I just finished reading some awesome fanfics :D Amazing doesn't even cut it. Ms. Belikov is my new favorite author :D You should read her stories :D

Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Richelle Mead, except the plot and other people that weren't in VA. I assure you that I'm not gaining any profit from this story. Nothing will be copied from this without my express permission. The plot is original, and so are the other characters. If you stumble upon an Odessa Alvarico in a local dental clinic, then she may be my dentist. Some characters are real-life people, and I have their permission to use their name and identity, so no need to sue me.

Chapter 26

1922 T hours

07:22 PM; Living Quarters, Cabin 6, Column 6

The four of us, Lissa, Kristin, Kendall and I, were getting ready for the next day to come. The day hadn't been easy for Lissa, nor was it for me. The Academists kept sending me random looks as if they thought I had something to do with the disappearances. I actually didn't blame them. If I were in their shoes, I would have been suspicious too.

From the start, Kendall and I weren't best of friends, much more now after my supposed "false alarm" disappearance. The whole time I was fixing my short hair, she kept scrutinizing me in the mirror, probably trying to guess what my next move was.

I gave her a sweet smile through the mirror. She narrowed her eyes at me and looked away.

Good move on her part, I thought. I never really liked it when someone stared at me too much. This day for me had been equally shitty as her gaze. Our Homeroom was suspended because of the kidnapping scares, and I was a bit relieved at that. I didn't want to lose anyone tonight—whoever or whatever they were.

We were getting ready for bed when somebody knocked on the door on our cabin.

Kristin was the nearest to the door, but she didn't open it. She looked forcefully immersed in what she was reading.

"Aren't you going to answer the door?" I called out to her.

She shook her head distractedly. I rolled my eyes and reluctantly jumped out of bed to answer the damn door. I opened it and was surprised to see our late-night visitor.

"Comrade," I greeted and smiled. I looked back into our cabin to see if somebody noticed him there, but none were looking our way. "Do you want to get in?"

He shook his head and beckoned me to follow him out.

"Let me just grab my coat. Wait for me there."

I went inside again, grabbed my coat and shoved my feet into comfortable shoes. Lissa emerged from the bathroom and looked at me questioningly.

"Where are you going?" asked Lissa, her eyes sparkling innocently.

I was an impulsive liar, and I was glad I could make something up before she got suspicious. "I'm being called to the Headmistress' office because I skipped training in Armageddon."

She frowned and nodded. "Be careful," she called when I was at the door.

"Always," I called back.

Dimitri was waiting outside the cabin, just like I asked him to.

"What's up?" I asked when I noticed the grim look on his face. He led me to the west exit of the living quarters, which was the direction that led to the large woods. I hoped he knew his way around. I wouldn't want to get lost again.

"Another Academist is missing."

I paled, my blood running cold. "Who?"

"Leroi Estur. One of the lab experts. His leader is being too much of a worrier, and is not making the job of retrieving him any easier." It was the first time I've seen Dimitri Belikov look agitated.

"Liam? Where's he at?"

"At the Endo Domain. That's where we're going." His pace was long and fast. I had to jog just to keep up with him.

"You don't seem too calm now, Comrade."

The look on his face told me that he didn't like that nickname, but that was half the reason why I called him that. It was just cute…but there was no time to declare what was cute or not. We had a missing Academist, and we needed to find him right away.

When we got to the Endo Domain, I realized that Dimitri had left out a very important detail about who were also in the place.

I verbally lashed out at Dimitri. "Why did you not tell me that he is here?" I gestured to my father dramatically for effect. My face was completely flushed and, I assumed, terribly red.

Dimitri seemed stunned. "I didn't know you had anything against Ibrahim Mazur." He said monotonously.

I wanted to stomp my foot, but I didn't. I was sure that I looked intimidating enough though because I felt my father's guards shift, ready restrain me if I'd take offense. They have never seen this Rose before. In fact, the Rose they knew was a brat, but a very calm and collected brat at that. Unlike this Rose—this Rose was just out of control—and I liked it.

