Five years ago…
In her half-conscious state, too exhausted to be truly alert and too threatened to dare let herself fall into a deep sleep, Madeline became aware of the sudden silence in the warehouse.
She laid as close to the back of the 10 ft. shipping container as possible, curled up in her pajamas on a flattened cardboard box. Her baby-blue tank top and gray shorts did little to keep her warm. The far end of the shipping container had been welded with bars, much like a cage, and they prickled against her skin any time she touched them. It wasn’t enough to seriously injure her, but they did hurt.
Since she had been ruthlessly abducted over a week ago from her apartment in the middle of the night, there had never been a moment of true silence in the warehouse. There was always the sound of her kidnappers’ heavy footsteps, or the smashing of beer bottles against the walls. They were also talkative. She had heard them chat amongst themselves about needing to keep her alive and in one piece, and they would also take cell phone calls from someone apparently in charge. As far as Madeline could tell from the calls, she was in a holding pattern of sorts. She had overheard through an early phone call that something had gone wrong and she was to be kept there longer than expected.
She didn’t even know why they had taken her in the first place. There were none of the traits of a typical kidnapping she would hear about in the news, or see in movies or tv shows. She had no rich relatives that would have made her a prime target for a ransom. In fact, she had no relatives at all. Her last close relative, her dear grandmother, passed away years ago and she’d been on her own since. Working an average 9-to-5 job. Getting by modestly. She certainly didn’t have a stellar savings account or some huge inheritance. Her being kidnapped just didn’t make sense.
But even beyond all of that; beyond the cruelty of her kidnapping, the chill of the warehouse, and the lack of knowing where she was, was the undeniable fact they weredifferent. And it wasn’t in appearance.
All four of them were pale, tall and lithe, with tar-black hair and dark eyes – a common look for college students playing up the “angst” role. But it was something she caught out of the corner of her tired blue eyes one night that she didn’t believe at first.
It was the second night of her captivity and she had been fighting to stay awake, but was dozing on and off regardless. Her kidnappers had been playing cards at a makeshift table in the warehouse, when one of them nonchalantly made tendrils of dark smoke rise off his fingertips. None of the other men at the table looked twice.
At first she thought they had drugged her, but as the hours ticked by, she realized that wasn’t the case. A day later, one of the others had done it as well.
She had never seen anything like it before.
At the time, it was frightening, but she had always had an innate courage and stubbornness. As the days passed with no change in her situation, the stress began to numb her fear. The realization that they weren’t allowed to seriously hurt her helped, as well as the consistency of the racket they were always making.
But now it was suddenly quiet.
She listened to the silence for a few seconds, and then looked up. Were they at the bars again? No. They were all staring at a man who had just entered the warehouse.
Through the strands of her unkempt, reddish-auburn hair, she could see he was not one of whatever they were. He had a completely different air about him. He moved with silent, determined, and sinuous steps – literally strutting into the warehouse. His jet-black hair brushed slightly past his shoulders, but in contrast to the stringy and oily hair of her captors, his was well groomed. He was dressed in a black, sleeveless nylon vest that zipped all the way up to his neck, and a matching pair of tactical pants. At first Madeline thought he might be allied with her kidnappers, but they didn’t approach him as a comrade, or someone to be pushed around.
They all reacted as if a tiger had just padded into the warehouse.
With acute interest, Madeline watched as the man sauntered up confidently to the closest of her kidnappers, one who was already summoning that strange, black mist in his palms, and landed a right hook which snapped the kidnapper’s head sharply.
Then all hell broke loose.
Two of her other kidnappers charged the man from across the room, hurling ominous ribbons of ashen shadows at him, furious that their buddy had been dropped. Madeline jumped to her bare feet and rushed to the edge of the bars, all the while watching the man in black twist his body with inhuman grace as he dodged everything they threw at him.
The whole fight was just impossible. The blackness that darted through the air. The speed and agility of the combatants. She had to blink a few times to make sure what she was seeing was real. Neither of her captors had landed a blow yet, and she got the impression that although they were getting badly beaten, the man in black was taking it easy on them.
Then she noticed a figure moving closer to her.
The only other captor in the room was backing up to the bars, raising a hand up to his ear as if about to make a call in his bluetooth headset. This was the best chance, probably the only chance, she had to get out of here, and she needed to stop him from calling for help. Thinking quickly, she lifted her dirty tank top up and over her head, oblivious to the fact she was fully exposed underneath. She thrust both of her hands through the bars and twisted the shirt tightly between them. With the commotion in front of him, he didn’t realize the twisted up fabric was around his neck until it was too late.
