Wow, I'm sorry this was gone for so long. Really, I am. I wrote most of this chapter before I went on my massive leave, but the last bit I wrote recently. I hope that it all still makes sense together :S. Thank you if you're still sticking around!
Enjoy the chapter :)
Yassen knew he had to get moving quickly.
'Come on,' he urged Alex. He shot off into the trees at a pace even the extremely athletic Alex was hard-pressed to keep up with.
Yassen knew a disaster when he saw one – and this truly was a disaster. Yes, he had just rescued two girls from a landmine, but if he guessed correctly, that was just the beginning. There was a lot more to come, and he wasn't looking forward to it.
What kind of motive did this man have, though? Why set up a landmine, and then put two hostages on it? To spook him? To intimidate? Or was it all a trap?
Yassen tried to think, but none of it made sense.
He sighed. If it was a trap, there was nothing he could do about it. He couldn't let innocent people die while he found out this man's motive. If the other kids were in danger (which they almost certainly were), there were only two people that could stop it, and right now, they were both running through the woods at speeds a marathon runner would be proud of.
There were really no leads, so the finding of the next few kids was either completely due to hero's luck (the inexplicable way that things always seem to go right for heroes) or some uncanny ability of Yassen's. Either way, it wasn't a great situation they found Lucy, Holly, Phillip, Mark and James in.
They were at the edge of the compound, a barbed wire fence 2m tall indicating the perimeter. But technically, the children were out of the compound.
There was a tree, a tall Morton Bay Fig tree that loomed over them like a sacred obelisk. And from one of its wrinkled branches, that reached over the fence, was a rope, suspending the five children in mid air as they dangled over the edge of a cliff.
And it wasn't a mild cliff that might break a few bones, like the incline Mark and Caitlin had fallen down, but a steep cliff. It was one of the cliffs that Hollywood villains threaten to throw people off, one of those cliffs that you want to drop something over but are too scared to get close to the edge.
Down below was a rocky wasteland, where a dirty stream bubbled almost menacingly.
Yassen quickly assessed the situation – the rope was quite thick, but how much did the kids weigh? There were five of them, 2 girls, 3 boys, so maybe around 350kg. Would the rope hold? Yes, but there was no time for mucking around.
How on earth was he meant to approach this situation? He could see the look of horror on Alex's face, and though Yassen too was horrified, he didn't show it. How scared would the kids be?
He couldn't just cut the rope, or they'd be plummeting to their death at terminal velocity. He obviously had to get them from the height, and away from that dastardly cliff, but how?
They were too far out on the branch to untie themselves, and what for? They were over a cliff! He couldn't just move the rope up the branch, towards safety, because as the branch sprouted from the trunk, it grew thinner as it departed from the middle of the tree. If anywhere, the rope would be going further out over the cliff. The rope's knot was immovable, unless Yassen untied it, and such a thing would certainly spell instant doom.
The kids were too far out and too high up for him to reach them, even from the top of the barbed wire fence. If he could grab hold of them, he could at least bring the rope away from the cliff and bring them down one by one, over the fence. But he couldn't reach them.
Yassen could only think of one solution, but it was riddled with danger. And, he might have to ask Alex to pull it off. The last thing Yassen wanted to do was put the boy in danger – Alex was Yassen's best friend's son, but he knew that he had to ask Alex. It was all or nothing.
'Alex,' said Yassen. 'I need you to do something.'
Alex was eager – Alex wasn't scared. These were his friends and there was no way he wouldn't follow Yassen's orders, but Yassen was scared for Alex. If the rope wasn't strong enough, if there was a split second wrong in the timing…
There was no time to worry. Yassen reprimanded himself and conveyed the instructions to Alex, slowly and carefully, but only once. Time was short.
'Okay,' said Alex, gulping as he looked at the cliff.
Oh, Yassen felt bad. He knew that Alex wouldn't like heights, after all his adventures on MI6 missions. But Yassen was an adult – he was too big, and the rope was more likely to hold with nimble little Alex than bulky, muscular Yassen.
'Go on, Alex,' urged Yassen. Alex paused at the base of the tree. The last thing Yassen wanted to do was push Alex, but Alex needed to move quickly. Yassen held out his hands to give Alex a lift up.
'Okay,' said Alex softly, bracing himself and starting to climb the tree. He placed his feet on Yassen's hands, and though unwilling to transfer his weight, stood firm. Yassen was surprised to find it so easy to lift Alex up – it was a good sign. Alex was light and soon he was climbing the tree, like a jungle boy. It came to Alex with ease – he had tackled far harder things than trees.
Soon, he reached the beginning of the branch that the others were hanging from. Taking time to breathe and brace himself, he started the journey down the branch. One slip and he would fall to his death. The stream was a long way down, he noted. He wrapped his legs around the tree tightly, and slowly shuffled along the branch.
Yassen watched with bated breath. If it had been him instead of Alex, he could get to the end of the branch in seconds without falling – but he had been through rigorous assassin training. Still, Yassen knew better than to rush Alex.
Alex, now, was only a few metres away from the kids. They looked both happy and rather scared to see Alex, not knowing what he was planning but knowing that he was their only hope.
'Guys,' said Alex, trying to appear calm, even though everything inside him was shouting to look down and see how dangerous this was. 'I need you to stay calm.' He didn't think anyone was calm in this situation, but the others nodded their heads obligingly.
'Okay,' said James. 'We're calm.' Alex smiled slightly at his friend. James was trembling – he wasn't calm, but he was making a good impression for the others.
'Good,' said Alex. He shuffled closer to them, until he reached the rope. The whole way, he knew not to look down, or else panic would take hold of his system and who knows what would happen then? But now, he had to climb down the rope, in a particular way, and there was no way he couldn't look down.
