Amanda leaned against the door of her locker, tapping her foot impatiently. Her eyes darted around the hallway full of students, searching for the familiar mess of brown hair belonging to a certain Finn Whitman. She frowned, glancing at her watch.
Finn was almost never late. He and the Keepers had crossed over the night before, though it had supposedly only been a routine check. He was to give her an update on what was going on, per usual, but he couldn't exactly do that if he wasn't here.
She chewed at her lip. After Jess's dream last night, she just couldn't shake the feeling that he was in trouble.
He's probably just sick, she thought, trying to reassure herself. There is a stomach flu going around…
The first bell rang and students began to make their way to their classrooms.
Amanda anxiously glanced down the hall, a cold feeling of unease gnawing at her stomach. Finn should have been here by now. Where was he?
The hallway was empty except for her now. She looked up at the clock and cursed under her breath. If she didn't go now, she would be late for her first class.
Finn probably just slept in, she concluded. She'd see him at lunch.
She cast one more uneasy look down the hallway, then took off for her first class.
The morning seemed to pass incredibly slowly. When the lunch bell finally rang, Amanda was the first one out the door, practically sprinting for the lunchroom. She screeched to a halt just outside the doorway, trying to calm her racing heart. She took a deep breath, and trotted into the room.
She grabbed a tray and scoured the cafeteria choices, wrinkling her nose in disgust. Casserole day. She sighed, allowing the lunch lady to put a big glop on her plate. Cafeteria casserole was one of the few dishes that tasted worse than Mrs. Nash's food, and that was saying a lot.
She picked out a container of apple sauce, a carton of milk, and a plate of lime green Jell-O, smirking slightly as she remembered creaming Greg Luowski with the stuff a few months back. Ah, memories.
She made her way to hers and Finn's usual spot, juggling her full tray on her arm. She scooted onto the bench and plopped her tray down onto the table. The casserole jiggled, a big unidentifiable chunk falling onto her Jell-O. Gross.
Speak of the devil.
She barely managed not to grimace as she looked up to find herself face-to-face with none other than Greg Luowski. "Greg," she said coldly, trying to sound as hostile as possible.
Greg grinned at her, his crooked yellow teeth making her want to gag.
"Finally decided Whitless wasn't good enough for you, eh?" he said, leaning across the tabletop.
She raised an eyebrow. "Says who?"
She smiled sweetly at him, and his expression flickered with confusion and uncertainty. She held up the green Jell-O, the piece of casserole still balanced on top. She waved it slowly in front of Greg's face. "Remember the spirits?" she whispered.
Greg scowled, backing up. "I'll get you yet," he promised, striding back to his table.
"In your dreams," Amanda countered.
She waited until Greg had disappeared in the rapidly growing crowd, then anxiously started scanning the faces of the surrounding students, looking for Finn's familiar green eyes and shock of brown hair. Nothing.
Worriedly, she poked at her food, not really feeling hungry. Where was Finn? Were he and the other Keepers in trouble? What if the Overtakers had taken them?
In frustration, she stabbed her Jell-O with a fork, sending little pieces flying. She smiled grimly. If the Overtakers had them, she would crush them.
Calmly, she began to clean up her mess. She would visit Finn's house after school. And if all that happened was he caught a common cold, she was going to punch him in the face.
Amanda rang the doorbell of the Whitman's house, tapping her foot impatiently. She was just about to ring again when the door opened, revealing the welcome figure of Finn's mom.
Mrs. Whitman's usually homely expression was sagged, her forehead creased with worry. Her red rimmed eyes revealed that she had been crying at some point, and her shoulders were hunched with exhaustion.
When she saw Amanda at the door, she tried to pull herself together, giving her a watery smile, though her warm eyes still glittered with worry and barely suppressed tears. "Hello, Amanda," she said, her voice slightly husky. "What brings you here?"
Amanda would think that would be obvious, but she decided that Mrs. Whitman probably wasn't thinking clearly. "I was wondering if I could see Finn," she said, trying to keep her voice neutral. "I noticed he wasn't at school today, and was wondering if he was all right."
Mrs. Whitman's face crumpled, and Amanda's heart dropped to her shoes.
"He's…" Mrs. Whitman swallowed, her hands fluttering to her face. "He's not feeling well."
Amanda felt like she someone had dropped a lead jacket over her shoulders. "Let me guess," she said. "You couldn't get him up this morning? And he's still asleep?"
Finn's mother's face stiffened, her eyes alight with suspicion. "How do you know?" she demanded.
"I can help," Amanda said. "May I please come in?"
