Post 21: “I’m… stuck,” he sighed, “under the table.”

Ilya reached her second turn. Third door on the left… she could see it from here through another emergency light.  She squinted, her eyes finally having adjusted to the darkness.  Despite her caution,her steps quickened and Ilya practically slid into the open doorway.

“Alberich?”

The room seemed to just fit around the large man as he sat wedged between the wall and a small table.  He was hunched over and appeared to be asleep.

“Alberich!”

“Ilya?”  Cael’s voice came to her muffled.  She peered into the room.

“Cael?  Where are you?”

“I’m… stuck,” he sighed, “under the table.”

She crouched down and ducked her head near the seat across from Alberich.  She saw the top of Cael’s head as he tried to twist to see around his own shoulders.  She reached over and rustled his hair.

“He Bhaga!  I’ve come to rescue you after all.” She tried to laugh, but the relief left a tremble in her voice.

“Yes, well…You wouldn’t happen to have something to release these straps, would you?”

She reached down and pulled at the restraints around his wrists.

“Ouch!  Yes, I’ve tried that.”

“I don’t have anything.  What do I do?”

“I, um.  Hmm….  Well….”

There was a quiet rumble of voices building in the distance.  They must be gathered somewhere close by.  Ilya sat back on her heals and counted her breaths again.  In… one… two… three….  She couldn’t make out which language it was; too many voices speaking at once and too many walls muffling the consonants.

“I’ll… I’ll go find something.”

“Ilya?  Are you okay?”  He tried to turn his head but still couldn’t look directly at her.  “Talk to me.  Can you do this?”

Out… one… two…  “There’s no other choice.”  Her joints felt rubbery as she pushed herself up.

The light pouring through the doorway bloomed and wavered and Ilya realized she had started crying.  Irritated with herself, she rubbed her eyes with the collar of her jacket before peeking into the hallway.  There was a flicker of light at the end of the hallway to her left.    Something about it seemed off, though.  It was a cooler hue than the emergency lights, and seemed to be shining sideways though another doorway.  She glanced to the nearest door to her right and backed toward it as she kept a wary eye on the suspicious light in the distance.

Was that light moving?  Ilya rubbed her eyes again and squinted.  Through the emergency light she could see the colder beam in the distance skew and shine at multiple angels.  She just recognized the flickering as silhouettes passing through each other’s lamp lights when she reached the next doorway.  Ilya dove into the dark room.

“Bhaga!”

It was another interrogation room, empty this time.  Ilya listened to the approaching voices.  They slurred and hissed at each other.  Not the voices of authority she was hoping for.  Her ears began to ring as she gasped for breath.

He Bhaga, woman, BREATHE!  IN… ONE… TWO… THREE….

She was going to have to try for another room.  Her coat was dark, maybe they were still far enough away, they wouldn’t see her if she moved quickly. Ilya leaned against the doorway and peaked just long enough to see they were closing in.  They didn’t seem to be in a hurry, though, popping in and out of doorways as they passed.  That was both very good and very bad.  They weren’t just going to pass her by this time.  It was hard to tell how many of them there were as the shadowy figures jumped in and out of the roaming lamp lights, but they were definitely men.

Out… one… two… three….  She was definitely feeling faint.  What was she going to do?  She had to find something before those men found Cael and Alberich.

She was struck with an idea.  “Sieffre?”  She breathed.  “Sieffre, can you hear me in here?”

“Psst.”

The sound came from the dark kampdator attached to the table.  She tiptoed over and sat down.

“Sieffre, I need you to lock Cael and Alberich in.”

“Oh, of course.”  He whispered.  She could hear a faint thud and click from the hall.

Ilya let out a shaky sigh of relief.

“Ilya, those gentlemen are getting close, yes?  You shouldn’t stay here too long.”

“I know, I know, but Cael and Alberich can’t move.  I need something to cut their restraints.  See anything anywhere?”

“Oh, yes, let me look around.”

Ilya was staring at the dead kampdator when it popped on with an intense brightness and blinded her.  She stifled a yelp and slapped her hands over her face again.

“Oops!  Sorry.  I keep forgetting these models only have one brightness setting.”

“The door.”

“No worries,” he whispered.  “I already closed it.”

Ilya could hear the inner hum of the kampdator struggle as the light dimmed between the cracks of her fingers.  She ventured a peak with one eye, yet again, to see the wavering head and shoulders of Sieffre.

“I may have found something for you.”  His cheerful face was replaced with the rudimentary floor plans once again.  “If you go farther down the hall, you’ll find a set of double doors on your right.  These lead to the locker rooms.  You should find something in there.”

“You’re saying I should go TOWARD those men?”

“Yes, if you move quickly….”

“Do you think we could just wait behind the locked doors for them to pass?”

“I wouldn’t suggest it.  I’ve been watching this lot, and one of them was able to… acquire a set of manual keys for all of the doors.  They have been very… thorough.”

