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Endless Summer: Present

Chapter Text

It’s been so long…

…I’m not even keeping track now.

Sometimes they come in here.

There’s no pattern to their visits…at least I don’t think so.

I’m not exactly keeping track.

Sometimes they just come in to stare at me. Other times they take samples of my blood. They restrain me first for that.

They stopped asking me questions when they realized I wouldn’t talk. Not even when they started beating me to get an answer.

He doesn’t show his face anymore…

…not after I took his eye out.

The memory of him screaming in pain makes me smile.

Huh.

I don’t think I smiled in…

I don’t even know anymore. 


I wake up from a good dream.

I wish it was a nightmare.

Dreaming of horrible things makes the horror I face awake not as much of a shock.

Good dreams though, they’re fucking cruel.

Being happy, being with them

…laughing together, the small moments where we forget about the danger we’re in…

…only to lose them all over again when I wake up.

It hits me.

They’re all gone.

I scream.

They tell me to shut up.

I keep screaming.

I don’t hear them or see them hit the button, but the floor still lights up with electricity.

I scream some more, and then fall to the ground, curled up in a ball.

I’m used to the pain.

Everything’s pain now. 


…no way…

…I’m dreaming.

That has to the only explanation.

There’s no way that kind smile is real. It’s been dead for years.

What are you talking about?! I haven’t even heard of this damn island before you-

Stop lying to me! You’re dead! I saw you-

…oh my god…

It’s…it’s you

Oh god, I missed you so much! I’m sorry, I’m so fucking-

Huh…?

What…what do you mean?

…you…you really mean it?

You’ll take me away from here?

Back to them?

Yes…

Oh my god, yes…

Take me away from this I want out out of this cell, out of the island, out of the pain, out of the- 


When they found the body that used to be Cain Summers, lying in his cell, they found his neck twisted in an odd angle and a blissful smile on his face, as his lifeless eyes stared ahead.

Chapter Text

Father.

After hearing the anger and sadness in Aleister’s voice, there’s a few seconds of silence.

Any movement in the room comes from the man before us, bobbing up and down in the green fluid.

The seconds no one talks seems to take forever, until it shatters like glass.

“Facial match confirmed,” Iris says. “That is indeed Everett Rourke.”

“What the fuck is he doing here?!” I choke out, finally able to speak again.

“You’re telling me,” Estela snarls. “That the whole time we were walking around this office, the man responsible for all this was just floating here?!”

Aleister walks up to the tank, reaching for the glass. His fingers ghost on the tank’s surface.

“You can’t hide from me now, Father…now you have to face me.”

“Yeah,” I scowl, glaring at the tank. “The rest of us have more questions too. Let’s find a way to get him-”

I hear furious clacking behind me.

Turning, I see Estela smacking buttons on the computer.

The sounds of loud gurgling comes, and the green fluid starts draining from the tank.

I stand there, gaping, and soon enough, Rourke is left suspended in the air, hanging by the tubes.

“I strongly advise against waking him suddenly,” Iris exclaims. “Long periods of suspended animations could prove-”

Before Iris can finish, the tub retracts into the ceiling, with remaining drops of green fluid splashing onto the ground.

And Rourke along with it.

The stark-naked billionaire stumbles out, and into Aleister’s arms.

His eyes flutter open as he gazes at his son.

“Y-you…” Rourke chokes. His voice is hoarse.

Aleister’s voice still teeters between rage and sorrow.

“Yes,” he grits his teeth. “It’s me.”

Slowly, like an infant, Rourke pushes himself to his feet. His eyes flutter continuously, like he’s seconds away from passing out right then and there.

“The…it’s coming…” he slurs. “The Endless…”

The minute he says those last words, the static comes again, following his voice.

“What?” I ask. “What are you talking about?”

He turns towards me, and his face morphs into an astonished gape.

Rourke opens his mouth to speak, but Estela’s fist meets his face.

He’s thrown backwards and crashing into his desk chair.

“Estela!” Aleister cries out.

She ignores him, closing the distance between her and Rourke.

“Estela,” Iris materializes between the two. “I’d advise restraint-”

She marches through the hologram without a word.

Instinctively, I move between Estela and Rourke.

“Estela, hang on!” I hold my hands up peacefully. “What are you doing?”

She points a finger at Rourke, sprawled on the floor and muttering nonsense.

“He’s responsible for all this, Cain! You know what he did! Hell, you said I told you, didn’t you?!”

“Yeah, but-”

“It’s finally time he answers for what he did!”

“Estela, listen,” I say. “He’s going to pay for everything. But right now, we need answers. Answers we can only get from him.”

She looks away, eyes closed and fists clenched.

Wordlessly, Estela steps back, crossing her arms.

“So,” I look back to Rourke. “We should probably get him downstairs to recover. We’re not gonna get anything out of him until he’s lucid.”

“Right,” Aleister nods. “And…thank you, Cain.”

He and I sling Rourke’s arms over our shoulders, heaving him up.

Estela keeps a fair distance away, arms folded and avoiding looking at Rourke.

“I’m sorry…” he gasps. “Olivia…”

There it is again.

The static comes at the name.

“What?” I ask.

But Rourke falls back into unconsciousness. 


 I gotta admit, the hotel’s grand atrium really is something.

The several floors of balconies surrounding the center makes the place look like an arena. The floor is surrounded by tables and chairs, and set in the exact center is a fountain decorated by the statue of a Roman god.

The glass of the ceiling above lets in the first few rays of the morning sun.

I’d almost take in the view for a while longer if the situation was different.

Right now, we’re all crowding Rourke, unconscious on a sofa.

“So,” Zahra frowns. “That’s the guy.”

“Hm,” Aleister grunts.

“Dude,” Craig gapes. “Your dad’s friggin’ shredded! What is he, sixty or somethin’?”

“So that’s where you get your abs,” Grace grins, poking Aleister in the stomach.

He lets out a poorly suppressed laugh.

“Grace please, you know how ticklish I am!”

“The hope is,” I say, trying to get everyone back on track. “That he can get us off this island when he wakes up. Maybe he’s got a private helicopter or something. And…more importantly…”

I sigh.

“How to find Diego.”

“In the meantime,” Sean speaks up. “Let’s try to get our bearings. Get ready for our next move.”

We all give a collective nod. Some of us wander off, and some, like me, slump into the nearest sofa, between Estela and Sean.

I see Furball curled up on a chair, fast asleep.

Well, at least one of us can find some kind of peace.

From the troubled looks on everyone’s faces, it seems like everyone’s just as weighed down by last night as I am.

“Everyone’s looking pretty rough, Cain,” Sean says. “Maybe we should get some rest?”

“Sean,” I give a weak smile, but I feel it come as more of a grimace. “I don’t think anyone’s gonna get any sleep until we find out what happened to Diego.”

“I know I wouldn’t,” Sean pats my shoulder sympathetically.

“If we’re gonna find him,” Estela says. “We’ll have to act fast.”

“Maybe we oughta rally the troops and come up with a battle plan.”

Estela nods.

“We’ll be as good as dead if go out there without a plan.”

“Sure,” I nod back. “I’ll go see what everyone’s thinking.”

Nearby, I see Michelle tending to Quinn, dabbing a cloth to her face, with Iris hovering next to them.

“Hey,” I walk up to them. “Everything okay?”

“Oh,” Quinn gives a wide smile that’s painfully forced. “Just a little bloody nose, no big deal!”

“A pretty bad one,” Michelle frowns. “It wouldn’t stop for a while, but now I think it’s okay.”

“What’s up, Cain?” Quinn keeps her smile up. “How are you feeling?”

Not only shifting the subject, I can tell the smile is being forced.

From the look on Michelle’s face, she knows it too.

“Is she okay, Michelle?”

Michelle glances between Quinn and I.

“Well…”

“Quinn’s blood pressure: sub normal,” Iris answers. “Weight loss detected. White blood cell count-”

“Guys, come on!” Quinn’s smile remains, but I can see a flash of anger in her blue eyes. “Really! I’m fine!”

“I think going through the portal had a much bigger effect on her than it did the rest of us,” Michelle insists, reaching her hand out. “Lemme just-”

Quinn brushes Michelle’s hand away.

“I said I’m fine, okay?!”

Whoa…

…okay, seeing this kind of anger from someone who, at most, just pouts, isn’t a good sign.

Does she have some kind of health issues or something? Is that why she’s being defensive?

“Come on, Quinn,” I smile pleadingly. “Let her help.”

She looks at me for a few more seconds before nodding.

“Okay. For you, Cain.”

“Won’t do it for me,” Michelle scowls. “Oh no. Gotta be for Cain.”

“Jealous much?” I smirk.

“I’m pre-med. I’m jealous of no one.”

“What about people who finished med school?” Quinn teases.

“Shut it, both of you,” Michelle rolls her eyes as she gives Quinn one more examination. “Alright, I think you’re fine now. But I gotta keep an eye on you in case something like this happens again. Are you gonna let me do that?”

Quinn meets my eyes, then looks back at Michelle, smiling slightly.

“Yes, I will.”

“So then,” Michelle turns to me. “What are you over here interrupting for anyway, Cain?”

“I think we need to get moving on a plan to save Diego,” I say. “Think you’re ready?”

Michelle glances at Quinn.

“I think we can handle it.”

“No move along,” Michelle shoos me. “I have a patient here.”

“Got it, doc,” I grin as I leave them be.

I hear giggling over by the fountain.

Zahra, Raj, and Craig are at the fountain statue at the exact center of the atrium.

“Oh my god!” Zahra cackles. “You’re right! It is!”

“It so is!” Craig joins in the laughter.

“Who’s what now?” I ask as I walk up to them.

“Cain,” Raj begins, but starts laughing again. “Cain…Cain, this is ridiculous. You’re gonna love it! Look!”

I take a better look at the fountain. In the bottom of the pool are a circle of roman numerals.

“Uh…” I stammer. “I don’t understand, what am I looking at?”

“That statue, bro!” Craig grins. “In the toga! Can you tell me who that’s supposed to be?”

I look at the statue of the Roman god, and…

…oh, okay…

It’s not like goatees are uncommon. But as I look closer, I find that the facial features match exactly.

“It’s Rourke!”

Zahra howls in laughter.

“I can’t believe I hadn’t notice that before! The guy put a statue of himself, in a toga, in the middle of his own hotel! I mean, I’m one cocky fucker, but I’m not even in this guy’s league!”

They all continue laughing, and I decide to join in to help further lift their moods.

“Does this guy even know how the Roman Empire ended?” I grin. “With the Sack of Rome!”

“Oh my god!” Craig wheezes. “Cain just said ‘sack’! I’m dying! I can’t breathe!”

“Cain,” Raj guffaws. “I don’t know if what you said was funny, but you’re the best and I love you.”

I laugh with them, and I find that I don’t have to force it much.

Zahra slings an arm around my shoulder.

“To get real for a second…I know things are hard right now. But sometimes people gotta laugh to stay alive.”

She ruffles my hair and as she walks off.

I hear hurried, hushed tones coming from behind me.

I turn to see Lila, Jake, and Sean.

“Hey guys,” I approach them. “What’s happening?”

“Just trying to figure out who it was that could’ve been here this whole time,” Jake says.

“Who are you talking about?” Lila asks.

“We’ve been gone six month, Lila,” Sean frowns. “And somebody’s been spending a lot of time here.”

“Iris said she didn’t detect anybody else coming through the hotel though,” Jake remarks.

“Just because she didn’t notice,” Sean starts. “Doesn’t mean they weren’t here. Stuff’s moved around all over the place.”

“Wait, really?” I gape. “How can you tell?”

“Photographic memory,” Sean answers. “It’s how I’m able to read defenses.”

Wow.

The detective skills I boast about don’t seem that great now.

“Point is,” he continues. “It’s like someone’s been living here…looking for something.”

“And Boy Scout over here,” Jake glances at me. “Found that crazy note ranting about zodiacs and shit.”

“Wait a sec,” an idea strikes me. “That note led us to Rourke! Maybe they were looking for him?”

“I’m just thinking,” a troubled look crosses Sean’s face. “Did people come to rescue us? Did we miss our window while jumping through time?”

Jake sighs.

“Trust me, QB, if anyone came to the island, looking for us, it’s to silence us. Permanently.”

“Is that your idea of a silver lining?” Sean scowls. “That we missed getting killed?”

“Pretty much,” Jake shrugs.

“I don’t understand why you’re asking me, though,” Lila frowns.

“Schedules, timetables, shipments,” Sean says. “Anything you know about arrivals to La Huerta, long term. We’ve only been thinking short term before, but we’ve been gone for over half a year.”

“I…” Lila gasps, pausing, stuttering. “Lila doesn’t know these things off the top of my head! Lila’s just a tour guide!”

“Whoa there, dimples!” Jake holds his hands up. “Just bouncing ideas around.”

“What if…” Lila trails off before speaking again. “It’s Diego? I mean, if I escaped, I’d come here.”

We’re silent for a moment.

Could…could that be possible? Could Diego have escaped the Watchers?

And we weren’t there for him then if he did come here…

“Honestly,” Jake shrugs again. “Anything’s possible.”

“Either way, Diego’s not here now,” I say. “We gotta figure out a way to find him, ASAP.”

“Of course!” Lila perks up. “No man left behind! That’s my tour guide motto!”

“I should freakin’ hope so,” Jake mutters.

I catch Aleister and Grace at the back of the atrium, near where Rourke is resting.

Grace is comforting Aleister, putting a hand on his knee as he stoically looks at his father.

“Hey guys,” I smile sympathetically. “How are you holding up, Aleister?”

“He’s…” Grace frowns sadly. “He’s okay…”

Aleister sighs, taking Grace’s hand.

“Knowing my father’s alive…part of me wishes he were dead.”

“Aleister,” Grace begins. “I know how you feel. My mom is more similar to him than you think.”

He sighs again.

“Hey,” I pat his shoulder. “You told us you came here to face him, to show him the kind of man you are. You have the chance to do that now.”

Aleister meets my eyes.

“How?” He asks. “How do I show him the person I’ve become?”

“Help me find Diego,” I answer. “And help us get off this island.”

His lips form a thin line, and he nods.

“That should suffice. Also, I suppose it is the moral choice.”

Grace grins.

“That’s my Aleister!”

“Come on,” I smile reassuringly. “It’s time we think of a plan.” 


 In a few minutes, we’re all gathered around in a circle, sitting on sofas.

Everyone’s looking at me. Sean nods at me to take the lead.

“Alright everyone,” I clasp my hands together. “Diego’s been out there with the Watchers for six months. We need to get him back, now.”

“That’s easier said than done,” Zahra comments. “How are we supposed to pull off a rescue like that?”

“We hunt down some Watcher ass,” Craig pumps his fists. “And make ‘em regret the day the ever messed with us!”

Furball, now awake, yips approvingly.

“Easy there, Rambo,” Zahra rolls her eyes. “We don’t even know where they are.”

“I vote for an expedition,” Sean asserts. “Something to get a read on our new situation and pick up the trail.”

“A six-month-old trail,” Jake sighs. “That’s pretty cold.”

“Well what do you think, Jake?” I ask.

He sighs again.

“I think he’s dead.”

The words feel like a knife to my gut, and I almost recoil.

“N…no…” I stammer.

No.

I…I can’t believe that…

“Cain,” he says softly. “I’m just saying it’s a possibility. At this point, a likely one.”

I always knew that was a possibility…

…but I didn’t really let myself even think much about it until now.

Then, finally, it hits me.

Diego might be gone.

I might have lost my best friend.

…I’d never see that goofy grin that made me feel like I wasn’t alone in the world…

…the last memory I’d ever have of him would be his goodbye as he let go…

No…

No…

NO

And all of a sudden, I decide I’m done with faking a fucking smile.

“SHUT UP!” I scream at Jake. “YOU DON’T FUCKING KNOW THAT!”

Everyone’s silent, gaping at me.

But I just can’t bring myself to care.

“Cain-”

Just shut the fuck up! ALL OF YOU!”

I can’t do this, I can’t…

Without another word, I walk quickly out of the room.

Oh my god…

…what the hell was that?!

How could I lose my shit like that?! Of all the times for me to lose it…

What will the others think? Will they hate me now…?

I would…with how I blew up at them like that…

…and they were just trying to help…

…dammit dammit dammit!

I’m not sure how far I walk, but at some point when I stop, I’m in a hallway.

I hate this hotel.

I hate this island…

FUCK!” I kick the wall, lay my back against it, and slump to the ground.

Why is this happening…?

Of all the things I did…what did I do to deserve…

…huh?

What’s that?