He decided to look down before he started climbing, to grow accustomed to it. Keeping his eyes open, he glanced down. Immediately all the alarms in his head went off.
It's too high! It's too dangerous! Run! This is crazy! A tumultuous choir of voices shouted at him to get himself out of there, but Alex listened to the one voice that told him his friends were in trouble and he could save them if only he kept calm and stuck to the task ahead.
The problem was, he couldn't even take the climb down the rope at his own pace. Yassen's plan was exceptional, but scary. He needed to swing them away from the cliff, and cut the rope while they were headed towards safety, on Yassen's side of the fence. However, since they were suspended in mid air, there was nothing to push against, so if Alex joined them slowly, he would be no help at all – just an extra weight. He had to slide down the rope, and while he still had velocity, start all of them swinging.
Sliding down the rope quickly was the last thing he wanted to do, but he had to do it.
'When I come down, I'm going to start swinging,' Alex told them. He watched their faces turn to shock, but James willed them to keep quiet. 'I need you to put your whole weight into it, okay? I'm going to swing towards Yassen first.'
'Okay,' said James. Alex suddenly counted – there was Lucy, Holly, Phillip, Mark and James, 5 of them. May, Caitlin and Erin were heading out of the compound. There was Alex, which altogether equalled 9. But where was Tom? Alex's best friend was missing! He couldn't believe there was more to come.
The thought came at the worst possible time, because suddenly Alex stalled and found himself paralysed.
'Alex?' asked James, watching and waiting. It took all of Alex's willpower to shake himself out of the trance of fear. Before he descended, he took a deep breath.
And then, channelling Tarzan, he let out a cry and unwrapped his legs from the branch, caught hold of the rope with two hands and flew down the rope like a fireman's pole. He knew he had to start swinging, so with all of his weight he threw himself away from the cliff. He and the rest barely moved, Lucy and Holly started screaming, but then they remembered they had to swing.
Slowly, the group gained momentum and started swinging from side to side. It was nerve wracking, being so high up in the air and swinging dangerously. The rope was strained and Yassen's palms were sweating.
They swung higher and higher, shouting with each push to increase their strength.
'I'm going to do it now!' Yassen shouted at Alex. He nodded and kept the others swinging.
Trying to focus, Yassen took out his gun from his holster. He took a deep breath. This would take all his skill, and if it was done wrongly, would spell instant disaster. Yassen was capable, that was for sure. The best shot in the whole history of Scorpia, and equipped with over 3 decades of firearm experience – if there was anyone who could do this, Yassen could.
And yet he knew he couldn't be cocky, and he had to focus and aim properly. From the tree branch, Alex and the other five children were swinging, and gaining considerable speed and movement. He had to shoot soon.
He closed his eyes for a moment, and then started to watch the swinging of the rope. He breathed in time to the swings, felt the rhythm in his brain until he knew exactly what he had to do. He was going to shoot the rope to sever it – it would take too long for Alex to try and cut the rope with a knife, so he used explosive rounds that would break the rope upon impact.
The timing had to be impeccable. Yassen couldn't shoot at the very end of the swing, because that was when the rope was changing directions, nor at the middle, because the children would not fly far enough. The rope needed to have the most velocity it could – Yassen estimated that about three quarters of the way from the equilibrium to the end of the swing would be about right.
He watched the rope, blocking out everything else, aiming and using all his assassin skills. His finger tightened on the trigger. The children swung back and forth.
And then he shot.
With beautiful precision, the momentum of the children continued as they sailed over the fence, back to safety, away from the cliff, flying through the air like a well-thrown javelin. Yassen felt his heart relax, and he put the gun back in its holster.
The children landed with a loud 'thump' on the ground, and Yassen ran over. Perhaps they would have a few broken bones, but the fall had not been that great, the ground was soft and they would not be gravely injured.
He ran over to them quickly, flicking open a Swiss army knife and cutting them free.
'Who are you?' asked James, looking up at their saviour with mixed emotions – both adoration and fear. Well, Yassen inspired fear, there was not much he could do about them. Something about years of assassin training does that to you.
'Doesn't matter,' said Yassen dismissively. 'Are any of you hurt?'
Yassen didn't usually ask whether people were hurt, as he was usually the ones hurting them. Alex did a quick check, and shook his head.
'Okay,' said Yassen. 'Alex, you take these guys out of compound.'
Alex nodded, but Yassen could feel his doubt.
'What is it?' Yassen asked.
'Well... Tom's still in there,' Alex said hesitantly, lowering his head a little.
'I'll find him,' Yassen assured Alex. 'You need to take these ones to safety.'
Yassen's eyes looked determined, and Alex knew that if there was anyone he could trust to return his best friend to him safely, it would be Yassen. Still, Tom was Tom. Tom had helped Alex through a multitude of tough times, and was Alex's best friend (possibly his only friend).
'Okay,' agreed Alex. He had to put his trust in the Russian assassin. Who was Alex, anyway? He was an MI6 spy, but he was still young, with little training. Alex had basically survived all of his "adventures" on a mixture of luck and good timing. He would not be much of a help to Yassen.
'Alex?' said Yassen, sensing Alex's anguish.
'Yes?' said Alex, rather distracted as he helped the girls up off their feet.
'I'll bring Tom back,' Yassen promised. Alex just smiled and nodded.
Last time Yassen and Alex had met, they had been enemies. Or maybe they had been friends, in that jet plane, both of them against Damian Cray. Either way, there was something about Yassen that Alex trusted. He didn't doubt that Yassen would make good on his promise, or would at least try his hardest.
Yassen took a deep breath and sighed. In his life he had done many terrible things – too many to count. After the first couple of years the nightmares had disappeared, but sometimes he could hear whispers in the wind, damning him. He knew saving one life would not atone for the crimes he had committed, but it was definitely a start.