The smoke filled the air like a choking fog; the alarm blared loudly enough to deafen. He had been in the office once before, when he had snuck in for preparations for this day. The walls were the same sterile white, bare except for a map that hung on the corkboard, bright with red pins. There was glass scattered across the floor now from the one-way window of one wall. The bàn was on its side. He hurried over to the tường with the map where keycards hung from a hook. He stood on his tippy toes to grab them. When he turned to run back to the others, he saw the foot sticking out from behind the desk.
Ice ran down his spine as he approached carefully. Glass snapped under each step, barely audible over the alarms, but he could feel it under his white sneakers. He peered over the bàn to see the man laying behind it. His body was resting on its side where it had been thrown bởi the explosion. The white áo, áo khoác showed no signs of blood, but the man’s face was paler than the boy had ever seen it beneath his greying beard and hair. The boy held his breath, unsure if the scientist was breathing, until the man’s eyes snapped open. The child gasped but felt Nữ hoàng băng giá as the man lifted his hand weakly toward him. His eyes pleaded with an unrecognizable humanity.
“Go… son,” he rasped before his eyes rolled back and his hand dropped limply.
Alek sat up with a gasp. The pounding in his chest filled his ears so loudly that it took a moment to make out the girl calling from the doorway. “Papa?” the girl called again from where she leaned in the doorway in her yellow flowered dress. Her wide, trouble blue eyes were his; her soft coffee skin and black braids were her mother’s.
“Yes, princess?” he asked, quickly schooling his features into a smile.
“He says bạn need to hurry,” she told him quietly, the same concerned look in her eyes.
“I’ll be right down, Noëlle,” her father promised. She lingered a moment before she disappeared. Alek rose from the giường and hurried to dress despite the heaviness in his head left behind bởi the nightmare.
When he reached the bustling phòng bếp, nhà bếp phút later, an excited bark cut above the clamor. Alek smiled as the sandy-furred cún yêu, con chó con ran over, tail wagging. “Good morning, Cicely,” he greeted, all horrible thoughts dashed as the grinning pup shifted into the cheerful child. He scooped up the blonde little girl so that he could walk again and gently returned her to the play mat on phòng bếp, nhà bếp floor. Her baby brother giggled up at the man and waved his tiny fists in greeting. Alek chuckled and straightened to find his daughter smiling at him from her place at the table. “You have thạch, sữa ong chúa on your face,” he warned her, earning a small squeak of embarrassment before Noëlle wiped her chin with her napkin. He hurried to Kiss the hàng đầu, đầu trang of her head and plucked a roll from the table, earning a grumble from the old woman at the stove.
“I apologize, Esther, no time for a sit down breakfast. I will see bạn all tonight,” he called. “Love you, Noëlle! Don’t be late for your lessons!”
The young man stuffed his feet into his boots and snatched his áo, áo khoác off the hook before barreling outside into the whirling snow.
“About time,” his cousin grumbled from his place huddled against the cabin. Alek held back a laugh at the other man bundled in a puffer áo, áo khoác with a thick navy blue scarf wrapped around his neck and a matching beanie yanked over his dark curls.
“Marcus, bạn look perfectly in your element,” he replied. Marcus scoffed. “Not all of us have lông, lông thú for this weather. Let’s go already.”
“Do bạn know where you’re going, exactly?” In answer, the warlock clamped his hand on Alek’s shoulder. The white world spun. When it righted itself, the men stood side-by-side in a small, dark room illuminated bởi several glowing screens. One of the men sitting in front of the screens glanced up, then stood with a cry of surprise. Marcus waved his hand, throwing the burly guard crashing into the screens. Sparks flew, blinding the other guard just enough for Alek to bọc his arm around him from behind. He held the guard against himself until the latter went still, then Alek dropped the unconscious man to the floor as he glared at the warlock.
“You dropped us right inside?” Alek hissed. Marcus brushed off snow from his shoulder and his cousin’s bewildered reaction in the same motion. “You đã đưa ý kiến we were tight on time as it was and, bạn overslept.” Alek growled under his breath as he turned to what was left of the computers. After a few keystrokes, the remaining screens went dark. Marcus’ eyes bruned with a blue flame as he yanked open the door. Alek jumped through the door, shifting before he hit the ground. His claws clacked against the floor as the snow-white chó sói, sói sprinted down the hallway, following his nose toward the scent of blood.
The people who ran blindly out of doors in panic were pushed aside bởi the beast barreling down the hallway. A few others startled as the warlock suddenly appeared right beside them before he disappeared again, popping in and out of existence. He followed the chó sói, sói in that fashion until they reached the steel double-doors. Marcus tried the handle, and when it refused to budge, waved a hand to unlock them. The bolts slid back with a muffled clack. The doors were heavy to haul open, and almost as soon as he did, multiple deafening pops! detonated on the other side.
Marcus ducked as a bullet whizzed past his arm. The rest of the bullets froze in place as they hit an invisible tường thrown up where the door had been a moment before. The warlock cursed as the shooting filled his ears another một phút before the súng on the other side clicked emptily in near-unison. The warlock heaved a sigh and let the shield drop. The bullets rained to the floor as the chó sói, sói leapt at the gunmen. The floor was littered bởi blood and bodies before the last bullet had pinged off the floor.