"Soldier, stand down." A voice boomed. I knew that it was my father. It was obvious from his accent and the way his tone demanded respect and attention.

Slowly and reluctantly, I pivoted toward his direction, and executed a salute. He saluted back, and we dropped our hands in sync. Geez, what a great family reunion.

"If we are done with these formalities, I'd like to get on with the business at hand." Liam, who was pacing all over on the corner of the room, said all of a sudden.

My father sent him a look that said he didn't like the tone he used on him. "Of course," his tone said otherwise. It had a faint hint of amusement, which I really didn't understand.

I glared at Dimitri. "We're going to have to talk later,"

Dimitri smiled. "Sure, soldier." His tone was taunting.

I stuck my tongue out at him, hoping that my father didn't catch me doing that. He didn't, I knew. He was too busy listening to the kid ramble on about how his lab partner didn't clock in on his last shift.

"And he was supposed to help with me the inventory, but he didn't come too. I went to his room, but he wasn't there. I got worried, and I reported it." The kid adjusted his glasses, his eyes looking teary. I swear if Kristin was here to see that, she'd surely run to him and hug him like a teddy bear.

"Inventory? What were you going to do with inventories?" I asked. I was a little horrified at the mention of inventories.

"We like to keep things in line, and separate our things in different catalogues." He replied nonchalantly.

I shook my head at the kid. No wonder his head was so big. He actually liked doing inventory. What I assumed were father's specialists took down notes and conspicuously scrutinized the place with trained eyes.

"Where was Leroi last seen?" Sydney Sage, one of the best Mazur Clan specialists, asked. Her eyes looked gold under the bright light of the building, and her hair would have looked better if a blizzard passed by.

"Last time I saw him was here. About three and a half hours ago. After that was his last class with me, and then he wasn't in dinner and our appointment to do inventory."

Almost all of the people in the place gasped and took steps back. Right. The Endo Domain was a potential crime scene, and they were supposed to be preserving it.

"Everybody, we have to evacuate the place now. There may still be some kind of evidence that can help us with our investigation here." Sydney ordered.

"What's the point? We already messed the place up. It's not safe to say that everyone who's been gallivanting around here will all be our suspects! Who knows how many Academists have been here?" I exclaimed and I saw Sydney flinch. I kind of had that effect on her.

"Actually, I think Rosemarie here is right, Miss Sage." My father said blandly, putting a hand on my shoulder.

Gee, I'm glad he was in my side.

Sydney and the other specialists who looked like they were about to protest, bowed their heads and quietly mumbled things to themselves.

"Of course, Sir. We respect Miss Mazur's judgment as much as yours."

And there it was. Miss Mazur. I was wondering how long Sydney would snap.


Damn Sydney and her big mouth. From the corner of my eyes, I saw that Dimitri's body had stiffened. He face was completely still, and he looked like he wasn't breathing at all. He also didn't bat an eyelash. It was making me crazy.

I shook my head at Sydney disapprovingly, and I heard father from beside me chuckle (yes, he chuckles from time to time). Sydney suddenly paled at the realization she just called me Miss Mazur.

"Sydney, I know you know what you just did." I mumbled quietly.

She swallowed. "You're undercover? I mean, you're still undercover? FGS, this is a school and you're undercover?" Sydney only used FGS when she was completely floored.

There was a subdued cough in the background.

"You know I'm always undercover as Rose Hathaway."

Her eyes widened and she looked like she was about to start biting her nails. I kept my gaze at her, and she caught mine grudgingly. It was a wonder why people waited for our staring contest to be over now that we had another missing Academist.

A single drop of sweat trickled near her brow.

I burst out laughing. She sucked in a breath as if she had been underwater for too long. "Sorry, Syd. Payback's a bitch."

She clutched at her chest dramatically. "Yeah, I know."

Sydney hadn't only blown my cover once, but also a couple of times in the past. It was a very inconvenient time when she decided to call me Miss Mazur when I was on a lunch date with Russia's sixteen year-old successor, Alexandre Khruschev. Russia and Turkey then weren't in good terms, and I was on a sting operation to go chum-chum with the successor so that—once he is on the throne—my country and his would be allies again.

