I stopped for a moment just before I left my room, feeling the impending sense that I'd forgotten something important. I hurried back in and grabbed my white suitcase, already packed and ready to go, and my brown backpack, my favorite one, filled with all the things in the world I thought I'd need to be prepared for this journey into the unknown. When I was done, I practically ran back downstairs to where Lori, Adrien, and the others were. They had been conversing urgently amongst themselves, but turned simultaneously to look at me when I entered the living room again.
"I'm ready," I announced in the most confident tone I could muster. These people were depending on me to survive now, to keep the legacy of Syndicate alive.
"Good," said Lori, "but before we leave, I thought you might want to say goodbye."
I was confused until a familiar figure stepped out of the shadows. I gasped upon seeing Nate standing in front of me. So he hadn't abandoned me against his will, after all. There were an endless number of places he could have hidden amid all the chaos, but I chose not to dwell on the idea for too long.
"You're here," I said softly, all of my attention focused only on him.
"You're alive," he said at the same time, a relieved grin on his face.
We stepped forward at the same time and crashed together into a tight hug. I tried to savor every moment of it, knowing that this could be the last time we would ever see each other. I started to take note of him, memorizing all the angles of his face, his short, floppy dark hair, his absurdly green eyes…
"It's for the best that we send you away like this, Freya," Jacob spoke up from among the gathered crowd.
I should've known that he was still here, protecting the ancient history of Syndicate. It was a cause he'd been passionate about ever since I was a little kid.
"I understand," I said, drawing myself up to my full height and turning to him. "The Shroud is after me, so I have to be careful."
"Precisely," put in Adrien. "As the inheritor of Syndicate, you must be protected at all costs. You now possess valuable, confidential information that has both the power to do great harm in the wrong hands, but great good in the right ones."
"And don't worry," Lori cut in. "We're here to help you need this information confidential."
Jacob glanced nervously at his watch. "Well, folks, that's all the time we have. Quickly now, before they catch us unawares again."
We said our goodbyes one last time, and then I went with Lori and Adrien through a hidden passageway in the house that I'd always been eagerly curious to explore. The triumph I felt at finally accomplishing a goal of mine was completely forgotten when we ended up on a side street in front of a sleek black car.
"Get in," Lori instructed, her finger already placed on the button of the keys she'd pulled from her purse.
I obeyed, and Adrien followed close behind, riding shotgun. We sped off into the night, leaving no trace of our presence behind, should the enemy decide to pursue us again. Feeling a sudden wave of tiredness coming on, I rested my head against the window, and soon found myself lulled to sleep by the purring of the engine.
We arrived at a large, quiet airport, and I blinked rapidly to try and force myself to stay awake. I got out of the car and stretched, soon followed by Lori and Adrien. There was no one else in sight, a small blessing, or so I thought.
"Does anyone come here anymore?" I asked, stifling a yawn.
"Not through here," Adrien assured me. "That's why this is the special Syndicate entrance."
"Right," Lori chimed in. "It's for members only. And since you're in charge of the whole thing now, we're making an exception for you."
"Great," I said, blinking again. The rest I'd gotten in the car hadn't been nearly enough to sustain me, a fact I was likely to regret sooner or later.
We walked into the airport together, and I immediately felt like I'd entered into some bizarre dream. Everything was neat, tidy, and tinted in shades of black, white, and grey, except for the concession stands and shops. Every time I looked at one, I saw a burst of bright color. It was almost suspiciously perfect in its ambience.
The people around us were another story entirely. Like me, they looked tired and bleary-eyed, and ignored us for the most part. Still, I held on tighter to my suitcase, cautious of any mishap that could happen.
I stuck close to Lori and Adrien, who seemed to know exactly where they were going. Not one to like being left out of the loop for long, I was determined to find out where our destination was precisely.
"Where are we going?" I asked, feeling at least a little more wide awake than I had before.
"You'll find out...soon," said Lori. "It's just through here."
