DISCLAIMER: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Paramount Studios and Pet Fly Productions. These stories are offered for the enjoyment of the fans. No money has exchanged hands.
Following the Wolf by Susan L. Williams
Thumb running up and down the sweating neck of his beer bottle, Blair gazed out at the street, telling himself that he was not keeping an eye out for the occasional stray APC. Arguillo was in prison; Alex Barnes was in a hospital for the criminally insane back in the States; there was nothing to worry about. And Jim wasn't here, which reduced the odds of anyone shooting at him considerably. Before he met Jim, hardly anyone had ever tried to kill him. Now it was a semi-regular event. If he became a cop -- Man, he wouldn't be able to walk the street. But at least he'd be able to defend himself. He'd have a gun, just like Jim. And he might have to use it. No, if he were Jim's partner, he would have to use it. And he wouldn't be able to get away with just shooting over people's heads, he'd have to shoot with the intention of hitting something. Someone.
God. God, he couldn't do that. How could he do that? How could anyone? How could Jim?
Blair downed half his beer in one gulp. Jim did it because he had to. Because he believed it was necessary in order to do his job. Because the bad guys had guns, and if a cop wanted to survive, he'd better have one too. Not a lot of really bad guys would put down their guns just because you asked nicely. He knew that. And he was pretty sure that he could shoot someone to save a life. But that was a far cry from packing a gun virtually 24/7, knowing all the time that you might have to use it. Knowing that your partner, other cops, every citizen of Cascade depended on you to know when to use it and to do it without hesitation, because if you didn't, someone -- your partner, another cop, a citizen of Cascade -- could die, and it was your job to prevent that. And if you lost a piece of yourself, a little bit of your humanity along the way, well, that was a hazard of the job and you knew that going in, so don't blame anyone else, Sandburg, just keep your weapon and your shoots clean and get on with it.
Blair signaled the waiter for another beer. He did not need to be thinking about this now. Too many hours and too little sleep in a series of planes that had gotten progressively smaller and less comfortable, followed by a hassle at customs and a jouncing, interminable bus ride from Sierra Verde's only airport, had left him exhausted, but too wired to sleep. He wanted to sleep -- he really, really wanted to -- but half an hour of staring at the grimy ceiling of his hotel room had convinced him that it wasn't going to happen. So here he was, sitting in the same café where Jim had dragged him and Megan to meet Simon last time they were here, wearing the same Hawaiian print shirt, drinking the same kind of beer, and feeling just as crappy as he had then. Maybe he should eat. The food actually smelled pretty good, and it had to be better than what he'd gotten on the planes. If Jim were here, he'd order the weirdest thing on the menu, just to watch his partner try not to watch him eat it. But Jim wasn't here. And shouldn't be. He had to do this alone. Which meant he could stick to some conservative dish without risking his reputation as a grossout gourmand.
"You're the anthropologist?"
Twin shadows fell across the table. Blair looked up, shielding his eyes against the strong afternoon sun. Two men looked down at him. Both were slightly under six feet, in their late 30's or early 40's. One was blond, blue-eyed, unshaven, his clothes dirty and sweat-stained: worn chinos and a Hawaiian shirt ten times brighter than his own, despite its age. The other was dark, black-haired, brown-eyed, probably a native of Sierra Verde. He was stockier than the blond, his khakis and linen shirt clean.
"How'd you know that?" Blair asked.
The darker one smiled. "You told the desk clerk at the hotel."
Had he? Yeah, he probably had. Force of habit. He'd have to watch that. Wouldn't want people accusing him of fraud. He held out his hand. "Blair Sandburg."
The dark guy shook it, then the blond. "Ed Bryce," the blond said. "This is Tony Carreno."
"What can I do for you?"
They sat down, one on either side of him, neither facing him directly.
"You're cautious," Carreno said. "That's good."
Cautious? What did that have to do with -- Oh, no. Oh, man. This couldn't be good. "Uh, yeah. Thanks."
"Let's get down to business," Bryce said. "We've got some very nice stuff, and we're prepared to be reasonable about the price."
Stuff? Not drugs. Please let it not be drugs. Or guns. Or nerve gas. Especially not nerve gas. "Great. That's great. But I'm not --"
"Of course," Carreno interrupted, "we understand that you will need to inspect the merchandise."
"Uh..." Get out of this, Blair. Get out of it now. "Yeah. Of course. Um, what have you got, exactly?"
