Drekonhas was the epitome of the classic Alpine village. Nestled amongst the snow-capped mountains, the place made Dane feel like he’d been sent back in time. The morning sun set everything aglow. Except for the occasional vehicle they passed, the scene was like something out of a picture book.
“This is a pretty cool place. I wonder where the Burgermeister Meisterburger lives.” Bones turned toward Dane. “What’s the plan?”
“Make like tourists,” Dane said, pulling into a parking space near a small pub. “Bones, you hit the pub and see if you can meet up with anyone talkative, preferably an old-timer. See what you can learn about the caves and the icefall.” Bones fist-pumped. “Two things,” Dane added. “Don’t get too pushy with the questions; and take sips, not gulps.”
“Dude, I know the drill. When it comes to pubs, this is not my first rodeo.”
“Oh, and don’t get distracted by any babes you might meet.”
Bones rolled his eyes. “Yes, Dad.”
“Angel and Jade, you check on lodging and do a little browsing in the shops. Act like normal visitors. I’ll scope out the well. If it looks like a one man job and no one’s around, I’ll take care of it myself and well move one to the next phase. I think the stones in the crowns are compass stones and they’re pointing the way to whatever is under the icefall.” They had purchased climbing gear and warm clothing in anticipation of climbing Sternspitze. “If not, Bones and I will have to go back after dark.”
“I don’t like you going by yourself, Maddock,” Jade said. “Let one of us go with you. It doesn’t take two to see if there’s ‘room at the inn.’“
“No offense, but you three will stand out like crazy in a German village. I’m a blue-eyed blond. The only thing conspicuous about me is my good looks.”
Jade made a face, but relented. The three of them left the car and spread out. Dane waited for them to disperse before heading for the old village well.
Jade checked her watch as she stepped outside of the cozy in where she’d managed to secure the last available rooms. She glanced at her watch. That hadn’t taken long. She’d meet up with Angel, wander the village for a little while. Maddock shouldn’t need more than an hour, then they could firm up their plans.
She ignored the shiver of worry that passed through her as she thought of Maddock out on his own. He was as solid a man she’d ever known– smart, capable, and resilient. He wouldn’t get himself into anything he couldn’t handle.
Snow crunched underfoot as she wandered through the town, returning the occasional wave. Adler had made Drekonhas sound like a small, secluded pocket of paganism, sort of an Alpine version of Deliverance, but it didn’t seem to be the case. It was bigger than the “village” she had pictured in her mind, and seemed tourist-friendly. The woman at the inn had been pleasant enough, and there was a warm, friendly vibe about the town. The mystery notwithstanding, this might be a fine place to spend Christmas.
A strong hand seized her by the arm.
“Quit messing around Bones.” She turned and what she saw made her jaw drop.
“Hello, Ihara. Missed me?”
Sunglasses and a scarf hid much of his face, but she knew him immediately.
“Issachar!” She froze in shock for only an instant, but that was her undoing. Before she could lash out with a punch or kick, he yanked her toward him and crushed her in a bear hug.
“Isn’t this nice? Two old friends reunited.”
His warm, damp breath on her ear and his sickly sweet tone turned her stomach. She squirmed, trying to break free, but he held her so tight that she could not move an inch. He held her face pressed into his coat, preventing her from crying out... or breathing.
“Thought you got rid of me out in the desert, didn’t you? I’m not so easy to kill. Your friend Maddock will find that out soon enough, but first, I have a job to do and you’re going to help.
Jade tried again to fight, stamping down on his foot, but he avoided it with ease. She was already feeling the lack of oxygen and her strength was waning.
“Go to sleep, little traitor. You’re going to need your rest.”
Maddock, Bones, Angel, somebody help me! Her thought faded as blackness overcame her.
When she came to, she was face-down in the back seat of a car. Her arms and legs were bound. Where was she? What had happened to her? Slowly, as if gluing together the pieces of a shredded picture, she remembered. And when she did, she screamed. At least, she tried to scream, but all she managed was a weak cry. The vehicle backed up fast, sending her rolling forward, and she found herself wedged between the seats, not quite down on the floorboard. They were moving forward now. She must have been out for only a short while– long enough for Issachar to put her in the car and tie her up. She took a deep breath and called out again.
“Help! Help!” This time it was good and loud.
“Keep screaming, Ihara. This might as well be a ghost town. Nobody’s out on the streets this morning. In about two minutes we’ll be out of town and headed for the mountains.”
Jade took him up on his offer, shouting herself hoarse and kicking the door the best she could manage considering her bonds and awkward position. Finally, she gave up.
“About time. You were drowning out my Christmas music.” Issachar’s wicked laugh sent chills down her spine. “Bet you’re sorry you betrayed us now.”
“I didn’t betray you,” she wheezed. “I was never part of the Dominion.”
“Doesn’t matter. You’re going to help us now.”
“The Dominion is dead.” She wanted to believe that, but knew it wasn’t true. Maddock had learned a few things during his trek into the Amazon– enough to know that the Dominion’s reach was much more expansive than they’d previously believed.
“The Deseret Dominion is dead, or close to it, but there’s more to us than that. Much more. How do you think I found out about this town and the icefall? I even have a pretty good idea what this does.” He held up a crowned skull. “I got to the well first.”
No ice could have been as frozen as Jade’s insides at that moment. “Adler told you? No way.” She couldn’t believe the kind old man was part of the Dominion. Then again, she’d misjudged people before on that score.
Issachar barked a laugh. “Heilig Herrschaft has plenty of eyes and ears.”
Jade squeezed her eyes closed. Her head was throbbing and she still felt woozy from her lapse into unconsciousness.
“What do you want with me, Issachar? If you know about Adler, you know everything I know.” Issachar was vicious enough to kill her out of revenge for what he considered a betrayal of the Dominion, but instinct told her he had a scheme and she was to be a part of it. Either possibility made her want to throw up.
“Let’s just say you’re going to be a litmus test. I was going to use one of those Herrschaft idiots, but this will be much more satisfying.” He smiled. “Santa came early this year. It’s Christmas Eve and I’ve already gotten a present.”