When Angel vanished, the place around the pair wavered then dissipated. White bleed through the dark gothic motif as gargoyles crumbled into dust and books peeled from the shelves. When the faint memory faded out, nothing but a blank canvas was left in its wake. Nothing was left to draw any human comfort from existed now. It was clear by the empty shell left behind that Angel was giving them no choice, but to move on. Amidst the canvas were two red doors. Their presence seemed to stain the purity around them with its bloody color.
Slowly Cade glanced at Samad.
Not much had changed. His partner appeared to be unaffected by the abrupt change in scenery, Samad position now poised on the white floor. He had shifted into a cross-legged posture, his chin rested on his hand while he stared into the endless horizon.
Not willing to give so easily, Cade moved over to Samad. He twisted about in front of the man then flopped down hard on his own ass. Adjusting his glasses, Cade watched Samar until the Iranian broke the silence. “Why are you bothering me?” “Samad, we need to leave. We have to go through the red doors before we’re lost in here forever,”
Cade began and added,“I can't leave without knowing you'll enter a red door. So you have the choice of us both staying here or facing whatever tethers you here.”
Samad glared at him. Cade’s breath stilled, held in his throats as anxiety swelled in his chest. He didn't know what his partner would ultimately decide, but either way, they were stuck with each other. After several moments, Samad exhaled then rose to his feet. Cade watched him move toward the nearest and gripped the handle. He paused before he turned back to Cade. “Well, are you coming?”
Cade smiled. His figure rose to his feet while he edged to his own door, gripping it. “Of course.”
They both walked through their red doors.
Location: Hoover Dam, Nevada
Time: Late Afternoon “Samad… Are you listening to me?”
A woman’s voice demanded, followed by snapping fingers inches from his nose.
When the bright light cleared, Samad blinked then stared down at his old partner. Her expression melted from an annoyance into worry at seeing his confusion. Immediately catching onto his mood, her arm reached out and pulled him closer to her. Her words echoed into his head in an attempt to soothe his rattled nerves. “Love, what’s the matter? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,”
her words twisted inside Samad’s gut.
He remembered this day. It was when they were investigating someone poisoning Nevada’s biggest water supplier, the Hoover Dam. She also died right here. This wasn’t real, despite how it felt. His thoughts were disrupted when Elsa touched his cheek after he didn’t answer her. Gently he clasped it in his own, letting her warmth reach his frozen heart for a moment. “I missed you, so much Elsa. I’m so sorry. I should’ve been stronger. I should’ve protected you and our unborn child.”
She said nothing more. Merely smiled as her hand continued to touch his, appearing to absorb his words. “It was a boy, you know. A son. I wanted to name him Omar after his uncle, but now… that will never happen.”
Her hand slipped out of his with her final words, “You can’t change the past… Let me show you. It will heal you.”
A shot rang out from nowhere. Elsa’s eyes widened as her hand traveled to her middle, blood seeped from where a rifle bullet had excited. Tears streamed from her eyes. In the background several rogues were rushing toward the pair, their weapons drawn and ready.
Rage and pain flooded Samad’s eyes, a snarl escaped his throat. His hand pressed to her abdomen as his alchemy spread through her surrounding blood, slowing the wound’s bleeding to a crawl. His cold stare fixed on the first rogue whipping out his gun to aim it at Elsa, intending to finish her off. Samad whispered right causing the bullet to shift off course the moment it left the gun. It dug into the gravel at his feet. Unfazed by the near-death experience, the Persian Lion moved from around his partner to clash with the threat head-on.
Elsa wasted little time herself as she jerked her finger in mid-air. The air particles froze on contact forming a sigil in place. With a final jerk, it erupted into a spell. Rapid icicles formed and shot outward, like shrapnel from a bomb. Three rogues were thrown backward on their asses from the impact.
Not giving them a chance to recover, Samad drew his cane’s blade then paused long enough to swing down upon the first victim.
Flesh burned from the plasma as he screamed in pain, silenced by ice crawling along his skin. The distance click of another rifle being cocked caught Samad’s attention. His hearing enhanced by alchemy, he muttered return when he spotted the man. His hand raised two fingers then whipped them about. The bullet slowed in mid-air while it twisted about him, the speed increased on the return back to sender’s direction. Glass shattered indicating it found its mark through the shooter’s eye. The sound was followed by a satisfying death gargle.
Each rogue crumbled like in his memories. Every death was exactly the same down to the blood and sounds, filling his heart with dread. The moment was drawing nearer with the passing moments. More blood was spilled. More flesh was ripped or cut, leaving the corpses to pile up.
Insanity clawed at Samad’s while the addiction rose, his dependence on Alchemy raising enough that he wasn’t even using his weapons. “Samad, we need to get out of here. There’s too many.”
Elsa pleaded in his head.
Finding sense in her words, Samad’s eyes swept the bloody scenery. Already another batch of rogues (he suspected they were Alchemy clones) had been dispatched and were closing in. Their presence blocked their escape options like before causing the Iranian’s frustration to rise in his throat. “We can’t,”
He replied, his heart racing, “We are trapped. We’re going to have to jump.”