Mrs. Whitman hesitated. Then she took a step back, opening the door wide.
Amanda took this as a yes, and stepped into the threshold. "Um, would it be okay if I see him?" she asked.
Mrs. Whitman studied her critically. "Why?"
Amanda looked around, making sure no one was listening. She leaned in close, hoping she was making the right choice. If Finn's mom didn't know about the Kingdom Keepers, this could get complicated. "I know about Disney. The DHIs."
Mrs. Whitman's eyes cleared, understanding coming into her vision. "Of course. He's in his room." She gestured for Amanda to follow, and led her up the stairs. She stopped in front of the door Amanda recognized as Finn's room.
Mrs. Whitman opened the door and Amanda's vision zeroed in on the bed. Hardly realizing what she was doing, she entered the room, gliding almost in a daze to Finn's bedside.
Finn lay under the covers, fast asleep, his chest moving up and down as he breathed. He looked so calm, so peaceful. Amanda almost regretted what she was about to do, but she had to make sure. She reached out her hand and grabbed Finn's shoulder, shaking him.
"Finn," she whispered.
No response. Not even an annoyed grumble.
She shook him even harder, though she knew it was hopeless. "Come on, Finn, wake up," she pleaded.
Mrs. Whitman came up behind her, dabbing furiously at her eyes. "I already tried that. He's out."
Amanda took a deep breath, trying to keep down the panic. She pulled back the covers, and her heart sank to her shoes.
Finn was wearing dark jeans and a turtleneck, his favorite Nikes still on his feet.
It was official. Finn was in SBS.
She gently placed the covers back over Finn's sleeping form and backed out of the room, Mrs. Whitman following closely behind. Amanda headed downstairs, stopping at the bottom and pressing her forehead against the wall.
"Dang it," she cursed.
"He's crossed over isn't he," Mrs. Whitman said. "What do you call it when this happens? Sleeping Beauty—"
"Sleeping Beauty Syndrome," Amanda said in a whisper. "or SBS for short. Something happened, and he didn't make it back."
"What do we do?"
Amanda opened her mouth, prepared to scream, 'I don't know!' but one look at Mrs. Whitman's face and she knew she couldn't do it. Finn's mom looked on the edge of an emotional breakdown. All that was keeping her sane was the knowledge that Amanda knew what was going on, that she might have a plan.
Amanda took a deep breath collecting her thoughts. "Can I use your phone?"
The older woman's expression turned confused. "Of course," she said. "Why?"
"I need to call the other Keepers," she said, "see how many of them are back, and if they know that Finn's still in Disney."
"Of course," Mrs. Whitman said, bustling toward the kitchen. She reappeared moments later with a home phone and a slip of paper in her hands. She passed it to Amanda. "Their phone numbers," she explained when Amanda looked questioningly at the piece of paper. "What are you going to tell them?"
"If their parents answer, I'll tell them I'm asking about homework," Amanda said. "They don't know that I don't go to their schools. If a Keeper answers, well, I'll say it like it is."
She glanced at the sheet of paper. First one on the list: Dell Philby. Taking a deep breath, she began dialing.
Amanda hung up on the last parent: Willa's mom. She dropped the phone on the table and dropped her head in her hands. It wasn't possible. How could it be? There was no way this could be true. All of them at once? Something was up. They were in danger, or maybe lost the Fob, or...no. Amanda refused to think about it.
Trying to keep a neutral expression, she entered the kitchen.
Mrs. Whitman stood at the stove, stirring a pot of spaghetti, staring blankly at the wall in front of her.
Amanda cleared her throat, and the woman immediately spun around, hope gleaming in her eyes.
"Well?" she said. "How many are free? Are they going to rescue him tonight?"
Amanda held up her hand to stop the flow of questions. She felt absolutely sick, but she managed to speak around the growing lump in her throat. "They're..." She squeezed her hands into fists, barely controlling the urge to send something flying (literally) across the room. "They're in SBS. All of them."
Mrs. Whitman's face went from incomprehension, to shock, to disbelief. "Please. Tell me you're joking."
"Would I joke about something like this?" Amanda snapped.
Mrs. Whitman slowly sank against the counter, her face ashen. "I thought this would never happen again," she murmured, putting her head in her hands. "He said...he said he would never let it happen again."
At first, Amanda didn't know what she was talking about. Then she remembered that this had happened before, when the Keepers had been searching for Wayne.
"Well, last time they couldn't make it back because Finn misplaced the Fob and it ended up in lost and found," Amanda said, trying to comfort the distraught mother. "Maybe that's what happened this time."
