With every step I took I neared the front entrance to Darren's cabin. I thought of her panicked face as she was seized and pulled into the van. She looked terrified as the doors closed, blocking her from me. Anger built in the pit of my stomach and moved upwards. But so did grief and worry. I was scared I would never see her smiling face again, or her brown hair shimmer in the sunlight.
I reached the door and turned the handle, making my way into Darren's home. He was at his usual spot at the kitchen table, waiting for us since it is the night of the third day.
"Calelon, my boy! Did Anika fall behind?" He asked as he stood with a smile on his face. It soon fell. "You don't look happy. What happened?" He asked with his caring fatherly tone.
"The Authorities thought they would take her from us," I said choosing each word carefully. Darren's face paled and he leaned on the table, making his way to the nearest chair.
"Three days. That was it…how did the Authorities know?" He mumbled more to himself than to me. He sat up quickly, "who betrayed her?" He asked seriously.
"Sarah," I said glumly. "I do not mean to pry…but who betrayed you? I have noticed you are always happy, even with the smallest gesture, and you speak about family bonds a lot. You care about her so much," I said to him.
"Even after losing my parents to the war, shortly after my brother left, I tried to be optimistic. I was only ten at the time but I remained strong because I knew they wouldn't be proud if I succumbed to grief. I phoned my brother often and I would get supplies from our neighbors. My brother would visit me when he could, but just like he wanted, he found himself a girlfriend, later to become his wife, who would bear a child. A girl. She would be named Anika and she would be the apple of her parents' eyes. They brought her here quite often and the three of them had the strongest bond you could ever imagine. When Joanne was still pregnant I found myself a woman. She was incredible. She was so beautiful, too. But for some reason our family name – Cardin – had been marked by the Authorities. After we wed, and she was pregnant, the Authorities came into our home in the night. They slaughtered her and the unborn child and left me with the scar on my back – I am sure you have seen it. To this day I do not know who betrayed us to them, but since then I changed my last name to Walker. But my wife died while she was pregnant with our daughter because someone betrayed us, I will not treat this lightly."
"That is awful. I am truly sorry you had to go through that ordeal on your own," I said and bowed my head. "Sarah was always so genuine towards Anika, though. That makes this even harder to believe."
"Why would she do this?"
"The Authorities told Sarah that her mother, the one who they took and killed, was still alive. They baited her into Anika's capture…Anika for her mother."
"She didn't see her mother though, did she?"
"No. Her mother has been dead for years, now."
"This is awful. How are we to protect Anika from your brother if we don't have her here? …Are you alright…?" Darren said, noticing the way I was clutching my side.
"Well…" I said as I removed my hands.
"Oh my god, you were shot?! Quickly come to the bathroom, I will do what I can but you will have to see your Healers for a proper treatment. I do not think it would be a good idea for me to remove the bullet," he said as he guided me to the bathroom, and then rummaged through his cupboards until he found a red box. I removed my shirt and he began dabbing at the wound.
"You know what the worst part is?" I asked.
"This whole thing could have been avoided."
"Last night I told Anika I would go see Caleleth. I thought maybe she had seen something regarding what was happening in Dellyn. I left Sarah's 'safe house' quite late and didn't reach Aelmere until early this morning. When she saw me her face paled and she told me I had to leave…"
"Calelon, what are you doing back?" She asked.
"What is wrong?"
"You need to go! Where is Anika?"
"She is in Dellyn, why?"
"You will not see her again."
"I've seen it. You will not make it back in time. She will be gone, Calelon. Oh, why did you come here?"
"I needed to ask you if something was going to happen in Dellyn…"
"Something is happening! You need to go! Now! You might have enough time! Go! If you make it…bring her here. She isn't safe from Daechir in the open, or these humans in black."
"Thank you, sister."
"Go!" She urged.
"If I stayed with Anika…she would be here with us. I blame myself."
"It is not your fault. The Authorities are hard to get ahead of. I tried and failed many times."
"But you finally succeeded?"
"How?" I pleaded.