The successor had gone completely pale then and excused himself from his supposed proposal for me and never came back. Luckily, the guy didn't say anything to his father about what happened. The reason why Sydney wasn't fired from that screw-up was because she was too valuable to lose, and I'd also talked to my father in her behalf.

"Anyway, let's continue, people. No more lollygagging in the investigation. I want you all to be in separate groups, depends on your specialization, and come up with a plan to find these missing Academists." And then I just realized something.

I looked at my father, a little panicky. "Won't they suspect that something's wrong with the students? You know, we're not actually human here."

My father gave me a very small smile. "It's okay. They know."

"What? They've known this for how long?"

"For as long as they've been working for me. Rosemarie, you should know that I actually am not human too."

"Yeah, I guessed that much since the Academy is your alma mater, but what the fuck? Why do these people know? Shouldn't you keep it a secret?"

"You'd be surprised that they are human, Rose. Nobody in this world is fully human anymore. After the great storm in 2012, our cells and abilities have escalated, making us the most promising type of human-beings ever created. A new generation of man-kind. But like I said a while ago, none of us now are fully human now, and we should be careful around people who are in power."

I narrowed my eyes at him. "What are you?"

His eyes took on a crimson glint. He demonstrated by setting the shoulder of my coat on fire. I quickly patted the fire out, and noticed that it hadn't singed my coat.

"Don't tell me that you didn't suspect much." My father said cryptically.

Yes, I have always wondered why my father was so…fascinated with fire and heat. Now I knew.

I looked up at his dark cold eyes, and then bowed my head as if in shame. But to tell you the truth, I wasn't ashamed of anything. "I'm sorry, Sir. I shouldn't have questioned you. It was uncalled for." I was still uncomfortable calling him "dad" or "father" around people.

"It's quite alright," he replied.

I looked up, relieved that the moment was over and went over to where Sydney and Liam were huddled up.

"What's the plan?" I asked. I was aware of Dimitri and my father talking at the corner of the room. I paid them no attention and went to the job at hand.

"So, it was said that Leroi was last seen here." On her large touch screen tablet, she had the Endo Domain's blue print on zoom. She pointed on the front reception, and it quickly flipped on showed the log book. Yes, the reception had a log book to see if the Academists actually attended their classes. "The log book shows that Leroi got in at 3:21 in the afternoon. Quite late for his subject, but Liam said that he is usually late. Am I right?"

Liam, from the other side, nodded.

"He went out of the class at 4:09 in the afternoon. That was his last appearance, and if my calculations are right, we are standing just right where he was last seen."

We were standing right in front of a canvas wall art with bright red poppy paintings. It was a dead-end.

That's strange. Sydney was rarely wrong when she guessed.

"And at our right side there will be a security camera."

Sure enough, at the right side, was a barely hidden security camera.

I sighed in irritation. "How would he be looking at a painting and disappear?" I asked to nobody in particular. Nobody was listening. Sydney was extracting her transmitter, mumbling a message.

"Brody, I need the recorded videos from the last four hours of the security cam in the north aisle of the Endo Domain. Send it to my tablet immediately."

"I'm on it," Brody replied through the loud speaker of the transmitter.

While Sydney waited for the security footage to arrive, I started to sift on the painting.

"What are you doing? You're tampering potential evidence!"

I shushed her. "The painting was askew."


I flipped her off, and watched intently at the cracks on the wall. There wasn't anything suspicious about the wall at all except for the askew painting. I wondered what had happened to make it that way…but whatever. Maybe it was nothing…or something.

I blinked at the painting.

"I got it! I got the footage. Let me see, what time was it?"

"Around 3:50 to 4:10 in the afternoon." Liam said from behind.

I cocked my head at the painting, scrutinizing it. It was clearly just an ordinary painting. But what about the wall behind it?