Mrs. Whitman shook her head, her face so pale Amanda was afraid she'd faint. "The lost and found opens with the park," she said. "They would've been back by now." She burst into tears, her hands over her mouth as her entire body shook with sobs. "Something happened," she cried. "I just know it."
Amanda helped her to a chair, trying to comfort her. "I'll find them," she promised. "Finn will be back home with you in no time."
Mrs. Whitman sniffed, struggling to stop her tears. "Oh, dear, I couldn't ask you to do that. It's not safe. I wouldn't want you to get lost too."
Amanda waved her hand dismissively. "Nah," she said. "I can take care of myself. Besides, I'm sure the Keepers are fine. They've got those fancy 2.0 DHIs now. They can't get hurt. I'll just find them, find the Fob because they probably lost it again, and we'll be home free."
Mrs. Whitman wiped at her running nose. "I suppose," she sighed. She turned to face Amanda. "But what about you? You don't have 2.0."
"I've got my own ways of protecting myself," Amanda assured her. "They can't touch me."
Mrs. Whitman stood shakily, placing a hand on Amanda's shoulder.
"You are a brave girl, Amanda," she said seriously, looking her in the eyes. "I approve."
Amanda felt confused. "You approve what?"
Mrs. Whitman's eyes glittered with humor. "Why, that you're dating my son, of course!"
Amanda spluttered. "We're not dating!"
Mrs. Whitman grabbed her purse off a nearby chair. "Whatever you say, dear." She walked across the kitchen and snatched a set of keys of a hook. "Come on, I'll drive you."
Amanda stood just inside the entrance of the Magic Kingdom, gazing up at the statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse in the center of the square.
She remembered that Finn had said something about an annual Overtakers check of the Magic Kingdom Kingdom, hence why she was here.
She glanced around, taking in the familiar Disney park feel: happy children licking at ice cream cones, wearing Mickey hats and tugging at their parents' hands; professional photographers snapping pictures of families in front of the Cinderella Castle; everyone laughing and smiling, pointing out various attractions on a paper map and circling them; off a side street, she could see a DHI host, Charlene, making its way toward the statue, a crowd of excited visitors following behind.
But that wasn't the kind of DHI she was looking for.
She frowned trying to think: if she was Finn, and she was being chased by a bunch of evil Overtakers, where would she go? Her eyes landed on the Cinderella Castle. Of course. Why hadn't she thought of it before? She remembered Finn telling her about it at some point, bringing her and her sister Jess up as DHIs. She hoped she remembered the pattern.
She allowed herself a small smile. Maybe this wouldn't be too hard. Then she stepped out into the flow of people, allowing them to push her along toward the enormous castle: to Escher's Keep.
Thirty harrowing minutes later, Amanda stood just outside the door of the hidden room in the top spire of the Cinderella castle. She placed her hands on her knees, struggling to catch her breath. She'd forgotten how confusing this place was. At least three times, she stepped the wrong way and the floor fell out from under her. Luckily, she'd barely managed to keep herself aloft with her gravity powers, but the effort had left her more drained than she ever had been before.
She leaned heavily against the door, trying to calm her racing heart. When she had recovered somewhat, she raised her fist and knocked loudly on the wood.
Then, a muffled voice said: "Who…who is it?"
Amanda let out a relieved sigh. "Charlene, it's me, Amanda."
Immediately, she heard scuffling from inside, and instinctively leaned back from the door just as it was thrown open to reveal a frazzled Charlene.
"Mandy!" she screamed in delight, throwing her arms around her neck.
Amanda hugged her back. "Hey, Charlene." She strained to see over the blonde's shoulder into the seemingly empty room beyond. "Where are the others?"
Charlene pulled away, chewing on her bottom lip. "I don't know," she whispered, seemingly on the verge of tears. "They haven't showed up yet." She grabbed Amanda's hand and pulled her into the room, closing and locking the door behind them.
"Charlie, what happened?" Amanda demanded.
"I don't know!" Charlene cried. "I thought they were right behind me, and then I made it here and they never showed up, and—"
"Whoa!" Amanda interrupted, gripping Charlene by the shoulders. "Start from the beginning."
Charlene sniffled, trying to keep her cool. "It was only supposed to be a quick check," she started. "You know, patrolling around the park to try and flush out any OT activity. Well, they were expecting us. I woke up in front of the Walt Disney and Mickey statue, as usual, only to find the entire square filled with Overtakers. The others were already there, and were practically fighting for their lives."
Charlene took a shaky breath, obviously still in shock from the experience.