Marcus looked up at the sound of boots thundering down the hallways. “More are coming. Hurry!” He turned to slam the doors shut and waved a hand to lock them back into place. His cousin hurried to the tường where a panel was mounted. After a few seconds, the room flooded with light, momentarily blinding them both.
When Marcus blinked the spots away, he froze as they met wide, terrified eyes behind a glass wall. The clear tường looked into a white room, like a sterilized cell. The warlock was entranced not bởi the cage, but rather bởi the child staring at him.
The small being on the other side of the cage was only four feet tall in loose-fitting pajama-like clothing. The pants and sleeves were long, but what was visible of the child’s skin was covered in iridescent-grey scales. Its head looked human except for translucent, white fins sticking out of the side of its head like ears. A third fin arches over its head and wilted to the side like a mohawk without enough gel. The child’s hands pressed against the glass had frosty white webbing between its fingers.
“Alek,” Marcus breathed, “that is not a chó sói, sói pup.” When no response came, the warlock reluctantly ripped his eyes from the amphibian child behind the glass. He saw Alek a few yards away and realized that the cages spanned a short hallway.
Marcus suddenly remembered mèo con in a pet store behind glass, with half of the cage open for customers to gawk at. Except rather than kittens, the tiếp theo cage held a thin boy with black, bat-like wings and fangs that he bore at the warlock. The girl huddled in the tiếp theo cage was surrounded bởi vines sprouted with flowers, as if she had created her own garden to protect herself. Marcus thought the cage after that was empty until a tiny blur flew at the window, and he realized what looked like an trái cam, màu da cam bướm, bướm đêm was in fact a tiny fairy with the wings of a Monarch butterfly. The warlock reluctantly kept going to the next, where, finally, a chó sói, sói pup huddled beneath the cell’s bench with its tail between its legs. “Here he is!” he exclaimed, but looked over to see his cousin gazing remorsefully into the last cell.
Marcus leaned over to see though the glass into the tiếp theo cell and immediately wheeled away, covering his eyes. The image of the pale body splayed on her back on the bottom of the cage with blood dripping from her eyes was burned into the back of the warlock’s eyelids. He felt the eyes of the other children on his back and slowly turned back, avoiding the last cell.
“We should go, Alek,” he đã đưa ý kiến quietly. The alarm and his shock at the sight of the amphibian had drowned out the pounding on the door, but it was deafening now. “We should save the ones that we can.”
Without a word, his cousin went to the door to his right and opened it. the handle snapped clean off, though he hardly seemed to notice. His movements were stiff and lethargic, as if the snow-haired young man were walking quickly through a nightmare.
Marcus followed him to the other side of the tường of cages. He walked past the first door with the dead child and put his hand on the second, willing his reeling mind to focus on the mechanics beneath the metal’s surface. After a frustrating few moments, the door clicked open. The tiny Monarch con bướm, bướm flittered out of her cell and stopped just in front of Marcus, close enough to see the young fairy’s pale but relieved face. “Thank you!” she exclaimed in a squeak, then demanded, “Now help the others!” The warlock smiled despite the death hidden in the tiếp theo cell and went on to do as the fairy said.
After a couple of minutes, he had blocked all of the doors. It took gentle coaxing from the boy with the bat wings to convince the chó sói, sói to emerge from his hiding place and change back into a short, gaunt little boy with tired dark eyes and freckles across his nose. The children huddled together and glanced toward the unopened cell. Without him saying anything, they all seemed to guess about the last girl’s fate. “We should go,” he đã đưa ý kiến suddenly. “Alek—”
When he didn’t see his cousin right away, Marcus cursed softly, then apologized quickly at the fairy’s shocked gasp. He hurried to a tường with a long mirror and the open door beside it. He stuck his head inside the small office. “Come on! We have to go!”
Alek didn’t seem to hear. He stood Nữ hoàng băng giá with his back to the tường where the mirror proved to be a window on this side. In front of him was a desk, and behind it, a map of the world. It was large, faded, and studded with enough red pins to stick every country on the planet at least twice. Marcus grabbed Alek’s arm, but his cousin yanked out of his grasp. He went instead to a metal filing cabinet against the wall, which he yanked open, the lock audibly splintering with the force.
The warlock gaped at the erratic behavior until an explosion rocked the room. The children screamed and ran into the room. The fairy chim bồ câu, bồ câu under Marcus’ hat and nestled into his hair as the others huddled around him, clinging to him. “ALEK!” he demanded.
“This is my father’s map!” his cousin shouted, so loudly that the children cowered closer to the warlock. “These papers have his signature!” Alex whirled, files clutched to his chest. He froze at the sight of the tiny prisoners, and the wild look dissipated from his eyes to leave behind a mournful gaze.
“Alek,” Marcus prodded quietly, holding out a hand. “Whatever this is, we’ll figure it out. You’re not alone in this, but it’s. Time. To go.”
Alek finally nodded and shifted the files to one arm to take Marcus’ outstretched hand. Just before the soldiers entered with súng raised, the warlock teleported the entire group away from the prison of horros and back to the village covered in snow.