Hey y'all! I know I promised to update within a month and that that promise had a deadline of June 16th and I actually did have about 2500+ words written by that day, but I still had about ten more minutes of the movie to get through to reach my goal...and I've been stuck on that for the past two months due to two very good reasons. First, I've barely had time to open my laptop this summer due to trips to see my boyfriend across the state and my family across the East Coast, sources of family/post-grad drama, and potential job interviews. Second, any writing time and creative energy that I have been able to scrape together has been focused on my Narnia fanfic, which I haven't updated in almost three years due to writer's block. Fortunately, both of those sources of distraction turned out amazing results: a trip to DC to meet professional reporters courtesy of a family friend who works for Congress, A SUMMER INTERNSHIP at a government network in NASHVILLE (aka the same city where I went to college and where my boyfriend lives), shadowing opportunities with major people in both TV and digital news, and an 8600+ word chapter for my Narnia fanfic!
However, none of these accomplishments compare to the feeling I get when I receive notifications of new...
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Disclaimer: I'm unemployed and a week away from moving back into my childhood bedroom so I can "pay my dues" by working at my hometown news station...does that sound like someone who owns a successful movie franchise?
*December 9, Macau, China*
"Blind spots," Chase repeated with a Cheshire grin as he turned to address his twin. "W-We learned that together, didn't we bro? Did he tell you that we were partners once?"
The Horsemen continued their silent protest, their eyes either staring out the window or burning holes into Chase's skull.
"No? I didn't think so. 'The Mini McKinneys'," the non-balding brother continued before launching into a cheesy theme song. "'Chasey and a Mer-Bear, gonna make ya scare-bear! Ma-Ma-Magic McKinneys!'"
Merritt groaned, hiding his face behind his hands as if he had blocked any memory of that little ditty for the past thirty years due to the sheer embarrassment of it, while Lula muttered a half-hearted "Cool."
Meanwhile, Ember simply crossed her arms and kept her half-lidded eyes aimed at the road ahead. "That...was more painful than being pinned to a filthy restaurant floor," the blonde drawled in a deadpan voice.
"And then one day, uh, we were twelve and, uh...Virginia von Welsheim had a very nice party down the street. I had a little tum-tum, couldn't go. Mer-Bear did it on his own, and got a taste of the solo thing and, uh..." Chase pressed his lips together like he was trying to keep himself from sobbing, "kicked me to the curb."
"I wish someone would kick me to the curb so I wouldn't have to listen to anymore of this," Ember mumbled before Daniel shushed her.
"Chase, you win! I concede," Merritt surrendered loudly so his evil twin would move on from the motivational backstory to the explanation of the means in his villainous monologue. "Just tell me how you did it."
"Delivery guy came to your door about a month ago, little za…"
"'Za'?" Daniel repeated in confusion.
"Pizza, huh?" Merritt mused.
As Chase began to explain his 'genius' plan, Ember and Jack's faces paled more and more because they both realized exactly how and when the evil McKinney twin had found the weak spot in the Horsemen's defenses to steal their plans.
"Because I refuse to spend any more time with that psycho shock artist than is absolutely necessary!" the Irish girl blurted in frustration.
Both Merritt and Jack froze in place, both of them rendered speechless by the disgust dripping from Ember's unexpected outburst. Fortunately, the universe chose this moment to send a distraction.
"I'll get it!" Merritt announced a little too chipperly, eager to escape the electric atmosphere in the living room. While Jack helped Ember sort through her feelings about Lula, Merritt opened the door to find a uniformed man, his head down and his hat covering his face, with a pizza box in his hands.
"Is this apartment d3375?" the delivery guy questioned innocently.
"Not even close," the mentalist scoffed with a shake of his head.
All of a sudden, the man began spinning the box in his hand, which caused it to resemble a hypnotic pattern until it jerked to a stop with the apartment label now upside down to read SLEEP.
"Sleep!" Chase hissed before he caught his unconscious brother's head on his shoulder. "Relaxing, floating, drifting, dreaming..."
Merritt dropped to the floor.
However, Ember and Jack were too caught up in their discussion to hear the 'thump', so Chase picked up his twin, pulled him out into the hallway, and instructed Merritt to bring him the Horsemen's laptop while he waited patiently outside.
"Alright I admit that was harsh, but ignore that for a second and focus on the big picture!" Ember insisted. "If Thaddeus Bradley is able to produce a vlog from a posh jail cell, I wouldn't be surprised if he also had people on the outside just waiting for us to slip up so they can do his dirty work for him!"
"Okay, clearly you've been watching too much of this show," the pickpocket responded with an amused yet concerned chuckle as he closed down Thaddeus' website and shut the laptop.
At that moment, Merritt walked - actually more like glided - back into the room.
"Hey Merr, Ember and I need a few more minutes alone, so would you mind going back outside? A-And while you're at it, keep this away from her for a while."