On the ground, there’s a neatly folded piece of paper.

The minute my gaze falls upon it, the mind static arrives.

What the fuck…?

I pick it up quickly.

I begin to unfold it, and…

…oh my god…

I read what’s written on the paper. Twice. A third time.

Big letters written in a red pen makes my blood turn to ice.

‘YOU’RE GOING TO DIE ON THIS ISLAND’

My hands go slack and the paper falls out of my hands.

Blood’s rushing through my ears, and I realize I’m shivering.

I look down, and I almost scream in shock.

It’s my file.

Except…

…it’s not near-empty.

It’s all filled out.

Chapter Text

I notice the rune is the same.

Immediately, I decide I hate that DNA helix that’s supposed to pass off as a chain.

But the picture’s different.

The one on this file is one of the pictures I’ve used on my Instagram profile.

Here, I’m giving my signature smile, the one only I’d know is fake.

That’s weird…in the other one, the blank one, I looked genuinely happy.

The clearance level is Epsilon. It gives my first name, last name, and my middle name; Andres. My dad’s name and his dad’s.

There’s another similarity between this file and the other one. It also has a birth date of January 1st, 1996.

It has the birthplace right too; Boston, Massachusetts.

I move to the background.

‘Had promising future and assured position at father’s law firm. Cut ties with family after sister’s death and threw it all away.’

Well…

…they’re not wrong on that either.

Next is the psychological profile.

‘Lost all previous ambition and direction. Loyal to the one friend he has. Intelligence and ability as manipulator make him a risk.’

It finishes with a threat assessment of 5.

I read it a few more times.

Jesus…

…what the hell is going on…?

“Cain.”

I almost jump straight to my feet, and I’m a hair’s width away from screaming.

A few feet in the hallway I came in from, is Estela.

“Whoa, whoa!” she puts her hands up calmingly. “Why so jumpy?”

I struggle to come up with an answer.

“I, uh, came to check on you,” her eyes fall onto the paper. “What’s that?”

I find myself tongue tied again.

I hesitate for a moment…

…and then wordlessly hand her the file.

I mean, I read hers…and almost everyone’s.

It’s not like any objections I’d have would count.

Estela takes the file.

“What is this?”

I see she’s reading the side with the red written message.

“Where’d you get this?” her eyes narrow.

“I just found it on the floor,” I say despondently. “Check the back, it gets creepier.”

She does, and her eyes widen in shock.

“This…it’s filled out!”

“Yup,” I sigh. “Go on, read it.”

Estela she gives me a confused look.

“What…are you sure?”

“I looked at everyone else’s,” I shrug bitterly. “I guess it’s only fair.”

She hesitates before reading on. Estela spends half a minute skimming it over before handing it back to me.

“Growing up,” I begin. “My mom avoided me and my sister, Abigail, whenever she could. She hated my dad, and was pissed off he wouldn’t let her divorce him. If she even tried, he’d ruin her,” I sigh. “The whole marriage was shallow as hell. Just a rich, successful guy marrying a trophy wife he ignored and cheated on. And to her, we were constant reminders of that.”

“Cain, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” Estela tells me.

“It’s okay,” I assure, running a hand through my hair. “I just…I don’t have the energy to brush it under the rug right now.”

Estela sits down beside me and I continue.

“My dad was a corporate lawyer, and a manipulative bastard…and I was pretty much the same. My sister…somehow, grew up to be better than that. She was the only good influence in my life, and tried to get me to be better too. But instead, I grew up to be more like my dad. Throughout my teen years, I manipulated people to be more popular, lied, and used people. Charming on the outside and a piece of shit on the inside. But my sister believed I could be a better person, despite it all.”

I dare to look back at Estela, and to my surprise, she doesn’t seem angry or anything.

She nods at me, bidding me to continue.

“I was seventeen when my sister died,” I say, practically spitting the words out. “Car crash. We…she was driving me home from a debate club meeting. A dog…ran into the road, and…”

I lived.

I, a horrible person, lived, while the best person I ever knew died.

I take a deep breath to keep myself from sobbing.

“I never appreciated her,” I grit my teeth. “She always found time for me, even when she went off to law school and was swamped in work. I never even thanked her for everything she did.”

Estela doesn’t say anything. She just squeezes my hand.

“That’s why I can’t let myself believe Diego’s gone,” I say. “I can’t let him be just someone else who did something for me I could never repay, and then lose.”

“What did he do for you?” she asks.

“A bit of a long story,” I say, and then give a small chuckle. “Well, it’s already a long story so now we can just count it as long-er.”

Estela chuckles back and I continue.

“After the crash, my grades fell, I stopped going to my school clubs, and I just…shut down.”

I leave out how I drank a little more at parties and started a few fistfights.

“At some point,” when I was a deadly combo of drunk, high, and depressed. “I pulled myself together.” When I realized how pathetic I had become, how ashamed my sister would be of me. “Or at least tried. I applied to Hartfeld. My sister told me her mentor from law school went to Hartfeld, and said that place changed her for the better. I applied to…” I sigh. “It’ll probably sound dumb, but…I applied there to be closer to Abby.”

“It doesn’t,” Estela nods. “I get that.”

I smile slightly.

“My dad didn’t find out until he found me packing to leave. He absolutely flipped, since he expected I’d be applying to Harvard like he and Abby did. He told me if I left for Hartfeld, I shouldn’t bother coming back. And that was that. Last time I ever saw him.”

As stupid and irrational as it is, I had missed him after I left. For a while, at least.

I just remembered the approval he gave me when I told him of my manipulative exploits, and how he basically encouraged me to become a sleazy bastard like him.

I’d also never let myself forget that he never saw me or Abby as his children; just potential employees for his firm. Investments for his own gain.

And although there wasn’t much of a reaction from her when I left, I always wondered if things could ever have been better between my mom and me. In my teen years, she ignored me, and vice versa. We were pretty much strangers.

I can understand why our relationship was almost nonexistent, though. Our presence reminded her that she was stuck in an emotionally abusive marriage.

“I met Diego when I moved into my dorm,” I continue. “We were roommates, but barely even acquaintances at first. At Hartfeld, I…I gave up on ever having friends. The closest things I had to friends were the people in my clique, so I didn’t think I was friend material. Until one day, Diego found me in our dorm, in the dumps because it was the anniversary of the crash.”

I leave out that Diego found me with a bottle of painkillers in one hand and a flask of alcohol in the other.

“He didn’t say anything, didn’t ask me any questions. He just microwaved a bowl of popcorn, and made me sit through a whole marathon of old comedy movies,” I smile fondly at the memory, and let out a small, but genuine laugh. “I laughed more in those few hours than I ever did since the crash.”

Estela’s lips quirk into a small smile.

“And you two became friends after?”

I nod.

“He began confiding in me, I confided in him, and we ended up doing a ton of crazy stuff together to make our lives more interesting. He saved me. Not just for that day, but for being my friend since then. He helped me live again. So that’s why I can’t give up on him. I have to believe he’s alive.”

We sit there, silent for a few more minutes.

“Cain,” Estela’s the first one to speak. “We’re going to do everything we can to find him. But…I won’t make you any promises. You should…prepare yourself for what might happen.”

“I know,” my voice quivers again, and I take a deep breath. “I know. Thanks for listening to me rant, Estela. I…I needed to get this off my chest.”

“Of course. Didn’t I tell you that you don’t have to lie to keep up appearances?”

“Yeah, it’s relieving,” my smile fades as I remember how I exploded to the others. “Speaking of which, I should apologize to everyone for yelling at them.”

Estela nods. “If you’re that worried, they weren’t mad when you left. If anything, they were concerned.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, they almost tripped over each other trying to follow you.”

“And you succeeded?”

She shrugs, giving a small smile.

“I’m persistent,” Estela’s smile fades. “So what do you make of this file? You just…found it on the floor? Right where you happened to be?”

Oh. Right.

I feel like an idiot, forgetting the file during my pity-fest.

“Yeah,” I frown. “I’m not sure how it got there.”

“Think maybe the Watchers left it here?”

“I don’t think so. When we first met them, they seemed to know something about Sean and Jake, but not me.”

“Maybe they found it while they were looking for us,” Estela offers.

“Maybe,” I nod. “But that doesn’t explain where it came from. Or the message on the back. It’s like that was meant for…for me.”

“There was someone spending time around the hotel while we were away,” Estela points out. “It might’ve been them. Whoever they were.”

“And if it was,” I frown. “Then they definitely weren’t friendly.”

We let that sink in for a few seconds before I speak.

“And I don’t know why there would be one file on me that’s empty and one that isn’t. There’s so much that’s different about them…one has all my info on it, i’s dotted and t’s crossed. While the other is basically one big question mark. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Estela frowns, and looks like she wants to say something, but stays silent for a while.

“Just…be careful. Especially around Rourke. It’s obvious he’s planning something that involves all of us. And these contradicting files mean that there’s something in particular about you to him.”

“Right,” I nod. “I’ll have a lot to ask him when he wakes up.”

“Now come on,” Estela smiles at me, standing up and leading me up too. “Let’s go figure out a way to save your dumb friend.”

Smiling back, I fold the file, I pocket it and we make our way back to the atrium.


“Hey, look who it is!” Raj grins good-naturedly as Estela and I walk side-by-side into the atrium.

“Hi,” I smile sheepishly.

“See you’re back on the route to mental stability,” Zahra nods.

Zahra,” Grace lightly elbows the other girl.

“Ugh, whatever. Glad you didn’t completely lose it.”

“Heh, you and me both, Zahra,” I take a deep breath. “Look, uh…I’m sorry, everyone. I shouldn’t have blown up on you all like that. You were just trying to help. My bad.”

I can feel my ears get warmer in the silence, which thankfully doesn’t last long.

“Hey, Boy Scout,” Jake walks up to me and claps my back. “Don’t sweat it. When we find Diego, we’ll make Raj throw one of his parties to celebrate.”

“I can attest to that!” Raj laughs. “I’ll make the best food I’ve ever cooked up when all the doodlejumps are back together!”

“You say that about every one of your parties, man,” Sean chuckles.

“An artist is constantly improving their craft! And dude,” he turns to me. “It’s alright to be freaked out a little. We’re in a freaky situation.”

“Thanks,” I smile gratefully. “I appreciate that.”

“Well then,” Aleister speaks up. “Now that we’ve regained our focus, what is our next move?”

“We need to find out where the Watchers took Diego,” I say. “They have to have some place on the island they hang their hats…or loincloths.”

“Wait, they parade around naked over there?!” Craig exclaims. “Not a nice image, bro!”

“Figure of speech, Craig,” Michelle rolls her eyes, and I find myself snickering. “The question is, where did they go off to?”

“It would make sense to search the hotel,” Grace suggests. “The Watcher’s might have left clues behind.”

“So,” Sean brings his hands together with a clap. “We know what to do now. Alright, people. I know it’s been a long day, but our friend’s counting on us.”

Our friend…

We’ve all really gotten that far.

“Freshen up a little,” Sean continues. “But then we’ve gotta search this place up and down.”

“What about him?” Zahra motions towards Rourke’s unconscious body.

“I don’t think he’s going anywhere,” Sean shrugs.

As we all begin to leave the atrium, I notice a warm feeling starts blooming in my chest.

I’ve got a whole group of friends now…

real, actual friends.

Both me and Diego.

We’re not alone anymore.

I smile.

That’s definitely something I can get used to.

Chapter Text

I head up to my room, and immediately, the sea breeze hits me.

Across the room, I see the window shattered.

“Oh, yeah,” I shudder at the memory of Lion-Mask. “That.”

Leaves are scattered in, and an honest-to-god seagull perched near the window.

It turns to me, and squawks.

“Go on!” I move towards it, swatting my hands. “Shoo! Get outta here!”

The gull flaps away, and I go to the bathroom.

Running the faucet on the sink, I sigh as I feel the cold water on my face.

I look in the mirror and-

“Man!” Diego grins at me through the reflective glass. “And here I thought I looked like hell!”

I shout in surprise, doubling back from the mirror.

My own reflection is staring back at me again.

Dammit…

…now I’m hallucinating.

“Come on,” I tell my reflection. “Come on, Cain. You get a hold of yourself. Right now, it hurts. But you’re gonna find him."

I squeeze my hands into fists.

"You’re gonna get through this. And you won’t be alone this time. So stay strong.”

I sigh, and eventually I take a better look at myself in the mirror.

Well, the hallucination wasn’t wrong.

I haven’t shaven since before we left for the observatory. I can’t grow a beard to save my life, but when facial hair does grow on me, it grows patchy and uneven.

Like right now. Brown stubble pops here and there on my face.

Not to mention that I’ve been drenched with sea water from the marina and sweat from running from and fighting the Watchers.

After a shave and shower, I decide on a change of clothes. Thankfully, my suitcase was left intact when the Watchers searched the place.

Looking through my bag, I find and pull on a pair of dark green pants, and a grey, plaid button-down, which I leave unbuttoned to my mid-chest.

Fashion was always a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine.

I pose in front of the mirror jokingly, and laugh at myself.

“I make this look good!

Chuckling, I sling my messenger bag back over my shoulder, and make my way to the door. I actually feel a bit better.


After searching through the hotel, I find Estela sitting in the security office we found hidden in the game room.

“Hey,” I smile at her when she sees me come in.

Her eyes widen a bit.

“You, uh…” she blushes as she looks me up and down. “Look…nice.”

I blush back, but I’m able to recover fairly quickly.

“Just ‘nice’?” I ask teasingly.

“Well that’s what people say, isn’t it?” Estela snaps.

“Sure, sure,” I wave off, smirking.

Estela blushes again, sighing.

“Well, it’s too late to take it back. It was awkward, but now it’s out there, and we’ll all have to deal with it.”

“It’s not like I’m not flattered,” I wink at her.

Still blushing, Estela turns her attention back to the monitors.

They’re all flickering with static.

“What’s wrong with the screens?” I ask.

“Someone turned all the surveillance cameras off,” Estela scowls. “We have no idea who was here in the last six months. Diego…the Watchers…or someone else.”

She kicks the desk angrily.

“Dammit!” she swears. “It’s pointless! I can’t do a goddamn thing!”

I sit down in a chair next to her.

“What can I do to help?” I ask.

She looks me up and down for a few seconds.

“Am I growing new heads?”

“It’s just…I’m impressed, I guess.”

That takes me by surprise.

What for, I almost ask.

“Where I grew up,” Estela continues. “A lot of people just run and hide from their troubles. Never for long, but they try to, tooth and nail. But you haven’t. When I first saw you, I thought you were just some soft college guy.”

“Ouch,” I chuckle. “Hopefully there’s ‘but’ coming?”

“‘But’,” Estela smirks. “You held on. You kept your shit together this far. You’re a lot tougher than you look.”

“Aw, thanks. And you’re way nicer than you look.”

Estela lets out a laugh, but it quickly turns into a sigh.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“I just absolutely cannot stand being helpless,” she says. “That’s just something you’ve gotta know about me.”

I take her hand and give it a reassuring squeeze.

“I’m here for you, Estela. Like you said, we’re not alone in this.”

Estela shakes her head, looking down before meeting my eyes again.

You’re the one who makes me feel helpless, Cain,” she sighs.

I can feel my face heating up, and I can’t find anything to say.

“Estela-”

“But,” Estela says quickly, blushing. “You made me think that…maybe, just maybe…it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world…being helpless with you.”

I look into her eyes. She looks so vulnerable, but hopeful.

Is…she asking what I think she’s asking?

For a second, I can’t think of what to say.

Every relationship I ever had was completely shallow. After I got to Hartfeld, I never dated because I didn’t think I had any right to be in a real relationship.

But what happened last night with Estela…well, six months ago…it felt indescribable.

Should I even be in a relationship again?

I don’t know…

…but I can’t deny how much I want this…

“Then be helpless with me,” I say before I think.

It probably sounds cheesy and dumb, but I find myself moving closer to her…

She’s moving closer too…I can feel her breath on me…

Fuck,” Estela breathes as she climbs over in one graceful move, straddling me on my chair.

Her hips move against mine, and I moan as our mouths crush together. I thread my fingers in her hair, deepening the kiss, my hands traveling down to her sides.

We’re so close, and yet, it doesn’t feel like it’s enough…

I shudder in pleasure as I feel her moving against me, and I hear her speaking between our frantic kisses.

“It’s insane…how bad…I want you right now-”

“Hey!” we jump as we hear Zahra’s voice. “You guys are gonna wanna see this!”

Her voice echoes from a hallway, and immediately, Estela hops off me and paces around the room, fiddling with her hands.

