From the bottom of the steps, the first police car pulled in, and then another, and another.
Pretty soon, the French police had the entire building surrounded, but none of the officials made the move to climb the stairs. They appeared like they were waiting for something. Or someone.
Sophie stepped up beside her brother and the others after setting Edward down against the statues. She'd told him to keep his eyes shut, much to his dismay. Eventually he complied and kept quiet, although Sophie could tell he was irked about sitting there and doing absolutely nothing to stop Dee's back-up from cornering them.
"Is that . . . ?" Sophie began as the door of the force's sole limousine opened.
A thin, white-haired man climbed out of his vehicle and began ascending the steps. He was elegantly dressed and his movements were smooth and steady, like he had all the time in the world. When he caught sight of them, he stopped and leaned against a low railing, sending a mock salute towards Flamel.
"I'm guessing that's Niccolo Machiavelli," said Josh, feeling like he was sinking into concrete.
"Yes," Nicholas replied grimly. "The most dangerous man in Europe, and he certainly makes a good name of it, too."
"Welcome back to Paris, Alchemyst. It's been too long."
Both Sophie and Josh jumped, their heads swivelling across their shoulders to meet the origin of the voice. Machiavelli hadn't spoken aloud; rather, he used a magical spell to project his voice through the statues stationed on either side of the door behind them.
"It's a parlour trick," said Scathach. "Don't be alarmed, guys."
From out of the corner of Sophie's eyes, she saw Edward discreetly gesture to himself. She quickly glanced at Machiavelli to see if he noticed the fifth member of their party. It looked like he hadn't.
"Psst!" Edward hissed.
Sophie looked back at him, turning her head just an inch to the side. "What?"
"Let me help," he mouthed.
"No," she mouthed back, barely moving her lips.
"I can help," he tried again.
"Not this time."
Edward slouched and she could see him cursing under his breath. Why did he have to be so insistent? Sophie didn't understand how he couldn't just let them handle the enemy for a change. She turned back to Machiavelli and Flamel's exchange.
"I don't suppose you'll let us go," Nicholas was saying. He tried to keep his tone light, but underlying his façade was the desperation to get Edward the help he needed. If they didn't ditch Machiavelli soon, the boy could die.
"I'm afraid I can't do that," said Machiavelli. "You know the rules."
Nicholas had dreaded those words, though it didn't surprise him in the least. All he had to do was keep Machiavelli distracted while he channelled some orders to Sophie. His hands still clasped behind his back, he started tapping rhythms into his palm. To a normal person, that must have been normal behaviour, but Scatty knew better. She drew the twins aside to the back, but not too much so they still covered Edward to a degree. She then told Sophie what Flamel wanted.
"So I see in this century you prefer the French," Nicholas continued. "I cannot say I'm pleased to see you, Signor Machiavelli. Or is it monsieur?"
"Paris is my favourite city in Europe," Machiavelli said. "Aside from Florence, of course. No city will ever beat the city of my birth."
"A shame you picked my birthplace as your favourite," said Flamel with some visible disdain.
Down below, Machiavelli smiled, picking up on the Alchemyst's mood.
"There's no need for any jealousy or competition between us, Flamel. You know what I came here for."
"I suspect Dee has filled you in."
"Just enough. He's also mentioned that you'll be bringing a special guest."
Nicholas raised an eyebrow. "Well, I have the Twins, if that's what you mean. And you've met Scathach before."
"I know they are the Twins—I'm not a fool, Alchemyst," said Machiavelli, his voice dropping to a condescending hiss.
"And what? There's no one else here with us. Haven't you considered that maybe Dee is lying to you?"
"I would expect that of him, but not this time. He says this guest is dangerous. You understand why I must be vigilant."
"You're wasting your efforts. It's just us four. The Witch of Endor was supposed to come with us, but someone had to keep Dee busy. She volunteered to stay behind and distract him."
Machiavelli narrowed his eyes. Something about that claim . . . didn't sit right with him.
"You're lying," he said. "When Dee called me—"
"Just how much did he tell you?" Flamel interrupted. "You must have heard wrong. The transatlantic connection is known for its terrible quality and random bursts of static. There's no possible way he could've meant anyone else. Well, at least anyone we know."
Machiavelli, in his state of doubt, released some vital information that Dee had disclosed.
"He said I would see an old friend." He looked up at Flamel as if the Alchemyst could explain to him what the English doctor meant.
Flamel was just as confused. "What?" he said. "An old friend?"
"Do you know something, Alchemyst? Spit it out!"
"I don't know how that's possible. I—" Flamel risked a glance behind him, and he immediately regretted doing so. "No," he said, quickly turning back to Machiavelli, hoping that the other immortal thought his behaviour as a sign of bewilderment. "I am absolutely sure there is no one else here with us. Do you detect anyone here, Niccolo?"
Machiavelli frowned in concentration.
"No," he said. "I don't."
