A/N: F.I.N.A.L.L.Y! I realize how incredibly late this chapter is, but the simple fact is college was a major pain in the ass and I got next to no time to complete the chapter until this past month, with graduation and all. Btw, I HAVE OFFICIALLY GRADUATED COLLEGE! (party horns and confetti). Now that school is officially over, I'm currently on the road with folks (now in Yellowstone National Park!), but I still have my computer, so you can bet that I will be posting more regularly now. Again, please excuse my lateness and enjoy the newest chapter!
Chapter Six: Kidnapped!
Some days had passed since the shooting, with still no news from either the hospital or from the automotive registry. Jenny had offered some hope as far as finding the registry plate went, as she said her parents' company held the largest number of consumers, and thus it would take some time to search for one particular plate. It didn't matter however, as they all knew that it was only a matter of time before the culprits were found. In the meantime, Meg and Seron had been spending more time together after the success of their first date. Even if he never spoke a word of the heart, there was a feeling of stronger ties between them as they toured around the campus, as Meg dreamed of home, and as Seron bantered on about the world and his disenchantment with it.
Even with Seron's caustic wit and his light cynicisms about life in general, Meg felt pleasure in his company. His resigned and skeptical personage provided an effective complement to her lighthearted and optimistic nature as she took him everywhere and he the same. They traveled through the Capital, taking note to keep a low profile, in case they attract the attention of the ne'er do well culprits who almost gunned them down. She hadn't yet found an opportunity to buy a new dress from one of the tailors, but it mattered little, since spring vacation was almost upon them, and there would be plenty of time to take care of acquiring the latest in fashion. If they got the last scrolls and found the location of the treasure, it would mean a treasure-hunting expedition during the vacation, meaning the proper clothes were of a necessity.
On a Saturday afternoon, Seron had set up another date for the two of them, with plans to go to the theater in the Capital. There was a new Marty Mouse short airing and neither of them wanted to miss it, not to mention there was a special sale on swimsuits at the local sports store, and Meg wanted to partake. In the aftermath of their first date which included a full unobstructed VIEW of her floral underwear, Seron was hesitant for something like swimsuit-fitting. But if it was swimsuits Meg wanted, then swimsuits she would have.
He had just finished dressing up for a day out on the town, looking professional and snappy. The weather was on the warmer side, so his clothes were slack and lighter; a loose-fitting white button-down shirt, grey knickerbockers and white socks encased in brown oxford shoes. In the meantime, his friend Larry could only remark on just how far their relationship had come.
"Y'know, I never would have thought you'd get asked out by her," he said with amazement. "And now you two keep going out almost every day after classes! You should be very proud, pal!"
"I'm more nervous than anything," Seron lamented as he tightened his black belt across his waist. "I fear it's better to stick to campus than venture out into the Capital."
"You've been out before, haven't you? Nothing bad has come of it yet."
"Still, I'd rather not leave the safety of the school grounds."
Seron sighed as he tucked in his shirt into his knickerbockers.
"But, like you say, Larry, I have to give Meg what she wants. If she wants to go into the city, then we go into the city."
"That's the spirit, pal!" Larry cheered, slapping him on the back. "Keep pleasin' her and she might even come out."
Seron shivered at the very thought of it. As he always believed, there was a time and a place for everything, and now was not the time for a heartfelt confession. It had to wait until the heat was off of them, when things were normalized, or at least until they were out of danger.
"That's a day I prefer to have postponed. Besides which, I have bigger worries."
"I don't want an incident like what happened on my first date happening again…" he said, with a slight flush across his cheeks, not wanting to say out loud what he meant.
Larry laughed, knowing what he was referring to, and slung his arm over his friend's shoulder, giving him a quiet piece of advice.
"She doesn't know anything, so I'd say keep it that way."
"What if she asks something like sharing secrets?"
"Then keep that secret to yourself until you two are official."
Seron raised an eyebrow in suspicion of what he meant.
"Do you mean when we've…come out?"
"I mean the next step up from that," Larry said slyly.
"…engagement?" Seron guessed, not sure what he meant.
Larry doubled over in laughter as Seron backed away, obviously averse to the idea at this point in time. Not to say he didn't think of it from time to time, but he was far more concerned with simply coming out to her, since that was a necessity for all the others to follow. Larry wiped away a tear as he escorted Seron out of the dormitory and down the hallway.
"Just have fun and don't get into too much trouble, pal. She doesn't have to know any of what happened just yet."
"I suppose. I'll check in with you occasionally during the date for any updates on Reiner or the automotive registry."
"Haven't heard anything yet, pal, but I'll keep you posted."
