Sitting there, knee-deep in a great political mess and held by one of the most fearsome factions in Solfina, Dorian couldn't see how things could get any worse.
It was bad enough that he had been seperated from Sirena during their capture, giving him no idea as to where they had put her, but his misery didn't end there. He had been placed in one of the holding cells in the Admin Complex's prison building, and though his room was clean--so much to the point that the padded whiteness around him (interrupted only by a small barred window fitted into the top of the door) was nearly blinding--he was not alone. Rather, he had been placed in a cell with a practically insufferable man named Gestahl, who simply would not leave him alone.
"You see, there's this man named Novharen--he's one of the top leaders of the Voxron--who had the gall to turn on his own kind," the man blathered, though Dorian hardly listened. Gestahl had been trying to get him into a conversation about the Bhitra Cartha and the Voxron and their conflicts with each other, and at any other time he might have shown a great interest in the topic. Now, however, his mind was focused solely on three things: Sirena's location, her state of being, and how they were ever going to get out of this mess.
Hands folded in his lap, he stared up at the window, barely paying attention to the man. Sirena, where are you?
He felt tired. The bed against the cell wall was too soft, softer than the padded walls, and the sheets were clean. The man in the cell across from him was still talking -- something about the devastation caused by Alastair's disappearance -- but Dorian found himself thinking of Sirena and, soon, nothing at all.
Finally, Gestahl stopped mid-stream and looked Dorian's way. His face was dented, and his chin stuck out to the side, but otherwise he wore all-white to blend with the cell and appeared as bland as Dorian did.
"So you are going to come back to the Compound, then?" Gestahl said, "It's beautiful weather and our mango trees are growing --"
"The Compound?" Dorian asked, puzzled.
Gestahl sighed and explained about the Bithra Catha compound, and Dorian sat up only when he realized that he was a Priest, talking about the Priesthood, and might know something about Sirena. It turned out that he was not here for Sirena at all, but that they were trying to find out something else about this Novharen, who was of zero interest to Dorian, and so he withdrew and stared at the small holes in the ceiling.
"Those are the cameras," Gestahl said, and when Dorian looked as confused as he must have felt, Gestahl explained, "they're watching us. But don't worry, I believe we've taken care of them."
Cameras? What was he doing, talking about inventions, when they had to rescue Sirena? This conversation was going nowhere, and his skull ached for a pillow. He found it. He fought unconsciousness, but it won.
Seemingly seconds later, Dorian awoke, surprising himself. I must have really been tired, he thought, and out of habit he glanced over at Gestahl, who was talking to himself again, as he seemed to have missed the fact that Dorian had ceased to pay any attention to him whatsoever. This was fine with him; it made it easier for him to think of a way out.
He rose from his place on his cot, and approached the door, staring out the small window. There wasn't anything of use in his immediate vicinity, and so he tried with the simplest thing; he pushed on the door. Unsurprisingly, it did not budge, but something seemed to compel Dorian to look at the ground, and when he did he noticed a thin, flexible metal wire, that looked like it had popped off from some gadget another prisoner had brought in before.
Dorian bent down to pick it up, and, then looked out, trying to detect if there were any guards around. Strangely enough there were none, and, though he had never done so before, found himself deftly picking the lock of the door. It clicked open soon after. He stared wonderingly at his hands and at the now unlocked door. Could it really be this easy? he thought, but just as he pushed the door outwards the world around him faded, and he woke up again in his still locked cell, Gestahl still blathering away about his mango trees across the way. Dorian frowned, feeling very disoriented. It must have been a dream, he knew, but it was strangely similar to the one he had had earlier that day. That alone was enough to motivate him to try it, even if he felt a little foolish doing so.
Dorian stood up from the bed and hoped Gestahl wouldn't notice him approaching the door. He put his hands between the bars and felt for a while: nothing. He looked at the floor and his stomach did a double-take. There it was, the metal wire, exactly where the dream said that it would be. He lifted it up and tested the edge. Sharp. Gestahl moved from mangoes at this point, and he heard quite a lot about Novharen, which sounded like a drone at the back of his mind. He slid his arm through the small bars in the door and grunted as he shifted his body forward into the lock, wire in hand. It took merely two seconds of trying. The door was open.
By the time Gestahl called after him, he was already out.
