Author's notes :-Hi everyone. I've been really naughty… Sorry for taking months to update. University really has taken its toll and it's been hard to find inspiration when so much is going on. I sincerely hope this feeds your hunger. Thank you to all of you for being such amazing followers. Much love,
The ropes dug into his wrists and made him wince every few seconds that passed. His legs were bent uncomfortably beneath himself and his stomach growled painfully with starvation. How long was he going to be kept like this? As if God had heard him, the bedroom door swung open and a man dressed in black marched inside. They dumped a bowl full of bread and ham by his legs. The man bent down to cut Carter free from his binds.
"Oh, thank you…" Carter dove to the wooden plate.
His captor watched as Carter stuffed his face like a pig. All table manners had gone out the window. Carter swallowed hard and sat back against the wall, momentarily studying his bleeding wrists. His captor then surprised him by lowering down into a crouch and pulling out a cloth, a bottle of whiskey, to start cleaning his broken skin. Carter grimaced and pulled away.
"Don't be such a baby," The captor spoke.
Carter's eyes widened slightly, "Y-you're a woman?"
The woman pulled down the cloth wrapped across her mouth to reveal her face; she also pulled off the hat, allowing her blonde, shoulder-length hair to shine for him. For just a second Carter completely forgot about his hunger as he admired her beauty.
"I'm trying to get you out of here," The woman spoke in a low whisper, "but this place is surrounded. Can you hold on for a bit longer?"
She glanced into Carter's baffled eyes as she dabbed his bloody wrists with the whiskey-soaked fabric. Carter blinked a few times, coming to his senses.
"You want to help me?" Carter raised a suspicious eyebrow, "why, she-devil?"
The woman rolled her eyes, "You're not the only one who wants to see the end to that damned ring. If Armand gets it, we're all done for. I don't quite fancy being dead just yet."
Carter was in awe of her, "Right…"
"I'm June," She leant back to look down at him, "you can trust me."
"Carter," Carter replied with a bewitched nod.
June chuckled, "I know who you are."
Her milky voice made his blood thicken. Her voice was quite cockney for a maiden so fair, and she could evidently look after herself judging by her choice of a career path as Armands' handywoman. Some voices came from outside and June, in a panic, leapt up to her feet and recovered her face with her cloth. She stood back with her hands locked at her stomach just as the bedroom door swung open again and, this time, two large men entered with Armand.
"Getting acquainted?" Armand sarcastically asked Carter.
Carter glared up at him, "She's a real gem."
Armand looked faintly intrigued and June was forced to kick Carter in the hip to uphold his trust. Carter grunted and keeled over slightly; June didn't look at him. Armand looked amused.
"I've contacted my team in Mexico City. They're searching your friends down as we speak," Armand told Carter.
Carter continued to glare up at him, "Good luck to them…"
Armand snickered, "We're leaving shortly. Get him ready."
With that, he waved his hand royally in the air before leaving the room. The two henchmen remained behind, as if monitoring Carter and June. This was going to be a tricky escape.
Meanwhile, in Mexico City, Alex and the gang were dealing with their own tricky situation. Arms flailing about, feet stomping, Alex proceeded to argue with a Mexican bus officer who didn't understand a speck of English. Femi, Jonathan and Carl waited in the background with tired expressions as they sat on the wall of a stone fountain. Ixa was delighting herself with the sights and smells around them.
"God damnit!" Alex slammed his hand down onto the wooden desk, "I need a taxi! Taaaaxiiiiiiiii, do you understaaaaand?"
Femi, rolling her eyes, stood up in a huff, "Alex, this is pointless!"
The Mexican man leapt an inch in the air through his ultimate frustration, while overwhelming Alex with his fast talking. At that moment, Ixa walked up to the counter and sighed. She spoke to the man in his native language and his face began to soften. He finally nodded and spoke back to her. Femi and Alex blinked owlishly at her.
"How long were you gonna' let me make a fool of myself for?" Alex looked embarrassed.
Ixa smiled, "I know the ancient language. I didn't think it would work."