"When Finn saw me arrive, he yelled at everyone to retreat. We ran toward the parking lot, toward DHI shadow. Just before we disappeared, Finn told us to rendezvous at Escher's Keep as soon as possible. I camped out in the parking lot for about an hour, but the Overtakers never moved. Finally, I snuck around to the employee entrance and vaulted the fence. I barely made it up here without getting caught. This place was crawling with baddies."
She shuddered. "No one else was here. I waited the rest of the night, and most of today, but no one showed up. I'm afraid…I'm afraid they've been caught." She covered her face with her hands, and Amanda could see she was struggling to keep back tears.
"Hey," she said softly, wrapping an arm around the trembling girl's shoulders. "They'll be alright. They probably just got holed up somewhere, and are waiting for someone to get them out. Not everyone can jump a fence, you know."
"Yeah," Charlene muttered into her hands. "But all of them can walk through a fence."
Amanda opened her mouth to retort, then realized Charlene was right. All of the Keepers could walk through a fence. So what stopped them from reaching Escher's Keep? She shook her doubts aside. She needed to stay strong, both for Charlene's sake, and the other Keepers.
"We'll find them," Amanda said determinedly. "Don't worry. And if they've been hurt, will kick the Overtakers to Tomorrowland."
Charlene giggled slightly. "Sure."
Footsteps sounded on the stairs outside the door, and both girls stiffened. They exchanged looks.
Charlene gestured at Amanda to be quiet, then tiptoed over to the door, completely silent. She pressed herself against the wall behind the door, ready to pounce the intruder.
The doorknob jiggled as someone tried to open the locked door.
"Hey!" came a muffled voice outside the door. "Let me in!"
Amanda raised an eyebrow. That voice was familiar.
Charlene, on the other hand, looked stunned. She quickly unlocked the door, throwing it open so fast it banged into the opposite wall.
"Terry!" she squealed, throwing herself at the figure.
Sure enough, Terrence Maybeck stood in the doorframe, his face the perfect picture of surprise as Charlene continued to crush him in a hug.
"Where were you?" Charlene demanded. "I thought you'd been captured or something! Where's the others? Are they with you?"
"Can't—breathe!" Maybeck coughed.
Charlene quickly released him, taking a step back as Maybeck gasped like a fish out of water.
"Sorry," Charlene said, though her face still shone with happiness and relief.
Maybeck waved a hand. "Fine." He managed to stand and walked into the room. He looked surprised when he saw Amanda standing uncomfortably behind them. "Oh, hey, Amanda," he greeted. "What are you doing here?"
"Finn wasn't at school," Amanda explained. "So I decided to investigate. When I found out all of you were in SBS…well, I couldn't just leave you guys to it, could I?"
Maybeck nodded gratefully. "That's good. We're going to need all the help we can get."
He walked over to a couch and plopped down, sighing as he sank back into the cushions.
"But where are the others?" Charlene prodded.
"They're camped out on Tom Sawyer Island," Maybeck said immediately. "The Indian Village. We got holed up by the Evil Queen and old Greenie herself. Luckily, they never found us, but we couldn't leave. When they finally left, I came out to find Charlie."
He tilted his head to look at them. "Willa sprained her ankle, which is why we didn't all come at once. Plus, it's daytime. A group of us wandering around would definitely attract unwanted tourist and OT attention."
Amanda nodded, relieved. "So all we have to do is pick them up?"
"In theory." Maybeck scratched the back of his neck. "Then there's the little issue with the Return."
Charlene's head shot up. "What's the issue with the Return?"
Maybeck turned and punched a nearby pillow. "Finn dropped it while we were running. We're not sure where it landed."
Charlene stared at him. "Finn dropped it?!"
Maybeck held up his hands for peace. "In his defense, he needed to go all clear to avoid getting cut in half by a pirate. It wasn't his fault. It's somewhere between the Indian village and Main Street. We just need to find it before either an OT or a tourist finds it."
Amanda cursed quietly. Maybe this wouldn't be as easy as it had seemed. "Now what?" she asked. "Tom Sawyer Island?"
Charlene and Maybeck exchanged looks.
Charlene shrugged. "I don't see how we have a choice."
"But the park's still open," Maybeck protested. "We'll be seen."
"I'll go," Amanda announced. She held up her hand to stop their protests. "I'm not a Keeper. Nobody will recognize me. When I reach Philby, Willa, and Finn, I'll bring them back here. We'll try to find the Return on the way. Then we'll push the button, you guys wake up, I'll go home, and it'll all be fine and dandy."
Maybeck and Charlene gave her worried looks.
"We can't ask you to do that, Amanda," Charlene said. "You could get hurt."