The hallways seemed to be designed to confuse escapees. They were all-white, with flameless lamps -- Dorian had never seen such a thing before in his whole life! -- in the thin columns between the padded cell doors. He could hear no prisoners, not even whispers. Were they the only people on this floor? When Dorian moved, he could not hear his footsteps. The floor was empty. Something was amiss, he thought, but as he came to the end of the corridor it split into two others and he could hear footsteps there. Another T-shaped corridor latched onto this one and soon it seemed like Dorian was navigating his way through nothingness. He kept a cardinal rule, though: no backtracking. Wherever he went there were no dead ends, so he could keep this rule. There were padded walls, cells, walls and the occasional footsteps, but no one that he could see.
He then saw a giant red handle poke from the uniformity of the padded walls. Beyond that handle was a door so faint that it seemed to blend into the wall. By now, Dorian was disoriented and had no idea where he was. He could have been back where he started but for this door. He pushed the door -- a padded piece of wall with a knob -- and found himself facing the harsh Solfinian sun, decimating the unnatural coolness indoors.
When his sight returned, the first thing that Dorian noticed was that the courtyard outside was filled with Voxron in their long black coats. Overcome by the terrible heat, he could not comprehend how these men could bear walking around in the sun all day in those stifling jackets. As one of these men approached him, a young one by the looks of it, Dorian shut the door, breathing heavily with his back pressed against it. Too close, he thought. There was no way he was going to be able to make it to wherever Sirena was being held without some sort of diversion to let him slip past. His eyes scanned the whiteness, and then came to rest upon the red handle. It was so blatant and obvious that Dorian immediately felt the urge to pull it, even though he knew that it could prove to be dangerous.
He thought for a few heated moments, trying to discern its purpose, and he came upon the realization that it couldn't have been anything but an alarm, one made to rally the Voxron in the case of a riot. Pulling that could make his situation worse, but he rationalized that it might provide the diversion he so desperately needed. Inhaling sharply, hoping silently that he would not come to regret this decision, he yanked the handle. A piercing siren sounded through the air, and Dorian leapt into a nearby hallway, fearful that he had drawn the Voxron right to him. To his great surprise, the prisoners he had been half-looking for earlier stampeded through the hall he had previously been standing in, and towards the end he even spotted Gestahl.
Dorian followed them outside into the Admin complex. The prisoners were surrounding the large fountains in the center of the dimming square, and the Voxron was running loops around the prisoners eager to leave. Footsteps were harsh across the stone tile. After he descended the short stairs onto the ground and in the open, he ran straight for the main building, the Laboratory. His feet operated of their own volition, it seemed, though he did remember that the most valuable prisoners were kept there.
As he ran towards the fountains, the angry Voxron swarmed around the prisoners, catching them and then losing them as prisoners collectively ganged up on the guards. Dorian, however, ran straight.
He only saw the white dome of the Laboratory.
Somehow the feeling of stone underneath his shoes was reassuring, but the further he went towards the building, the farther he seemed to be from it. And was he imagining it or was someone tugging at his arm ... pulling away from the dome ... he screamed and clawed at the hand until he was thoroughly overpowered for the third time that day.
"Listen," someone whispered in his ear, "I know Gestahl. I'm taking you to the Annex."
Dorian felt so helpless at that moment, and he hated that feeling. How am I ever going to protect Sirena if I can't even defend myself? He wasn't sure if he should trust this man--he wasn't sure if he should trust Gestahl--but he had little choice in the matter. And so, he allowed himself to be dragged to the Annex, with only a small bit of scuffling along the way. When they finally entered a small, secluded, and blessedly cool alcove, the man finally released him. Dorian turned to face him, and nearly screamed in terror--the man who had pulled him away was dressed in the same black uniforms that all the Voxron were. Before he could dart away, however, the man in black muttered something under his breath, and then said over his shoulder, to a shadowed figure whom Dorian could not make out, "I thought you said he knew what was going on, Gestahl."
The man shrugged, moving out into the light. "I thought he had..." Dorian recognized him immediately, of course, and his frown deepened.
"What's going on here? I don't have time for this--I have to save Sirena!"
"Not," said the man, "if you don't listen to us."
Dorian slid down against the wall.
"Barsuhl," he said, extending his hand. Dorian gave him a wary look and did not take it. Barsuhl shrugged. He was compact and in his Voxron suit he looked formidable. His hand was on his throat, fingering something, and already he seemed much less frivolous than his friend Gestahl.
"Why were you trying to go to the laboratory?" Barsuhl continued. "Nobody who goes in manages to come out."
Dorian felt a catch in his throat. He had no plan to leave the building, assuming it would be as easy to pass in and out as setting yet another alarm, or counting on last minute distractions. Dorian knew that he had to listen to Barsuhl, because he was damned if he didn't. He just hoped that he wasn't damned if he did.