With all the strength she had left, she placed her bare feet on the horizontal bar and pulled back. The prickling pain coursing up through her feet was nothing compared to her desire for freedom. Her desperate and skin-revealing attack drew a raised brow of amusement, along with a quick smirk, from the fighter in black. She continued to pull tight, even as the weight of the kidnapper’s body slid slowly down the bars to the floor. With the body now motionless, Madeline slipped back into her tank-top and frantically reached between the bars as she tried to grab onto his pocket for the key card. Still out of reach, she clawed at the side of the man’s shirt trying to drag his body closer, but he was impossibly heavy.
A flurry of curses poured from her lips.
Suddenly, another body came sliding across the floor at a rapid pace. It collided with the one she was trying to pull towards her, and slammed it across the bars lengthwise. She could now reach the pocket with ease. Madeline pulled the key card out and quickly stood, glancing in the direction of the stranger in black. He was still engaged with the last of her captors, but on his lips was yet another smirk. Swiping the card through the lock, Madeline heard it click open and she wasted no time pushing her way out just as her rescuer dropped the last man cold to the ground.
“Come on,” he said, motioning for her to follow him out the door he had entered from.
He didn’t have to tell her twice.
Adrenaline pumping through her body, she raced after him to escape.
Through the door was a small lobby, where another man lay slumped in a corner.
Passing through one more door, she was finally outside.
It was night, and despite the chill she felt standing in her pajamas, the cool, fresh air felt wonderful to breathe in.
She had made the mistake of stopping for that instance, and found her hand being grabbed tightly by the stranger with her. He picked up his pace, forcing her to do the same, as they ran down a few narrow streets in the warehouse district. After rounding another corner, he stopped.
“Have you ridden before?” he asked.
The man finally turned to her, facing her head-on for the first time.
“A motorcycle,” he repeated, slightly agitated he needed to ask again. “Have you ridden one before?”
Madeline was caught off-guard by his looks for a few seconds. Now that she was face to face with him, she was able to get a clear look at his face.
He was more beautiful than handsome, as Asian men tended to be, with emerald eyes that were a stark contrast to his jet black hair.
Amazing contact lenses, she thought.
His chin and nose were somewhat sharp, with pronounced high cheekbones, and his almond skin was smooth and flawless. And his lips…
She suddenly noticed they were pressed together in a hard line waiting impatiently for her answer.
“Um, no. Not really,” She replied, starting to feel the physical and emotional drain of her ordeal caving in on her. She wasn’t really sure how many days she had been captive, but it was all starting to hit her at once.
He stepped over to the side of a motorcycle she hadn’t noticed until now, withdrawing a vest from an underseat storage compartment. Taking a step towards her, Madeline instinctively backed away.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” He whispered with a sudden gentleness. “Or I would have already done so.”
His words calmed her, and with a silent motioning, he prompted her to raise her arms so he could slip them into the padded vest. Sliding the zipper up over her chest caused Madeline’s heart to start racing. He sensed this and let slip a smile and a sigh. Grabbing a harness from the same compartment, he began to dress her in that as well.
With a stern expression, he tugged at her straps to make sure they were secure, then he began to buckle himself into a harness as well, fastening it over his chest. When he was done, he handed her a helmet, and straddled the front seat.
“On the sides of your harness, you should see two straps with clips on the ends. Pass them to me after you get on,” he instructed.
Placing the helmet on her head first, she mounted the bike and passed the straps forward. With an audible “snap”, her upper body was now fastened to his.
“Wrap your arms around my waist,” he instructed.
As she reached around his waist, he guided her hands to a passenger handgrip that was like a much smaller set of handlebars bolted into the bike right in front of his seat. Leaning forward, she noticed he was unusually warm. It was the kind of warmth that made her feel safe and made her forget how cold her legs had gotten. It could have been because she had been sleeping on a cold floor for what seemed like days, but the sensation was rapidly causing all the tension to drain from her body. And he had this scent about him… unlike any cologne she was familiar with.
The engine suddenly came to life with a roar, startling her momentarily, and the bike rolled out of the dark alley. She pulled herself closer to him and tightened her grip a bit more. As the growl of the engine drowned out the rest of the world, Madeline realized how badly her bare feet hurt as they pressed against the footpegs. In the rush of escaping, she didn’t even think about what could have been littered on the pavement she had been running barefoot on. It didn’t really matter, she supposed.
The damage would heal.
All of it.