Amanda smiled. "You're starting to sound like Finn's mother."
Charlene blushed. "I'm just saying I don't want anything to happen to you. You're not a DHI. You're more susceptible to getting hurt."
"Charlie's right," Maybeck said. "We're coming with you."
"Just to the edge of the island," Maybeck interrupted. "We won't go any farther. We'll hide in the bushes, and look for the Fob. Nobody will see us."
They had a silent stare down: Amanda vs. Charlene and Maybeck.
Finally, Amanda sighed in defeat. "Fine," she agreed. "Let's go."
Amanda walked into the circle of Indian tents, trying to blend in with the crowd. There were a surprising amount of people in the Indian Village considering the number of other attractions in the park. Then she noticed the DHI host of Maybeck in the center, giving a rundown of the history of the Indians and the installment of the attraction. Seeing Maybeck smiling as he spewed out random geeky facts was almost enough to make her laugh.
She tried to appear casual as she peered into the first tent.
"Finn," she hissed. "You in here?"
She let the tent flap fall and went to the next tent in the circle.
"Hey, Finn. Philby? Willa?"
She continued around the clearing, looking in each of the tents and whispering the names of the missing Keepers. Each time, there was no response and she would move on to the next.
Finally, she reached the last tent.
"Finn, Philby," she whispered half-heartedly. "Willa. Come on, guys, you in here?"
Amanda nearly jumped out of her skin when a voice whispered in her ear: "Here!"
She recognized Philby's voice and reached out, feeling her fingers come into contact with something solid.
"Thank goodness!' she cried. "You guys nearly gave me a heart attack. Charlene and Maybeck are hiding in the bushes just outside of Tomorrowland. Can you guys follow me?"
"Yeah, sure," Willa said. "I might need some help getting up."
Amanda watched footprints appear in the sand as Philby presumably made his way toward Willa.
"How'd you guys avoid detection for so long?" she asked. "With all the people coming in and out of these tents and all."
"We went all clear," Willa said. "Whenever someone came into the tent, they passed right through us." She grunted in pain.
"You okay?" Amanda asked. "Need any help?"
"Nah, we're good," Philby said.
"I twisted my stupid ankle," Willa said, her voice tight. "I'll be fine."
Amanda poked her head out of the tent flap, looking left and right. The tour group had moved down the path, leaving the Indian Village temporarily empty.
"Coast is clear," she told them. "Quick!"
She stepped out into the clearing, holding the tent flap open. A ray of sunlight cut into the dark interior of the tent, and two sets of legs appeared at the back. As she watched, more body parts emerged as the legs moved toward the entrance: first two torsos, than two necks, and finally two heads.
Philby and Willa exited the tent, Willa leaning heavily on Philby's shoulder. Amanda hurried forward and slung Willa's other arm over her shoulders.
"Hey," Amanda said, looking back into the tent. "Where's Finn?"
Philby and Willa exchanged nervous looks.
"Um…" Willa started.
"We'll tell you when we reach the others," Philby said, a little too quickly for Amanda's liking.
She nodded, pretending not to notice they're nervous faces. "This way," she said, setting the others walking toward the exit of Tomorowland. She kept a sharp eye out for anything out of the ordinary, but it just seems like a normal day at Disney World. Which is what bothered her. All the Keepers successfully holed up in the park, their leader somewhere, and the OTs aren't taking advantage of it? Something wasn't right…
They reached an island of foliage in the middle of the thoroughfare, and Amanda guided them behind the bushes, plowing deeper and deeper into the greenery until they were a good fifty feet away from the sidewalk.
Amanda opened her mouth to call the others, when Charlene's and Maybeck's heads popped out of the bush in front of them.
"'Bout time you got here," Maybeck said irritably.
Amanda ignored him, helping Philby set Willa against a nearby tree.
"Wait a second," Charlene said, climbing out of the bush and looking around. "Where's Finn?"
Philby shook his head. "We don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know?" Amanda demanded. "How can you not know?"
Philby shifted uncomfortably. "After Maybeck left, the Evil Queen and Maleficent came back around. Willa couldn't move fast enough for us to run, so Finn jumped out of the tent as a distraction." Philby scratched the back of his neck. "We haven't seen him since."
Amanda felt like someone had dropped a hundred pound weight onto her chest. "When was this?" she demanded.
"About an hour ago," Willa said. "Like Philby said, just after Terry left. I think they must've seen him come out and came to investigate."
Maybeck cussed violently, and Amanda felt like joining him. "I thought I was careful," Maybeck cried, punching a nearby tree. "I thought nobody saw me."
"It's okay, Terry," Charlene soothed. "You didn't know."