"WTF? There's this effing two-minute time lapse! Somebody tampered with the security cameras." Sydney complained from behind. "Brody, I want somebody to go to the security camera mainframe. There's definitely an inside job in this kidnapping." She barked. She sounded just like a demanding detective.

Wait, I should be the detective. Because I was the smarter one!

"Rose, please stop eye-fucking the painting FGS!" It was my first time to hear Sydney say something so vulgar like fuck.

As much as Sydney's language shocked me, I just continued "eye-fucking" the painting. Without further ado, pulled the canvass off the wall, revealing a big as fuck vent.

"What the hell? That's not in the blue print! Why is that not in the fucking blue print?

"Because that is not supposed to be there,"

I jumped with a start at the sound of Adrian's voice. I looked back, and jumped up with a start again. He wasn't wearing his usual dark cloak, but he was wearing normal—if not expensive-looking—clothes for once.

"What, you ran out of detergent to wash your cloaks?" I joked.

Adrian disengaged his serious gaze that was directed on Sydney. He smiled when he saw me. "Ah, Little Flower, so nice to see you in this godly hour of the night, not that it really bothered me before." He winked at me, and I grimaced.

He turned to look back at Sydney again. "Now, who is this beauty right here?" He took Sydney's hand in his, and I could only guess that he was about to pull off the chivalry hand kiss on her.

Sydney did me proud at her sneer. She learned from the best. "None of your business." Before Adrian could even put his lips on her skin, she pulled it out of his grasp.

His green eyes gave the slightest indication of narrowing. "Well, Miss None-of-your-business, would you like an introduction about that vent right over there?"

Sydney nodded, but she still didn't look at ease. "Of course, that will make my job much easier."

"This vent leads directly out to the therion territory, which is quite far from here and at the edge of the Camouflage."

Sydney looked like she did her homework because she knew exactly what the Camouflage and therion were, but Adrian was oblivious to that fact. Or maybe he knew but just acted dumb.

"Do you know what the Camouflage is?"

She had that annoyed calculating look on her face. "Of course I do. I don't take up an assignment without learning about it."

I was a little bored at listening to Adrian talk—he seemed a little too entertained with his voice too. I looked at Liam, and saw that he too was listening. Was I the only one who gets tired of stories easily? I was feeling so damn restless.

"Oh, what the hell," I threw off the vent's cover, and I climbed in, crawling inside like I was an expert.

Before I could crawl at least three feet away, somebody grabbed my ankle and pulled me back out.

"Rose, what are you doing?"

I saw the face of a very pissed off Russian.

"What do you think I was doing? I just can't stand there and listen to him talk when I know where the kidnapper's route of exit is! Go away, I can take it from here." And I seriously believed that I could take it from here.

"Rose, you're not going anywhere," Dimitri declared.

"Who are you, my father?"

"No, but I may be able to fix that. Your father doesn't want you busting this operation like you always do."

I almost wanted to kick him on his handsome face. Almost. "What the fuck do you know about my operations?"

"Your father—"

"It's my father's opinion of me! You know that he's biased, right? He prefers Yilmaz the screw-up rather than me! Because I'm a fucking girl! That doesn't mean if I'm a girl, I always get to be fucking wrong about things. Now, just piss off or I'll kick you where it hurts."

Dimitri didn't back away. "No."

Before I could bombast with him with reasons why I should go, he continued, saying "No, Rose, I am not going to let you put yourself in danger. That's why your father brought specialists with him, so they'd be able to hunt down the culprit."

"But, Comrade, they are our family. We should be the one looking for them, not these strangers." I gestured to the people around us. "We'll take over from here." I told my father quietly. His eyes shone with what I suspected as pride. I don't know why or what he could be proud of. I was just one rebellious girl that he has never learned to control—well, he did, but that's another story.

Dimitri looked at me for a second, and I hoped that he would fall for my pleading look. Finally, he sighed, ran a hand through his long hair, and nodded.

"Yes!" I punched the air and gave Dimitri a hug. Sufficed to say that everybody was shocked, but I ignored the looks they gave me.

I started to climb up the vent again, but Dimitri stopped me again.

