Consciousness came in bits and pieces. Kyle’s first thought upon waking was “I’m not dead.” He remembered the incident with the salamander fairly clearly, though the end was a little muddled, so the “not dead” bit was kind of a surprise. In fact, he didn’t even feel that bad. Neither his head nor any other part of his body hurt. Actually, it was more than that. He felt kind of energized. Well, maybe he’d managed to drag enough magic into reality that had given him some of the health benefits the Archmagi experienced. That would be nice. Charles would be proud.
He was going back to Charles. Sandborn said the Children weren’t a threat and if they were still playing around with the Room it was their own stupid fault. Maybe Kyle had permanently killed the salamander, maybe it would pop back into being the next time they opened the room and eat them all. Either way, if they couldn’t learn from their first near death experience that was their own fault.
With that thought, Kyle opened his eyes and tried to sit up. That was when he learned he was bound and gagged.
Something caught at his shoulders, fabric pulled tight across his chest and he couldn’t move. He found himself looking at the ceiling of the room he shared with Jessie. At least he thought it was that ceiling the light looked right; the parts of the walls he could see out of the corner of his eyes looked about right.
Of course, their ceiling hadn’t had a big note on it before, but Kyle assumed whoever had tied him up was trying to be nice by leaving that. It read:
Kyle, you and Jessie are safe.
Yes you are restrained. However, in a few hours your phone and Jessie’s will send an email to the local police telling them to let you free. By that time we’ll be a long way away. The Children of Atlantis are going to keep working to make the world a better place, but now that the Room is open we’re done here.
I hope this won’t bother you. In fact, I hope you’ll be happy to learn our work is going forward, but in the end I’m just not sure I can trust you.
Kyle raised his head as far as he could and looked down at this body. He was in some sort of sturdy work jump suit. Only his arms had been tapped to his torso, his legs had been taped together, and his hands had been secured in some sort of tape mittens. It felt like someone had punched a hole in the shoulders of the garment and chained each shoulder to the corner of the bed. He couldn’t see his feet very well but it looked like something with chain was going on down there as well. He could turn his head and wiggle a very little bit, but that was about it.
The gag in his mouth was pure professional grade. His teeth were held clenched shut around a bite plate with a broad strap that went from the top of his chin to the crown of his head. The gag was the system the police used when they had to transport a dangerous magic user without any sort of magical suppression field or tranquilization. He could breath just fine, but he couldn’t speak to trigger a spell. The tape was doing the same thing on his fingers.
He struggled a bit. Or at least he wiggled until he was hot, his hair was a mess, and he’d lost his pillow. It didn’t do any good, so he lay back and waited. He felt the strangest sense of relief. This was it. He’d done all he could. The children would, or would not get themselves turned into salamander chow. Either way he’d both warned and fought for them. They either would, or wouldn’t, do something evil. Either way he’d tried to prevent it.
So now he was done. He could lay in bed, worry that the note was a lie or that Jessie was in danger, and wait for the cops to come. Once he thought of some other way to wiggle out of his bonds other than literally wiggling out of his bonds, he’d try that again. But for now he was out of the fight and that felt just fine.
Which was when Richard and Amadeus burst through the door. They were doing their freaky hyper coordinated thing so they both came through it at once one of them rolling left and the other right. They both scanned their side of the room, then without any verbal communication they relaxed. Sort of relaxed at least. They quit crouching on the floor looking as though they expected the armoire to attack at any instant. Instead Amadeus walked to the door and stood looking out. As he did so, Kyle noticed he had a small bit of something rubbery stuck to his back and it appeared to be on fire. He would have inspected that more closely but Richard pulled a switch-blade out of his pocket and started to walk toward him.
Kylye assumed the knife was to cut his bonds, not his neck. Because of this, and to his credit, he didn’t struggle as Richard came at him, but his eyes probably widened a bit. Fortunately, there was no bloody death. With a quick professionalism Richard sliced the back of Kyle’s jumpsuit where the chain was connected freeing his upper body.
