When the Dreadniks and the Adreynac sisters arrived at the Caprice Motel, they were met by its owner, Madelyne Caprice; a woman of about fifty or so, with faded red hair and a pale, slightly wrinkled, face.
“It’s good to see you again, Rinnie,” she said, giving Rynza and Carissa warm hugs, “Rissa.”
“It’s been too long, Maddy.” Rynza said.
“Funny, I thought about calling you last night.” Madelyne said.
“Oh, nothing really; it’s not important.” Madelyne said, “Just me being silly.”
“I’ll be leaving now!” Clyde called out to Rynza, once everyone was off of his pick-up.
“Oh, okay, thank you!” Rynza called back, “Send my love to your sister for me!”
“I will!” he replied. He waved, got in his truck, and drove away.
“Anyway, sorry to intrude on you like this,” Rynza said, turning back to Madelyne, “But we need a place to lie low for a little while.”
“How many rooms will you need?”
“Just one,” Rynza said, “I don’t wish to presume on our friendship more than I have to.”
“Oh, presume away,” Madelyne retorted, “I have the rooms for it; we’ve had a lot of sudden departures this morning.”
“Well, one for now, will do.” Rynza said.
“Suit yourself. So, who are your young friends here?”
“Well…the less you know about them, the better.” Rynza replied.
The Caprice Motel was a long connected line of short, squat rooms laid out in a squared U-shape, with a modest pool and a swing set taking up the center, between the two lines of rooms facing each other. The whole set-up was painted a faded pink, for reasons known only to its owner.
The room Madelyne gave them consisted of two beds, a television, a small dining table, and a bathroom.
“Keep an eye out for our guest.” Bear said to Woodrow and Spencer, who were manning the heavily curtained window next to the dining table.
Bear turned to Rynza and Carissa. “If I’m wrong, and this does turn out to be a frain trap…” she said.
“I’ll be too cumbersome for a quick get-away.” Rynza said.
“WE’LL be too cumbersome.” Carissa corrected.
Bear nodded grimly.
“We understand,” Rynza said, “For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is a frain trap.”
“Neither do I.” Bear replied.
“But I do feel some roiling in the psychic stream,” Rynza continued, “Something feels wrong around here; and my spirits haven’t returned since Longstreet’s visit scared them off.”
“You are not gonna believe this!” Spencer exhorted from his post at the window.
“I don’t shigging believe it!” Woodrow added.
“What is it?!” Bear asked.
“It’s Rak!” said Spencer.
Bear and Kevin rushed over to the window.
There was Rak, shambling like a drunkard by the rooms on the other side of the swimming pool.
“Go get him boys.” Bear said, “Quick and quiet.”
Spencer and Kevin zipped nimbly around the dining table and dashed out the door. When Rak looked up and saw them running toward him, the relief and gratitude on his face was palpable.
Spencer and Kevin picked him up between them, and half-carried half-dragged him back to the room.
Woodrow opened the door for them, and closed and locked it once they were inside.
They sat Rak down on one of the chairs from the dining table.
“Go watch the window.” Bear said to Kevin.
The rest huddled around Rak. His deathly pallor and dark hollow eyes chilled them all to the bone.
He held his sides and wept. “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…” he moaned, “I betrayed the group. I betrayed you all. But I couldn’t help it!”
“We know.” Rynza said, in a kind voice, “It wasn’t your fault. But how did you escape? How did you break out of his control?”
Bear was more to the point. “Where is Longstreet now?”
“He’s deep asleep,” Rak said, “I injected him with a large dose of Tullaxiffan. He’ll sleep till tomorrow.”
“But where is he?” Bear insisted, “Is he here?”
Rak seemed to fight for words; then exhaled, defeated. “It won’t let me say.” Rak said, “It won’t let me betray him.”
“What won’t?” Spencer asked.
“His BLOOD.” Rak answered, “I was able to break its control, but it’s still there, trying to wear me down. It won’t stop until I’m too tired or weak to fight it anymore. If it takes me again it’ll be the end of me.”
“It won’t come to that.” Bear promised, “We’re gonna get you to a Ma’jai who can help you; but we gotta free the others first.”
Rak wiped his eyes. “For them, I’ll hold out as long as I have to.”
Bear patted his shoulder, “Now that’s the Rak I know.”
“HEY, she’s here!” Kevin shouted, “The frain woman is here.”
“Is she alone?” Bear asked.
“Alright, go meet her and bring her here.” Bear said, “Carissa, help Rak over to the restroom. Keep him company there while we hash this out. Rynza, you’re with me. The rest of you just sit on the beds there and let me and Rynza do the talking.”