"You see? It's us, you, and your secret service."
During their conversation, Sophie had effectively started summoning forth the brouillard Flamel requested—or fog, in French. A faint mist swept up the stairs and it was steadily becoming thicker. Machiavelli hadn't noticed because the sudden appearance of fog at night was common. It wasn't thick enough for him to think anything strange of it.
"No matter," said the Italian finally. "I have this entire area surrounded, Flamel. It's your choice of what to make of it. You can come quietly, or . . . Actually, you have no choice. You can come, or I make you. What's it going to be?"
Honestly, he just needed to end this exchange quick. Firstly, summoning that tulpa had drained a lot out of him. It was meant to be a good distraction, and it had worked, but if things did amount to a fight, Machiavelli didn't think he would have enough juice to take down Flamel and the Shadow, and capture the Twins.
Of course he'd called more gendarmes for back-up, but there was a ninety-percent chance that a potential scuffle would be of the magical variety. There was no way Machiavelli was going to risk having to brainwash all these men later. It was far too exhausting. It was better if they didn't ever see magic at work.
The plan was simple—so simple that even an ape could understand.
He would capture Flamel and the Twins, and leave the Warrior for dead. Then the news of thieves breaking into the Sacré-Coeur would be leaked to the press, as well as the news of their capture. Later the thieves would be reported to have escaped from the police. No one would question Machiavelli, and he could do what he wanted with his prisoners. It was foolproof.
Machiavelli often prided himself in containing his emotions, but just this once he let excitement flood his insides. It was good to succeed in what Dee had failed.
"You've escaped again and again," he said. "But not this time. I have you, Nicholas Flamel."
"You know, that's funny," Nicholas continued in his nonchalant demeanour. "Those are the exact words you said when you broke into my tomb."
Machiavelli's confidence faltered. "How do you know that?" he demanded.
"Perenelle and I, we were standing next to you—so close that we could simply reach out and tap you on the shoulder. I'd expected someone to come along and see if I'd really died, but I was surprised to find you. Were you happy with your find?"
Happy, was a nice way to put it. Machiavelli, on that night three hundred years ago, had uncovered the Flamels' tombs and found only rocks in their coffins. No bodies. And no Book of Abraham the Mage. He wasn't happy, but he wasn't surprised either. The Flamels would find a way to elude the Elders, one way or another.
Machiavelli pushed off of the railing he was leaning on and started walking up the steps. The fog around him seemed borderline unnatural, but he paid it no mind. He was too occupied with setting the record straight with Nicholas.
"You'd always thought I was a better person than I was," said Niccolo. "You thought I could change."
"That's true," Flamel said. "I believe there's good in everyone. Even you. Even Dee. Although, I'm saddened to say that he's long past his expiry date. I doubt he can change anymore. But you . . . No. You've still got time."
"You're wrong. I don't, not anymore. If you surrender now, no harm will come to you or the Twins. I promise."
"People say that, but they always lie. You are no exception, Niccolo."
Machiavelli clenched his jaw. "Would you rather it is Dee who takes you in, or me? He has far less patience than I do!"
"I don't doubt that, but there is always another option."
"I don't see any chance of you escaping here. Surrender now, Flamel. Do not test me."
Flamel clenched his hands. Sophie's fog distribution was slow going, as it was clear she was not used to conjuring the right memories into creating it. He didn't see much option but to intercept Machiavelli himself and stop him in his tracks. However, using more magic would further age him, and it was time he couldn't afford to lose.
What could he do? One false move and Machiavelli could blast him off his feet. He needed another distraction—quick. Talking things out was a dangerous path to tread on, and it was getting him nowhere.
Nicholas' eyes landed on Edward, who was looking at him in a beseeching manner. There was no doubt the boy wanted desperately to help, to do something, as opposed to lying there on the ground in the shadows. But what could Edward do against Machiavelli in his state?
"He's also mentioned that you'll be bringing a special guest."
"He said it was an old friend."
Old friend . . .
There was absolutely no way that Edward Elric was that old friend. There was no . . .
But it was possible that if Edward knew Dee, he knew Machiavelli. It wasn't as far a stretch compared to their chances of escape now.
And then, suddenly, Flamel realized from back in that church, when they were picking out Machiavelli's scent, it wasn't that Edward was scared of him.
No, it wasn't fear. It was recognition.
It was a chance he had to take. It didn't matter if Edward's existence was blown. Dee would inform the Dark Elders whether or not Machiavelli wanted to do it. And if Machiavelli was somehow on good terms with Edward—though it was nigh unlikely—their chances of survival could double. Truth would have gotten out sooner or later.
Flamel twisted around halfway and regarded Edward openly.
"You know Dee, and you know Machiavelli, but you've never heard of me?" he said, smiling just a bit.
Edward pushed himself to his feet, limped past Flamel, and leaned into the railing. His breathing was a bit heavier lately, but that didn't stop him from manifesting his remaining energy into doing his will.
