Part One: Taken in the Lamplight
Helena stepped lightly off the bus, leaving the white plastic glow, leaving the safety of numbers. And suddenly a feeling of insecurity spread over her: an odd premonition that someone would be waiting around that corner, that somebody would come too close to her. Her head filled with images of skulking darkened figures, and she saw herself from a distance, swinging the bag she held in her hand at the lead figure, it was almost as if she was imagining the situation, but not quite. She felt detached from her mind for a split second as this image took over. Helena shook her head, attempting to discard the slight dread; no one would be waiting, not on this raining night, far too cold and far too damp for even muggers.
She tried to convince herself of her safety on this familiar street, but still she wrapped the handle of her book bag tightly around her hand, still she mentally checked that all her valuables were safely in the bottom of her shoulder bag, which was strung over her in that anti-mugger position. Her muscles tensed and un-tensed and she felt like she would simply fly away with the pressure rising in her. Her breathing began to quicken and her pace lengthen, and still there was no one in sight, no valid reason for panic.
Of course, this fact only made Helena more uneasy.
She was just passing the halfway point between her house and the bus stop, when a cocky wolf whistle hit her ears, turning to ice as the sound registered in her brain. She stopped suddenly, raising her eyes to look at the dark shadows.
"Hey there gorgeous," came an arrogant voice, it raised goose bumps on the back of her head.
She thought to herself, as she stood frozen. It must be dark, I'm a complete mess today. She forced her locked legs to take a small step closer to her house, her safe haven. She stopped again when the flickering orange lamplight revealed ten waiting figures amongst the darkness.
The tallest man walked forward to where she stood, trying to prepare herself for a fight she knew she couldn't win, but that she would strive to nevertheless.
"Hi," he said politely, but the leer was distinct in his voice.
She took a deep breath. And began to speak in a forced casual explanatory tone.
"Here's how it is: I don't have a mobile because I think the microwaves from those things slowly fry your brain, I haven't got any credit cards cause I don't believe in capitalisation, I practically loathe the banks, and also; I'm a student" She gestured to herself, "Skint, see?"
She tried to take a step towards her house again, but as the man did not move, she halted in her tracks, not willing to push him out of the way, he was big and muscled and dominating. She didn't stand a chance, and now that her witty remarks had ran out, she was lost. Lost in the ring of shadows that surrounded her. The figures drew closer.
The man looked down at her calculatingly, for a moment she suspected rape would be on the agenda, and that thought caused a miniature hyperventilating episode as she twisted the heavy book bag in her right hand, preparing for the swing.
But the calculation in his eyes changed. Became more profound. Suddenly she felt like her was looking over her soul.
Her skin began to crawl.
The hulking man took a step forwards, and she flinched away from his unexpectedly raised hand. He smiled in a contented way, her cringe was just icing on the cake for the job he had been sent to do. He might even get a little fun from this evening after all. But business first, he reminded himself, they had to be sure she was what they needed.
She braced herself to lift her arm in a hopefully surprising motion, she would feel complete satisfaction if the maths textbooks that weighed heavily in her hand smashed his skull open, she would feel relief even. This shocked her, as she had never before thought of herself as a particularly violent person. But this man, this dark creature, he truly deserved her anger, that she could sense in the very core of her bones, they ached and yearned for his death. Or maybe she had the feeling that deep down, his destruction would be the only thing that could mean her freedom this night.
Her arm twitched, and the next thing she knew she was being forced painfully to her knees, the hulking man still smirking from above.
She gasped in pain at the strong hands which forced her arms up behind her back. Her panic became full blown hysteria, and her laboured breathing provided no air to her dry lungs.
The scene was a worrying one for the outsider. He looked across the street at the ring of cloaked men surrounding the one girl, and snorted softly in disbelief. He took in that they had forced her down, and for a brief moment his self control was nearly over ruled, he saw the look of fear in her eyes, and the expression of satisfaction and anticipation in the leaders, and he almost moved. But that was not his job. He was to wait, to watch, and to intervene only if needed. The girl was panicked, not in danger. Not yet at least.
The lurking outsider watched patiently as the lead man signalled for his cronies to hold her steady, and then became bored as the leader began to slowly, almost softly, probe at the shaking girls temples. This he had seen before so it held no interest, he wanted some action this night, but he managed to force himself to wait for it to happen without his interference. The first move must be made by them.