Carl smirked to himself. Within seconds, the Mexican bus owner had pulled out the appropriate paperwork and started leading them across the street to where a large, rusted minibus was parked. Femi stepped up into the bus and instantly grimaced at seeing chickens, a goat, and local villagers crowded into their seats. It stank of sweat and animals. She was never a fussy girl and always adored animals, but these conditions weren't her personal favourite.
Carl laughed from the back of their queue, "Nothing like a bit of cultural education."
Alex glared back at him before edging Femi into the body of the bus. Ixa hesitated, at first, but reached out to Alex for his hand. Femi was surprised to, yet again, witness Ixa reaching out to her partner for support and watched them like a cat as Alex awkwardly accepted her request and led her onto the bus. Ixa was awfully jumpy for an all-mighty Genie's daughter. Femi moved to the very back of the bus where she managed to squeeze in between an elderly woman and a small child, while the others made do with anywhere they could find. Jonathan ended up beside a goat; it looked at him, one eye headed east and the other west.
"Alright pet," Jonathan uncomfortably shifted, his nose wrinkling slightly.
The bus officer who had loaded them aboard signalled for the driver to depart and the bus doors screeched shut, but didn't close properly. The company owner growled and kicked it a couple of times after which it finally worked. The bus pulled off from the roadside and headed down the main street of the busy city, outbound to the jungle roads. Femi fanned her face with her hand, puffing out her cheeks like a blowfish. She caught Alex's eyes from a few seats away and they both smiled tenderly at each other, despite Ixa clinging onto him like a baby. She had certainly taken a liking to him. Femi felt another pair of eyes on her and looked down to see the teenage girl blinking up at her; Femi just smiled.
For the rest of the journey, the group had no choice but to sit in silence and ponder over the past events of their quest. Femi feared for her brother, Alex feared for his greying uncle and Ixa studied the scenery in fascination. She looked more comfortable than ever, however, as the familiar jungle scenery helped her feel more at home. It had been nearly two hours before they were engulfed in the true sweat of the tropical forest and the sounds of nature surrounded them. They wound along the uneven roads that led them onto the cliff-front where they could see for miles over the bowl-shaped jungle below. Femi tried not to peer out of her window for too long as her imagination ran wild with frightening scenarios.
They had just moved into a clear area of the jungle where a beautiful waterfall crashed down into a green pool. It couldn't be much longer, surely? Three hours felt like an entire eternity without any leg room or fresh air. The old woman beside Femi coughed intrusively and made her lean away in disgust. She was about to say something when the whole bus shuddered and a loud bang made everyone shout out in fear. Everyone held on for dear life as the bus came to a rough falter by the pool and collided into the trunk of a wide tree-stump, bringing to a complete stop.
"What the hell?" Carl shouted out.
Alex half-stood, "What's going on?!"
The other Mexican civilians joined them in shouting and waving their hands about in frustration and the helpless bus driver batted them away as he walked off the bus to check his engine. Steam was pouring out from the front and the bus was slightly off-balance, as if one of the wheels had vanished. Alex and Carl shuffled down the aisle and got off the bus to help the driver investigate; Femi quickly followed. They gathered at the front of the bus where thick smoke and hissing sounds disheartened them. Ixa and Jonathan were soon behind them.
"What is it? What did you do?" Alex spoke with large hand gestures.
The bus driver rabbited back to him in his foreign language and Alex just rolled his eyes. Ixa stepped forwards to liaise and the group waited anxiously for an explanation. Once Ixa had enough information, she turned to face them with a frown.
"We have to get off," Ixa told them, "it's broken."
"Oh, bloody fantastic," Jonathan threw his hands up.
"What does he mean – broken?" Alex looked furious, "what're we supposed to do now, in the middle of the jungle?"
Ixa looked hurt, "I-I don't know. I don't understand all of these mortal terms!"
Alex stepped towards her, "Well learn! You're the daughter of a damned God, can't you do something?"