“Sit up,” Richard said.
Kyle sat up and Richard worked at his head for a moment then Kyle felt the pressure at his chin slack as the gag came away. Kyle really wished he was a fictional wizard at that point. Had he been something out of legend he would have just chanted in a guttural dead language and his other restraints would have burst into cold fire then burnt away to ash. Unfortunately, he didn’t know that spell so he had to wait for Richard to slit the tape on his arms and bonds at his feet.
Still he had a use for his mouth, “Andy you’re on fire.”
Amadeus asked, “What? At the same time he turned to look at Kyle, and noticed the thing stuck to his coat. He swatted it off and stomped on it. “Bastards blew up our car. I think that was a chunk of tire.”
“Yeah, we got a call from Sandborn. He said we should go check out the Children’s house. So we go, but it seems fishy, so we go slow and careful. That saved us, but only just barley, there was some guy out on the corner. He pointed a bone at us and mouthed something.”
“I’ve seen that before,” Richard said; he was almost finished cutting Kyle free.
“Good thing to. He threw open his door and jumped out of the car pulling me after. We hit and rolled, but that was better than being inside. The car was gone seconds later. Actually, I’m pretty sure the guy thought we were toast because he bugged out of there before we were even off the road.”
“Sandborn set us up,” Richard growled.
“Are you certain?”
Amadeus shrugged, “As certain as we can be. Like I said, he’s been acting fishy, it was strange for him to send us here, and then we got attacked. We tried to call him after it happened, but the receptionist said he was on vacation, said he was going to be out all week. His cell phone goes right to voice mail, and we got an e-mail that tipped us off that the children would be meeting with their leader.
Kyle didn’t say anything to that because he had tape in his mouth. Richard had freed his arms and now he was tearing his hands out of their masking tape mittens. It hurt badly as the tape came off his skin because most of his hair came with it. Richard might have managed something more comfortable, but Kyle couldn’t wait. What had been a minor worry for Jessie had suddenly become full blown fear.
As soon as his hands were free he flipped them around in the signs that made the green light they’d used to communicate via Tekhnikos Oratio appear. He thought, hoped really, that it took just a tiny bit more energy than usual to summon.
“What’s that,” Richard asked.
“Communications spell,” Kyle answered without really taking his eyes off the glowing green spark.
They all watched the spark for a little while before Amadeus asked, “I don’t think we’ve got time for this. Sandborn wouldn’t have attacked us unless he was ready to put whatever plan he’s got in to action. We,” here he nodded his head at Richard, “think he’s been working with the Children from the beginning. We think he’s the guy Jessie saw when she saw their leader meeting with Alison. He brought you in on all of this to try to get a hook into the archmagi and, failing that, to use your magical skills then set you up to take the fall for whatever he’s doing.”
“So, what’s that got to do with us now?”
“We need to stop him!”
“So call the cops,” Kyle sounded angrier than he would have liked, but it sounded an awful lot like the bounty hunter wanted him to give up trying to help Jessie.
Richard answered, “We did! We called the locals, and I called a friend I’ve got on the force in Washington as soon as we realized we weren’t going to catch bone guy. The locals just wanted to do a report, they might check out the Room but there’s going to be a delay. My friends swore he’d get it looked into fast, but even if he pushes hard it’ll take hours before they’re willing to send a team to inspect unknown magic. Do you have any idea of the procedures that go in to a thing like that? They’ll clear the whole block first!”
Amadeus nodded in the direction of the note above Kyle’s bed, “I think maybe the Children aren’t on quite the same page as Sandborn. They left you here even though you know enough that it could be a real threat to Sandborn. My guess is they aren’t doing everything he told them. That makes me think they’re telling the truth and it gives us a very short window before Sandborn reacts.” He stressed short in a way that suggested he was ready to take off running
“That’s not a risk I’m taking!”
