Chapter 5: Continuing the Mission
Disclaimer: I do not own Huntik: Secrets and Seekers or Winx Club. They both belong to Rainbow.
Dante stood in the wreckage of the burnt down safe house trying to make sense of what had happened. The police were clearing the debris looking for clues. They were all friends to the Huntik Foundation so he did worry too much about them finding anything strange without reporting it to him. He had no doubt that what Timmy had told to Guggenheim was true. He seemed like a very capable young man and he obviously hid more than his share of secrets.
Dante knew of the ever burning fire that the researcher had used to destroy the house. He knew that water would be ineffective against it and he knew that whatever it touched would not go out until it was destroyed.
They were now removing beams and other pieces of the infrastructure. Dante looked at the surrounding houses. (Thankfully, they had not burnt down.) He was in the remnants of the kitchen looking for anything salvageable. Some of the foundation had survived but everything had been charred black. He had no idea what he was looking for in the mess. He thought that going to the safe house would keep him busy but apparently, other operatives were already taking care of the tedious business of insurance and police reports.
In truth, he was looking for the remains of a skeleton.
He was looking for Cherit's but he was not so sure if could find one. If Cherit had died, did he leave a skeleton behind? Did Cherit go back to his amulet? There were too many mind-boggling questions running through his head and he was not sure as to whether or not what he was doing was right. Cherit would have obviously found them if he was alive. All he knew right now was that he had to suppress the militant seeker in his head and become a strong figure for Lok and Sophie.
Just then, Dante was scared witless as a green duffle bag fell out of the sky in front of him. He looked up to see someone standing on the roof of the neighbouring house. He saw a flash of turquoise before it disappeared. It was the thief again!
Dante opened the bag wary of its contents. It was not a bomb but stacks of French Euros. He searched the bag further and only found bills. Perplexed but assured that it was not a bomb, the seeker leapt up to the top of the roof to give chase.
The thief jumped out of the way of the seeker and moved as far away as she could while staying on the same roof. She stood across from him ready to run.
"I don't want to fight, I swear," she said. She held her hands up to show that she had no weapons. "I'm sorry about the house." She had a surprisingly soft and soothing voice, but it was confident and unyielding.
It was a showdown. They were on the precipice of beginning another chase. This time, he would not restraint himself from firing away spells. Over the pass few weeks, he had grown soft because he had always been in the presence of Lok and Sophie. It had been his attempt to be the exemplary adult in their more than suspicious troupe but now, he would not hold back. Familiar—ferocious—instincts bubbled to the surface.
Still...he hesitated. He cursed his weakness.
She looked somewhat like a cornered animal with her eyes darting everywhere at once. She was expecting animalistic fury and he was ready to give it. She would not go down without a fight.
He hesitated. He did not need to be that brutal with her, he thought. She did not look like a seeker at all nor did she use any spells. He was convinced that she had yet to unveil the weapon that would destroy him and his team. She had extraordinary (and unnatural) athleticism and he was beginning to wonder if she was human at all.
She made a sudden movement that alerted him. Without thinking, he roared, "Boltflare!"
The ball of light sizzled in the air crackling. She slapped the yellow bolt like an annoying gnat. The energy howled like thunder and lodged itself into the black shingles and melted it away into the gutter.
Dante was stupefied. She had not created a shield or dodged it. She had tossed a ball of dangerous energy away like it was nothing!
"I don't want a fight," she said.
The seeker refrained himself from throwing another spell.
"I would like to say something to you and your organisation: leave. Leave Paris. Every single one of you, especially those kids that are with you. Forget about the church and get as far away as you can from Paris. If that woman is released, she will kill you, your girlfriend and those kids."
"Woman? What woman?"
"The...'vampire.' She will kill each and every one of you and your seeker friends in Paris. I hear that you are one of the best in your organisation, Mr Vale. Recognise this warning and evacuate the city of seekers."
Dante held his hands at his side. He shook his head in disbelief. "Why should I believe this bluff of yours?"
