly.
“Are you insane? Leave you alone with him? No way… ma’am.” Jacobs said.
“I’ll be alright. If he wanted to harm me, you’d be dead already,” she reasoned. “Go, I said.”
“We’ll be right outside the door,” Jacobs responded, and it sounded like he was talking to Jornell more than to Sarah.
“A shame. I was hoping they’d force me to end their pitiful lives,” Jornell scoffed when they were gone.
“As if you’d even need that excuse,” Sarah taunted him.
Jornell shrugged. “True, but then you’d likely replace them with even more incompetent help that I would have to suffer.”
“A true optimist,” Sarah retorted.
For the first time, she heard Jornell laugh, though it was a cheerless chuckle at best. He moved near to her, and truly she was terrified at what he might do. She fingered the device in her pocket, a detonator that would ignite all the captured mana in the house, blowing him, her, and all the others to whatever hell existed out there in the Astral Plane that Amber had once told her about.
“Oh, do not worry, my dear. If I wished you harm, you’d be dead already,” he said, mocking her earlier words.
“It is not my death, I fear. I know you can do far worse with your touch.” Though in truth, she did fear her death, yet not nearly as much as what the archon could unravel her mind into – an unwilling, mindless thrall or some craven wretch that would slaver to his will.
“Now what fun would that be?” he said, taking her chin in his hand, and for a moment, she tensed fiercely, unable to control her reaction. “You are the only one here worth talking to.”
“Good, because you know what I can do if you try to enslave me,” she knew Jornell was not the type that could be upended by threats, even honest ones, but she wanted to test his judgment.
He laughed sardonically. “I’m afraid that would bother me far less than you imagine. You see I am a violet archon, after all. I quite enjoy the tragedy of it all, even my own, and I thoroughly adore the desperation of others.” His mouth stretched into a wide grin. “I thrive on it!”
The archon was so close to her, his face inches from hers, his eyes dancing with promise and expectation. She could feel his breath on her and took in its heady scent.
“That’s what makes you more precarious than any of your archonic colleagues,” she spoke softly. “You act as if you have nothing to lose even as you set plans into motion. Calculating, yet unpredictable, prone to the ultimate acts of desperation. But you do have a great deal to lose now, Jornell, not the least of it is your vengeance on Donald Calvin.”
He merely shrugged and cocked his head at her. He truly was a dour entity. Completely unexcitable. The hardest kind of target to manipulate, and he was so good at the game, himself. Neither of them needed to mention what would happen when they finally caught their prey. They would both attempt to outmaneuver each other and dispose of any threat to their own agenda. That likely meant Jornell would try to enslave her or ruin her. And she would try to destroy him.
“You know as well as I what it will take to track down the Calvin wretch. Perhaps if you behave yourself through this venture, I’ll let your little bloodhound live,” he said, as if reading her thoughts.
She closed her eyes and exhaled forcefully, refusing to give in to his taunts. She pulled from his grip and turned away from him. “You didn’t come here to threaten Amber, Jornell. What do you want?” she asked, done with his games. She had lost.
How do you fluster someone that cares for no one and nothing?
But he refused to let her escape so easily. She felt his hands on her shoulders. “In a few minutes, we will be meeting with our pawns to decide how we will undertake this venture. I need to know before we go in there if you can manipulate our dear seeker into working for us.”
She pulled away from him again, and this time paced for a few minutes in honest thought before taking a seat. “I’m not sure if we will even have that need. Taylor was obviously here looking for her father, and it now seems apparent that Amber was helping her. She is not one to give up on a quest once she has her sights on something, especially if that quest involves seeking a target. She is a hunter.”
“And if she is not properly motivated, I assume you can ‘persuade’ her? I promise you will not like my methods if have to do it myself. She seemed rather fond of that dark-haired brat.”
“That won’t be necessary!” Sarah said a little too intensely. “I’ll take care of it.”
He shrugged. “As you wish.”
