part V

“You can’t be serious,” Ari scoffed, though her voice was hushed.

“You said it yourself,” hissed Roe, lowering her head to obscure the man’s view of her, “‘You never know who’s listening,’ right?”

Ari sighed, “Yeah--but jumping from ‘that’s the guy from the bun cart’ to ‘he’s tailing us’ is a bit ridiculous don’t you think?“

“No,” Roe replied, almost more assured than before.

“Who would send someone to tail me?”

Roe shook her head as if it was obvious, “Uh--the Adarai?”

“Uh--they're the ones who sent me. Why would they do that?”

“I don’t know, maybe it’s--aren’t there--members or whatever who don’t believe all the prophecy stuff?”

“Well, maybe, I don’t know,” considered Ari. She shot another quick glance at the man. “He doesn’t look familiar.”

“Why would they send someone you recognize?!”

“He has comm like yours,” Ari growled in defense, pointing to Roe’s multi-tool, “I told you we don’t use those.”

“Obviously, he’d get one to blend in.”

Ari sighed again and took in a deep breath, “Look, you’re being paranoid. Let’s just wait until we get to Supai and see if he gets off and take it from there, okay? He’s not doing any harm at the moment, right?”

Roe started to protest but stopped and snorted, petulantly.

“Okay. Thank you,” Ari said, relieved, “It is an odd coincidence, but I’m sure there’s some--”

But Roe bolted up from her seat, cutting her off. “Nah, I’m going over there. W0RM?”

“Zer--” but, before she could finish, it was too late.

Roe was already halfway down the sparsely populated compartment, a puffed up W0RM on her shoulder, headed straight for him.

Sitting next to the forward door of the car, the man was idly playing a colorful holo-game projecting from his multi-tool. He was slim with beady eyes and a buzz cut, and his feet were propped up on his luggage in the seat across from him.

Determined, Roe stopped beside him, arms crossed, “Who are you?”

Startled, the man looked up at her, “I--I’m sorry?”

“Why are you following us? Huh?” W0RM squawked and bristled his feathers from her shoulder.

“I don’t know what you’re--”

Annoyed, Roe’s raised her voice, as she leaned in over the man, “Look, we know you were listening to us at the bun stand, and there’s no way you could’ve made it on this train in time unless you were sent after us, so who is it? Who sent you?”

The man waved away his game and leaned back uncomfortably in his seat, “Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about, and--and if you don’t leave me alone I’m going to call security.”

“Don’t. Lie.” Roe said, towering over him, “He knows if you’re lying,” she motioned to W0RM how flapped his metal wings and chittered loudly.

Wide-eyed, the man stood up, grabbed his bag, and tried to duck past her toward the door, but she stepped back in front of him.

Why are you following us?” She took another threatening step toward him, nearly leaning against him now.

But, seemingly out of nowhere, Ari quickly ducked in between the two, a look of profound embarrassment on her face, “Okay, alright, I’m--I'm--so sorry, sir.” She gently stepped back, pushing Roe away from the man and clearing a path to the door. “Please forgive my--uh--colleague here, she doesn’t travel much and is a little jumpy with strangers.”

The man nodded nervously before pressing the door’s “OPEN” button. It slid open with a hiss.

“Ari! He’s--” Roe protested. As he stepped out, she lunged under Ari’s out-stretched arms past her and grabbed the man’s shoulder, “Stop!”

The man shook her off, sending his bag and its contents onto the ground in the corridor connection between the train compartments.

Stunned, Ari pulled Roe back, “Zero! Stop!”

Seeing the flustered man scrambling to collect his belongings, Roe’s rage receded. Her face flushed, “I--”

Ari immediately kneeled to help gather his things, “I am so sorry, I don’t know what’s--” But she stopped. Her eyes locked on an open book atop a few loose papers. “That’s--” Filling its pages were the runes and symbols of the Cretan language.

She bolted up just as the man saw what she saw. He slowly straightened, dropping his stuff, as his flustered look shifted, giving way to a glowering sneer.

A look of concerned confusion fell upon Ari’s face, “You’re--”

W0RM squawked fervently, as Roe shouted behind her, “See, I told you he’s--”

And in a single, swift motion, the man tore a necklace tucked under his shirt from his neck. Around it glowed a bright green amulet. He clutched it in his palm, wrapping the chain around his grasp. The emerald light shone through his fist, and he reared it back ready to attack.

The girls’ eyes grew wide, as they both said in unison, “Oh shit.”