First off, an apology. I am sooooo sorry for how long it took to update. It took twice as long as it should have, but luckily the chapter is twice as long as well. You can probably guess what happens in this chapter, but it doesn't happen until well at the end. For all who are out there reading this as well, HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Thank you to the reviewers of this story, RushMaiden, and Bookworm Gal. Thank you to shadow-of-the-phoenix 7 as well for following this story, and all of the rest of you out there who are following this. I really appreciate it. And now, without further ado, enjoy! CAUTION: This chapter has one curse word in it from the movie.
When I reach the first set of hallways, I make as if to turn to my right. I'm trying to find my way back to the library when I hear Nemo call after me.
"Miss Riley, we are going to be meeting in a moment to discuss the next move now that we are on our way, if you would like to come. You are part of the League, and you might wish to be present," he suggests. I turn and nod, hurrying to catch up with him. I wonder what it is that's happening now. Did we get new information?
Nemo gathers the rest of the League, those who haven't already left, then leads us to another conference room with a desk in it, leaving Quatermain, Sawyer, Jekyll, Skinner and I alone for a moment while he goes to get Mina and Dorian, who seem to have already wandered back to their quarters.
We sit there in silence for a minute. No one seems to be in a talking mood, and it seems a little strange to me. Either we're all spacing out, or lost in thought, or we have something to say and we're just too afraid to say it. Whatever the case is, the silence is choking, and I wish I could break it.
What do you think we're doing? I write in the journal, tapping on Skinner. He shrugs. "Who knows? Knowing us freaky darlings, we could be talking about anything from the Fantom to the advantages of fur lined parkas," he mutters. I laugh lightly.
Just then, Nemo comes in with Mina and Dorian. Neither of them looks particularly pleased, and Mina actually looks annoyed. I bite back a grin, sensing that it's best not to laugh at an annoyed vampyre, if I value my life.
But your real life isn't here, a voice in the back of my mind points out. Oh, shut it, I think back. I know it may be true, but I don't have the time to worry about that right now. No matter where my 'real life' is, and the true 'reality' lies, I am here right now, so it's kind of a moot point what's going on in my real life. Not like that's anything interesting anyways.
"So, Nemo," Dorian says after a moment of watching the Captain shuffle around. "What exactly are we here for?"
"To decide what we are doing, Mr. Gray," Nemo answers.
"If I may ask, Captain, how are we to do that? Have we received information recently?" Mina questions politely.
"You could say that," Nemo responds, laying out a book on the table and opening it. "The plans the Fantom stole from the Bank of England. These are copies, da Vinci's blueprints of Venice - its foundations and waterways," Nemo says, pointing to different parts of the map. Everyone looks over at the map lightly, though none of the League members seem to show any particular interest in it. In fact the only one who deigns to speak is, shockingly enough, Quatermain. "So you think he'll attack the conference by sea?" he asks Nemo. The old captain gives him a look with dark brown eyes, his expression saying that that's exactly what he thinks will happen.
There is a heavy silence. All the different members of the League seem to be lost in thought, though it's dubious at best to say that they're all thinking about the matter at hand. Dorian is toying with his cane, Sawyer is leaning on his gun and aside from Mina, is about the only person who seems half engaged. "That's wonderful," Skinner finally sighs. Jekyll jumps, startled out of whatever he was just brooding about. Probably his alter ego. "So what're we going to do about it?"
"Well that's easy," Sawyer says, standing up a little. "We stop him." Skinner raises a greasepaint covered eyebrow.
"Really? I thought we were going to invite him over for tea," Skinner remarks, sounding amused.
"Your sarcasm is not necessary, Mr. Skinner," Mina says a little sharply.
"How are we going to stop the Fantom though? Planning on asking him peacefully to give up the ghost?"
Sawyer shrugs. "That's the real question, I guess," he comments.
"Well, the real question is probably what he's going to be doing," Quatermain cuts in. "And that we don't know. One of us should study the plans to try and discover what the Fantom could be doing," he points out.
How are we going to do that when we don't even know how the Fantom does what he does, much less his motivations of why? I question, writing in the journal and tapping on Quatermain.
He scoffs. "It seems like a better idea than no preparation, don't you think?" I shrug. Sure, I guess so. But what good is preparation if you're preparing wrong?