She shook in the grip of the large hands that kept her from running as she wished to. This man's touch was sending shudders of horror down her spine, icy tingles along her skin, and a crawling sensation under her scalp. Then followed a cold harsh dread. Not the dread of rape, or of being mugged, or beaten. This was the dread of the unknown, she hated to think of what they actually did want from her. But whatever it was, she knew deep down, it could not be good.
Just before the nauseating wave of pain broke over, she managed to see the looming man's face contort in wonder and an odd type of fear. She groaned loudly, and the concentration of the man increased, he began to appear excited. This was more than he had expected, she was more than he had expected. So much potential locked away in her puny human mind.
"Oh my..." He uttered through his firm set lips.
Her mouth was twisted in a grimace, groans forcing themselves up her throat as the shaking twisting sensation tore and ravaged her head. The man's probing search turning it upside down and inside out.
"Goodness. It is. You are. I can scarcely believe." His unfinished sentences would have annoyed her in a different situation, as they usually did, but right now, with the hands still fettered over her limbs- holding her in place- she just concentrated on keeping her head in one piece.
A small cough came from behind the lead man, and he turned to face his second in command, releasing her in the process, she sagged what little she could in the restraining hands, and forced herself to breath evenly.
"Is she what we need?"
"Oh she is," he spun back lithely on the balls of his feet to once more place his hands on Helena's temples, she emitted a resounding moan of pain, "She is and much more too. This is better than I had anticipated." He reluctantly drew his palms away from her head, seeming to want to spend more time searching and discovering her potential. " We must leave. Now."
The outsider became instantly alert, all his senses focusing on the ring of shadows and their lone pale captive.
"And the mortal?"
"She will come with us of course, it would not be safe for her here anymore."
"Are you sure this is the right thing to do, our commands-"
"You question me, Alexis?" he stepped towards her, towering over her. "are you doubting my authority? My ability to interpret the commands given to me and me alone?"
Alexis sunk her head, and whispered scathingly the words, "No. Sir."
He nodded. "Good. And don't you forget it." Rubbing his hands together like he was simply going about everyday business, he advanced once more on the girl bent over trying to nurse the incomprehensible pain in her head. "Now, we must bind her, of course, for I shall need all of your power for the return journey, and no concentration wasted on holding the human still. Scaro?"
He addressed the smallest of the group, the farthest away from him, the only other besides Alexis and himself not already holding Helena down. Scaro's head raised slightly, not making eye contact with the leader.
"Get your cords, and secure her. We shall leave momentarily."
Scaro nodded in assent to the leaders command. And he bent forwards with an unexpected grace to tie Helena's hands behind her back. He was about to move to her feet when the sound of a throat clearing itself drifted softly across the deserted road. Scaro turned instinctively to the source of the noise, and the outsider playfully raised his fingers to his lips in a shushing gesture, then grinned widely.
Scaro's eyes went wide.
The large man looked up from his conference with Alexis, readily scornful toward the interruption. "What? Scaro, what? Need someone to tie the knots for you?"
Scaro had had just about enough of his master's condescending attitude towards him, he felt his hands start to shake in anger. Just because he was the youngest, the least experienced, didn't mean he wasn't worthy.
Scaro locked himself down, not trusting his muscles to move, for fear that they would spring at his master, and not trusting himself to remove the teeth that bit down on his lips, for fear that they would release all the curses and profanities he longed so desperately to hurl at his hateful master.
"I only mean to tell you," he said through his clenched jaw, "that-" Scaro stopped mid word, a small form of revenge for years of abuse occurred to him. "That, I have finished securing her, she is ready for transport."
The men who had held Helena resumed their previous positions in the circle of ten, and stood at ease, waiting for the next command. How Scaro despised them; mindless and subservient.
As he returned himself to his original place in the ring, Scaro saw from the corner of his eye the face of the outsider winking at him. Scaro stood ramrod straight, and his eyes never left the floor after that, not even when the figure on his left disappeared suddenly and silently into the shadows, and the person on his right appeared to simply dissolve into the night.
It was only once half the group had mysteriously vanished, that the other half actually noticed. Of course, once alerted they were more formidable, and they clustered round the prone quivering form of the bound Helena, all facing outwards, ready to defend their find.