"Please, do not resist! We are not going to hurt you!"
"Yeah right!" I said as I slapped the needle filled with sedative out of the guard's hand.
"We need to put you under; we can't have you back here fighting with us! We also can't allow you to know the location of the Head Quarters."
"I could care less where you're situated. You are not sticking that needle in me."
"Fine, have it your way. Fight all you want, but it will end badly for you."
"You mean like yesterday when your colleague decided to strangle me to death?"
"What do you mean, miss?" The guard asked me, suddenly very concerned.
"You don't know?" I asked. He shook his head. For some reason I felt I could trust him.
"I was in the City yesterday and…Sarah took me to a shop, and the 'employees' were so friendly to us. After we left, the Authority office tower was on fire and the three of us were separated. I went back to the shop since it was close and I saw that the workers were actually Authorities. I was grabbed from behind by a man and taken to the basement. He revealed who he really was: a guard I shot the night you guys ambushed the Renegades. He basically blamed me for his life going to hell and my guard was down for one second and then his hands were around my throat. Jake, one of the three of us, managed to get there in time," I said. I noticed the guard was looking at my neck. He noticed me looking then quickly glanced away.
"Sorry…" he mumbled.
"But…I know who you are talking about and that man was just a minor Officer. I don't know why he was allowed on that mission. He hadn't even reached Guard status. He was fired after that night. He is not an Authority," the man said to me. "Where is he now?"
"Dead. If the fellow ex-Authorities who were with him haven't removed his body yet, you could ask your accomplice, Sarah, where the shop is," I said as I crossed my arms.
"Did you kill him?"
"No. Jake did," I said knowing they wouldn't be able to connect that name to Calelon.
"I'm sorry that had to happen to you, miss."
"It's fine now that I know it wasn't by the Authority's doing."
"All of us on today's mission were under strict guidance: you are not to come to any harm while under our watch."
"Why? I'm not complaining…but why? You know this makes it hard to hate you guys. Talking to you makes me realize that you're just men doing your job. I don't know what I pictured you as before…but…it still doesn't change the fact that you tore my family apart," I said looking into my hands.
"I'm sorry you had to go through that. Since that time, we've had a replacement in leadership. But I hope one day you will change your views about us. However, I know that it will not be today," he said as I felt a pinch in my neck, and then he backed away with the needle in his hand.
"My orders, miss. Forgive me," he said. I could feel the sedative working its magic already. My head was spinning and I was feeling drowsy. I closed my eyes and lowered myself to the floor of the van to avoid falling once I was out. "Hang in there," the man said as he moved to the front of the van. I closed my eyes and everything went black.
"…Her father…" a voice said.
"Really?" A different voice replied.
"She was taught to hate us. She will try to escape," the first voice replied.
"I don't know. She's just a teenager. She didn't seem all that bad when we had our brief conversation," the second voice said. It was the man who sedated me.
"How long did you say the sedative would last for?" A third voice butted in.
"She should be out for a good while after we've reached HQ."
"Good," the third voice replied. So I was still supposed to be under, but I wasn't…did the man give me less? Did my metabolism somehow use it up faster? But I don't know where we are in terms of the Head Quarters, so we could be just arriving, or still several hours from it. I thought I should at least play the part. I kept my eyes closed and as if just waking up, made slow, heavy movements. I opened my eyes as if there was a downward force wanting them to stay shut.
"Wha –" I said sleepily.
"I thought you said…"
"I did…" the man who sedated me said. He added quietly to his colleagues, "maybe she has a fast metabolism…" score one for me...
"Where are we?" I said as I pushed myself up.
"We ain't at Head Quarters, which makes me wonder why yer awake," a man said as he ducked into the back to join me. He knelt beside me and brought his face level with mine. It was covered in scars and one of his eyes was blinded. I couldn't help but look away. "Ain't a pretty sight, eh? This is what would've happened to yeah if ya'll got on the wrong side of the previous leader. Either severe beatin's or death."
"Why are you telling me this?" I asked.