The Persian Lion darted toward the bridge’s edge overlooking the rushing river. It was a dangerous way down, well over sixty feet. However, he could slow their fall and lessen the impact. It would take a lot out of him, but he was confident he could handle it. “They will just simply follow us, killing us in the water!” “You don’t know that for sure,”
Samad snapped back.
She had heard the harshness and frustration in his tone. Elsa drew closer causing him to face her, his hand raised for her to stop. “No, Elsa, not this time. You will not do this again. I won’t let you.”
Samad’s voice held fear at knowing what she was thinking.
Elsa simply continued to smile weakly. “I told you, Samad. You can’t change the past.”
Without warning, Elsa’s palm thrust out catching Samad off guard. Ice spread across the ground underneath his feet then a wall formed, slowly shoving him toward the edge. Samad pushed against it to no prevail. Painstakingly his boots struggled to find purchase to escape his fate before he was sent flying off into the water below.
~~~***~~~ “Samad… Are you listening to me?”
The scene seemed to have rewound. From the same gravel dirt bridge to the rogues, it played out exactly the same with each one of Samad’s attempts to save Elsa nulled by his beloved. After what felt like the sixteenth attempt, he pulled her closer then quietly spoke into her mind. “Why… why do you stop me from saving you?” “The baby was already dead the moment the bullet struck… I had nothing left to live for. The least I could do was allow you to live.” “I could’ve saved you both if I had known!"
Samad roared only to have his strength break into a strangled sob, his hands reached to cradle Elsa’s face close to his.
His eyes closed as he pressed his head against hers. Openly weeping against his will. Elsa continued to stroke his cheek, feeling his sorrow and misery without her. “No, you couldn’t,”
Elsa began to confess, “I had considered getting an abortion because I feared our baby might be recruited by ARMO one day. It wasn’t until it was killed that I knew, I couldn’t bear outliving my own son.”
Gently she kissed Samad’s cheek. “Your attempts to save us were doomed from the start. So please, my Samad, let this memory rest in peace. For me, if not for yourself.”
Through Samad didn’t say a word, he accepted her request. “I love you…”
With those words, Elsa let go of his hand.
Her warmth left his fingers as he felt gravity pull him back over the dam’s wall, heading into the still water below. This time his eyes closed and willingly accepted the fall. A pull at his mind signaled her taking the insanity, her fury turned upon the rogues rushing foolishly at her. Above him the storm brewed. The dark cloud collected, heavy with rain about to become snow, to release its fury upon the place.
Samad stepped through his exit door. He was greeted by a blinding light seared into his eyes. Gradually, his vision began to clear and adjust to the change. Taking a few moments to let the pain fade, his head swayed around. He noted that most of the motley crew had finished their business, but his heart dropped a bit at not seeing Cade among them. One red door was left unopened. “Where are you?”
Samad hissed underneath his breath.
Impulsively his feet took him toward the door and his hand reached out. It paused just inches from gripping it, uncertain if he could even open it or the consequences of his actions. He tsked then pulled his hand back to rest at his side. He hated the waiting as a deep, dark gut feeling surged into his core. Cade wasn’t doing very well. He could feel it.
Silently he endured, his arms crossed over in front of him."It seems we're done. Can we get back to the real world now?"
Samad’s head abruptly snapped in Olivia’s direction, followed by a harsh glare and word. “We can’t until Cade is done. He’s still in there and struggling, he’s also putting out a lot of alchemy,”
Samad’s fingers whitened as they gripped his skin, his leg twitching subtly.
Minutes passed before the sharp click of Cade’s door signaled his exit.
Weakly a figure pushed the door wider but held tightly to it. Cade’s hair flipped over to shroud his face. Several of his sebon were embedded into his side, wedged between the ribs and into his right thigh. The right arm hung limply with a few deep gashes severing the tendons. His clothes were shredded and singed in a few places with a crisscross pattern. Most notably the glow on his skin and the wings appeared to have vanished completely, the later left only two charred spots underneath his shoulders.
Immediately Cade stumbled forward. Instead of hitting the floor, Samad’s arm jerked out and caught him. With unusual gentleness, he lowered Cade onto his back where the Iranian began to check the wounds.
Cade simply just closed his eyes. “Angel… ”
he wheezed a bit, more rivulets of blood dribbled out of his lips, “No more red doors.” “Where’s your bag?” “I… don't know. Just...leave it.” “Cade, you’re torn to shit. What happened?”
Samad asked, his mouth become a thin line and stared at his partner. “I had a worse demon than you… I guess. I’m so tired...”
Samad didn’t say a word. Instead, he stared at the piece of Cade’s flesh that came away with his hand. A putrid scent hit the air, soiling it immediately and spreading. It took a bit of alchemy to seal the smell away as he fought to keep his stomach from churning. Cade appeared completely obvious to the piece he was missing. His eyes closed in exhaustion as he fell into a slumber, unable to remain conscious.
Samad turned to Angel, wanting an explanation for his partner’s condition. Figuring it was too much to ask for, he sighed then carefully scooped Cade up onto his shoulders. He tried not to think about the flesh’s oozing, semi-rotten texture sticking to his own while he spoke. “Now we can go.”