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A Close Call
You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil--the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. Ephesians 2:2 NLT
As they went farther from the Palace Leif was again struck by how awful this land was. Only the Source kept Back and Beyond from suffering the same fate. Crowds of people milled around the shops along the road.
"Where do these people come from?" Kamiko asked.
"They are Palace employees. It takes thousands of support staff. That's how these shops stay in business," Leif responded.
They had walked several hours when they decided to stop for the night. They followed their usual routine of finding a restaurant with lousy food and a room with dirty sheets and a stained chair or sofa. Leif dickered with the innkeeper over the price. He didn't like the look of the man, who kept asking questions. Leif answered them vaguely.
"What'cha into?" the innkeeper asked Isabella.
"What?" Isabella asked weakly.
"We have here just about anything you're into," the innkeeper announced. "Maybe a little action that will have you on your way tomorrow with a smile on your face."
"No thanks," Leif replied, roughly pushing past him. "When we find work at the Palaces maybe we can get discounts."
"Yeah, right," the innkeeper answered sarcastically. "Good luck with that." He gave up and led them to their room. "Have a good night," he said, eyeing the two women one last time.
"That guy gives me the creeps,” Isabella remarked. Kamiko agreed.
"Listen!" Leif told them. "You have to remember your part. You must act as though you’ve seen it all and you've done it all. You reacted like a schoolgirl."
"You're right," Kamiko agreed. "We'll do better."
"Okay, Isabella?" Leif asked, turning to her.
Isabella made a mean face and growled. Leif was taken aback. Isabella hadn’t joked with him in a long time. He and Kamiko laughed.
Freed from the pressure they had been under at the Palace made them realize how tired they were. Even in such a poor room they quickly fell asleep, but not before Leif made sure his gun was handy.
With a sense of confusion Leif awoke several hours later in a panic. He sat up in his bed, trying to determine what was happening. He realized it was his Sensing. He was sensing a strong flow from the Source.
"You must leave immediately!"
Leif knew whenever the Source told him something, it was important. He jumped up to wake the women when he heard talking in the lobby. Quietly he crept out of the room and to the entrance to the lobby. Five or six men were talking to the innkeeper: “Which room? How many women? How many men?”
"I think the women are a little too old," the innkeeper said.
"Nah," replied one of the men. "Some of the guests like 'em that way."
"Okay," the innkeeper answered, "but remember I get twenty percent."
Leif knew what was happening. These men were the equivalent of bounty hunters. Evidently the Palace paid for potential pleasure partners to keep up their "inventory," especially females.
Hurrying back to his room, Leif kicked himself.
How could I be so stupid? he fumed.
He realized how few females he had seen on the road. Since they had made no effort to conceal their gender, Isabella and Kamiko must have stood out, despite their age.
Leif quickly woke up the women. They climbed out a window and hid behind some nearby junk. It was just in time. They could hear the men noisily enter their room and shout to each other when they found it empty. They spied the open window and climbed out, guns drawn. As they began searching the area the men froze and looked up. Leif and Isabella and Kamiko also looked up, for there, hovering overhead, were two dark forms gradually coming down next to the men. Vaguely human shaped, they conveyed an overpowering sense of fear and dread. Fear that froze a person in his tracks.
It had to be the Pulsing and Death, Leif thought.
There was no doubt they would kill you without remorse at the slightest provocation. The men certainly thought so. They didn't move an inch. Death spoke. Even though he wasn’t speaking loudly, everyone, including Leif, heard him.
"Who was flowing with the Source?"
One of the men began to talk when a goon squad arrived.
"Save it for the station. You will be interrogated. One of you is a spy."
Leif watched the bounty hunters being loaded into vehicles and driven off. The Pulsing and Death rose into the sky and streaked away. For the first time in a while, Leif drew a deep breath.
"Wow. That was close. I have been stupid, ladies. We must be a lot more cunning."
They spent the next hours cutting Isabella and Kamiko's hair short. Leif bought them caps and baggy men’s clothing.
"Keep the bills pulled down over your face as much as possible. Don't talk unless it is absolutely necessary. These clothes will disguise your figures. Don't make eye contact with anyone. I just hope they don't connect the girl we bribed to this. They may be waiting for us when we find Devan."
Great, he thought. Another thing to worry about.
The mood wasn’t good as they headed down the road to travel as far from the inn as possible. When they finally checked into another inn, they were fairly sure the innkeeper thought he was checking in three men, and unfriendly ones at that. He barely glanced at Isabella and Kamiko.
"That's better," sighed Leif. "But we are now, or soon will be, on their radar after they interrogate those bounty hunters. They will know something is happening that has something to do with the Source."
They won't stop looking until they find us, Leif thought, as he drifted off to sleep.
They made good time traveling the next few days. They knew which Palace cluster Devan was in. They just had to stay on the road until they reached it. Every cluster they came to looked the same. Every shop along the road looked run-down. Occasionally they had to hurry off the road and hide to let a goon squad go past. Fortunately, these squads made enough noise to give plenty of warning of their approach.
They finally reached the Palace where Devan, hopefully, was. They went to the employee quarters and spent a day watching the employees come and go. No Devan.
"This is not good," Kamiko stated. "If he isn't here we might never find him."
"We'll use the same strategy that we did at the other Palace. We will befriend the employees and ask if they know him," Leif replied. "It's riskier but we have no choice."
After mingling in the break area a few days they were ready to ask. On the third try they got a hit.
"Yes, I know Devan Forrester," the employee responded, pointing. "He's over there."
Three sets of eyes followed his point. In the corner of the smoking area sat a small, hunched over figure. The three walked over. They couldn't believe it was Devan, but it was. No wonder they hadn’t recognized him earlier. He had lost an extreme amount of weight, and his eyes were completely lifeless. Isabella and Kamiko started crying and bent down to hug him. Devan weakly tried to fight them off. A look of recognition came over his face.
"Isabella? Kamiko?" he whispered hoarsely. He looked at Leif. "Leif? Is that you?"
"Yes, my friend. And we are here to get you out of here."
Instead of cries of delight, Devan slumped down.
"I'll never get out of here. I'm trapped. There’s no hope for me," he mumbled. "You need to get out before you, too, are trapped here."
They did everything they could to convince Devan to come with them. They reasoned, argued, pleaded and threatened, but to no avail.
"This is useless. We should have known he would resist. When a person has lost hope, they can't see a way out, even if it’s right in front of them," Leif said in frustration.
"Leave him alone!" came a voice behind them. They turned to see who had spoken. It appeared to be a girl but it was hard to tell.
"Who are you?" Isabella asked.
"Please leave him alone. He just wants to rest," she pleaded.
"But we are here to help him," Kamiko answered.
"He's beyond help. Don't you understand? He's dying," the girl exclaimed. Her name was Liesl.
She walked over to Devan, grabbed his shirt with both hands and pulled it up so his torso was exposed. On it could be seen dozens of small cuts and numerous burn marks.
"Oh!" Isabella cried in shock. "He's been tortured!"