Richard opened his mouth, but he didn’t get a chance to say anything else as the light above Kyle’s hand cut out. Jessie signaling that she saw the signal.
Kyle brought up other lights, then waited for them to flicker out proving that Jessie’s end of the spell was active. Once that was in place he sent. Are you safe?
The answer came back: Safe, tied up. There’s a note that says the police are going to be coming. You?
Also safe, Kyle answered, Had the same note. Free now. R and A came. Where R U?
Out in the garage in the van.
Kyle shook his head a little seeing that response. Why would the Children have put her there? Not that it mattered. Coming, he sent then turned to the other two. “She’s in the garage. We won’t loose any time getting her.
Richard nodded once, then both of the bounty hunters took off towards the garage. For once, Kyle had no problem keeping up with the men.
They found Jessie laid out on one of the seats of the Children’s van. Once Kyle saw her, he thought he understood why they’d put her in the van. They didn’t want her to overheat. Like Kyle she was trussed up in an improvised straight jacket though she didn’t have a gag. Unlike Kyle, the Children had used a heavy sleeping bag for her restraints. It made sense, she was a lot stronger than Kyle and during the fight with the salamander they’d seen that in action. It would have gotten really hot had she been in the house. The garage wasn’t freezing but it also wasn’t well heated so it must have seemed like a safer place to put her. Richard had her free pretty quickly.
As soon as she could move again and was out of the car, Jessie wrapped Kyle hug that made his spine pop. “I was so worried about you!”
“They didn’t leave you a note?”
“I wasn’t worried the Children had hurt you, well maybe I was a little worried about that, but I was mostly worried you’d done something to yourself while fighting the salamander. When we got to the map cavern you were…” She trailed off, but Kyle knew how he’d been: face down on a rock unresponsive. If he’d been awake for it, he would have worried about himself aswell. He wasn’t entirely certain what had happened there either.
Still, that was past, “What happened then?”
Jessie pulled away from him and shrugged, “Well, I got Alison into the map chamber like you said. I carried her in there because the tunnel had cooled off enough that if I moved fast I could make it through without getting hurt, but I didn’t think she would be quick enough.” She scowled a little at that, “I might have been getting a little fuzzy there. I’m fast, but I don’t think I was that much faster than a normal person in that tunnel. Anyway, the map proved pretty simple to work.”
“The exit was up in Canada, but we moved it here and came back out. I wanted to take you to the hospital, but Alison said you had just passed out from too much magic and would be fine soon. They gave me a rum and coke to calm me down, and someone must have roofied me because next thing I know I’m waking up in the hung over as hell. I’m just glad I had the healing spell or I would have been laying in this van with vomit on the floor.” Then she crushed him with another hug. “Thank god she wasn’t lying about you being OK.”
Kyle wasn’t so certain Alison hadn’t been lying, but he didn’t dwell on that. Instead he gave her a little kiss and then suggested they move into the house as the garage was both cramped and a little chilly if you weren’t tied up in a sleeping bag.
Once they were back inside and gathered in the basement he turned toward Richard and Amadeus, “Alright, so how are you planning to do something about whatever the Children are up to? As far as I can tell, we’re basically stuck. The entrance to the Room will be long gone.”
Kyle glanced at the smudged quintessence symbol on the wall as though his eyes might reach into the IR spectrum and confirm his suspicion that the children had moved the door after they’d gone through it. Of course, he didn’t see any of the spell’s invisible markers. What he did see was several large magical batteries set out on the floor. That certainly suggested the Children had opened the door a second time, and this time they’d taken precautions to have enough power in place. The charge meter on the battery nearest Kyle read nearly full, but that didn’t surprise him too badly. He’d half suspected opening the door a second time wouldn’t be nearly as bad as the first.
“Hopefully not,” Amadeus said in answer to Kyles earlier question, “You did some good work here. Check this out.”
Amadeus handed his phone to Kyle. There was an email up on the screen. Kyle scanned it, then nodded at the bounty hunter. “OK, yeah, I guess this gives us a chance.”
