Leila and her companions reach their final destination and find themselves in the abode of a new threat. They’re greeted by Vincent’s old flame, a woman by the name of Variel, who professes to them that he is more ancient than they could have imagined. While she brings answers, she also brings questions as Vincent struggles to accept what she tells him. Some dark secret crawls in the walls of the stately mansion, and they must reveal the truth before the truth catches up to them.
Life is a long road on which we all travel. Some of us get off earlier than others. Right then I wanted to throw myself from the back of that vehicle.
“Stop kicking me!” Bram growled.
Quill glared back at him. “There’s not enough room for you to stretch out your legs, Pipsqueak.”
The four of us were seated in the bed of an old truck. The vehicle saw better days some thirty years prior. Now its shocks were shot, its bed was without a tailgate, and bailing twine peaked out from beneath the hood showing some vital parts were kept together by farmer’s ingenuity and the grace of God. Said farmer sat in the cab with a cowboy hat covering what few gray hairs he had left.
Around us was the wide expanse of an autumn-swept valley. The fields of wheat were cut and bundled for the year, and the animals were tucked into the barns against the coming winter.
Mountains stood watch over the low-lying fields, and a river a few miles ahead of us wound its way through the valley. It was picturesque and peaceful but for the two squabbling children.
I glanced at Vincent. He had a faraway look in his eyes as he gazed out over the fields. We sat side-by-side with the two children opposite us.
I scooted close to him and gave him a nudge. He started from his reverie and looked down at me. “You okay?” I whispered.
He looked back to the view and nodded. “Yeah. I. . .I think I know this place.”
Quill stopped his childish arguing and turned his attention to Vincent. “Like from a postcard or you really know the place?”
Vincent pursed his lips. “Like I really know this place. Like I’ve been here before a thousand times.”
I swept my eyes over the beautiful valley. There was a tug inside me, like I, too, had been here before.
Quill leaned his arm over the side of the bed and glanced at the scenery. “Well, there’s worse places you could’ve picked to live.”
Bram stuck out his tongue. “There’s nothing here but fields and cows.”
Quill rubbed his palm against Bram’s hair, and the young boy swatted his hand away. “Some people don’t like the city, Pipsqueak.”
“Stop calling me that!” Bram snarled.
Quill laughed. “No-can-do, Pipsqueak.”
The pair resumed their squabbling in the background. I leaned forward and caught his eye. “Is the feeling getting stronger or weaker?”
“Stronger.” He looked at the road ahead of us. “Definitely stronger.”
“Do you think we’ll reach where we’re going before dark?” Quill spoke up. “Because I’m not spending another night on the god-forsaken ground.”
The kind farmer who was our chauffeur turned his head and spoke through the open sliding window at the rear of the cab. “There’s a nice motel a couple of miles up ahead. You can stop there.”
I looked to Quill and frowned. “We don’t have any money, and we can’t risk using plastic.”
He grinned and patted his pants pocket. “I thought this might happen, so this is where my secret stash comes in handy.”
Bram’s eyes widened and he leaned towards Quill. “How much you got in there?”
Quill rolled his eyes and placed his palm on Bram’s face. He pushed the boy away. “Not enough to live on, Pipsqueak, so don’t get any ideas.”
Bram glared at him. “I was just asking.”
“Sure you were, Pipsqueak, sure you were.”
“Stop calling me that!”
I shook my head and returned my gaze to Vincent. His lips were pursed and he looked into the distance with narrowed eyes. I tugged on his sleeve. “For a guy who’s just about at the end of a hell of a trip you don’t seem too happy.”
He didn’t look at me when he shook his head. “I left here for a reason.”
I couldn’t stop my heart from sinking as a memory surfaced. “Maybe it was for Variel?”
Vincent he blinked at me. “Variel? Who’s that?”
“You said that name when you were under the spell of the Proxy Plant,” I told him.
He furrowed his brow and slowly repeated the name. “Variel. It. . .it does sound familiar, but I’m not sure.” He clutched his head in one hand and gritted his teeth. “M. . .maybe, but I can’t even see a face.”
“Maybe because it’s a dude,” Quill spoke up. “You know, you could swing that way and not know it.” I shot him a glare that made him wince. He held up his palms in front of him. “It’s just a suggestion.”
I sighed and shifted my weight against the bed side walls. “Well, whatever’s around here I guess we’ll find out soon.”
“I wouldn’t be too thrilled to get where we’re going,” Quill commented.
I raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”
“Because I wasn’t the only one following you guys, remember?” he pointed out. He nodded at the road in front of us. “So that means those guys in white lab coats might be ahead of us at a checkpoint or something, and I don’t think they’re following you for a scoop.”
I glanced out at the road before us and shook my head. “We don’t have much of a choice, but be ready for anything.”
“What’s the matter, Pipsqueak? Cat got your tongue?” Quill teased our short companion.
I looked back at the squabbling pair who no longer fought. Bram’s attention lay on the skies behind us. His eyes were narrowed and his lips were pursed. I followed his gaze and saw they settled on the horizon. Storm clouds as dark as the mystery that surrounded Vincent loomed over the hills.
Bram’s eyes never left the horizon as he shook his head. “There’s something weird about those clouds. They don’t move right.”
Quill leaned against the bed of the pickup and sighed. “Clouds move how they want to, Pipsqueak.”
Bram whipped his head to Quill and glared at him. “They’re moving in the opposite direction they should.”
“You mean they’re moving closer?” I asked him.
Bram nodded. “Yeah. In Celatum they moved from west to east, but these ones are following us.”
Quill shrugged. “Celatum’s a long ways off. Maybe they move differently in this weird valley.”
“I know what I’m talking about!” Bram insisted.
Quill held up his hands. “All right, kid, I’ll believe you, but don’t get too afraid of what’s behind us. I’m more worried about what’s ahead.”
I glanced down the road and pursed my lips. So was I.