“Uh,” I try to straighten myself in the chair to hide my arousal. “You okay?”

Grandma in a swimsuit, Grandma in a swimsuit, Grandma in a swimsuit-

-and I’m good.

“Sorry,” she says, out of breath, her whole face burning. “I just gotta…calm down or something…Jesus, you get me riled up.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” I purr.

From her expression, if Estela could be blushing harder, she would.

She ends up laughing, and it’s infectious enough to make me laugh too.

“You’re impossible.”

“Let’s go see what Zahra found,” I get up. “We can continue later.”

“Is that a promise?” Estela asks, smiling.

“You bet it is.” 


We catch up with Zahra on the first floor hallway with the others.

She’s points to a set of massive ornately carved doors.

“So, uh,” she rubs her forehead. “Was this always here?”

The carvings are so intricate, so detailed, and completely different than the designs of the other suite doors.

So I guess not.

“What in the heavens?” Aleister exclaims.

Definitely never seen these before,” Sean nods.

“Look,” Quinn points to the lower part of the doors. “See how the wall is chipped? And there’s some plaster stuck to the carvings.”

“These must have been hidden,” I nod. “They were probably drywalled over.”

“Seconded,” Jake agrees. “Done some construction in my day, and I can pretty much guarantee it.”

Michelle scoffs.

“Is there anything you haven’t done?”

“Not really.”

“Well,” Sean kneels down to examine the plaster on the carvings. “If these doors had been hidden, who found ‘em? How’d they even know they were here?”

“Somehow,” Estela speaks. “I doubt it was Diego.”

“Look,” Aleister points to a set of carvings. “There are some words engraved, but my Latin is rusty. I see the Roman numerals for 79 AD, though.”

“And have you guys looks at these carvings in the doors?” Zahra points to the images under the Roman numerals. “They’re pretty messed up.”

“It does not appear ‘messed up’ to me,” Iris says. “It’s a clear depiction of humans turning to ash in a volcanic eruption. The craftwork is in excellent condition!”

“Turning to ash,” I consider. “It’s probably a carving of Pompeii.”

“Indeed,” Aleister nods. “There is no doubt in my mind Cain is correct.”

“Yeah!” Grace grins. “That eruption took place in 79 AD too! Good thinking, Cain!”

“Whatever it is,” Zahra frowns. “These doors are…kinda creepy, don’tcha think?”

“Enough stalling,” Craig steps up. “You gonna open ‘em or what?”

Zahra turns to him and glares.

“I’m not scared!”

“Didn’t say you were.”

“You thought it!”

Craig grins.

“Yeah, I did.”

Groaning, Zahra pushes through the colossal wooden doors.

We’re met with the biggest library I’ve ever seen.

It’s two floors high, and there’s barely a single part of the wall that’s not covered by a towering bookshelf.

Globes and big chests decorate the middle of the room, and artifacts from various cultures adorn walls with the books.

Wow,” Raj gapes.

“Okay,” Grace lights up like a child on Christmas. “This is my new room!”

“This is one hell of a library,” Sean looks around, gaping. “But don’t forget why we’re here.”

“Cap’s right,” Jake nods. “If our mystery guest came here sometime in the last six months searching this place, maybe it’s got some answers for us.”

“Right,” I agree. “Let’s split up and search around.”

“What the hell are we even looking for?” Michelle asks. “There’s gotta be a million books in here!”

“I don’t know,” I answer. “We just gotta hope we know it when we see it.”

We start wandering the library, our footsteps echoing as we walk.

Morning light seeps through the stained glass windows in the upper floor, illuminating the frescoes on the ceiling.

“Analyzing,” Iris’s mechanical voice sounds as she hovers near one of the globes. “This mechanized celestial globe dates to 1594, one of the first produced…a first edition text by Athanasius Kircher, circa 1662…”

“Everett Rourke’s entire personal collection!” Lila gapes in wonder. “I’d always wondered what had happened to it.”

“But why would he stick this in a damn beach resort of all places?” Jake asks. “And why seal up the entrance?”

“Who knows,” Aleister shrugs off. “He had a lot to hide.”

“Like father, like son,” Estela mutters.

Aleister ignores her, but I catch a small frown on his face.

“It seems to me,” I say. “That he wouldn’t put something like this at the resort if he didn't plan to spend a lot of time here.”

I see Furball curled beneath a book display, whimpering and trembling.

“Hey, little guy,” I go up to the fox. “What's up? What’re you scared of?”

He whimpers again, keeping his eyes locked on the wall.

I follow his gaze, and mounted on a red velvet frame on the wall is a weird-looking scepter.

It’s silver, tipped with two batlike wings and a dragonlike head, along with two other serpentine dragons coiled around the length of the scepter.

“What,” Jake gapes at the scepter. “In the hell is that monstrosity?”

“Three snakes,” I observe. “No…a hydra. In the shape of a…”

“A caduceus,” Iris finishes. “The symbol of medicine used worldwide, originally the icon of Mercury, the gods’ messenger.”

“Mercury, huh?” I ask. “So this scepter is Roman? Like Pompeii?”

“Analyzing,” Iris says. “Origin undetermined. Odd. This is the only article in the library I cannot identify.”

“Did you see the inscription on the frame?” Michelle asks.

“Look at this,” Estela reads off the frame. “‘Oh Mercury, Herald of the shining hour when glory’s house stands open…’ It says it’s from Homeric Odes, chapter twelve.”

“The Homeric Odes!” Grace exclaims. “I just saw a volume of those on a shelf!” She races to the back of the library, snatching a book and bringing it back. “Here it is!”

She hands me the heavy book, and I flip to chapter twelve.

“‘…his staff aloft,’” I read. “‘o’er glimmering waters, the herald-god marked the height of the day. And lo, the path to the depths yawned open. To conquer the heavens, a man must journey below.’”

“What could it mean?” Quinn asks. “It has to be important somehow.”

“Well,” Jake frowns. “The staff of the ‘herald-god’…that’s gotta be this thing, right? The ca…cader…cudel…”

Caduceus,” I smirk.

“Correct,” Iris smiles.

“Right,” Jake chuckles. “That.”

“Sounds like this caduceus,” Estela says. “Is supposed to open a path below something.”

I nod.

“When the scepter Is held ‘aloft o’er glimmering waters’…”

“Where do we find water, then?” Craig asks.

“Oh sweet Jesus, Craig,” Michelle rolls her eyes. “We’re on an island.”

“More specific, maybe?” Quinn suggests. “Where have we seen someone standing over glimmering water?”

“Holy shit!” Zahra exclaims. “Guys, the atrium!”

“That’s what I was gonna say,” Michelle agrees.

“Yeah!” Sean grins. “The statue of Rourke over the fountain’s ‘glimmering waters’!”

“‘Marking the height of the day’,” Zahra nods. “Oh my god! It’s the fucking sundial! When we give the staff to the herald, the fountain becomes a sundial!”

“And the sundial opens the path!” Quinn agrees.

“But, wait,” Michelle says. “How are we supposed to know what time it opens?”

“‘Height of day’,” I remember. “It’s noon!”

“Of course!” Lila cries out. “My watch says it’s almost noon right now! We can make it if we hurry!”

“Quick, Cain!” Raj calls out to me. “Grab the twizzler!”

I grab the staff, and we race out of the library.

We sprint through the hotel, and make it to the atrium.

“There!” I shout. “We’ve gotta get the scepter up into the statue’s hand!”

“And how are we supposed to do that, exactly?!”

“11:59!” Lila yells. “Move it!”

“Leave it to me,” Sean grins cockily.

He takes the scepter, and with a running start, he launches himself from the rim of the fountain.

We all gape as he leaps up, and grabs the statue’s outstretched arm. Doing a one-hand pullup, Sean slams the scepter with his free hand into the statue’s grip.

“Got it!” Sean cries as he vaults off the statue, landing on his feet on the other side of the fountain.

“Like. A. BOSS!” Craig cheers.

“Wow,” Jake’s jaw drops. “I’m actually impressed.”

“Show off,” Michelle scoffs.

“Time, Lila?” Sean asks, wiping his forehead.

“Twelve!” she grins. “On the dot!”

That statue of Rourke’s now holding the symbol of Mercury…

…Mercury…messenger of the gods…

…also the god of thieves and liars, if I'm not mistaken…

The sun shines through the glass roof, and the staff casts a slow-moving shadow on the fountain’s numerals.

A mechanical sound vibrates the floor, and the tiles behind the fountain drop into the floor.

“Whoa, watch out!” I cry as I clear a distance between me and the tiles.

They begin descending, moving to form a staircase into the floor, leading below us.

“Okay,” Zahra smirks. “That’s actually pretty dope.”

“Alright,” Jake moves towards the staircase. “Time to see what kinda crazy sex-dungeon Rourke has down here.”

Aleister shudders.

“Was that mental image really necessary?”

“Ya know what, Malfoy, I immediately regretted it. I’m sorry.”

Single file, we all head below, into darkness.

Estela takes my hand, lacing my fingers with hers.

“Ready for this?” I ask.

“Now I am,” she smiles before everything goes black.

I feel my feet on the smooth floor as it evens out. We all stand in silence, seeing nothing, and hearing only each other’s breathing.

Squeezing Estela’s hand, I take another step forward-

I almost jump when I tile depresses slightly below my feet.

Instantly, the lights blast on.

“What the…”

We’re in a room with white walls, glass displays holding several bizarre artifacts on the room’s sides. In the middle of the room are a cluster of pedestals, holding even more artifacts.

“Dude,” Craig grins. “It’s not a sex dungeon…Rourke’s got a man-cave!” He scowls. “No TVs though. Gotta hook up those flat-screens.”

We all walk into the room, taking in the sight.

“Seriously, though,” Michelle frowns. “What is this place?”

“I think it’s some kind of museum,” Quinn says.

“Or a trophy room,” Estela scoffs.

“A little dusty,” Jake points out. “Don’t think anybody’s been here in a while.”

I see Michelle lingering by one of the pedestals.

In the glass display is an idol, several inches tall.

“Isn’t this gorgeous?” Michelle says in awe. “What is it? Is it gold?”

“No, it looks more like amber,” I take a closer look.

It’s a woman posing, arms outstretched in a ‘T’ position, clothed in wraps, and wearing a headdress that looks like a peacock’s tail.

Peacock…

…like Pavos

I press a small green button on the side of the pedestal. The glass dome divides and retracts into the base.

“It’s so beautiful,” Michelle breathes, picking up the idol.

She offers it to me.

I reach out to take it and-

When my fingers graze upon it, I’m not in the room anymore.

I’m…in a bedroom?

My head darts around. From the leafy trees outside, it looks like spring.

Standing in the middle of the room, are Michelle and Sean.

I try to ask them what’s going on, but for some reason, I can’t speak.

Is this another one of those freaky visions the island’s giving me? Like seeing Lion-Mask on the catwalks leading to the observatory?

“What are you talking about?” Michelle asks Sean. “I didn’t-”

“Yes, Michelle,” Sean snaps angrily. “You did. Your closest friends told me! You cheated! It’s over.”

Sean immediately turns to go, but Michelle grabs his arm.

“Don’t say that! You can’t just leave!

Sean turns around, giving her a withering look.

“We built something for two years, and it meant nothing to you. Of course it’s over. How could I ever trust you again? Once you break that trust, there’s no putting it back together.”

Sean walks out, slamming the door.

Michelle sits down on the bed, wiping tears from her eyes.

After a moment, someone knocks.

“Aw, Meech?” A woman’s voice. “You okay in there? Can we get you some chamomile?”

“Just need a minute,” Michelle sniffs. “Thanks, girls.”

A few footsteps sound, and Michelle is left silently weeping…

…until comes the sounds of giggles drifting from the open window.

“Sean totally bought it!” one voice cackles. “OMG, I can’t believe it worked!”

Michelle stops crying, and she turns towards the window.

“You know,” another voice comes. “She probably DID cheat on him some time or another. That total skank. She thinks she’s so smart, so much better than us.”

Her hands ball into fists, and they start shaking.

“How does she even not know the entire sorority totally hates her?”

Michelle’s not even crying now. She doesn’t shout or sob.

Her hair forms a shadow over her eyes and what’s visible of her face goes cold and emotionless.

I feel like I’m yanked forward, and the scene shifts again.

I’m on a beach, the sky darkened with storm clouds. Rainfall and thunder fill my ears.

I see Michelle climbing into a rusty sailboat, with Quinn, Zahra, and Jake running up to her on the dock.

“Michelle, stop!” Quinn shouts.

“You’re gonna get yourself killed, you idiot!” Zahra yells.

Michelle turns around and glares.

“No! I’m going! None of you want me here! You never did! You think it’s my fault Craig and Aleister are dead!”

What?!

What the hell is she talking about?

“Of course not Michelle,” Jake pleads, holding his hand out. “Just get out of the boat! We’re your friends!”

The rain is heavy, but I can still see Michelle’s tears through them.

No,” she says with cold finality. “You’re not.”

She pushes the sailboat into the sea.

“No!” Jake yells desperately. He runs across the dock, reaching out to the retreating boat. “Michelle, that thing’s still out there!”

The sailboat shrinks into the distance, and I can see…

…oh no…

A giant shadow slithers beneath the waves, and-

The sea monster’s massive, blue head rises from the sea before diving its head into where the boat is floating.

“MICHELLE!”

And just like that, I’m back in the museum.

“What the-” I recoil.

So it was a vision.

“Uh…how long was I standing here?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Michelle demands. “I just handed you that thing a second ago.”

I look down, and in my hands, the face of the amber idol stares blankly at me.

What in the hell was that…?

I gulp.

The first part of the vision…that was most likely the past…

…so is the second part the-

“Yo, Cain!” Craig calls out to me. “Check this thing out!”

Come on, shake it off.

Placing the idol back on the pedestal, I pull on a calm façade as I walk towards Craig in the back of the room.

“The hell do you think this is?”

He’s gesturing at a strange, armored, crimson glove in another pedestal in a glass dome. The glove ends at the elbow.

When my gaze falls upon it, my head starts fogging with more static-

Ah!

I rub my right arm.

For some reason…it just feels really sore now…

“It looks futuristic,” I point out, trying to seem nonchalant. “But…how old is it?”

“Wanna check it out?” Craig asks me.

I press the button to open the glass, but it just gives me a beep.

Looking down, I see the release button is red.

“The button’s on the fritz,” I mutter.

Craig grins.

“We could always smash the glass…”

“Sure,” is all I say, rubbing my forehead when the static comes stronger.

“Hell yeah!”

Craig winds up a punch, and lets it fly with a fierce yell.

The dome shatters, sending glass sprinkling all over the floor.

“The hell’s the matter with you,” Zahra yells from across the room. “You maniac?!”

“Wha-” Craig whirls around. “It wasn’t me! Cain told me to!”

“Yeah,” I assure. “This one’s on me. Thanks, Craig.”

I reach and take the glove.

Huh. It’s light.

“It’s really kinda patched together.”

“But it’s so cool looking!” Craig gushes. “Does it do anything? Try it on!”

I try to slip it on my arm, but I frown when I see the bottom.

“The elbow looks all torn up and scalded…”

I touch the bottom of the glove, and I realize what it is I’m touching.

Yelping, I drop the glove on the ground.

“Craig, this person’s arm was cut off!

Craig bursts with laughter.

“And you put your hand in there! Nasty!”

“Hey, Craigslist!” Jake calls, holding what looks like a small remote. “I think I found the remote to those TVs you were looking for.”

Jake starts pressing a few buttons, but nothing happens.

“Huh,” he frowns. “Think the batteries might be dead or-”

The wall behind Jake suddenly splits in two.

“Whoa!” I gape.

Two panels slide apart, revealing an enormous floor-to-ceiling screen.

“Yeah, baby!” Craig whoops. “That’s what ya boy is talkin’ about!”

The screen lights up, and on it…

“That’s here!” Jake exclaims. “That’s satellite imagery of La Huerta!”

Crosshairs flash on screen, settling on a small bay to the western side of the island.

Words light up next to the target.

“‘Hostile’s Stronghold’,” Sean reads.

“That’s what Rourke called the Watchers!” I remember. “‘The Hostiles’!”

“I think,” Jake’s jaw clenches. “We just found out where the Blue Man Group took Diego.”

This is it.

We have a destination.

Hope bubbles in my chest, and I have to keep myself from grinning.

I turn to the others.

Ah, dammit…

They’ve already done so much for me.

How can I ask them to put themselves in danger?

Honestly, I think it might be better if…if I go alone.