"What is it now, Flamel?" Machiavelli said, still climbing the steps. "I don't know what gibberish you're spouting, but there is no—"
The Italian finally looked up, and his words died in his throat.
"It can't be . . ."
The alchemist looked down at Machiavelli emotionlessly, and he didn't seem to acknowledge familiarity with the man at all. Then he spoke, his voice flat and cold.
"You owe me, Niccolo."
"Edward, how—?" Machiavelli's stone-cold eyes flickered with alarm, the only true emotion he showed that entire night. "Dee, he said—but you're supposed to be—"
"Dead," Edward finished. "Dee said the same thing."
Now, everything that Dee said on the phone suddenly made sense. Edward Elric's sudden appearance corresponded with what happened back in Ojai. Who else on this entire planet could even humiliate Dee on the level that he did? Who else could so masterfully foil the English doctor's plans? And who, in the entire existence of Shadowrealms, had the potential to frighten even the Elder Race, gods of their own right?
Elric had always been a dangerous setback to their plans, ever since his meeting with them almost a century ago. And now, he'd found his way to the 21st century. Despite their differences, Machiavelli knew Edward, and the blond loathed the idea of immortality. He must have found some other means to time travel.
"W-what are you doing here?" Machiavelli spluttered, losing his composure for a fraction of a second.
"I'm not here to reacquaint with you," said Edward. "I'm here to settle a debt. All those years ago . . . You owe me, Machiavelli. Pay it this once, and you don't have to do anything else for me. It's all I ask."
The Italian replied slowly, "And what would you have me to do?"
"Let us go."
"I'm sorry, that's impossible."
"I know it has been eighty-eight years, but I was hoping you'd still be a man of your word. I've helped you in the past—now it's your turn to help me."
"You're on the wrong side, Elric. You think that Flamel hasn't committed any atrocities? Has he told you what he does with the candidates that prove to be false?"
"I couldn't care less about what he does; I'm not on his side, their side, or anyone's side. I'm here for a singular purpose, and it's not to fight you. It's not to be used for anyone's gain." He shot a look at Flamel. "I only want to return to my own time and be out of your way. I'm going to do whatever it takes."
"Then why don't you come with me?" Machiavelli suggested. "I can help you return."
Edward paused for a second, as if mulling over the offer.
"No," he said. "In the end, I'll just be used for your Elders' plan. I'll be dragged into some other plot that I have no business being in. Especially if the bastard Dee is involved."
"You don't have to do anything. Consider it my debt paid."
"But you will still take Flamel and the siblings."
"Of course. These are my orders."
Edward tapped the railing with his fist. "Dammit," he cursed to the side.
He briefly locked eyes with Flamel, but the Alchemyst couldn't read what the look was supposed to mean. By that point, Edward had already averted his gaze. Nicholas turned back to Machiavelli whose behaviour, again, surprised him.
Machiavelli was wary on his feet, and the way he looked at Edward was reminiscent of respect. What sort of history did the Italian have with Elric? Did he possibly think that Edward could somehow inflict some damage on him, while looking like he'd been through hell and back? If that were the case, what reasons did he have to be terrified of Edward?
"You're hurt," said Machiavelli through the gloom. Dee's words came crashing back at him. "And Dee was the one who made it so. He went too far again."
Edward looked down at his arm. Slivers of blood were dripping down his skin underneath his coat sleeve and falling onto the pavement. The pain had dulled so much by now that Edward didn't even notice he was still exsanguinating.
The realization sparked a distortion of his surroundings, and Edward found his vision tilting to the right. Things blurred and blacked and he saw himself falling to the ground for a second— before he instinctively caught onto the railing and steadied himself.
He couldn't do this for much longer. He needed to end this conversation.
"Did Dee forget to mention how he went about torturing me?" Edward murmured faintly, his voice raspy. "No, of course he wouldn't."
"You can come with me," Machiavelli tried again. "Edward, please, you won't survive long without medical attention. I know Dee, and he will make you suffer and die in the most painful and most slow of ways. I would not wish this fate on you."
Flamel watched the exchange in slight astonishment. He'd never seen Machiavelli act this way toward anyone—he appeared almost human, as if he and Edward were not enemies once upon a time, but acquaintances. Perhaps even friends. Edward wasn't the least bit intimidated in the Italian's presence, and Flamel knew the man well. Niccolo Machiavelli was a formidable opponent and he should be feared.
Convincing Edward to join his side was the only thing Machiavelli could manage as Flamel seemed adamant on opposing him. He'd already sensed a change in the atmosphere, and he'd smelled the scent of vanilla ice cream, the telltale scent of someone's aura. He'd guessed it was the girl's—Sophie—and the magic was reminiscent of Air Magic, something the Witch of Endor specialized in. The fog was already so dense that he could no longer see the Shadow or the Twins. And that meant even his men down below couldn't catch them either.
