Chapter 56

It was no surprise to Nick that his group was the first to arrive in the rhythmically thumping lounge with red light cascading from the ceilings. He had something of a knack for mazes and puzzles, plus Rich had proven to be more observant than expected. The result was four people cutting a veritable swath through the variety of rooms after their initial slow start in the morgue (the secret had been to open one of the corpse drawers that was actually a tunnel). Nick glanced at the party-filled room, immediately assessing the variety of costumed revelers and noting that none of the others he knew were yet present. He briefly considered putting his sunglasses back on, but with only the crimson lighting and a night spent without his eyes adjusted to less light, it was a recipe to invite disaster. Besides, Nick enjoyed his pirate outfit and the glasses took away from the effect.

“I think I see a booth.” Alice pointed to a corner of the lounge with a black and orange booth that was either currently empty or populated by people in exceptional Invisible Man costumes. It looked large enough to contain the bulk of their party, which was no small feat.

Nick nodded his agreement and the four hustled over. They made it just before another set of partiers their age, these dressed like a famous rock group, arrived. Some dirty looks were exchanged, but all of the faux musicians scampered away in short order. Dim as they were, it was clear the four already in the booth were utterly unconcerned by their ire.

“We could have invited them to join us,” Mary said as the brightly-colored marching uniforms slinked away.

“Pass,” Rich said. “I don’t associate with the lower beings unless I have to.”

“Lower beings?” Alice was surprised at the shard of anger in her voice.

“Consider your audience carefully,” Nick cautioned. “It’s been a pleasant night so far.”

“Relax, I’m not talking about you guys. Previous freaks or not, now you’re more important. I’m talking about humans.”

“I’m not sure if that’s better,” Alice replied.

Rich rolled his eyes. “Fine, my mistake. You weren’t exactly rolling out the red carpet either.”

“That’s because we wanted to save room for everyone else,” Alice said.

“Whatever, forget about it.”

“I’m not sure I want to. Do you really think of humans as lesser people?”

“It’s not an opinion, it’s fact. They’re weaker, slower, dumber, all around less-capable entities. Don’t paint me as an asshole for saying what all of us think.”

“Everyone doesn’t think that,” Mary said, her voice barely audible over the same background music that protected their conversation.

“I guess you’d know. Look, I’m done with this line of discussion. Let’s drop it, shall we?”

“I’m fine with that,” Nick agreed. He’d known enough people like Rich to see that there was no traction to be made in arguing. “How about a different topic? Tell us about the talent that makes you better than human, Rich.”

“Nice try, but I’m not doling out hints about how to beat me, either.”

“I didn’t mean like that. You don’t have to give away weaknesses; I’m just curious what exactly happens to people when you freeze them up. Are they stuck watching you or something?” Nick inquired.

“Not really. The truth is I seal them away inside their own minds. I can construct a delusion for them to wander around in, or just plunk them into their own subconscious and leave them to meander.” Rich said. A blaring note of pride was quite conspicuous in his voice.

“That sounds pretty cool,” Alice complimented.

“It comes in handy.”

“I like it, but I’m not sure how effective it would be,” Nick said. “I mean, someone with mental training could probably free themselves once they knew it was all fake.”

“Trust me,” Rich assured him, “They don’t.”

“Whatever you say, Chief. I’m getting a drink.” Nick began to scoot along the vinyl, bumping Mary to force her to move with him so he could get free.

“You think it’s that easy to overcome?”

“Not at all,” Mary said, trying to calm him.

“I’m just pointing out that the only person we’ve seen it work on is Roy, and he’s not really an intellectual juggernaut,” Nick prodded.

“Let’s test your theory, then.” Rich drove his knee upward, slamming it into the bottom of the table. The noise wasn’t loud enough to draw looks from beyond their area, but it did startle everyone at the booth into glancing in his direction. That glance was all it took; in the moment they met his eyes, Rich sealed all three of them away. Their bodies froze in place, the muscles tensing enough to hold their positions. Nick and Mary were awkwardly propped against each other, the unfortunate outcome of being in movement when stopped. Alice, at least, looked a bit more natural. Rich could have let them go limp, or stowed them into some maniacal hell-dream that would have them freaking out; however, he sensed that would have led to more trouble than it was worth. Instead he’d just chunked them into their own subconscious without bothering to give their illusion any shape. They’d still be pissed, but it would show that loud-mouth Nick just whose power was weak.

Rich looked around to see if there was a waitress anywhere near. He couldn’t very well leave them like this, yet he greatly wanted a drink. Using his power always gave him cotton-mouth, though for the life of him he could never figure out why. The unrelenting music bouncing off the walls wasn’t exactly making him more comfortable, either. Ah well, at least he didn’t have to deal with incessant yapping coupled with an overblown bass line.

*    *    *

“I haven’t found anything yet.” Vince very much wanted to ask her if she had more success, however he knew if he did she’d snap back that if she had wouldn’t she have told him. In truth he doubted she would, it was more likely Sasha would just open the passageway and continue on without so much as a grunt of indication.

“Keep looking.” You could have chilled a lake with the ice in her voice. The two of them had hit a frustrating snag with this latest room. It was built to look like an outdoor graveyard, complete with bursts of chilling winds, lush green grass, and grey marble headstones bursting forth from soft, malleable dirt. The designer had even engraved each of the headstones; Vince walked past one where the name had been worn away but “1818 – 1857. Died by drowning” was still visible. The edges of the room were dark and obscured; one had to walk right up to them and grope around to feel anything solid. It was truly a masterpiece of craftsmanship, one that Vince would have probably enjoyed far more in different circumstances. Unfortunately, the room was more difficult to find a way out of than any of the previous ones, and his company was growing more and more irritable with each passing minute.

“This is bullshit, there has to be a way out!” Sasha’s wrath had tweaked her voice to a higher level than normal.

“I’m sure we’ll find it eventually,” Vince assured her. “These things aren’t meant to actually keep people in, after all.”

“Oh, fuck you, I bet you’re loving this.”

“Yes, Sasha, this is my greatest dream realized at last.”

“Just look harder, dickhead.”

Vince bit his tongue and redoubled his efforts. Baseless accusations aside, he would have rather been in a Coach George workout session than in this room with Sasha. He just hoped his patience would hold until he managed to escape to sweet, sweet freedom.