Just then, the door sounded with a fervent series of knocks. Sarah sighed in relief, glad for the interruption. In truth, she was frazzled by the archon’s games, and wanted to be done with him until she could recompose herself.
“Come in,” she called.
Michael Creed entered the room. “Ma’am, we just found an audio bug in the house. We are sweeping the rest of the estate for more.”
She silently cursed under her breath, hoping that Liam had not learned too much already. But she merely nodded her head to the soldier. At least it was unlikely that anything had been planted in the north wing of the house, she mused.
“Clear the study first,” Jornell ordered.
When the man looked to her, Sarah nodded her agreement.
“Your old friends are more resourceful than I thought,” Jornell said to her when Mr. Creed had left. “This may prove interesting after all.”
Sarah wasn’t sure she liked the implications behind those words any more than his previous portents.
“We may have to postpone the test of your mana bombs just yet,” Jornell mused ominously. “Shame, I was almost looking forward to that empty threat of yours. You know, I might even survive it thanks to the remarkable might I recently acquired from Teijurzi.”
“What?!” Sarah blurted before she could hide her surprise.
“Oh, you didn’t know?” he said, curiously. “That was the Calvin girl’s true, archonic name. The name which all other archons would know her.”
He must have mistook her shock for honest and complete ignorance, for he shrugged and then left her there. But, Sarah’s head was spinning. That was the name of the archon trapped in Amber’s talisman! How could it be the same as Taylor? The thought entirely perplexed her as she sat there alone with her thoughts.
Jornell entered the room, the last to arrive. He had planned it this way, though he had been listening to their conversation. The humans and his fellow archons were all seated around the table, and appeared to be rather uneasy with each other. That was a good sign. They would be easier to direct if they were unsure of themselves.
“Glad you decided to join us,” the hulking Haverion jeered at him with a spiteful grin. “We started without you.”
“Yes, but predictably you didn’t get anything worthwhile done,” Jornell retorted. He earned another sneer from Haverion for that one. Since Haverion had taken the seat at the head of the table, Jornell chose to remain standing above them.
“Miss Keating here tells us that you plan to use the seeker to hunt down the yáng guǐzi,” Wu’laujan said. She was finally using her true name had chosen a young, small Chinese woman for her body of choice.
Fitting, Jornell thought sardonically.
“A prudent plan if we can direct her properly, but dangerous,” Wu’laujan finished.
“Dangerous?” Jornell questioned. “I don’t see how. We will not expose ourselves. We will shadow them from a distance using our new, human allies. She cannot detect them.”
“Do not underestimate Amber,” Sarah warned. “She is more resourceful than you know. Let me handle her, and me alone. Everyone else keeps away from them, or I will see you destroyed,” she addressed them as a group.
She has regrown her spine since our last encounter. Good. The game is more fun that way, Jornell thought to himself, but he merely shrugged.
“The pretty lady speaks the truth,” Wu’laujan said thoughtfully and seemed unaffected by her threat. “Amber and her allies have gained considerable power since she was the devil’s guest.”
“They have wild card blood, too,” Haverion sneered maliciously.
“It would be prudent to learn their source, for they have it in wealth. One of them seems to wear it, and uses wild card gloves to deadly effect,” Wu’laujan added, unconsciously bringing her hand to her throat.
“I have gained considerable power too, do not forget,” Jornell reminded them. It was a threat and reminder to them all more than anything else, and they all knew it.
“Enough posturing!” the volatile Haverion erupted, rising to his feet and resting his hands on the table. It smoked slightly beneath his palms. “How do we direct the seeker without alerting her? If what I hear is true, you are not welcome by them anymore, and she knows you are here with us,” he said to Sarah.
“Amber is clever. She knew Donald Calvin was tracking you in Brazil. She will likely go on the run from us and try to reach him, looking for an ally against us. And she has never been one to dawdle. She will move soon. I will watch her and determine her movements.”
“She will attempt to persuade the young archon he guards to her cause as well,” advised Jornell. “We will let her get us close, but we cannot let her make contact. Be sure you make arrangement to prevent that, or we will,” he spoke to Sarah, but his eyes – and his smile – were directed at Haverion.
