Chapter Fifteen

When Dominic asked if Blythe was feeling alright that day, Zoey was surprised- and also confused. They had passed each other in the hallway earlier, and she had appeared fine at the time. She told him this, and he gave her a confused look.
“That’s strange,” he remarked. “She wasn’t in Biology. Did she have an appointment or something and have to leave school early?”
Zoey wasn’t sure if she did, and told him so, but then added, “If one of her brothers or sisters had one, I can see her leaving school too, to take them to one.” Blythe was a strong mom-friend, always talking about one thing or another her siblings did. She was proud of all of their accomplishments, and often spoke to Skyler about them enthusiastically, as he would be just as proud of them- even without having met them. Atlas seemed to like to hear about her siblings too, but maybe it was because her eyes lit up when she spoke about them. Zoey decided Blythe’s absence must be due to one of these reasons, and brushed it aside, not texting any one about it. Still, it was quite early in the day, and she had to wonder why Blythe had bothered coming to school at all if she was going to leave so early.
When English class rolled around, however, Zoey became more unsettled. Outside the classroom waited Atlas, who looked unperturbed, but seemed to grow more confused as they time went on. Originally, they had been discussing the book they were reading in class, but then he interrupted,
“Where is Blythe?” looking concerned.
This was when Zoey’s stomach dropped. “I assumed she had an appointment or something and left early.” She told him, sounding more like a question. “Dominic mentioned she wasn’t in one of his classes this morning.”
“Not that I know of. I mean, if she did, she would have asked me to take notes for her.”Atlas told her. That was when the bell rang, and they had to file into the classroom. Her other friends seemed a little surprised by Blythe’s absence too, but Atlas looked frantic, texting rapidly under his desk, shooting Zoey and Oscar looks whenever he could, looks that seemed almost frightened. Since normally Atlas was either contented or angry, this was quite alarming. Oscar looked at the plastic chair Atlas was sitting on, and Zoey wondered if he was worried he may melt it. The classroom itself was steadily becoming warmer. He might not be able to affect the sun, but temperature he was all over.
As soon as class was over he was out of his chair like a shot, and dropped his book in the process. Zoey picked it up and shoved it in her book bag, hoping nobody else noticed that the pages were singed, and hoping the teacher wouldn’t notice a missing book at the end of the year. She took off after him, telling her friends she was going to return the book to Atlas, but also just trying to track him down. Oscar had taken off after him as well, and she hoped everything was going to be alright. She received a text from Doug, explaining that nobody knew where Blythe was or that she had gone somewhere. In fact, she had told Calder she would let him borrow her notes in a class they had later, and she had been planning to have lunch with Brinly and never showed up. To state the obvious, this was not good. Piecing together the times they had all planned to meet with her, and when Zoey had seen her last, they decided that she had gone missing after only one or two classes. JARGON was the most likely suspect, as always, and a quick text to one of her oldest siblings proved that she hadn’t been heard from. They began to plan an infiltration. They didn’t know what they were up against, so it was suggested that they all go. Zoey could almost hear the meekness in Rebecca’s text when she asked if she could stay home. Nobody argued with her, having just escaped the place, and Ferris agreed to stay behind with her. Zoey wondered how smoothly this was going to go, and was nearly vibrating in her seat with nervousness by the time the final bell rang.
When she met the group out in the parking lot, she was almost certain this was a bad idea. She was also certain they had to do it. She wasn’t sure how they were going to break in, as they drove there in their respective cars, as before she had only known Ferris to bust down a to create an entrance. She mentioned this to Doug and he said they were probably going to walk right inside, seeing as how they were all together. She continued to feel nervous, as this did nothing to quell her fear.
“It might seem scary, but there are a lot of us, and when we escaped before… it wasn’t like it is now. We have better control of our powers, we’re older. Still, it isn’t a place we’d like to wander around for a long time in. But these little missions… they’re necessary and we can do them. We won’t let anything happen. If she isn’t there, that’s when we will have to re-evaluate our plan.” Doug reassured her, but she still played with a string on her book bag the whole way over.
They parked in a parking lot quite a ways away from the building, understandably, to be able to make a quick escape. Atlas seemed to be as jittery as Zoey was, clenching and unclenching his fists, eager to be at the facility, tearing it apart, probably. They hurried over, trying to look as natural as possible walking through the streets, despite barely speaking to each other, faces more grimaces than fake smiles.
Atlas and Oscar walked through the doors first, and Zoey was nearly shocked to see that the facility appeared quite normal in the first room. It was freely accessible, as they passed through sliding doors, and the room appeared to be a reception area. To one side, there was a comfortable sitting area, complete with a small water cooler, and a variety of magazines left for people to read. In the corner, a small potted tree stood, and there were some more potted plants on the desk of the receptionist. Bright lighting overhead coupled with the smile of the woman working at the desk made Zoey wonder if they had walked into the wrong building. Everyone else seemed to ignore her welcoming smile and head straight for the elevators, to which the smile slipped off her face and she tried to tell them,
“I’m sorry but you can’t just go right up there. Do you have an appointment with someone?”