Jack passed the laptop off to the hypnotist, who exited the front door without a word or even a mischievous expression.
"Is it just me or was Merritt a little...not Merritty?" Ember questioned.
"Uh-uh, no changing the subject this time, Em," Jack replied knowingly. "The only one who's acting out of character right now is you and I wanna know why."
"Good job, my little womb-mate," Chase congratulated giddily as Merritt shuffled out of the apartment. He sat the two of them down in the hallway and pulled a flashdrive out of his jacket pocket. "Now, be a good boy and download all your private information onto this little doodad and you can go back to the lovebirds."
Merritt did as he was told and pulled up every single file that Dylan had shared with them on performance elements, staging, escape plans, safe houses, targets, resources, etc.
"That's my Mer-Bear!" Chase cooed with a patronizing pat to Merritt's cheek before he grabbed Merritt by the back of the neck and pulled him close. "Ten seconds after I snap my fingers, you will wake up without any memory of the past five minutes. As far as you know, a delivery man brought food to the wrong apartment but you directed him to the right one then stayed outside to respect the lovebirds' privacy. Do you understand?"
Merritt nodded sluggishly.
"Good, now...wake!" Chase snapped his fingers then raced down the hall and around the corner before Merritt returned to his senses.
The hypnotist shook his head, his brow furrowed in bafflement. He didn't know exactly why he was still standing around outside, but he did know that his stomach and his bladder were both very unhappy at the moment. Merritt turned around to open the door only to discover that he was locked out and his key was inside so he banged on the door loud enough to interrupt whatever mischief or mushiness Ember and Jack were inevitably engaging in in there.
Bang bang bang!
"Yo Jack! Have you finished taming the wild leprechaun yet?!" Merritt hollered through the door. "I'm bored, I'm hungry, and I really gotta pee!"
Ember couldn't help but laugh. "I'll go let him in on my way out. See you at rehearsal."
With that, Ember gave Jack a quick peck on the lips, grabbed her purse and her coat, and headed toward the front door. Jack sighed as he pulled his empty hand out of his pocket and went back to his playing cards before Merritt strolled back into the apartment. The mind-reader returned the laptop to its spot on the table, and yet he had a confused look on his face as if he forgot why he had it with him in the first place.
"Man, how long was I out there?" Merritt griped, but he grinned as soon as he caught a glimpse of Ember's lip-gloss smudged on Jack's lips. "Clearly long enough for you two to make up. Guess it's a good thing my bladder got the better of me or else somebody would've had to answer the door half-dressed. And speaking of which…"
Without another word, the oldest Horseman scooted down the hall into the bathroom, leaving Jack with only his thoughts to keep him company.
"Thanks," Daniel spat at the bald McKinney before turned to the bedhead McKinney. "How did you know how to find him?"
Chase turned around from the passenger seat and pursed his lips mockingly. "That's a very good question, Atlas."
Daniel rolled his eyes and sunk into his seat, fully expecting Chase to just gloat over his superior knowledge...but instead Chase glanced toward the Horsemen's signature couple.
"Costume party, man dressed like a pirate got a little aggro, knocked your mask off in public so you got back at him by stealing his belt and wallet."
"You exposed yourselves and you didn't tell us?!" Daniel spat out angrily.
"I put the mask back on before anyone could see my face!" Jack argued defensively. "B-Besides, i-it wasn't as bad as it sounds."
Chase pulled a phone out of his fancy jacket, scrolled through it, then held up a video - with surprisingly high resolution and shockingly accurate sound quality for something taken in a crowded New York City nightclub - for the magicians to watch.
"For a guy dressed like a butler, you sure need to learn some manners," a drunk pirate sputtered before swinging back his fist a attempting to punch Jack in the face.
Luckily, because of the jerk's alcohol-impaired motor skills, Jack had enough time to dodge the brunt of the attack...but that actually pissed them both off even more. In fact, the ringmaster was so busy shoving the pirate away that he didn't notice that his mask had gotten knocked off in the scuffle.
"That's enough!" Ember cried out as she pulled the two men apart, grabbed Jack's mask off the ground, and refastened it on his face.
"Let me handle this!" the Irish girl responded in a tight and deliberate voice before taking a deep breath, donning her flirty face, and turning her attention toward the inebriated scoundrel.
"Look, handsome, how about you go buy us some drinks while I clear things up with my, uh, soon-to-be ex here?" Ember proposed as she trailed her hands down the pirate's chest. "And then when you get back, you and I can discuss whose room to wake up in."
The drunkard laughed obnoxiously in Jack's direction. "You got it, sexy!" He began to strut in the direction of the bar...however he lost his swagger after about two steps when his baggy pirate pants suddenly dropped to the ground and revealed his speedo-like underwear. His already-red face got even redder as the laughter of clubgoers around him drowned out the deejay's tunes. The buccaneer tried to flee to the bathroom, but he kept tripping over his fallen pants and falling to the sticky club floor while getting blinded by flashing phone cameras.