We stopped in front of an exclusive-looking lounge, the kind my parents had frequented when we'd gone on family vacations. Lori and Adrien flashed their credentials in front of the electronic monitor, and the doors slid open, hardly making a sound.
"We came all this way just to escape into the lounge?" I asked, mentally getting ready to put my guard up. I had nowhere to go from here if things went awry.
"Not quite," Adrien informed me, beckoning me to step closer to him as Lori walked towards the wall.
A brief glance around confirmed that we were the only ones in the lounge at the moment. It was a small comfort to be the only witness to whatever crazy plan they had concocted.
Lori rummaged in her purse, muttering quietly to herself. Then she pulled out a strange device that I couldn't quite make out and waved it around in the air. For every stroke in the air she made, a color appeared on the otherwise blank wall.
"What is that?" I asked, fascinated. "What is going on?"
"It's a well-kept secret of Syndicate," Adrien explained. "Don't worry; it won't leave a mark behind."
"I see," I said, trusting that whatever he said was true. Under the circumstances, it was a good thing, if so; it was best to be as discreet in my actions as possible.
In just a short amount of time, Lori had progressed greatly with whatever she was trying to accomplish. I saw streaks of purple amidst blue, pink, and orange. They all blended together, as if they were a living organism. I looked on in awe, unable to help my fascination.
"Let's go," said Lori, turning to us briefly. "Quickly, now. I can't hold this thing open forever."
Adrien leaned in close to me and murmured, "Follow me."
The colors had taken on a life of their own, or so it seemed. They continually swirled around almost in the shape of a cartoonishly large circle. And I looked on in horror as Adrien walked forward, stepped into the circle of colors, and disappeared.
"Where did he go?" I exclaimed, turning to Lori.
"Follow him, and you can find out," she told him. "I'll be right behind you, Freya."
"Okay," I said, and walked towards the circle before I could talk myself out of it.
It was only when I walked through the portal-there was no other way to describe it-that I understood. The colors swirled around me, guiding me through to the other side on what could only be a pathway of some sort. And before I knew it, I stepped out of the portal, having ended up somewhere else entirely.
I stepped back and watched as Lori emerged soon after me, and made short work of closing the portal once again. Adrien had been right; when it had been closed, it vanished from sight, like it had never existed. Like I'd imagined the whole thing.
I turned around and immediately gasped at the sight before me. We had entered a dark, desolate landscape; the only building visible was a tall, looming, castle-like structure. It was surrounded by a large metal fence with a tall gate in the middle, sporting an intricate symbol at the top.
"Where are we?" I couldn't help but ask, turning to Lori and Adrien for answers.
"This is Damnation," Lori explained. "You'll be perfectly safe here. Don't worry; it's a lot nicer than it looks."
I didn't understand what she was talking about until I took a closer look at our surroundings. Something about the place gave me the sense of an ending, of death, though I couldn't exactly say why.
"Who lives in that castle?" I asked innocently, wanting to distract my mind from the disturbing thoughts that continued threatening to creep up on me.
"You didn't know?" Adrien asked curiously. "That's where Asariel lives. He's known as the demon king. We're hoping he'll agree to shelter you for the time being."
My heart skipped a beat as we began walking closer to the castle. The name Asariel sounded jarringly familiar to me, though I couldn't remember where I'd heard it from before…
Two guards stationed at the gates stopped us and asked a barrage of questions, but let us in after a concise explanation from Lori and Adrien. I half expected them to create another portal to bring us inside, and was pleasantly surprised when the large double doors opened seemingly of their own accord.
I followed Lori and Adrien down several grand hallways filled with bright, elegant colors. I wanted to stop and admire every insignificant detail of what I saw, but resisted the urge, knowing that I could very easily get lost.
We entered the throne room, and I could only stand there, looking around in awe. It was mostly bare, with lush red carpeting, a small table, and two large windows placed strategically on the wall. In the center of it all was a large gold throne, and the most handsome man I had ever seen in my entire life.