The song I had for this chapter! It has lyrics however, which can be distracting when you’re reading
No one’s POV
Nikolas woke up abruptly, with a clear, blurred, sharp mind.
He looked around a little confused before he remembered he’d probably been drugged again.
I mean obviously, why else would he wake up? He hasn’t fallen asleep on his own at all so far.
He checked his arm but found no fresh puncture wounds this time. They might’ve started to do different tests. Nikolas hadn’t really kept track so far, but he was wondering if he should. If he was going to be here for a while he might as well.
There already seemed to be a tendency. Mornings and evenings they’d take him for a blood test. Middle of the day was reserved for tests with that god awful machine. It was time anyway that Nikolas stopped brewing in his own fate and that he started to actually try and understand what was happening – and why.
He was feeling a lot more motivated. Staying in his depressed state just had no attraction now.
With an oddly timed cue the door to his room opened, bringing in an unusual visitor.
Salandra Grace stood in the doorway, casting a skeptical stare down at Nikolas.
The latter scrambled to his feet, his mouth slightly open in surprise. “You managed to escape?” He asked as she looked back in the corridor.
“Obviously.” She replied simply, her voice revealing nothing.
It was her right? He didn’t know why the question had arose, but it definitely wasn’t Gloria.
Sal took small measured strides towards Nikolas, who wasn’t sure where to stand as she walked towards him. He’d never gotten an answer.
His question had been met with silence and he hadn’t dared to ask it again.
Can you forgive me?
Salandra reached his window, her skeptical gaze constant and unrevealing. It struck him as she reached his window, that she probably didn’t believe him.
“It’s weird.” She said. Nikolas smirked ready to tell her it wasn’t weird at all, when she elaborated. “I woke up and all the doors in my room were open.”
That wasn’t what he thought she was talking about. “True, that is odd.” He said, internally shaking his head. “Maybe there was a malfunction?”
Salandra considered it before shrugging. “Ah well, I’m out! Have fun.” She sung, before marching out of the room and shutting the door.
Nikolas stared mildly amused, only half processing what had happened. It was strange actually. If she’d gotten a malfunction, why hadn’t he?
The door swung open again. “So that’s pretty much what happened when you got out right? How does it feel?”
Nikolas couldn’t help himself, he burst out laughing. “To be fair, I did turn back to come free you, but I got caught.”
Salandra flipped open the lock on his cell. “A suitable ending.”
“I learned my lesson.” He said with a smirk and soft eyes, eyes that seemed to be searching hers for something.
An action that unsettled Salandra. Her skeptical gaze came back, along with an unwelcome flush in her cheeks.
“Well, now you’re free as well. If you attempted an escape before, I’m assuming you had a plan.” She said, turning her back to him.
Nikolas exited and called his rings back to his hands with ease. “I know the layout and the best escape route.” He declared as Salandra jumped into the corridor, checking for guards. “Though some help could be useful.” He added to himself.
He called Ashlynn through astral, but not only did he receive no reply, but astral seemed a little…odd? Unresponsive?
Niko looked up to see Salandra staring at him. He jogged out into the corridor along with her.
“Sorry, sorry, I’m coming.”
“I didn’t say anything. If you want to stay here I won’t judge.” She teased, falling in step with Niko. As naturally as when she’d catch up to him in the school corridors.
“I did consider it, but you’ll need my help to get out. I’m the one with the layout.” He replied, tapping his temple.
“Oh, you think I need your help?” She threw him a sly grin, walking backwards towards a corner.
Nikolas took a long stride, blocking her way around the corner. “Looks like you do.” He said with a cocky smirk.
Surprised into silence, she leaned over his arm to see if there was anyone around the corner.
Turns out there were, two guards.
“How did you know?” She whispered to him. Before she could chastise herself, astral obviously, Niko answered.
She looked at him with a frown, only to be met with a smirk. Her gaze became pensive, and the stability with which she was holding his stare made his smirk slowly fade.
“Are they gone yet?” She asked, her face serious. Nikolas broke the gaze with some difficulty to check.
“Not yet.” He said, looking back at her.
She looked away, taking a breath, setting the heavy tone for what she was about to say. She could tell he’d been waiting for something, and she’d avoided it. “I do.” She assured him. “I do forgive you.”
She’d needed to think about it. She’d needed to get past the disbelief of his original phrase, of him forgiving her. She’d needed to be able to put weight to it – if he really had meant it, the way he had.
She looked up to see him smiling so genuinely that it completely unbalanced her. Her heart jumped in her throat and she slipped out under his arms.