Maybeck seemed to deflate, plopping down on the ground. "What if he's been captured? Then what are we going to do?"
Nobody said anything, but everyone knew what the others were thinking: if Finn was captured, they were all doomed.
Amanda cleared her throat, trying to keep in control. "First things first." She addressed Maybeck and Charlene. "Did you guys find the Fob?"
They shook their heads in unison.
"We think someone must have picked it up," Charlene said, frustration etched in her perfect features. "I suppose lost and found would be the next place to check."
"Second," Amanda continued, looking at Philby and Willa, "did you guys agree on a meeting point with Finn?"
Philby and Willa nodded in unison.
"We didn't agree on a meeting point, exactly," Willa said.
"We agreed that we were to wait at the tepees until park closing. Then, if Finn hadn't showed up, we were supposed to find the Fob, and get the heck out of here."
Amanda glanced at her watch. "We've got about two hours," she announced. "It's seven."
"Already?" Charlene gasped.
"Jess will be here in about a half hour," Amanda said. "I called her just before I left the Whitmans' house."
"Hey," Maybeck cried. "This is all well and good, but it still doesn't solve our two biggest problems: we're missing both Finn and the Return."
"And we can't go back without either," Charlene said.
"I have a feeling Finn and the Fob are together," Amanda said thoughtfully, a sense of dread rising in her stomach.
All eyes turned toward her.
"What makes you say that?" Philby asked.
Amanda took a shuddering breath. "Jess had a dream last night."
That got their attention.
Charlene scooted closer. "What was it?" she breathed.
"What is Finn wearing?" Amanda asked.
"A black turtle neck," Charlene said immediately. "Like always."
"And his shoes?"
"His favorite Nikes." Charlene's eyebrows scrunched together. "Why?"
Amanda closed her eyes. "I don't remember everything. I'll have her show you her sketches when she gets here. But it was…a boy. In a black turtle neck and Nikes. Curled in a ball on the floor of a cage, the Fob dangling from a green hand in front of his nose."
Everyone stared at her, shock and horror etched on their faces.
"We're dead," Charlene squeaked.
No one contradicted her.
The next half hour was the longest in Amanda's life. She paced the clearing, slowly wearing a trampled path through the grass. Worry gnawed at her gut. What had happened to Finn? At this point, it was obvious that there was no 'if' about it: Finn was in trouble. The only question now, was what kind of trouble.
Something crashed in the bushes behind Amanda, and all of their heads swiveled toward the underbrush.
Jess popped into the clearing, panting for breath. "Present!"
Amanda launched herself at her sister, squeezing her in a hug. "You made it!"
Before Jess had a chance to reply, Amanda dragged her toward the remaining Keepers. "Show them the paper," Amanda commanded, trying not to sound too anxious.
Jess dug her hand into the pocket of her jeans, pulling out a neatly folded piece of paper. She slowly unfolded it, revealing the drawing on the inside. And there, clear as day, was a picture of a cage, a huddled figure inside, wearing a dark turtleneck and shoes with a distinct Nike checkmark on the side. Sure enough, a hand held a familiar looking black Fob, dangling it just outside the cage bars as if taunting the figure inside.
Amanda barely choked back a sob.
"That's Finn all right," Philby said grimly. "But where is he?"
"A dungeon, maybe," Willa said, peering at the rough sketching around the cage.
"Pirates of the Caribbean," Philby and Willa said together.
Maybeck furrowed his eyebrows. "That seems a little too obvious for me. We've already had a showdown there. Besides, I thought the cages down there were put out of business. Plus," he gestured at the drawing, "the other cages in the background would have to be in solid rows. These are scattered around."
"Do you think they somehow got him to Animal Kingdom?" Charlene asked. "Those look an awful lot like the cages they use there. And it looks like some of them might be occupied."
Philby immediately shook his head. "Finn got caught during the day, here in the Magic Kingdom. There's no way the OTs could have moved him out of the park without someone noticing. They don't belong in Animal Kingdom, remember. So it's somewhere in this park." The Professor's face scrunched up in thought. "Where in the Magic Kingdom are there a bunch of random cages?"
Nobody could think of anything.
Amanda's fingers twitched. Why was it so hard to keep her cool? She and Finn were just friends…
Charlene clapped her hands together loudly, startling everyone. "What if this is a combination of events?" she said. "You know, like a bunch of scenes slapped together. They're all going to happen, but not at the same time."
"That would make sense," Jess agreed. "That's what my dreams are usually like anyway."
"But the problem is," Amanda cried, "we don't know what's real and what's not."