Atlas shot her a glare that would have made Ferris proud, and she took a step back, hand reaching towards her phone.
“We don’t have an appointment, but I’m sure they’ll be happy to see us again.” Melanie told her in overly chipper tones, before giving a nod to Doug. They were waiting for the elevator, so the receptionist started towards them, but because she had a trendy modern desk shaped like a U, she had to walk around it. At that moment, without moving at all, Doug made all the plants on her desk grow very, very fast. They smashed their pots and sent pieces flying. This was not to injure anyone, but to give them a moment to get in the elevator. The receptionist dashed back to her phone, realizing the gravity of the situation. They were already in the elevator at this time, ascending. After a few moments however, the elevator stopped, power probably having been cut.
“Oh no…” Zoey stammered, not having felt claustrophobic until now, but her palms began to sweat. In the dark, she heard Oscar place his hand on the control panel, with a sigh, the lights flicked back on and they resumed moving.
“It’s like they aren’t even trying.” He told the silent group. They remained quiet for a moment, and then Melanie spoke up, her voice grave.
“Maybe they aren’t.”
Letting that thought sink in, Zoey stared at the buttons glowing under Oscars’ hand. He saw her looking and moved his hand to the side, shooting her a questioning look. It took her a moment, staring at all of them, glowing seeming to grow more intense and threatening.
“The building looks big from the outside, sure. I had no idea it was so big, though. Look at all the floors…” her voice trailed off, and Oscar turned his look to Doug, who started whispering quietly to Zoey.
“Are you going to be okay? It wasn’t that long ago that you we’re captured too, I should have asked sooner.” He whispered, sounding concerned. She shook her head, trying to clear the nervousness from it. It was true she was scared, but she had to be there for Blythe, and she had to be strong for everyone else. Every day, this was going to become easier. It probably wasn’t a good thing that she was considering this a long term situation, but unless they were able to figure out a way to defeat JARGON, it looked that way. She realized she hadn’t spoke to Doug, and he was looking at her even more concerned.
“Oh, sorry! I was just… putting my thoughts together. I hope Blythe is okay, is all.” She finally replied, head feeling clearer. They had made it to the top floor, which sounded strange to Zoey, but Doug explained that they were going to work their way down. The top floor proved to be fruitless, other than the fact that they tipped off the workers to their presence, to which thankfully there were lots of people on their side. Blocking the workers with vines, with small fires, water, or blocks of ice, meant they had to run, but they could move relatively easily through the hallways. Heading down the stairs, they were met with more guards, but Zoey had to admit that it seemed less busy than it had the day she was kidnapped. Melanie’s words from earlier echoed in her mind and she had to shake them off again. At one point, entering the next floor, Oscar mentioned that they should be careful to not get hurt, otherwise, “Skyler will freak out.” Zoey felt like this was directed mostly at Lynda, who was nearly bouncing with excitement, face still concerned, but obviously having a lot of faith in their efforts, cheering whenever Brinly threw up a wall of ice or Atlas started a fire. Rethinking what Oscar had said, Zoey retracted the previous thought in her mind. Skyler would be devastated if anything happened to any of them.
Rounding a corner, they halted, seeing a group of researchers, and Karver standing there, looking passive but pleased.
“So glad you could join us!” Karver jeered, hands moving melodramatically.
The majority of the group looked at him without reaction, until Oscar mentioned, “Oh hello, Karver. Did you miss me?” He took a step forward, as if to try and place himself in front of everyone.
Atlas shuffled, trying to keep calm, but getting agitated at this halt in their search.
Karver’s smile twitched when he saw Oscar, but he quickly plastered it back in place. “I see Ferris and Rebecca aren’t with you. What a shame. I was hoping she could be returned without having to run another errand.” He told them confidently.
“I will tell Ferris you send your regards, but he had better things to do today.” Doug snapped, looking as if he was getting fed up with the situation as well. Brinly could just throw up a wall, but it was different if they were fighting with another change dragon.
Zoey wasn’t sure why he felt so confident, staring at the group of them, but maybe some of the researchers were also change dragons. Not knowing made it hard to know what to expect. She wished she had a weapon of some sort.
“Better things to do? What’s more important than coming to save your friend?” Karver asked in mock surprise, arms folded.
Atlas took off like a shot towards him, snarling. “So she is here!” He roared, flames bursting from his hands. He managed to dodge one water blast by rolling, but that left him open to another that sent him reeling backwards. Suddenly, the water jet was sent in the opposite direction, returning to Karver and soaking him.
“You seem to forget we’re here too.” Remarked Melanie, smirking, taking a step forward.
