In the attic of the Stevenson house, six clay figurines wandered among the stacks of boxes and mountains of furniture, passing the time until Chad returned from school.
Chariostes busied himself trying to recreate the forest they had visited on Sunday. He found Sharon's bin of silk flowers to add, and there was plenty of dirt in the shoe prints and dust to call up tiny vines and bushes to fashion his own personal jungle.
Off in another corner, Tecchon staved off boredom by fashioning trebuchets and siege towers out of the Christmas decorations. Marquiam joined him, and after a while, the two began a game of "catch": Tecchon would use the contraption to launch Christmas balls into the air, and Marquiam flew to catch them before they shattered. It was good-natured fun, so Tecchon never launched a ball that Marquiam couldn't catch; the hero of flight only lost a few balls, but the mess would not be difficult to clean up.
Zandor jerked from his musings at the sound of several board games toppling to the floor. The light from Illuminus’ armor pierced the shadows before the slender form of Voxx emerged from the mess.
“Voxx,” Zandor groaned, surveying the cards and game pieces and bits of paper floating around.
“I know,” she panted heavily, her words almost jumbled in her effort to get them out quickly enough, “I will… but Chad! He needs help!”
Zandor frowned, “I know; I was just thinking about how we could help him overcome—“
“No!” Voxx clapped both hands to either side of her helmet. “I mean right now! He’s calling for help!” She stopped, poised as if listening, and Zandor knew that she was conversing telepathically with Chad, wherever he was.
By now, the other three had gathered around the group. They watched Voxx expectantly.
“He… He says,” her voice caught. “He says Ferristral captured him and is holding him prisoner in the old parking garage down the road.”
“What is this parking garage he speaks of?” Chariostes mumbled.
“I can see what he sees; he’s thinking about the structure—it is a tall one, and grey, with many levels but not a lot of walls. He is tied in a room with stairs going up and stairs going down, with the number thirteen in black paint on the white wall beside him.”
“Here is what I have observed,” said Zandor. “If she believes that Chad has returned from school and departed again—say, perhaps to spend the afternoon with a friend—she will not be so worried about him, we could delay that and perhaps rescue Chad in enough time that she will not even know about the capture.”
“That will be easy,” Voxx said, “I can mimic Chad’s voice.”
Zandor nodded. “All right; Voxx, you will stay behind and stage Chad’s false return so that his mother will not worry. The rest of us will depart at once for the parking garage and search for him.”
Voxx snapped to attention and saluted, “Yes, sir.” She scampered out of the attic to go into Chad’s room and prepare some dummy props.
“Let’s go,” said Zandor. “And hope that Chad is still alive by the time we get there.”
Down in the kitchen, Sharon sat at the table, eyes riveted to the book in front of her. She had finished all her work just after lunchtime, and had decided to reward herself with some nice, relaxing reading time. She was deep in the grasp of the novel she was reading; her eyes skimmed the words as the images they described came to life in her imagination with such vivid color that she completely forgot the passage of time. When she looked up, it was almost half-past-three—Chad would be home any minute. Sharon didn’t want to tear herself away from the book, but she made herself at least pause in the adventure when she heard the front door slam and the thud of a backpack on the floor.
“Hey Mom!” Chad’s voice hollered from the front hallway, “I’m going to Eddie’s house, okay?”
“All right,” she called back absently, “Be back by dinnertime!” She returned to her book and finished the chapter.
A crash broke her concentration yet again. Sharon jumped and clasped the book to her chest. She blinked and looked outside as rain pelted the window and wind blew the vines on the trellis back and forth. Since when had it started storming so hard? She must have been reading for quite some time—
“Wait,” she mused to herself, standing up and dropping the book. Chad had said he was walking to a friend’s house, but—“He can’t go out in that!” she cried incredulously. “Chad!” She marched toward the front door. He couldn’t have gone far in the few seconds since she heard him call.
There was the backpack she’d heard—but it was his old red one; what was that doing out again? Why did he switch?
Sharon peeled open the front door. “Chad?”
The storm blustered around her, blowing rain up onto the porch, even though it was sheltered under the eaves. Thunder crashed, drowning out her voice, “CHAD!”
Sharon jumped as something smacked against her ankle. She looked down, expecting to see a rodent or a wet leaf—but there was nothing there. Shuddering, she closed the door firmly and set about planning dinner.
Chad will be fine, she assured herself.
Outside the house, Voxx breathed a sigh of relief at the narrow squeak she just had. [...] Nothing had prepared her for Sharon’s sudden advance upon the front door, and in her haste to get out, Voxx had tumbled into the large foot—but her narrow opening had closed soon after, and Voxx had taken off running toward the grey, hulking shape in the distance. The rain rolled off her clay body and did not stick. She ran through puddles without sinking, over mud without leaving so much as a tiny boot print. All she could think about was that fearful little boy, and the menacing shadow with the glowing eyes that towered over him. She willed her comrades onward, encouraged by communications from Chariostes and Illuminus that told her they were nearly there. The heroes would save their Maker, if it took all of their strength to defeat this unreasonably powerful villain.
Hang in there, Chad, she called to him with her mind. We’re coming to save you.