Quatermain scowls at me. "Would you like to voice to us all a better idea, then, Miss Riley?" he asks, somewhat tauntingly. My jaw drops in shock, and then I close it. This may be the age of women being considered as subservient idiots, but it takes all I have not to write some cutting remark back. It's not my fault I can't speak and am a girl, after all, and he has no right to act like I'm some kind of imbecile because of it. So instead, I glare at him, then turn and walk away. I have nothing to say to Quatermain, and obviously my inability to talk makes anything I do have to say silly anyways, and so I leave. It's not like I'll be able to change his mind. The only person who'd be able to change the views of that stubborn old mule would be God himself, and that was even questionable.
By some subconscious whim, I somehow find myself back where Skinner was teaching me to fight earlier. Mina's knives still lay where I left them, unreturned still. I pick one up, looking at the sack of potatoes Skinner had found to practice on, and I walk away from the target, then turn to face it again. I think of the invisible thief's advice from earlier. Follow through with your hand pointing where you're aiming. Throw handle first. Carefully, I aim, then toss the knife. It misses by a mile. I sigh inwardly, then go to pick it up, trying again and again. I consistently fail, but it gets my mind off of the problem at hand. I finally try one last time, aiming carefully, trying to remember everything Skinner was telling me. Okay, I think. Now ready…aim…
"What happened to throwing from your wrist?" A voice says just as I throw the knife, causing it to go high and bounce off the steel of the ship. I turn to see Skinner leaning in the doorway, looking amused. "You forgot this," he says, waving the journal he gave me earlier in the air, then handing it to me.
Thanks, I write, giving him a small smile.
"You're welcome," he says. "Now, truly, what happened to your wrist? Is it no longer usable?"
Ha, ha, very funny, I write sarcastically. I'm trying to remember. I just don't have much experience in any kind of combat ability.
"That's why I'm trying to teach you. With our band of freaky darlings, it could come in handy," he says.
It'd be nice to say that it will help the other's views, but I don't think anything will change Quatermain's opinion. I'm just a mute girl who wears boy's clothes, I sigh, twirling the pen in my fingers.
Skinner chuckles. "Keep working on the fighting, and you can show them you're not weak. Besides, I wouldn't worry about how the old grouch thinks. Unless you like hunting something to the ends of the Earth, he doesn't like much. He isn't much for me either."
I laugh. Yeah, I can tell.
"Now, try throwing from your wrist," Skinner suggests. I do as he says, and I almost hit the bag. I try again, and this time I get the corner, but the knife grazes it so slightly that it makes no difference.
"You're getting closer," Skinner comments. "Keep trying." And so I do. I keep throwing the knife until finally I hit almost right in the center of the bag. I turn with a grin, only to find the floating coat and hat that was Skinner gone. The invisible thief seems to have a talent for slipping away unnoticed. I shake my head, then decide to leave the knife where it is. Then if I remember, I can show Skinner, or at least practice again later.
I walk quietly around the Nautilus. Any other time, I'd probably go to the library, but it holds no pull for me right now, which is a new feeling. I feel a little too restless to go dive into a new book, and meander the ship. The place is like a maze, and I have no idea where exactly I'm trying to go, but I just keep making random turns, until eventually I have no idea where I am. But somehow, I've ended up at something that looks almost like a monument.
There are a couple flowers looking fresh by a faded photograph of a woman and two children. Confused, I lean over and examine the picture closer, and it's only then that I notice the other figure in the back of the photo.
Nemo… But what happened to the others? The way that the image seems to be part of a monument gives me the idea that something tragic befell them. Either way, I feel almost uncomfortable, as if I'm prying into something highly personal from Nemo's life.
Silently and respectfully, I back away and leave the room the way I've found it, racking my brains and trying to think of what I know about Nemo until finally I remember a book I read a couple years ago, The Mysterious Island. Nemo was Prince Dakkar, and his wife and children had been murdered in some kind of revolution that I couldn't remember the name of, causing him to build the Nautilus, take to the seas and never look back. True, he was a pirate in some instances, yet only in the best of ways.
I stop for a moment, feeling truly sorry for the old Captain. Remembering his history only makes me the more surprised that he joined onto this venture at all, given his distaste for the Empire. Were I him, I never would have joined in, especially not with Quatermain, since the first words he ever spoke towards Nemo were to call him a pirate. Even though he probably had extreme amounts of patience, the fact that Nemo could tolerate Quatermain was shocking to me, especially since the old man was pretty much the very embodiment of everything that Nemo disliked about humanity and the Empire.