"I know a lot more than you give me credit for," said Edward. "You may have honest intentions, but your Elders certainly don't. The way back to my brother is not through you. It's through them."
Edward didn't have to gesture or nod toward who he meant, because Machiavelli had longed guessed his decision. There was no harm in trying. Despite knowing this, he couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed.
"I see," said the Italian. His voice was dulled in the fog but now colder and sterner than ever. "Then I suppose I would have to capture you along with Flamel and the Twins. Dee couldn't handle it, so I can just imagine the look on his face when I bring you in. My Elders will be pleased."
"Not today, Niccolo. Maybe some other time."
The fog was so dense now that Edward and Flamel had completely evaporated from his view. Machiavelli twisted this way and that, and for a fleeting moment, he'd really thought he lost his captives. But he hadn't survived this long being incompetent—he got what he wanted in the end, he always did. Machiavelli composed himself and radioed for his forces to move in.
"After today, Elric," he shouted into the night, heavy boots pounding in the background, "we are enemies! You may escape tonight, but my debt has been paid. I will no longer show you any mercy." His cultivated French accent slipped into a harsher undertone of Italian. "Next time, I will find you. And next time, such parlour tricks will not save you."
His radio crackled, and one of his men reported: "They are not on the premises. We will spread out in a hundred yard radius around the basilica."
"A lot changes in eighty-eight years!" Machiavelli continued to shout. "The world moves on and trust me when I say you are far less safe in this continent than any other. Mark my words, Elric. It's a new century, and things are different."
He hadn't expected Edward to answer; he'd thought that they had escaped by now. But remarkably the boy's voice rang loud and clear inside the fog, a perfect flow of Italian, generating from nowhere but absolutely everywhere at the same time:
"Like how it's supposed to be. Right?"
Machiavelli dashed the remainder of the steps and emerged at the entrance of the church. Up here, there was no fog—and no one in sight. Like Dee, he had lost Flamel, the Twins, and Elric. He twisted around in the spot, scanning his complete 360, before determining that indeed he had failed the capture.
This was the only real moment in his entire life where he would sympathize with Dee.
And he hated it.
"Stand down," he spoke bitterly into his radio. "The offenders are not here. Round the men and have them converge in the streets. We will continue our search from there."
Machiavelli lowered the radio, and cursing, unintentionally crushed the device under his fist. His masters weren't going to like this.
"No, I can walk," Edward protested as Scathach offered to carry him. "It's Sophie you need to be worrying about. She's on the verge of collapse."
"Am not," the girl said, even though she was lying limply in Josh's arms.
"The only one who can complain is me," Josh said, gritting his teeth as he supported his sister. He wasn't about to comment on the fact that she weighed a ton, because that was rude and totally uncalled for in these circumstances, but already he'd been exhausted from running so much. And he was frustrated. Really frustrated.
"Look, Ed, stop being a baby. You can lean on my arm," said Scatty. "Josh, are you okay with carrying Sophie?"
"I'm fine! Let's just hurry—"
Flamel shoved all of them to the side just in time for a gendarme to pass them. The policemen were mere shadows in the yellow-white fog, and it was clear they were holding guns. Machiavelli may have been a danger to them, but right now these men were also. It was harder to fight in the fog than out in the open. The only thing one could do was hide and avoid the armed force.
"Let me down," Sophie repeated. "We can move faster that way."
"Absolutely not," said Josh. "We'll be even slower. You can't walk at all."
And in response, Sophie passed out.
"This way," said Flamel, and he got up from his crouch and started running again.
The others had to hurry in order to stay in sight of him, because the fog only allowed a two metre seeing distance of others. Josh had to struggle especially with his load. Scatty, being a Next Generation Elder, simply dragged Edward like he was nothing. Josh secretly envied her strength. Edward didn't appreciate being treated like baggage.
All around them, the French police swept past like ghosts in the wind. They kept murmuring the words brouillard, brouillard as if they were surprised at the sudden manifestation of fog in the area. Although to be fair, it had happened in the blink of an eye, and the density was much thicker than any normal fog.
Josh had been against it the entire time, but now he had to admit that Sophie did a fairly good job in conjuring the fog. Still, that didn't mean he liked what she was doing to herself, using magic again and again, completely sapping her energy. This was another reason why he wanted to be Awakened. It's so that he could take away her self-proclaimed responsibility of saving everyone.
He didn't get how Nicholas couldn't summon the fog himself. Well, sure, he was busy distracting Machiavelli, but if he'd just allowed Edward to step forth earlier . . .
You're being selfish, Josh. Look at Edward. He's injured, and you wanted him to be the distraction? Flamel probably didn't know Edward even knew Machiavelli anyway. So much for that.
That's right. Edward knew Machiavelli.
If Edward had met Dee once in his life, then it was likely he had done the same with Machiavelli. As for the details, Josh decided to leave it for later, when the blond was treated.