A voice came from the shadows, lilting with the rich harmonics of an Irish accent. "Look what we have here... A bible study group is it?"
"Our mission is peaceful, stranger, be gone and leave us about our task." Despite himself, and to Scaro's hidden glee, the leaders voice shook.
"Your task? Your little prestigious mission? You think you could do this undetected? We know everything. And you are a fool for not remembering that."
The leader got irritated. "Of course we remember! How can we not, when you are always at our backs, pushing us down!" He snorted. "But then we thought, what can the enemy do really? You are alone, and we still number more than you. So push off back to the little hell hole you came from."
The stranger had the nerve to look cheekily affronted. "Now, now. That's hardly nice language is it? Here's what's going to happen boyo, you and what remains of your troop are going to poof back into your plane of existence and leave the human to me."
At his words, Helena finally managed to dredge herself out of the river and disorientated pain and nausea that the leader's probing had caused. She hadn't noticed before, but now she did; their words, their tone. They were fighting over her. That was why she was tied uncomfortably, with autumn rain soaking into her and gravel sticking into her knees.
But why did they want her?
"We have our orders-"
"Ah yes the orders from up on high. Ignore them. Leave. For your own sakes. Leave now. And leave the girl."
Oh, thought Helena, so I am now to be graced with a gender? Instead of just 'the human'. Wow. I feel so special.
The leaders voice now shook with both frustration at the confrontation and the infuriating, condescending tone the other used. "You of all people know that we cannot disobey! She comes with us! Prepare!" The latter was directed to the remains of the group surrounding Helena.
Helena now tried to see around the legs of the group, wanting to see her saviour. The man stood not ten feet away from them, dressed all in black like the others, and he was completely unarmed. She felt a sudden welt of despair, there was no way he could best all four of the bulky guards, and then the woman named Alexis who, from the ground, looked more like a cat about to pounce.
Her hopes of rescue were lost.
Helena caught herself thinking; just what did lost signify? Why on earth was this happening to her? She had been heading home to make beans on toast for crying out loud! And now, what? She was being kidnapped and fought over. God, I hate Thursdays.
The stranger saw the dark head of the girl tilt slightly, peering to see the situation he guessed. And then he met the brilliant green of her eyes, and couldn't look away.
Helena managed finally to wriggle slightly and get into a position to clearly see the man, he followed her movements, suddenly his eyes became riveted on her face. It got uncomfortable, he didn't blink or anything of the sort. Just looked at her with such intensity she felt as if her soul were under the looking glass again. Though this time she did not feel nearly as repulsed.
Alexis had to physically cough after a few minutes of waiting, all the while the strangers gaze had not moved from Helena. The noise aroused him, and he spoke to the leader in a calm voice without moving his head.
"You think we would send a lone man, with no defences? You are more foolish than we gave you credit, but if you wish to fight me then-"
"You scum. You can't have her, I shall spit on your dust." Alexis's rich voice was marred by her anger. The leader turned as if to calm her, but in a fluid motion he suddenly leapt forwards into the space between him and the outsider, Alexis and two others followed, but Scaro remained behind Helena. His excuse if asked, was that he had to protect her, but truly and honestly he was afraid of the dark man, and would rather his master and the icy Alexis fall first. For an entire second he was excited by this prospect, the sweet whiff of freedom, until revulsion swept over him. He could not think these thoughts. They were immoral and hateful. He repeated the words inside his head like a mantra as the fight began.
In the darkness and slight illumination form the flickering orange lamp, Helena could still see the oddly burning eyes of the outsider. He didn't look away from her for one moment, even as he reached out to deftly break the arm of the leader, even as he kicked Alexis down to the ground, as he cracked the skull of the others together, as he trampled on them, as the groans and moans and shrieks and keening reached her ears, his eyes never moved from hers.
Helena was having a breakdown.
Through her eyes she could see the violence and horror, and she was as captivated by it as she was repulsed. But in her head, oh in her head, her mind was whirling with such distorted images. And she didn't know where they were coming from. She could see the pictures, while still being able to look out at the ensuing carnage and locking eyes.