“Look they’re gone!” She said her voice a little higher than usual. Is that really Niko? She shook the thoughts away as Nikolas caught up with her. A year in captivity probably messed up her capacity to read social cues.
“If we follow this corridor and take a left after the door S-235 we’ll reach an elevator.” Nikolas explained as they kept walking. “After that we’ll reach the floor with a lot more people. Oh but I have an idea. I know a spell to make us kind of see through.” He declared, bringing his hands up. “Not quite invisible, but…”
Salandra watched with interest as his rings began to glow.
“Woah, is that…”
“Yup! My new wands. A lot of things have changed.” He said giving her a smile before he muttered the spell.
The spell washed over them, until they’d become semi-transparent.
Salandra impulsively poked his invisible shoulder.
“Yeah we’re still solid though.” He snorted. “If you think it’ll be easier to see each other we could…” His voice trailed off and Sal suddenly had a suspicion that he was glad to be semi-transparent as she saw the outline of his hand come up as an offering.
She narrowed her eyes, but cast him a playful smirk. “Smooth.”
Nikolas let out a nervous chuckle at being outed, and both were grateful for the semi-transparency then at the simple confirmation that there had been something to out.
Salandra hid her increasingly burning face anyway, staring at Nikolas with her last shreds of disbelief. The young man on his side was feeling restless with his unexpectedly beating heart, wondering if he should just urge them to keep escaping. But he was stuck in place, waiting for a sign from her.
The blood, just as suddenly, drained from Sal’s face as a memory came back clear as day.
“I reject your feelings. I don’t like you romantically. I like you as a friend and only a friend.”
She burst out laughing then – at herself – for ever imagining anything different. He’d made it clear then and here she was, once again seeing things. The only reason he was being nice, yes nice, was because she was the only other person he knew here. He might’ve forgiven her, but…
She blew up most of his family.
She hadn’t asked for forgiveness. You just don’t forgive something like that. Especially not so easily.
“I just don’t like you that way, never have, never will.”
God how starved was she, to start to see these things again?
“Let’s hurry up before someone finds us.” She said, walking past a confused Nikolas.
Not wanting to push and question it he led them both to the elevators where they rode them to base level.
“We’re only semi-transparent so we have to be careful. If someone looks directly at us, they’ll see us.” He said.
“Kind of makes me want to slap some people on the way out though.” She said as they stuck to the wall.
Nikolas snorted. “I’m tempted to. Things have been easy so far. I might’ve been hoping for a confrontation – or at least a reason to inflict some pain.”
“An excuse to show them what I’m made of outside of that cell.” Salandra added.
“Yeah.” Niko’s tone grew darker along with hers, and Sal looked up to see him glaring at the people scurrying about. These weren’t the people who had locked them up however.
This was the main floor. This was the floor they used as a show for the company. The we don’t torture people floor.
Sal could sense it then, she didn’t need to see Niko’s fists to know what was forming in his mind. “You don’t have a good track record though; we’ll come back later and beat them up.” Sal said, holding Niko’s arm and gently dragging him towards the exit.
Nikolas didn’t fight and they silently made their way to the door – and effortlessly slipped outside.
Up until then, it had almost felt like a pipe dream. Like a dream. But once they both crossed the doors, and were hit with that harsh sunlight and soft breeze, it sunk in for both. They’d escaped!
Nikolas quickly moved forwards to put as much distance as he could between them and the building. After a few steps he realized he wasn’t being followed.
Salandra was stuck in place. The breeze had frozen her, the sunlight she hadn’t seen in a year was burning her skin in the best way possible.
People had already seemed to notice the front door suspiciously opening, so Niko didn’t waste any time.
He walked back to her and grasped her hand. “It gets even better the further away we are.” He told her, gently tugging her till she started to jog along with him.
They jogged and ran until they found cover behind trees in a park, where Nikolas dropped the spell that had been slowly draining away at him.
“Ha we did it,” Nikolas grinned as Salandra promptly collapsed on the grass. He cast a worried look her way, but she was smiling wide.
“Oh my god it’s grass!” She said, squirming on the ground. Nikolas chuckled and let himself sit down as Salandra relished her newfound freedom.
She was taking it all in, the grass, the wind, the sun, the sky, the sounds. All the sounds. And it might have been her imagination but everything seemed to get softer. The sunlight became less glaring and more warm, the grass felt like silk, the leaves rustling in the trees sounded like sweet melodies and the air seemed to have a fresh tinge to it.