At that, there was a knock on the door of the boys' residence hall. Seron reasoned it was Meg, but Larry noted the earliness of the time relative to when their date was planned. Both sensed something amiss and went down the stairs to see who was at the door. Perhaps it was one of the club members with news about Reiner, or Jenny with the results from the automobile registry. Either way, both knew it certainly was not Meg, as Seron opened the door first and saw two unfamiliar figures carrying a large wooden box.
The one on the left was a man in his late twenties with tousled brown hair hidden under a flat cap wearing a light red sweatshirt and black slacks, while the one on the right wore a beige jacket and slacks, covering his red hair with a brown fedora. The man in the fedora spoke first.
"Which one of you is Seron Maxwell?"
"I am," Seron said, stepping forward.
"We have a package for you."
"But I didn't order anything…"
The man in the flat cap showed him a clipboard with some documents attached.
"But this is your name on the order form…"
In that moment, all else became a blur to Seron as he felt something cover his nose and everything went black. The last thing he saw was Larry getting knocked on the head by a blackjack, carried by the man in the fedora. So much for his date with Meg.
Two hours later, Seron awoke in what appeared to be a cellar with stone walls and pillars everywhere supporting the ceiling. The cellar seemed to be old judging from the dust and sediment that would occasionally spill through the cracks. It was obvious to him that this was not his residence hall and he had been kidnapped. The most important thing to do right now is figure out where he was and try to get help.
Seron pushed the blankets off him (at least the kidnappers gave me some comfort, he thought), and looked around the cellar. It was completely empty, with only a large wooden beam in the corner, and a red door off to his left, supposedly the entrance. It looked to be the only way in or out of the room, and he was sure that it was locked, that is if these kidnappers were smart enough.
"Looks like I'm in a prison…"
"Yes, and you're the prisoner!"
At the sound of that booming voice, Seron jumped behind a stone pillar, scared that someone, presumably his kidnapper, was in the cellar with him. He looked around but saw no one, but he knew he wasn't dreaming.
"No one here…but someone spoke…"
"Yes, someone spoke!"
"Who…who are you?" Seron hesitantly asked, showing signs of weakness that he would never show to anyone. "And where are you?"
"Who am I? The ghost of the captain of the Firefly!"
Seron shivered in his shoes at the thought of a spirit, even though he was not one to believe in such things. Just the sound of the voice's taunting laughter filled him with terror, only for it to redact its claim of otherworldliness.
"Scared you, didn't I? Now come over to the door; I have something to tell you."
Seron, knowing that he didn't have any other options at this point, slowly and cautiously crept to the door, his only possible means of escape unless the kidnappers were smart enough to lock it. The voice beckoned him closer and closer and seemed to grow louder and louder with each step he took.
"Come closer…closer…Good. See the speaking tube?"
Sure enough, he did see a small black tube in the wall, forming something of an intercom. He leaned over and gently spoke into it.
"Who are you? What do you want with me?"
"Who am I? You must allow me to remain anonymous for the time being. As for what I want, I am sure you would have guessed that by now. I want to know where you're hiding the last scroll to the Firefly's treasure."
Of course. He knew that was the reason from the very start. He always feared that the criminals would come after him or Meg, and it finally happened. Well, he wasn't going to give it up without a struggle; that treasure was rightfully Meg's, and no manner of threats or intimidation would allow him to be convinced of otherwise. He made that much clear as he spoke through the tube.
"You're not getting it," he said finitely.
"Oh, come now, let's be sensible! I already have two of the three parchments, which means I have most of the coordinates for the treasure's location. All I need is yours and I can plan an expedition to find it. If you give it to me I'll make it worth your while…"
"I don't want your money," Seron said firmly. "I want those scrolls. That treasure belongs to Meg, not you."
"Oh, you mean Sir Maximilian's granddaughter?"
At that response, Seron shivered, fearing the worst. He never said anything about Meg other than her name; how could this person know who she was already? Surely they couldn't have found her and captured her too? If that was the case there was a whole other world of trouble in store for him and her. A single bead of sweat dripped down his forehead and rested on his nose, as he knew that something was amiss with this anonymous prison warden. Hesitantly, he asked through the speaking tube,
"How do you know that?"
"She's here, with us. Would you like to speak with her?"
Rustling sounds filled the tube and it sounded like a chair was being dragged across the floor of whatever room the other end of this speaking tube was in. As he feared, he heard the anxious and frightened voice of his beloved, his method to this madness, his reason for everything he had done in this caper.
"Meg!" he responded, trying his best to keep her and himself calm. "Are you okay? Did they hurt you?"
"I'm so scared right now, Seron! They have me tied up in this chair and blindfolded! I don't know what they're going to do to me! You have to help me! Get me out of here!"
