Automatic weapons in untrained hands have generally terrible accuracy. At a distance of ten feet however, accuracy is not of paramount importance. Since the guards were at most six feet away from them, Connie was reasonably certain she and Anna were effectively sitting ducks. Also, Santiago Martin’s men were far from untrained in handling their weapons, so adding in a few feet by running away had a very low likelihood of helping.
“Are you going to invite us in?” Anna asked, offering the chief of security a predatory grin.
Connie didn’t envy the man. She could feel a hungry chill radiating off Anna that spoke of a predator cloaked in frost and snow. Even before Connie had seen confirmation of magic in the world, she would have known instinctively to be wary of something with that sort of demeanor which turned up at her front door and asked patiently to be invited inside.
“Mr. Martin says you’re supposed to come in,” Hector, the chief of security said. It was supposed to be threatening. Combined with the menace of a deadly weapon in his hands it was supposed to signal to the listener that they were being captured. What it was not supposed to do is place a pleased expression on the listener’s face.
Connie followed Anna inside, neither hiding nor attempting to add to Anna’s menace. Val had a particularly kinetic method of dealing with armed security guards, one which Connie felt comfortable playing along with. Anna’s tactics were different story though and Connie was certain she couldn’t play that game anywhere near well enough to be a help.
“You may go and tell Santiago we’ve arrived,” Anna said. “I’m sure your friends can keep us entertained in the interim.”
Hector started to refuse, but checked himself. Connie guessed he had to report back to Santiago anyways once the she and Anna were apprehended, and so couldn’t defy Anna’s order without also defying Santiago’s wishes. Connie knew bosses who acted like that. If Santiago Martin followed the general inclinations of the breed, he wouldn’t have specified how to handle the guests beyond ‘make sure they’re alone’, and even if he intended to shoot Anna and herself in the lobby, he wouldn’t approve of Hector, or any of his henchmen, acting on their own initiative. When bosses like that wanted something done (or in this case somebody killed), they were very particular about who did the deed and how it was performed.
With a sneer of disapproval, Hector left and Anna turned to the other two security guards.
“Interesting,” was all that she said after looking them up and down.
When she tried to reach into her coat pocket to pull out a cell phone one of the guards stepped forward and poked her in the ribs with the barrel of his rifle.
Anna looked slowly down at the barrel and then back up to meet the man’s eyes.
Whatever the man saw in her eyes made him take a step back which allowed him to fade from Anna’s apparent attention as she turned to check her email.
“Ilyina”, Santiago Martin said, emerging a minute later from a hallway behind his chief of security. “Why are you here?”
“Not even a hello Santiago?” Anna asked. “It’s been close to twenty years now hasn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t remember,” Santiago said, violently chewing on the end of a cigar. “Why are you here?”
“Can’t I be dropping by to visit an old friend?” Anna asked.
“No, you can’t,” Santiago said. “Not today. Why are you here?”
“Ah, the eternal question of life,” Anna said. “Though in this case, it is a bit clearer than in others. You have acquired a new book. And its owner. I want them both.”
Santiago stopped chewing. His men looked at him for some sign of what to do but it took him a good long moment before he was able to sputter anything out.
“How,” Santiago sounded pained when he finally spoke. “How do you know this?”
“Santiago, my friend, when have I ever not known more than you about something secret?” Anna said. “I think the question you should ask is how you thought you were going to keep this hidden from me?”
“Should I kill her?” Hector asked, raising his weapon to aim it at Anna’s head.
“No, don’t be a fool,” Santiago said. “Shooting her is probably just what she wants. Put her in with the other one.”
“Yes, by all means, gather us all in one place,” Anna said said. “You’ll be able to keep a much better eye on us.”
Santiago scowled. He didn’t try to step forward though, or even to the side of his bodyguard’s protective shadow. He didn’t like Anna playing with him, but his fear of her seemed sufficient to keep him from taking risks just for the sake of salvaging a scrap of his pride.
The guards took a moment to process the idea that they were intended to escort Anna and Connie somewhere. Normally that would have been followed up by a bit of bluster and a show of strength but, before they could get to that, Anna began walking in the direction they were supposed to escort her with Connie following close behind. With nothing else to do they settled for falling in step behind her and Connie, though they kept their weapons trained on both of the women.
The guards mumbled to each other, trying to sort out how they weren’t in the lead. Their confusion wasn’t surprising, Anna took a series of turns through the house as though she omnisciently knew where they were taking her before they offered any directions at all. Unlike the guards, Connie knew Anna wasn’t actually omniscient, she was simply well informed by a knowledgeable source and a good understanding of their hosts tendencies.
Once Connie had discovered the address where the book was being held, she and Tam had ‘procured’ the floor plans of the building and Anna had called out the various uses Santiago would be making of the different rooms in the house. There were at least three where he might be hiding the book’s owner, with a possible fourth if he’d remodeled without filing the proper building plans. Knowing Santiago as she did, Anna chose to walk towards the most likely “fourth” room, and from the guard’s response Connie saw that it had been the correct choice.
“Do you think Val’s going to have any problem getting us out?” Connie asked in English as they walked down a hallway with carpeting that cost more than Connie’s yearly salary as a librarian.
“I doubt we’ll be here long enough to trouble her with that,” Anna said, pausing at a blank section of wall and waiting for the guards to catch up.
Connie had to suppress a smile of her own when she saw the look on their faces. The wall was featureless and uninteresting, at least until one of the guards pressed his palm to a panel which lit up and scanned his hand. A moment later a section of the wall slide inwards and pulled to the side.