“Listen,” I begin. “I know you’ve all been through a lot, so…if, uh…if any of you want to stay here-”

“Aw, give it a rest, Cain,” Zahra drawls.

“Huh?”

I look at everyone.

Sean folds his arms in defiance. Craig cracks his knuckles. Raj looks more serious than I’ve ever seen him. Michelle ties her hair back. Jake and Estela both pick up ancient weapons from display cases.

And they’re all looking at me with a fiery resolve in their eyes.

“You already know we’re all coming with you, dumbass,” Zahra smirks.

“Let’s go save our friends,” Craig says.

Suddenly, I hear the sound of footsteps and a slow clap from behind me.

I turn, and then I see him.

Somehow, he found a three-piece suit, oxfords, and a comb.

The second my eyes fall on him, I feel a chill crawl down my spine.

“Well done, friends!” Everett Rourke grins. “You found my toys, I see. Now we can get down to business.”

Chapter Text

“Figures,” Jake growls. “That you’d be the kinda fucker who does slow claps.”

“Jake, Jake, Jake,” Rourke shakes his head, smiling. “To be fair, I understand your hostility. But you’re going to appreciate very quickly that we are on the same side.”

Adjusting his jacket and cracking his neck, Rourke’s eyes fall on me.

Suddenly, I feel like my skin is crawling as I meet his gaze.

“I see you’re awake,” I say evenly.

“I see you exist,” he replies. “Splendid, on both accounts. The pleasure, for once, is all mine.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Estela glares, stepping beside me.

Rourke looks to my right, where Aleister’s standing.

The two lock eyes.

“Aleister. My boy. It’s been a long time.”

I turn, and see him silently glaring at the suited man.

“Well?” Rourke grins. “Aren’t you going to say hello to your father?”

Aleister just stands there with his eyes ablaze.

Grace nudges him.

“Aleister?” she asks.

“I have many things to say to you,” he finds his voice. “‘Hello’ is not one of them.”

Rourke sighs like he just stepped in mud.

“Somehow, you inherit no qualities of mine, and yet you have your mother’s tongue. Truly, a miraculous feat.”

God…

…as clichéd as it sounds, you can cut the tension with a knife.

“Yo,” Craig scratches the back of his neck. “This is super awkward.”

Rourke shrugs.

“Imagine what it’s like for me, Mr. Hsiao. Can any of you explain what my son is doing here?”

“What are you talking about?” Aleister demands. “You invited me. I got your email after I wrote you.”

Rourke knits his eyebrows in confusion, but then relaxes.

“Right, of course,” he grins sheepishly (fake). “My apologies. My memory is still coming back to me.”

He looks around at the strewn glass on the floor. Rourke’s eyes linger on the empty pedestal where the amber idol stood.

“And what, pray tell, happened here?” he asks.

“Everything was smashed up when we got here,” I lie smoothly.

“I apologize,” Lila says hurriedly. “For the condition of the resort, Mr. Rourke. I-”

Rourke holds his hand up, and Lila immediately looks down in shame.

“Save the groveling, Lila. At the very least, you managed to keep our most honored guests alive all this time. How long have you been here, anyway? What day is it?”

“December 27,” Iris speaks. “2017, sir.”

Rourke turns to Iris’s hologram, and his face softens.

“Iris?”

He almost looks sad

“Good morning, sir. Time is based on internal clock. Internet connection to atomic clock, unavailable.”

Rourke’s face morphs into shock.

“December 27…that long? And you’re…all alive…how? State your version.”

“0.9.1.”

“An old backup copy,” he rubs his chin thoughtfully. “Of course…tell me, all of you, how did you find this version of Iris? How have you managed to stay alive here for over six months?”

“Bro,” Craig steps forward angrily before anyone else can speak. “I don’t think you get the situation. You are gonna answer our questions, or else.”

Rourke lifts his eyebrow in amusement.

“Or else what?”

Immediately, Craig grabs him by the collar and lifts him right off the floor, pinning him to the wall.

Rourke smiles sweetly down at him.

“You wanna find out, amigo?” Craig growls.

“Craig,” I step up to him, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Put him down.”

You serious?

While there’s a part of me that wouldn’t mind seeing Rourke getting pummeled…

…now’s not the time for that.

“He just woke up from who knows how long in that tube. He can’t help us until he knows what’s going on.”

He looks at me, then at Rourke, then sighs.

“Aiight. I trust you on this.”

Craig sets down Rourke, who smooths his lapels.

“Now then,” he smirks. “Where were we?”

I tell Rourke everything that’s happened. From the arrival right up to finding him in the tube.

“Ah,” he nods when I finish. “I have a clearer picture of the situation now. Come along.”

Rourke heads for the stairs.

“Whoa, hold on!” I call out. “We’ve got more questions for you!”

“Of course,” he turns his head and stops. “There will be occasion for that later. Unless you want to be here when they return.”

“When who returns?” Quinn asks.

“Why, the Hostiles,” he turns fully. “You told me that you had sent some of them through the portals before sending yourselves. Obviously, that means that those Hostiles emerged just minutes before you did. Surely, they immediately returned to their stronghold. But once their leaders realize what this means, they’ll be coming back for you. We must go at once.”

“What are you talking about?” Estela demands. “Go where?”

Rourke turns to her and grins.

“To rescue your friend, of course. I can’t have guests perish at my establishment. Could you imagine the Yelp reviews?”

He’s lying.

There’s a heavy feeling in my gut telling me he’s up to no good.

“Besides,” he continues. “The Hostiles’ home will be briefly undefended, as they will send their warriors here to collect you.”

“And you know the way?” I ask.

“I know this island like the back of my hand,” Rourke assures. “Come now. Time is of the essence.”

He bounds up the steps, but none of us follow.

We just glance at each other for a while.

I’m not sure what to say right now either.

“We can’t actually be considering taking him with us,” Estela breaks the silence.

“I’m with Katniss,” Jake nods. “This has ‘ending in shit’ written all over it.”

“You guys got a better idea?” Sean shrugs sadly. “He knows the way.”

“And it would make sense,” Grace agrees. “To bring an expert on the island and the Watchers with us.”

“‘Expert’?” Zahra scoffs. “You mean the fucker who got us into this mess in the first place?”

“We cannot trust him,” Aleister says. “Plain and simple. Take it from someone who has had personal experience suffering under him.”

“For once,” Michelle speaks up. “I agree with you.”

“I don’t know,” Quinn frowns. “Like Grace said, he knows more about the Watchers than we do.”

“Yeah!” Raj pipes up. “I mean, Rourke’s probably a bit of a wild card, no denying that, but he’s our best bet against the Watchers.”

“You guys seriously willing to trust this guy?” Jake demands.

“Hell no,” Sean sighs. “But right now, we need him.”

He’s a snake, says a voice in the back of my head. He’ll betray you.

It’s risky…

…but we can’t go looking for the Watchers blindly. We need someone who knows about them.

Diego. We’re doing this for Diego. Remember that.

“Sean’s right,” I say. “Rourke is our best shot at getting Diego back. If we wanna find him, we have to take that risk.”

“You serious?” Jake looks at me incredulously.

But,” I continue. “Rest assured, I’ll be keeping a close eye on him. And we’ll be prepared when and if he makes his move.”

That I can get behind,” Estela mutters darkly.

“Yeah, just say the word,” Craig nods. “And the guy’s minced meat…whatever that is…”

“Fuck it,” Jake sighs. “But just cuz bad stuff happens, it doesn’t mean you gotta throw yourself into the fire.”

“Well,” Sean sighs. “For me it does.”


In my room, I’m stuffing my messenger bag full of spare clothes, survival tools, and the pirate sword.

This is it.

We’re going to get Diego back.

As I’m packing, I find the amber idol Michelle found in my bag.

What could that vision mean?

If that first bit was what I think it was, Michelle’s past, then it means Michelle didn’t actually cheat on Sean, like I heard from the security cameras.

That’s not even the bombshell.

If the second part of the vision was what I think it was…

…that means that Michelle…

…along with Craig and Aleister…

“What the hell,” I mutter, sticking the idol into my bag.

Finally, after double checking all my supplies, I zip my bag up.

The shattered window’s letting in the outside heat, and I wipe sweat away from my brow.

It’s so damn hot…

There’s a knock at my door, and I see Quinn peeking her head in.

“Everyone’s downstairs,” she smiles warmly. “We’re all ready to go. You got everything? I get the feeling we won’t be here again for a while.”

“Yup, everything,” I grin. “Call me crazy, but…some part of me is gonna miss this place.”

She grins back.

“We certainly made some memories here.”

I feel more sweat on my forehead, and I wipe it again.

“If it’s really December, this place didn’t get the memo,” I chuckle.

“Must be a heat wave,” Quinn suggests. “Nothing about time on this island makes sense. I don’t expect it to start now. Make sure to bring some extra water. So, all set?”

“Yup,” I take one last look at the splendor of the honeymoon suite. “All set.”


A few hours later, we’re all trudging through the rainforest in the baking heat.

Lugging around bags full of supplies is hard enough. Anyone who’s wearing a second layer of clothing has it tired around their waist by the sleeves.

All except for Rourke.

“Crapballs,” Jake swears. “It’s gotta be 120 degrees…and a thousand friggin’ percent humidity.”

“That,” Aleister rolls his eyes. “Is neither how percentages nor humidity work…nevertheless, I concur.”

“It’s so bright I can hardly see,” Zahra groans. “And if I have to hear about Craig being sticky one more time-”

“But I am sticky!” Craig insists, holding out his arm with the sleeves rolled up. “Feel!”

“I will abso-fucking-lutely not feel!”

“I know it’s hot,” Grace says. “But come on, guys. Diego’s counting on us!”

“Never give up!” Raj agrees. “Never surrender! No matter how toasty it gets outside, we’re coming for you, Diego!”

“This is insane,” I sigh. “It’s gotta be the hottest day in history!”

“Or pre-recorded history,” Zahra offers.

“The sooner we get there,” I feel annoyance stab through me when Rourke speaks. “The sooner we can stop walking. Doesn’t that sound pleasant? Now hurry up.”

“Mr. Rourke,” Sean frowns. “You’re not even sweating. How is that possible?”

“Impeccable conditioning.”

“I bet you just Botox’d your damn sweat glands shut,” Jake snaps.

Suddenly, the static rushes through my head at full strength, making a headache pound my skull. That’s not all, it’s like…

…everything’s…

warping

Visions and sounds pass through me, clear enough as though they’re actually happening.

“This river looks pretty deep,” Quinn says. “How are we supposed to get across?”

“I had my people search all over” the world for you,” comes Rourke’s voice. “And we could never find you.”

“Cain,” Michelle sounds relieved. “You don’t even understand how much you just saved my life.”

“Check it out,” Sean grins. “I found something at the bottom.”

“Peaceful…” Estela sighs. “Guess I never really knew peace.”

And then it stops.

The static’s gone, and so is my headache.

I look at the others.

They’re not looking around or looking like they experienced what I did.

What in the hell…?

“Are you alright, Cain?” Iris asks me.

“I…”

“The river looks pretty deep,” I hear Quinn.

I look, and see that we’re at the banks of a rushing river.

“How are we supposed to get across?”

That was exactly like my vision…

“Iris,” I turn to the hologram. “How did I know Quinn was gonna say that…? I saw all these…visions…”

“Scanning. I detect a disturbance in the tachyon field. It seems that we have entered a time loop. Such phenomena normally cannot be sensed by humans…yet apparently you can.”

“Hold on, what do you mean, a ‘time loop’?”

“A period of approximately twelve minutes will repeat indefinitely,” Iris answers. “Even this very conversation should you choose to have it again.”

“Indefinitely?!” I almost shout. “How do I break the loop?”

“There must be a source of the time disturbance nearby. You must destroy it to escape the loop.”

“I gotta tell the others-”

“Warning: Informing them of the temporal vortex may cause irreplaceable damage to space-time.”

For some reason, my mind goes to the giant crab, but I shake it off.

“Seriously?” I groan. “I can’t tell them about it without reality caving in on itself? So I’m on my own?”

“Yes,” she confirms. “Though there may be ways to use the others to your advantage.”

“Okay…so first things first. I’ve got to find and destroy the source of the time loop-hold on! Why am I aware of the loop and not the others?”

“I cannot say…however, the only viable explanation is that you somehow exist outside of time.”

Outside of time?” my jaw drops. “How…hold on I have another question. You remember that energy field you said you noticed? The one surrounding me when I touched the pirate sword?”

“Affirmative.”

“What was up with that?”

“Accessing memory…I do not have any data comparable with the energy signature you speak of. The most information I can give you is that the tachyon field seems to react to it.”

“Right,” I nod, sighing. I don’t know the first thing about 'tachyons (whatever those are) or physics, so I decide to drop it.

“Over here, guys!” Estela calls out. “There’s a fallen tree going all the way across. We can use it as a bridge.”

We all go single file to cross the river over the moss covered log.

I line up behind Michelle, who easily walks across to the far side.

“Dammit!” I hear her curse when I catch up with her. “I just lost a contact lens!”

“Want some help?” I offer.

Michelle sizes me up for a while before sighing.

“Fine. So long as you agree I never asked for your help.”

“Agreed,” I smirk, kneeling down to join Michelle in combing the high grass.

“This. Is. Impossible-”

“Found it!” I hold up the small lens.

“Cain,” she takes it gratefully as she recites what she said from my vision. “You don’t even understand how much you just saved my life.”

“Hold on,” I catch something bright red in the grass. “There’s something else here too.”

I reach through the grass, and close my fingers around it.

“What the hell is that?” Michelle asks.

“Well, lookie here,” I see Jake, who’s kneeling down beside us. “That’s a 12-gauge armor-piercing shell casing…it’s for the USAS-12 automatic shotgun. Lemme tell you, that’s some heavy-duty firepower. Hell, my old black-ops squad used those.”

“So,” I shift uncomfortably. “You’re saying whoever fired this meant business.”

“That,” Jake shrugs. “Is a damn understatement.”

Soon enough, we’re all across the river, and we continue on.

My eyes fall to Rourke, who’s off by himself, whistling cheerfully.

Well, I guess now’s a good time to get those answers we need from him.

“Alright, Rourke,” I walk up to him, schooling a nonchalant look to hide my discomfort. “You promised me answers.”

“Ah, of course,” he turns to me, smiling amiably. “Do you know what business I’m in?”

“Resorts?” I ask. “Technology?”

“I dabble,” I resist the urge to flinch when he smiles at me. “But mainly I’m in the business of information.”

It’s weird…

…every part of him is coming off as though he’s a longtime friend…

…and that’s part of the tricks I use to try to win people over.

That isn’t even what’s bothering me. Every time he speaks, my skin crawls. Every time he looks at me, I feel like freezing up…

…it’s like every bone in my body is telling me this guy is bad news…

“And that,” Rourke continues. “Means I don’t give it away for free. I expect a trade. I’ll answer one question of yours. But first you will answer one of mine. Fair?”

What could he possibly have to ask me?

“Fair,” I shrug. “So, shoot.”

He grins again.

“My question is very simple. What is your name?

My name…?

Oh, right.

My file.

“It’s…Cain.”

“No surname then?”

“Summers. Cain Andres Summers.”

“Hm,” his grin widens, and I see a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. “Cain. Andres. Summers. What a delicious name.”

Creepy much?

“The first name has meanings in quite a few languages, I believe. Most notably after the Biblical Cain who killed his sibling.”

-don’t flinch don’t flinch don’t flinch don’t flinch-

“Are you alright? You don’t look so well,” he shows sympathy I can feel in my gut is fake. “Well, I suppose no one could be at the top of their moods, given the situation. Back on topic, I had my people search all over the world for you. And we could never find you. And to realize that all this time you were a student at Hartfeld, like Aleister…”

Rourke chuckles, shaking his head.

“Let’s just say, if we survive this, I’ll be firing my intelligence staff.”

If he doesn’t know anything about me, then what exactly explains the filled out dossier I found this morning?

He could be lying…

…but what could he have to gain from making me think I’m some kind of enigma?

“Alright,” I snap, annoyance creeping through. “You’ve got your question, now for mine. Where is everyone? What happened to the guests and staff at the Celestial? We know they were prompted to go to the emergency shelter, but there was no trace after that.”

“When it became clear that Mount Atropo was to erupt,” he says. “I ordered a full evacuation. I can only pray they all made it out safely.”

He feigns sympathy again. It looks genuine, but believing he actually means it is like believing the sky is pink.

“That’s all you’re getting from me,” he shoos me away. “We must focus on the road ahead.”

Jake stands high atop a boulder, peering northeast. He hops down.