"OTs have the Return: real," Philby piped up.
"Random cages everywhere: most likely not real," Charlene decided.
"This is starting to sound like the Hunger Games," Maybeck said, exasperated.
"Finn captured in a cage?" Willa said.
They exchanged looks.
"Real," Jess sighed.
"Maybe he's somewhere backstage of an attraction?" Charlene suggested.
"That makes the most sense," Philby agreed. "But the question is, which one?"
"Somewhere cold," Willa guessed.
"Somewhere out of the way," Amanda said.
"Somewhere they think we won't look," Charlene said thoughtfully.
Maybeck snapped his fingers. "An OT hotspot. A place where there's a bare minimum of good attractions, or at least a lot of OT rides."
"But the park is well laid out," Professor Philby protested. "Never too many bad or good rides in the same place. Totally balanced."
"This is taking too long!" Amanda shrieked. "For all we know, Finn could be…dead by now. The park closes in less than an hour! Then the OTs will be back in business with the leader of the Kingdom Keepers safely under lock and key. Then what will you do?" She scrubbed at her eyes, struggling to keep back the tears.
Jess moved toward her sister, placing a comforting arm over her shoulders. "We'll find him, Amanda," she soothed. She glared at the others. "Won't we?"
"Of course," Willa said, "we'd all be lost without Finn."
Amanda thought she saw a brief flash of irritation cross over Philby's face, but it was gone so fast she figured she must've imagined it.
Suddenly, Jess froze, her eyes glassing over. Slowly, she sank until she was kneeling on the ground, and, as if in a trance, began to draw in the dirt with her finger.
"Whoa!" Charlene yelped, taking a step back. "What's she doing?"
"Shhh!" Amanda knelt next to Jess, watching intently as her finger swirled in the dirt. "She's having a vision."
The other Keepers crowded around, following Jess's finger as the lines slowly formed a picture: a cannon, pointing off to the right. It appeared to be sticking out of the splintered front half of a boat, another old-fashioned cannon stretched out in front of it. To the left of the cannon, the words "The Pirates League" became visible.
Jess collapsed, Amanda catching her just before she face planted in her new picture. Jess blinked, the glassy look in her eyes fading as she stared in confusion at the ground before her.
"Did I do that?" she asked.
"The Pirates League," Philby murmured. "But that's just a makeup parlor!"
"Not exactly," Willa contradicted. "It's a place where guests can dress and get their faces painted up to look like pirates."
They exchanged glances.
"Not a ride," Maybeck pointed out.
"Safer that way," Willa said. "No moving mechanical parts. Less likely to have unpleasant automaton surprises."
"My visions are rarely that obvious," Jess said worriedly.
"Well, it makes it easier for us!" Amanda cried.
"It could be an OT hangout area," Philby said thoughtfully. "The pirates have to get dressed somewhere, right?"
"I suppose," Jess agreed, slightly unsure.
Charlene slung an arm around Jess's shoulder. "Hey, it'll be okay. Besides, it's just a makeup and dress up area. Right up my alley. What's to worry about?"
"What are we waiting for?" Amanda cried, leaping to her feet. "Let's go!"
They crouched in the bushes outside the darkened entrance to "The Pirates League," studying the closed doorway.
"Well," Charlene whispered, "we're here. A little too close to the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' ride for my liking…. But anyway, now what?"
"How about a rundown?" Amanda suggested. "I, personally, have no idea what this place is."
Professor Philby immediately jumps in. "Basically this is the place where you can pretend to be a pirate," he explained. "The first part of the 'transformation'—" He made air quotes with his fingers. "—is you will receive your own personal official pirate name which is recorded in the captain's leather bound book."
"Like in Peter Pan," Willa realized.
Philby nodded. "Then you can pick from one of four makeup packages—Jake and the Never Land Pirates, The First Mate or Empress, and Mermaid—and are then done up with fake beards, hair, eyepatches, etc. Whatever is in your packet.
"Next they tell a bunch of tall tales and teach you how to use a sword."
"This is sounding more and more like an OT pirate recruitment camp," Maybeck muttered.
"Second to last, you go on a supposed secret adventure to find the Pirate Masters' secret surprise. Finally, weather permitting, you go out on a big pirate parade around the park."
"You know," Charlene said, "I agree with Maybeck. This is their recruitment camp."
They all mulled over that disturbing thought for a moment.
"Well, now that we know we're walking into an OT training camp, let's be on our way," Maybeck said.
"I think it's a trap," Jess announced.
Everyone glanced at her.