Beyond the opening lay a room containing only a light bulb, two chairs, and a woman tied to one of the chairs.
Before the guard could order them to “get in there”, Anna and Connie had walked into the small room and Anna had taken the seat opposite the bound and blindfolded woman.
“Hello,” Anna said after the guards closed the door to the room. “You can let go of the ropes whenever you like.”
With a laugh the woman rolled her shoulders and the ropes which had appeared to be tied painfully tight fell away into a clump on the floor.
“You are disturbingly observant,” the woman said as she removed her blindfold.
“And you would be Sarah Friedman unless I’m mistaken?” Anna said.
Connie blinked at that. Her briefing hadn’t been able to turn up anything about who the book owner might be, and there wasn’t anything shockingly unusual about Sarah (assuming Anna was correct) that would make identifying her a trivial task.
“And now you’re just disturbing,” Sarah said. “Which is a good quality for one of Martin’s minions I suppose,” she paused, met Anna’s eyes and added, “but you’re too clever to be working for him aren’t you?”
“You’re quite observant yourself,” Anna said. “Le Li Tam sends her regards.”
“Oh! Tam’s here? That’s wonderful!” Sarah said. “Wait, no, Martin got his hands on Tam? That seems pretty unlikely.”
“It is,” Anna said. “Tam and one of our other associates are still inbound. My name is Anna Ilyina and this is my associate Constance Cruz. We’re affiliated with the Second Chance Club.”
“Ilyina? Interesting. I thought you were still doing development work in impoverished areas?” Sarah said.
“The programs that I setup are still running, but the day to day work is handled by others,” Anna said.
“Now you’ve move to personal rescue work I take it?” Sarah said.
“I’m not sure,” Anna said. “Are you in need of a rescue?”
“Well, I am being held captive and bound in an unknown location, inside a mystically neutral room,” Sarah said.
“Yes, but Tam has mentioned you a few times,” Anna said. “So I must ask again, do you have any need of a rescue?”
“Not really,” Sarah said. “For the moment this room is both convenient and comfortable.”
“How long will it remain so?” Anna asked.
“I would venture to guess about two minutes after sundown,” Sarah said.
“What happens then?” Connie asked, knowing that things tied to the day/night cycle that closely didn’t tend to be overly pleasant.
“Mr Martin is going to receive some visitors,” Sarah said. “I have something which they will be able to trace here, but, as long as I’m inside this room, they will be blind to my presence. Santiago’s presence on the other hand? That will be somewhat more obvious.”
“These visitors, would they be looking for the journal of a 17th century Benedictine monk?” Anna asked.
“Also called “The Golden Record”, yes, that is their quarry,” Sarah said.
“That’s not the title the Index had it under,” Connie said.
“It wasn’t the journal’s original title,” Sarah side. “An aquan scholar in 1850 catalogued it as that after they discovered that it contained a recipe for the Elixir of Life.”
“The Elixir of Life? Are you sure this is the same book as the journal Brother Davos wrote?” Connie asked.
“According to Brother Davos it is,” Sarah said.
“But the Brother Davos we’re looking for never wrote any other books,” Connie said.
“Correct. I didn’t say according to Brother Davos’ writing though,” Sarah said.
“You’ve spoken with the Benedictine personally?” Anna asked.
“He’s the one I’m retrieving the journal for,” Sarah said.
“Then the Elixir works? I thought there were fundamental issues with creating immortality potions?” Anna asked.
“There are, and the recipe in the book isn’t what it claims to be,” Sarah said. “Brother Davos is not immortal, but he is sequestered in a pocket realm which is out of sync with our time. For him the year is still 1683 and it has only been a week since his journal was lost.”
“How does Santiago factor into this?” Connie asked.
“He knows the book is supposed to possess the secret to eternal life,” Sarah said. “He thinks he can make it work because he thinks he knows how to find the original cipher for some of the coded sections in it.”
“He would think this because?” Anna asked.
“Over the centuries the journal has changed hands hundreds of times,” Sarah said. “Brother Davos didn’t put a curse on it, but between the magics he wrote into it and the ceaseless travels he undertook, the book wasn’t well suited to staying put. The most recent possessors tried to fix that by binding it to their minds, which meant it was impractical to reclaim it without their awareness. Santiago Martin didn’t care about that and was more than willing to run through the traps and snares that were laid out guarding the book once he was shown the right bait. That then made it easier to follow along and snatch the Golden Record from his grasp at the last moment.”
“Who were the previous possessors of the book?” Anna asked.
“A sect of Mind Devourers,” Sarah said. “They’re not usually able to enter this plane, except being bound to the book means when its here a part of them is as well, and the rest can follow.”
“Mind Devourers?” Connie asked. “And they’re coming here?”
“They’re already here, in a sense,” Sarah said. “They’re waiting on the psychic plane, clawing at the walls between worlds. At sundown the walls will thin and they will be able to surge through to claim vengeance on those who took what wasn’t the Devourer’s possession in the first place. Not that the distinction matters to them.”
“Why didn’t Santiago take the book from you when he captured you?” Anna asked.
“I don’t have the Golden Record,” Sarah said. From her pocket she drew forth a small mirror. “She does.”
She turned the mirror to face Anna and in its surface Connie saw Sarah’s reflection, which should have been impossible given the angle, holding an ancient tome, which Sarah clearly didn’t possess.