"Ooh, a saggy banana hammock! Now that's what I call karma!" Jack jeered with a huge grin on his face.
"Trust me, karma had nothing to do with it," the fire-dancer purred mysteriously before pulling the pirate's belt out from behind her back and snapping it to the ground like a whip.
"You little minx!"
Ember chuckled mischievously and leaned in so her breath tickled Jack's ear. "Baby, you have no idea!"
"Maybe not yet..." Jack suddenly spun Ember in a circle and dipped her in his arms. "But I have a feeling I will in about twenty minutes once I get you back into your bed."
Taking Ember's speechlessness and her lovestruck smile as a sign of agreement, Jack helped the blonde regain her footing and kept his hand on the small of her back as he escorted her through the crowd. However, right before they reached the exit, Ember stopped in her tracks.
"Actually, would you mind if we make that twenty five minutes? I have a little extra business to attend to in the ladies' room." With that, the Irish girl twirled a random wallet between her fingers and winked playfully.
Jack laughed in disbelief. "Did you pick that from that jerk's pocket?!"
Ember shrugged noncommittally, but her Cheshire grin gave her away. "What can I say, I had a very...very good teacher." The blonde pivoted and strutted off toward the bathroom to inevitably flush the drunkard's wallet down the club toilet.
However, after Ember left for the bathroom, the camera flipped around to show a man with a black mask over his face. "Confirmed sighting of Ember Jinx and Jack Wilder," the ninja stated in a thick Chinese accent. "My men are outside and ready to tail them. I will let you know when we are ready to intercept their plans."
Chase lowered the phone and suddenly burst out laughing at the various expressions on the Horsemen's faces. Daniel seemed like he was seconds away from strangling the group's two youngest members; Merritt looked like he sympathized with the circumstances but still wished they had been more careful; Lula had crossed her arms and refused to look anyone in the eye; Jack cradled his head in his hands like he was mentally replaying the incident and trying to figure out where that ninja had been hiding in the crowd; and Ember, perhaps most shockingly of all, looked completely and utterly defeated with her shoulders hunched and her gaze directed at her clutched hands in her lap.
"O-Okay, that explains how you found out where we lived," Jack finally spoke up, trying his best to take some blame off he and Ember's shoulders. "But h-how did you know w-we would be there that night? O-Or that we were still in the city in the first place?!"
Chase sucked in air between his teeth and looked at the pickpocket almost in pity. "So many good questions, but..." Chase pursed his lips before pretending to lock them up and throwing the pretend key out the car window.
The rest of the ride continued in agonizing silence - except for the deafening beats of the Asian hip-hop music blaring on the stereo - until the jeep and its entourage pulled into a resort that could even compete with a high-end Vegas casino on the glitz and glamor scale.
"Just follow the guards. They'll take you to my boss," Chase instructed as the Horsemen piled out of the car at the front door. He then rolled his window down to address Merritt directly with that insufferably smug grin of his. "Been fun playing this cat-and-mouse with you, bro-ski...Meow!"
Merritt remained silent, but he couldn't help himself from rubbing his eyes with his middle fingers.
"Have fun at the Sands!" Chase called back as he and his driver pulled away from the casino. Even with the pulsing music emanating from the glitzy hotel, the evil McKinney brother's infuriating giggle still echoed in the magicians' ears.
"I am so, so, so sorry!" Merritt apologized profusely as Chase's cronies escorted the Horsemen across the gambling floor.
"Yeah, you should be! Don't ever accuse me of betraying us again, okay?" Daniel ordered before angling his glare toward the youngest members. "And as for you two, don't expect me to cover for you when the Eye asks how everything got screwed up!"
Jack silently fumed at the illusionist's patronizing tone, but his anger shifted to worry when he noticed the absence of a cutting retort from the conversation. The pickpocket turned around to see Ember softly shuffling along behind him. Jack paused long enough for his girlfriend to catch up before he reached over to hold her hand in his own to comfort her.
"Emmie, he doesn't really-"
"This time, I'm pretty sure he does," Ember dismissed in a brittle voice, not even looking at him before she pulled her hand away, crossed her arms over her chest, and quickened her pace toward the elevator.
Jack frowned in both confusion and sadness at the uncharacteristic cold-shoulder he just received from the Irish girl. However, before he had time to process it, Jack felt a strong grip on his own shoulder.
"Keep moving," the guard grunted before shoving the pickpocket in the same direction as the others.
The Horsemen piled onto the elevator, keeping their mouths shut and their eyes locked on the door or the floor...except for Lula.
"Do you guys ever think the Eye is watching this? You know, that maybe this is even what they want?" the new girl proposed optimistically.
"Oh yeah! And maybe they use the same surveillance equipment as Santa Claus!" Jack whispered sarcastically to Ember, but even ragging on Lula's newbie naivety couldn't make his blonde firecracker smile.
