James Nexis - Betrayal: Part Eleven
Slowly the reporter and his secretary turned in a circle, searching the ruins. Everything was still and quiet.
James gritted his teeth. “Jericho?”
A quiet chuckle came from behind them. “You thought you were so smart, didn’t you, Hissi?”
James swung around, but the dusty brickwork was empty. “Where are you?”
“I am here,” the voice chanted. “I am all around. I am everywhere.”
“Great,” the Hissi muttered. “He’s cracked. We’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with a crazy pile of fabric.”
Once again there was the quiet chuckling from behind them. James and Deirdre swung around, only to be confronted with a crumbling wall.
“Drat,” the Hissi muttered. “Where’d he go?”
More chuckling. James took a hesitant step forward, and then jumped back as the ground underneath him buckled unexpectedly.
“Watch your step, little Hissi,” Jericho chanted gleefully.
“There,” Deirdre hissed, pointing to their left. “The voice came from that way.”
They lunged forward, darting around one of the walls and into what used to be a large storage room.
“Odd,” James muttered, staring at the completely empty room. “That’s just...” he was cut off as Deirdre stepped forward to stand next to him. Their combined weight proved too much for the floor, which buckled, snapped, and gave way, plunging James and Deirdre into the black pit below.
The sound of crumbling brickwork and wood was punctuated by coughs and moans. James clawed his way out of the debris first, and put a hand to his head. “Ow. Deirdre?”
“Here,” the Xweetok groaned, pushing her way out from under a board of wood. “What was that? Where are we?”
James, blinking dust out of his eyes, stared around them. It was virtually pitch-black, with the hole they’d fallen through letting in just enough light for him to see that they weren’t in anything small. “I think...” he hissed, holding a hand out to Deirdre to help her up, “I think we’re in the warehouse’s basement.”
“What?” Deirdre asked, shaking her head to clear it. “The warehouse has- had- a basement?”
“It looks like it,” he said. “The floor must have been unstable from the fire. But, what I don’t get is, how we could have caused it to cave in when not twenty minutes ago there were a hundred Shunans standing on it?”
“Maybe we need to diet.”
“Or maybe it wasn’t this unstable then.” James pointed to the nearest wall, where three large beams were leaned. “There’s no dust on those. I’m willing to bet that they used to hold the roof up, and were moved just a few minutes ago.”
Deirdre began to dust sand and cobwebs off her skirt. “What do we do, then? Get out and find help?”
“If we can.”
As one, they turned to face the hole they’d fallen through. James sighed. “Just a mile or two out of reach.”
A sudden cackling laugh echoed around the walls, shaking James and Deirdre out of their thoughts. The sound bounced through the maze of passages and around the pair, shaking clumps of sand off the walls and onto their heads.
James grimaced. “We need to get out of here, fast. Let’s think- they wouldn’t have made a basement here unless there was a way in and out. We just need to evaluate our position, consider the facts and make a calculated guess about where we can find a staircase.”
The hideous laugh faded and clarified, focussing on one point to their left. Shadows moved, and suddenly a light flickered into being, illuminating the face of a grinning red Kyrii leaning against the wall. In one hand he held the newly-lit torch, and in the other was a long, serrated knife.
“Well, well, well, Mr Nexis,” he breathed. “Fancy meeting you here.”
“How’s that calculated guess coming along?” Deirdre hissed out of the corner of her mouth.
“Not so great,” James replied in an identical whisper. “I’m thinking we change tactics.”
Juhan took a shuffling step forward, letting the knife swing back and forward in his hand, catching the reflection of the torch.
“Change tactics? To what?”
“Run, and hope for the best.”
Unexpectedly, Juhan lunged forward. James and Deirdre turned and fled, skidding around a corner and into a new passageway. There was a sickening thud as the knife stabbed into the wall behind them.
“Follow me,” James called, taking a right turn.
Deirdre, panting, tugged on his sleeve. “Left! We’re supposed to go left!”
There was a crunch as the knife was pulled free, and then the sound of a third pair of running feet joining theirs.
“When you’re stuck in a maze,” the Xweetok explained, a hint of panic creeping into her voice, “you’re supposed to take every left to get out.”
“Good thing this isn’t a maze, then,” James said as he tugged her around anther right turn.
“Nexis,” the haunting voice of Jericho called, “you thought you could just come in and destroy everything I worked for, did you, Nexis?” There was a pause, interrupted only by their pants, before he called out louder, “You thought you could just overturn my plan and there would be no consequences?”
James skidded to a halt, throwing out an arm to stop Deirdre. “Not good.”