"You weren't told?"
Are you out of your mind? What are you doing? You are not undercover. You are not a cop. Jim isn't even here. You have no backup. You can't do this on your own. Shut your big mouth and get out. "I want to hear it from you."
"We have too many to list, but as Ed told you, there are some very fine pieces. Bowls, cups, jewelry, weapons. Our prize is an obsidian dagger with a gold jaguar hilt. Magnificent. All Mayan or Olmec, or other local tribes, of course."
Artifacts. He should have known. No wonder they were expecting an anthropologist. No way this was legal. No way. Bastards. Blair forced himself to nod. "Sounds good. If they're authentic."
Carreno nodded at Bryce, who pulled a lump wrapped in filthy cloth from his pants pocket and handed it to Blair. Blair unwrapped the cloth gingerly, to reveal an armband carved from a single piece of turquoise. Unable to resist, he inspected it closely. It was definitely old, definitely real turquoise, and the pattern was Mayan. It looked authentic.
Bryce plucked the armband out of Blair's hands. "Yeah, isn't it?"
"The rest are equally good," Carreno said. "Would you like to see them now?"
"Now?" Oh, God. Stall, Blair, stall. You can't go off with these guys alone. "Uh, let's make it tomorrow. It's been a long trip."
"Fine. We'll meet you here at, say, 8 A.M?"
The two men stood up and started to walk away. Blair's anger got the better of him. "Can I ask you something, Senor Carreno?"
The dark-haired man turned back.
"No esta usted averganzado de vender su cultura?" [Aren't you ashamed to sell your culture?]
Bryce's eyes narrowed, but Carreno met his gaze straight on, his expression unchanged. "I would be more ashamed to live in a shack and eat only corn and beans."
"There are other ways to make a living."
"But few so profitable. This is a pot and kettle situation, isn't it, Mr. Sandburg?"
"I guess it is. Sorry. I was just curious."
"I understand. Tomorrow."
They left the café, not without a few backward glances from Bryce. Blair put his head down on his arms. Wonderful, Sandburg. Just wonderful. You came here to get yourself straightened out spiritually, not to get involved with artifact smugglers. You can't handle these guys by yourself. Hell, you don't even know if these two are it. There could be a dozen more somewhere. Probably not -- it would cut down on the profits -- but there could be.
So just what are you going to do now? Meet them, and probably get yourself killed? No, thanks. Once was enough. Call Jim? He'd love to hear what you've gotten yourself into. And he's got no jurisdiction down here anyway. He'd have to set something up with the local cops, assuming they'd cooperate. They might, though. After all, they did know the guy in charge down here. What was his name? Ortega. Captain Ortega. He hadn't exactly been ramrod straight -- okay, he'd almost gotten them killed -- but he'd come around when Simon explained the danger presented by the nerve gas. Ortega was the best bet. But you can't wait for Jim. Even if you manage to reach him, Jim couldn't possibly be here by tomorrow. You've got to handle this yourself.
Blair left the café, abandoning his beer. If he wanted Ortega to listen to him, he had to be clear-headed, not a drunken American tourist. Ortega might not even remember him; most of the Sierra Verdean's contact had been with Simon and Jim. Keeping an eye out for Bryce and Carreno, he made his way to the police station, trying to be inconspicuous about it, and slipped inside.
Cool, grey-blue walls -- newly painted -- offered visual relief from the yellow heat outdoors, and fans did their best to stir the heavy air. The uniforms reflected the tone of the walls; the men, accustomed to the heat, showed no sign of being affected by it. Sizing him up with one glance, the young officer at the front desk spoke to Blair in badly-accented English. His nametag read "Ribera".
"Your business, senor?"
Blair replied in Spanish. "Quisiera ver a Capitan Ortega."
Officer Ribera disappeared into an office, and emerged less than a minute later with another man who quickly moved ahead of him. For a second, Blair thought it was Ortega; he was the same size and slight build. But this man's hair was straight where Ortega's had been curly. His nose was longer, his face wider and there was grey peppered in his hair and moustache.
"I am Capitan Sedillo," he said in English. "How may I help you?"
"Actually, I was hoping to see Captain Ortega."
"Come into my office, please."
Sedillo led him to an office devoid of personal touches. What papers there were lay in precise stacks on the desk. Pens were lined up in neat rows. When he first met Jim, his desk had looked like that.
"Please, sit down."