"And at the exact right moment, they're gon-they're gonna swoop in, and we'll be like 'Yes! Thank God you're here! Thank God! Just in the nick of time, Eye!' And then we'll just celebrate and it was all worth it in the end?"
Other than a slight shake of the head from Daniel, Lula's dramatic tale of heroic omnipresent magicians was met with nothing but silence.
"I don't even really think that either, so..." Lula brushed off as she adopted a nonchalant façade to hide her embarrassment. "It's cool."
Fortunately, the elevator chose that moment to stop at its destination. The rear doors opened to reveal rock music blaring from an extravagant penthouse suite. The Horsemen pivoted around to find a short man in a white suit juggling playing cards in front of a giant window showcasing the Macau nightlife in all its opulent glory. However, the man was clearly not a trained showman because in his attempts to impress the real magicians he had summoned, he missed his hand and sent a card flying across the room.
Nevertheless, the man - who was actually a British man with shaggy brown hair, a beard, an unmistakable impish spark in his eyes - recovered from his blunder by spinning around with a big grin and open arms as he proclaimed "Ta-Dah!"
Whether it was out of shock from the over-the-top décor or the fact that the man who orchestrated their kidnapping looked like he was barely legal, the Horsemen's jaws dropped.
"So happy to be working with you!" the young man declared before pulling a remote from his pocket to turn off the music and descending the stairs to the sitting area. "Please come in! Come in!"
When the Horsemen failed to move forward on their own, the guards took initiative and pushed the group out of the elevator.
"Bollocks, another wealthy British troublemaker," Ember muttered under her breath. "What a bloody surprise!"
However, as soon as the words left her mouth, the British man's face tensed up ever so slightly...but only for a moment before returning to his relaxed and welcoming expression.
"Wait, sorry, how are you 'working with us'?" Daniel questioned, his voice a combination of disbelief and disdain.
"Oh, well, as much as a magician who pulls a rabbit from a hat is working with that rabbit," the mystery man explained as he slipped on his loafers and crossed the glass floor, which gave him the appearance of walking on water over a pool of water lilies. "We'll be working together, yes. Allow me to introduce myself-"
"Yeah, you're Walter Mabry," Jack interrupted in a deadpan voice. "You died a year ago."
"Yes, an idea I got from you, Mr. Wilder," Walter replied with a gesture of respect toward Jack. "Fake your death and the world puts its guard down. I'm able to control quite a few companies, including my old partner Owen's, as a consortium of so-called 'anonymous shareholders'."
"And that violates how many SEC laws?" Lula inquired.
"I believe it breaks all of them," Walter answered with a casual and somewhat proud nod.
Lula gasped mockingly. "All of them."
"You see, you all want an audience. Need one, desperately. It's quite sad, really. Hence my ability to nab you," the bearded Brit elaborated. "I, on the other hand, want the opposite of that. I just want to be - and I am - one hundred percent off the grid. You know why?"
"Yeah, because the grid is for actual human beings," Daniel derided.
The corner of Walter's mouth quirked up in an impatient smirk. "No, because in a world of total surveillance, the only true freedom lies in not being seen. You can't control the grid from within the grid."
The magicians scoffed, rolled their eyes, and stared at their shoes, but they held their tongues long enough for Walter to register their silence as comprehension.
"Follow me!" he chirped.
The Horsemen stayed rooted to their spots.
"Follow me," Walter repeated much more pointedly, which caused the guards to move the magicians themselves. "You pulled a hat out of a rabbit. That was very colorful," the Englishman praised as he wagged his finger at Lula.
"Almost eight and a half years ago, so no need to bring that up," the shock artist responded dismissively as she trailed behind the Brit.
"We can't all be held accountable for our adolescent personas," Walter shrugged off before plucking a pastry off the dessert table and locking his eyes on Daniel. "Can we...Magicolio?"
"M-Magicolio?" Daniel parroted, his cheeks turning pink with shame while Merritt suppressed a grin beside him. "Th-That was fifteen years ago."
"Wow...that's even more embarrassing than Jarvis," Ember spoke up, a little bit of that mischievous twinkle returning to her eyes. "I mean at least Jarvis you can blame on your parents, but Magicolio?! Nobody's fault but your own, mate."
Daniel's face flushed even redder, but the others made little effort to hold back their laughter.
"Don't get me wrong, I love magic," Walter continued. "I dabbled with it, like you, and many others who, I suppose, were not getting any sex in high school." He then shifted his predatory gaze toward Ember. "Except for you, of course, Miss Jinx...or should I say Miss Ruby?"
