“My decision is made. Letting those children leave would be a mistake.”
“They have family out there.”
“Yes, they do, but being family doesn’t mean they have made the right choices. Finding a sanctuary should have been the first thing they did, rather than permit those poor children to see what the world has become. We will protect them.”
Nodding, I raked a hand through my hair. Ever since the dead had started to walk again Father had been a very different man to the one I had known before. That man would never have taken two children from their family, no matter what reasons he had, and in all honesty I could understand why he wanted to protect them. I wanted to protect them too, but how they were protected wasn’t my decision to make.
Knowing it would be impossible for me to convince Father to do the right thing, because he couldn’t see that he wasn’t, I made a decision I couldn’t have imagined myself making. No matter how strange Father got I wanted to be there, as the time would come when his lieutenants would turn on him, and I didn’t want that to happen to him when he was alone. Knowing there were two children he was trying to take from those who loved them had changed everything.
When my eyes met with his I couldn’t help wishing things were different. “Yes, Father.”
“I know none of this has been easy, darling, and I never thought this would be the world you would become a parent in, but we will make it work.”
Finding the right words to use was almost impossible. I wanted him to believe I was still working alongside him, even though I wasn’t, and I wanted him to think I wasn’t going to do anything unusual. “I hope you’re right.” I managed to smile at him. “If we’re to have dinner tonight I should start working on it.”
“Of course.” Father smiled back. “I love you.”
“Love you too.”
Holding back everything I felt I walked away from him, and I had a horrible feeling it was going to be the last time. Fortunately for me everyone else was busy. As I made my way to the room the children were locked in I made it seem like that was where I was supposed to be going. Far sooner than I expected I was unlocking the door, my heart almost in my boots, to find that the boy was holding a weapon in his hands. That made me smile. I stepped into the room, closing the door behind me. His weapon was nothing to me, and I was pretty sure he knew that, but it wasn’t going to stop him from trying to protect his female companion.
“Don’t be afraid of me. I’m not here to do anything to you.”
“We’ve heard that before.” The boy glanced at the girl, and the stories I wished I hadn’t heard come to mind. “Who are you?”
“My name is something I don’t share with everyone. You know the power in a name, which is why you haven’t shared yours either. Luckily for you whoever you’re with taught you well.”
“Keeping my name to myself in the only way I can know that I am safe from those who might use it for the wrong reasons.”
“You want to go back to your people.”
Even though it wasn’t a question the boy nodded. “They will come for us.”
“That’s something I never doubted.” Father believed we would be able to deal with anything that might happen, and refused to listen when I told him otherwise. Instead he listened to those who parroted his words back to him, like the man I was meant to be having children with, in order to start rebuilding society. Like that was even possible with the world the way it was. “I’m here to take you back to them.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Sometimes it’s important to do the right thing, even when someone else believes otherwise.” I studied them. “Are you both skilled with magic?”
The boy shook his head. “I am. I will protect her.”
“You may need to. Getting you out of here shouldn’t be too difficult, as long as no one else comes to check on you. I don’t see why they should, but anything is possible, and I want to be prepared for anything.” I held my hands out to them. “I can make it so we’re invisible, if the two of you trust me enough to touch me. I swear I won’t hurt you.”
As they looked at each other it was easy to see the doubt. I knew I was lucky. Unlike so many other people I had always been somewhere safe, thanks to Father, so I’d never had to deal with half the horrible things I’d heard about. There was no reason for them to trust me. I was someone in a place they’d been taken against their will. All I could do was hope they would give me a chance to prove myself, instead of letting their fear get in the way. Finally, surprising me, the girl took my hand. Not knowing how to use it didn’t mean there wasn’t power within her, and I glanced down into her eyes.
“Has someone offered to teach you?”
She nodded, slowly. “Control is the first, and most important, lesson.”
The boy followed suit, and together the three of us stepped out the room. I pushed the door shut with my power, locking it tightly enough it would take someone else a little while to unlock it, before turning my attention to making sure we were safe from anyone who might be willing to stop us. We made our way quickly through corridors. They seemed to trust me enough to follow me without arguing, and that helped. Had they fought we wouldn’t have been anywhere as near to the door as we were when I heard an alarm start sounding.
“I think that’s going to be for us.” I tightened my hands on theirs. “Okay, we’re close enough to the door that you’ll be able to run for it if something does happen. All you need to do is make it to the end of this corridor and turn left.” The corridor seemed to get longer as we walked, the alarm loud in my ears. “Hopefully no one will head this way, but if they do I want you to promise me you’ll go, and don’t look back.”
“We will.” The girl gently squeezed my hand. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet.”
I moved faster, wanting to be out before anyone realised it was me. Like always things didn’t work out in my favour. His power was touching mine long before I could see him, and I knew he knew what I was doing, because he would be able to feel what I was doing. Nibbling my lip, I tried to work out what my next step needed to be. Father had always made sure I’d been given a lot of freedom, but that would change if he knew I had worked against him. The last thing I wanted was to be trapped in his sanctuary, following the path he’d decided I was going to walk, without caring what it was I might want from life. All he cared about was what he wanted. Before the world had become so dangerous he’d told me to follow my heart, and I still believed that was the most important thing for me to do.
“Stop, Mia. Now.”