"Would you really bet the lives of those children like this just so you can pose your male ego in front of me to show how fearless you are?" she said acerbically.
Dante gritted his teeth. "How dare you make assumptions about me!"
"Then take the money and leave the city."
The thief took a fatal step back and fell three stories down to the street. Dante raced to look over the edge. The street was devoid of people. The woman had effectively disappeared.
Sophie, Lok and Zhalia returned to the hotel where they ate lunch. Timmy joined them seeing as he was not allowed to continue his research for fear of being followed and revealing the location of the library. They sat at a round table hidden in the corner.
"Do any of the victims have anything in common?" Timmy started rather morbidly. He stirred sugar into a coffee.
Sophie paled. They had just heard about the newest victim from Timmy. Zhalia listened intently.
"No, I don't think so," Lok said nervously.
"Are you sure about that?"
"Let me pose you a hypothetical situation then. Only seekers know magic on this planet. Why is this so? What is stopping people outside the Organisation and the Foundation from learning magic?"
"I don't understand your question, Timmy," Sophie said.
"For as long as I have been with the Foundation, I was given the distinct impression that only seekers knew magic but the concept of seekers, people who go about protecting ancient magical history, did not exist hundreds of years ago during the time of Joan of Arc. Did she really call herself a 'chercheuse' because she wanted to protect history or because she wanted to lead France to victory? We must differentiate what we think of people and what people truly are. Feminist use Joan of Arc as an excuse for feminism out of context, which is pure stupidity on their part. It seems to me that this 'conserve history' agenda is a recent product that came along with the advancement of educational systems. Humans did not care for history until the Enlightenment. So my question is: why is it that only seekers have magic?"
"Well...I..." Sophie hesitated to answer Timmy's question. "Well, Lok didn't start learning magic until this summer..."
"But my parents are seekers, Sophie."
"So were mine..." Sophie turned to Zhalia, who was completely uninterested with the conversation.
"Why are you asking this?" Lok said.
"Pure curiosity. Last night's victim was a woman I recently met. She had delivered the manuscript from Rouen late in the evening."
Sophie and Lok jumped in their seats. Zhalia glanced curiously at the researcher.
"The victim who had first caught Guggenheim's interest was a man called Alexandre Rozier. The name Rozier is a fairly common name in this commune only and the Rozier family frequently appears in the Versailles library archives. A quick check of his family shows that he is a true Rozier. Maybe not a seeker like you three for he was an accountant, but he was descended from the Rozier seekers nonetheless. They had once been a seeker faction before being disbanded at the end of the Ancien Régime.
"The victim from several years ago had been a university student paid by the Organisation to do some research for them. The one before that had been another Rozier.
"The last ten disappearances are all connected to seekers but not necessarily the Foundation or the Organisation either. Some were people related to families of the Ancien Régime. One of them was just a grandmother to a seeker in the Foundation."
Sophie and Lok were pale from Timmy's revelation. They squirmed uncomfortably in their seats.
"Someone needs to go down to the church and figure out what is happening soon. Something happened to change the conditions of the disappearances. They used to be once every handful of years. It's unprecedented to have two in the same year." Timmy sipped his coffee.
"Timmy," Zhalia said softly, "What else are you hiding from us?" Her voice was dangerously soft. The teens looked ready to run.
The orange-haired researcher shrugged. "Your assignment is hindering my research. I only found out about this a few hours ago. I won't lie by saying that what I did was not illegal. It is very much so."
Dante appeared at the table and took up his coat to fold it on the back of an unoccupied chair. The older man sighed and poured himself a coffee before starting.
"We're going down to the church. We need to figure out what happened down there and fix it."
"Yes, we know. There is a new victim," Zhalia said. "I thought that those 'Specialists' getting the medallion would be the end of it."
"When do we leave?" Sophie asked. She stood up itching to do something.
"'We' means Zhalia and I," the man clarified. "You and Lok are staying at the hotel. I don't like the smell of things and I'm not risking you two."