Jessie swatted him, “What the hell does it say?”
“Oh, right. The mail is from Charles he says, ‘I received the enclosed a moment ago. If you’re in a position to address the discussed issues I would be grateful for your aid. I’m going to marshal my own resources and then attempt to attend to this problem. However, time may be of the essence and you are on site.”
Jessie tilted her head to the side and squinted a bit, “So Charles sucks at email and he’s trying to get the cavalry together to deal with something.”
“Yeah, the ‘something’ is a forwarded email. It’s from Lynn. It says, ‘Hey man, I know you don’t know me, but I found your name on Kyle’s phone. I hope you’re the Archmage Charles. If you are, I’m part of a group that… Well, they don’t like you a lot. But I’ve been thinking I might not have been seeing too clearly for a while now, and now I’m worried the group may be planning some dark shit. I’d like to leg it, but my girlfriend is wrapped up in this as well and she won’t come. So here’s the deal, if you are who I think you are, please help me stop this. There’s an entrance to an Impossible Room in the basement of the house at 334 Elm St. Oakdale, KY, or at least there will be if I can keep it from getting moved after we go through it. Get someone to follow us through and stop this. Oh, yeah, and be ready for a salamander. We hope it’s been killed, but we don’t really know. If you are who I think you are then you can do that. GTG everyone thinks I’m setting something entirely different up on this phone.'”
“Lynn also sucks at email. So, counting us, we’ve got three factions working at cross purposes here?” Jessie sounded a little bit doubtful.
Kyle gestured at the bounty hunters, “The brothers bad-ass here had a car exploded out from under them. They think the Children’s mysterious leader is responsible for that, so that’s four factions, and they think Sandborn is the leader.”
“I knew he was evil!” Jessie sounded smug and she made a small gesture in the air as though she’d only just stopped herself from doing a fist pump.
“Anyway, that’s four factions.”
Richard shook his head, “There’s as many factions as there are individuals. Everyone comes to the party for their own reason. However, it’s a good sign that their communication is so bad; that gives us a better chance of stopping them.”
Kyle sighed, “So you’re still set on that?”
Amadeus held up his palms in a ‘what can I do’ gesture and answered for both bounty hunters, “We aren’t police, but we are here and we know what’s going on. We can’t really walk away. Can you?”
“I don’t know, getting past the salamander nearly killed me. I’m not getting my self killed for no reason.”
Jessie gave him a smile and a little shove with her shoulder, “You got us past that lizard last time. When Alison and I got to the map room it was just a stone statue in the corner. I don’t think we have to worry about it.”
Kyle shook his head firmly, “We don’t know anything of the sort. We activated the salamander when we opened the door, but we don’t know if it was the direct result of a spell or an enchanted creature that was simply woken by a spell. If it was the latter then it’s stone. If it’s the former then a second one could pop into being the instant we open that door.”
“Then you’ll kill it again! This time you know how.”
Kyle looked at the expressions on faces around him. They were a little scared, and they were concerned about what he’d do. However, they also seemed committed- like people who weren’t going to sit by and let something terrible happen if they could stop it. He glanced down at the nearly full magical battery. It was a bruiser. Larger than a car battery, it held enough charge to match the output of a competent mage for several hours. If he shorted it into the cool darkness spell it should match what he’d done to the salamander the first time around, and if he needed more energy he could throw his own power behind it.
Kyle was still thinking about that when Merv decided to saunter into the room. The cat walked over to Kyle, butted it’s head against his leg, and then rubbed its body against his shin. Kyle realized he could also, probably, stop the children. They were almost certainly planning a magical attack of some kind, and the magic negation spell hanging from Merv’s tail would shut that down as well.
Whether he liked it or not, their tiny group was better prepared to deal with whatever the children were planning than the cops themselves. Well, he’d wanted to be a hero the entire time, hadn’t he? He looked up and met the other’s eyes. “Alright, let’s do this.”