That was the last thing I was planning on doing. We kept moving, almost running, realising that I had no options when I got the children out. I was going to have to deal with the repercussions, because I knew I wasn’t going to survive out there alone. Blinking away unwanted, and useless, tears, I focused on where we needed to go, knowing that my life would never be the same again. I would never be the same again. Glancing back, to see how close he truly was, I tried not to let him see how I was feeling. Then again Gareth had never been very good at noticing emotions.
“You don’t want to do this.”
“Wrong. I do want to do this. Father has no right to take children from the people who love them.”
“Love isn’t going to keep them safe. We will.” The spell he cast went right over my head when I ducked. “Please don’t do this. Your father will never forgive you.”
“I don’t care if he forgives me or not. He’s not making the right choices, and you’d agreed with me if you weren’t so determined to take his place.”
“Maybe you wouldn’t agree with me for the right reasons, but you know as well as I do that it won’t be long before someone comes for the two of them, and it’s better that we make the right choices. They had someone. If they had no one I could understand taking them in.” I shook my head. “Instead you went out there, in the middle of the night, and took two children from a camp.”
“The children were in danger out there.”
“Yeah, and so were the people they were with. We don’t give a damn about them, do we?”
“No, of course we don’t.” I made a face, closing in on the left turn. When we reached that I’d make the children run for the door. “Father has his objectives, and nothing I say is going to get him to change his mind, because he believes deeply in the decisions he’s made since the dead rose.”
“We can have this argument later, okay? For now it would be best if your brought the children back here. If we need to give them back then we will, and I promise I won’t tell your father what you did.”
“Out of the goodness of your heart, right?”
“Look, if I really wanted to screw you over I could tell him, but that’s not what I want to do. I can understand why you made this decision. I don’t think it’s the wrong way of doing things. Unfortunately it’s not what I think that matters. It’s what your father thinks. He’s the one in charge.”
Reaching the turn was a relief. I looked down at the two children, knowing what I needed to do next, and they both looked back at me. Letting go of their hands, I nodded. That was enough for them. Both ran for the door, that I unlocked for them, as I turned to look at Gareth, half smiling as I did. He studied me, looking more uncertain than he’d ever done before. Slowly, wondering if I should make a run for it, I stepped back, towards the door, just as it opened. I didn’t think the children could have got there than quickly, and from the look on Gareth’s face something unexpected had happened.
“You’re safe.” The voice, a male voice, was full of relief. “You are safe?”
“We’re safe.” It was the girl who replied. “Thanks to Mia.”
I felt eyes on the back of my head, but I didn’t turn to look at whoever it was. Instead I kept moving backwards, waiting for Gareth to make his next move, which could easily end up being against whoever it was had stepped through the door when I opened it. Maybe I should have done that instead of putting myself in the position I was in, but I hadn’t. I’d gone against everything Father believed in, to do what I thought was right, and Gareth, no matter what he said, was always going to use that to make me do what he wanted me to. Eventually the time would come when he’d tell Father in order to get the thing he’d wanted since he first joined up with us – me. There had been a time when I’d thought I was being big headed to think that was the reason, but the more time I spent around him the more obvious it became.
“Take the children, and go.” Gareth looked at someone behind me. “We don’t want any trouble.”
“People who don’t want trouble don’t go to all the effort of kidnapping children in the middle of the night.” That was a different voice, male again, and I kept stepping towards whoever it was. If I was close enough to the door there was no chance of Gareth stopping me from leaving. “Luckily it seems that one of your people had the sense to do the right thing.”
“Had things been different we would have done what we had to do.” I felt a hand on my shoulder. Obviously I was closed to the door than I thought I was. “I think we’ll be taking Mia with us too, if she wants to come.”
Nodding, before I even thought about what I was saying, I glanced over my shoulder at the owner of the hand. He studied me, and I could tell he wouldn’t have made that offer if I hadn’t done what I did. By choosing to try to help the children I had shown myself to be worthy. Then I turned back to Gareth. He looked at me. It was enough to tell me what would happen if I did make the decision to leave the sanctuary behind. Sighing, telling myself I couldn’t do that to anyone else, I shook my head, feeling the tears welling up in my eyes again.
“Can’t.” I ran my tongue over my dry lips. “They’d never stop coming after me, and that wouldn’t be fair on you.”
When I went to step forward the hand gripped a little tighter, not letting me move. “You helped when you didn’t have to. I think we’d be willing to deal with them in return for what you did.”
“You should come.” The girl spoke. “Don’t trap yourself here for the wrong reasons.”
Gareth’s eyes met with mine. “You’re one of us, Mia, and you always will be. Leave, and your father will make us follow you until we manage to bring you back.”
“I know.” I brushed my hand through my hair, trying to work out what I should do. I wanted to go. I wanted a chance to make my own life, no matter how difficult that was going to be, because if I didn’t I was always going to regret it. “I’m just not willing to stay.”
Saying that was enough. The hand on my shoulder gently tugged me backwards, and I went with him, feeling like I’d made the right choice. We moved past other members of the group, a couple of them smiling at me. My decision to take their children to the door had been the right one, for multiple reasons, and I didn’t have any regrets, even though I could have done. Finally we were outside, and moving towards a vehicle they’d brought with them. That was unusual. I didn’t know of many groups who chose to travel that way any longer, mostly due to the lack of fuel, and I stared at it, remembering a time when I’d had my own car. That time was long gone. The dead rising had put an end to that.