“Oh. Really, really not good.”
The path they’d taken had led them into a storage room. The walls were lined with dust-covered crates and empty sacks. And, most importantly, there was no way out.
“I told you we should have gone left,” Deirdre muttered.
James and Deirdre swung around to see Jericho standing in the doorway. The Kyrii, very casually, dropped the torch on the ground. It spluttered, but stayed lit. Then, equally calmly, Jericho reached out his free hand and rested it on one of the vertical beams supporting the doorway.
James’s eyes flicked to it and widened as he saw the pile of support beams that were already resting on the ground. “No...”
Jericho’s grin widened. “Yes.” With that, he shoved, and the roof above the door collapsed.
Clouds of smoke and sand whirled around the room, and James and Deirdre dived back, landing on the ground and coughing and covering their faces. For almost a minute they could hear nothing except the sound of collapsing rocks and bricks. Slowly it subsided, and Deirdre risked raising her head.
They waited in silence, blinking and scanning the room. The doorway was completely blocked with debris.
“He must have gone through the basement while we were all still above and pulled the support beams out,” James muttered.
Deirdre slowly stood up. “Do you think he’s...?”
“Dead?” a voice asked from behind them. “Oh, I wouldn’t count on that.”
“Move!” James yelled, lunging to one side. Deirdre, obediently, dived in the opposite direction, narrowly avoiding the knife that was aimed at her.
The lamp on the ground had survived the collapse of the entrance, and was slowly flickering back to life. The light cast a sickly glow across Jericho’s face as he stood in the middle of the room, frowning firstly at James and then Deirdre. “Huh. Missed.”
James slowly pulled himself to his knees, glancing around the room. When he’d knocked down the doorway, Jericho had blocked the only way out. Neither Deirdre nor himself had anything that could remotely resemble a weapon. It wasn’t looking so great.
Hoping to stall the towering Kyrii, James resorted to his most dangerous weapon: hackneyed sayings. “You’ll never get away with this,” he said.
Jericho grinned. “You’re mistaken there, Mr Nexis.” He raised his knife to eye-level and ran one finger up and down its edge, testing the sharpness. “I designed this warehouse; only myself and a few select others know of the basement. If you were to, say, die here-” James gulped audibly, “-no one would know where to look for your remains.” He grinned. “They’d probably think you’d wandered into the desert and gotten lost.”
“That wouldn’t do you much good, though,” Deirdre muttered from across the room. “You’ve been discovered as the culprit. Pretty soon you’ll be on national wanted lists. Nowhere will be safe for you to hide.”
Jericho turned towards the secretary and smiled. “You’re wrong there, my dear. You forget about the Ammans. They are the Shunan’s rivals- they will welcome me with open arms.”
“Uh, no, they won’t.”
Jericho’s smile faltered. “What?”
“Think about it. You’ve just betrayed your own people- do you really believe the Ammans will want someone so obviously unstable?”
“Shut it,” Jericho snarled. James, sensing a violent turn in the Kyrii’s mood, frantically tried to signal to Deirdre to stop talking. Neither of them noticed.
“It’s the same principle that was explained in chapter eighty-five of A Complete Guide to being an Effective Secretary.”
Jericho squinted at her. “What?”
“Don’t ask,” James muttered.
Deirdre continued blissfully. “It said that loyalty was a valuable commodity, much respected by employers. Logically, the same principle would apply in this situation. Because you’ve betrayed your people, it’s very unlikely that the Ammans will ever be able to trust you.”
Jericho didn’t look amused. “Well, I’m sure it won’t matter to you too much, as you won’t be around terribly much longer. I had been trying to work out who I should kill first- the annoying reporter or his annoying secretary- and you’ve just made my choice a whole lot easier.”
“Oh,” was all Deirdre could say.
James did some quick mental calculations as Jericho moved towards his secretary. True, it was two against one- but the Kyrii had a knife, and, in all likelihood, extensive training in how to use it.
Deirdre had great skill when it came to writing memos, but wasn’t much help when faced with a furious Shunan.
And he had...
James felt in his pockets desperately, hoping to come up with something useful. His eyes widened as his hand closed around something smooth and round.
He had... a rock. Not just any rock, either- a lucky rock.
“It’ll have to do,” he muttered as he pulled it out.
Deirdre, on the ground, cowered and covered her head as Jericho stopped above her. The Kyrii raised his knife just as James stood up.
“Take this,” the Hissi yelled, throwing the stone as hard as he could.