"What the fuck, Comrade? I thought we were over this?"

He sent me a scolding look. "Even if I'm giving you the authority for the investigation doesn't mean you are going to scout alone."

I crossed my arms across my chest. "Fine,"

His eyes glittered with humor. "Good."

"What do we do now?"

Dimitri asked Liam something that I didn't really understand. It wasn't that it was in another language, but it was actually in English. It was just that super-scientific stuff that only geniuses understood—with me as a special exception, of course.

Liam was quick to answer. Sydney's ears perked up at the mention of that too. We had two geniuses hyped up.

"The vent is exactly 20 meters before it leads you directly to the edge therion territory. It is quite deserted there, but I assume, with the right tools and power, they can go out undetected within a matter of minutes."

Liam and Sydney nodded. Liam was busy solving something on a piece of paper.

"We can assume the time the kidnapper has traveled at four hours. The terrain here in the mountain is steep, and could only be travelled on foot. We are sure that they have not used any flying vehicles because we'd know that if they did."

Sydney busily stroked on her tablet, solving those complicated equations like Liam. It was disturbing. It was exactly three seconds later that I knew what they were doing. They were searching for the location displacement of the kidnappers.

For them, it was simple Physics. But for me, it was torture.

In sync, Sydney and Liam's heads shot up and they said "48 degrees North-west of the Academy" together.

I didn't let them see my astonishment. I grabbed Sydney's tablet and got a sketch of the whole mountain. Dimitri wasn't lying about the very steep terrains.

Everybody huddled up close to me. "Assuming they are on foot, and they've been on run for about four hours, they couldn't have gotten far. Brody, I want you to get your set of Academists and lead them toward 45 degrees North-east."

He nodded.

"Sydney, set up a team to search south just in case. I'll take North-west with my team." I set the tablet down. "Do a fifty-mile triangulation. I don't want these fuckers to slip from our grasps." With that said, everyone spread out like wild fire.

"And you," I pointed at Liam. His eyes widened behind his thick glasses. "I want you to find out who messed with the tapes. "

He nodded furiously.

"I want you to get this done as soon as we arrive here. I hate it when people double-cross us."

"Of course,"

I turned my back on him.

"Hey, Rose!"

I looked back at the kid. He looked pale and a little nervous.

"What is it?"

"Get Leroi back safely, please. He's very important to the Academy. And he's my friend."

I gave him a soft smile and tilted my head. I never truly experienced the true meaning of friendship, but having met Lissa, I wouldn't know what I'd do if it was Lissa who'd go missing. "Of course, Liam. That's my job, after all."

I grabbed Dimitri by the arm and spun him towards me. He looked surprised at my action.

"Comrade, I need your help to gather the Academists around the main hall."

He nodded without hesitation, and we made our way towards the main hall. When we finally did, he stopped in front of a large oxygen tank that was suspended mid-air.

"What the eff?" I heard Sydney's disgruntled squeal from behind.

I looked up and down at the oxygen tank. It was huge and rusty, and practically floating. Even though I was exposed to the magic and "normalcy" of the Academy for quite a bit, this particular flying part was a little hard to believe and make sense of. Yeah, somehow I knew it was possible, but still…

"My thoughts, exactly." I murmured to myself and watched Dimitri as he picked up a large thing that looked much like a hammer.

"You better cover your ears," he mumbled to us quietly, and then banged the hammer to the tank.

My reaction to his suggestion was too delayed and the full impact of the noise the tank made hit me like a wrecking-ball. My ears were ringing at the after-shock of the discordant blow. He made a move to hit the tank again, and now, I covered my ears just on time to drown out the noise. He hit it about three more times before putting the hammer down.

I removed my hands from my ears. "What now?"

"Now, we wait."

"Cryptic," I remarked and grimaced at his vagueness. I never liked enigmatic, evasive and vague people before, but Dimitri brought out a new meaning to mystery. I kind of liked it. Kind of.