Any trace of a hope or playfulness in Ember's eyes immediately vanished and her face went completely ashen. Only Jack, Dylan, and Merritt knew about her previous employment at her uncle's seedy Vegas strip club - Jack because she told him, Dylan because he strategically commanded and sabotaged the FBI team that was investigating the Horsemen almost two years ago, and Merritt because he actually visited the club once before they even knew each other - and considering Ember started working there at sixteen, any sexual escapades she had in her high school years were not exactly voluntary. Ember's breathing quickened as she felt the the walls closing in around her. Without even thinking of the consequences, the blonde spun on her heel and bolted toward the elevator. However, Walter's guards stepped forward to form a human wall and block her path.
"Let...me...pass," Ember demanded in a wavering voice.
"Ah, ah, ah, I wouldn't do that, Demitria," Walter chided as he ascended the steps and circled the trembling Ember like a lion.
Meanwhile, Merritt and Daniel each grabbed one of Jack's shoulders and Lula - despite not knowing the context of the situation - pinned Jack's wrists behind his back. Fortunately, Jack was too busy making dagger eyes at weaselly Walter to object to his restraints.
"I heard about that ruckus you caused at the restaurant with Chase and, uh, I would hate to jeopardize your ability to return to your previous occupation by doing any more damage to that lovely figure." The confident Englishman stopped beside the hyperventilating Irish girl, leaned in so his breath buzzed in her ear like a pesky fly, and let his eyes roam up and down as he loudly whispered, "After all, I did see the surveillance package of you from Halloween and, trust me, you could still earn quite a bit of profit in knickers and stilettos."
It took the strength of three magicians and the sight of two more guards reaching for their holsters to stop Jack from turning Walter Mabry's fake death into a real one...but it didn't stop him from shooting off at the mouth.
"Hey, Brit-Brat! Get away from my girlfriend right now or I'll-"
"Your girlfriend? My apologies," Walter replied good-naturedly before stepping in Jack's direction. "Just out of curiosity, though...on Halloween, did you have to pay her for that dance or was it a freebie for being such a loyal customer?"
Before Jack could get in a punch - or even a word - he was interrupted by a loud thump and saw his blue-eyed beauty sprawled out on the floor. Apparently, the shame, the stress, the starvation, and Walter's slight similarity to her sleazy Uncle Rick had finally gotten to Ember and she simply fainted.
"Well that's just swell!" Walter huffed as he threw his hands up in frustration from the sight of his comatose captive. "Mei?!"
A slim but strong-looking Asian woman in a pantsuit stepped into the room.
"Bring the blonde into the bathroom and give her some smelling salts or something to wake her up. She's already slept through one day, I don't need her unconscious for another one."
Mei nodded obediently, draped one of Ember's arms over her shoulders, carried her into the bathroom, and slammed the door shut.
"But, uh, anyway, unlike you, I was able to transition upward towards actual magic. Science, as you may have heard it called," Walter carried on, pretending he still had his full audience as he gestured toward a huge high-tech box in the corner of the suite. "So, would you like to know, my friends, just how I got you here?"
"Mm, we know how you did it," Merritt cut in with a patronizing lilt in his voice.
"No you don't," the tech tycoon insisted hastily.
"Yeah, you stole our files for the show, then obviously hypnotized us," Jack continued bitterly, his limbs released by his friends and his attention focused on the sounds of coughing and running water behind the bathroom door.
"Stop. No, s-seriously, stop."
"The strobe was a combo of binaural beats," Merritt hypothesized, "as well as-"
"I said stop!" Walter blurted, grabbing Merritt's face in his hands and staring the hypnotist right in the eyes. "You might not be having fun, but I am."
The rest of the Horsemen went almost as pale as Ember had. Clearly the only thing shorter than Walter's height was his patience.
"You have an unusual way of showing it," Merritt replied cautiously.
"So...how'd I do it?" Walter queried rhetorically as he slowly released Merritt's cheeks and began to pace in front of his captive audience. "Easy. You see, magicians like to control other people's perceptions. In your heightened state of agitation, you saw the simplest cues - black tube, roof - and your minds filled in the rest. But the tube you meant to go down was twenty feet to your right."
The Horsemen's expressions grew distant as they tried to visualize that roof from when they were fleeing Octa and the FBI after Walter sabotaged their performance.
"Go on, sit down, sit down. There's no one standing in your way," the Brit offered like any other gracious host/kidnapper.
"Don't mind if I do," Merritt muttered sarcastically as he and the other magicians found themselves shoved onto the curved couch one-by-one.
"Bring in blondie!" Walter ordered.
The bathroom opened and fire-dancer warily stepped out, her hair soaking wet and her makeup smudged all over her ivory face.
"Well give her a bloody towel before she drips all over the furniture!"
Mei tossed a plush towel at Ember before shoving her toward the couch to join the others. Jack immediately wrapped his arms around his cold and damp girlfriend to help warm her up...but he couldn't help noticing the way she flinched at his touch.
"Anyway, once in the tube, yes, you're right. Blah, blah, blah, the strobe contained UV letters pulsing the word 'sleep'. And that, combined with the sound, put you into an instant alpha pattern. And from then on, it really was just fun, and I can assure you, you don't know what happened."