"Wha—?" Sophie stuttered.
"What are you doing, Dante?" Zhalia questioned.
"This is getting too dangerous and I don't want to take unnecessary risks. We still don't know what's waiting down there. Those Specialists might be down there, the Organisation and now that thief. Only Zhalia and I are going. You two are waiting at the hotel. You two have gone through enough already," he said finally.
The two teens were silent. After what had happened, they had gotten eerily prone to long silences. It was their only way of voicing their helplessness. Dante and Zhalia stood up and headed for the elevator to prepare for their investigation.
The Palais du Louvre houses one of the biggest art museums on Earth: the Musée de Louvre. Within its 60600 square meters, it holds nearly 35000 objects. One of its more notable objects is Leonardo da Vinci's mysterious La Gioconda. The sun was heading for the west but the museum was still open. It would only close at six o'clock. The museum still teemed with visitors but they were slowly starting to dwindle.
The chamber to the display of the Mona Lisa had about a dozen people in it. Normally, the room would be filled to the brim but since it was a week day, there were less people. The chamber was on the first floor of the former royal palace and the painting was located behind a pane of bullet-proof glass.
Helia contemplated the painting with the lethargy of an unimpressed art critic. He felt nothing when he saw it. He could not appreciate it. However much he wanted to leave the chaos of the chamber, he waited patiently and hoped to understand the enigma of the piece while he waited. He could not help but notice all the subtle security measures. In the back of his mind, a myriad of methods for disabling them bubbled.
A man came to stand beside Helia. He casually wore some warn dark jeans and a flashy graphic t-shirt. His brown hair was unkempt. The dark haired man shook his head. Could this man be any less inconspicuous?
"Planning on stealing it?" the brown-haired man started.
"Just curious about the security," Helia said casually.
"That means you would like to steal it."
"More like test myself to see if I could do it."
"That's called theft."
"You make it sound so ugly. I prefer thinking of it as a test of my skills."
The other man chuckled. "How's it going with the Organisation, Helia?"
"Good." The brunet paused. He had news that he did not look forward to sharing. "It looks like we're going to have to stay here on Earth a little longer."
"I heard about the victim already. We have to move quickly. They probably think that I brought the medallion to the Organisation, but when they find out that is not case, some difficult questions are going to come up, Brandon."
"Then you know we need to fix the problem and disappear fast."
"I know. 'You know who' is here in Paris though. And not very overjoyed to see me. That might pose a problem."
Brandon paused to look at the Mona Lisa more closely. Like any tourist, he took a picture of it with his cell phone. He returned to Helia and gestured for him to follow him to see the other exhibits. "Let's not make enemies on this mission, Helia. We need friendly relations on this planet."
"Remember, you and Timmy are the pointmen on this assignment. If this all goes to shit, Sky will only disavow any knowledge of us."
Helia nodded. "May I make a suggestion here, Brandon? If you want involvement from the Earthlings seeing as this is their planet, I suggest that you choose with the Huntik Foundation. While I am not the one who should be sprouting moral moors, I do believe that telling the Organisation about us would be a bad idea. There is something not quite right with their methods when they tried to brainwash me."
"Alright. I'll take it into consideration. Just stay alert. Stay your course. I'll handle everything. You've been through enough with that madman. Enjoy the exhibit. And don't steal anything." Brandon left the man quietly immensely troubled about what he had seen in the other man.
Dante exhaled heavily. He looked at Zhalia for some sort of comfort. He thought that she would understand his plight because of their common careers as seekers. Unexpectedly, she glared daggers at the man and when the elevator doors open, she shoved the man in. The man was so surprised at the ferocity of the woman's action that he could not even block her. He was in awe of her unexpected strength and finally saw the anger the boiling beneath her eyes.
"What is wrong with you?" she yelled fiercely. "Telling them to not come because 'they've been through enough'?" She shoved him against the wall of the elevator.