From the corner of my eye, I could see Adrian looming over at the corner, deeply engaged with a conversation with my father. I couldn't see Liam anywhere and I jest that he was out doing the job that I assigned for him to do. Father's specialists were huddled at another corner, pointing at various things at once. I just hoped what they were discussing about were important things.

Not two minutes later, Academists started walking in the main hall. They were all watchful and alert of the surroundings, but I didn't miss their disarrayed hair and rumpled clothes. I guess some of the Academists were early sleepers, since it was only 8:30 PM.

Someone nudged me from my back. I looked back and saw Sydney holding out a wireless mic to me. I understood her look. She never found the appeal of speaking publicly, and she would never will.

I took the mic from her, and deep silence filled the room when I felt a shadow loom over me. I looked over and saw that the—or rather, those shadows were the Vessels themselves. Adrian and Dimitri stood, indifference masking both their faces. Awesome.

"Okay, Academists, we called you because we need help…"

After the Academists were grouped and assigned with their tasks, I turned my back to the murmuring crowd and had a visual on my father on the phone. My posture stiffened when I saw the ever-hidden troubled look on his face. He rarely had that look. Hell, he rarely had any expression on his face except fierceness of boredom.

Not knowing what to do, I cautiously walked towards him. Now, I was close enough to hear him talk to the person on the phone. He spoke fluent Russian, and I was able to catch bits and pieces of it.

Khruschev and fault were the only words I understood.

Suddenly, father stopped talking and snapped his phone shut. He looked up at the sky and sighed. He looked frustrated.

"Any problem, Sir?" I asked him, trying to hide my worry. It was unusual, how he could get this expressive. As far as I've known my father, he had never been frustrated.

Closing his eyes, he looked down for a moment and put his fist on his head, a gesture I found disarming. I did the same whenever I was frustrated. "Yes," he answered.

"Mind my question, sir, but what is it about?"

Again, he sighed. "The Russian Confederation and our nation have never been in good terms the first time I took the title. Now, it's much worse." He sounded tired, almost defeated.

My heart went out to him, but I didn't dare show it. "I know about the situation with the Russians. I thought we had a framework agreement that he'd cooperate with our artillery and oil exchange for their continued support for the nation." My tone was a little apprehensive.

"Vladimir Khruschev himself called me on the phone."

"Well, that's a first." I was flabbergasted to say the least. The Russian dignitary was one hell of a guy to get a hold with and he made sure that everyone knew that, especially to my father. But now, having called my father, it was probably his way of announcing the "official" cut of our nation's truce with his, or just a social call. But Khruschev had little time for social calls. I knew that because I dated his son back then.

"What did he say?" I asked, my heart continuing to pump in a way I found very uncomfortable.

"He found out about that sting operation we conducted two years ago, and now he demands compensation for it."

I leaned back, my mouth hanging ajar. "But that happened years ago, he couldn't actually dig up this whole case and make a fucking mess out of it."

"Knowing his power and resources, he can." My father replied faintly.

"What's he going to do if we don't give him the compensation?" I almost tapped my toe in exasperation.

"He's going to reprimand the treaty, which will leave our nation vulnerable to attacks." He had that tired, defeated look on his face again.

I crossed my arms over my chest. "Well, yeah, it's inevitable that we're going to have to be invasion by other countries, but nothing we can't get past, right?"

My father looked up with new-found fierceness. "How can you be so callous, Rose? People—thousand and millions of lives—will be lost if this happens."

I stepped down. "Forgive me, but—"

He held up his hand to stop me. "I know, you meant to no offense. I would have understood that point—to spare life of the others to save our nation's skin, but…"

"But what?" I nearly made a mistake of poking his arm.

"But…I am not the man I was before." He said and looked at me, a soft look making his strong features grow old. "After you almost died, I realized something. If we go to war now, we will lose many lives—lives of loved ones, people who have family to go home to. Just imagining losing you, Rose, my daughter, I couldn't even handle it, and I wouldn't want that pain for my people. I colonized their territory; I'll serve them by being a good leader they deserve to have."

