Xue paced back and forth on the warehouse dock, looking out over the expanse of water. Sael was one of the merfolk. He’d attempted to give orders that the man be taken into custody, only to find said orders immediately countermanded. The Cabal was sending a representative to look into the matter here. And somehow, his guards had let one of the prisoners escape. Everything was falling apart.
He glanced at the large iron cage. His other captive sat inside, leaning against the bars. Greg’s skin was pale, and his breathing labored, but he’d been assured that it could still take the man a couple days to die. The setup was simple. To heal Greg, the creature would have to enter the cage. Then both could simply be taken back to the facility and secured.
The guards had tranquilizer guns in addition to their normal firearms. A small part of him regretted ordering the girls to be killed. He had rather liked them, before they’d betrayed him. “People will investigate.”
The sound of Greg’s voice made him turn. “I’m sure they will.” He stared down at the younger man.
“Adele’s father…” Greg swallowed before looking up at him. “He’s a congressman. He already knows.”
Adele’s father was a complication, but fortunately… “My men are even now planting evidence.” Xue smirked. “Evidence that will show you lured the girls here with a story and killed them, along with a police officer and several others.” He crouched down to look Greg in the eye. “Even if you manage to escape again, all that will happen is you get taken to prison.” He noted Greg’s glare. “Where I’ll simply retrieve you, and well…” He stood again. “There will be consequences.”
Keeping Greg as a prisoner was simply pragmatic. He’d bonded with the creature, somehow managing to communicate with it despite observation. As he’d killed a few of the guards, the others were quite willing to help ‘convince’ him to cooperate. Xue had already arranged an extra shock collar.
“Sir.” One of the handlers drew his attention back to the present. He looked over to see the man indicating a boat approaching. “That looks like the boat from the garage.”
“Good.” Xue smiled. “Be ready.”
“There are quite a few men with guns.” Phil gave Yala an apprehensive look as they pulled the boat to a stop still some distance from the shore. “Tell me you have a plan.”
When he didn’t respond, Natalya gently put a hand on his arm. “Yala, do you…”
He made a sharp growling sound. “The rest of you should go.”
“Yala, you can’t intend to hand yourself over.” Natalya shook her head. “We can…”
“If you go with me, they will kill you.” Yala took a deep breath. “I sent a message. Help is coming.”
“How soon can it get here?” Adele sat up, clutching the kitten to her.
Yala glanced at the shore. “Not soon enough for Greg.” He started for the side of the ship, and Natalya held his arm tightly. “Natalya…” He sighed. “Greg would not forgive me if I brought you into danger.”
“Yeah, he’s an asshole like that.” She blinked tears back. “But he’s also going to be pissed if you get yourself captured trying to save him.”
“I know the truth, Yala.” Phil nodded. “I can get help, bust Xue and…” He glanced at the shore.
“Not quickly enough.” Yala gave him a pointed look.
“No.” Phil sighed, and nodded. “Not quickly enough for this, but if you can buy us time, then yeah. We’ll get you, Greg, and Jim out of there.”
A slight hissing sound escaped Yala, and Natalya raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong?” When he turned back to the shore and frowned, she asked again. “Yala, what’s wrong?”
“The wind carries their scents. I smell Greg, and Xue, but…” He gave a small shake of his head. “I do not find Jim’s scent among them.”
“Fuck.” Adele leaned back, her eyes half closed. “If they killed that sweet kid…”
“They will pay.” Yala’s eyes turned the sharklike black. “Go. Get safe. Get help.” He smiled at Natalya, showing rows of sharp teeth. Then he nodded, and to her surprise, gave her a light kiss on the cheek, the same way Greg often did. “I will keep Greg safe.”
Then he dove into the water.
When the boat started moving away, Greg felt a surge of hope. They weren’t going to be stupid after all. He started trying to pull himself up to see better, and there was a surge of pain in his abdomen. Lie still. He blinked, then glanced to see who had spoken. The strange whisper sounded female and oddly accented.
His heart sank when he saw Yala emerge from the water. “No.” He started trying to get up again. I said lie still. He swallowed, then lay back, going still. Yala shot a glare at Xue before moving toward the cage. “Yala.”
“Where is Jim?” Yala stopped a few feet away from the open cage door. “Did they kill him?”
“We —” Xue started to speak.
“I was not talking to you.” Yala snarled at him, showing rows of sharp fangs. “Greg, did they kill Jim?”
“He got away.” Greg managed a small shake of his head. “Yala, get out of here.”
Yala locked his eyes on Xue. “Last chance. Give me Greg, and leave.”
“Get in the cage.” Xue smirked. “Or watch him die.”
“Yala, don’t.” Greg stared at his friend. “Please, just run.”
“You didn’t.” Yala smiled at him.
Then he stepped into the cage.
Adele gave Natalya a fierce look as they pulled the boat to shore. “We’re going after them.”
“We’re going after them.” Natalya bent down to pick up the shotgun.
“This is a terrible idea.” Phil checked his own gun before helping himself to the rifle.
“But you’re coming with us.” Adele smiled at him.
“Yeah.” He nodded. “I am.” He sighed. “I wish we had more —” He cut off as someone tossed a duffel bag onto the shore in front of them, half open to reveal several more weapons. “Guns.”
“Jim.” She smiled before rushing up and hugging the young man tightly and planting a kiss on his cheek. “You’re alright.”
“There is body armor as well.” Jim smiled at her. Then he pointed. “And the jeep.”
“You should get clear, son.” Phil nodded to him. Then he blinked as he took something from the bag. “Where the hell did you get SWAT issue Kevlar?”