“You don’t really realize how good the sun feels. I missed this so much. I missed the outside. I miss eating real meals. I miss taking long walks and doing homework. I miss stupid things like taking a bath and choosing clothes to wear. I miss, I miss-” Her throat clogged up and she swallowed the lump in her throat in an attempt to keep her composure, but she couldn’t stop herself from breaking into tiny pieces among the grass. “I miss music. I think I missed that the most.”
Music. Her mom had played music for as long as she could remember. She’d play before the night fell and she’d play when things got rough. Music had always been a source of comfort for her. Something that instantly made her feel safe and comfortable.
She’d gotten only silence for the entire year. If there was anything at all she missed, it was the soothing rhythm of music.
She heard Nikolas mutter something and she wiped her dry eyes and turned to him in time to watch him summon something in his hands.
Without making eye contact, Nikolas lifted up his bow and dragged it down the strings.
Nikolas finished the song and let his violin droop down. He sighed and appreciated the warm weather. He hadn’t been locked up for as long as Salandra had at all, but there was definitely something about this weather that was soothing.
Speaking of Salandra, it seemed like she’d fallen asleep. They should probably move soon. They were still in Cloverfield and they were still wearing the clothes the Hans had given them.
Instead of getting up however, he stayed and watched her fall asleep naturally for what he didn’t realize was the first time in months.
With a slight frown to himself, Nikolas came to a realization that he hadn’t let himself feel for what had felt like valid reasons.
Here, now, the year that had gone by felt heavier and emptier than before.
He filled the silence with a confession.
“I missed you.”
Salandra woke up, back in the soft warm park with Nikolas looking at her. Except…that nightmarish five seconds suddenly felt more real than this.
Something was wrong. Something had been wrong from the start.
“This was all…too easy.” Salandra mumbled.
“I was thinking we could go to Ashlynn’s house. She’s a friend who lives nearby.” Nikolas began. “She’d probably be willing to lend some clothes, and it would give me time to figure out how to talk to Zac.” He half-mumbled the end, but Sal wasn’t quite listening.
“Doesn’t it feel too easy? Why were my doors open?” She asked springing to her feet and looking around, looking for something.
“I don’t know.” He said with a frown.
Salandra’s gut sunk then as it became more and more clear that things weren’t at all as they seemed. It was too soft.
“It’s fake, it’s not real.” She said, spinning around.
Niko drew closer, concern etched in his features as he registered what she was implying. “I know it seems too good to be true, but we made it out…”
Concern. Oh it made sense to Sal now. All of it made sense because all of it was fake.
And such a convincing fake.
“I…I…” She stuttered backing away.
“Where are you going? I think we’ll be safer if we go-”
Where did his violin go?
“No!” She interrupted him. “I think – I need to be alone. Yes.”
“Alone? Wait, a lot of things have changed Sal! Stick with me, at least for a little while so you can get used to how things are.” Nikolas attempted.
Salandra was finding this difficult. Such a convincing fake. A distracting fancy illusion.
“Things aren’t.” She said, clenching her teeth. She grabbed a handful of leaves and threw them on the ground where they fell as fast as rocks. Clouds were starting to form as she stepped further and further away. “It’s a cruel cruel cruel joke.”
Nikolas took a step towards her, but Sal suddenly turned and ran, and Niko watched her go.
He’d gone through fake already, more times than he’d like. He’d be able to tell fake, no?
Signs, signs, signs
Salandra ran as fast as she could – faster than she should be able to after a year locked up – and the further she ran the less detail the world had.
Less and less, each step confirming her accusations.
Nikolas shook his head and took off running after Salandra. Things did feel weird, but she didn’t. She didn’t.
Nikolas had run after her and look as he might, he couldn’t find her.
Niko pressed his fingers against his temple as he tried to make sense of what was going on. It felt like something was clouding him. “I should…I need help. And someone who can teleport is about as good as it gets.” He decided, activating astral – with some worrying difficulty.
Nikolas astraled to the Dragons den, surprised to find the place empty. He checked the rooms, more and more certain of what Salandra had claimed now.
They hadn’t really escaped had they?
His question was answered once he astraled outside of the den. With one last perfect view of the river, Nikolas could feel it with absolute certainty now.
And with that the world deconstructed in front of him.
“Wonderful news!” Darwin declared, cornering his superior as she exited an elevator.
“Mindscape worked? You have Aleccas’ location?”
“Even better. I have the precise location of the Dragons’ hideout.”