The wooden chair creaked when Blair settled onto it. Sedillo folded his hands.
"I'm afraid Captain Ortega is no longer with us."
"He got transferred?"
"No. He was killed four months ago. Shot to death here, in front of the station."
"You are familiar with Arguillo?"
Blair explained about Alex, and the nerve gas, and Arguillo's attempt to steal it, leaving out any hint of the sentinel thing and skirting around the events at the Temple of Light by referring to it as some nondescript ruins. Sedillo listened attentively, taking occasional notes, until Blair launched into a description of Bryce and Carreno and their conversation earlier. That, he seemed to be writing down almost word for word. His calm demeanor disappeared. He scribbled furiously, brows knit, jaw set in anger. When Blair finished, Sedillo stared at his notes, flipping through a page or two before he looked up at Blair.
"Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Senor Sandburg. This is most unfortunate. I will look into it immediately."
"Great. You know, Captain Sedillo, I've already got an in with these guys. They think I'm this anthropologist they were supposed to meet. If you want, I can stick with it, get them to lead me to their stash. With your office backing me up, we can nail these lowlifes."
"A generous offer, Senor Sandburg, but that won't be necessary. Whatever business you are on for your American police should be your first priority."
"I'm not here in an official capacity."
"No. Like I said, I am an anthropologist. I was intrigued by the ruins we found last time, and I wanted to get a closer look. I took some vacation time, and here I am. So, if you need me to help out on this --"
"No." Sedillo rubbed his nose, and stroked a finger over his moustache. "I shouldn't tell you this. But you are a fellow officer -- almost -- so I will trust you. The men you met today -- Bryce and Carreno -- work for us."
"I thought Bryce was American."
"He is. This is a cooperative operation between your country and mine. We are trying to halt the smuggling of artifacts."
"So, this is a sting?"
"What about the anthropologist?"
"He is one of the men we are after. Bryce and Carreno -- those are not their real names, of course -- mistook you for him."
Blair grinned. "Oh, man. That could have caused some embarrassment with the brass."
"Yes. You see how grateful I really am that you came to me. The entire operation might have been -- how would you put it?"
"Blown," Blair supplied.
"Yes. Blown. As it is, Bryce and Carreno's superiors will have some words for them."
"I'll bet. I know what Simon -- Captain Banks would say if Jim and I screwed up like that."
Sedillo smiled. He stood up, prompting Blair to do the same, and held out his hand. "Thank you again, Senor Sandburg. I don't mean to rush you, but I have to make some phone calls right away."
Blair shook his hand. "No problem, Captain. I understand."
"Enjoy the rest of your visit to Sierra Verde."
"Thanks. I will."
Relieved on one count, Blair left Sedillo's office. Might as well go back to the café. He should be safe from any more smugglers. At least, the ones Captain Sedillo knew about. Besides, smugglers or not, he was starving.
Captain Sedillo watched the long-haired American leave the building. As soon as the outer door closed, he picked up the phone and punched in the number of a cell phone known only to him and three others. It rang five times before Bryce answered.
"Idiot!" he exploded, as quietly as he could. He couldn't afford to let his men hear, especially young Ribera. "You contacted the wrong man!"
"What are you talking about?" Bryce demanded. "He's the anthropologist."
"He's an American police consultant! The moment you left him, he came here to report you to Ortega."
English curses flooded the line. Sedillo waited until they died down, and said, "You and Carreno take care of it. Tonight."
"Us? Why don't you --"
"You made this mess, Bryce. You clean it up."
Sedillo hung up without waiting for Bryce's answer.
"He did what?"
Simon took the unlit cigar out of his mouth, glaring up from his wheelchair. Watery sunlight filtered through the blinds in Simon's living room, striping Jim Ellison's face with bands of light and shadow. Jim stood in front of him, a piece of folded notebook paper in his hand. His expression was carefully neutral, his voice quiet.
"He took off, Simon. Sometime yesterday."
"Just like that? Without telling you first?" Simon wheeled himself toward the couch, gesturing for Jim to sit. Ellison ignored him. "His mother's still in town, isn't she? Maybe --"
"She was the first one I called," Jim supplied. "Naomi said he called her, told her not to worry, he knew what he had to do."
Simon frowned. "I don't like the sound of that. Especially coming from Sandburg. Do you have any idea where he went?"
"He left me this."
