Heavy, booted footsteps strode down the metallic corridor, slitted hazel gaze disdainfully glancing over a dimly-lit doorframe before a black gloved hand pushed at the handle, silently. If one could determine personality just from how a room was entered, then the man would undoubtedly be judged as a right bastard, for the smirk playing over his thin upper lip. As he emerged from the shadow of the doorway into the room (similarly dim, though with slightly harsher lighting), his features revealed themselves to be sharp, unnaturally sculpted almost. Now, in a situation far removed from the hectic chaos of the school, or of the crowded street, his expression was calmer, though the fierce glint in his eyes certainly had not faded. It was as strong as ever, as it had been while he fought with Cadell.
"...Karlyle." He looked up at the mention of his name; there was another man standing at the far end of the room, similar hazel gaze nodding to his. "Lurian's gone to check on the situation outside. I surmise you didn't succeed, though." There was a faint smirk playing about that voice, even if, in the shadows cast from the lamps, it was hard to see.
"I think it unwise of you, Jouron, to belittle me in this manner." Karlyle's voice, one unused to any affront of humour, was clipped as he replied. The other man just smiled, seemingly unaffected. "I am sure there was a reason I was sent, and not you." His humour was far less well-meaning, though it bounced off the other quite harmlessly. "There were complications Lurian has not foreseen."
Jouron's gaze was unreadable; all he did was push a floppy black fringe back from his face as he looked at Karlyle, whose brow was furrowed very slightly as though he didn't quite understand, as though there was something he had encountered out there that had surprised him. "...Complications? That affected you in such a manner? Oh do pray tell, I dearly love amusement."
The look on Karlyle's face suggested that, had the items in the room not generally been very expensive or illegal (or both, really), he would have aimed one at Jouron's smooth-tongued face. "I did track down the location of the item requested. But the girl who held it possesses a special Protector." He bit his cheek as if in distaste. "We fought-"
"And you did not win?"
"- I did not get to find out. But her Protector is special. I believe he is not... embedded to her will." Karlyle's face darkened into a scowl that almost matched his hair; his compatriot blinked, looking rather astonished, and for once did not fire back a friendly retort. "I have encountered him twice already, and he does not follow what she says. In fact, he plainly quite disobeyed her when she told him to run." That hazel glare alit itself upon Jouron. "It is peculiar."
"Even more so, given that you know I would run if given half the choice."
"Yes, but you are quite the unlikely coward."
"Bickering again, boys?"
The last voice made them both stiffen, and they turned towards Professor Lurian, who had just entered the room, empty-handed, but smirking as if he had won the lottery. "I knew that idiot Klein was really a coward. He has completely barricaded his office. And according to one very kind employee-" His voice turned silky, as if he had not, just an hour earlier, shot to death that poor fellow, "- the formula is not there. Which makes storming the office quite useless, in any case. We shall have to cast the net wider." He adjusted the sleeve of his pristine business suit. "It is, most likely, not in the city."
There was silence, the expressions upon each man's face extremely different from each other's. Karlyle's glare had deepened a little. "What would you have us do?" There was no rebellion in his voice, but he did look as if the constant chase was making him extremely impatient. Jouron stood there, silently, thoughtful gaze assessing the other two, as though a million thoughts were pulsating through his head, thoughts that danced between the curious and the nervous.
"I have tapped into the Organization's network." Lurian nodded, stroking his chin, as if this was a very impressive feat indeed that should have been praised. "The moment there is a clue as to where the formula is, I will direct you there. But for now, I need you both to head for the outskirts. Seal the entrances back into the city if you can." He tilted his head slightly, towards where a couple of gleaming black motorbikes stood against the far wall. "Go now."
"I am surprised at you, Karlyle."
"You did not tell him of the special Protector." Jouron's voice was slightly sing-song as the two men rode the bikes through the night, down the now-empty roads, their engines purring very quietly, barely a disturbance to the common man in the street whose knowledge of peace had not yet been disturbed. "I would have expected you to. Is that not what he is trying to uncover?"
"I have little use for telling him such information." Karlyle swerved a little too sharply as they rounded a bend. "And he did not ask." There was stony silence for a moment, as the stars started to twinkle overhead. "Look at it this way. He created us, did he not?"
"Indeed. I do wish he had given me some other color of eye, though."
