Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Renee’s breath caught in her throat. She couldn’t get the answer wrong because Calista's life hung in the balance relying on her tired mind to save her. Luckily, the riddle was one she’d known for a while, her grandmother used to recite it to her whenever the young girl started acting out of place. It was a warning to straighten up or get caught in the web (code word for punishment) was coming in the form of a switch. “It's a spider,” she answered through tight lips and waited. Donovan made no sound, no comment or his usual sickening laughter. The line went dead.
She waited, listening to the continued creaking sounds that called out from the elevator shaft as wires worked to hold its passengers in place. She heard the panicked voices of the agents assigned with transporting Calista as they slammed their fingers into the buttons hopelessly trying to convince the reinforced metal box to continue rising. The relief was palpable when the gears shifted back into motion and the lift continued to rise. She sighed looking down at the black screen of the phone in her hand before she returned it to her pocket.
“What the hell was that?” Moon who'd been sobbing stood as recognition of danger set in. Her eyes shifted from the elevator doors to Renee and back. "Calista?"
“It was another riddle, I got it right.” She dropped her head back to stare at the ceiling. “We need to talk, what did Calista tell you? Did she say anything that could be useful? Anything to help figure out how all of this happened?”
“She just said it wasn't her. Something about a sound and then-” Moon was interrupted by the familiar sound of heavy footfalls. She quickly hushed, it seemed Renee wasn't the only one who didn't completely trust the woman who claimed to be there to offer her help.
“What are you doing here Renee?” Brigytah stood with two others Renee had never met. The dark-haired woman with thick frames looked frightened, the blonde with sunglasses looked pleased.
“I came to speak to Calista, but I see you’ve already had her taken away,” Renee refused to back down. The two of them would be at odds, that much was clear. She didn't trust Brigytah and she wouldn't be hiding the fact.
“Yes, for her own good,” Brigytah showed her frustration for once again having to justify for her actions. "Being here was bad for Calista. I've sent her to the safest place possible."
“Seems a little hasty on your part,” Renee sighed, “doesn’t exactly help with my investigation either.”
“Are you questioning my judgement, again? The girl was compromised, clearly.” Brigytah sucked her teeth as she tried not to lose her cool in front of her minions.
“Of course she was, great.” Renee paused, “Only, I've never seen someone shipped to the Arc that fast. Compromised or not, it just doesn't happen that way. Not without proper observation and assessment.”
"Moon," Brigytah turned her attention to the puffy eyed woman at Renee's side, no longer caring to address her oppositions concerns. "You look upset. Perhaps you should go to the restoration center. Get you some rest and feed. I know how troubling this all must be for you considering your relationship with Calista."
"Yes, I think I will," Moon nodded slowly then shot Renee a troubling look before dropping her feet to the floor and heading out the door.
"Moon, I'll come see you later." Renee called behind her and Brigytah rolled her eyes. Renee was stating a fact, that she would be looking out for Moon and if anything happened to her, she would raise hell.
"You're looking a little beat up yourself there, perhaps you should go join her." Brigytah took the jab before turning and leaving Renee alone. The two agents who remained silent, followed closely behind her.
With both Moon and Calista out of the picture, Renee had one person left that she could turn to. When she last left the woman, she'd been in the middle of an emotional break down so she didn't expect to get much from her in terms of solid information to help. Still, she had to try. Learning the maze of the underground house had been a lot easier than she thought. She navigated her way from the containment area to the living quarters. The halls were buzzing with whispers of conspiracies. Every person she passed along the way stopped to stare at her before returning to their quiet conversations. They all speculated about if she would survive her encounter with Donovan. It was all very encouraging!
Noemi's slice of the space was quiet, at least the agents there had enough sense to show some respect to the mourning. Renee stopped outside of her door as she considered if she should actually go in. Maybe Noemi needed more time. The soft buzz of her phone in her pocket, a notification of an incoming email, told her that she needed to get all the information she could. There was no telling when Donovan would be trying to contact her again.
She knocked softly on the door and waited for a response but received none. Again, she tapped the door, this time calling Noemi's name but nothing. Taking a deep breath, afraid of walking in on a continued nervous breakdown, Renee turned the door handle and was relieved that it was unlocked. She peeked her head through the crack of the door to look inside.