I didn't realize that my eyes were starting to prick when he said these things. He lifted a hand and brushed my cheek with the back of his hand. The gesture surprised me even more than his declaration. I didn't know my father cared that much. I really didn't know.

"There will be no war, pityingly small renegades or big tank revolutions." He said with finality.

I stepped back from him and nodded, collecting my thoughts one by one.

"Well, if you want that, give him his compensation." I said, my voice gravelly with unshed tears. Jesus.

I swear, his shoulders fell when I mentioned that. "That's the problem. He wants my head on a silver platter."

I took another step back, flabbergasted all over again. "That's the compensation for just, what, banging his son?"

"Apparently, yes." Ibrahim the Conqueror had an appalled look on his face.

I could have laughed at him, but I didn't. "That's just asking too much. I'd rather ditch his skinny ass if it were up to me."

Somebody tapped me on my shoulder. I looked back to see Dimitri.

"Yeah?" I asked him.

"You have a legion waiting for your permission to go." He said and walked away.

It took me a moment to realize that I was still about to lead the Academists for an area search. I have forgotten about that, really. I looked back at my father and saw that he was composed again. Good.

"Father, look, I'm sure Khruschev's kidding—exaggerating a little. I'm sure that his head was still hot from having known this when he called you, and I'm sure that you will come up with an agreement soon after his anger passes."

Surprisingly, my father nodded. "Now, go, you've helped me enough. Go lead your first search." He ordered in that no-nonsense tone of his. I smiled, feeling high at the moment. Three things just happened for the past ten minutes. I led my own search party, knew father had a soft spot for me, and gained his total trust. It was more like a miracle than a day worth of good events.

2023 T hours

8:23 PM, Outside Academy Bounds, Montana Mountain

"Jean Paul's group, the Bravo team, you go to the north-east terrain about 60 miles tops." The Bravo team nodded and started toward their direction with speed I was proud to see. Their team had the most therions so they practically had no problem with their search.

"Brody will lead the group throughout the south bounds. You are team Delta." Brody saluted and led his team toward their direction.

I faced my team, seeing many unknown faces, but some alarmingly familiar. One of them was Ara. Her eyes shone strangely like sunset, a strange mixture of orange, yellow, and brown. "Team Alpha, remember what I told you. Priority one is Leroi Estur. Kill captors on sight and retrieve him back to the Academy." They all nodded, and we headed off to where statistics and physics showed where Leroi was likely to have been taken.

Two hours later and 24-mile radius of our grounds covered, we finally found the relief we were looking for. The radio buzzed.

"Bravo team here. Seems like there were campers here the other day. Tracks headed to your direction but the scent's a bit off—it's a day-old, but try focusing one fresher scents. Over."

"Copy that. Over." I stepped over a lying log, flashing the bright flashlights forward when I heard a crack when I stepped. I shone the light to what was under my boot and found a syringe. Pulling on a glove, I picked up the syringe and examined it. I wasn't an expert chemist or whatever, but the blue liquid inside of the thing didn't look inviting.

"What's that?" Leo, one of father's workers, asked me, shining his light over the syringe I had put on an evidence bag.

"A syringe. It looks a few hours-old, and it definitely has something to do with our missing Academists." I said without hesitation.

"Of course. Who would expect a syringe to pop up out of nowhere in the mountains unless there's someone kidnapping and sedating a person?" Leo laughed. I shook my head at him. He was a breath of fresh air for the other worker, which was why my father had hired him in the first place. No matter how grim the situation, he'd always find a way to make one laugh.

A twig snapped just ahead of us. Alerted, we drew out our guns and pointed them towards the direction of the noise. Slowly, a small figure emerged from the direction. We put our guns down and I rolled my eyes as I saw who the one who made the noise was.

Ara had one brow raised at me, but made no comment.

"There's nothing more there, I searched and sniffed at everything. I tried following the scent, but it's lost with time." Ara told Leo. I struggled not to roll my eyes at her again.

"We should move then, since we know we're not getting any—" my voice was suddenly cut off by a loud sound made by the radio and a gun shot. It was near. There was a scream—a man's scream.