Walter squeezed between the five Horsemen and turned on the TV in front of them to reveal a slideshow titled 'Our Trip to Macau' and set to tropical music. The pictures mostly demonstrated Walter taking advantage of his snoozing hostages and ranged from him donning Merritt's hat and giving them all the bird, arranging the magicians in embarrassing positions, taking a group-selfie of them lying on the floor with cards scattered over them, having a dinner date with Lula and the lei he put on her, etc.
"That's really creepy," Lula spoke up quickly. "Really, really, really creepy."
"That's not cool," Merritt mumbled after yet another picture of Walter stealing his fedora and flipping off the camera came on screen.
"Yep, easy stuff, magic...I mean, you know, if you put your mind to it," Walter bragged chipperly as a picture popped up of Ember sitting on the floor of the jet and wearing a cap that read 'Long Live the Queen'. Meanwhile, the Brit brat was caught sitting on the couch behind her, raising the Irish girl's arms in the air with a mini British flag taped in each of her hands.
"Oh, that is low!" Ember growled angrily, but Jack laid a hand on her knee to calm her down.
"Alright, that's enough," Daniel interjected with a clap. "So w-why are we here, then? Besides you getting to how off how 'adorably clever' you are."
"Well, to start with, the man you stole from last year, turns out I had invested quite a lot of money in some of his companies,...so a lot of what you stole was, in fact, mine," Walter explained, making eye contact with each magician as he proceeded. "Good news is, it's very easy for you to pay me back. I just need your skills."
Walter clicked the remote to switch to an artsy monochromatic photo of Owen Case and then a picture of the two of them early in their tech careers.
"Owen and I were like the Beatles, if the Beatles had been-"
"Elfin?" Daniel added jokingly.
"Geniuses," the Englishman corrected with a small but annoyed scowl.
"Pretty sure the Beatles were geniuses," Lula defended, but Walter decided to ignore the interruption and continue.
"And like them, we had a dream." Walter flipped to a picture showing he and Owen as college-aged computer geeks holding a flashy hard-drive, which Walter then amplified on the screen.
"And I'm guessing one of you achieved that dream, and it wasn't you?" Merritt surmised.
"That is what he would like you to think," Walter responded, his voice becoming more strained and breathy as he stood up to face the Horsemen. "My vision...was a perfect blend of elegance and technology. But Owen wanted it for himself so he humiliated me by exposing my private files to the board of directors and convinced them that I am unstable."
"Did you take a picture of him while he was sleeping?" Daniel inquired, arising a few smirks and chuckles from his fellow magicians.
"He had me kicked out of my own company," the Brit carried on before skipping to a digital schematic of the Holy Grail of Octa's technology, "and now he goes around taking credit for a chip that's not just the key to one computer, but every computer system on the planet."
The Horsemen squirmed in their seats as they realized the Octa exposure mission the Eye had given them lined up with the source of Walter's vendetta.
"It can un-encrypt anything, crack the defense firewall, manipulate markets, and spy on anyone. And now it's being sold to the highest bidder."
"If you're so rich, why don't you just buy it?" Jack proposed, his voice laced with a hint of animosity.
"So he gets the money? And the pleasure?" Walter debated without hesitation. "No. No, no, no. Besides, why would I buy it when I could have you steal it for me?"
"Oh!" Lula breathed out with a shrug, feigning stupidity for not seeing such an obvious answer on her own.
"It's being previewed tomorrow to the various suitors, which will include your targets..."
The PowerPoint switched to surveillance shots of a scary looking man.
"A crew led by a South African gangster."
"A South African gangster," Lula repeated with a disbelieving nod.
"Yes. How your team gets past security, that's up to you. But, uh, once you do, you just need to inspect it and steal it."
"That's it?" Daniel replied in a sarcastic tone.
"Come on, this is perfect for you, isn't it?" Walter exclaimed encouragingly. "You're magicians and thieves!"
Jack let go of Ember and wrung his hands together bitterly. "What makes you think we would even consider doing this?!" the pickpocket challenged.
"Um, oh wait, I had a reason. What was it?" the tiny tech tycoon pondered mockingly. "Oh yes! You see, back home, you're wanted criminals, but here, I control the police, the casinos, the media. I can give you a new life, out of hiding."
The antagonism began to fade from the room as realization - and maybe even a little hope - dawned on each magician's face.
"And if you don't, I'll have you all killed."
And the antagonistic tension returned full force...but that didn't stop Walter from grinning eagerly.
"You know what," Jack spoke up as he got to his feet and squared off against the Brit...or rather against the top of the Brit's head because that was the only part that reached Jack's eyes. "I'm not stealing a thing for you. Not unless Dylan tells me it's okay."
"Really? Dylan is where, exactly?" Walter questioned.
"Doesn't matter," Lula dismissed before standing up and taking a place at Jack's side. "Yeah, I'm with him, so you can go ahead and kill us because I'm not gonna steal anything for you either."