"I'm sorry," Ixa held her hands to her chest like a frightened child, "I-…"
"Alex," Femi scolded him.
Alex suddenly realised he had taken his anger out on Ixa and frowned in disgrace. Ixa pushed past him, storming off, and disappeared over by the pond to suffer in her own company. Alex rolled his eyes in frustration.
"Well done," Femi tutted, "she's just frightened."
Alex shifted uncomfortably on the spot for a few moments while deliberating. The disappointment in Femi's eyes made him feel like crap.
"I know the way," Carl then interrupted, "I can take us there by foot. But we should move fast. These roads are known for trouble."
Alex looked to Carl, uncertain, and studied him for a moment. He finally nodded. Carl went back to collect his things from the bus while Femi, Alex and Jonathan discussed the situation in private.
"I don't like this," Femi sighed, "can we trust him?"
"We have so far," Alex rubbed the back of his neck, "we haven't got any other choice. It's walk his way, or stay stuck here for god knows how long."
The sound of bustling people caught their attention and they looked around to see all of the passengers spilling out from the bus with their belongings. Evidently, everyone had made the same decision to take responsibility for their journey.
Femi sighed, "Fine… We'll walk it."
The little girl whom Femi had been sitting next to stepped down from the bus and slipped, causing her to fall over onto all fours. Femi immediately rushed to her rescue and helped her stand; Alex admired his girlfriend. She was always caring for others. This made him feel even worse about his actions towards Ixa and looked over at her, where she was leaning against a tree and gazing out over the waterfall sadly. Alex knew what he had to do.
"Are you alright?" Femi asked, brushing the little girl down.
Her grandmother came over and comforted the child, smiling down at Femi and nodding in gratitude. The little girl beamed up at her and then plucked a tiny red flower from her grandmothers' straw bag and handed it up to her.
"Thank you," Femi took it, her heart swelling.
She watched the old woman and the little girl walk away and join a large group of fellow commuters. They were all headed back to the city which made her apprehensive over how long the walk ahead was. Thinking this, Femi looked round with parted lips to say something to Alex – but he wasn't there. He was standing with Ixa by the fountain. What were they doing over there? Curious, and unnecessarily wary, Femi peered around the bonnet of the steaming bus to spy on them from her position. Alex was speaking down to Ixa, who remained hugging herself like a child. She had the face of a broken heart. But why? Surely Alex hadn't upset her that much?
Carl dumped a bag on the floor beside Femi and made her jump from her thoughts. She glared over at him.
"That's not ours," She told him.
"It's been left behind," Carl shrugged, "got a blanket and some food inside. Finders keepers."
"Thief," Femi snapped.
He smirked at her as he walked past her and Femi's eyes once again found Alex and Ixa, but this time Ixa was looking up at Alex and smiling. It wasn't a normal smile, like one that a friend would give to another friend. It was the same type of smile Femi had given Alex when she realised she loved him. Oh dear god – the genie's daughter was falling for her boyfriend.
Then out of nowhere, the situation escalated into mayhem. The sound of gunshots exploded into the air and everyone screamed, ducking to the ground. Femi looked up from the dirt at hearing male voices shouting in the distance, in Mexican. She saw the silhouettes of men holding rifles up in the trees, on the hillside.
"Pirates," Carl sneered, laying chest-down in the dirt beside her, "I told you."
"What do we do?" Femi looked round at him with wide eyes.
At seeing such vulnerability in Femi's chocolate eyes, something stirred inside him. He wanted to protect her. At once, Carl leapt up and backed up against the side of the bus, pulling out his pistol from his belt. He started firing back at the pirates in the distance and Femi rolled underneath the bus with Jonathan to take cover. Femi looked out by the pool to find Alex and Ixa hiding behind the tree, Ixa crouched down by his legs, and Alex firing his own gun up at them.
"We need to move!" Carl shouted.
Alex fired his gun, "You don't say!"
Carl rolled his eyes, "On the count of three?"
"One!" Alex fire his gun.