Jim handed Simon the paper. It was neatly folded, but showed signs of having been wadded up into a ball. Simon unfolded it and read the five words written there. Oh, damn. "'Following the wolf'? What the hell does that mean? What wolf?"
Jim took the note back, staring at the paper so hard that Simon couldn't tell whether he was seeing its individual molecules or nothing at all. "When Blair -- When he -- At the fountain, when I -- brought him back, Blair and I shared a vision."
Jim nodded. "The jaguar -- my jaguar, the black one -- and a wolf jumped into each other. They -- merged. I'd seen the wolf before, but this was Blair's first time. He thinks it's his spirit animal."
"What do you think?"
"I don't know. Maybe it is. When I dreamed about it before, I killed it and it turned into Blair."
"You killed his spirit animal?"
"It was a dream, Simon. Just a dream."
"Uh-huh." Simon fixed his gaze on Jim, trying to read the set, expressionless face. "So, you think Blair's following a vision now?"
"Yeah, I do. He was meditating yesterday. He must have had some kind of weird experience."
Simon grimaced. "With Sandburg, life is a weird experience. Jim, maybe you should back off, let him do whatever it is he thinks he has to do."
Jim's response was immediate. "I can't do that, Simon."
"Why not? You're not the kid's father, Jim. He's an adult; he can take care of himself."
Jim shook his head. "He's gone to Sierra Verde. I checked the airlines, he was on the only flight out yesterday."
Sierra Verde? "Why would he go there?" As soon as he said it, he knew. "Oh, no. Not back to that temple of yours?"
"I'm afraid so, Simon. But it's not my temple."
"Whatever. Is he out of his mind?"
"I dunno. Could be. I was." Jim stared at nothing. Simon could only imagine what he was thinking. He hadn't reached the Temple of Light until the excitement was over, but Jim had told him some of what had happened there. Jim shook himself, snapping back to the present. "I'm going after him."
Oh, God. Simon put on his patented "reasonable superior officer" tone. "Jim --"
Jim held up a hand. "Don't start, Simon. I'm already booked on today's flight."
"So that's it?"
"That's it. I thought you should know. I told Taggert a couple of hours ago."
Nice of him to give a few hours' notice. At least he was together enough to think of it. That was a hopeful sign "Do you need any help?"
Jim very deliberately did not look at the wheelchair. "No. Blair and I need to work this out alone."
"You sure? God only knows what the kid's getting himself into down there."
"We can handle it."
I hope so, Jim. But he didn't say it. He went gruff instead. "Go on, then. Get out of here and get Sandburg out of whatever convoluted mess he's no doubt gotten himself into this time."
Jim stuffed the note into his back pocket and opened the apartment door. Simon looked up. "Jim?"
"If you do run into trouble, I expect to hear from you. I'll be out of this chair in a couple of days."
Jim gave him a strained smile. "Thanks, Simon."
Blair let himself into his room and dropped down on the bed. He was too tired to move, too tired even to undress and pull the covers down. Maybe he'd just sleep as he was, fully dressed and sitting up. But it was too hot for that. A faint breeze came through the open window, but without a fan to distribute the cooler air, it didn't help much. He shouldn't complain. He was always bitching about the cold back in Cascade, always telling Jim about his expeditions to tropical countries and how much he liked the heat. Not that Jim listened, half the time. But that was okay, he didn't mind, really, sometimes he just talked to fill the silence. He knew that he did it, and he'd stopped expecting people who weren't his mother to listen a long time ago. As long as Jim listened when he talked about sentinel stuff, they were good.
Not that he'd had much to say about that lately. The last significant thing they'd learned about Jim's abilities was that he could sense ghosts. He hadn't been any help with that. He'd tried. He'd borrowed the equipment, tried to measure, to record, to scientifically quantify, but none of that had worked. He'd tried to convince Jim to be open to the experience, but all Jim had gotten out of that was embarrassment when Simon and Joel overheard. Jim hadn't really been fighting it anyway. His senses had told him Molly was there, and he'd gone with it. Nothing anyone said had made the slightest difference one way or the other. Jim knew what he saw and what he felt, and nothing else mattered.
Okay, that was significant progress from where Jim had been three years ago, and Blair knew he was partially responsible for that. He'd done his best to help Jim get to where he was now. But that was farther than he'd ever expected. Jim was beyond anything he knew, beyond anything he could contribute. Jim didn't really need him anymore.