"Oi, Butcher Barbie, the only one with Jack is me," Ember interjected as she shed the towel and stepped between Lula and her boyfriend...but there seemed to be less fire in her tone than usual. Nevertheless, Ember's angry gaze quickly shifted toward Walter. "And as for you, you little techie troll, trasna ort fein! I already stole for one greedy psychotic perv in my life and I'm not making that mistake again."
"Strikes me that a consensus seems to be forming, Walter," Merritt observed, "and, uh, we're calling your bluff."
Walter glanced back toward one of his beefy bodyguards, who stepped up as if he were ready to knock the mentalist's lights out...but he was interrupted.
"Actually, we'll do it," Daniel stated from his place on the couch.
"What?!" the three youngest Horsemen simultaneously exclaimed.
"We're in Macau," the illusionist added in a 'duh' tone. "The oldest magic store in the world is here. We'll get the supplies we need and, uh, we'll do it."
"Thank you," Walter replied graciously as he and the self-elected leader of the Five Horsemen shook hands on their arrangement. "It should be fun. Chase will take you to the magic shop in the morning."
And with that, the supposedly-deceased Mr. Mabry strolled out of the foyer and left the fugitive performers with only the intimidating Chinese security detail to keep them company.
"So..." Merritt eventually piped up. "Who's up for some blackjack downstairs?"
Walter's guards started barking orders as they corralled the Horsemen in the direction of the elevator. However, instead of escorting them into the elevator, they took them down a hall on the other side of the elevator that led to two guest bedrooms with all possible exits sealed and/or surveyed by more guards. Ember walked straight into the room on the right and slammed the door shut without nary a word to her friends. The other Horsemen and Horsewoman instinctively began to divide into the separate rooms, but then Jack cut in.
"Hey, uh, Lula? W-Would you mind if I bunked with Ember tonight?" the sleight-of-hand requested in a low voice so his girlfriend wouldn't hear through the door. "She's obviously in a, uh...emotionally volatile state a-at the moment and, um, I-I think it would be best if I talked her down by myself s-so we don't...aggravate her."
Lula blinked in disbelief. "Are you saying I would push her buttons?"
"No, no!" Jack denied in hopes of sparing Lula's feelings. "I-It's just that, well..."
"It would be like throwing a gasoline tanker truck on top of a forest fire," Merritt interrupted bluntly.
"B-But, come on, Ember's like the sister I never had!" Lula pleaded, clearly oblivious to the Irish girl's disdain for her. "I-I mean what if I just hide under the blankets in my bed while you two take the other one?"
Jack crossed his arms. "Could you promise to stay absolutely quiet and not interfere in any way, no matter what we say?"
Lula's lips pressed together into a thin line before she pivoted to face Merritt. "So, Mer-Bear, got room for one more in there?"
Jack mouthed a 'thank you' before he slipped inside the door on the right so he could snap his Irish firecracker out of this cold spell.
"Well as a gentleman, I, for one, believe that no lady deserves to sleep on the floor. Therefore, Lula, I am willing to surrender...half my bed to you," Merritt finished with a flirty wink.
Once again, Lula pensively chewed on her lips before whirling back around to rap on Jack and Ember's door. "Come on, guys! You won't even know I'm there! I'll duct tape my mouth and blindfold myself if that's what it takes!"
"Ooh, kinky," Merritt drawled with a pleased smirk.
Jack did quickly open the door. However, it was just for a moment...and it was just to drop a blanket and two pillows on the floor before hanging the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the handle. Lula slowly picked up the bedding and then raised her chin so Merritt could see her pouty eyes and sad frown.
"I guess she really doesn't like having me around," the green-eyed girl lamented, her voice dripping with unshed tears.
"Ugh, fine, I'll take the floor," the balding magician surrendered. "But when I'm whining all week about my bad back, you all just remember you brought it on yourselves!"
Meanwhile, Jack found Ember sprawled out on the bed either sobbing into her pillow or punching it...or maybe both...but whatever it was involved a lot of creative Celtic cursing. The hazel-eyed boy sat down on the edge of the bed and gently rubbed his hand up and down Ember's back.
"Emmie, I am so, so sorry," Jack murmured softly. "I know that there's nothing I can say or do-"
"You can invent a time machine and undo this mess," Ember offered, her voice muffled by her pillow.
"Baby, trust me, if I could take back everything Walter said, all those things he exposed about your past-"
Suddenly, Ember let out an almost feral shriek as she flung the pillow to the ground and spun around to face Jack.
"It's not just about the invasion of privacy!" the blonde cried out, her cheeks stained from both her tears and her ruined stage makeup. "In fact, maybe he's right! Maybe I should go back to dancing for dollar bills because clearly I don't belong with such a talented group of magicians!"
"Em-" Jack tried to cut in, but Ember was already up on her feet and furiously pacing beside the bed.