Josh was so wrapped up in his thoughts he didn't even notice the atmosphere thin out in front of him. When he had registered the change in environment, his qualms momentarily vanished. He was standing in front of a tiny art gallery, a café, and a souvenir shop. The air was clear and crisp, and as Josh turned to look behind him, he was met by a thick curtain of misty white. Surrounding the Sacré-Coeur was literally a wall of fog. Magic was indeed incredible.
"We should be a safe distance away now," stated Nicholas.
"Here, let me take her," said Scatty, reaching for Sophie.
Josh automatically flinched back, his protective instincts getting the better of him. Sophie was his sister. He should be the one to protect her.
And yet, he was tired. So, so very tired.
"She'll be safe with me," Scatty reassured him, and Josh relented, passing his sister over into the Shadow's arms. Sophie barely reacted with the transfer. She stayed unmoving.
"She's going to be okay, right?" Josh said.
"As soon as she gets some sleep," answered Flamel instead. "She's been using too much magic, which has sapped the remaining of her physical strength."
"Because of you. You ordered her to conjure that fog."
"What else could I do, Josh?"
Not much, the Gold Twin admitted reluctantly.
"You could have done something," Josh said aloud. "There had to have been something you could do."
"Without killing anyone? I don't think so."
"Are we just going to stand here all day?" Edward cut in sharply. "Sorry for being crude, but we need to get moving."
"Ed's right," said Scathach. "Josh, can you handle him? He needs someone to help him walk. It shouldn't be too exhausting of a chore."
"Wait, so now I'm a chore," said Edward.
Josh sighed. "Yeah, I heard you. Come on, Ed." He grabbed the blond by the arm and started dragging him after Scatty and Flamel.
"Hold on," said Edward, pulling him back. "Josh, slow down—hey!"
Josh whipped around. "What?!"
Edward was rubbing his left leg, his face torn up in a grimace. Josh's annoyance vanished immediately.
"It can't be helped," Edward said through clenched teeth. "The moisture in that fog affected the mobility of my joints. Speed is something I can't manage so easily right now."
"Why's that? You have sensitive bones?"
Edward looked at his auto-mail hand, which was trembling violently. He clenched it into a fist in order to stop its movements, but the action didn't help.
His auto-mail didn't usually malfunction like this. The state of his body must have directly affected his nerve endings. He'd gone through so much pain in the last few hours that the majority of his nerves had dulled, and therefore the control over his prosthetic had diminished as well. But he must have been overthinking this. Auto-mail acted just as a flesh-and-blood limb would: if he pushed his body to the brink of its limit with no rest in-between, they would start shaking.
"More like a lack of," said the alchemist. "But I'll live."
"Hey, hold on," said Josh, catching him by his arm. "If you're not fit to move, you shouldn't walk."
"I can walk, I just can't walk fast."
"But you're bleeding too."
"All the more reason to hurry, yes?" said the alchemist, punctuating his last word.
Josh huffed. This guy really was stubborn.
From at the front, Flamel had stopped the group and seemed to be waiting for something. Suddenly, a police officer materialized around the corner and came racing straight for Nicholas. The Alchemyst, however, shot forward and slammed a hand into the man's chest, his mint green aura blazing. The officer with the fuzzy moustache crumpled to the ground.
"What the—?" Josh exclaimed. "Is he . . . Did you kill him?"
"He's just unconscious. I overloaded his aura. He should be fine when he wakes up."
"That was completely unnecessary," Edward reprimanded. Years of time served in the military helped him determine needed actions from what was a waste of time. "Do you want Machiavelli finding us?"
"This man would have alerted him if I hadn't stepped in," Flamel argued.
"I could have taken him," Scatty stated.
"Just to be sure, let's get out of here quickly."
The group continued through the streets of Montmartre, with Josh seriously second-guessing Nicholas' intentions. Sure, his aim didn't seem all that obviously wicked like Dee's, but he'd been neglecting to fill them in on his plans for a while now. He just dragged them to places, city after city, leaving behind destruction of an unimaginable scale.
It was easy to see where Dee and his allies lay, but Nicholas was difficult to place. He worked for no Elder, Dark or otherwise, and he had no boss to report back to. He was, suffice to say, his own master, which meant that he made his own decisions, of which had the potential to be dangerous. Josh didn't know the extent of Flamel's goal, and he didn't think the Alchemyst would tell him any time soon.
Josh was beginning to trust the man less and less. The terrible treatment of his sister wasn't helping much.
For another half an hour, the group scaled the city from within the shadows. The Parisian streets were close to desolate during the nighttime, and the few early-morning workers minded their businesses, intent on getting to their workplace, not ogle at strange foreigners in the dark. The streets now were a huge contrast to Paris during the day.