Bringing myself back to the present, I realize that, while lost in my thoughts, I've probably just gotten myself even more lost than I was before. Sure enough, ten minutes of desperately trying to retrace my steps and I consistently end up back where I started. Sighing, I lean back against the wall for a minute. Leave it to me to get lost in a huge ship, in about the only part of it that didn't have a bunch of people going through it that I could ask for directions.
I look down at the floor, wondering what I'm going to do now, when I notice footprints. A smile creeps onto my face. I've been trying to find my way back to the cabin by memory, but maybe, I could use the footprints to lead me back. It's worth a shot.
At first, I end up following the wrong footprints and going in circles again, but after a few tries, I finally end up on the right track, and I follow the prints, looking at the ground until finally I reach more familiar territory.
Smiling, I look up. It's probably around suppertime, but I'm not sure. Oh well. If Nemo's past behaviour is any sign, then he'll probably assemble the League when we're ready to eat. In the meantime, I need something else to do, something that doesn't concern getting lost on the Nautilus. I've just passed into an intersection of hallways when a door at the end of the hall opens. Quatermain is standing there, his hand looking like he's holding a mischievous schoolboy by the neck, provided the schoolboy is invisible. Invisible…
"Skinner," Quatermain begins. "I want you dressed at all times, eh?" he asks, shoving forward. A coat rack beside me tips precariously and nearly falls over, but I catch it just in time, stumbling backward. "Or it's my boot up your ass!"
"Old grouch," Skinner mutters, and the coat rack straightens with some invisible help. "You all right?" Skinner asks, taking his coat and hat and putting them on. I'm fine, I write. You?
"I'm still in one piece, though I think if Quatermain had his way, he'd change that," Skinner comments.
What were you trying to do? I ask, raising an eyebrow.
"Trying to be an invisible thief and steal Matilda," Skinner says. I look at him questioningly. Matilda…Who's Matilda? "His gun," Skinner replies. "He gave his gun a name, and I was going to just float it out the door and try and lighten the mood around here. That worked out well," he mutters. I bust out laughing at the image of Skinner taking Quatermain's gun and making it float out of the room out of the blue. My laugh is really weird though, and it sounds vaguely like I have the hiccups. Skinner stares at me strangely, until finally he joins in, and we stay like that for a minute, laughing until I cry.
When I can breathe again, I wipe my eyes and grin. That felt good, I giggle. You're crazy.
Skinner chuckles. "Oh, I'm the crazy one, am I? I wasn't the one standing out on the wet railing of the Nautilus like a gargoyle this morning," he says, raising an eyebrow. I think of my earlier venture, and feel the blood rush to my face in embarrassment.
You saw that? I write. Skinner nods. How did I not see you?
"Invisible, remember?" Skinner points out. I bite my lip and look at the ground. Didn't see that one coming. I look up again, face red.
"It was a good kind of crazy," Skinner says. "Even if it was a somewhat life-threatening type."
I guess so… I write, still feeling embarrassed.
"Riley, you're about to run into another wall. Look up," Skinner warns. When I look up, I realize that we've come to my room, and I wonder how Skinner knows where it is. His knowledge probably has something to do with the fact that I almost ran into him right outside of the cabin this morning.
Sorry, I write. I'm a bit uncoordinated. Skinner raises his eyebrows. "Nice to know. Well, try not to end up in pieces because of your uncoordination for a while. You won't be able to do much against the Fantom if you're in the infirmary," he says.
I crack a smile, then wave goodbye at him. Thanks for the lessons, I write. Skinner nods. "You're welcome," he says, and then I head into the room. When I peek out a couple minutes later, the invisible thief's jacket is hanging on the coat rack, and he's nowhere to be seen.
I have no idea where he's gone off to, but I know that I get a brilliant idea, and I take Skinner's coat and hat from the coat rack and stick it in my room, coming out just as one of Nemo's men, Ishmael if I'm not mistaken, comes up and tells me that dinner is served. I nod, picking up my journal. When he starts to head back to the dining area, I tap on his shoulder, confused. What of the others? I ask.