"Zhalia, what's wrong?" He was more than slightly confused about her behaviour.
"Why aren't you letting Lok and Sophie come with us?" she growled. The elevator doors closed behind her. She looked like she wanted to pick a fight.
"What do you mean 'why'? Zhalia, there is something out there killing people and we still don't know what it is," he reasoned. He had no idea what had inspired her into such anger and was unwillingly to bring the fight.
"That's not an excuse!"
"Not an excuse? They're still minors. I don't mind letting them tag along if we know what to expect, but—"
"Dante, you can take them off the mission just because we're up against something we haven't seen before. It's part of the job."
"There are a lot of nasty things about this job but they're only kids."
"'Only kids?' Oh please, Dante, I saw worst when I was their age." She pointed an angry finger into his chest.
He slapped her hand away. "No. I am not changing my mind. They are not coming."
The woman made a sound of frustration. She looked like she could rip out her hair. "Why? Why are you having this sudden change of heart? I didn't think that you were this soft."
"Zhalia, I am not cruel. I am being fair," he said evenly. He was genuinely concerned for the safety of Lok and Sophie. While he did not mind them tagging along and learning to be a seeker, he did not want to take risks with their lives.
"We are seekers! They want to be seekers! It's not cruel, it's part of the job! No one said that being a seeker would be easy. Look at Lok's dad. Look at me. Look at you, Dante Vale. You sure as hell did not do nice things in the past to the Organisation nor in your civil life!" Zhalia curled a fist and smashed it into the adjacent wall threateningly. The wooden panel did not crack but Dante knew that she was capable of much more and was glad that she had not aimed for his face. However, one thing terrified him: she was trembling, whether from anger or sadness, he was not sure.
"You're weak. The great Dante Vale is not as strong as I thought he was. He's scared because he has two kids who are scared witless," she hissed.
"Weak?" the male seeker repeated in disbelief. Why was every woman ripping his masculinity today? He could not believe his ears that such words were coming forth from this lone wolf. His masculinity questioned, the man could not help but let the nastier parts of his personality bubble to the surface. "Woman, you have no idea what I can do, or more especially, what I won't do—like tell them what happened today at the safe house."
The woman's eyes narrowed dangerously. She was ready to rip his tongue out.
"That thief came back today. She talked. She dropped enough money on me to rebuild the house and then told me to make all the seekers in the city leave before the vampire killed us all. She obviously knows more than she is letting on and she cares about the kids enough to make me believe." He relaid the words of the thief to Zhalia.
"And you believe her? Anyone can pull that dirty trick. She's guilt tripping you into bringing less people and using the money to make you believe. If she happens to be from the Organisation or one of those Specialist people, we'll just be walking into a trap!" Zhalia fumed and backed away from the man. She shook her head unable to believe what she had just heard.
The elevator doors open and she darted out swearing in various languages.
"Zhalia!" Dante followed after her hungry strides.
Without warning, she turned on her heel and hook punched the man in the jaw. Dante recoiled and leapt back a few steps unsure if she would throw a few more at him. "What was that for?"
"You're no good to this mission or this team of yours and I'm in no mood to babysit a man who is emotionally confused because a pretty woman pulled the wool over his eyes. I'm going alone. Do something stupid and I'll pretend that I don't know you and let you die," she warned. She opened the door to the hotel room with haste.
Without hesitation, Dante grabbed the woman's arm to make her listen. "Zhalia, we're doing this as a team—"
"I'm sorry, but my team consists of only me. Now, if you'll excuse me, stay out of my way." She shook off the hand on her arm and headed straight for her room. In less than a minute, she had gathered her things and was out of the room heading for the church.
In the time, Dante could only watch her. He tried to convince her otherwise but she was absolutely set on her decision. He watched her disappear behind the elevator doors. The seeker ran a hand through his long hair and swore. He returned to the hotel room and got ready to leave. He had no idea what he was going to do but he was pretty sure it would be something stupid.
Happy New Year!