"Hey," Josh panted from the back of the group. He had a hand pressed against a nearby wall to support his worn-out body. His charge, Edward, was sitting down on the ground, his eyes closed and scrunched together, as if he was battling a headache.
"Come on, you guys," said Scatty. "It's no time to be lazy." She was still carrying Sophie as easily as wearing a jacket of feathers.
"We need to rest," Josh said. "Not everyone is a Next Generation Elder like you. Just for a while. Please?"
The Shadow sighed.
"Nicholas," she called. "I think Josh is right. We need to stop and rest for a bit. And it's not just them who needs the rest," she added, upon seeing Flamel ready to object. "You're exhausted, admit it. A little break would do some good for all of us."
Flamel's shoulders slouched forward. "I suppose you are right. I know a metro café nearby. We can stop there."
"Ed, get up, we're moving," said Josh, poking the blond in the shoulder.
Edward jerked awake, and he bent over, groaning, as a nauseating sensation washed over him.
"I really need some sleep," he said, massaging his eyes with his thumb and index finger.
"I know," Josh said, lifting Edward to his feet. "We'll get you some water at the café. Hopefully some fluid will help fight the lightheaded-ness."
"Screw water. I haven't eaten in . . . God, I don't remember the last time I ate."
Josh sighed. How could Edward possibly be thinking of food rather than paying attention to his critical condition? Sometimes that guy just didn't act human. Superhuman, maybe.
"So you're telling me," said Edward, palm flat against the table, "you don't actually know where this safe house is, and you actually don't know where you're going. You've just been taking us in circles."
"That's not necessarily true," said Flamel defensively. The truth was, Paris had changed a lot in the years he'd been away. The entire city was once reconstructed, and now Flamel felt like a tourist in his own home. The roads were all wrong, and the buildings weren't familiar at all.
"You're crossing your arms in a gesture of self-protection. You're lying."
"How can you possibly—?" Flamel looked down at himself, and un-crossed his arms. A look of irritation flitted across his face. "Edward, just . . . just drink your water."
"You made up that safe house lie to get our hopes up. You needed to give us a reason to follow you. And hey! It worked."
"You are five hundred years too early to be questioning me, boy."
"But am I wrong?"
Flamel narrowed his eyes wordlessly. Edward glared back with equal intensity.
The Twins of Legend watched the two alchemists banter back and forth, their eyes darting left and right like a tennis match. The both of them were seated next to Edward, who was surrounded by five bottles of water, three of which have already been emptied.
The water had helped the blond restore the fluid he had lost, and for now, postponed his need to seek a doctor. Edward was on his forth bottle. The way he argued with Flamel, it was almost as if he'd never been skewered by a cane in the first place. Granted, he was still pale and exhausted—but who out of the entire group wasn't? At least he'd stopped shaking.
"There's got to be someone we can call for help," said Josh, breaking in. "The Witch maybe. Scatty, would she know of any immortals in Paris?"
The Celtic warrior thought about it for a second. "She would, yes."
"Does she have a phone?"
"Knowing Grandmother? I doubt it."
"Oh, she has one," Edward interjected, but the way he said it made Josh wonder what convinced the Witch of Endor of getting one to begin with.
"How do you know that?" asked Sophie.
"I installed it for her," Edward replied sourly. "But it's not as if she knows how to use it. That lady wasted two hours of my life."
"Okaaay," said Josh slowly. "So she has a phone. Maybe there's someone else we can contact. Does the Witch have any friends? Sophie?"
Sophie closed her eyes and concentrated on the Witch's memory—searching for anything that may satisfy Josh's inquiry—but she shook her head. It was all so jumbled and confusing. She couldn't call forth anything useful.
"I'm sorry. I . . . I can't. What I do know is that everyone knows her. She doesn't have many friends, but if we can get in contact with someone in town . . ."
Josh huffed. "How about the store next to hers?"
"It's too late there," said Flamel. "All the stores are closed."
"Hm, no, I don't think so," said Scatty, a finger placed thoughtfully on her chin. "Remember when we left? The entire town was in chaos. I doubt the locals will get to sleep tonight. The entire neighbourhood must be in frenzy. If we call now, I bet someone will pick up."
"It's worth trying," said Sophie.
Flamel met each of their eyes, considering it. Finally, he said, "All right. We'll try the local press. They should be hotwired to receive some more insight on the explosion."
"Ojai Valley News, 646-1476," Sophie said immediately. "I remember that much . . . or the Witch does." She frowned, running over the various memories and ideas in her head. She wondered how she managed to recall such a simple memory so quickly, as opposed to before when she was purposely trying to conjure the Witch's memories. Josh always said she thought too much. Maybe he was right. Still, all these memories that weren't hers . . . It scared her. Was she someone else now? Was she really Sophie anymore?
Sophie's head snapped up. Everyone was watching her.
"I'm fine," she said a bit too quickly. "Just fine."