“Why?  What are they looking for?”

“You don’t want to know.”

Ilya swallowed and heard an involuntary whimper in her throat.

“I can’t do this.”

“You can do this.”

“I can’t!  I can’t do this!”  Her panicked whispers devolved into breathless squeaks.

Sieffre flipped back onto the kampdator before her, his face full of concern and empathy as he looked at her.  She got an odd feeling as their eyes connected for a moment.  It was as if he was really there,  seeing her through the skrina instead of looking through the camera.

“I will be with you.  Every step of the way, I will be there with you.”

Ilya dropped her head to the table and let out a tortured moan.  Sieffre let her take a moment to sit up and rub her eyes again.  She took a deep breath and nodded.

“I can do this.”

Sieffre broke into wide grin.

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Post 20: “In… one… two… three… Out… one… two… three….”

Ilya suddenly found it difficult to breathe.  “I… I don’t know.  I don’t know if I can go out there on my own.”

Sieffre shook his head.  “You must.  Sorry!  There is no one else.”

Another few pops, closer this time, and Ilya started to shake.

“You don’t understand.  I… don’t do well under stress.”  She started taking shallow gasps.  “I’ll be as good as Mari, soon.”

Sieffre took in a breath as he thought.  “Well, then you’ll just have to calm down.”

She looked at him incredulously from behind the palm of her hand.

“You can do it, Ilya.  I know you can.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“You have no other choice.  Now, you are aware you have this problem, so what do you normally do when you get stressed.”

“I, um… I…”

He nodded helpfully, “Before you pass out, please.”

She gasped, “deep breaths!  Long, deep breaths….”

“Okay!  Do it.  Get going.”

“Count.”

“Pardon?”

“I,” gasp, “need you to count for me.  Four seconds,” gasp, “in, four out.”

“In… one… two… three… Out… one… two… three….”

There was screaming; a man screaming in terror running through the halls, getting closer.

“In… one… two…”  The screaming cut off abruptly as another shot rang out, loud enough to make Ilya jump, “three… Keep breathing, they’re still nowhere near you.  Say it with me, Ilya.  Out… one…”

“Out… one… two…” her voice shook but Sieffre’s calm demeanor was having its effect.  After a few more repetitions, Ilya’s breathing was relatively under control again.

“You see, I was right!  You can do this.”  She didn’t respond, still counting the seconds to herself.  “Now, you won’t see me out there, but I’ll be with you every step of the way.  If anyone gets near you, I’ll give you a warning.”

Out…“How?” Two… three…

“I control the light, remember?  I’ll blink them out twice like that.”

He pointed behind her and she turned around to see the door slide open and the dim hallway quickly fade out and in twice.

“And if you are in real trouble I’ll turn them on all the way for a few seconds to blind everyone.  Be sure to keep your eyes closed.”

Ilya watched as his attention seemed to turn inward for a moment before focusing back on her.

“You really should get moving.”

In… one… two… three…

“Okay… okay.  Okay, I’m going.”

Ilya turned away from the skrina and squinted into the dimly lit room.  A giant rectangular blotch made it impossible to walk through the room and she walked into another desk before she realized she could switch the hand she was still using to cover half her face.  Suddenly the room seemed to be awash in light from the skrina behind her.  The hallway before her was practically glowing.

“Remember, through the intersection, second right, third door on the left.”

Ilya peeked into the hallway with her good eye.  Beyond the light shining over the door of the women’s holding cell she could see the intersection was still empty.  Glancing down the hall behind her, Ilya quickly tiptoed to the cell’s doorway.

Mari had slumped completely to the floor and was half hidden by the bench.  She let out a low moan, and Ilya hesitated.  If Mari was waking up, she should probably stay.

She could hear Sieffre from the room behind her, “There’s no time, Ilya.  Go, I’ll lock her in.”

Ilya looked down the long hallway and back to Mari.  In… one… two… three…

She pushed away from the door and rushed to the intersection.  Its emergency light was already on its second fadeout before she realized Sieffre was warning you about danger.  She heard boots and bare feet pounding in the other hallway; their shouts had more of a celebratory feel to them.  Ilya slid to the floor and quickly scooted against the nearest wall, unsure of which direction the danger was coming from.  Thankfully, the intersection was plunged into darkness just as several men ran by one practically skipping along, slapping the walls and ceiling as he brought up the rear.  All of this Ilya pictured in the darkness as she hugged her coat around her with her eyes tightly shut.

Out… one… two… three.

She peaked with her good eye to see that the light was back on and quickly switched to the bad eye.  In… one… two… three.  She pushed her way up the wall and held her breath as she darted to the hall on the other side of the light.  Out… one… two… three.  Ilya felt safer as soon as she was safely in the shadows again.

She switched to her good eye again.  In… one… two… three…