“There's a nice clearing out that way to the right,” he grins. “The river ends in a lake if you follow it for a bit.”

“Might be useful to send someone to get our bearings,” Estela considers.

“I could go,” I say.

“I’ll come with you,” Estela offers.

“Sure,” I grin. “Let’s go.”


We both follow the river, and when we reach a clearing, I let out a small gasp.

A gorgeous, shimmering lake reflects the sun’s light before us.

“Wow,” I gape. “It’s beautiful.”

“Hey, Cain,” Estela grabs my arm and points into the distance. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

The mountain range gleams white in the sun.

Wait, white?

“That can’t be snow, can it?” I ask.

“In the middle of a heat wave?” Estela shakes her head. “The mountains here aren’t tall enough for that.”

She leads me over to the base of the mountains, where…

…what in the hell?!

Snow’s piled up in the shade.

“There’s no way…”

I reach down and scoop up a handful.

“It is snow!”

Estela’s raises her eyebrows in amusement.

Wow, it’s true. Nothing surprises her.

“If there’s snow here…who knows what the other side of the island might be like?”

Estela steps towards the water’s edge, gazing down at her reflection. I step beside her.

“This heat’s unbearable,” she says. “I’d sure love to cool off a bit.”

I glance at the snow, and mischief strikes me.

I walk over to the snow, and before Estela can react, I pick up a handful of snow and peg the snowball at her.

“Hey!” she exclaims, brushing the snow off.

Mischief managed.

“Direct hit!” I grin.

Estela glares at me, but grins.

“Oh okay! It is so on!”

She scoops up some snow, and before we know it, we’re laughing like children as we throw snowballs at each other.

Estela dives and ducks like a ninja, and she gets a good few hits on me.

Finally, she tackles me into the snow bank, and we’re both lying in the snow together, out of breath.

“You know,” Estela begins, still smiling. “This is the first time in my life I’ve ever seen snow.”

“Seriously?” I ask. “What about Hartfeld? It snows there.”

“I transferred in after winter quarter, so I missed it all.”

She glances around at the snow around her, and looks back at me.

“Maybe this year, we could spend some time in the snow together?” Estela asks hopefully.

“I promise, Estela,” I kiss her cheek. “When we get back, I’ll give you the full winter quarter experience. Trudging through campus in the snow, making forts, snowball fights, and hot chocolate to finish it off.”

Gazing up at the sky, Estela smiles wistfully.

“Can’t wait.”


When we return from the lake, we catch up with everyone else as they approach a massive stone pillar.

It just about reaches into the treetops, and bits of its surface looks chipped away from erosion.

I walk up next to Craig, who’s wiping sweat off his brow.

“Dude,” he gasps. “This is garbage. It’s so hot. Can’t we take a break?”

“You’re tired because you’re wasting energy complaining,” Rourke waves off.

“I’m gonna waste energy beating your ass, geezer,” Craig glares at the man before looking back at me. “Come on, there’s some awesome shade over there from that stone pillar thingy.”

“I guess a small break can’t hurt,” I sigh.

I mean, if we’re in a time loop, it doesn’t matter if we take a break right now, I guess.

“Finally!” Craig grins.

Everyone immediately sits down where they are, and I notice Aleister slumping against a tree, throwing his bag aside.

Craig leans against the shaded side of the pillar, and lets out a relieved sigh.

“Sweet, sweet shade! This is heaven right now-”

Suddenly, I hear a crack.

The stone pillar shifts, and before we can react, it begins to topple over…straight towards-

“Aleister!” I yell. “Look out!”

He scrambles out of the way, just as the pillar shatters into a mound of rubble.

“Aleister, you okay-”

“You nitwit!” Aleister glares at Craig. “You utter simpleton! You just crushed my bag!”

“My B, dude,” Craig scratches the back of his neck, embarrassed.

Walking over to his bag, Aleister dumps out the pummeled contents of the bag.

“Fortunately,” he sighs. “I had next to nothing in there, but I could’ve had something much more, something important.”

I look over to Aleister’s bag.

Huh…

…so we’ll be repeating these moments over and over again, huh?

If the source of the loop Iris told me about can fit inside the bag…

…I just might have a way to get rid of the loop.

Chapter Text

After Craig complained about needing nap time, static ran through my head as we were brought back to the start of the loop at the riverbank.

“This river looks pretty deep,” Quinn says. “How are we supposed to get across?”

Okay, so I have a possible way to destroy the source of the loop.

Now I just gotta find the source of the loop.

“Over here, guys,” Estela says. “There’s a fallen tree going all the way across. We can use it as a bridge.”

Like last time, we line up, single file, to walk over the log.

This time, I cross the river with Aleister and Grace.

“Steady, now,” Aleister assures. “Look straight ahead rather than down. It improves your balance and sense of horizon.”

“I think it’s working!” Grace says.

I wobble, barely able to keep balance on the mossy wood.

“Cain, when you fall in the river,” Aleister calls out. “I beg of you, please do not allow the water to splash me.”

How the hell are you balancing so well?” I demand.

“Simple. I alone brought very few possessions on this trip. I have no interest in materialism. My bag is nearly empty. Thus, I am unencumbered while you drag yourself down with silly trinkets.”

Finally, we make it across.

Again, I see Rourke whistling cheerfully to himself.

An idea strikes me.

Because of the loop, I can ask Rourke as many questions as I want, and he’ll be none the wiser.

I have to keep myself from grinning, forcing myself to look calm and even as I walk up to him.

“Alright, Rourke. You promised me some answers.”

“Ah, of course,” he turns to me, smiling like he did last time. “Do you know what business I’m in?”

“Resorts?” I ask, playing dumb. I won’t give him a clue about the loop. “Technology?”

“I dabble. But mainly I’m in the business of information. And that means I don’t give it away for free. I expect a trade. I’ll answer one question of yours. But first you will answer one of mine. Fair?”

“Fine. What do you want to know?”

“My question is very simple. What is your name?

“Cain Andres Summers,” I say, not letting him time to give his weird reply. “Now, my turn. What was that tube we found you in?”

“A sleep tank filled with a tachyon-slowing fluid,” he answers. “My research showed that Mount Antropo’s eruption would cause a cascading temporal event; tearing space-time apart. If I were to endure that effect, I risked instantly aging into dust, or reverting to before I was born. Anything could’ve been possible. Before the eruption, I entered the tank to keep me at my current age. I set it to awaken me shortly after, but clearly the time effects of the blast derailed the scheduled release.”

So, if that’s true, then maybe the event could have had an effect on everyone else on the island…

…like the staff and guests…

“That’s all you’re getting out of me,” he says, just like in the last loop. “We must focus on the road ahead.”

He shoos me away, and I smile to myself.


I’m with Estela at the lake again, joining her next to the water’s edge.

“The heat’s unbearable,” she says. “I’d sure love to cool off a bit.”

I look at the water, and how cool it must be.

Damn, it’s been too long since I went swimming.

“How about we swim in the lake?” I ask her.

She looks into the water, and smirks.

“Sure, let’s go.”

We both strip to our underwear and wade into the crisp, cool water.

When I’m waste deep, I let out a relieved sigh.

“Honestly,” I grin. “There’s nothing better than this on a day like today.”

“I can’t remember the last time I went swimming,” Estela smirks, looking content in the water. “I used to go all the time with my uncle in San Trobia when I was little.”

She smiles, but it quickly fades.

“It was a simpler time…but only because I was a simpler girl and didn’t know any better.”

I notice that Estela started shivering.

“Are you cold?” I ask.

“What? No,” she says, her teeth chattering. “I’m fine. It’s not that cold.”

An idea hits me, and I blush a bit before smiling.

“Here,” I wade over to Estela and wrap my arms around her.

She melts into me, and her shivering stops soon.

I gotta admit, feeling her warm body against mine is pretty nice…

In the calm water, we stare into each other’s eyes.

“Better?” I ask, blushing deeper.

Estela kisses me, soft and tender, and the world stops around us. The feeling of fireworks going on in my head as we share each other’s warmth is indescribable.

When she pulls away, she flashes that brighter-than-sunshine smile of hers.

“Better.”


We return from the lake, and I walk beside Sean this time.

“Hey there, Cain,” he grins. “Hot as hell, isn’t it? Kinda wishing I jumped in the river back there.”

“I would’ve liked to seen you fall in,” I chuckle.

“Yeah,” he laughs back. “But that’s cause you want this whole expedition to turn into a wet t-shirt contest.”

Sean looks over to the river.

“The current looked pretty fast. Fortunately, I’m a strong swimmer. Back in my sophomore year, I blew out my knee. I took a lot of rehab, a lot of which was swimming. I always thought there was something really calming about swimming. It centered me.”

We walk a bit more, and as expected, in a flash of static, I’m back at the riverbank.

“This river looks pretty deep,” Quinn says. “How are we supposed to get across?”

Okay, so I didn’t learn much about the source of the time loop.

Gotta do things differently this time.

Maybe it’s hidden where I can’t see…

“Over here, guys,” Estela says. “There’s a fallen tree going all the way across. We can use it as a bridge.”


This time, I cross the log with Zahra.

Together, we inch slowly across.

“This is total bull,” she hisses. “I do not do the outdoors.”

“You can make it, Zahra,” I insist.

Hey, she didn’t fall in for the last few loops, did she?

“I know I can make it. I’m just…a little out of my element here-whoa!

Zahra wobbles, and instinctively, I reach out and grab her shoulder, steadying her before she falls in.

“Gotcha!”

“Whoa, too close! Still, thanks for bailing me out, Cain. You want money or something?”

“Huh? No-”

“You did it for free? Weird.”

Seriously, how cynical could you get?

“Did not wanna fall in there,” Zahra continues. “Who knows what’s down there?”


“I wanna ask,” I say to Rourke after I give him my name. “What was that radio call we heard?”

“The one you heard over the satellite array in the observatory,” he nods. “Yes. I strongly suspect that was an echo from our planet’s likely future.”

“An echo…from the future?” I ask.

I remember the horror from everyone I heard on the call.

Suddenly, I remember the vision Lion-Mask showed me.

Fire spreading across the entire world.

“Yes. Right now, we are in a bubble of time, safe for the moment. But an eruption of Mount Antropo risks plunging the planet itself into a prehistoric time, when all the world was lava. Civilization would immediately be engulfed in the fire of a bygone era.”

Whoa…

That,” Rourke continues. “My young friend, is what I need your help to prevent.”

“What? But how-”

“Ah ah!” He wags his finger. “That’s all you’re getting from me for now. We must focus on the road ahead.”

He shoos me away, and I make a mental note of a few more questions to ask him.


“This heat is unbearable,” Estela says as we’re next to each other at the lake again. “I’d sure love to cool off a bit.”

“How about we drink the chilled water?” I suggest. “It looks clean enough.”

“In weather like this, that sounds great.”

We sit down, close to each other by the shore, filling our water bottles with the water.

I take a sip, and I almost moan from how good the ice cold water feels in the heat.

“Oh, man,” I take another sip. “Did I need this. Isn’t this peaceful?”

“Peaceful,” Estela says the word like it’s one in a different language. She takes a sip from her water. “I guess I never really knew peace. Cartel violence in Columbia…civil war in San Trobia…”

Her face falls.

“Peace like this…it almost makes me uneasy. At least when you’re at war, you know where everyone stands.”

My heart clenches at her words.

God…how much did you go through, Estela? Something so bad that it made peace feel uncomfortable?

“You know where I stand, Estela,” I insist, squeezing her hand.

She turns to fully face me.

“Do I?”

I almost take offense to that, but I remind myself that with all she’s been through, I can’t blame her for not being that trusting.

And she only met me about a week ago, not counting the lost six months.

Still…

…I want to show her that she can trust me.

“Let me show you,” I lean in close, cupping her face.

I give Estela a deep kiss, teasing her lower lip with my tongue as I softly caress her cheeks. She grabs the back of my head, pulling me in closer.

I’m the one who pulls back first, and she leaves her eyes closed.

“Okay,” a broad smile breaks across her face and she blushes. “That was convincing.”


“This river looks pretty deep. How are we supposed to get across?”

Okay, what did I do wrong this time?

Still…it gives me the chance to ask Rourke some more questions…


“I wanna know,” I ask Rourke. “Why did you bring us to La Huerta?”

Rourke grins.

“I presumed this would be your question. During the most recent expansion of the Celestial’s facilities, a worker discovered a photograph buried in the sands. It was dated to be 500 years old, despite the art of photography only having existed for 200. Photographed therein were eleven young people.”

A chill runs down my spine, and I know what he’s going to say next.

All of you,” he confirms my fears. “Except Aleister. I knew you must somehow be critical to solving this island’s mysteries.”

“Well why not just tell us that?”

“Frankly, I intended to,” Rourke shrugs innocently. “I intended to enlist your help to save the world. Clearly, the world had other plans.”


“This river looks pretty deep. How are we supposed to get across?”


“I wanna know,” I ask Rourke again. “What’s with all the secret doors in the Celestial? We keep finding these secret passages and rooms all over the hotel. The library, that weird museum, and the security office behind the game room.”

“Needless to say,” he begins. “Once I uncovered the true perils of La Huerta, I needed to…remodel the resort, in case the worst happened.”

“You should have just closed the place down!”

“And invite the scrutiny of my rivals?” he shakes his head. “Who could try to steal the island for their own nefarious purposes?”

Probably no better purposes that your own, jackass.

“No,” Rourke insists. “It had to stay open.”


“This river looks pretty deep. How are we supposed to get across?”


“Tell me about that sea monster,” I talk to Rourke for the nth time.

“Ah,” he smirks. “So you’ve met Cetus.”

“That thing has a name?”

“Roughly translated from thousands of years ago. A name of legend. But as you’ve no doubt seen, the beast is far more than legend.”

I stay silent about how we took down Cetus.

“It only re-emerged in the last week before your arrival. I’ve no doubt the two of you shall meet again.”

Well shit, I hope not.


“This river looks pretty deep. How are we supposed to get across?”

And again.


“What was the time portal gun?” I ask Rourke.

“You know it better than I,” now, I decide now that I really don’t like his grin. “I’ve never been through it. But yes, as you surmise, it is a portable prototype, created in an effort to understand the island’s…eccentricities. It carries the occupant forward in time exactly 204 days. No more, no less.”


“This river looks pretty deep. How are we supposed to get across?”

Dammit, what am I not doing right?

Chapter Text

I go with Zahra again, and this time, I’m too busy looking around to reach her before she falls headfirst into the river.

“Oh gee,” she sputters. “Thanks for the help, Cain!”

“Sorry,” I smile sheepishly as I offer her a hand.

“I saw something down there,” she says as I pull her out. “Something glowing at the bottom of the river.”

Hope swells in my chest.

Glowing?

Could this be the source of the time loop?

“What was it?” I ask, trying not to sound desperate.

“No idea,” she shrugs. “But it’s way down there, and even if I wanted to find out, I’m nowhere near a good enough swimmer to dive that deep.”

Okay, so I might have found the source of the loop…

…but how to get down there-

 “The current looked pretty fast. Fortunately, I’m a strong swimmer.

I almost laugh out loud, but I hear Rourke’s whistling.

Right.

I need to get all the answers I can out of him.

I go up to Rourke.

When we pass the pleasantries, I ask my next question.

“What happened to the boats at the marina?”

“You visited my marina?” he grins, sounding impressed. “You are resourceful! Why couldn’t I have had a child with your cunning and persistence?”

Rourke ruffles my hair, and I recoil like his hand is on fire.

“Back off!” I snap, my mask cracking for a traitorous moment.

“I’m not so bad once you get to know me,” he smiles in innocence I know is false. “In any case, the explanation is simple; after the evacuation, I feared the Hostiles could use the long-distance watercraft at the marina and attack neighboring islands. I couldn’t allow that to enter the realm of possibility. Now, that’s all you’re getting from me for now. We must focus on the road ahead.”

I scowl as he shoos me away.


I walk next to Sean this time.

“Hey there, Cain,” he grins, just like last time. “Hot as hell, isn’t it? Kinda wishing I’d jumped in the river back there.”

I smirk, repeating what I said the last few loops.

“I would’ve liked to see you fall in.”

“Yeah, but that’s ‘cause you want this whole expedition to turn into a wet t-shirt contest.”

Sean looks over to the river.

“The current looked pretty fast. Fortunately, I’m a strong swimmer. Back in my sophomore year, I blew out my knee. It took a lot of rehab, a lot of which was swimming. I always thought there was something really calming about swimming. It centered me.”

“Hey, you know, Zahra said she saw something at the bottom of the river,” I say. “Something glowing. Think you can grab it for me?”