"Noemi?" She called but immediately realized that the woman was not inside. Moving further into the room, her eyes widened. Everything was gone. Her visit to the room before had been brief, but she had noticed the personal touches Noemi put in her room. The framed pictures of times out with friends, the charms that hung from the lamp on her desk, and the vibrant blanket that had covered her bed, they were all gone.
Renee pulled out the cell phone from her pocket as she checked the closet, which was still full, but she could tell that things had been disrupted, someone leaving in a hurry and packing only the essentials for the trip. She found the programmed number in the contact list and hit the call button. The moment the line started to ring, Renee cursed. Exiting the closet, she saw it, the underside of the pillow on the bed lit up from the light of Noemi's ringing phone. She hung up the call and slid the phone back in her pocket. Wherever Noemi was, she didn’t want to be found.
Renee made another lap around the room trying to find any evidence she could but there was nothing. Why the hell did Noemi leave and where the hell did she go? A last resort move had her checking behind the door that led out of the room. Her eyes widened at the sight of the envelope taped to the door with her name on it.
Carefully, she removed the envelope from the door and opened it. Inside there was a simple note, signed by Noemi, a message to the new partner she had just abandoned.
"Trust no one, not even yourself."
Great, as if she wasn't already distrustful of everyone around her.
Stepping outside of the room, Renee had no idea where to turn to next. All her allies were out of commission and she hadn't been there long enough to even learn the names of the women who peered at her from the end of the hall. Wanting to avoid the sounds of further speculations, she turned the opposite way down the hall.
While she walked, her mind raced with questions she couldn’t begin to answer. The greatest one being, who was helping Donovan. He had a person on the inside, she knew it. With the new arrival of Brigytah who was determined to undermined everything Xavia said, and the sudden disappearance of Noemi, she didn’t know what to think. She wanted answers, and if she was going to get them she had to confront the person who claimed to be in charge.
“Where is she?” Renee barged into the office that belong to the injured leader of the Chicago house. She wasn’t surprised to find Brigytah there, rifling through the documents on the desk.
“Excuse me?” The dark eyes lifted and rolled into the back of her head when she saw Renee standing in the doorway glaring at her.
“Noemi, she is gone,” Renee stepped further into the room. “What did you do?”
“I haven’t seen Noemi and the last I heard of her she was locked away in her room, if she is gone now, it has nothing to do with me.” Brigytah snapped,
“You expect me to believe that, and after you shipped Calista out of here without so much as taking the time to properly question her about what happened?”
“I don’t give a damn what you believe, Renee.” Brigytah came from around the desk. “You come here in the middle of a shit storm and for all I can see you’re just making things worse. If it wasn’t for Donovan targeting you, your ass would be headed back to Texas right now. You’re walking on a very fine line, and I suggest you stop and reconsider your next steps.”
“Right, it's my ass on the line and you coming in here and making moves without allowing me to properly investigate what’s happening puts me at further risk.” Renee narrowed her gaze and squared her shoulders. She wasn’t going to be scared off. “He has someone, working on the inside with him, and you know that.”
“Are you suggesting –“ Brigytah didn’t need it spelled out for her. Renee’s accusation was clear as day.
“I’m not suggesting anything, but it doesn’t look good when every action you take seems to help his case.”
With that, Briytah leaped across the room baring her fangs and allowing her hatred to bleed through. She growled as her forearm slammed into Renee’s chest and pushed her back against the frosted glass wall with a loud thud. The glass cracked beneath the pressure but did not break. “You accuse me of working with that asshole?! I’ve lost so much more than you could ever know because of him! If you wanted to make an enemy here, well you’ve got it! Step to me one more time, Renee, and it will be your ass!”
The sound of the phone ringing ended the confrontation between the two women. Brigytah released her hold on Renee and calmly walked over to retrieve the desk to answer the phone. She lifted it to her ear, keeping stern eyes on the vampire who seemed unfazed by her show of power.
“Yea, great, I’ll be there in a moment.” She replaced the receiver on the base that set on the desk. Sighing, she looked at the red face of Renee. “Xavia is awake.”