"Hell, according to the legend, there should only be four Horsemen anyway, so what am I even doing here?!"
"You're playing a valuable role in taking down corrupt executives!"
"'Valuable'?!" Ember repeated, her lip curled in cynicism. "Based on everything Chase and Walter revealed in their bad guy monologues, my only role in this group is that of the immature screw-up! Think about it! If I hadn't insisted on taking you clubbing on Halloween, Walter's men wouldn't have tracked us down! If I hadn't broken down last month over Lula's lack of subtlety when rehearsing her performances or her lack of boundaries when it comes to my past, my flat, my boyfriend-"
"Wait, what?" Jack spoke up.
"If I hadn't let myself go off the rails about my new roommate, Merritt wouldn't have been so eager to answer the door to Chase, you and I would've paid attention to Merritt's zombie state and not handed over the laptop, and everything would've gone according to plan! Blimey, we would probably be at some Eye awards ceremony right now, receiving medals of magical honor for exposing Owen Case if I hadn't-"
Ember suddenly found herself silenced by a passionate yet tender kiss from the man who stole her heart almost two years ago. When Jack finally pulled away, Ember gazed into those warm amber eyes. All of a sudden, all that guilt and self-loathing that had taken root in the pit of her stomach began to soften.
"And if you quit the group, there will only be three Horsemen left because I know the fourth wouldn't be able to perform without the woman who inspires his magic," Jack added as he cradled Ember's cheeks in his hands.
"Jack, you can't-"
"And while we're on the 'what if' game," the brunette boy continued, "if I hadn't taken so long to end that toxic relationship with Veronica, I wouldn't have missed out on so many opportunities to hold you in my arms, to kiss those soft lips, to see that beautiful smile when I tell you how much I love you..."
As if on cue, the Irish girl smiled sweetly while her sapphire eyes regained a bit of their sparkle.
"That's the one! Right there!" Jack teased as he playfully tapped Ember on the nose, which caused her to bite her bottom lip to contain her endearing giggle. "We all make mistakes, Emmie, and while you blame yourself for being oblivious to the fact that we had an evil midget mastermind sabotaging our mission, I blame myself for being oblivious to the fact that I was spending time trying to impress a nosy gold-digger when my perfect girl was already right beside me."
Ember smirked, but there was still a hint of bemusement in it. "Jack, while I admit that hearing you insult that bloody banshee you foolishly dated does cheer me up, that is not even remotely close to the mistakes I've made in the past few months."
"Oh right, because the fact that you are not omniscient and all-knowing is totally within your control," the pickpocket replied with a playful quirk of his eyebrow.
Ember opened her mouth to argue, but upon realizing she had been beat, she stared down at her hands as she chipped away at a loose speck of silver nail polish. "So...blame Merritt the mentalist instead?"
Jack chuckled, glad to see some of that Irish fire returning to his girlfriend's cheeks and jokes. "Or...maybe we just do whatever Walter the Weasel wants - or at least pretend to go along with it until Dylan saves us - and then you leave one of your famous ink bombs in his fridge as a parting gift?"
"Agreed" the blonde responded before sealing the deal with a kiss to Jack's cheek. "And I'm sorry about brushing you off earlier. I know you were trying to make me feel better, but I guess I was too busy beating myself up to let someone else try to heal me."
The pickpocket wrapped his arms around the pyrotechnician and drew her close. "As far as I'm concerned, that's all in the past now. In the meantime, how about we get some rest before Daniel comes in at dawn with a bugle?"
"Another good idea from Jackie boy," Ember chirped before she and her boyfriend began peeling off the costumes they had been wearing since yesterday.
"I seem to be full of them today," Jack commented in a playfully cocky tone as the two of them made themselves at home under the posh hotel blankets.
"And yet I thought the number one rule in a relationship is that the woman is always right," Ember murmured teasingly as she nuzzled up against Jack's chest, comforted by the steady beating of his heart.
"Technically, I think that rule only applies in a marriage," Jack corrected as he took Ember's hand in his own and tried to hide the way his eyes were automatically drawn to the emptiness of her left ring finger. "But, then again, I prefer the rule that a husband and wife should always love and respect each other, regardless of who is right or wrong."
"Well with a philosophy like that, whoever you end up marrying will be a very lucky woman," the fire-dancer responded with a soft smile before drifting off into dreamland.
Meanwhile, Jack glanced down at his jacket - or rather at the slight lump in his sleeve's hidden pocket - and grinned optimistically. "Trust me, I'll be the lucky one."
Woohoo, that's it for today! I hope this 8121 word chapter is long enough to make up for being almost three months late! I also hope that y'all take the time to follow, favorite, and/or review because I'm gonna be on my laptop every day for the next month (or at least until I have a new job) and I actually think I can circle back around to this story by then :D. Up next, we'll be taking a little trip to the world's oldest magic shop to learn a few new tricks!