There was nothing personal about it. Jim was still his friend. But, in order to progress from where he was now, Jim needed someone who knew what should come next. Someone who would have known all about a sentinel's ability to communicate with the spirits of the dead, who would have been able to reassure Jim that it was all perfectly normal for a man with heightened senses. And who wouldn't have been even the slightest bit jealous that Jim-the-sentinel could see ghosts and Blair-the-supposed-shaman-who-had-died-already couldn't. He didn't go around dwelling on it or anything. But he'd felt it all the same -- if only for a second -- and he knew he shouldn't. He knew that was wrong, for a shaman or a friend.
Blair pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. He had to get over this dying thing. Okay, he'd died, but he was back, he'd been back, and it was time to move on. Jim wouldn't obsess over it. Well, Jim would probably repress it; Jim repressed everything. But he wasn't Jim Ellison, he was Blair Sandburg, and Blair Sandburg didn't repress, Blair Sandburg dealt. That was what he did and that was what he needed to do now, here, in Sierra Verde, because he couldn't go back to Cascade unless he did, he couldn't just pretend everything was fine when it wasn't, he couldn't go home until he knew that it was home, the place where he lived and belonged and wanted to be.
It wasn't a question of whether he was wanted. Jim and Simon wanted him there, and so did the rest of the guys in Major Crime. They'd gotten him a job to prove it, and that was a very cool thing, just very -- well, nice. It was a rush to know that these people didn't just have an "abiding tolerance" for him, that they actively wanted him around. Between Major Crime and Rainier University, it was a no-brainer where his true friends were. It hurt, some, that no one at the U had stuck up for him. He'd thought he had some friends there. But not one had come up to him to express sympathy; no one had even called. He knew why: They were afraid. They had their own careers to think about, which would not be helped by associating with a known fraud. So he understood. But right now, if he were asked to choose between hanging with a bunch of academics and a bunch of cops, he'd just laugh, because there wouldn't be any choice involved. They didn't have PhD's, and most of them couldn't write a paper if their lives depended on it, but the guys in Major Crime wouldn't desert one of their own, and he was fortunate enough to be considered just that. It was nice. Some of his former academic "colleagues" would scoff, but he liked nice. Blair Sandburg, defender of niceness everywhere. Hadn't there been an old TV show like that, with that guy who was the voice of the car in Knight Rider?
Oh, man. Blair forced himself to his feet and started to unbutton his shirt. He was losing it. He'd better get to bed before he lost all ability to think coherently. Besides, he wanted to get an early start tomorrow. The sooner he got his head straightened out, the better.
Blair tossed his clothes onto the room's lone chair and crawled into bed wearing only his boxers. There was a time when he'd slept nude in heat like this, but 3 AM wake-up alarms in Cascade had broken that habit in a hurry. His head hit the pillow, rose up again long enough for him to yank the band out of his hair -- taking a few strands with it -- and dropped. Insects chirred outside his window. Outside. Good place for 'em. 'S funny. He had no problem with bugs outside. They belonged there, it was cool. But inside? Uh-uh. He really... really... hated...
Blue again. Not the calm, soothing blue of a placid lake. Vein blue; corpse blue; water in your lungs blue. Sapphire eyes glittered. Cobalt tongue lolled in laughter, and the wolf ran away, cerulean coat dappled by bits of moonlight that dripped through the leaves. He followed. What else could he do? To remain stationary was to learn nothing, to stagnate; he'd known that since childhood.
Around him, the rainforest grew. He ducked under branches he'd been pushing aside, slipped through narrow gaps in the undergrowth that reached now to his waist and not his knees. His pants were ripped, and the toe of his right sneaker was patched with a bright yellow smiley-face. His arms were full of something heavy, with sharp corners -- a book. He sneaked a glimpse at the title: The New World Encyclopedia, Volume W-Z. Oh, no.
"We're gonna get you, Snotburg!"
Not them. It couldn't be them. Blair tossed a glance over his shoulder. It was them. John and Billy Dyer. John was twelve and Billy was ten, which meant that he was eight, and they were all in the 4th grade at Etonsville Elementary School, in Etonsville, Wisconsin.
"I'm gonna pound you, you little sissy Mama's boy!" John shouted. "You made me look stupid in front of Miss Redding!"