The black archon grinned wickedly back at him.
“If she is as smart as you say she is, ma’am, won’t she suspect us shadowing them?” Michael Creed spoke up.
“Yes, but that won’t stop her. It will only make her more dangerous and elusive,” Sarah said. “Another reason to keep your distance.”
“We have equipment that can do that for us,” one of Jacob’s soldiers spoke up, though he hadn’t been important enough for Jornell to know his name before then. “We don’t have to get close.”
“Good point,” Jacobs remarked. “That will be your job, O’Neill. Tell Brooker to get the surveillance equipment and manage the effort. Report to me when it’s ready to go.”
The soldier nodded and stood. “I’ll get right on it.” Then he hustled out of the room.
They spent several more minutes discussing their plans, and another of Sarah’s henchmen was tasked with making travel plans for the group. Jornell had to admit he was fairly impressed with Hal Jacobs’ leadership and professionalism, for a human. It was quite apparent that Donald Calvin spared no expense when hiring his crack team of commandos.
An argument over who would direct their movements was beginning to erupt when an agitated, younger soldier burst into the room. Jornell noticed that several of the room’s occupants including Haverion and Creed were half on their feet, ready for action, before realizing there was no need for such.
“Sir!” the newcomer called hurriedly, addressing Mr. Jacobs. “We found a body!”
“What? Who?” he said and looked at the archons suspiciously.
“It’s O’Neill! We found him stuffed in a closet while sweeping for bugs!”
“What?!” Creed exclaimed. “He just left here!” but the young soldier looked at him doubtfully.
“Show me,” Jornell ordered. Something was not right about it.
The soldiers looked at him distrustfully for just a fleeting moment before everyone shuffled from their seats and started for the door. They followed the young mercenary to a hallway closet, pushing the crowd of soldiers and house staff aside to peer in. Ryan O’Neill’s corpse was slumped into the small space, yet there wasn’t a mark on him, and his body was already beginning to stiffen. He had been there for hours.
“We have a spy in our midst,” Jornell pronounced, amused. “An archon, or perhaps a powerful vessel, did this.”
It would be a while before they found out that he was no longer in the mansion. The fools were ever so slow. Likely, they had just found the body, though it had been there for hours. His lips curled up in a devilish smile.
The fools, he repeated to himself as he watched the Calvin mansion receding into the distance rapidly behind him.
His trip “home” had been interesting to say the least. Things had changed rather drastically in the past several years. He had expected to slip into the house and possess Donald Calvin, taking the tycoon’s fortune for himself. From that it point, it would be a small matter to dispose of the Keating bitch, find the Walker girl, and make her his own little plaything again.
But it appeared he had arrived too late. The prince of misery had taken the reigns of the Calvin Foundation for himself and laid his own fiendish plans with Keating. He had long suspected the depth of Sarah Keating’s treachery was far deeper than Calvin had suspected, not that he would ever tell that to Calvin.
He looked at the small device sitting on the seat next to him. A vortex gun they had called it. Soon enough, he would see just what the device’s capabilities were. And he knew just who he wanted to try it out upon.
Soon, he promised himself.
He took a few moments to decide upon his next course of action. If what he had heard in the house was true, Amber was surrounded by too many powerful friends to take her directly, but Donald Calvin was hurt and on the run with the bitch’s daughter. He laughed to himself. He knew just how to ensnare both of them in his trap with a single piece of bait. And thanks to Sarah’s Keating’s enterprising young mind, he now had a tool capable of setting his plan in motion. They thought they would be able to track down Calvin in time, but no, he knew the miserable wretch better than them all. He alone knew where to start the hunt.
But first, he could afford some time to play with his new toy. He glanced over his shoulder to see her passed out on the back seat. Her vehicle registration said her name was Rachel, but it wouldn’t be for long.
“Tsk, Tsk,” Visnau chided her. “You should know better than to stop for strangers on the road, my sweet.”