“Sure thing,” he shoots me another grin as we go to the riverbank.

He pulls off his t-shirt and sizes up the water.

“Looks pretty deep, but I should be able to get down there.”

Sean dives in, and he barely leaves a splash.

I’m not keeping track, but it feels like he spends five minutes underwater before he resurfaces.

“Check it out!” Sean smiles broadly as he holds up some kind of ball.

He climbs out of the river, places it in my hands, and I get a better look at it.

It’s…

…it’s exactly like the orb we found on our second day on La Huerta, in the tunnels under the emergency shelter.

A perfectly smooth, crystal sphere with two four-fingered (clawed) handprints.

My jaw drops.

“It’s…it’s another one of those glowing orbs!” I gasp. “Like what we found in those abandoned tunnels!”

And I notice that the orb’s…vibrating against my skin…

Okay…so I think I can safely assume that this is the cause of the loop.

I need to destroy it.

I can use that pillar when it falls against Craig’s weight.

But how to get it into Aleister’s bag-

-and suddenly, we’re back at the riverbank.

“This river looks pretty deep. How are we supposed to get across?”

I look down, and I see that the crystal orb is still in my hands.

It stayed with me!

Okay, that makes things easier.

A plan forms in my mind, and discreetly, I slip the orb into my bag.


“Cain, when you fall in the river,” Aleister calls out as we cross the river. “I beg of you, please do not allow the water to splash me.”

“How are you even balancing so well?!”

“Simple. I alone brought very few possessions on this trip. I have no interest in materialism. My bag is nearly empty. Thus, I am unencumbered while you drag yourself down with silly trinkets.”

We finally cross the log, and I decide to make my move.

“Hey, in that case,” I begin. “Think you could carry this for me?”

I show him the crystal orb.

Another one of those damned things!”

“Yup,” I nod grimly, hoping he wouldn’t ask me how I got it. I’d have to lie, and I get the feeling he’d be sharp enough to catch the lie.

He considers for a while, before holding out his hand.

“Give it here,” Aleister takes the orb and stuffs it in his bag.

“Thanks,” I nod gratefully, trying not to smirk too widely.

“Now, enough prattle,” he rolls his eyes. “Time to move forward.”

I see Rourke off by himself again, whistling cheerfully.

Okay, time for one last question.

Better make it count.

I stand there for a few seconds before deciding.

“Alright, Rourke, you promised me some answers.”

“Ah, of course,” he turns to me with his disturbing smile. “Do you know what business I’m in?”

“Resorts? Technology?”

“I dabble. But mainly I’m in the business of information. And that means I don’t give it away for free. I expect a trade. I’ll answer one question of yours. But first you will answer one of mine. Fair?”

“Fine. What do you want to know?”

“My question is very simple. What is your name?

“Cain Andres Summers. Now, my turn. What is this island?

Rourke gives a quiet laugh.

“My young friend, you are asking the questions I’ve asked myself for a very long time. Thirty-seven years…two and a half billion dollars later…and all I can say with certainty is this.”

He leans in closer.

“This island is the single point at which time folds in on itself.”

Folds in on itself…

“Past…present…future,” he continues. “All happening in simultaneity.”

God…

“What exactly that future holds for us is…well, uncertain. And ready to be molded by the right person.”

“The right person?”

He shrugs.

“Perhaps. But that’s all you’re getting out of me for now. We must focus on the road ahead.”

He shoos me away, and I frown.

What the hell’s he talking about…?

The ‘right person’?


I walk up next to Craig as he’s wiping sweat off his brow.

“Dude,” he gasps. “This is garbage. It’s so hot. Can’t we take a break?”

“You’re tired because you’re wasting energy complaining,” Rourke tells him.

“I’m gonna waste energy beating your ass, geezer,” Craig glares and looks back at me. “Come on, there’s some awesome shade over there from that stone pillar thingy.”

“I guess a small break can’t hurt.”

Craig grins.

“Finally!”

We’re almost out of the loop.

Everyone immediately sits down where they are, and I notice Aleister slumping against a tree, throwing his bag aside.

Okay, everything’s going as planned.

Craig leans against the shaded side of the pillar, and lets out a relieved sigh.

“Sweet, sweet shade! This is heaven right now-”

I hear the crack.

“Aleister! Look out!”

He scrambles out of the way, just as the pillar crushes his bag, and-

I hear the orb crack under the stone, and a painful burst of static rushes in my head.

“You nitwit! You utter simpleton! You just crushed my bag!”

“My B, dude.”

I have to keep myself from grinning ear to ear.

The time loop’s gone!

Aleister dumps out the contents of the bag, including the orb, now cracked in two. It gives a dull, grey color now, the glow gone.

I did it!

“Apologies, Cain,” Aleister sighs. “But it seems there’s nothing of worth left of the orb now.”

“It’s fine, Aleister,” I assure him. “Right now, we might as well keep moving.”

I glance at the two split pieces of the orb.

I catch Rourke looking at the orb too, and his eyes meet mine.

He grins.

Not that amiable grin he gave me, but this grin’s more wolfish…like…

…like a predator bearing its teeth.

I freeze in his gaze, and…

he knows.

“Hey, Cain.”

I almost jump right out of my skin.

Ignoring Rourke, I turn around calmly.

“Hey, Sean.”

He points in the distance, to a glint of gold high in the trees.

“You see that, over there?”

“Yeah…”

“Come on, let’s check it out!”

Confused, I follow him.

“There’s definitely something up there, in the branches!”

“I see it!” I gasp. “It’s one of those amber idols like in Rourke’s museum!”

At this distance, I catch the head of a bird and a wing, but I know somehow what it is…

“What do you say?” Sean asks me, grinning. “Want me to climb up and grab it?”

“Sure,” I say before I can think. “Go for it!”

Sean suddenly jumps and grabs the bottom branch, pulling himself up.

As he’s scaling the tree, my heart begins pounding.

I remember what happened the last time we found one of the idols.

I saw two visions.

One, probably the past…

…and the other…

“Cain!” Sean calls out from at the top of the tree. “You’re not gonna believe this…”

“What?”

“The tree looks like it’s grown around the idol! It’s like it’s a part of the tree!”

“How is that even possible?”

“Hold on…just let me…pull it…got it!

Sean yanks the idol free and climbs down.

“Here ya go,” he grins at me.

The idol’s a muscular man sitting on a throne like a king. Two wings stretch out on the idol’s shoulders. His head is a bird’s.

An Eagle. Like his Hadean constellation.

The minute I touch the idol, just like last time, I’m now somewhere else.

I’m in a college apartment.

I notice the clock on the microwave reading 2:13 AM.

Sean’s on the sofa, poured over a pile of homework on the coffee table.

He’s got bags under his eyes, and is downing a cup of coffee like water.

“Equilibrium price and quantity if demand is…” he mumbles.

On the desk, his phone buzzes from a text. The lit up screen reads “Mom”.

I’m close enough to read the text.

Your dad asked about you again. He misses you.

Sean picks up the phone, shakes his head, and tosses it aside.

The door unlocks, and Craig walks in, looking pretty anxious.

“Dude, I am so screwed,” he sits down on the sofa next to Sean, running a hand through his hair.

“What happened?” Sean asks, concerned. He puts his homework and pencil down and gives Craig his full attention.

“Know how Coach asked us about the rumors that the sports agent guy was giving free stuff to players?” Craig scratches the back of his neck. “Well…”

He opens his backpack and pulls out a new-looking, high end laptop.

“Craig!” Sean exclaims. “Dude, why’d you take that? You know if the NCAA finds out, you’ll lose your scholarship! You’ll be kicked off the team!”

“I know!” Craig practically sobs. “I’m an idiot, okay? I just…really wanted to play this computer game with a girl in my calc class…” he sighs. “Fuck, I sound like a dumbass right now. My old laptop sucked too hard to handle the graphics, and you know my fam can’t afford a decent one.”

Craig hangs his head. I think I see tears in his eyes.

“Well, I guess I’m finally payin’ the price for being so dumb. Someone saw me with it and ratted me out. I’m already of thin ice with Coach. Now I’m done for. As soon as he proves I took this laptop-”

“He won’t,” Sean says calmly.

He slips the laptop out of Craig’s bag, and puts it into his own.

“Because I’m the one who took it from the agent.”

“Dude what?!” Craig looks at Sean incredulously, shaking his head. “No, man, No! I can’t let you take the fall for me. You’ll get in so much damn trouble.”

I can handle it,” Sean insists. “You can’t. Coach can’t kick me off the team, so let me do this. I need you out on that field. You’re more than my teammate. You’re my brother. I got this.”

“Dude,” Craig chokes on another sob, and he wipes away tears. “I owe you…I owe you everything.”

I’m thrust forward, the scene shifting again…

I’m on a cliff’s ledge, and see Sean waving his arms wildly.

“Over here!” He yells. “Over here, big guy! Look at me!”

I see what he’s looking at…

…the roaring sabretooth.

Sean!” Michelle shouts. “What are you doing?!

Michelle and Craig are standing where the sabretooth was just facing.

Sean’s leading the tiger towards the cliff’s edge.

“Don’t worry about me! Run! I can handle this!”

The sabretooth pounces, pinning Sean to the dirt right by the precipice.

Sean growls, gripping the tiger’s fangs with all his strength.

“Don’t do it man!” Craig screams.

“Sean…” horror crosses Michelle’s face. “Sean no!”

Sean’s next words are barely audible against the howling wind and the tiger’s growls.

“I’ve got this.”

He rolls over the edge of the cliff, taking the tiger with him as they both fall to their deaths.

“Cain?” I blink, and I’m back in the jungle, holding the idol, standing in front of Sean. “You alright?”

I look him in the eyes, and tears prick the corner of my eyes.

“Sean…”

This whole trip, he’s been trying to take the bulk of responsibility on his own shoulders, never giving himself a break.

It’s just…just how I’ve always been. My whole life, I’ve been taught that the only person you can really count on is yourself.

I immediately pull Sean into a hug.

I can feel him hesitate before he hugs me back.

Over Sean’s shoulder, I look at the amber idol, still clutched in my white-knuckled grip.

Two idols in a row, showing something very similar.

Two visions.

The first, most likely of their past.

The second…

…I hope to god it’s not what I think it is… 


We rejoin the group, trudging up the steepening slope.

“Do you guys hear that?” Quinn asks. “Is that…”

We all quiet down, and I can hear the noise carried over by the wind.

“Horns,” Michelle nods.

Breaking into a sprint, we race up the hill. The forest grows thinner, and more sunlight shines through the canopy.

In the distance, I see…

…wait…

…there’s no way that tree looks as close as it seems…

Finally, we emerge from the overgrowth, getting a clearer view.

Okay, so that tree isn’t close.

It’s massive.

The Watcher’s entire village is carved into the skyscraper-sized tree.

“Now that,” Raj gasps. “Is what I call a treehouse.”

“I can’t believe what I’m seeing!” Grace exclaims. “It’s…it’s impossible! Trees have never grown that large!”

“Not yet, you mean,” Rourke chuckles. “But one day, they will.”

As the horns blast again, I see a small group of Watchers marching from the village’s base down below.

I see a flash of purple in the center of the group, and I gasp.

“Is that…?” Aleister gasps too.

“It’s him,” Sean nods with wide eyes.

His hands are bound, his shirt is in tatters, a beard’s grown on his face, and his hair just brushes his shoulders.

But there’s no way in hell I’d ever not recognize him.

Diego.

Chapter Text

When I see Cain and Sean fall behind, I know this is my chance.

Rourke’s up front, with Jake and Aleister making sure to keep an eye on him.

Sean catches up to the front, while Cain’s still at the back.

Why does he look so shaken up? Did he see something back there? Sean doesn’t look as freaked out as Cain, so I guess maybe only Cain saw it?

I fall to the back of the group with Cain. There’s something I gotta talk to him about.

Not exactly a happy something, but a something has to be said.

But…there’s the chance Cain won’t take me seriously…

…no, this is a subject we can all agree on, no matter who he hears it from.

Plus, he thought there was something to making a feast for everyone, so…

Dammit, I don’t need this kind of anxiety.

If there was ever a good time for a smoke, it would be, like, now.

But Diego’s counting on us. This ain’t no time to be high!

That, and my stash was gone when I went back to my room.

Lousy Watchers.

“Hey, Cain,” I grin at him. “You doin’ okay?”

“Yeah,” he returns my grin, but it’s a tad strained. “Nothing’s attacked us so far, so we’re off to a good start.”

My gut’s telling me something else is bugging him…

…but I guess I shouldn’t pry.

“Look, Cain,” I sigh. “There’s something that’s been bugging me.

“What’s up?”

“Rourke…he’s gonna betray us, isn’t he?”

Cain’s eyes widen in surprise, and then his expression darkens slightly.

“Yeah…I’d bet he will.”

“And I take it that he’s with us right now because he needs us. There’s safety in numbers, right?”

“And maybe because he thinks he can use us,” Cain replies.

“He was pretty eager to go to where the Watchers are,” I continue. “So whatever he wants, it should be there.”

“That…” Cain jaw drops a bit. “That’s smart…and yeah, you’re probably right…but then, what do we do, exactly? Just…keep an eye on him? No offense, but that’s kinda been our plan since we met the guy.”

“No no-I mean yeah! But whatever he’s gonna do, he’s probably gonna do it when we get to the Watcher’s place. So that’s when we should expect him to make his move.”

Cain considers this for a few seconds before nodding.

“Okay. Maybe we’ll get more answers when we find the Watchers too. Like what he wants there.”

“I’m thinkin’ maybe it’s gotta do with why the Watchers want us? I mean, we don’t even know them, so what’s up with that?”

“I don’t know,” Cain sighs. “There’s…there’s just too much about this island we don’t know about.”

Just for a sec, I see fear flicker in Cain’s eyes.

“Hey,” I put my arm around Cain and flash a grin at him. “We’ll take it one step at a time. Let’s focus on finding Diego first.”

“Yeah,” Cain returns my smile. “You’re right. Thanks Raj.”

“No worries,” I pat him on the back before removing my arm. “And hey, Cain?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks. For, uh, listening to me.”

Usually, I never let stuff like this bug me.

But usually then, I’m not this sober.

“Uh, yeah, of course, why wouldn’t I?”

“It’s just, well,” I can feel my cheeks heating up. “Most people don’t really take me seriously. They just assume that being a party-animal’s all there is to me.”

“Well then, most people only got to know one side of you,” Cain says, patting my shoulder. “You brought us all together when we were at each other’s throats. Not to mention you found out about the marina. Before Aleister, might I add.”

“Heh, thanks-hey, hold on!” I almost jump. “How’d you know about that?”

“He told me,” Cain admits. “Don’t tell him I told you though, he swore me to secrecy.”

“‘Kay…” I nod unsurely.

“Just…keep doing you. Everyone else will see how smart you are. Give it some time.”

“You…you really think?”

It’s like a stab to the gut, being proud of myself for using my head only for people to write me off.

I’m not holding it against them or anything, but…

…while I like people thinking I’m fun and all, I wish they’d take me seriously too.

“Of course,” with the way Cain’s saying it, it’s enough to make me truly believe him.

Chapter Text

From here, I can hear the Watchers shouting at Diego.

“Okay, okay!” I hear him speak. “I’m moving!”

I almost cry out to him, tell him that we’re coming to bail him out of there…

…but that would defeat the whole purpose.

A Watcher pats Diego on the back. This one’s much different than the others. His head is shaven clean, marked with tattoos. He’s leaning on a staff, and a bushy beard hangs from his maskless face.

“Where are they taking him?” Quinn whispers.

“My, look at them go!” Rourke marvels. “Such charming primitives. And certainly worthy of further study.”

“We ain’t here to study ‘em, Daddy Weirdbucks,” Jake snaps. “We’re here to save Boy Scout’s BFF.”

“Are you familiar with the phrase ‘know thy enemy’?” Rourke asks sweetly. “From the details in your file, one would think you’d learn that lesson.”

Jake fumes.

You son of a-

“Now, now,” Rourke waves off with that charming grin of his. “I’m simply suggesting that we analyze their behavior to improve odds of successfully rescuing your dear friend.”

“You have no idea how ridiculous altruism looks on you, do you?” Aleister glares.

“He knows,” Estela mutters darkly. “He just thinks we’re stupid.”

“Well,” Jake grits his teeth. “Whatever the Watchers are up to, it can’t be good. We’ve gotta get him outta there. And fast.”

“But there must be dozens of them,” Quinn frowns. “What hope do we have?”

In a stiff silence, I shift uncomfortably.