The pirates were slowly drawing closer from the hillside. The rest of the villagers were already long gone back along the road – good for them, Femi thought, looking at the flower the little girl had given her. It now lay squished in the dirt.
"Three!" Carl cried, "Femi, Johnny – let's go!"
At once, Femi and Jonathan wriggled out from beneath the bus and leapt to their feet to start running through the jungle. Femi's fists swung by her sides and her feet hit the ground so hard, her shoes nearly came off. They leapt over trees, under vines, broke through bushes and meandered around any obstacles. It was a dizzy haze and the gunshots were still on their tail. Somehow Femi had been separated from the rest of the group, just due to coincidental layout of the jungle forcing her in the opposite direction. She could see their figures but only as shadows through the greenery.
"Alex!" Femi called.
She heard his voice echo back, but it was distant. She couldn't see anyone, now. Femi was so busy looking leftwards that she hadn't spotted the slippery drop approaching up ahead and with a sudden scream, she fell onto her back and was speeding down a watery, muddy slide through the shrubbery of the jungle. Leaves, sticks and stones swatted her on the way down and she finally landed in a shallow puddle of mud, thick with age. She surfaced with a desperate gasp for air and the water from the slide poured over her, clearing away most of the mud.
"Alex!" Femi cried out, her heart racing.
Voices answered her, but they weren't friendly. Femi huddled into the wall underneath the slide and pressed herself against the wall, holding a firm hand over her mouth to silence her breathing. The pirates soon came into the clearing and carefully treaded around the mud-bath with their long rifles grinning hungrily. They looked rough, with bandanas, tattoos and scruffy clothes. Their faces were hard with years of bloodshed. Femi waited in terror for them to finally disappear and when she had stirred enough courage inside herself, she pelted. Once again Femi fled through the jungle, praying she would find Alex. She dared not call out to him for fear of the pirates. Suddenly, someone crashed into Femi and she screamed out, kicking and punching wildly to protect herself.
"Stop!" Carl exclaimed, "it's me, damnit!"
Femi relaxed at once and looked up into his face, "Carl?"
Carl lifted his finger to his lips, signalling for her to be quiet. She nodded profusely. Taking her hand tightly in his, the gun in the other, Carl led them across the thick jungle in haste. His cautious eyes and ears were alert to everything around them. Eventually, they reached the river, where the rest of the gang had literally arrived seconds ago. Femi ran over to Alex, who wrapped her up into a hug of desperation.
"You lost me," Femi panted in a whisper.
Alex rubbed the back of her wet, muddy head "Never again."
Alex's eyes connected with Carl's, who was standing a few feet away. Alex hated the fact that Carl had saved her and not him, and Carl's smugness made him feel even worse. It was a man thing; any man who had ever been in love knew how shameful it was to not be there for your woman.
"Look!" Ixa exclaimed excitedly, pointing.
Everyone looked to her and followed her finger; two boats sat beside the riverbank, as if just waiting for them. No one could believe their eyes. Carl started chuckling and rushed into the water to investigate.
"Talk about luck," Carl laughed, "I guess it's not all bad for us."
"And I didn't even have to make a wish!" Jonathan grinned.
The group hastily boarded the boats – Carl and Ixa in one, and Femi, Alex and Jonathan in the other. Alex sat behind Femi and pulled her into him, his arms wrapping around her for a moment. He rest his chin on her shoulder.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
Femi nuzzled into him, "I'm getting mud all over you."
Alex snickered, "Good."
He kissed her on the cheek before joining Jonathan in rowing down the river. Femi's smile faltered as she gazed down into the water. Although she wasn't angry with her lover, she still felt a strange knot inside her. She owed Carl a massive thank you – after all, he had risked his life to save her. But why? He owed her nothing and they didn't even trust each other. Well, Femi certainly trusted him now.
From afar, Ixa bore daggers into Femi's head as she watched her snuggling up to Alex. She couldn't help the way she felt about him. Carl, seated behind Ixa, spotted the jealousy on her frown. He knew exactly what was happening to the group – things were becoming complicated.