Chapter 21: Well-Laid Plans

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"I don't trust them!" Jacobs said for about the tenth time since Sarah's team stored the captured archonic mana away in the reserve cells they constructed in the house's north wing.

They relocated their rooms here to properly guard their stash of super-concentrated, mana-powered energy. Hal Jacobs, Michael Creed, and Sarah Keating shared a set of connected suites located at the end of a hall where the rest of her team resided. Anyone coming for them would have to fight their way through a gauntlet of trained soldiers or engage in a battle with them at their backs and the deadly vortex guns – as the soldiers had been calling them – before them.

A lone figure walked those halls without care and casually knocked on the door.

"Yeah, what is it?" Jacobs called.

The door opened, and Jornell, in the body of Nathan Leider, current operations director of the Calvin Foundation and its nigh-unlimited resources, entered the room. He wore a dour expression that boded neither mirth nor kindness.

"What the fuck do you want?" Creed said with a sneer.

"Leave us," Jornell said without expression, and both men began heading for the door before Jacobs managed to stop himself.

He shook his head clear and drew his modified pistol, a retrofitted vortex gun, at the deadly archon. "Don't try that again!"

Jornell didn't even bother turning his way. He looked at Sarah, and the faintest touch of a smile graced his lips.

"It's okay. Go," Sarah said.

"Are you insane? Leave you alone with him? No way... ma'am." Jacobs said.

"I'll be alright. If he wanted to harm me, you'd be dead already. Go, I said."

"We'll be right outside the door," Jacobs said, speaking to Jornell more than Sarah.

"A shame. I was hoping they'd force me to end their pitiful lives." Jornell scoffed when they were gone.

"As if you'd even need that excuse."

Jornell shrugged. "True, but then you'd likely replace them with even more incompetent help that I would have to suffer."

"A true optimist," Sarah said.

For the first time, she heard Jornell laugh, though it was a cheerless chuckle at best. He moved near to her, and truly she was terrified at what he might do. She fingered the device in her pocket, a detonator that would ignite all the captured mana in the house, blowing him, her, and all the others to whatever hell existed in the Astral Plane.

"Oh, do not worry, my dear. If I wished you harm, you'd be dead already," he said, mocking her earlier words.

"It is not my death, I fear. I know you can do far worse with your touch." Though in truth, she did fear her death, not nearly as much as what the archon could unravel her mind into – an unwilling, mindless thrall or some craven wretch that would slaver to his will.

"Now what fun would that be?" he said, taking her chin in his hand, and for a moment, she tensed, unable to control her reaction. "You are the only one here worth talking to."

"Good, because you know what I can do if you try to enslave me." Jornell was not the type who could be upended by threats, even honest ones, but she wanted to test his judgment.

"I'm afraid that would bother me far less than you imagine. You see I am a violet archon, after all. I quite enjoy the tragedy of it all, even my own, and I thoroughly adore the desperation of others." His mouth stretched into a wide grin. "I thrive on it!"

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