My gaze falls back to the Watchers…and to Diego…

Maybe…maybe it’ll be safer if one person goes…

Besides, I’m the one who couldn’t save Diego. I’m the reason he’s in the hands of the Watchers.

“I’ll go alone,” I decide. “We can’t risk anyone else getting caught.”

“Dude!” Craig exclaims. “You can’t take those blue bastards out by yourself!”

“I’m sure as hell,” Zahra scowls. “Not sticking around to watch you Leeroy Jenkins yourself.”

“I know,” I sigh. “Diego’s my best friend, and I failed him once. No one else should have to-”

“Cain,” Estela stops me. “I’ll admit, you’re brave. Stupid, but brave. But I thought I already told you, you’re not doing this alone. If you’re going, I’m coming with you.”

“Damn straight,” Jake nods. “There was a time when I tried to go it alone. Thought I’d be doin’ my old team a favor. And it’s a choice I goddamn regret every day of my life. So, like it or not, I’m comin’ with ya, Cain.”

“Combined,” Iris speaks up. “Cain, Estela, and Jake’s projected chance of success rises to 9%.”

“That’s being a tad generous,” Aleister scoffs.

“Screw the numbers!” Sean exclaims. “Are you guys just going to let these three go out and get captured or killed by all those Watchers? Diego needs our help. If we ever make it off this crazy island, it’ll be because we worked as a team. And a team stays a team until the job is done. Now,” he crosses his arms and gives a determined scowls. “I’m in. Who else?”

My jaw drops as everyone steps forward.

“Let’s do this!” Craig cracks his knuckles.

“Yeah!” Quinn steps up.

“If it weren’t for Cain,” Raj grins. “I would’ve been captured too. I’m in!”

“We all owe it to Diego to go help him!” Grace agrees.

I look at everyone, and my eyes are a hair length away from watering.

What did I ever do to deserve the friendship of so many people…?

I’m so touched that Rourke’s cheery laugh doesn’t make my skin crawl as much it would.

“What a merry band of brothers. Iris, how are our chances now?”

“With everyone together, projected success is now 12%!”

“Man,” Raj sighs. “We could really use ex-CIA badass Bryan Mills right now…”

“Potential increase to 48% if assisted by Liam Neeson’s character from the movie ‘Taken’.”

“That’s, like, four times as much!”

Exactly four times as much,” Grace snickers.

“In case you dorks haven’t noticed,” Michelle rolls her eyes. “This isn’t a movie.”

“Since they don’t know we’re coming,” Craig grins and cracks his knuckles. “I say we set up a fast hit! Catch ‘em with their pants down!”

“Like we caught you outside Sigma Theta in spring quarter?” Michelle snarks.

“Exactly! It’d be just like the Galician Gambit in-”

“‘Gods and Warlords!’,” Zahra exclaims. “We could beat it when we teamed up…”

“You remember that?” Craig asks softly.

“Of course. But like I always told you, stealth is what gets you in and out without anyone noticing,” Zahra smirks. “That’s the strategy we should use here.”

“Yeah!” Craig beams. “You were all about those invisibility cloaks!”

“Aw!” Quinn gushes. “You two are adorable together. I didn’t know you were friends!”

The smiles are wiped off Craig and Zahra’s faces, and they start stammering.

“We’re…we’re not-”

“Of course not! Craig’s idea is stupid anyway!”

“No, yours is stupid! We can’t just slip past the Watchers! They’ll catch us!”

“Guys-”

“Oh, so instead you think you can do a surprise attack? No wonder you always got wrecked meathead.”

“Guys-”

“At least I don’t think I’m some ninja when I’m really just a wannabe punk who steals nail polish from Hot Topic!”

“Guys!” I finally get their attention as they stop bickering and look at me. “How about we hear Rourke’s opinion on this?”

Him? The hell for?” Craig demands.

“He knows the most about them,” I assert. “We should see what he has to say.”

“I was hoping you might ask,” Rourke steps forward, grinning eagerly. “All reports on our not-so-friendly tribal folk indicate that they possess superhuman vision, hearing, strength, and agility. It would be extraordinarily difficult to ambush them. Or to slip by unnoticed.”

“As helpful as ever, Father,” Aleister snaps. “Do you actually have a suggestion or are you merely pontificating as is your custom?!”

“Of course I do, Aleister,” he grins again. “I am, after all, a man of ideas. The only way to get past the Hostiles is for them to not be there at all.”

“You always talk in riddles,” Jake snarls. “Or just when you’re trying to get punched in the face?”

Rourke sighs, like he has the audacity to be exasperated by us.

“Allow me to rephrase in a way that your meager minds can comprehend. We have to lure the hostiles away.”

“A distraction, then,” I say.

Rourke grins at me, and I suppress a shiver.

“At least one of you has a brain. Misdirection, disinformation, and a little sleight of hand are all invaluable skills in the walks of life.”

“Just take it from a liar like him,” Estela glowers.

“As much as this guy creeps me out,” Michelle nods. “I think he’s right.”

I turn to Aleister.

“What do you think about this?”

“As much as I hate to admit it,” he sighs. “If there’s anyone who knows how to deceive and manipulate, it’s my father.”

Suddenly, a rush of mind static rushes through my head, and I freeze.

This isn’t the normal static.

It’s him.

“Boy Scout?” Jake frowns. “What’s up?”

Get down!

We all dive down, staying out of sight of the Watchers below.

They went this way,” his voice echoes in my mind.

Through his mind, I can hear low growling…

The sabretooth.

I still sense him in my mind, and…

…he senses me too.

I know he does.

Cain!” Quinn whispers to me as she peeks over the hill. “He turned around! He’s coming this way!

He can still read my thoughts,” I whisper back.

Think about something else!” Jake hisses. “Make him leave!

Immediately, I focus on Diego.

…his face, his laugh, his smile…

I block everything else out.

I feel him getting closer…

-diegodiegodiegodiegodiego-

Suddenly, I feel his presence in my head fading.

It was nothing. Let’s go.

The sabretooth growls.

I dare to look up, and I see Lion-Mask sprinting into the bush, sabretooth in tow.

“It worked!” Michelle marvels as she stands up.

“Truly incredible,” Rourke grins that wolfish grin again. “What a fascinating specimen you are, Cain.”

I can’t keep myself from shuddering this time.

“Dude!” Raj bounds next to me, blocking me from Rourke’s sight.

Oh god, thank you Raj.

“You just Jedi mind-tricked the hell outta that guy! Can I be your Padawan, Cain?”

“How’s that for the power of positive thinking?” Quinn laughs.

Her laugh turns into a cough, and I see her bracing herself against a tree.

“Not…feeling…so good…”

She wobbles, and I rush over and catch her before she falls to the ground.

“Got you!”

“I think…” Quinn wheezes. “I need…to lie down for a sec…”

I lay her down with her sitting against the tree. Michelle’s beside her in an instant, checking her forehead.

Her fair skin’s gone pale, and her breathing’s gotten quick and shallow.

“She’s not looking so good,” Grace frets.

“You can’t let me slow you down,” Quinn insists. “You have to save Diego.”

“Are you okay?” I ask. “What happened?”

“I’ve…I’ve been feeling light-headed,” she huffs labored breaths. “Ever since we went through that portal…”

“Um,” Grace’s brow furrows. “Given that the portal gun violates the known laws of a closed time-curve, it may have affected our physiologies…”

“The self-interference potential is enormous,” Aleister nods, looking troubled. “We’re lucky to be alive.”

“Precisely.”

Rourke shakes his head.

“I’ve experimented extensively with the time conduits created by the gun. This isn’t something brought by its use.”

“Heatstroke, maybe?” Zahra suggests.

“No,” Michelle frowns. “With respiratory difficulty it’s got to be something else…”

“My scanners indicate that the Hostiles are moving steadily eastward,” Iris speaks up.

“Dammit,” Jake runs a hand through his hair. “At this rate, we won’t be able to catch up.”

“You all go ahead,” Michelle tells us. “I’ll stay here and see if I can find something to get her electrolytes up.”

“I’ll remain and keep watch,” Aleister volunteers. “Had about enough of this excursion anyway.”

“I’ll stay too then,” Grace insists.

“Me too!” Raj nods. “I’ll help keep a lookout.”

“We should pick a distress signal that Malfoy can sound if more Watchers show up,” Jake says. “Any ideas?”

“How about a whistled melody?” I offer. “Something that sounds like a birdcall, but stands out enough for us to recognize?”

“Would Chopin’s ‘Nocturne’ do?” Aleister asks, and quietly whistles a series of trilling notes.

“Good choice!” Grace commends. “That’ll do the trick.”

“That covers it, then,” I nod. “Stay safe, you guys.”


We’re moving through the thick foliage as we follow Diego’s trail.

Things are quiet so far. Maybe-

Suddenly, I hear voices in the Watcher’s language.

Spoke too soon.

We see a pair of two bulky blue forms around the bend.

We all quickly rush to find cover behind a few trees.

Alright, Lex Luthor,” Jake hisses at Rourke. “You said you had a plan?

Of course,” Rourke grins casually. “The first lesson is this: never do work yourself when others can do it for you,” he turns to Iris’s drone. “Iris? Activate audio playback.”

“Yes, Mr. Rourke.”

Her hologram vanishes, and the drone hovers quietly behind the Watchers.

A sentence in the Watcher’s language plays.

Both the blue Watchers turn around, and start shouting at the other before they start a brawl that takes them rolling down the hill.

I gape at the scene, and Iris’s drone flutters back to us.

“Iris!” I exclaim. “What did you do?!”

“I simply played back a recording of a Hostile calling another ‘as ugly as a klaawyi’s butt’.”

“Uh, what’s a klaawyi?” Craig asks. “Does it have an ugly butt?”

“Yes.”

“That was brilliant, sir!” Lila praises. “Getting them to fight among themselves? Just brilliant!”

Divide et impera,” Rourke grins.

“Huh?” I frown.

“‘Divide and conquer’,” Iris explains. “The Rourke family motto.”

“Well,” I sigh. “We’re okay for now. But there’ll be more Watchers as we get closer to Diego.”

“Right,” Jake nods. “And if you’re spotted, things could get bad for Abercrombie-and-Twitch. Actually, I think I’ve got something that’ll help…”

Jake digs through his bag and pulls out some folded camouflage gear.

“Nice!” Sean nods approvingly. “I bet you could get really close without being seen. You might even be able to eavesdrop on the Watchers.”

“Awesome,” I grin as I take the clothes. “I’ll take it.”

I go behind a tree and change into some camouflage pants and shirt, and a black tank top.

“Fits me pretty nicely,” I smirk.

“I’ll say,” Jake smirks back and he blushes slightly. “I mean…yeah, sure…”

“Cool,” Zahra shrugs. “Let’s get a move on.”

We keep moving through the forest.

After a while, Craig walks up next to Rourke.

“So,” he glowers. “You think you’re some kinda bigshot, Mr. Rourke?”

The man shrugs.

“I’m a man who believes in hard work, ambition, and thrift. No less and no more. And feel free to call me Everett, Craig.”

“We’re not supposed to do that!”

“He’s not a teacher, dorkwad,” Zahra scoffs. “And do you mind keeping your mouth shut? You’re making us break stealth.”

“I’m just doin’ me, Zahra! And I say he’s stuck-up tool who’s really just a big fish in a little pond!”

Okay, at this rate, he’s gonna give away our position.

Silver tongue, don’t fail me now.

“Hey Craig,” I speak up. “Remind me, do you happen to know who won Super Bowl XXII?”

“Of course!” he snaps. “What does that have to…wait, Super Bowl Twenty-Two?”

“Come on, Craig,” Sean frowns. “It was the-”

“No, no! Don’t tell me, dude! I got this…um…gimme a sec…”

I keep myself from grinning.

I still got it.

Chapter Text

After a few more minutes, night falls, the jungle thins, and an expansive canyon comes into view.

Ruined stone structures poke out of the forest canopy, the moonlight making them gleam a ghostly light.

Dude,” Craig gasps in wonder.

I don’t blame him.

The path ahead is curving sharply around a large pyramid, intricate carvings in its sloping walls.

A group of Watchers are standing guard along the path near the pyramid.

“Must be something important about that building,” Lila mutters.

“Maybe Diego and the other Watchers are in there,” I guess.

We’re here now.

We’re so close…

“Cain,” Jake speaks up. “With those camos on, you and I could probably sneak over and check it out. After we get eyes on what they’re guarding, we can rejoin the others on the other side of the bend.”

I nod.

“Let’s do it.”


Jake and I creep towards the pyramid, low and quiet.

I try to mimic his moves and steps, crouching low. Soon, we finally make it to the wall.

In the front of the pyramid, there’s a statue of a woman reclining on a throne built into the sloping wall. Her eyes are closed in a serene expression. The arms are folded across her chest, and a jeweled ring gleams on one of her stone fingers,

“I don’t see any doors in this thing,” Jake says. “Must be some kind of monument.”

“Hm,” I take a closer look at the carvings. They show a crowd of people gathered around a woman wearing a mask. “The statue has got to be the same woman in the carvings. Except the statue isn’t wearing a mask.”

Jake peers at the carved scene.

“You’re actually makin’ sense of this?”

“This place looks like some kinda temple, but…hey, check this out,” I point to one of the people in the carving. “This looks like a tuxedo!”

“They’re wearing modern clothing?” Jake mutters. “Whole scene looks like a place for the well-to-douche.”

I look at the ring next. It looks worn and corroded with age, but I can still tell it’s made of gold.

“This thing looks ancient,” I observe. “But I’m willing to bet it’s a wedding ring.”

I lean in closer, and I make out words engraved in the band.

“‘July 21, 1921 and Ever After’,” I read.

“If we want that ring,” Jake frowns. “I think we’re gonna have to play Indiana Jones.”

“There has to be a way to free it,” I take a look at the statue and the carving, and I have an idea.

I cover the statue’s face with my hands, and I hear a muffled click.

The statue’s arm slowly swings outward, allowing the ring to slide off and drop to the ground.

“Okay,” Jake grins. “Now I’m gonna have to start calling you ‘Genius’.”

He kneels down to pick up the ring and holds it out to me.

“Oh my!” I mock-gasp. “This is all so sudden-”

Somewhere closely, a Watcher shouts.

“I think they heard us.”

We both sneak around the back of the pyramid. On the other side, we find the others waiting for us near the end of the bend.

“You two alright?” Lila asks.

Let’s get moving!” I say in a hushed whisper. “They’re coming!

We move, and the distant sound of drumming can be heard.

Soon, we hit a steep cliff. Down below, we see dozens of Watchers gathered around a bonfire.

Beside the fire, I see the old, bearded Watcher I noticed earlier.

He speaks over the flame, and a pair of Watchers brings Diego to the old Watcher.

“There he is!” Craig gasps.

Shhh!” Zahra hisses.

Furball brushes against my leg, and then starts toward a thicket of trees near the edge of the cliff. He pauses and turns back to me, yipping.

“I think Furball wants us to go over here,” I say.

“That looks like a nice spot to scout the Watchers from,” Jake nods. “Maybe get some idea of what they’re up to.”

“Wouldn’t they see Cain?” Zahra asks.

“In his current apparel,” Iris speaks. “Cain only has a 4.2% chance of being seen.”

“In that case, I’m going,” I assert. “We’ve gotta find out what they’re doing with Diego.”

Furball yips, and I move to follow him.

“Be careful, Cain!” Lila calls out, voice low.

I sneak along the edge of the cliff, staying low and hidden.

God, am I glad I decided to wear this camo outfit!

Down below, I see the old Watcher placing a bony hand on Diego’s shoulder.

“Look,” I hear him talk. “I don’t think that horcrux thing you want is here…”

The old Watcher speaks.

Diego just throws his arms up in exasperation.

“I’m not some sniffer dog that you can use to confiscate people’s smokeables!”

The Watcher makes baffled sounds.

“Yes, I know that analogy doesn’t make sense. Can we just try somewhere else or something?”

Diego can understand him?

Another Watcher approaches Diego, and I see Lion-Mask.

Let him be. He needs a break.

But we’re so close! Can you not feel it?

Whoa!

I can hear the old Watcher’s words through Lion-Mask’s head!

Of course,” Lion-Mask continues. “But you cannot rush destiny. The idol will choose the right time to reveal itself. Is that not what you preached to us?

The old Watcher gapes at Lion-Mask, and then chuckles.

Wise words, boy! So be it.

I see Lion-Mask leading Diego towards another ruined temple. The two of them climb a set of steps and vanish into a shadowy doorway.