Ishmael looks down at me and shrugs. "They asked to take the meal in their cabins." I nod, and write no more, following him to the dining area. I wonder why no one wants to assemble over a meal. It strikes me as odd that we are a group of eight people who are supposed to be fighting in battle together to protect a city and kill off a supervillain that is far more terrifying than the ones that I used to believe in from the comics and horror books in a matter of mere days, yet we can't even take the time to eat in a group at one time.
When we get to the dining hall, it is only to discover that Captain Nemo has had little more luck than Ishmael in gathering League members. Sawyer, Quatermain, and I are the only ones aside from Nemo and Ishmael who have taken the time to eat together. Despite my previous thoughts, at the very least, I wish that Quatermain, of all members, would have chosen differently. I still have no desire to speak with him, which is good because, as he so tactfully pointed out, I can't.
"Where is everyone?" Nemo asks, perplexed. Ishmael bows slightly. "They all asked to eat in their cabins." Sawyer sighs. "We may be a League, but we're sure not a team," he mutters, pushing away from the table. He has a valid point, and I can't agree more, but the reasons for it are so blatantly obvious to me that it's laughable. Maybe it's just because I'm so used to watching from the sidelines that I notice that kind of thing.
The League can't be a team because we're so separate. We're lost in battling our own demons, and pushing people away. Quatermain pushes away anything that isn't male with a gun. Jekyll is constantly battling his alter ego, from what I can tell. Skinner isn't easily welcomed by most of the others- he's not only invisible, but a thief, for crying out loud. Mina is a vampire, and that's demon enough. Dorian, for whatever reason, has a serious superiority complex, and that shoves everything away, no matter what it is. Nemo has memories of his family and running the Nautilus to contend with. About the only one who seems approachable to everyone is Sawyer, but Quatermain's chosen him out of the entire League to be halfway decent to, so no one dares to go up to say hi. We're so utterly divided amongst ourselves…How could we ever be more than a League?
I shake my head, picking up an apple and tossing it gently in my hand, making a small game of it until I notice everyone looking at me strangely and finally start to eat at it. "So how long until Venice?" Sawyer finally asks. Nemo nods. "We should be upon it the day after tomorrow," he says.
Sawyer looks dubious, and I agree with him that arriving the next evening is probably cutting it a little close. However, I have no other ideas, and I'm confident Nemo has his head firmly on his shoulders. If there was a way to get us to Venice earlier, Nemo of all people would find it. The old Captain was doing the best he could. We just have to trust Nemo- what else is there for us to do?
When I finish with my apple, I hang around awkwardly in the background. I know I could probably leave if I wanted, but I feel like there's nothing better to do, and it seems a little rude just to up and leave. So I wait until there is a pause in the conversation, then I cautiously go up to Nemo and tap his shoulder lightly.
Can I head back to my cabin, Captain Nemo? I request. Nemo nods. I give him a small smile, and bow a little before leaving, trying to remember which way it is to my room. It's far easier than I thought it would be, which is in part due to the fact that I must be getting used to traveling the Nautilus.
It isn't until I'm back in the cabin that I realize just how tired I am. With a yawn, I make the bed and am asleep almost before my head hits the pillow, dropping me into the landscape of dreams once more.
"What is wrong with her?" My mom's voice sounds anguished. I am once more in the darkness, where I can hear but not act upon anything. I want to reach out to my mother, tell her just how sorry I am, that I'm just fine, but I can do nothing. Instead, I'm forced to listen to her worried voice.
"We don't know," a different, somehow analytical voice responds. "We've done scans, we've done tests, we've analyzed her charts into nothing, but there's nothing that we can find to explain why her condition won't stay stable."
"There must be something, Doctor," the voice of my father cuts in.
"If there is, we don't know what it is. I'm sorry, but at this time, your daughter's survival all depends on her will to live."
"But," Mom stutters. "I don't get it. If it depends on her will to live, why does her condition keep getting worse? Why would she not want to live?"
It's the month of my junior prom, and my Mom looks out the corner of her eye at me. "Hey, Riley," she says. "Are you going to prom?"
The idea is laughable, and I shake my head violently. I don't do any kind of social, not for years. The idea of having to pretend to care about who's dating who, punch and pizza, pretending I really like being at some over glorified party horrifies me. Mom laughs.
