“Good night love. Sleep well.”
The lights click off and the woman finally leaves me alone. There’s still some dim sunlight filtering in through the filthy windows, but all I can make out are the silhouettes of endless crates and bulky machinery. I’m tied to the chair, lying on my side on the gritty, concrete floor once more.
I scream for help for a while, and then I just scream. I stop when throat feels raw. Then I sob.
“Are you finished?” an annoyed voice asks. I’m too exhausted to be surprised. The voice is a man’s and has a slight accent which I can’t quite place. I crane my neck, trying to find the source. When I see the reflective eyes on top of a nearby crate I don’t even question the fact that a cat is talking to me.
“What do you want?” I ask, dropping my head back to the cold floor.
“Well, I was going to offer to help actually.”
I snort. “What is this? The good cop, bad cop routine?”
The large cat jumps off of the crate and walks over to me. It sits directly in front of my face, staring at me for several minutes. Again, I’m too tired to care.
“You did well, you know. You figured out how to resist her quickly. And that head butt,” the cat chuckles, “I’ve never seen Mirena thrown so off balance.”
“Well!? She dug through my life like dirty laundry. Hell, she knows more about me than my shrink! And she got what she wanted. I don’t even know why I’m still alive.”
“She got a piece of what she wanted, but you managed to conceal even more. She doesn’t know Hunter’s been tailing Detective Yagher. And she doesn’t know about you sacrificing your singing to save him. They already guessed that Hunter was AWOL anyway,” he explains while casually scratching behind his ear with a back leg.
“I didn’t know about him tailing Yagher. And how do you know about my singing? Wait… sacrificed it to save who?” my head is spinning and it isn’t just because the woman, Mirena, spent all day scavenging through it.
The cat… sighs? I guess? Whatever noise he makes, it sounds exasperated. Like he’s talking to an idiot. I can’t tell if he’s impressed with me or annoyed.
“She doesn’t know you saw Hunter again after the party. She would have figured out who he was following on her own. And if you didn’t know, then why have you been spending so much time with the cop?” When he finishes talking, he stands and starts walking behind me. I can feel tugging at the ropes around my wrists.
“I don’t know. He keeps calling me, asking me out. He wants to know who put the protection spell on me the night of the attack.”
“Why didn’t you tell him?” The cat’s voice sounds muffled, like his mouth is full.
I shrug, “Because I didn’t want him to hurt the guy… to hurt Hunter… before I found out why. I’m not sure I want him to hurt anyone at all, really.”
I feel the rope come loose from my hands and I pull them in front of me, rubbing my sore wrists.
“You can do your feet for yourself,” the cat says before licking a front paw. I lean over and get to work, untying the tight, complicated knot Mirena has made.
“So, who was the guy I saved that time?”
“You can’t figure it out?” he asks sardonically before continuing his bath.
I think about it, my fingers untangling the complicated knot. It sounded like the cat had been talking about either Hunter or Yagher. It might explain why Hunter helped me, and maybe even the scar on his face. But instinct tells me that’s not the right answer. I think about both instances when I was able to sing. The phone calls I received right after and Yagher’s exhausted voice. Like he was upset about something. I recall the scars riddling his body.
“It was Yagher.”
Cat doesn’t say anything, just jumps up onto a few crates. After I finish the last knots, I stand and walk over to him, perfectly eye level.
“What now?” I ask, “I’m guessing this place isn’t entirely unguarded. Not to mention I’m…” I gesture to myself, still shirtless. I’m suddenly thankful Mirena let me use the washroom, even if I was mostly tied and she watched the whole time. Though degrading, the last thing I want to do before escaping is stop and take a pee break.
“We climb. I can guide you. Hunter should be there to help you down once you get to the window. There are guards posted at the doors, but we should be alright from this side.”
He starts bounding up crates in quick succession.
“Hunter?” I ask nervously. I slowly follow Cat up, feeling around for the next place to put my foot or hands. The sun must be setting because the building is getting darker by the second.
He pauses to let me catch up, his eyes glinting in the remaining sunlight. He ignores my question. “You might be better off stepping on that one to your right, not sure the other will hold your weight. Good. Not much further.” He bounds up a few more crates.
I stop for a short break. My arms and legs are aching from the climb and, though I’m desperate to escape, I am acutely aware that Hunter is a skin mage. I know that he saved my life, but right now my only experience with skin mages includes Yagher’s horror stories and Mirena.
“Who are you anyway?” I ask Cat, “Are you Hunter’s familiar or something? Why is he helping me?”
“I am no one’s familiar,” he hisses at me before cocking his head to the side. His right ear twists back and forth. “Hurry up, I hear something out there. They might be coming to check on you soon.”
I close my eyes and breathe deeply before beginning my ascent again. As difficult as it is to grope my way up, I am somewhat thankful that it is now too dark to see how far I might fall.
Once he’s sure I’m not going to take any more breaks, Cat bounds onto the last crate and stands on two back paws, leaning the front ones against a window. It opens upwards on two hinges and he falls neatly, balancing his front two legs on the fine edge of the bottom pane. He curses under his breath.
“What’s wrong?” I whisper, coming up to kneel on the crate beside him.
“Hunter isn’t there. And I think I can hear something going on near the back door. We have to find our own way down.”
I lean my head carefully forward and look down. It’s a three storey drop from the window to the rocky ground below. I can see broken shards of glass glinting in the failing light, likely from broken beer bottles. I can probably survive the drop, but I doubt I can land it uninjured. “What was he going to do anyway? Catch me?”
“I think his original plan was to bring some rope or something. Use his magic to warp the wall if he had to… though it would have used up a lot of his energy.”