We both go back to meet up with the others and I tell them what I saw.

“Nice work,” Zahra grins. “Guess you’re the real ninja here.”

“Sounds like they’re searching for something,” Estela nods. “Something of spiritual importance.”

“This is our chance!” Jake exclaims. “If we can get into that ruin, we’ve only got one Watcher between us and Diego!”

“There are still too many of them near the entrance though,” I remember the dozens of Watchers I saw from the cliff’s edge.

“We need a distraction,” Sean says. “Someone to make some noise and then run. Leave it to me.”

“Wait, it’s too risky-” I begin.

“Six hundred and thirty-one yards,” Craig smirks. “Tell ‘em, Sean.”

“You mean when we passed for six hundred and thirty-one yards when we played Kenton State?”

“Chyeah! My man’s unstoppable. He’s got this, Cain!”

“Hold on, Bob Costas,” Jake holds his hands up. “I’ve watched enough of his games to know he can dodge a linebacker. Thing is, it’s a lot different when they’re coming to take you down for good. I’ve got experience with lure-and-destroy missions. I should be the one to distract the Watchers.”

Wait…

…Jake knows Sean’s games…?

From how everyone’s gaping at him, we’re all sharing the same wonder.

“You watched my games?” Sean asks, amused, but standing up a little bit straighter, as if proud.

“Um, I…” Jake stammers, flushing.

“Are you a Sean Gayle fanboy, Jake?” I ask, trying not to laugh.

“What? No! I…I just gamble on sports every now and then! That’s all!”

“Sure, sure,” I let out a snicker.

“Gah, screw all of you. Point is, it oughta be me.”

“Alright,” I nod. “Maybe someone with military training would be better for this.”

Jake grins.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the show’s about to begin!”

“Well,” Zahra shrugs. “I’m not missing this. I’m in.”

“Hell yeah!” Craig cracks his knuckles.

“You guys sure?” Jake looks shocked at the other’s joining in. “We might not be comin’ back…”

“You should accompany them, Lila,” Rourke, after being silent for so long, speaks up.

“Me?” she asks.

“Yes. This is what I need you for at present.”

Lila, almost robotically, walks over to Jake, Zahra, and Craig.

Why does he want her with them…?

To keep an eye on them…?

Ah, dammit, right now I can’t focus on that.

We’re this close to getting Diego back.

They leave, and soon enough, we hear the Watchers below shouting as they begin to give chase.

“Come on!” I speak up. “Now’s our chance!”

We all make our way down the ravine and towards the ruin.

“Iris,” Rourke speaks as we near the structure. “Run a scan of the building.”

“Scanning,” her hologram flickers. “Only two individuals seen entering are detected inside, sir.”

“Excellent.”

“How many tricks does Iris have up her sleeve, exactly?” I ask warily.

“Just a few essentials,” Rourke shrugs. “One might not be able to find good help in this day and age, but with the right algorithms you can certainly manufacture it.”

I look back at Iris.

Her holographic face flickers.


When we get into the temple, we find Diego and Lion-Mask standing near an altar at the center of the room.

We should stay back,” Rourke whispers. “Observe before making our move.

Estela ushers me behind a pillar, and the others all hide too.

“I am sorry for the way you were treated,” I hear Lion- Mask’s voice in my head, and realize his thoughts are matching his voice exactly.

Since when did he speak English?!

“Why are these idols so important, anyway?” Diego asks.

“Uqzhaal believes they will bring about Raan’losti,” Lion-Mask answers. “A time of great chains.”

“Um, I think you mean ‘change’.”

“Yes, chains.”

Has Diego been teaching them English, or something?

“No, it’s-” Diego starts, but Lion-Mask continues.

Change,” he enunciates heavily. “This is right?”

Diego laughs.

“Better.”

Lion-Mask actually laughs.

The pair continues searching.

I notice Diego’s trying to keep his hair out of his face.

“This look,” he sighs. “Really only works on Milo Ventimiglia.”

“Here,” the Watcher moves towards Diego. “I will help.”

He gently braids a section of hair on Diego’s head.

“Oh, nice!” Diego grins as he touches his braid. “Thanks!”

Lion-Mask’s hand moves onto Diego’s shoulder.

“Of course,” he smiles.

Weird…with how much Lion-Mask terrorized us…it’s hard to think of him laughing and smiling

…especially with my best friend.

“I guess we should keep looking?” Diego asks.

“Hm? Oh yes.”

Suddenly, Diego stiffens, his eyes widening.

“Something’s…in the wall…”

He reaches towards a notch in the temple wall, and pulls out another idol.

“You…” Lion-Mask gasps. “You found it!”

We should act now,” Estela whispers. “Before the others arrive.

Agreed,” I nod.

As fast as lightning, Estela hurls her spear at the Watcher, blunt end first.

With a cry, Lion-Mask falls to the ground as the wooden shaft collides with his head.

“Varyyn!” Diego exclaims.

“Diego!” I rush forward to him, grasping his shoulders. “Are you okay?”

Cain?” he gasps. “It really is you! I knew you wouldn’t forget about me!”

“Of course not, dumbass,” I pull him into a hug, and I can feel my eyes watering.

“Wait,” Diego pulls away, and I see him glaring at Rourke. “What the hell is he doing here?!”

Rourke just walks up to him, offering a handshake.

I have to keep myself from flinching at his closeness.

“Everett Aleister Rourke the First,” he grins. “It’s a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance, Diego.”

“Oh, dammit,” Diego runs a hand through his hair. “I knew it. None of you are here. This is just a dream inside of a dream…I bet that van’s going off the bridge right now.”

“Diego, snap out of it!” I grab his shoulders again. “This is real. Rourke is helping us rescue you.”

“Wha…” I can see the relief in his eyes. “But where’s everyone else?”

“Distracting the Watchers, or keeping lookout. But they’re all okay.”

“They’re okay,” Diego repeats, and a grin almost splits his face. “Everyone’s okay!”

I’m so sorry, I want to scream. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you, I’m sorry we couldn’t get here sooner…

“What were they making you do?” I ask instead.

“Search for this,” Diego holds up the amber idol.

It’s a depiction of a kneeling man with the head of a dog that looks like those images of ancient Egyptian jackals.

Diego doesn’t seem to notice me flinching away from it.

“Supposedly,” he starts. “There’s a bunch of these that they lost in a civil war a thousand years ago. They’re part of their religion. So, uh…” his face falls. “Where have you been, anyway?”

“That portal gun sent us forward in time,” I answer. “Six months into the future. We reappeared a little over a day ago.”

His jaw drops.

“Great Scott.”

That’s when I hear it.

The whistled melody Aleister sang is echoing across the canyon.

“The signal!”

“Shit,” Estela mutters. “So much for an escape route.”

“You’ve gotta get out of here!” Diego cries.

“We came to rescue you.”

“If they come back and I’m gone, they’ll hunt you down. If I stay, they won’t know you were here. The idols are all they care about. It’s why they came for us.”

Screw that,” I snap. “Diego, I’m not losing you again.”

“That’s right,” Estela nods. “We’re in this together.”

“I stand in accordance with this statement,” Iris’s hologram smiles.

The sounds of footsteps come from the stairs outside.

“Quickly!” Rourke hisses. “Hand me the idol! I’ll hide it from them.”

Diego hesitates…

…and a whole swarm of Watchers pour into the temple.

The old Watcher cries out in surprise, and then he grins.

“Well done!” he says in English. “You have brought us the idol…” his gaze falls from the idol to us. “And the Catalysts both!”

“Hold on,” Sean speaks up. “Suddenly, all of you speak English?”

The old Watcher hobbles towards Diego, his right hand outstretched to receive the amber idol.

“Come now, Canis,” he says.

“Hey, hold on!” Diego steps back, holding the idol away. “You have to promise that you won’t hurt my friends!”

Hurt them?” the Watcher gasps. “Of course not! You and your friends are key to our people’s future!”

Diego looks at the old Watcher, and after a few seconds, offers him the idol.

No!” Rourke yells.

And then, everything moves so fast.

Before any of us can react, Rourke kicks over one of the ceremonial braziers.

The flames pour out, licking upward along the vegetation on a nearby wall.

Out of his suit, he pulls out a knife and rushes towards Diego.

That wolfish grin I hate so much spreads across his face as he grabs my friend and presses the blade to his throat.

“You…” rage boils in my blood. “You bastard…”

No!

I turn to see that Lion-Mask woke up.

“As I said,” the growing fire reflects in Rourke’s eyes, making them glow red. “I’m a man who believes in hard work, ambition, and thrift. And when there are loose ends to cut, I do not hesitate.”

“Release him!” Lion-Mask snarls.

Come on, think…

“Gladly. However, I’ll need your people to get out of my way first.”

Lion-Mask grits his teeth and then nods to the other Watchers.

They all clear a path out of the temple.

“What are you doing?!” Estela demands, her knuckles going white around the shaft of her spear. “I’m not about to just let him walk away!”

What do I do?

“And, for the sake of decorum,” Rourke says flippantly. “If you wouldn’t mind putting your weapons away…”

Lion-Mask motions to the warriors. They comply.

“The Hydra can’t be allowed to leave with the idol!” the old Watcher cries out.

The Watchers are still probably gonna tail him…

The fire roars, and cinders begin raining around us.

“This place is coming down!” Sean yells.

That’s it!

“You have the idol,” Lion-Mask snarls. “And a way out, Hydra. Now let him go!”

“Much appreciated,” Rourke grins. “I’ll also be taking what belongs to me. Iris! Activate Directive 1908!

He turned his attention to Iris.

Activating!

Now’s my chance!

“Loading previous command set. Memory reboot in three…two…”

I move closer to Rourke, praying he won’t notice me…

“…one…”

Iris’s form flickers, and her holographic face morphs into shock and confusion.

“Where is Aleister?!” she asks. “Is he safe?”

ROURKE!” Estela howls.

She coils her arm backward, ready to launch her spear at Rourke.

“Say hello to oblivion.”

Iris’s drone flies to Estela, shining a bright light in her eyes as she throws.

What the-?!

The spear arcs wide of Rourke, burying into the wall, inches from his head.

Rourke chuckles.

“So close, Estela! You’ll have another chance, I’m sure of it. Now, come along, Iris.”

“Iris, no!” Sean shouts.

The drone hovers in his direction, and then stops.

Her hologram is flickering, reconfiguring itself.

She faces me.

“I must go now, Cain.”

“Iris, you’ve got to fight back!” I call out.

“That course of action is logical, yes,” her face falls. “However, I’m afraid Directive 1908 cannot be overridden at the time.”

I hear a whipping sound, and I turn to see Lion-Mask hurl a bola at Rourke.

Diego’s jerked backward as the leather straps wrap around Rourke.

The idol slips from Diego’s grasp, tumbling across the floor.

Rourke releases him, running after the idol.

Moving as quickly as I can, I grasp it and move out of the way less than a second before Rourke is upon me.

“You’ll regret that decision,” he snarls.

“Cain, give it here!”

I turn to see Diego running up to me, and before I can react, he touches the idol-

-and in a flash, I’m in a dorm room.

Diego’s in the mirror, straightening out an invisible wrinkle on his shirt.

I can hear thudding music blasting through the windows that could only come from a frat party.

“Okay,” he sighs. “I guess this looks good enough.”

“Hey, don’t worry too much,” I walk up beside him, patting his shoulder. “You look great!”

I’m talking?!

So this time, I’m not just a silent observer…

“Just remember,” I find myself saying. “The icebreaker’s the only hard part. After that, just keep them talking. Ask questions. Show an interest, and they’ll be eating out of your palm.”

I remember this.

It was a few weeks after we officially became friends. And about a month before we were able to find an apartment instead of a dorm.

Is it because I’m in this part of Diego’s past?

“Well,” he looks hopefully at his reflection. “Maybe this time, I’ll actually keep from screwing up.”

“That’s the spirit!”

“Or, I could stop kidding myself, stay in tonight, and binge some Netflix.”

I can feel my face fall.

“What’s wrong?” I ask. “You were talking about this party all weekend.”

“I know, it’s just…I think maybe I’m diving straight into cold water, instead of easing into things. I just don’t think I’m ready for something this big.”

I feel my lips frown, and then a flash his reflection a warm smile.

“Hey, if you’re not up for it, we can get back to our ‘Crown and Flame’ theories. That’ll call for a few re-watches. And there’s a tub of ice-cream in the fridge calling our names.”

“That sounds nice,” Diego chuckles, but then frowns. “No, no. I promised myself I’d go.”

“Alright,” I pat his back. “But only if you’re up for it.”

“Yeah, let’s go,” Diego turns away from the mirror. “Let’s just go before I change my mind.”

We both move towards the door, and I frown and turn to him when he stops.

“Sometimes,” he sighs. “I just wish…I had someone special…”

“Look at me, Diego,” I turn him towards me and make him face me. “You’re an amazing guy. It’s only a matter of time before that special guy out there finally knows it.”

A small smile grows on Diego’s face. A smile unaware that he’d have too much to drink that night, puke in front of an entire frat house, and refuse to leave the dorm for a full week after.

“Thanks, Cain. I’m glad to have a friend like you.”

And just like that, I’m thrust forward in time.

I’m in the observatory now.

Lion-Mask is lying on a lab table. His arms and legs are strapped down by mechanical restraints.

Diego’s frantically typing away at a workstation.

“Come on, come on!” he shouts. “Why isn’t this working?!”

Iris’s hologram appears in the room.

“I’m sorry, Diego. I can’t let you do that.”

He turns, gaping in shock.

Iris?

“Defense sequence initiated,” she says. “Those present are advised to vacate immediately.”

Panels slide open at the wall.

Robotic arms connected to machine guns emerge from the wall, pointing straight at Diego and the Watcher.

“Iris, what are you doing?!” Diego demands. “I’ve got to get him out of here!”

“Negative,” Iris denies. “This specimen will remain in custody for the duration of the procedure. Final warning. Those left behind will not be spared.

Iris!” Diego shouts. “Listen to me! I’m your friend! Are you just going to shoot me down like you did Aleister?!”

“Input is invalid. Aleister will be returned to life once the procedure is complete.”

Iris killed Aleister?

And they’re bringing him back to life?

“Diego! Go!” Lion-Mask begs. “Your whole life is ahead of you! Go live it!”

“I tried,” I can see tears forming in Diego’s eyes as he reaches to wrap his arms around the Watcher. “But life means nothing without people to care about.”

Oh god, no…

Deploying weapons.

nonononononono

The guns open fire.

DIEGO!

I can’t move, I can’t scream as I see Diego spasm helplessly in a hail of bullets-

And I hold the scream in my throat when I’m back in the burning temple.

Rourke is glaring at me through the flame.

I glare back, all my fear of the man changing into hate.

You won’t hurt them.

Not on your life, you son of a bitch.

Rourke and Iris turn and disappear into a haze of smoke clouded around the temple’s entrance.

No! They can’t escape!

I begin to run after them.

“Cain, wait-”

Somewhere above, I hear a terrible groan.

Suddenly, rubble and burning timbers crash down, trapping me.

I scream.

Oh god…it’s so hot…

The smoke hits me, and I start coughing.

Take my hand!

I see Lion-Mask.

He’s reaching for me.

I clasp his hand, and he pulls me out of the debris.

We move for the entrance, and…

…there’s a wall of fire blocking it.

“There’s no way out!” Estela shouts.

I hear Furball growling.

“Furball!” I yell. “Do it now!”

The fox exhales a cone of freezing mist towards the doorway, dousing the flames to smaller embers.

We can’t hurry outside fast enough.

The second we all leave, the upper structure of the temple collapses.

Oh god…

…if we tried to leave a second later, we would have been-

“Hey guys.”

I turn, and I gasp.

The others are there. Quinn, Michelle, Aleister, Grace, Zahra, and Jake. Their hands are all bound, Watchers leading them down the steps.

“You guys alright?” I ask.

“Oh sure,” Michelle scoffs, holding up her bound hands. “Never better.”

“So, uh,” Jake laughs nervously. “You guys have a ‘parlay’ or somethin’?”

“Don’t think they speak the pirate code, man,” Craig says forlornly.

“You don’t speak the pirate code, moron,” Zahra snarks.

“Are you guys honestly debating ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ at a time like this?!” Michelle demands.

Well, at least Quinn looks alright enough to walk. She doesn’t seem as pale as she did before.

“Behold!” The old Watcher grins broadly, taking the idol from Diego’s hands, and holding it aloft. “Canis has brought us the idol, and something even greater! The Twelve have come to fulfill their destiny!”

So…

…things went to shit pretty fast, I guess.