"Nit-picking details aside, I have no doubt that any Constructed he creates, with this freewill ability, would be capable of higher powers, powers unlocked from the constraints of what Creators have defined. In short, it would be threatening our status." Karlyle revved up his bike a little as the road started to stretch and lengthen ahead of them, into the expanse of the highway out of the city. "I will not have my position of power at his side usurped by some deterministic creature I helped to bring about." His eyes glinted as fiercely as the headlights on his bike. "It is clear, you know it, he intends to upgrade what he can do."
"And so you intend to inconvenience him?"
"No. He just didn't ask." Karlyle was silent again, and the two men rode on into the lingering dusk.
It was the beeping of her cellphone that woke Raela up from her slumber. She fumbled for it in her pocket, and squinted at the display, startlingly bright in the dark of the surrounding night. Auden. Be ready. Pick up. It was in his usual message style, and she looked outside at the darkness. How would he know where she was? She supposed there was some sort of tracking technology in her cellphone, or otherwise in the bike, or something or the other. Whatever it was. She glanced over at the two silent Protectors nearby; both were asleep now, despite Zeph's earlier proclamations that he would keep watch. And yet, she couldn't bring herself to feel upset about it. With their presence, she felt safe enough.
"Hey, guys." She reached out and shook Cadell's shoulder gently, as he turned over in his sleep, blond hair mussed up against the hard floor. "Auden's coming, we need to get ready." It felt vaguely like playing mother, she mused wryly. What an odd situation to be in, especially with two Protectors who should have rightly been the ones overseeing her safety.
But then Zeph let out a bit of a gasp, and his startled gaze was unmistakably apprehensive. She remembered then that he had not seen Auden since her sister's disappearance. "I do not think I wish to follow you, Miss Raela." His voice was as unfailingly polite as always, but she could see the slight tenseness in his jaw, the steely look of a man who had run away from everything, and who did not think himself capable of returning to what was left. "I do not think I am looked upon very favourably, in lieu of your sister's disappearance." He said it plainly, but she could see the pain etched upon his features.
"Well, you'd be quite mistaken if you think that I'm going to leave you here." She felt a trace of steel creep too into her voice, as if their wills were clashing. In any normal circumstance, the irony would have struck her. A Protector and Protected, fighting? But he was not hers, and she definitely far below her sister in his mind. "You have got to come along. You can't stay out here. What if they get you?" The memory of that man, with the sharp hazel gaze, flashed through her mind as though the very stare was a lighting bolt.
There was silence and a look she didn't quite understand on Zeph's face. "...Then perhaps they could do for me what I have not been able to do for myself." He laughed, a soul-less laugh, as if the very laughter itself was brimming with suppressed torment. His gaze lingered on hers for a moment, and then he dropped his head. "I am sorry. I am not as brave as you think I am. Not as brave as him either-" He tilted his head to the side, in the direction of where Cadell was seated, looking still half-asleep. "He chose to fight. I am choosing to run away now."
"But it doesn't have to be that choice." In the back of Raela's mind a long-forgotten idea sleepily surfaced. "Are you not free now? You can choose to be brave. You can choose to do anything. ...And what was in the past, is in the past. The only choices that matter are in the future, are they not?"
Another silence, and then Zeph turned away, looking at the book on the ground. "...Then now I'll make one of them. ...Take the... take it, and..." He opened the book, and handed the vial to Raela. "...We will not make it so easy for them to find it." It seemed almost as if his momentary cowardice had, for the moment, passed behind the clouds.
She watched as he went to the old bike, and, after rummaging through the contents of the storage compartment, fished out a small bottle, into which he poured some plain water. Capping it, he placed the decoy bottle into the book, and then locked it, all the while furrowing his brow. "Your phone is beeping, Miss Raela."
And so it had. She blinked, and fished it out; in the rapt concentration of watching him she had forgotten. Stand by.
Stand by? Stand by what? Before she could think about it, however, the silence was broken, by a whirring noise above them, a noise that slowly descended just as its maker did, the compact helicopter stirring up quite a bit of sand as it landed. There was, however, only one man inside. Auden waved at them, as he emerged from the pilot's seat. She blinked. "Where... where are your Protectors, Auden?"
"...There's trouble at the borders. We could not get out another way. I couldn't afford the extra weight on this craft." He sounded very terse indeed; his gaze flickered from her to Zeph and Cadell, before it alit on Zeph, his expression changing. First incredulity, then a frown. "...Do you mind telling me, what happened?" It was clear that he recognized the man. And he didn't look happy. No, in fact, he looked enraged.