"Meg, just be calm, all right? I'll get us out of this…"
Before he could finish, he heard the sound of Meg's chair being dragged away, and the deep voice of his captor reigned again through the tube, his tone foreboding and threatening.
"So those are the stakes. Tell us where the scroll is, and you and your girlfriend can go free."
At the word "girlfriend" Seron's cheeks became flushed, but he was not about to let his sentiments for Megmica Straussky allow him to cost her and potentially her family everything they had achieved up until now.
"It's not yours. That treasure is hers and her family's by rights."
"Suit yourself. I'll give you two hours to think it over. If you don't give us the location of the last scroll, then you and your little girlfriend will see what kind of man I am."
The intercom was cut off, and silence filled the room. Seron paced away slowly, wondering to himself how on earth he could get himself and Meg out of this predicament. There was no way he was giving up the last scroll; nothing would change his mind on that. However there didn't seem to be any exit out of the cellar besides the door, which for sure was locked. He paced up and down the length of the cellar, wracking his brain for some means of escape. It was clear that whoever captured the two of them were the perpetrators of the shooting and responsible for the wounding of Reiner, but it would mean little without putting faces to the deed. Then he noticed a large wooden beam in the corner of the room, about 10 feet long. A light bulb began to flicker in his head as he searched around the room for any clues that might aid him in formulating a plan.
A ring on the ceiling, the kind that would support a chandelier.
A length of old string.
A medium-sized stone.
The light bulb went off in his head, and a cunning ingenious plan was hatched by this isolated and sharp-witted mind.
He turned to the speaking tube, and remembered the handkerchief in his pocket. He was not going to overlook anything if this plan of his was to work. He walked over to the tube and stuffed the handkerchief into it, so whoever was on the other end of it would not hear him; secrecy had to be maintained if this was to work. With the matter of muffling the tube done he went to the business of tying up the blankets to form a rope of sorts. It was arduous, as the blankets were, of course, not meant to be treated as rope and thus were harder to tie. The task was completed however, and Seron soon tied the blanket-rope around the wooden beam and pulled it across the cellar floor, straining every muscle in his body to bring it under the ceiling ring, which was in the center of the room.
Now Seron tied the long bit of string to the end of the blanket-rope, and tied the stone to the string. Now all he needed was a lucky throw as he aimed the stone at the ring hanging from the ceiling.
"I hope I can make it…"
He tossed the stone towards the ring, but it bounced off the edge and came back down to the floor. Undeterred, he picked up the stone and tried again, and again, and again. Always he either overshot it, or just barely missed. He knew he was against the clock, with two hours to get himself and Meg out of this, so he never gave up tossing the stone at the ceiling ring. She was depending on him. Larry, Nicholas, Natalia, and Jenny were all wondering where they were now; of that he was certain. Another thing was certain: this would be the end of the mystery.
On what must have been the twentieth try, he got the stone through the ring, and it fell to the floor carrying the string with it. Seron quietly rejoiced as he pulled the blankets through the ring and down the other side, straining his muscles as he tried to lift the heavy wooden beam upward. He got it up to about eye level, at which point he tied the other end of the blanket rope around the beam, and he smiled in triumph of his accomplishment.
"And that's a fine battering ram made."
He walked over to one end of the impromptu battering ram, and pulled it back, ushering all of his strength to aid him in this, what had to be the most important moment in his young life and the watershed moment in his relationship with Meg. He heaved forward with one strong push, bashing into the stone wall on the other side. The collision shook the entire room, and Seron thought for sure he had started an earthquake, but the hard vibration subsided. He looked over and saw he had not even made a dimple in the wall; only shook some dirt loose.
Undeterred, he pulled back and pushed forward with even more force, desperate to escape from this prison and search for Meg. He heard a stone shift along another, and saw that he had made a dent, and he had to keep up his ramming. Again and again he slammed the beam into the wall, unmindful of the tremendous strain on his lean muscles; there were far greater things at stake than to worry about sore arms.
He heard footsteps from up above, and reasoned that the owners of the house (and their kidnappers) had heard the sounds, coming down to stop him. His pushes increased in frequency, as he quietly prayed that the wall would break and offer him a venue of escape.
With a loud crash, his prayers were answered, and the walls broke.
He rushed over to the newly made hole and was greeted by the sound of a music box which had fallen over with the last push. Seron looked to see that he had stumbled upon a cellar filled with all manner of antiques. Everything from suits of armor and ancient weapons to toys of a previous century and portraits of antiquity cluttered the room and obscured the walls up to the ceiling. It came as no surprise that these ne'er-do-wells were in the antique business too, and undoubtedly came across a model of that warship around which an entire war was now raging between them.
