At this rate, my family would be here before I even pinpointed where Troy was keeping Emma and Joseph. Even if that was the case, I didn’t regret my decision to teleport here. I was close, and my body was busy searching, which kept my mind from falling over the ledge of crazy.
An hour passed and, other than a bull moose that wandered by, eyeing me like I was a rabid predator, I hadn’t unearthed so much as one scuffed shoe print. I pressed on, because there were no other options. Failure was never much of an option at any point in my life, now most especially.
Coming around a towering outcropping of rock, something caught my eye. Something metallic caught one of the few rays of sun able to penetrate the thick forest and sparkled like a star in the sky. Jogging to it, I plucked the earring from its perch on a moss covered rock. Emma’s earring.
One of the tiny gold hoops I’d picked out for her the first night she stayed at my house, when sleep was the last thing on my mind.
The preciseness with where it was placed and the angle of its position told me it was left intentionally. Emma knew I’d come for her and she left me a clue. She was here, close, and something about realizing just how close she was, but I still had yet to find a way to her made me nothing short of crazy.
I’d gone through every last inch of forest floor in the surrounding area and there was nothing to indicate human sized beings could escape into it. I was missing something, wasting precious time.
Smashing my fist into the rock wall, I stumbled forward, barely catching myself.
The rock wall was made of nothing more solid than a loosely tied together bunch of dark colored twigs and sticks covered by moss. Pulling my fist free of where it had slipped through two branches, I ripped the makeshift door aside and there it was. The doorway I’d been searching for. A whole two feet away from where Emma had dropped her earring.
It was as dark as black could be inside, and the air smelt stale and earthy. Stepping inside, I positioned the door so it was halfway open so whenever the rest of the Haywards made their appearance, they wouldn’t have to waste an hour trying to find us.
As expected, a trail carved down into the earth, although trail was a generous word for it. The impediments, tight spaces, and pitch black were enough to deter all beings of a Mortal origin and most beings of an Immortal. Had I not known my girl was down here in this twisting maze of rock, I wouldn’t have stepped two feet inside.
After I’d snaked my way through about a quarter mile of rock, light began to slowly illume the area. I still had yet to see or hear another soul, but I knew I was getting close. I forced myself to be deliberate with each step, ensuring I wouldn’t make even a whisper of noise.
The element of surprise was critical to this mission being successful. I didn’t have manpower and I didn’t have my sidekick, who was a nuclear bomb at the lightest of touches, so surprise was essential. If anyone on Troy’s side saw me before I knew where Emma and Joseph were, I was up a creek.
At last, the trail that could barely fit one man across widened into a cavernous room. Man sized stalagmites and stalactites decorated the vast space, illuminated by handfuls of lights running off the generators I heard humming in the distance. There was a small underground lake, nearly jade from whatever minerals hid inside it. This was another world, hidden below a place that was another world in and of itself. No wonder Paul and Hector came up empty tracking Troy down. How did you find a place that wasn’t on the map?
Taking a survey of the room revealed it was empty. There were several other dark tunnels across from me. I had no idea what or who I’d find in any one of them, but decided to go with instinct when it came to selecting one. I’d go for the middle one because it was the most obvious place. Troy would assume I’d know this and select the one to the right or the left to search first, so if the dumbass I assumed Troy was had considered what a dumbass I was in his eyes, Emma and Joseph were somewhere down that middle tunnel.
Not chancing being seen, I teleported from the mouth of my tunnel to the mouth of the center one across the room. It was almost as dark as the one I’d just come from, but it was about ten times wider. I know it was a moot point, but I felt like I could breathe again.
Moving as fast as I could without making a noise, I hurried down the tunnel, wondering when and if it would ever end. The heavy air clung to me, making my clothes stick to my clammy skin.
Another beam of light appeared farther down the tunnel. It grew brighter the closer I got. As I moved closer, I could see it was a flood light situated up on a tripod, shining down on something tucked inside a small alcove in the tunnel. I squinted, not because I needed to see better, but because I didn’t want to believe what I saw was real.
The flood light glared down at something. Something set up on display by sick people.
That something was my little brother.
“Joseph,” I hissed, rushing to him. He was bound to a steel post, his ankles and wrists tied to it so tightly with hell wire his hands and feet were five shades whiter than the rest of his coppery skin.
Everything except for his board shorts had been stripped from his body, that was the first thing I noticed, but then the lacerations and bruising smattering Joseph’s body didn’t only catch my attention, they held all of my attention.
“Brother,” I breathed, choking on the word when his Joseph smile formed, falling short thanks to the busted open lower lip and both of eyes being swollen shut. Whatever Troy and his men did to Joseph was just short of nearly killing him. Immortals as ancient as we were didn’t bruise or cut without considerable force. “What happened?”
“I reckon I’m finally as good looking as you now,” he answered, his words coming slow and strained. “I suppose I have Troy and his guys to thank.”