"If you say so," said Flamel, eyeing her strangely. "Ah, our orders are up. I'll be back shortly." He made his way over to the café counter to pay for the hot chocolates he ordered for the Twins.
Josh reached for his sister's hand tentatively. "Are you really fine? What were you thinking about?"
"Me, I guess," said Sophie, and she forced out a smile. "Silly, really."
"You're lying too," Edward muttered, watching his empty water bottle.
"Nothing." Edward looked up. "Hey, should we really be sitting here? Isn't the city crawling with police?"
"Nicholas said we should be relatively safe here."
The all-night café they were sitting in was at the backend of the Gare du Nord Metro station. It was so average and mundane-looking that it was easily overlooked. The five of them were the only people in the café, other than the sole worker at the counter, a guy named Roux.
"He lies," said Josh, frowning at his sister in disapproval. "He didn't mention the effects of using your magic until it was too late. I'm starting to question his motives."
"That's something you keep to yourself, Newman," said Edward. "We all have our doubts, but it's safer to keep them as doubts, not mutiny."
"And how would you know?"
The alchemist picked at his sleeve. The coat was in a ruined state. It was an old, rattled thing. It'd been through countless abuses, and yet Edward had seen fit to keep it. He didn't know why.
"I just do. Go along with it. It's the best we can do."
Back at the counter, Flamel was patting his pockets for loose euros, but he couldn't seem to produce any. All he had was his Visa card.
"I seem to be all out. The card is fine, isn't it? Can you ring up twenty for me and some cash as well?"
Roux wasn't even trying to hide his suspicion. "That is strictly against our policy, monsieur."
Roux had seen enough strange people in his lifetime of working here, but these five newest visitors topped them all.
None of them seemed the least bit related to each other. Sure the two American twins were alike enough to be twins, but that other blond guy . . . He looked like he recently starred in a 1940's war movie. And there was that suspicious red liquid on his jacket as well. The old man here asking for some spare change looked like their grandfather, although Roux doubted it. He spoke with an older, more gentlemanly form of French that no other local had. The red-haired teenager wearing combat boots and all black, she was the only one who was on alert. Alert for what? All five of them were matted and dirty. Did they go crawling through the Catacombs?
"We're all tired here," Scatty broke in. "Can you spare us just this once?"
Roux wasn't going to admit he was intimidated by her, but the hardness of her eyes made him double check on that.
"Just this once," he said, and he swiped the credit card. He also did them the favour of generating the euros Flamel had requested. He'd noticed that the card was American, even though the owner of the card was clearly French. "Have a good day."
Flamel grabbed the tray of hot chocolate and thanked the man. "Merci."
Roux nodded absently and reached under the counter for his math textbook. Both the red-haired girl and the old man had moved away to a secluded part of the café, talking in hushed tones. From the sound of it, and their gestures exchanged, it was clear that whatever matter they were speaking about was urgent. Roux hadn't even realized he'd been staring until the red-head looked up, forcing him to look back down at his textbook.
"Take this," said Flamel in Latin, shoving the tray of hot chocolate into the Warrior's hands. "I'm going to step out for a bit, contact the Witch. Stay here and watch them."
"All alone, Nicholas? I don't think so. It's dangerous out there. What if you get caught?"
"Trust me, I won't. We'll meet up someplace every hour. La Maison Rose, perhaps?"
"What about Montmartre? Machiavelli would least suspect that."
"Whichever meeting location it may be," said Nicholas, "just remember that the Twins are our priority now. We cannot allow them to fall into the clutches of the Dark Elders. Promise me you will protect them."
Scatty shot him a cross look. "I think that goes without saying."
"Then we are at an agreement."
He stepped out before Scatty could say more. She watched him disappear into the pre-dawn night, and then she rejoined the main table. Scatty picked a chair, dragged it behind her, swung it around, and straddled it backwards, laying her arms across the back rest.
"Nicholas has gone out to call my grandmother," she said. "He should be back—hopefully—soon."
Sophie reached for her much awaited hot chocolate. She'd never tried European hot chocolate before, but she'd heard it was a lot stronger than its North American counterpart.
"What did he say to you?"
"He says if he doesn't come back by noon, I have permission to drag you two after me and train you."
"What about me?" asked Edward, setting down a miniature plastic giraffe on the table.
"He didn't say anything about you. You're free to leave, I guess—"
"That's great," said Edward, starting to get up.
"—after we get you medical attention."
Edward sat back down. "Dammit. Better not be a stupid hospital."
"We can't even show our faces to one. You don't have any legit credentials, do you?"
"That I don't," Edward agreed.
"See?" Scatty eyed his strange plastic animal that seemed to appear from out of nowhere. "Where did you get that anyway?"
"What? This?" Edward pointed to his plastic giraffe. "From the bottles."
"How did you—?"
"Under the table. Alchemy. It's a pretty simple transmutation."
"Why?" Scatty raised a hand. "Right, never mind. Forget I asked."