"Sirena," Dorian explained, and told them most of what had happened on their way here from Adelphia. Barsuhl listened as the chaos outside continued to build. The door was partially open, and they could hear the scuffling in the square, and then sharp bursts of sound like firecrackers.
"We have an idea," Barsuhl said, "But you must promise us something."
He took a chain off of his neck and handed Dorian a necklace. It was a gold chain bearing a thin, jagged crystal. It hummed so furiously in Dorian's hands that he dropped it.
Barsuhl nodded and Gestahl seemed surprised.
"I knew --" Gestahl said, "but so strong ..."
Dorian shook his head and handed Barsuhl the crystal by its chain. "Please," he said, addressing Barsuhl. "What do I have to do?"
"When we are finished here," he said, replacing the chain, and looked at Dorian seriously, "you must come with us. Your friend can, too, but you, at the very least, must. With us you will be safe from the Voxron, and there are many things you could learn. You could be very powerful."
Dorian stared at him, bewildered, but he recalled bits and pieces of Gestahl's words--the Bhitra Cartha, the complex, mango trees. He had known Gestahl was a priest, or he had guessed so from his words, and if this Barsuhl was his friend, it stood to reason that he was a priest as well. Suddenly, everything seemed to fall into place. "Okay," he said, though he still wasn't sure whether he should trust these two. Yet, he needed some sort of allies if he wanted to even get close to where Sirena was being kept.
Barsuhl nodded, satisfied. "Good. Now, before you arived, Gestahl and I had been working undercover to try and figure out a way to put a man named Novharen out of the picture." Dorian nodded; he remembered the name from Gestahl's ramblings. "We were actually going to launch our plan within the next few days, but since you are here we will have to improvise. If what you've told me is true, then no doubt your Sirena will be watched primarily by Novharen--he was one of the men whom captured you, judging by your description of the group--which fits in with our plan nicely. Using my current position, I will continue to pose as a Voxron, escorting you two prisoners, and that should allow us to walk the Laboratory unaided, if for only as long as we need. The problem will be discerning where she is being held."
Dorian frowned as he listened, though he began to feel his weariness catch up with him. "What if we run into trouble? I doubt every person will overlook us, even with all the uproar. How are we going to handle that if we run into a confrontation? I can't fight at all."
Barsuhl frowned. "We might just have to take that chance," he said. Dorian nodded again, but he couldn't stay awake -- the running left him exhausted -- he slid onto the carpet again. When he woke up again, Barsuhl and Gestahl were gone and he couldn't find anyone.
The door that had been closed before was now open, and he had a full view of the square behind him, and the Laboratory was so close now that he couldn't see the whole building at once. One huge marble monolith side with columns showed another open door. Before Dorian could run towards it, however, he forced himself to look up.
Ten stories or so higher, the Annex and the Laboratory were connected by a covered corridor, a thick bridge between the two central buildings. Dorian went back inside and ran past the alcove and into another marble corridor -- even though there were no cells here, it still looked almost the same as the building he'd just run from, he had to admire the ingenuity of the plans. Before the corridors fanned out into a T, he slipped and hit his head against a door to his right.
Where was everybody? he thought. In a fit of daring he whispered. Then, he spoke aloud. Soon, he screamed, and the sound echoed across the marble corridors, but still, nothing.
He ran up the staircase and found an unmarked black door next to the twentieth landing. Even running up these stairs posed no exhaustion, even though he'd just collapsed on the floor minutes ago.
Because this door was black and different from the others, Dorian pulled at it. He knew almost before he opened it that it opened onto the connecting bridge. Before he could run across the bridge however, he felt dizzy and fell onto the floor, again, the exhaustion creeping like a disease, stitching his eyelids shut.
When he opened them again, he was a lump underneath a gleaming cupola and an intricate doorway of marble held another black door. He opened the door and he saw Sirena.
She was unconscious, her back across a chair, her fingers attached to wires. Dorian screamed and ran to help her. Someone pulled him back.
"Stop screaming!" his captor hissed into his ear. It was Barsuhl's voice. Dorian opened his eyes, and he was still in the alcove, staring at two very, very unsettled priests.
After he caught his breath, Dorian raised his hands up against the wall, still exhausted. He was happier to feel his feet again, even though he knew what he must do. "I have a better idea," he said, and the priests leaned in to listen.
Dorian still wasn't sure his visions were accurate, but he remembered the wire he had found in his cell. He explained to them what he had seen so vividly, and received perplexed looks for his trouble. Gestahl stared at Barsuhl uneasily.
"Boy," Barsuhl said, frowning at him, "did you overhear any of the guards while you were in your cell? Or any of the Voxron when you were captured?" When Dorian shook his head, Barsuhl's frown deepened. "There is such a place as you describe, but none other than the Voxron themselves should know about it."