“Call it a Christmas present.” Jim shrugged, then he sighed before looking down at Adele. “I can’t come with you.”
“I wasn’t going to ask you to.” She kissed his cheek again. “You’ve done more than enough.”
“I wish that were true.” He sighed. “But I’ve done more than I should have.” He started to walk away, and she grabbed his arm. “Adele?”
“Here.” She shoved the kitten into his hands. “Take Octopus with you, and look after him.” She smiled. “You’ve still got my number, right?”
“Yes.” He looked down at the kitten, then shifted his grip to hold it more comfortably.
“Good. Call me in a few days. We get through this, I’m taking you out for dinner.” She smiled, then waved in a shooing motion. “Now get lost, before they catch you.”
“Good luck.” He nodded before turning and vanishing back into the woods.
“Something odd about that kid.” Phil stared down at the bag.
“Cause he came back to help?” Adele turned to glare at Phil.
“No…” Natalya lifted her head. “Because he was waiting here for us, with guns.”
“I…” She looked back in the direction Jim had gone. “Oh.”
He brushed Greg’s hair back from his face gently as the cage was closed behind him. “You shouldn’t have come.” Greg was shaking his head. The man’s skin, normally delightfully warm, was almost cool to the touch. “Yala…”
“Shhh.” Yalathanil sat next to him, then lifted Greg’s bandage out of the way to check his wound. He didn’t quite understand human anatomy, but there was enough damage done to be bad on any sort of creature. “You’re going to be alright.”
“Heal him.” Yalathanil looked up to see Xue staring, arms folded. “I’m curious to see it done.”
“Matters not if I heal you.” Yalathanil looked down at his hand before using a pocketknife to cut it open. “You are a dead man walking.” He pressed his bleeding hand to Greg’s wound and concentrated. He’d been right. Greg didn’t have much time left. Yalathanil was slightly light headed by the time he’d repaired the damage. He started to rise, and couldn’t. Greg caught him as he started to fall, then pulled Yalathanil close to him protectively.
“Sweet.” Xue smirked, then turned toward his men. “Put the cage on the boat. We need to get to the airport.”
“Yala…” Greg’s voice whispered into his ear.
“The others are safe.” Yalathanil smiled at him. “I sent them away. They will get help.”
“You…” Greg gave a small shake of his head. “You think you sent them away?”
“I did…” Yalathanil sighed. “They will be smarter than to…” He glanced back at the woods. “Let us hope Xue gets us out of here quickly.”
“You shouldn’t have done this, Yala.” Greg squeezed his shoulders gently.
“You did not leave me.” Yalathanil reached up to stroke his cheek, enjoying the feel of Greg’s beard beneath his fingers. And to think the man had considered removing it. “I could not leave you.” He looked up to see a hook coming toward the cage. “What are they doing?”
“Transporting the entire cage to the boat there.” Greg exhaled. “They uh…” He shrugged. “Don’t intend to let us out until we are back at Xue’s facility.”
Yalathanil glanced at the bars. Given time and some rest, he could probably bend them enough for him and Greg to slip out, but he doubted they’d have the opportunity. Once back at the facility, options would be far more limited. He glanced up when Xue walked back over. “You’ll be back in the tank by this time tomorrow.” Xue smiled. “I’ve got new collars for both of you.” Xue’s eyes narrowed. “You can either cooperate, or find out of that trick of yours will grow your friend there a new hand. Have I made myself clear?”
His lips curled back from his rows of razor sharp teeth. “They told you not to let me near the water.”
“They…” Xue blinked.
“The only instruction they gave you.” Yalathanil shook his head. “Don’t let me into any water that connects to the ocean.” He leaned forward, lowering his head. “I already killed you, old man.” He had the satisfaction of seeing Xue pale just a little.
Then the man shook his head. “As you can see, I’ve rectified that situation.” He waved a hand at the handlers. “Get moving.”
“What did you do?” Greg whispered to him.
“I sent a message.” Yalathanil smiled.
Xue watched the cage loaded onto the back of the barge. Hopefully, he’d have everything back to his facility in time to meet the representative the Cabal was sending. The creature’s words had hit a little closer than he liked. He had been warned. But the creature hadn’t made it to the ocean, and he’d been recaptured. The Cabal might not be happy, and this would definitely cost him, but the matter was handled.
He was heading to the boat when the first shot rang out. One of the handlers fell, clutching his side. Several others starting shouting, and then his guard was grabbing him and pulling him toward the boat. “Get Genna.”
“She’s already on board, sir.” His guard gestured for him to keep his head down as he got onto the ship. A quick glance showed the guard was telling the truth. Genna was barely visible in the boat’s cabin, keeping her head down.
“Good. Get us moving.”
“The boat is leaving.” Natalya put the shotgun back to her shoulder and aimed at one of the guards. She hit a barrel nearly a foot away from him as he ran toward the vehicles. “Shit. Shit, they are getting away.”
A few trees away, Phil fired. He knocked someone off the boat, but the barge was already pulling away from the dock. Adele was aiming at the cars, trying to do as much damage to them as she could as men fled. A few were starting to shoot back, but most of them clearly just wanted to get out of there.
But then, they had what they came for. They had Yala and Greg. “No, no, no…” She reloaded quickly, then aimed at the barge itself. If she could disable it or… She couldn’t even tell if the first shot hit it. She fired again, and then there was a sudden great crashing sound. The boat lurched to the side, nearly falling over. “I hit…” She screamed as she saw the cage containing Yala and Greg fall off the side of the boat and vanish into the water. “No, Greg. No.”