No More Games
It had been a few days since their last encounter that Hailey found Elise and a few others gathered in the kitchen. Yaz stood behind the bar, the group intensely focused on her. Hailey appeared within sight and Yaz motioned her over.
“Now we can begin.”
“What’s going on?” Hailey asked, eyeing the assembly.
“Something bad,” Rachel said beside her.
“This is gonna’ be a clusterfuck,” Miller added, elsewhere.
“Unless we get ahead of it, yes,” Yaz affirmed.
Hailey was lost. She looked to Elise, and the pensive anger on her face. “Our parents.”
Hailey’s heart skipped a beat. “What about them?”
“Last night they met,” Rachel said. “I had a vision of it.”
“Rachel and I confirmed it later,” Miller added again.
She was confused, “I’m still lost. What’s it mean?”
Yaz replied succinctly, “In simplest terms, they’ve sought outside help to locate you. A private investigator. He is now under surveillance by Hunters.”
Rachel winced, “And they’re likely to take your parents hostage as bait.”
Hailey’s stomach rolled and tumbled. Bile made its acidic creep up the back of her throat. It stung her tonsils and sinuses. The world was ready to spin out of control. The only thing that kept her from collapsing was her now-minute emotional control. Valerie’s training had done that, at least.
She steadied herself on the bar, “Woah…” A deep breath saved her remaining nerves. “What do we do?”
Silence. Elise fumed. Hailey heard, and felt, air bursting through flared nostrils. For once though, it wasn’t directed at her. The group exchanged looks, then settled on Yasmine. She strengthened her stance, legs planted wide, and arms crossed at her chest.
“We’re going to turn the tide, use them as bait,” she said sternly.
“It’s absolutely insane,” Elise growled. “They have no idea what’s going on.”
“Be that as it may,” Yaz said calmly. “It’s my call, and I’ve made it.”
“Wait. Wait,” Hailey said, waving a hand and stumbling over her words. “What the hell’re you talking about? Using our parents as bait? Why? How? Set a trap? How’s that fair? They know nothing. What makes you think the Hunters won’t just kill them?”
A small argument broke out. Elise jumped into a verbal dog-fight between Rachel and Miller, sided with the former. Hailey and Elise were on the same page, for once. They barked at both Miller and Ken, whom argued it might be the only way to learn anything.
“Shut up!” Yaz snapped. The room was silent. “This is my call. I am in charge of security. Hailey. Elise. I understand your reservations, but this has to be done. Intel on the Hunters is scarce. Rachel was lucky to have spotted the pair running surveillance. We’ve already lost them.” Her eyes darted between the two girls, “Until I say otherwise, both of you are to step-up your training. I will inform Valerie immediately. Timing is crucial. You both need to be field-rated before the Hunters make their move. That could be any time in the next few days to the next few weeks.”
“Why rush field-rating them, Yaz?” Ken asked. “Putting them out there’s risking all of us if they’re not properly trained.”
Another argument was about to break out when Yaz’s eyes narrowed lethally. “I’ve already spoken to Valerie, Hailey’s progress is rapid. Miller; you and Rachel will go with her. Begin the last phase of her training. Elise is learning just as quickly. I will have her ready. If you doubt me, leave. I have no time for doubt or dissent.”
The group eyed one another, resolved to do as instructed.
Yaz watched them, “Good. Ken, pull Jenna in and take her with to run surveillance on the families. Find the Hunters. Keep them under observation. Lindsey and Jakob will be out to join you soon. Until the situation changes, patrols will double.”
A general affirmation gave way to a dismissal. Rachel and Miller headed straight for the training room with Hailey. Ken followed, broke off to head up and out of the bunker. Soon, only Elise and Yaz were left.
“Go to the training room. I’ll be in soon.”
Elise followed the others, passed them as they entered the Seers’ training room. She did her best to evade any backward glances. Hailey caught the resentment flowing past as the door shut on Elise. The trio took a place in the middle of the room. Yaz appeared, spoke to Valerie. Her hushed instructions were expected. Valerie listened quietly, then agreed to Yaz’s terms. A moment later, the tiny head of security was gone. Valerie strolled over.
“You’re to begin advanced training immediately,” she said, her confidence fierce. “It will not be easy. You will hate all three of us. You will have no energy to do so. Nor to continue training, but you will, because we will say to. When it is over, you will be a Seer with complete access to your power, a fully-realized potential. I will say this once, and once only; you are a promising student and will make a great Seer, but if you fear the immediate future, save us all the time and leave now.”
Hailey swallowed hard. This last phase of training would be extreme, as much a test of her will as instruction. She didn’t doubt Valerie’s sentiment, considering her penchant for honesty. She didn’t want to hate anyone, but Valerie’s eyes said it was unavoidable. Something in the others said they were about to destroy her– mentally and physically, break her down to rebuild her. If she’d been wearing a jumpsuit, she might’ve felt like Lee Majors.
As it was, all she felt was a duty to the people around her, and her parents. If she didn’t complete this, she could never protect them, let alone herself. She couldn’t allow that. Even the thought of it. Any purchase it took would become an unstable foundation under the weight of the future.
She screwed up her mouth, put on her best war-face. “I’m staying.”
“Miller, test the child.”
Valerie and Rachel suddenly backed off the gym mats. Hailey glanced sideways. A fist flew at her face. Before she knew it, she was on her hands and knees, spitting blood, her lip split. She rose to her knees. Miller threw a kick. Her instincts engaged. She rolled sideways. Miller hit air, lost balance. Hailey felt the same pull in her limbs she’d felt time and again; the Link.