"It's Dorian, not boy," he said shortly, becoming frustrated. "Look, I don't know how to explain it, I just know that she'll be there! Please, just trust me; we don't have time to sit around talking about this. Sirena was badly hurt when I saw her."
Barsuhl evaluated Dorian again, and sighed. "I'm not sure where you get these visions, Dorian, and I intend to find out. But later; you are right in saying that we have little time." He turned sideways to look at Gestahl, and then looked back at Dorian again. "Stay close. Our ruse may still work, though it will be even more dangerous on the upper floors. I don't want to lease either of you in the chaos." They nodded, and Barsuhl hurriedly led them up the staircase that Dorian had described, leading up to the bridge that connected the Annex to the Laboratory.
They were up on the fifth flight of stairs when they heard the Voxron.
Dorian knew that their feet made sounds against the marble staircase. He looked at Barsuhl and Gestahl, who seemed to have heard the Voxron as well. "We'll get off," Barsuhl said, as they approached the sixth floor door and closed it behind them.
This time there was yet another corridor but the whole hallway was made of black stone and although there were windows it seemed dark. It was almost freezing here. Gestahl blew onto his hands and rubbed them and Barsuhl looked at Dorian. "Even the Voxron don't come into this hall," Barsuhl said, extracting a map from his pocket. "this is where they keep the crystals."
Dorian's ear was to the door.
"I say we give it another few minutes," Barsuhl said.
Though he tried to control himself from screaming, Dorian made a loud noise of frustration. "She doesn't have a few minutes."
Gestahl squealed, "would you rather we all be dead?" to which Barsuhl kicked him once, harsh in the leg.
"If you were captured," Barsuhl said, "you'd want me to give you up?"
Gestahl kept quiet after that, and Dorian looked at Barsuhl who nodded. "It's tough," he said, "they should only be prowling for a few minutes."
Dorian nodded, grateful. "As soon as we can." Though it was way too difficult, he waited, his ear to the door.
They waited for a few more minutes, but the steps refused to fade. Dorian became even more anxious, but Barsuhl, it seemed, had a solution. He rolled up the map and slipped into one of the folds of his dark jacket. "We have to keep moving. There's no way to know when those scientists will go away, and there should be another staircase behind one of these doors."
Dorian blinked, his eyes flickering towards the heavy black doors dotting all along the length of the corridor. "This is going to take too long. Doesn't the map say which?" Barsuhl shook his head, though he was sympathetic.
"Like I said, even the Voxron doesn't come this way. This is Novharen's floor—his private laboratories. No one really bothered to go into much detail when creating the map." He placed a hand on Dorian's shoulder. "Don't worry. I'll get you to her. Trust me." Dorian hesitated a moment, but then nodded.
Gestahl watched them, a little confused, but managed to say, "Can we just please get moving? I'd rather not end up back in those cells, or worse."
The further they walked into the corridor the less noisy the Voxron were, even as they wreaked chaos on the stairwells. "Don't worry about it," Barsuhl said, "it's all just noise." Halfway through the corridor, Barsuhl tried a door. It was thick but it finally opened and Gestahl and Dorian followed the priest inside.
Against the wall, behind a glass case, was a giant crystal. Its jagged edges were colossal, and Dorian had to step back to appreciate the luminescence. Though there was no lamp in the room, the crystal was enough to see by, a dull blue that gave Dorian a deep sense of peace.
"Wonderful, isn't it?" Gestahl whispered.
Dorian nodded. He pointed at the crystal. "What is that?"
Barsuhl smiled, and showed Dorian the crystal pendant once more. "It's good for the soul," he said, breathing deeply.
Dorian agreed. He felt such a sense of well-being that the exhaustion almost seeped from his legs, and the prospect of finding Sirena felt like a less dismal one, even though the thought was very keen on his mind.
"When this is done," Barsuhl said, "we will find you a place, I promise you."
When Dorian looked at Barsuhl he did not doubt his sincerity. Gestahl was quiet, moody, pacing the room: it seemed that the crystal did not eliminate his anxiety but honed it, and the man was rubbing his forehead until it seemed to fall off into his hands.
"The Voxron will go up and find no outlet," Barsuhl said, "and they would not try the upstairs door."
"Why not?" Dorian asked.
Barsuhl shrugged. "Nobody goes there if not on Novharen's orders," he said, "and I doubt he would've had time to give them." He rubbed the sweat off his hands and onto the linen suit. "In fact -- I have it on the best intelligence that he was in there himself, not too long ago."
