Chapter 14: The Masquerade

Kaitlyn Jarred

Nickolas takes my hands and we follow Frost from the room. My heartbeat increases as we walk out of the house to a well-dressed Jonathon, Robin, and Crystal. Frost hurries back into the house and reemerges a few minutes later in a suit. A white limousine pulls up to the curb and we all climb in. I squish myself as close to Nickolas as possible and we sit far away from the other four. Nickolas and I remain silent as the Nexis four starting drinking champagne and are laughing like hyenas. Crystal keeps a sharp eye on us throughout the ride though, so I don’t dare say anything to Nickolas. We arrive and exit the vehicle in the front of the building, like any other guest. Crystal takes Jonathon’s arm, Frost is paired with Robin, and Nickolas and I follow suit. We leisurely walk up the stairs, Crystal presenting our invitations to the doorman. He waves us inside, blushing lightly at the seductive smile on Crystal’s face.
“Mingle,” Crystal hisses before the four Nexis members disperse, leaving Nickolas and I alone.
“I’m scared,” I admit in a whisper. Nickolas’ hand tightens around mine as he looks down at me, a tight smile on his face, remaining silent.
“Hi, Nicky,” I hear Amanda’s voice say and she comes sashaying up to us, her golden dress and mask complimenting her hair. She sidles between Nickolas and I, removing my hand from his. “You look handsome.”
Nickolas immediately side-steps her and returns to my side, “Leave me alone, Amanda.” I can detect a slight tremor in his voice, so I step in front of him.
“Go the hell away,” I say, and she narrows her eyes behind her mask.
“Remember what I said, Nicky,” she glares at him and I feel Nickolas tense behind me. Amanda turns and walks away, easily being swept up by another man in a suit.
“What is she talking about?” I turn back toward him to see him not meeting my eyes.
“Kat, there’s something I want to—” I cut Nickolas off, shushing him as I listen closely. “What?”
I turn 360 degrees, scanning the area as my eyes land upon my father, “No.”
“What?” Nickolas’ voice gets panicked.
“My Dad’s here,” my heartbeat speeds up. “Nick, my Dad’s here.” Nickolas follows my eyes and he groans. “Does this whole thing have to do with my father?”
“I’m not sure,” Nickolas trails off. “Where have the waiters disappeared to?” We look around, the waiters who had been walking around with champagne and finger foods, have gone.
I roll my eyes, “How cliché, Nexis used the waiters to infiltrate the ball.” My eyes flicker back over to my father, “I have to warn him.”
“No,” Nickolas’ voice raises and I look up at him in surprise. The people around us turn to look at his outburst and he flushes, lowering his voice. “No, they’ll kill you.”
“He’s my dad,” I protest, and Nickolas nods once.
“I’m right behind you.” We take one step, before the lights flicker, before darkening completely. People start muttering and I grapple for Nickolas in the dark. My hand reaches an arm and I breathe a sigh of relief.
“Hi princess,” another man’s voice whispers and I try to back away. The man tsks, before shoving a rag into my face.
“Kaitlyn!” I hear Nickolas yell as my limbs weaken. I fall forward into the unknown man’s arms and he chuckles.
“Nick,” I whisper as I’m dragged away. I have to assume to the man is wearing night vison goggles since he’s easily leading us through the crowd. Surprisingly, no one is panicking.
“Kaitlyn!” Nickolas yells again, and I can’t tell where it’s coming from. A spotlight is turned on and the man shifts me in his arms so he can carry me easier, but I cannot see where the light is focused.
“Good evening, everyone!” Crystal’s voice rings clearly over the speakers. “As you can now see,” she pauses and the lights flicker on again just as I am brought into a side hallway, “all the doors are blocked by members of my organization, Nexis.” Crystal’s voice fades as I’m brought further away from the ball.
“Where…” Is all I’m able to get out, but the man understands.
“On stage with the Boss,” he answers and suddenly Crystal’s voice is louder than before.
“—And now, the piece-de-resistance, my test-subject!”
The man drags me on stage, and the crowd gasps. I see Nickolas struggling against three Nexis members, his face betraying how furious he is. I’m sat down in a chair, the unknown man standing behind me to hold my body up. My mask is ripped off and Dad and Mom cry out in fear. Crystal smiles cruelly as she presents a nose spray bottle.
“Pneumonic plague can be contracted one of two ways. The first is that it’s spread to the lungs by the septicemic plague spreading to the lungs, or this way,” she shoves the bottle up my nose and due to my weak limbs, I can’t stop her. “By inhaling the plague bacteria.”
“You monster!” Dad yells, fighting hard against the Nexis members.
“She will begin to have signs of the plague in three to seven days,” Crystal continues without seeming to have heard my father. “When the symptoms first show, antibiotics will need to be administered within 24 hours to reduce the risk of death.”
I blink my eyes slowly as I try to focus on my family and Nickolas. Their distress is more worrying to me than my own predicament.
“I would like to have three billion dollars wired to this bank account,” Crystal produces a slip of paper, “and a commercial airplane for all Nexis members. If this is not achieved,” her eyes flash as her smile grows more sadistic, “Kaitlyn Jarred will not be the only one to die.”

Nickolas Parkingsons

After that statement, Crystal spins and disappears, taking Kaitlyn with her. The Nexis members holding me and Kaitlyn’s parents use smoke bombs as a distraction before leaving as well.
“You,” Mr. Jarred’s anger comes off of him in waves as he shoves me. “This is all your fault!” I fall on the ground, but don’t attempt to stand, knowing he’s right.
“Honey,” Mrs. Jarred holds Mr. Jarred back from attacking me more. “It’s not his fault, it’s Nexis’.”
“No, it is my fault.” I say, hanging my head. “If she had never met me…” I trail off and stare at the stage where she once was.
“You can help us,” Mrs. Jarred says decisively, reaching a hand out to me. “Help us get her back. You have to know something about Nexis.”
“You have to give them the money!” Someone yells from across the room. “They said the girl wouldn’t be the only one to die!”
“She has a name!” I yell back, glaring in the general direction the voice came from.
“Whatever!” the crowd parts to reveal an older woman glaring at me. “The point is, other people are at risk too. The government must pay to protect the public!” Murmurs of agreement rise up around the room.
“I will meet with the President,” Mr. Jarred says firmly. “She will decide what is best. This situation cannot exit this ball—we cannot have the public panicking.”
“Sir,” Kaitlyn’s bodyguard Cabet comes up from behind us, his face pale, “I’m afraid it already has.”

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