Automatically, we followed the sound of the gun shot. Ara shot in and out of the trees in lynx form. I didn't know what she did with her clothes, but I was glad at her speed and agility. She took the lead and led us to the gun shots.

My radio clicked and mumbled muffled voices. "Team Alpha. We have secured priority one. I repeat, we've secured priority—" there was another gun shot. But now, it was very loud and very near. From my own ears, I heard a thud. From my own eyes, I saw a body fall. From the striking light hair graying at the temples, I knew that the fallen was Lester, one of father's workers again. In front of him, I saw the man who had shot him. He didn't look like the rugged guy I've been expecting, but still, I shot him. He shot my soldier, I'll just shoot him right back.

I drew out my gun and pulled the trigger. It hit the man on the middle of his chest once. Twice. Thrice. The kidnapper fell to his knees, and finally fell to the waiting earth beneath him.

I ran to the soldier, calling out to Leo to get Leroi to safety. I kneeled next to Lester's unmoving body and saw that there was no blood on his clothes.

"Lester?" I slapped his face a little too hard.

His eyes opened and he coughed. I put a hand on his shoulder as he coughed out the shock of the bullets had on his lungs. "Hit my vest pretty damn hard." He said in paroxysms of coughs. "Fucking cocksucker just had to kill me." He grumbled.

I patted his shoulder and squeezed. "But he didn't."

I looked back and saw that Leo had cleared Leroi and were with other Academists, leading back to the Academy. I stood and looked around. The kidnapper I assumed Lester shot was definitely dead. One shot in the head did that to him.

As for the man I'd shot because of shooting Lester, he was unmoving, but there was no sign of blood of his clothes.

"Ryan," I called. "I want that guy back to the Academy for questioning. Treat him first and cuff him to his cot. Guard him 24/7, and alert me if ever he wakes up." I ordered and Ryan nodded in easy assent.

"What?" Ara thundered all of a sudden. She stepped in front of me, all her naked glory in front of me. I looked up in search for something else. Dear Lord, what was up with her parading naked everywhere? I mean, I knew the woman had no shame, but didn't she ever get cold?

"You won't bring that murderer back to the Academy! I won't let you!" she protested.

I fixed her a calm look. "We need that man for questioning, Ara. This will help our job in finding the rest of the Academists much easier."

"Easier? Easier for who? You?"

"Easier for us, Ara. We can't just stand here do nothing when we have a man who can probably give us all the info we need to find this kidnapper and mole we have inside the Academy."

That seemed to convince her a little, but she still made sure that I knew she wasn't fully in agreement on this.

"Fine, do it. Bring him to the place where we find our peace. Go ahead and stain the damn place, I don't care. Just as long as you keep your pet's filthy hands off my family, I won't kill the man on where he stands." She turned away and shifted to her lynx form.

She was about to run when I called her back. The lynx stopped and looked back, its eerie eyes seething.

"Ara, I know we've had our differences, but I want you to understand that…" I swallowed. "…that the Academy is also my home, and that I would do anything to protect it. Hell, the Academy is all sorts of crazy, but it's also my home. Whether you believe me or not. It doesn't matter. I'm just asking you to trust me on this one. For once, just trust me."

For a moment, we just stared into each other's eyes. And then, the stare shifted into something much more neutral and comfortable. I knew now that I had her trust, but she didn't indicate anything that she did.

I caught up with Ryan, and saw the kidnapper all over again. He had on some sort of uniform, similar to what my father's guards wore, but a different insignia. It was clear, from the pins he had, that he was a special man. Whoever the mastermind of this kidnapping was, he just lost one of his pretty jewels, and I had it on full claim.

Uuuugh. Sorry guys, I'm not really good at all things politics ('cause I hate them that much), and screw proof-reading. This chapter is raw. And damn, I've ruined my update dates.

So, what do you think will happen on the next chapter? Will Mr. Pretty Jewel talk? Who do you think is the mole/traitor of the Academy? Is there a greater power working on this event?

If you have questions, you can ask them through PMs or reviews. :D