Dorian felt sick as he saw the worry on Barsuhl's face.
"I'm afraid that your friend will need help," Barsuhl said, "if Novharen indeed got to her."
Within a second, Dorian ran to the door and pushed it open as hard as he could. "I'm not waiting," he said.
"Dorian, don't!" Barsuhl cried, and behind him Gestahl cursed. Thankfully, when they had entered the hallway they could hear the footsteps no more, and so Barsuhl felt a little more confident about returning the way that they had come.
Dorian moved so quickly that Barsuhl and Gestahl had to sprint to keep up with him, and by the time they reached the twentieth floor they were all heaving. Gestahl clutched his side, nearly on the point of fainting, but Dorian ignored him. The further along they came the more he recognized the scene from his vision, and though he knew it could very well be a trap he didn't care.
Like Barsuhl had promised, the hallway was clear as they ran down its great length, the same expanse in which the nameless man had escorted Sirena across not long before. Dorian's heart raced as the great door came into view, and he nearly ran headlong into it, only to realize that he could hardly move it.
"Please help me," he begged, looking back at them. "She's in here, I just know she is." Wordlessly, Barsuhl joined him at the door and pushed.
It was much easier to open the door than Dorian had thought. For some reason, he assumed that it might have been moveable.
He realized the whole time that he thought it would be impossible. It had been so easy. The Voxron were nowhere to be heard. Something beyond his understanding had happened. The familiar sensation of exhaustion nagged him but by sheer force of will he helped Barsuhl and Gestahl push on the door, and soon they were in.
Just as it was in the vision, Dorian saw Sirena. Her long fingers were attached to wires and her thick, glossy hair fell down behind the chair. That and a huge apparatus next to her with buttons and knobs were the only things in the room. The floor around the chair was wet.
Dorian was too tired to pay attention to anything but her, and in seconds he'd crossed the room to figure out how to pull her from the chair, listening to her pulse. Barsuhl touched her forehead and seemed intrigued. The priest put Sirena's wired hands onto his neck as Dorian looked on, desperate to get moving.
He had to pull the individual nodes from her fingers, but that elicited no response from her. The tips of her fingers were bloodied and bruised, and her breaths were getting slower and softer by the second.
Gestahl took Sirena from the chair as gently as he could and draped her body over his. For a second Dorian wanted to offer to take the body from her.
Barsuhl said something to Gestahl, who nodded.
"There are others waiting," he said, and Dorian looked toward Gestahl and Sirena.
"She -- they -- will be able to make it down so many stairs?" he asked, but realized that it was a stupid question. Whatever the cost, no matter what, they were going to have to.
Thirty minutes later they made it to the courtyard where the chaos was dying down; the prisoners were tied together by the hands in clusters around the fountains. The Voxron lashed at them with leather whips. They appeared frustrated in their inability to control what had happened, and they were indiscriminate in their anger. Everyone suffered, and it would only be a matter of time before they were each holed up in their meticulously assigned cells.
The sun retreated by the time Dorian, the priests, and the unconscious Sirena made their way through the Annex and to the western part of the stone square. Though Dorian swore that he felt eyes at his back, he could not see anyone. The vast complex became silent. The guards were present along the annex, but as long as Dorian kept his head down and his hand firmly in Barsuhl's grip, they let the crowd pass. "Maximum security," Barsuhl said, to whomever asked.
When they reached the end of the square and onto the navigable roads, they saw a small motorcar -- Dorian recognized them from the streets. They were few and far in-between, and they moved like trains except they were smaller and required no tracks. Dorian's father heard rumors of machines like these and discussed them among the great scientific advances he hoped to bring to Adelphia. "For it is to our advantage," he'd said, "for us to move stealthily. We must be afraid, and the only way we can defend ourselves is through technologies." At that point Dorian'd wondered from whom? but now he knew. Barsuhl led them to the black body of the car and swung open the door for Dorian, Gestahl, and Sirena. Dorian held Sirena's head in his lap as Gestahl allowed her feet onto his. Barsuhl sat in front with the man who was operating the car, who bowed his head.
"Earlier than expected," he said.
The motorcar started with a leap and tore along the curved edges and the thinning streets as they approached west. The old stone clusters of shops and stores became thin, ramshackle buildings selling necessities and cheap, fried roadside snacks lit by sagging bulbs in the dusk. Before Dorian could stay awake to see the legendary gates of Old Solfina he found himself thinking of food and sleep, and wondered whether wherever they were going had beds. It was the only thing he wanted any more -- he'd abandoned even the idea of desire. All he needed was Sirena's safety and that was secure. It was only a matter of time before he reached a bed.