"Jus' saw yeahs looking, is all. The name's Landon, in case yer wonderin'."
"Okay. Um…when will we be there?" I asked.
"Should be at HQ 'round twenty minutes, tha's fer sure."
"But," a man I hadn't seen yet said as he came into the back. "We're going to need to put you under again."
"You cannot know the location."
"How am I supposed to know, there are no windows back here…just blindfold me or something! I don't want another needle in me."
"I don' see what harm a blin'fold could do, sir," Landon agreed.
"Ugh, whatever. But you're the one who has to watch her then."
"Fine by me, sir!"
"Yeah, yeah. Save it yeah dick," he said as he went back to the front of the van.
"It's no trouble. If yous don' wan' a needle pokin' yer skin, I can understand tha'," he said. "So you from Dellyn?"
"I am. Originally…but…well, yes, I am," I said not wanting to talk about living in what the Authorities 'classify' as Wastes. "Judging by the way you speak, I take it you're not?"
"Nah ma'am. I'm from Reddell. Very far away from Dellyn, but when yer movin' up in them ranks, ya'll gotta move ter HQ eventually."
"So…is that how it works?"
"How what works?"
"The ranking system?"
"More or less, yeah. O' course it's a little more complicated."
"Naturally," I said.
"How old are yeah?"
"Eighteen…last month," I said as I thought back to my birthday. Was Sarah still planning to turn me in back then? I doubt it…she never did anything suspicious. And the Authorities knew I was coming back for sure this time. Only because the month I was gone was enough time for them to make a plan for when I came back…but even then, how did they know I would come back?
"Tha' was a bright age fer me. I was a lot younger back then. It was just the start of the war. I was in the army and the Authorities were still a small group then. They recruited the best-fit men from all the differen' corps from around the world to fight fer 'em."
"How many men have you killed?" I asked.
"Not as much as yer thinkin', I can tell yeah tha' much. How did yeah manage to be the Renegades' leader at only eighteen, ma'am?"
"My grandmother was the previous leader…my mother was never into the rebel group and that was when she was neglectful."
"Yous were neglected?"
"Not entirely. I always had my grandmother."
"And yer father?"
"…No. Not really."
"It's okay. Why are you being so nice to me? Aren't I a prisoner?" I asked.
"Not quite," Landon said.
"Blindfold time!" Someone in the front shouted.
"Sorry, ma'am. Precautions."
"I know, I chose to be blindfolded," I said as he slipped black cloth over my eyes and tied it at the back.
"I'm gonna go up fron' now, hang in there, youngin'."
"Thank you, Landon."
"Course." He left and I sat without vision, feeling every bump in the road. We drove for another ten minutes when someone in the front shouted.
"Gate ahead! Mission: successful!" Everyone "wooed" and cheered. I carefully peeled down the blindfold and looked into the front of the van where the Authorities were celebrating. We were approaching a large building surrounded by forest on either side. The 'gate' was a huge slab of metal. I quickly and quietly crept backwards and folded the blindfold over my eyes once more.
"Alright, Anika!" The man who sedated me began in a much lighter and happier tone. "We have reached HQ and we will take off the blindfold as soon as we have passed through the gates." A large buzzer sounded and then he continued, "we are through. Thank you for your…somewhat cooperation. We'll get you to a room so that you can wash up before dinner."
"Wait…" I began as he removed the blindfold. "Aren't I a prisoner…I'm not saying I don't like this, but shouldn't I be treated as one?" I asked confused.
"If you were a prisoner, you would be locked up, you would not be at the Head Quarters, and I most certainly would not have invited you to dinner. Now, excuse me," he said while I got onto my feet and stood in what felt like forever. Landon came into the back.
"Yeah ready ter get out of the van?" He asked with a goofy smile. I couldn't help but laugh.
"Course I must ask yous not ter run. I know yeah wouldn't but there's sure lots'a men wit' guns out there."
"I know. I don't plan on running," I said as the back of the van was opened letting in the bright sunlight, "not yet anyways."