"There he is!" shouted a voice from somewhere behind him.
He turned to see that the red door next to the speaking tube he had muffled with his handkerchief had been opened, and at last he saw his culprits face to face.
Both of them had jet black hair, combed back and slicked as if for a meeting of the aristocracy. One of them had a bulbous roman nose below two scrutinizing brown eyes, wearing a black coat and tie over a white shirt and brown button-down vest. His slacks were grey and he wore white spats over his black oxford shoes. The other had the same brown eyes but a straight nose, and wore a powder blue suit and pants, but the thing that set Seron affright was the gun in his hands.
It was a small submachine gun with a drum magazine, and looked to be new. He recognized the gun from its iron sights as the same one used in the shooting, the one that gravely wounded Reiner and now had him in a hospital, dead for all he knew. It was the same gun, the same gun used to incapacitate him that night when he awoke to find a strange car parked outside the residence hall. It was the same gun, the gun used by Roxchean soldiers in wars past against their Bezelese enemies. It was the gun of his culprits.
Seron quickly leapt through the hole in the wall the way a diver would into a pool and into the antique-filled cellar just as the man in the powder blue suit fired in his direction, ricocheting against the stones in the wall.
"After him! Don't let him escape!"
They dashed in, determined not to let their prisoner and key to the last scroll get away. However, they did not count on him making a way into the antique storage room, and now they were frustrated in their attempts to locate him. With so many knick-knacks and heirlooms spread out everywhere, there was as many hiding places for a would-be escapee as there were fish in the sea. As Seron hid behind a chest of drawers, he heard the culprits try to coax him out of hiding, but showing himself was the last thing on his agenda.
"Come on, now, Seron…you know how this is going to end."
"Yeah, kid. If you come out now, we can talk this over real nice-like."
Seron quietly crept for the hole he created and eventually to the opened door in the cellar that would lead him out of his prison, with only the thought of a helpless Meg somewhere in this house, tied up and at the mercy of captors occupying his thoughts and dictating his actions. He had blocked off all other distractions, from the decrepit nature of the cellar, the backs of his culprits heading away from him to the various assortment of antiques lining the room, with his eyes only on the hole he had made from his battering ram.
Seron jumped behind another chest of drawers, and looked up to see a cuckoo clock on the wall striking the time, which was now 3 o'clock. He was right in doing this, as one of the assailants spun on his heel and fired in the direction of the sound, the blast of his gun echoing throughout the room creating a melody of terror as bullets ricocheted on the walls and splintered the clock.
"Don't get so jumpy, you fool! That was nothing but an old clock!"
Realizing this was his prime moment of escape, Seron got to his feet and started on his way to the wall when he felt something catch on his ankle, and heard a small scraping sound.
He looked to see his foot had caught on the hanging wire of a painting which had knocked it down with a loud thump, alerting his captors to his position. Sure enough, they turned around and saw him sprinting, trying to make a break for it.
"There he goes! He's doubled back on us, the little devil!"
They ran after him and fired the submachine gun as they went in attempts to stop him, sending bullets whipping past his hair and hitting the walls and beams, speaking with words he never heard before. Zip! Hiss! Snap! With a quick sidestep, Seron leapt behind a stone pillar, and looked for something that could slow their quick advance and found something that suited his purpose.
An old add-counter, an abacus, if he remembered correctly, dating back to the times before the modern slide-rules and number tables. If he could break the abacus, the small balls would act as marbles. A crude plan, but he needed any plan that would work in his escape.
He leaned over, watching as the culprits came speeding toward him like jockeys on their race horses, competing for the spot at the finish line. He counted the seconds and noted the paces of their feet, quickly calculating in his brain when he had to break the add-counter. It had to be perfect, as a second earlier would ruin the plan and result in his capture.
With a sickening crack, the abacus broke on the stone floor, and scattered the small balls everywhere on the floor. Without a moment's notice to change direction, the two men slipped on the balls and sent them flying down the corridor, straight into a tall bookcase containing not just books but boxes of precious jewels, arrays of tin soldiers from days of horse and musket, and ships in bottles.
The bookcase fell down on top of them, like a great tree felled by a lumberjack. With the two men dazed from the collision, Seron took the opportunity to dash out of the storage room and through the hole in the wall, leaving the culprits in the dust. With a speed of an express train on the mainline, Seron rushed through the door and quickly shut it behind him, taking note to lock them in and take the keys with him.
"Now we'll see how you like being the prisoners…"
The matter of escape was done, he thought. Now to find Meg and contact the Newspaper Club. But he knew that to figure out where Meg was in a home as large as this was like searching for the needle in the haystack.