“Couldn’t he have just called the cops or something. Yagher would have…”
“The last thing we want is Yagher getting involved,” he starts, but then quickly whispers, “Get back!”
I pull my head back from the window, watching as two figures appear around the corner. They dance around each other, occasionally struggling against the wall. I recognize Hunter by his long red hair. The other is a woman. I almost mistake her for Mirena until I notice that she is shorter and stockier. She’s wearing a security uniform, but I can tell by the way she is wielding a long, wooden staff that she is a mage. She twirls it and lunges at Hunter, barely missing his face. She whips it downward at the last second and connects with his leg. Somehow there is now a hole in his jeans and a large, open wound on his left thigh.
He limps away, but somehow manages to dodge several more of her attacks. I’m almost mesmerized by his agility. I guess skin mages must have intense physical training for this kind of situation. After all, he has to get close enough to touch her skin.
“You should lower yourself as much as possible and then drop. No matter how badly it hurts, just run. Hunter will be able to keep her busy for that long anyway,” Cat says, interrupting my thoughts.
“What and just leave him?” I look from Cat back to the melee below. I feel useless. Weak.
Cat confirms this by answering, “What can you do?”
“Can’t you help at least? Trip her or something? Brie’s cat used to half kill her all the time by doing shit like that.”
“Love to. But if Hunter finds out I left you here where they might catch you, he’ll never feed me again,” I look at him, but if he’s joking, I can’t tell.
I watch as Hunter and the woman pass directly under us and I can see more wounds covering Hunter’s body. He seems to be trying to increase the distance between them now and I wonder if he’s trying to retreat. I turn to my feline companion.
“I have an idea. It probably won’t work, but we might as well try.”
When I tell him, he grumbles that it’s foolish but jumps down anyway, landing softly on his padded feet. Hunter is directly below me now, the woman quickly closing the gap between them. He narrowly dodges as she lunges at him. At the last minute Cat jumps out beside her and yowls.
I take a breath and drop feet first as she turns toward him in surprise.
My feet strike between her shoulders, knocking her to the ground. I stumble over her as she falls, my knees colliding with earth and rock. The pain reverberates through my entire body. The woman is winded, but already recovering. Thankfully Hunter is unfazed and dashes forward, his hand reaching for her cheek. She falls forward, unconscious.
“Well that went better than expected,” Cat says, loping over to me. I look at him and then up to Hunter who is towering over me. He leans down and extends a hand.
“Don’t touch me!” I shout without thinking, pulling my hands to my chest. He slowly stands and looks down at me. It’s too dark to make out the expression on his face. The blood pouring down his left eye doesn’t help either.
“Can you walk?” he asks in his deep voice, “There are others coming soon.”
I nod and force myself to stand, despite my aching body and the strong desire to just lie down and fall asleep.
“Come on,” he says, leading the way. Cat trots after him and I scurry to catch up. It’s not long before I realize that I am actually walking better than him. That his limp is worsening the further we travel. Though we’ve made it out of the wasteland of some industrial area and into the beginnings of a residential one, we’ve not covered that much ground. I look behind us and notice a faint trail of blood glimmering under the street lights.
“Stop,” I say, and the others turn to look at me.
“Are you hurt?” Hunter asks.
“No, you are. We have to put something around that wound. Use your shirt,” I instruct him. He hesitates and looks behind us, like he’s worried we don’t have time to stop. When he sees that no one is visibly pursuing us, he quickly pulls off his shirt and tightens it around his thigh.
“Great, now everyone’s half naked,” I joke, too tired to care that I’ve drawn attention to my own lack of clothing.
“Technically I’m completely naked,” Cat says.
“Alright… so where are we going? Do we have a plan?” I ask. I’m surprised by my sense of calm; some animal part of my brain must realize that we’re still in danger, and prevents me from thinking about anything but what needs to be done.
“Get to my place. They don’t know where I’ve been staying. Should be safe there,” Hunter says confidently, but I detect the slight waver in his voice from the pain he’s trying to conceal.
“That’s one hell of a trek” Cat replies, “And I wouldn’t trust a cab driver not to talk. You can’t use the subway looking like that. Shit Hunter, I don’t think you can make it that far.”
Hunter starts limping forward again. I feel like I should help support him, but I can’t stand the thought of touching him.
“Can’t you like heal yourself or something? Open up some kind of magic portal?” Okay, so the latter sounds a bit far fetched, but I’m desperate.
“Can’t use my magic on myself. Skin mages can draw magical energy from any host that we touch, so… it’s like a safety. I can’t cast anything by touching myself, to prevent me from using too much energy.”
Cat immediately pipes up, “All men should have a safety that prevents them from using too much energy when they touch themselves.”
It’s a shitty joke, but I burst out laughing anyway. Hunter looks up at me, slightly surprised. “I’m sorry, I am very, very tired.”
He turns away, but I’m pretty sure he smiles for a second before a grimace of pain ripples across his face. Then we all freeze as we see headlights approaching us from behind.
This is it. Of course we were never going to get far.
When the car slows I’m certain that this is the end. They’re going to kill us all for sure.
“This is pathetic,” a familiar voice says. I turn and look to see a man with dark hair, grey creeping in at the sides. His eyebrow is cocked and his mouth is curved in an annoyingly smug grin.
“Grant! Please tell me you’re on our side,” I beg, betting the last of my hope on his help.
It’s not Grant who answers, but Hunter, “Where the hell have you been!?”
I sigh with relief and climb into the back seat of the car. The last thing I remember is seeing Cat through the window, running off into the night, before I pass out from pure exhaustion.