Everyone moved and did as ordered. Bear sat herself down at the dining table, and left the remaining chair empty for their guest. Rynza wheeled herself next to Bear.
The door opened, and Kevin and the woman entered. Kevin joined Spencer and Woodrow, while the woman sat at the chair clearly meant for her.
“My name is Siana Nandehl.” she said.
“I’m Bear.” Bear said.
“I assume you’re the one I spoke with on the phone.”
Siana continued: “As you’ve probably already guessed, I’m involved with the frain.”
“Involved?” Bear asked; her voice and expression innocent, but the effect, sardonic.
“Well, I am a frain. A Raishera, in fact.”
“Well, well, a Raishera!” Bear said, “How fancy!”
“It’s not as impressive as it sounds,” Siana said, “There are many Raisheras of varying importance and power.”
“And why be a mere Raishera, one among many, when you can be the sole Crellat, right?” Bear asked.
Damn, she’s quick, Siana thought.
“And what better way to undercut the current Crellat,” Bear continued, “Than by robbing him of his victory.”
“And here I thought Miss Adreynac was the psychic.” Siana said, “You are correct. Crellat Mallacharr is indeed standing in my way. I believe you know him already.”
“We do.” Bear said with distaste.
“Did you know also that Mallacharr was a hairsbreadth away from getting booted out of the Crellacy, when he caught your friends?”
“We know a lot more than you think we do.” Rynza said.
“Ah yes, the psychic,” Siana said, “The point is, Mallacharr used your friends to get back into the Vignach’s good graces…”
“And now you want US to help you do the opposite.” Bear said.
“Correct. The Vignach will drop Mallacharr like a bad habit for a good enough reason.”
“Why didn’t you just try catching us yourself?” Bear asked, “We told you where we were going to be. You could have set us up.”
“Is that what you suspected this was? A set-up?”
“I would have been a fool not to consider the possibility.” Bear replied.
“And yet you rolled the dice.”
“I don’t play dice with my friend’s lives; it was a risk, yes, but a calculated one.” Bear said, “Now answer the question.”
“Yes, I did consider catching you all myself.” Siana admitted, “But it wouldn’t have worked. Because of the frain power structure, Mallacharr could simply have taken credit for it.”
“How do we know you won’t come after us after you become Crellat?” Bear asked, “Assuming we succeed.”
“Oh, I probably will.” Siana replied, “But you will have gotten your friends back on the playing field. I think that’s as fair an exchange as you’re likely to get in this world.”
“I assume you have a plan?”
“I do. I also have access to parts of the Judicial Complex. I called in a lot of favors to get your friends at the lower end of the docket.”
“Alright then,” Bear said, “We’re in.”
“Good. Now, there are some things we’re going to have to acquire, to pull this off.” Siana said, “And we’re going to need an extra vehicle.”
Rynza dug into her pocket and took out a set of keys; they were the keys to the Longstreet’s station wagon.
“Do you have any pull at the impound yard?” she asked.
In his office, Crellat Mallacharr assessed the facts.
Longstreet’s tip was a bust. Mallacharr had suspected as much. No matter, he was glad to have Longstreet out of his hair; the man was a ghoul. Mallacharr hadn’t felt right since meeting him; like the color of the world was slowly draining away.
As for Siana Nandehl, she was missing in action, and Mallacharr was beginning to worry. Nandehl was not the type of person to curl up and wither away upon defeat. She was probably out there right now, plotting.
Oh, to take a bat to that woman’s head, Mallacharr thought to himself.
He sat back, put his feet up on his desk, and allowed himself the pleasure of that reverie.
In the large holding cell of the Judicial Complex, Jon, Dom, Peggy, and Wes, along with other teenage offenders, sat and waited.
The four found an empty spot on the long sitting bench against the wall, and sat together as a group.
A tall skinny Sardossian kid slid over to Jon. “Hey, do you guys know what judge is presiding over the juvenile cases today?” he asked.
“I heard a guard mention a Judge Hopper.” Jon answered.
“Judge Cobb Hopper?” the kid asked, “Oh man, we’re all screwed.”
“What---do you know him?” Peggy asked.
“No, but I’ve heard he’s a mean old bastard. I hear he’s been known to send sixteen and seventeen year olds straight to Rolom, instead of Ragginarck.”
“Really? That can’t be right.” Peggy said.
“Probably just a rumor.” Dom said.
“Well that’s what I heard.” the Sardossian kid said. He left them to spread the bad news around to the others there.
“What if he’s right?” Peggy asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Jon said, “Because we’re not going to either Rolom or Ragginarck.”
“How can you be so sure?” Wes asked.
“Because I know us,” Jon replied, “And I know Bear.”