“You don’t seem happy to hear that,” Renee smiled, she’d gotten under Brigytah’s skin which meant that the woman would be distracted by that hatred and more likely to make a mistake. If she was on Donovan’s side, it wouldn’t be long until she slipped up.
“Keep your unwanted theories yourself,” Brigytah stormed out of the office.
Inside the medical center it was still chaos. All of the lab rats ran around frantically calling for more blood. Now that Xavia was awake, they had to get her fed as quickly as possible to promote healing. From the frantic whispers, it sounded as if they were failing in their efforts.
"Renee, Brigytah, I see you two have met." Xavia smiled weakly as the two women entered the isolated space created for her.
"Yeah," they replied in unison, neither sounding happy about it.
"How are you feeling?" Brigytah asked.
"Shitty, I haven't felt pain like this since my time as a human." Xavia tried to sit up but couldn't muster the energy to do so. She slumped back down into the bed provided to her and tossed aside the blood-stained sheets. The wound at her waist still bled but it had finally begun to close. She looked down at the scar and groaned.
"What the hell happened?" Renee stepped closer to the bed to avoid Xavia trying to strain to see her or speak to her.
"It was Calista, she approached me but there was something odd about her, like she wasn't herself. None of the usual bubbly chatter,” She breathed deeply through a bout of pain before continuing, “before I knew it, she had stabbed me. I tried to fight her off but whatever this poison is, it took me down fast. If the others hadn't shown up, I'm not sure what she would have done."
"You said she didn't look like herself?" Renee felt the same way when she first saw Calista, eyes wide with fear and shock, it wasn’t her. Moon said Calista didn’t remember anything happening, perhaps she wasn’t herself at all.
"No, something about her eyes. Like she wasn't there, like she wasn’t seeing me or anything for that matter."
“Interesting,” Renee rolled over the new information in her head. Something wasn’t adding up.
"Brigytah, I'm going to need you to take the lead on things until I am healed," she moved slightly, and the wound opened more. She groaned as the pain spread again. "I don’t think that will be anytime soon."
"Of course," Brigytah smiled and shot Renee a triumphant look. The moment they left the room she would be ordering the newcomer to go through the debriefing and putting the pain in the ass in her place.
"Thank you, please give Renee whatever she needs for her investigation. Full cooperation as to how she sees fit to run things. Clearly what we have done isn't adequate." Xavia continued and crushed her replacements hopes of abusing her power.
With those words, Brigytah's jaw tightened and Renee smiled before addressing the wounded Head of House. "Thank you, Xavia. I already have a few leads I'd like to explore. I'll provide updates as soon as I can."
"Thank you, for being so thorough. I look forward to your reports. Now, if you will give me some time with Brigytah, I have a few items of higher importance that I need to discuss with her."
"Of course," Renee exited the room being sure to shoot Brigytah a look of her own. One that said she could kiss her Texan ass.
Renee decided to head back to her room. She needed rest, and blood and to collect her thoughts. Calista and Noemi were gone. Moon would be her best point of contact to move forward but she too needed time to recover from the events. With Brigytah finally off her ass about the debriefing she could move forward without pause. Yeah, the temporary Head of House would definitely find new ways to give her shit, but it wasn't something she couldn't take. She'd be ready to give her a couple hits back the next time she attacked her.
Entering the door to her room, Renee kicked her boots off and fell onto the small loveseat that sat by the door. She dropped her head back to look at the ceiling then cursed as she smelled the sulfur coming from the device on her desk, the one that hadn't been there before.
She stood and walked over to view the contraption.
Three black envelopes with gold writing set on copper plates. The wiring was something she'd seen before in text books about electrical engineering. It was the last case she’d been put on before being shipped off to Chicago. Before reading the note left on the table, she understood what she was looking at. This was a balancing act, if one envelope was removed it would set off a reaction that would destroy the others. She dropped her eyes to the typed note, one that would leave no clue as to who was helping Donovan.
One you can have
The others you'll lose
Learn the secret they hide
Which will you choose?
She read the names scrawled across the black envelopes in gold ink. Noemi, Calista, Brigytah. Sighing at the loss that would come and knowing she couldn't cheat the game, she quickly made her choice and snatched the envelope from the plate. As the others burned she opened it to reveal the note inside.
Which Envelope did she choose?