"You did that yourself," he'd wanted to say, and still did, but he hadn't, didn't, because it took too much breath, breath he needed to run, to keep ahead of the two bigger boys. If they caught him, they'd beat him up, and he really, really didn't want that to happen. Billy wasn't much, but John could hit really hard and it hurt, and the best thing was to keep out of reach, to keep his mouth shut and keep running and hope the Dyers got tired before he did. He wanted to scream for his mother, but a guy just didn't do that, not if he wanted to keep his self-respect, and besides, she was too far away to hear him anyway. He hated Wisconsin, hated it, hated it, and he didn't care how nice Stewart was, he couldn't wait until Mom dumped him and they moved someplace else. Someplace warm, where he could go swimming. Or maybe back to Cascade. He liked it there, something was always happening. They hadn't been back since he was six, and weren't John and Billy ever going to get tired? They were still behind him, he could hear them yelling, but it sounded more like growling now, and one of them gave this weird, howly-coughing laugh, and he couldn't help it, he had to look, had to see which one of them it was.
Oh no! Oh shoot! It wasn't John and Billy at all. John and Billy were gone, it was animals chasing him. They looked like dogs, but meaner, and they had dark muzzles and spotted coats, and he knew what they were called, he'd read it in the encyclopedia, they were -- they were --
Hyenas! God, he was being chased by hyenas! What kind of weird crap was this? And where was the wolf? What was he supposed to do here, just let them chase him? Maybe he should stop, confront them, find out what they wanted. Then again, they didn't look much like they wanted to talk. They looked like they wanted to eat. Weren't hyenas scavengers? Was he supposed to remember something he'd read when he was eight?
Blair ran, crashing through undergrowth, shoving some branches aside, missing others so they slapped his chest or scratched his face or caught at his hair. A stitch tore at his ribs, and he couldn't get enough air, couldn't run fast enough to escape. The hyenas closed in, and he could hear their breathing, panting, see their tongues and the saliva dripping from their mouths, and their teeth, sharp enough to tear flesh living or dead and don't look, don't look! just run, run, damn it!
Azure bulk burst out of the darkness in front of him, arcing toward his head. Blair threw himself back, landed hard, and the wolf sailed over him. He scrambled to his feet to see the wolf facing down the hyenas, all three growling, fur bristling. Two against one, and the hyenas didn't back down, they paced back and forth, crossing each other's paths, trying to get around the wolf, to get to their prey, to get to him.
He wasn't going to stand here and let the wolf defend him. Blair searched the ground for weapons, found a rock and a half-rotten branch, picked them both up. He pitched the rock at one of the hyenas, striking it in the ribs. It yelped and shied, surprised that its prey could fight. Blair stepped forward, brandishing the stick, shouting. The hyenas ran.
Within seconds, the hyenas had vanished into the thick undergrowth. Blair heaved a relieved sigh, and dropped the branch. "It's okay," he told the wolf. "They're gone."
The wolf looked at him. Moonlight made glowing orbs of its eyes. Its hackles were still raised, its tail up. Snarling, it stalked toward him. Blair backed away, one hand raised between them.
"Whoa. Hey. You're my spirit animal, remember? You're supposed to be on my side. Hey. Hey!"
The wolf leaped at him. Blair threw his arms up to shield himself, knowing it wouldn't do any good. Paws slammed into his chest, knocking him over, bearing him down. White fire seared his eyes, and his ears exploded.
Blair opened his eyes, expecting to be blind and deaf. Moonlight illuminated the bed. The insects still sang outside. Blair sat up, and put his head in his hands, trying to slow his breathing and the wild pounding of his heart.
The moon had dropped below the trees, leaving the town in darkness unrelieved by anything so costly as streetlights. Moving in near-silence, two figures crept up the short flight of stairs to the verandah of the Hotel Santa Cruz. Boards occasionally creaked under their feet, but no one woke or stirred. The staff was asleep, and the hotel had only one guest.
The figures stopped outside the door to Room 24. A hand reached out, inserted a key in the lock, and turned it with a soft click. The door swung open. In one smooth motion, the figures brought their weapons up and opened fire. Bullets splintered wood, woven grass, cloth, and glass. Most slammed into the narrow bed. Feathers and bits of fabric danced in the air. Riddled, the frame collapsed, sending the bed and everything on it crashing to the floor in a horrific ruin.
The figures ceased firing. No sound came from the decimated room, no cry or gasping breath, or scrabbling twitch of finger. Without word or gesture, the figures returned the way they had come. If the gunfire had disturbed any of the town's residents, they did not show themselves to make it known.
Continue on to Act III...
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