"Oh, come on, you know you want to," she says. "It would be so fun! Hanging out with friends, getting to be a teenager…I loved my prom," Mom promises. You also could talk, I think. I shake my head again.
"Why not?" Mom asks. I point at my book and make a thumbs up. Mom frowns. "You won't go because that's a good book?" she questions, trying to process. I nod. She laughs a little disbelievingly. "You are kidding, right? You want to miss out on a rite of passage like prom for a book?" I nod again. She sighs angrily.
"I don't get it Riley. Why can't you even try to be normal? You're always living in books instead of reality. When are you going to come out of your stories, and come back to me?"
I wake up then, rubbing sleep from my eyes. Once again, it would appear I've woken up before the sun. I haven't figured out yet why my internal clock insists on waking me up so early. I blink, yawning as I go through my morning routine again, and I'm asleep before I even remember my dream again. I consider it as I head quietly out of the hall, going over to the slightly ajar door that I found yesterday, heading up to watch the sunrise again. Nemo is there once more, and I feel almost bad for bothering him. I walk silently up to the railing and stare out at the sea.
I remember the prom from the dream. I ended up going after all, in a forest green floral dress. Mom picked me up about an hour and a half after she dropped me off, my dress torn and muddy from falling when some of the others chased me clear through the forest prom was by. She never tried to convince me to go to another dance after that disaster.
I think of her questions. Why wouldn't she want to live? I wonder if she would ever guess that it's not like I don't want to live. I'm just not sure where I want to be at. Maybe I don't even have a real choice. But if I did have a choice, I don't even know what I would choose. My old life, or this new one full of adventure? The family I used to know, or those who I'm meeting now? I have no clue.
I wonder if Mom ever would have guessed just how relevant her question about me coming out of my stories would be about now. I really am living in a story now, at least partially. I still haven't decided if it was more fun to read about the adventures. It certainly was safer.
I wonder what we'll be doing today. Maybe Quatermain has made some kind of progress on figuring out what he thinks the Fantom will be doing. I guess I'll find out later. In the meantime, I don't want to think of what happens next. I just want to think of the peace of the moment, watching the sun slowly come up on a new day.
An hour must have passed before I finally head back down into the Nautilus, trying to see what awaits me now. Luckily enough, I don't run into anyone immediately, and have just enough time to make it into my room before the resident haughty immortal makes his way down the hall. Sitting down on the bed, I almost sit on Skinner's coat, and I remember that I was planning on messing with him today, as I don his jacket, which is just a little too long and put on his hat. I flip up the collar of the jacket, tucking my hair under it and grin at the mirror. Between the hat and the jacket, I look a little like Skinner.
Still smiling, I walk out into the hall, headed towards the dining room. Before I get too far, I successfully run into Skinner, who is wearing a different, lighter color coat and turns to look at me, in his real jacket.
"There's where those went!" Skinner exclaims. "What are you doing with my clothes?"
I pull out the journal. Impersonating you. Look, I'm Skinner! I grin as he reads my handwriting.
Skinner laughs. "You're a little too visible to be me. Can I have them back now?" I grin wider and shake my head. Nope.
"Riley!" he calls, one of his hands trying to take the hat off my head. I duck and laugh just as he tries to get it. Skinner tries again, and I take off running. I can hear him behind me, and I laugh, running harder while he keeps telling me to give him his clothing back. Skinner ends up chasing me halfway around the Nautilus when I finally run into a dead end, and he swipes the hat back, sounding a little out of breath as he puts it back on, then sticks his hand out for the coat. I sigh, making a face then giving it back to him.
"You're a fast runner," he says, buttoning it up. I shrug. Thanks, I write on the wall, not bothering to pull out the journal. What's the point? Skinner nods, but doesn't reply. There's really nothing to say, and so we just head towards the dining hall, grabbing some fruits and munching on them quietly. We're eating out on the deck when Skinner sighs.
"This is nice," he comments. I nod, looking out as the light sparkles on the waves. It's pretty, I write agreeably. I look over at Skinner, and find him staring blankly out at the ocean, as we lean over the railing, some water spraying up onto my face.
There's silence for some time, and then I can hear the soft thumping of boots on the tread leading up to the deck of the Natuilus. Skinner and I have been alone for the last bit of time. Skinner straightens up silently, slowly.