She was on her feet, hand flat. A stiff chop hit Miller’s neck. He crumpled to the floor, out before he hit. Hailey rebounded in a low stance. Blood dripped from her lip. Adrenaline drugged her veins. Her pulse beat in the pressure points across her body. A shadow flitted at her right, forced her ‘round.
Rachel charged. An open palm went at Hailey’s chest. She leapt backward to dodge, failed. The force was immense. Hailey felt herself hit the cement wall across the room. She collapsed in a heap, winded, dizzy, utterly stunned.
Valerie was shouting, “Your opponent will not hesitate. Up!”
Hailey fell to her feet. Her whole body felt fractured. Rachel charged again. She closed the room’s distance in a breath. A moment later, fists pummeled her torso at full-strength with fury. Rachel reeled for a final kick. Hailey fell sideways, rolling. A grapple upended her, tossed her across the mats. She came to a rest near Miller’s unconscious body, staggered to her feet. Rachel was at her back, arm around Hailey’s throat, choking her.
She gasped, choked for air. Her nails clawed blood streaks into Rachel’s arm. The Seer completely blocked out the fresh wounds. Before Hailey knew it, her muscles engaged. She pivoted. Rachel flew over her, slammed her back on the mats. Hailey’s foot aimed for Rachel’s neck.
“Stop!” Valerie shouted with a grating discordance.
The empathic projection doubled and tripled its resonance in the room’s poor acoustics. The force almost knocked Hailey off her feet. She staggered back, collapsed to a knee. Her body heaved, panting and throbbing from agonized bruises and minor gashes. How she was alive felt a mystery, but she sensed Valerie’s satisfaction. Somehow, Hailey’d once again surpassed her expectations.
Rachel climbed to her feet and offered Hailey a hand, “No hard feelings, okay?” Hailey swallowed blood and pulled herself up. She collapsed into Rachel, righted herself. “You okay?”
She nodded, regained her footing, and let Rachel kneel beside Miller to shake him awake. He suddenly sat upright and groaned.
“Good one, kid,” he said, rising to his feet.
The three stood before Valerie as she addressed Hailey, “You have excellent instincts, and your connection to the Link will ease the transition to fighting. You feel the pull, follow it. That is good. It will get you far. You will not survive on it alone however, so your training will now begin.”
In the room beside them, a similar scene played out; though Elise was much further advanced, Yaz found no reason to beat her so needlessly. Despite everyone knowing it was better to feel out Hailey’s instincts, Elise wasn’t a Seer. Apart from not having those instincts, she also might not heal quite so easily, at least emotionally.
Yaz had already taught her basic self-defense– the same any student would receive. Things would be tougher now, and more than that, they had to hurt. She’d produced a pair of wooden sticks shaped like swords and made of thick, bundled wood. Just about the only thing that didn’t hurt about them was holding them. They were ugly, heavy, and stung like hell when hit– Elise learned that the hard way.
The pair were running Yaz’s exercises, but the girl hadn’t broken a sweat. She was calm, calculated, testing as well as teaching. Elise was the antithesis. Her entire body was drenched. Clothing too. Her face and skin were red, blood raging from constant, snaps of the stick.
Yaz pressed her, forced her across the room in a flurry of crossed blades. Elise growled, forced her back. They danced in pursuit over sticks that tapped fast rhythms. Elise pirouetted. Yaz caught her, snapped her thigh. She fell to a knee. Yaz’s stick pressed at her throat, lifted her upward. Elise fumed, furious, both at her own failure and Yaz.
“You’re angry with me,” Yaz said, motioning Elise back into her starting stance.
She huffed through her nose, crossed her stick with Yaz’s, “Why shouldn’t I be?”
They started again. Elise fought with anger, her vigor unmatched. Yaz took each press and feint in stride. “Some things are still beyond you, Elise. Believe me when I say that.”
She made a flourishing spin aimed for Yaz’s legs, “Don’t try to take the high-ground. I know you better than that.”
“You know only what you want to.” She blocked, unbalanced Elise to break her attack.
Elise growled again. “Then teach me, oh great one.”
“Don’t be a jack-ass,” Yaz said, stepping back to await the next advance. “If you could separate yourself from your emotions, you’d understand: I neither came to this decision lightly, nor saw any worthwhile alternative.”
Elise lowered her stick, stormed across the room for a towel and a bottle of water. She wiped at her neck and downed a gulp with a huff. “I doubt that.”
Yaz sat in place on the mat, stick across her lap to breathe, “If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t be alive. Do not mistake stratagem for disregard.”
Elise whirled at Yaz, “What is strategic about using my family as a fucking hooked worm?”
Yaz closed her eyes, as if meditating. “We both know the only way to ensure your family’s safety is to keep the Hunters from reaching them. My teams are to intercept if they attempt to. Until then, keeping them in play means we might still retrieve intel. Anything even remotely telling of their structure and force must be secured. Otherwise, you will never return home.”
Elise turned back to the table her things rested on, braced herself against it. Her head hung. There was no denying Yaz’s logic, but anger was the only emotion she could manifest. Whether at herself or someone else didn’t matter. Had she not felt so impotent, so helpless, it might have been different. Unfortunately, things were so beyond her control she wasn’t sure which direction was forward anymore. All she knew was the feeling of being trapped in a bunker with a bunch of strangers training to kill people in her way.
Yaz appeared, laid a hand on her shoulder, “You can do this, Elise. I know it. You know it. Just keep training. Then, when the Hunters make their move, you’ll be there. But you can’t be if you’re not focused now.”
Elise let the words sink in. If nothing else, she needed to see things through. The alternative might be certain death. She had a duty to continue. If not to herself, then to her family– and in a way, to Yasmine. She slugged back more water and returned to training.