Despite Makara’s first impressions, she was beginning to like the mall more than the old office building. For one, there was more room, and secondly, there were a lot of places to explore.
The mall was bigger than any building she had ever been in, and that included Bunker One. She could wander through it for hours – not just the main thoroughfares, but all the various stores, some of which were buildings in their own right. One of these departments had staircases and five different levels, filled with empty racks, broken display cases, shattered tiles. Makara was still in the process of exploring it, and it was to this department store that she was headed.
It was dark inside, but Makara had excellent night vision – so long as she kept the lights coming from the thoroughfare behind her, she could find her way back.
But even Makara could get lost sometimes. She was exploring the top level of the department when she found she couldn’t remember the way back. A lot of people would have panicked in a situation like that, and even though Makara was ten, she was calm and composed. She knew that if only she walked around enough, she would find the stairs, and half an hour later she did, sure enough.
As she made her way downstairs, she could guide herself to the department’s exit on the ground floor.
But it was when she came to the second level that she realized she wasn’t alone.
She stood still, breathing as softly as possible. She heard voices – they weren’t far, but they were also talking so quietly that she couldn’t hear very well. Her first instinct was to run, but of course that was foolish. If she ran, they would hear her and she would get caught. She thought about calling out, but that wasn’t wise, either. How was she supposed to know whether or not they were friendly? Decent people didn’t hang around in an empty department store in the dark.
Then again, Makara was here.
Against her better judgment, she crouched and crawled forward, so as to better hear. Makara’s heart pounded; she knew this was stupid. Even with how well she could see in the dark, she might bump into something. Even the smallest sound could give her away.
And yet, she felt herself drawn inexplicably forward. She strained her ears to listen.
“We’ve been waiting for months,” the man said. “Now’s the time to strike.”
Makara couldn’t place the voice, but the next she recognized instantly: Ohlan’s.
“Patience,” Ohland said. “If it was time, I would have done something by now.”
“I wonder about that sometimes,” the man said. “Lord Black will not be pleased at your progress. Or lack of progress”
Ohlan grunted. “Lord Black will be even less pleased when he discovers we have failed because we jumped the gun.” There was a pause. “Have you ever played chess?”
“No,” the man said. “I don’t see what has to do with…”
“Raine and I played, growing up. When we were kids in the 20’s, we’d play all sorts of games. Raine’s a brilliant tactician. I know no one better at thinking on the fly as Raine is. Where he fails, though, is long-term strategy. I’ve tried to get him to listen to me about this, many times. This place we’re in now…it’s the direct result of his lack of foresight. The longer I draw this out, the longer I have to bring my plan to fruition…the better the results”
“The longer he’s in charge, the worse of it’ll be,” the man said. “If not for your brother, the Angels would be running L.A. by now.”
“That’s true,” Ohlan agreed. “We’re playing a game, though. Maybe it doesn’t seem like that to you, but I know my brother. More than that, my brother knows me. He suspects me. Maybe more than that; it could be that there is no doubt in his mind as to my guilt. All he needs is a pretext. The smallest pretext. If he does that, then this will all have been for nothing, it’s all for nothing, and I’m hanging by my throat.”
“You’ve been saying this for months,” the man, so soft that Makara could barely hear. “Lord Black will hear of it.”
“Lord Black must play by the rules of the game as much as any other man,” Ohlan said. “Were he here…I’d tell him that myself.”
“You wouldn’t kill him? For what he did to your wife?”
On that point, Ohlan was silent. “My brother is the one responsible for her death. Only he deserves the blame. I see Black as nothing more than an actor in this farce. Men like him come and go in a flash, like a flare in the sky. His flare is rising, but all things must fall.”
“You realize who I am, right?”
“Of course,” Ohlan said. “Just know Raine isn’t to be underestimated. It can’t be something so simple as killing my brother. For all his faults, the people are loyal to him. Someone would rise to take his place. Green, perhaps. I’ve thought of this before. Green, more than Raine, might make a more dangerous enemy.”
“Carin wants Raine out of the picture. He’s too charismatic, too smart, too unforgiving…the longer he stays alive, the more time the Angels have to lick their wounds. Carin can’t allow that.”
“Your solution is to make a martyr of him?”
“Anything is better than waiting!”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Cyrus. Sometimes…maybe even most of the time…waiting is the best thing you can do. My brother doesn’t make mistakes often.”
Makara racked her brain, but couldn’t remember anyone named Cyrus. With a start, she realized that their steps were heading toward her.
She backed away as quickly as she dared toward the stairway. She stopped, and there was moment of painful silence. A silence which Cyrus broke.
“What do I tell Carin, then?”
“You tell him what I told you last time.”
“He doesn’t have another few months, Ohlan. He wants results.”
“And so do I,” Ohlan said dangerously.
Makara didn’t stay to listen longer. She headed for the steps, walking slowly until she was sure she was out of earshot.
Then, she ran.