"Well, if you get a chance, you should work on your knife throwing," he suggests suddenly. I nod. I probably will, I write. "Throw from your wrist," he reminds. I nod again.
What are you doing? I ask. Skinner shrugs.
"I'll probably go and annoy our band of freaky darlings a bit," he says. I nod. See you, I write, waving and smiling. Skinner nods, tipping his hat slightly to me then heading back down just as Mina comes up.
I look out calmly at the waves, and Mina walks out beside me, still standing prim and proper, as if any lapse of etiquette would end horrifically. I smile at her, and after a moment, she returns the gesture with a small, stiff smile of her own. It's not much, but it's something. I think about my memories of every good vampyre story I've ever read, and a small part of me wonders why Mina hasn't exploded into flames or something yet. The better part decides not to ask, certain that Mina would tell me if it was my business, which it most certainly is not. However, it does interest me why on earth Mina got interested in chemistry, of all things to do with her immortal life, even back in 1899.
Mrs. Harker? I write, tapping her on the shoulder. She turns to look at me, and raises one eyebrow politely, reading my words. "Yes?" she asks.
How did you end up interested in chemistry? Mina raises her eyebrows again, and something flickers in her eyes for a moment, then disappears as if it were never there. Mina blinks. "There are not enough women in this age who work for themselves. I mean only to bring up the count, and chemistry is a fairly entertaining field to do such in," she replies, her voice prim. I nod understandingly, even though I'm doubtful that she's giving me the whole story.
What kind of stuff do you do? I ask. I was taking a chemistry class when current circumstances placed me here in my new story.
Wait…my new story? I think. When the heck did I decide this was my story, and not some kind of a vacation? My real story is somewhere on the other side of the future, resting at the other end of eternity in a hospital bed. At least, I think that's my real story. Oh, crimeny, who cares? I mutter in my mind, then turn to look at Mina, who looks like she's ready to respond to my question when Nemo comes up behind her and touches her lightly. "Mrs. Harker, could I speak with you?" Mina turns.
"Yes, Nemo?" she asks, her expression betraying no emotion as she goes to talk to the Captain. He glances around distrustfully for a moment, making me wonder why before he starts to talk to Mrs. Harker in a low voice. As he's talking, Quatermain comes up with his gun from below, and I instantly think of Skinner last night, trying to steal Matilda, and have to bite my lip from busting out laughing. Quatermain gives me a strange look, not that that's anything new, and yet I still can't hide my smile. But there are far too many people coming, and my restlessness from this morning has faded, leaving me with an urge to go hunt out Nemo's library and just read until someone finds me and tells me to stop.
So, I head down to the well stocked literary haven of the Nautilus and try to lose myself in a book. Shockingly enough, I succeed. I am dead to the world, and I begin to find myself living in yet another story, burying myself in the peace and quiet of turning pages while the rest of the League lives out their lives.
It's probably well after noon when I emerge from my hiding place and return to actual life aboard the Nautilus. I'm actually headed to see about returning outside, maybe having something from the dining room for lunch when I run across Mina and Quatermain. They're staring down the hall at something, though the identity of that something is beyond me until I creep quietly behind them and Captain Nemo comes into view.
His normal outfit of blue has been replaced with one of white, and he draws a sword out, kneeling down and leaning by it in some kind of ritual. He sits in some kind of a white sanctuary, the only real decoration within being a statue of a goddess that looks vaguely familiar. For the life of me, I can't recall the name of her though. Or maybe it was a him. I don't really remember.
"That's Kali, goddess of Death," I hear Mina whisper. Kali, I think. That's what the name was. "Nemo worships Death. Can we trust him?" I give her a look, even though I know she can't see. This is the same stuff that drove me crazy in my old life- people arguing about religion and worship and if following one god made you any better, worse or more trustworthy than someone following another deity. It was all very confusing to me then, and nothing's changed now.