Jericho turned to stare at the rock which was hurtling towards him. His eyes widened for a second and then the rock passed by him, smacking into one of the wooden support beams behind them instead.
The Kyrii smirked. “Bad shot.”
“Ah,” James muttered. “I’d forgotten how bad I was at baseball.”
A sudden crunch above Jericho made them look up. The support beam which the stone had hit was old and rotten. The sudden impact had damaged it at a weak point, and now it was bowing. As they watched, a crack ran up its length.
“No...” Jericho muttered.
The wooden beam snapped and the roof, lacking the bracing that the removed beams would have given it, collapsed. There was just enough time for Jericho to utter a muffled shriek before the rocks and dirt covered him and Deirdre.
“No!” James yelled, lunging forward and reaching for his secretary. A lump of rock clipped off the pile and hit the Hissi’s jaw. James stumbled back, coughing and spitting out blood as the room filled with dust. As soon as he could, he stood up and blinked at the pile of rocks where Jericho and Deirdre were buried.
“Oh, this is bad,” he muttered. “Really, really bad.” A new thought suddenly occurred to him, and he flinched. “Drat. I’m going to have to tell Ahkrin I lost his lucky rock.”
It was raining again. Streams of water ran down the huge glass windows set in the side of Mr Marcus’s office. The Grarrl in question was lounging in his leather chair, looking far from impressed.
“I really don’t know why bother with you, Mr Nexis,” he muttered. “I send you on a perfectly simple job and what do I get in return?”
James, looking awkwardly nervous, twiddled his fingers and smiled hopefully. “...a cool story?”
“Well, okay, maybe,” the Grarrl admitted grudgingly. “Regardless, I still have a huge stack of paperwork to deal with.”
“Sorry. That must be annoying.”
“Well, it’s annoying to have to find people to delegate it to,” Mr Marcus said. “And, not only that, but now I have to give one of my better secretaries three weeks’ paid sick leave.”
As one they turned to look at Deirdre, who stood beside James. The Xweetok’s right arm was in a plaster cast, and she didn’t look impressed. “It’s not my fault.”
James poked her. “Is too. If you hadn’t started going on about that Secretary’s Handbook of yours, Jericho wouldn’t have noticed you, and you’d be fine.”
Deirdre scowled at James.
“Still,” Mr Marcus said, “the article you wrote was good, Nexis. I’d just like you to add a bit to the end to tie it up- list of what happened to the suspects, and what not.”
“Easy,” James said. “I’ve been keeping tabs. Juhan’s being investigated by almost every office in Sakhmet. It looks like he’ll be spending a bit of time in the dungeons. Mikah’s taken on the title of leader of the Shunans. Because of the investigations, Sakhmet has extended the deadline of their contract- if they work hard they should be able to make the trade.”
“Good,” Deirdre muttered. “They really needed it.”
“And deserved it,” James added. “Lee Robinson has been excused with a full pardon. He’s gone back to Altador, to his family.”
“Jericho, I believe, will be joining Juhan in the dungeons... as soon as he gets out of the hospital.” James glanced at his secretary. “I suppose we should be grateful; if he hadn’t landed on you when the roof caved in, things could have been a lot worse.”
“True,” the Xweetok said.
“Well, then.” Marcus stood up. “Make sure you get that in your report. I’ll let you go now, Nexis; I’m sure you’re desperate to botch up your next assignment. Good day.”
James nodded politely. “Good day, sir. C’mon, Deirdre.”
The Hissi and the Xweetok left the office and walked back to James’ room. “Well,” Deirdre said. “I suppose that’s it for our adventures in the desert for now.”
“Let’s hope so,” James said. “I’d better get the ending of that article written. Would you be a dear and type up my notes?” He nodded towards a stack of paper which was easily as big as his head.
“What?” Deirdre asked, pointing to the cast. “How am I expected to do that with my arm like this?”
“Oh,” James said, frowning. He tapped his pencil on his lower lip for a minute before an idea hit him. “Oh, I know; if the stack is too heavy, you can get Tina to carry it for you.”
Deirdre dropped her head into her good hand. “You never change, sir.” When James raised his eyebrows, she smiled. “You know what, though? I’m glad.”
“Heh, sure. Say, if you’re passing the kitchen...”
“One mug of extra strong coffee coming up.”
James and Deirdre grinned at each other. Outside the building, it continued to rain; hundred of thousands of tiny drops fell down in perfect synchrony, striking the pavement and merging into the flow of water that swirled down the gutters, steadily washing the shadows away.
Author’s Note: If you enjoyed this, you might like to check out its prequels, Masquerades and Deception.