Karver looked unnerved for a moment, and then sent another shot of water directly at her. She gave him a puzzled look, and without moving, stopped the water in mid-air, smiling again before sending the water back to the group of researchers. Atlas had stood at this point, water steaming off of him as he turned back to Karver. Vines snaked around Karver and the researchers, and Doug shouted,
“Maybe you ought to tell us where Blythe is.”
Karver snapped through the vines, but made no move to attack again.
Brinly, who had been laughing jovially every time she was able to throw up a wall of ice, looked disappointed, as if she had been waiting for her turn, and Oscar put his hand on her shoulder.
Karver paused for a moment, and Atlas moved to lunge at him. He held up his hand, checking his phone. Then he sneered. “Why, she’s in this room here,” He told them, pointing to the door beside him. There was a beat of silence.
“How do we know that isn’t a trap?” Ben asked, breaking the silence and causing everyone to jump a little. Everyone but Atlas, who was staring down Karver intensely.
“You know if anything happens to us, Skyler and Sullivan will tear this place apart, not just looking for us, but also for you.” Lynda added, and Karver broke eye contact, as if this thought troubled him, but again, he painted back on his mask of confidence.
“I wish it were a trap, but you’ll just have to believe me that it’s not. After all, we’re all done here.” He told them, with a bark of laughter. Atlas was like a statue that had just come to life, bolting towards the door with a strangled cry, blasting it open with flames, not even trying the handle. The researchers and Karver started to disperse, but Brinly, laughing, took off after them. They began to run, probably having read her file, and she shouted back that she’d join them in a moment. The others all ran to Blythe, terrified at what they would see. There was a solitary researcher in the room, behind a thick wall of glass, which was probably a smart decision on their part. Blythe was crumpled on the ground, not moving. Atlas had dashed over to her, crying, picking her up, trying to find a pulse. When he did, he cried out in relief, and buried his face into her neck, sobbing.
From behind the glass, the researcher spoke into the microphone, telling them “Yes, she fared surprisingly well in the trials, Karver thought we should mention that we would take the same care with subject Rebecca.” Their voice had no emotion behind it. It was as if they were telling a customer they were out of an item. As if they were informing someone of the benefits of a certain brand of toothpaste. Atlas stopped crying upon hearing this, and everyone had gasped.
“ARE YOU TELLING ME YOU PUT HER THROUGH THAT?” He roared, eyes blazing. He didn’t burst into flames only because he was still holding Blythe, but he looked as if it was very hard not to.
Oscar raised one hand, and the electric panel the researcher was near exploded. The glass shattered from this and the researcher ran away, having thought his shield was impenetrable.
Atlas stood up, and Blythe was completely limp in his arms. He was glancing back and forth, as if he wanted to chase after the researcher, but then back at her.
Brinly returned at this moment, arms covered in a frost, panting. She sobered up the moment she saw Blythe.
“Atlas, we have to get her home right now!” She told him, urgency making her voice tight. She didn’t even wait for him, but took off ahead, shouting at workers to move, and slamming ice down from the sound of it.
This snapped Atlas back into the present, and he began running , everyone else letting him go second and then following behind to make sure he wasn’t stopped for any reason.
Zoey wished she had a weapon again, but not for self-defense this time. She wanted to track down Karver, or whoever made this decision, and break some bones. She didn’t know if she could do that, but she for sure wanted to try. From the look in everyone’s eyes, they felt the same. Zoey worried she might actually be a bit self-centered for now being concerned that the same might happen to her, and that she might not be as lucky as Blythe was, and survive. She didn’t voice these concerns, instead internally chastising herself, remembering what Brie had claimed earlier. Her thoughts were broken when Ben nervously asked,
“Should we mention what Karver said to Rebecca? She might blame herself again. Say it should have been her.” He ducked as Brinly shot spikes of ice over his head, blocking off another door that guards were streaming out of. Melanie shot her a dark look for being so close to hitting Ben, but then turned back to him.
“I think we should, but also remind her that nobody should feel guilty for escaping abuse. I mean, she was kidnapped. There isn’t any way around it.” She paused, gathering her thoughts. “Either of them in this situation is bad. It’s not like it would be better if it was one or the other.”
“We should just focus on getting her out of here, where I can assess her wounds, and see what we can do, really.” Doug interjected, speeding up. Zoey guessed that as the plant dragon, he was their impromptu medic as well. Ferris had asked him before for a plant for some illness or ailment a couple of times before. She hadn’t realized how much this was his job.
Brinly must have decided that leaving through the main entrance was a bad idea, because she dashed down a hallway that ended with a window, called out to Calder, who sped up, and grabbed her hand, as she shattered the glass and changed at the same time. Zoey grabbed onto Doug just as he changed and they all left swiftly. The whole flying aspect was getting to be not as scary. The thing she was the most focused on, was that Ben had to stick with Atlas in order to hold Blythe on. She was still passed out cold, and didn’t look like she would be waking up soon.

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