With a deep breath, she fought back the urge to weep. She might be defeated. This might be the end. But she wasn’t going to make it easy. She resolved to kick and spit and fight until the very end. Darcy saw her only as prey and Sydney was going to prove that was not the case.
From behind, she felt someone working with bonds on her wrists. She was being pulled to her feet, slowly, and gently, which puzzled her. Darcy had gone on to inspect the rockslide more thoroughly. Her other quarry was a wily one, she said, and she wanted to make sure he was properly dealt with. She hadn’t come back yet.
“This is good rope,” Lankin said softly. Sydney’s head whipped around in surprise to see him, not even dusty from the rockslide, working on untying her. “It’s climbing grade. I can always use something like this myself.”
The tears almost sprang up again. She started to shake. As she started to open her mouth, Lankin pressed a single finger to his lips.
“Remember that little tall tale I told you that the old-timers say about me and this hill?” He whispered with smirk. “Even if it’s not true, this is the Death’s Head, and it’s not my first rodeo.”
The rope was pulled away and Sydney turned to regard him fully. It occurred to her that there was only one way Darcy might’ve known where they were. Her cheeks flushed with anger at the thought. Once more, she started to open her mouth, and, once more, Lankin, anticipating her words placed a finger on his lips.
“If you do not like how I’m dealing with this, then you should’ve handled it back in Prague,” he growled, his eyes narrowing, his face suddenly screwing into predatory harshness. “But instead, you brought this misery into my backyard.”
“What now?” Sydney asked finally. She hated how small her voice sounded.
“I am afraid we’ll have to take a rain check on the rest of our trek,” Lankin replied with a disappointed sigh. “It’s too bad, really. I wanted to at least show you the summit of the Death’s Head. But there are some people who cannot understand good advice when it’s given, and I must speak with someone to that point.”
“Lazarus!” Sydney’s voice raised a little louder than it should have. “No! Please! Let’s just get out of here! We can go where she’ll never find us!”
“You need to get back down the mountain, Just Sydney” he continued as though she hadn’t said anything. “Back down to Marrakech. In fact, meet me down at Magpie Jack’s for dinner tonight. If memory serves, Grizz just got in two cases of my wine and he’s grilling up elk steaks. He makes the best elk steaks. Probably because he hunts and carves them up himself.”
“I’m not going to leave you up here alone with her!” She snapped.
Lankin reached out, grabbed her shoulders firmly, and shook her. His manner was that of a big cat on the hunt. For a brief moment, she became worried for her own safety, and Darcy had very little to do with it.
“You will get your ass the fuck down the mountain and back to Marrakech, or I will forget that I ever wanted to do anything to help you!” he growled. “And you will do it right fucking now!”
He released her and stepped back. Sydney realized she was seeing the Lazarus Lankin that rescued hikers from mountainsides and recovered bodies from avalanches. Here was the barely human creature she would here about in stories. Someone who carried themselves like a big cat ready to eviscerate its prey, but not before having a little fun and games first.
Before she realized what she was consciously doing, she threw herself at him. Something very primal told her she needed to kiss him at least once. At first, he reciprocated, drawing her in so close it seemed as though he would consume her. Then, in the same moment, he pushed her away. When she opened her eyes to see him once more he was standing with his arms folded across his chest and his feet planted firmly on the rocky ground.
“Now go,” he said harshly.
“You better be at Magpie Jack’s tonight,” Sydney whispered. “Promise me!”
“Of course,” Lankin said, cocking his head to the side inquisitively. Slowly, he licked his lips. “After all, it seems we have something to…discuss.”
Sydney caught herself blushing slightly, but found there were no words. All she could do was nod before turning and heading back down the trail. Lankin watched her disappear down the slope toward the Abyss with a sigh, grateful she was leaving. He reached down to grab the climbing rope and start gathering it up. Despite himself, he found himself softly singing a mock-song he would sing with his sister when they were children;
“I’m looking over
My dead dog Rover,
That I overlooked before…”