Lunging behind him, I grabbed the hell wire binding his wrists, giving it a tug.
“Ahh!” I roared, the wire feeling like it was slicing through the tips of my fingers. “Damn it, Joseph.
I can’t get it off.”
“And darn it if I didn’t just take my trusty clippers I carry with me everywhere out of my pockets yesterday,” he replied, his chest heaving as he said the words. I’d never seen my brother this broken, not even as I watched him die. Seeing him now, broken, beaten, and barely holding on, I knew I preferred watching him curled on the earth, grabbing at a bullet wound in his stomach. This kind of suffering wouldn’t come to an end.
I gave the hell wire another tug, because I’d never been a quick learner and when my family was involved, I’d never give up. I was ready for the pain this time, so I held the scream in.
“Patrick,” Joseph said, looking back at me. “Stop. You can’t help me. If they wanted me dead, they would have finished the job. This is just a trap. I’m the trap,” he said, his voice breaking.
I started seeing red. Messing with my brothers was one of my seven deadly sins, so whoever had done the messing was dead. Especially when they’d chosen the youngest, best of us Hayward.
“You need to find Emma. She’s down here somewhere. I don’t know what they’re doing, but I’ve heard her screams.” He paused as red bled into the rest of my vision. “Find her, Patrick. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to protect her,” he said, his head hanging, from the pain or guilt I wasn’t sure. “I’m sorry I failed you.”
Knowing I could do nothing for Joseph until I could free him of his restraints, I stepped around in front of him. I had to swallow before I could say what I needed to. “You’ve never failed me, brother,” I said, grabbing his shoulders and ducking to meet his eyes. “And you never could, Joseph.” He gave a small nod of acknowledgement. “Please tell me Cora isn’t on her way here.”
“I’ve got at least a few hours head start on all of them. By the time they finally make it, I’ll have every last one of these bastards ten feet under.”
“I think six feet is the agreed upon depth for burial,” he replied, rolling his shoulders back, trying to relax against the pole.
“Better to be safe than sorry. I’d rather have an extra four feet of earth working to rot their corpses into worm food.”
I knew walking away from him like this would be one of the hardest things I’d have to do, but I couldn’t do anything for him right now. I prayed I wouldn’t find myself just as helpless when I found Emma.
“Go,” Joseph said, nodding his head down the hall. “Go get her, Patrick.” The ball in my throat made it hell to get any words out. “Joseph, you know I—”
“I love you, too,” he interrupted. “Now go kick a little Inheritor ass for the rest of us.”
“I’ll find Emma, and then I’m coming back for you, and we’re all getting the hell out of here,” I said, biting the side of my cheek because I was about to turn my back and run away from my brother when he looked close to dying for the second time.
I made it quick, giving him a raw smile before I rushed down the tunnel, feeling everything blur around me as I couldn’t seem to get to Emma fast enough now that I knew for certain she was down here.
The vast room was still empty and too silent. They knew I was here; they knew what I was doing.
Maybe this all was a trap, but I didn’t care. They had my brother and they had my girl. I’d run into that trap every time.
Choosing the next tunnel over, I teleported to the mouth of it and started charging down the hall. This hall was dark, dank, and everything you’d expect a naturally made tunnel a couple dozen feet beneath the surface of the earth to be like. It made me feel a little claustrophobic, like the walls were coming closer together with each lunge forward. It made me want to turn around and forget I’d ever been in such a place.
But this was also the tunnel Emma was in. I could feel it deep inside the marrow of my bones. So, instead of turning around, I sped up, wondering how deep into the earth I’d get before I found her.
Another mile had ticked off when the tunnel started to widen, opening into another room that was dotted with lights powered by the humming generators. I ran faster because, in the center of that room, illuminated by the harsh lights stationed around the room, was Emma. Tied up to the same kind of metal pole sticking out of the ground Joseph was, gagged, and blindfolded.
I couldn’t see a mark on her, nothing that would give away Troy and his band of ruffians had treated her harshly. It took a solid month before the last remnants of the physical damage Ty had done to her had faded away, and if Troy did anything to her to bring those bruises back to the surface, I feared what I would do.
I wouldn’t have put it past myself to hunt down every last Inheritor associated in any way, shape, or form with Troy and kill every one of them.
Bursting ahead, Emma’s head snapped to attention, like she’d just woken from a bad dream. She couldn’t see me because of the blindfold, she couldn’t hear me because I sprinted for her noiselessly, but she knew I was here. The lines etched into her face flattened for one moment of relief before they reformed, lining deeper than before.
Twisting against her restraints, trying to squirm free, her mouth moved against her gag. No noise came out other than a muffled grunt. I didn’t slow, I couldn’t. I was so close to her finally, nothing could stop me. Not even her head thrashing from side to side in warning, as two tears leaked down her cheeks.