New Breath & Resurrection
Anthony Emerson sped through the city streets, wheels screeching as he skidded through yellow lights and parted crowds of unsuspecting pedestrians. Victor Rhimes, Emerson's second-in-command, had pleaded with him not to leave the Zelmar mansion. There was too great of a chance for Emerson to be caught, he'd reasoned, if he ventured outside.
It was foolish to worry about the authorities, Emerson had told Rhimes, when most of them were contained to the building. Besides, Emerson knew he had a few more hours of anonymity before his face and name became front-page news. Might as well get some fresh air while he still could. Come tomorrow, when he would surely be branded a national enemy, he'd be as much a hostage as the people trapped in Zelmar's mansion.
He had not let any member of his staff accompany him on his impromptu trip to the outskirts of Kohta City, nor did he take the armored van as they had requested. Just him and Takako, he wanted to keep things as normal as possible. He wanted to blend in with the crowds of the city streets, the traffic congestion of the suburban highways. He wanted to enjoy the peace, just the two of them, while he still could.
When he'd relocated to the city fifteen years prior, Emerson had driven the beat-up Toyota Corolla all the way from Yuvari Island. Back then, the bridges had still been intact. It would be another five years before Zelmar would demolish them, letting the island starve and wither.
Emerson couldn't wrap his head around how, even now, the city's masses had not yet caught on to the unrest brewing in the far corners of the country. How the press didn't report on the riots in Atsu Desert, the conspiracies among the survivors still hidden amongst the towering snow drifts of Yuvari Island, the spike in crime within Kohta City.
He wondered if Takako knew of the cracks in Zelmar's system. She must have, given her choice to fight him rather than barter for her brother's life. What did she say her last name was? Floshian? She must be the daughter of Police Chief Bill Floshian, he reasoned, which meant she lived in the middle of the city. Close enough to The Underground to be a part of it, if she was as much of a fighter as he assumed.
He was sure she was. That look she gave him right before she went out - eyes like blue fire - reminded him so much of Maria. He hadn't thought of that side of her for years, but that look of Takako's brought it all back. A true fighter's gaze.
A red light ahead gave him pause. Hooking his elbow behind the headrest of the passenger's seat, he looked over his shoulder at the girl. She was still deeply asleep, spread out on her side in the back seat, chest heaving with deep breaths. Her arms cradled her face, inky hair spilling between her fingers. The wound on her forehead had stopped bleeding, blood caked in fragments like dark spiderwebs across her milky cheeks.
Even in sleep, her brows were knotted, angry. Her lips were pursed together in a tight white line, her hands balled into fists. He took care to avoid any bumps or dips in the road so as not to wake her. He did not want to fight her again. Not just yet.
A buzzing in the next seat startled him. His cell phone gleamed and whirred, displaying an all-too-familiar number. "West," Emerson answered curtly, cradling the phone against his ear as he took the wheel again.
"Did you secure the building?" West said, his voice gruff as though he were speaking through gravel.
"Of course," Emerson replied silkily. "And you? I'm assuming you're calling with good news."
"What else?" he said. "Took a damn long time to find this fucker, though. What do you want me to do with it? Deliver it to Zelmar's or what?"
"No, West, there's been a change of plans. I'm going to need you to sit on the Jewel for now. Do you still own property in Rocky Hills?"
"Just that old brownstone shithole. I was gonna flip it and sell it off, but -"
"I could care less about your ventures into real estate," Emerson cut the man off. "I need you to hide the Jewel in that brownstone. Have Daniels or Isner stay there so we make sure no one else can get to it. I'm having someone pick it up; she should get to it by the end of the week."
"She, huh? You sendin' Beatrice?"
"Oh!" he singsonged. "Maybe I'll stick around the Rocky Hills dump, then. See who this chick is."
"Do calm yourself, West. The girl's still in high school."
"Even better," he growled.
Emerson sucked in a sharp breath, trying to maintain his temper as he sped around too-slow cars and veered onto the exit ramp of the highway. "Don't forget that you still have work to do."
"I know, I know," West said. "I'm just messing with ya, Tony."
"Don't call me Tony."
"Sorry, Boss," he said. "Ya like 'Boss' better? Anyway, why are you havin' some high school chick picking up a goddamned Jewel of Nikolaz? Dontcha think the one kid we already got on our team's enough?"
"The only person on my team you should concern yourself with, West, is you."
Another breath. Maybe he was being too harsh with West. After all, he did come through with the first Jewel of Nikolaz. That was more than the kid had done for him. And now that he thought about it, he'd have to call the kid as soon as he dropped Takako off. He had a new job for him.
"Look, West," he started. "This girl isn't necessarily part of the team."
"What do you mean?"
"She got in the way at the mansion," he explained. "Made me lose my temper. I shot the Zelmar boy."
"You what -?!"
"I know, West, but it's already been done," he said. "With him out of the picture, I've got less of a shot at leverage with Zelmar. So I'm having this girl collect the remaining Jewels for me. Along with you, of course."
"Of course," West echoed. "Does she know about the endgame?"
"No," he said. He jammed on the gas pedal, tearing through yet another yellow light. "Not really. But she will soon enough. Look, West, I've got to go. I'm going to call you back with more details."
"Sure thing, Boss."
Emerson sighed. "West, cut that Boss shit out."
Ending the call, Emerson tossed the phone back into the passenger's seat. The click-clack of the turning signal grated on his ears as he turned into the suburban housing development. In his mind, he wrote up new plans, then scratched them out and wrote up revisions. Keep your mind on the endgame, he urged himself. Soon Maria would be back. Resurrected.
They all would be resurrected.