The images of her; with back straight and head bowed, darkness and shadows and mist swarming around the one side of her, and the brightest of bright lights on her other side. Both seemed to beckon, and other figures began to swirl in the wreathing mists of black and white, when the image was abruptly replaced with another.
This time it was quite clear, it was the man behind her, the man called Scaro, with a light burning from within him, and her still at his knees, and that stranger standing near, with an odd length of material in his hand. She could make out all the details; even how he was still locking gazes with her.
One more scenario made a startling appearance before her head returned to normal.
She saw her sister. Her beautiful darling sister, lying in a pool of blood, with a dark shadowy figure wielding a long dripping knife, grinning. Helena only just managed to choke back her sob of horror before anyone could notice. Her sight skimmed back to the present and she sagged in her bonds, somehow Helena knew instinctively that these things would happen, but she didn't know how she knew. Or when they would happen for that matter.
The stranger with the odd Irish voice finally stopped his violent vendetta, and stood as he had before the fight, the same distance from her. Those ten feet felt like ten miles, she wanted him closer, and that disturbed her as much as the visions she had seen. After all she had seen, all he had done, she couldn't make sense of why she felt suddenly safer, comforted almost.
Scaro however, who had been hiding behind her hunched form, trembled.
"You there, cloud boy, your name?" The stranger pointed at Scaro. Helena saw a drop of blood fall from the man's outstretched hand, and she gagged. Then she heard the sounds of the boy Scaro throwing up behind her, retching and splashing. Her throat felt closed up. Her head felt stuffy. Her hands ached from their uncomfortable position halfway up her back, and her knees were sore.
The only part of her that felt free and clear were her eyes; locked to the man's as she struggled for breath. The shadow man walked around to the sick-with-fear Scaro, and looked at the lad quizzically, Helena of course could not turn around, trussed up as she was, and when the eye link was broken, she felt an encroaching darkness sweep into her heart. Helena's eyes welled up again. Silent tears falling to the damp concrete.
"Don't make me force it from you, boy. Be assured I save that sort of thing for better company," his eyes drifted momentarily to the slowly shaking Helena.
Scaro just sobbed, curled up, and hiccupped. Then said, tentatively, "S-Scaro"
"There! That's better, isn't it? Ah, I like it when we can all be polite and civil and such."
Scaro finally looked up in abject shock. "You do? B-b-b-b-but you're a-"
"Hush, little one. And hold still, Uncle needs to take a look at your head."
The prone boy began to scrabble across the ground, trying to get away from the shadow man. But to no avail, the man brought his hands down on Scaro's head and leant backwards with a predatory grin as the images swirled out of Scaro's mind.
Scaro screamed in pain. Helena slammed her eyes shut, but there was no way to block out the unearthly noise.
The mind search lasted only a few seconds, much shorter than the one done to Helena , but Scaro was left shivering and shaking on the damp ground much the same. The man bent down to help him up, but Scaro recoiled from the touch, and managed to stand on his wobbly knees.
"You have an interesting mind Scaro, you would be most successful if you were to play for the other team..."
His eyes flashed. "I'll never join your side! Never!"
The stranger sighed heavily, but continued. "Ah then Scaro... you just run along and tell your masters that if they are going to play with fire, they are going to get burned."
Scaro swallowed loudly, but nodded. And then closed his eyes in abject concentration, an ethereal glow fanned out around him, the brightest light coming from the top of his head. Scaro disappeared all of a sudden, just as the light was brightest, and it left Helena's eyes blind to the shadowy figure that still waited beside her. It took her a few moments, but finally she realised that this situation was exactly the one she had seen in her 'vision'.
"W-who are you?" She managed to stutter. The man made no sound, except to kneel down silently beside her and look deep and mesmerizingly into her eyes.
"What d-do you want?"
The man cocked his head, as if to show how silly her question was. He raised his hand, she did not shrink away from it as she had with the other, and he deftly tapped the side of her head twice.
Helena was locked in the man's gaze, and therefore did not notice when he moved his hands around and produced two long strips of dark material. It was only when he raised them again, that she realised what they were for. But too late. Her muffled scream evaporated in the dark dripping empty night. And all turned pitch black for her.
There was a white glow in her eyelids, and then nothing. Everything faded to harsh blackness again, except for the lingering brilliance of the stranger's emerald eyes.