The Death’s Head, outside of Marrakech, Colorado…
Sydney drew a sharp breath as she took in the view of Gaia’s Backbone from just above a place Lankin referred to as the Abyss. She noticed a sadness in his eyes at mentioning the place, and knew there was perhaps a story behind it. She opted to hold back on inquiring. There would be time. It felt as though there was all the time in the world.
She really was enjoying herself. Remembering back to the afternoon in Glasgow, Lankin did make a wonderful outdoor companion. Although, as they climbed up the Death’s Head, she would notice him disappearing either ahead or behind her. He seemed simultaneously distracted and deep in monk-like concentration. Sydney dismissed this as how he must get when climbing a mountain. The same mountain, he mentioned the old-timers were convinced he was born on, and was the only thing in the whole creation that would decide when it was his time to die.
The bright sun was finally beginning to warm mid-morning air. The occasional chirp of a pika would interrupt the otherwise profound Backcountry silence. Below them, the tundra spread out like a patchwork quilt before meeting the Krumholz sentinels of tree-line once more. The Death’s Head itself was bald rock, which shot up imposingly across Gaia’s Backbone, to only be dwarfed by its neighbor, Hell’s Watchtower. Lankin mentioned some hikers would climb both mountains in a day, daring the Abyss to do so.
He had just reappeared and was nonchalantly sipping water from his bottle and hooking his trek-pole to his pack. Sydney wanted to make a remark about how much she was enjoying herself. She found there were a lot of things she wanted to say to him. There was a combination of fear and his detached manner, which caused her to hold her tongue. Perhaps, she felt there would be time to say all those things too. Up along the Death’s Head, it was as if there was all the time in the world.
“We’ll break here for a minute,” Lankin said finally. “You probably need to catch your breath.”
“You’ll notice I’m doing a fair job of keeping up with you,” Sydney remarked. She caught herself smiling playfully.
“I have,” he said with a smirk. “Impressive.”
There was the sound of movement. Sydney noticed how Lankin cocked his head to the side inquisitively. She couldn’t quite read his expression as he began to walk, almost unconcerned, in the direction of the noise. Part of her wondered if it was a marmot or maybe even a mountain goat. It was only as he got further away, closer to the edge, that she found herself feeling anxious.
Rocks, small at first, began to come down, scattering around his feet. Dust began to rise up, making Lankin’s angular figure hard to distinguish. It did look like he turned to look up just as large boulder came crashing down.
Sydney was running toward the rockslide frantically. Her voice caught in her throat, but she wanted to call out. She wanted to cry for help. She wanted to call out for Lankin, hoping against hope he would answer back.
Before she reached the slide, something landed on top of her. She was being pushed to ground. It took her only a heartbeat to realize this was not a rock landing on her. She felt her arms being pulled savagely behind her and her wrists being bound. Shock, fear, anger, and betrayal played across her face as she turned her head to see a set of familiar cold amber eyes.
“End of the line, jackrabbit,” Darcy hissed triumphantly. “End of everything.”
Levant County Courthouse, Leeds, Colorado…
Bast slowly opened her eyes and noticed her hands were shaking. This was understandable. With a deep breath, she worked toward steadying herself. Trembling would do no good right now.
Slowly, she turned her wheelchair back around. Connelly was standing on the other side of her desk, waiting. No words passed between them as their eyes met, just a mutual nod. With that, Connelly spun his heel and moved purposely out of the archival office, the whole time, furiously dialing into his phone.