I listen closely as Quatermain leans slightly towards Mina. "He's not the one I'm worried about," he whispers to her. Then he walks off as Nemo turns around and gazes at Mina from down the hall with dark brown eyes, deep and full of secrets, closing the doors to his sanctuary as he stares down at her in the thundering silence. They close with a soft click, and Mina continues to stare at the doors. I think of Quatermain's comment. He's not the one I'm worried about. I can honestly say for once that I agree with Quatermain, that Nemo has only the best intentions and is not worthy of any kind of distrust. I firmly believe the old captain is a man of his word, and any feelings of dishonesty from him are misconceptions. But then to whom was Quatermain referring? Dr. Jekyll, with his alter ego? Or perhaps Dorian, who to me seems sly and cold and calculating, not at all loyal? Or does he mean Skinner, the invisible thief, purely because he has the best grounds for sneaking about?
I shake my head, then jump as Mina turns around and looks at me. "What were you asking about up on deck earlier this morning, Riley?" she inquires, as if nothing has happened. For the briefest of moments, I admire her for her evident ability to let her mind switch tracks so easily.
I was just wondering what kind of things you do with chemistry. Do you have to make things explode? I write. Mina gives me a sharp look.
"No, I do not make things explode." She spits out the word like it's poison. "I'm actually working on identifying a powder now, if you would like to come and see what I do." I nod cautiously. "Follow me then," she says, briskly walking off and leaving me to follow her.
Eventually, we come to a room, and Mina opens the door, gesturing me inside impatiently. I do as told and gawk in awe at all the lab equipment. It seems that all sizes and shapes of beakers and test tubes are well represented, along with a small case that looks like it has chemicals in it. There's so many, I write. How do you keep track of all this? I ask.
"In my time, I've learned a few tricks for memorizing and organizing, both of which are vital to my pastime as a chemist," she replies. "It becomes easier as you go along."
I nod. So what do you do with all this? With the powder, how do you identify that sort of thing? Mina nods and considers my question for a moment.
"A lot of it is mixing and testing. You see, certain chemicals have certain reactions to different tests, which can identify them. However, quite a few have the same reaction, but the more tests you perform, the more you narrow your search, and the greater chance you stand of identifying your powder," she says, carefully measuring out bits and pieces of various assorted chemicals and mixing them with the mystery powder.
Do you ever get the chemicals confused? I begin to write when a smooth, dark voice speaks from nowhere, causing me to jump and screw up my lettering.
"Mina," Dorian says, leaning in the doorway. He shoots me a look of pure venom.
"Dorian," she replies, her voice betraying nothing. I look between the two of them, remembering what Skinner said about lover's reunions and those two. I blink, then hurriedly scribble something in my journal. I should probably go. Thanks for showing me your chemistry equipment, I write. Mina reads it and nods, and I hurry out of the room before I see more of the 'lover's reunion' than I want to.
Thinking of Skinner makes me realize I haven't seen the invisible thief in a little bit, and on the way out of Mina's room, while considering this, I almost run into Dr. Jekyll. Sorry, I write out. I wasn't looking where I was going. Dr. Jekyll shakes his head.
"That's all right. How is your head?" he asks, gesturing to my wound. I grin. It's doing fine. You did a good job cleaning it. Thank you, I write. Something flashes in his eyes that I can only guess at, something that I'm sure is of the nature that 'I wouldn't have a wound if not for his alter ego'. "Yes, you're welcome," he says absently.
Have you seen Skinner? I question.
"No, I'm afraid I've not seen any sign of the invisible man anywhere recently, though that's hardly uncommon considering his condition," Dr. Jekyll says. I shrug. True enough. Thanks anyway, I write, and then head off on my way to try and find Skinner. No matter who I ask, or where I look, it would seem no one has found hide nor hair of him for a while now.
I'm about to give up my search when I run into Nemo. He's back in his normal clothing, no sign of the somber fare he was wearing for his little ceremony earlier today. I bow slightly to him, and he gives a small smile in return before heading on his way, scarcely stopping to acknowledge my presence. He seems to be in some kind of a hurry. I keep walking until finally, I find Sawyer. I wave at him, grinning.
"Hey Riley," he says. "How are you?"
I'm fine, I write. And you?
I laugh at that. What are you doing though?
Sawyer leans on his gun. "Actually, I'm just headed down for a meeting with Captain Nemo and Quatermain, and whoever else we might be able to find from the League," he says. "You're part of the League. You coming?" I hesitate, thinking of the last time I was in a meeting with Quatermain, then nod. I'm not going to hide from him forever.