"It was hard enough to get away from Sacré-Coeur," said Josh. "Is it really going to be easy getting out of the city? I'm just not sure with all these police around . . ."
"Relax, Josh," the Warrior reassured him. "You have me, after all. We'll be all right."
"But what if we get caught?"
"Then you're handed over to Machiavelli, and the Dark Elders would have you do whatever it is they want you to do."
"Exactly why I'm not going to let that happen."
"So what, we're just going to sit here until Flamel comes back?" Edward interjected.
"Impatient, aren't you?" Scatty said, amusement creeping into her tone. "The answer is yes. We aren't going to move for a while."
"Fine." Edward let his head thump down on his good arm. "Then wake me up later."
"Sleep would be good for you. You look terrible." Scatty looked at Sophie. "So do you. You should be careful of how much you use your powers. Don't want you burning up, right?"
"Yeah . . . About that. Why is it so important I don't go overboard?"
"Spontaneous combustion. You basically burst into flames. No one wants to tempt that, not even me, and I'm immortal."
"Isn't that just an urban legend?" Josh said skeptically.
"It's no urban legend," said Scathach, her expression dark. "I've seen it happen so many times . . ." Her voice caught, and from the sound of it, it was almost as if she had watched close people fall victim to the same doom, people she cared about. "Sophie, promise me you won't try any magic tonight. Combustion can happen in a split second; you won't even feel it coming. Promise me."
"Wait, so Flamel knew about this," said Josh, his voice rising with anger. "He knew and he failed to mention this."
"And he didn't think it was worth mentioning?! What else is he hiding, huh? Anything else I need to know about this . . . gift?"
"Josh, shut the hell up," mumbled Edward, his words muffled by his sleeve. "You're getting too loud. We don't need to traumatize Roux, do we?"
"I thought you were sleeping," Josh bit out.
"I can't with your yelling."
Josh growled under his breath, but he did quiet somewhat. "Flamel isn't winning himself any popularity points by keeping things from us. He should just come out with it!"
"Nicholas is keeping certain truths from you to protect you," said Scatty. "He's not trying to make you angry or . . . or kill you. He wouldn't. If I can trust him, you should too. He's keeping the both of you safe."
"Safe? We were safe before he showed up."
"Josh, you know that's not true. The Dark Elders would have found you eventually, and if they played their words right, you would have believed that their side was righteous. Without Nicholas, there would have been no one there to save you from their lies. And you know, Josh, that you would have believed them."
Josh clenched his hands, too angry to say anything.
"If I had the power," the Shadow continued, "I would Awaken you myself, but it can only be done by an Elder. It's a shame the burden falls on Sophie. But that's only now. There are plenty other chances for you to be Awakened. You just have to be patient."
Josh had waited far too long for the opportunity. Despite everything he'd experienced, and what he'd gone through, he wanted the powers Sophie had. He'd gone close once, but Dee had interrupted them and killed off one of the few neutral Elders still remaining—one of the few Elders that would even think about Awakening him.
The second time Dee interrupted them, the Englishman had actually offered to Awakened him. And then they were yet again interrupted by Edward, who said some similar things, except his morals were completely the opposite. Josh was, to put it simply, torn.
Suddenly, Edward sat up, stretched, and gave a great big yawn. He played with his plastic giraffe, positioning it at the centre of the table. He rotated it until he was satisfied with its arrangement. Then he leaned back and crossed his arms, smacking the sleepiness out of his mouth.
"Do you see them?" he said.
"See what?" Josh said.
"The policemen." Edward watched the giraffe curiously, and Josh realized that when he was turning the thing, he was trying to get a pin on a reflection. "They're standing just outside. Don't look up."
"How'd you know?" said Sophie.
"They've been watching us for a while. Don't you get that feeling, as well? Like eyes boring into your back. I guess it's more experience, really."
"What do we do?"
"We get up," said Scatty. "Slowly. Don't alert them of any strange behaviour. Just act like we're going to the counter to order something else . . ."
Scatty rose first and she made her way to the counter. Sophie was next. She was shaking slightly, but she managed to act casual enough. Both she and Scatty were facing the counter so that that their identities were concealed from the policemen behind them.
Josh watched Edward go next. The alchemist looked so impossibly natural—Josh, if he didn't know better, would have found something incredibly off about this.
Edward discreetly motioned for him to follow with a slight tip of his head, unrecognizable to the policemen, but enough to alert Josh. Josh stood, but he accidentally knocked against the chair behind him. He jumped a bit too much, and his subconscious guilt/fear caused him to look in the direction of the policemen. They locked eyes, and for a split second, Josh felt his heart stop.
So in the end, this chapter ended up longer than the last one . . . Which is why I cut it here. I always get carried away when I write, and I don't really have an idea of how long it will be. I hope you're not too annoyed with me because of this . . . I promise next chapter will be something. Can't say what's going to happen, but . . . we'll just see.