As I walk with Sawyer down towards whatever conference room this is going to be in now, we're silent. I don't know what Sawyer's thinking about, but I'm still trying to figure out where in the devil Skinner went. He may be invisible, but so far, he hasn't disappeared quite like this.
When we reach the meeting, Quatermain and Nemo are already there, leaning over the blueprints of Venice.
"So you think that he'd try something like that?" Quatermain asks.
"It would not surprise me," Nemo responds, looking up.
"What'd we miss?" Sawyer questions.
Quatermain straightens. "Nothing much. I was just telling Nemo about what I was thinking the Fantom would do based upon the blueprints."
I nod, and so does Sawyer. "I got it," he says. "What'd you discover, Columbus?" he asks jokingly. Quatermain gives him a confused look, as does Nemo. "Never mind," Sawyer shakes his head. "What'd you find out?"
"Only reassuring that this Fantom would use the path of most destruction in Venice. It's a city built on water, and it has room for plenty of destruction," Quatermain says.
"If he's attacking by sea though, why would he need the blueprints of Venice to figure out the capacity of destruction? I mean, it's hard to miss the canals," Sawyer says.
He'd obviously need to know where to place the bomb. If the Fantom had those plans, imagine the damage he could do, I write just as Quatermain says something similar. Scary...We're thinking on the same wavelength.
"So it's clear," Nemo says. "With da Vinci's blueprints and enough explosives, he could set a bomb that would blow Venice's foundations to rubble."
Sawyer looks horrified. "He's gonna sink the whole city!" he exclaims.
"Yes, and spark off his world war," Quatermain agrees, gesturing to the blueprints.
The voice of Dr. Jekyll pops out of the blue, startling me and causing me to turn around. "I'm afraid that's not the sum of our problems." Quatermain and Nemo look interested, turning to look at the doctor, encouraging him to continue.
"Skinner," he says. "He's taken a vial of my formula."
His words drop like a stone. Did he really just accuse Skinner of stealing his formula? What on Earth could Skinner want with a vial of the formula that created Hyde? Besides, he knew that Jekyll would jump to conclusions if a vial went missing and freak out. He may be an invisible thief, but he's not cruel, and he wouldn't do that to a fellow League member. At least, I don't think he would.
"Are you sure?" Quatermain asks, and I almost smile. Does he really have a sliver of doubt?
"Who else?" Jekyll growls. "You've seen how the sneaky blackguard operates."
My jaw drops in anger. What proof does Jekyll have? There is a long silence that stretches out, in which my doubt in Skinner's guilt only grows. Jekyll has no proof and Skinner has no reason to take the elixir. Something doesn't add up.
"Well, Riley, I guess we know where Skinner is," Sawyer finally says. No, we don't, I write. We have no proof that he is the thief, and even if we did, we still wouldn't know.
"Isn't it obvious where he's at?" Quatermain asks. "The filthy traitor is hiding. He's only brave when people don't know he's double-crossed them." Quatermain's words fill me with an unexplainable anger for some reason, and I turn to glare at him. Before I can even think, I slap him hard in the jaw.
There is a dead silence that screams of exactly what my thoughts are on Skinner. Quatermain looks fit to kill, and more than a little shocked that a mere girl had the impudence to not bow to him, and as I look around, I realize everyone is looking at me like I have eight eyes. Quite frankly, I don't care though. There are a billion things I want to say and can't. Instead, I let the silence say it for me as I turn and run.
I keep running, past Mina and Dorian, past numerous members of Nemo's crew and don't stop until I've reached the training room once more. I stand in the middle and kick the sack of potatoes.
This is wrong. Skinner has been framed. I refuse to believe that the person who took me in from square one, mute and all, and has been nothing but helpful to me is the traitor. Maybe I'm naïve, but I can't bring myself to accept that he would take the time to be kind to me and earn my trust just to stab me in the back, along with the rest of the League.
I don't know what's happened for sure, or what is going on now, but what I do know is this. I will not give up on Skinner until the second I know for certain that he is the traitor, and I don't care if every single member of the League hates me for it. Skinner helped me out when I came into this story suddenly. Now I'm going to return the favour and help him.
Heaven help anyone who tried to change my mind.
Wah wah wah… So there's the end of the chapter. Please, please, please review if you get a chance, I really appreciate it. I hope you're liking the story so far, and I'll try to get more posted soon. Bis dann, Auf Wiedersehen!