"I think we all do, Jess," Willa said. "What are we supposed to expect when we're dealing with Overtakers? But they've got Finn. I don't see any other way around this other than to just walk in and hope they're not waiting for us."
"Seriously?" Maybeck said. "Anybody with a half broiled brain would know we would try and rescue Finn. If they don't know we're coming, then I'm a fairy."
Charlene rolled her eyes. "And thank goodness you aren't. The last thing Peter Pan needs is another Tinkerbell."
Amanda couldn't help but smile at the strange image of Maybeck in a Tinkerbell costume. She would pay money to see that.
"Now that we've all gotten very interesting mental pictures, can we move on now?" Jess said.
"Yes," Philby said. "Okay, we'll split into two groups. One group will go through the front, the other will explore the back, try and find a way in. They'll probably be keeping Finn in some sort of storage room. Amanda and Jess, you go with Charlene through the front. Maybeck, Willa, and I will go through the back and try to all clear into the storage room. If anything goes wrong, we'll rendezvous back under the Mickey statue, hopefully with Finn and the Fob in tow. If everything goes according to plan, we should be out of here around ten, half an hour from now. Everyone got that?"
Nods all around.
"Okay." Philby rubs his hands together. "Let's go get Finn back. Give us to the count of twenty after we reach the other side, then go through the front." He crouched low, dashing out across the street with Maybeck and Willa following close behind. They disappeared into the bushes just to the right of the building, and Amanda slowly counted to twenty.
"Let's go," Charlene ordered, stepping out onto the road and slinking to the closed entrance like a lynx.
Amanda and Jess exchanged uneasy looks, then followed.
All of Amanda's senses were on high alert, every instinct screaming at her to run. She was fully and totally mortal, not a speck of DHI in her. She and Jess were much more susceptible to injury than the other Keepers at this moment because of that fact. She knew that Philby had sent them both through the front because they wouldn't be able to walk through walls, therefore making it impossible for them to take the back way, but it still didn't change the fact that she wasn't exactly pleased to be part of the forward party.
They reached the doors and carefully stepped over the small chain hanging in front. Charlene jiggled the handle: as expected, it was locked.
Charlene seemed to concentrate for a moment, then she stepped clear through the glass doors to the other side.
Amanda heard the click of a lock inside, and the door swung open. She stepped in, Jess right behind her as Charlene gently closed the door after them.
Amanda turned to study their surroundings: off to her left was a small room, a plastic pirate clothing model in front of the entrance in a fancy scarlet coat. Blood red letters over the intricately carved entrance read 'Join the Crew.' Inside, Amanda could see an open book with yellowed pages, a quill pen standing in an inkwell beside it: the captain's log. Several empty cash registers were lined up in front of her, velvety cords stretching from brass poles marking the lines. Farther back, she could see row after row of mirrors and chairs, where the face paint and other special pirate effects were applied to the guests. The entire place had random pieces of pirate memorabilia hanging everywhere: on the walls, on ledges, even on the floor.
"This place is amazing," Jess whispered, gazing in awe at their surroundings.
"And creepy," Charlene muttered, her eyes flitting nervously into the deep shadows cast over the place, giving it a distinct haunted feel. "Let's go."
The girls crept forward, past the cash registers and around the vanities, each of them tense and coiled like a spring.
In the lead, Charlene suddenly stopped, Amanda and Jess nearly knocking them all over as they collided.
"What's going—" Amanda started to say.
"Ssshhh!" Charlene put a finger to her lips and cocked her head to the side. "Lights," she whispered, so quietly Amanda had to strain to hear. "And voices."
Amanda squinted ahead of them, and realized Charlene was right. A low orange glow came from a door at the end of the room. She could hear metal clashing against metal, a voice occasionally yelling.
The girls exchanged looks. Together, they crept toward the sounds.
When they reached the edge of the circle of light, Charlene signaled for them to wait. She slunk forward on her own, staying just outside the rim of light as she reached one side of the door. She peeked around the edge slowly, watching what was happening on the other side. Then she pulled away, tiptoeing back toward the other girls, her face unnaturally pale.
"Maybeck was right," she hissed. "It's an Overtaker training camp."
Amanda raised an eyebrow. "How so?"
"They're learning combat," Charlene explained, still seeming shaken. "Fist fighting, sparring, archery…the works."
"Do the Imagineers know about this?" Jess asked.
Charlene shook her head. "I doubt it. They would have sent us in to put a stop to it long ago if they knew. I don't think this is that old, actually. Too many targets, and not much variety." Her eye twitched as she said 'targets.'
Amanda got on her hands and knees and crawled toward the opening. Doing as she'd seen Charlene do, she poked her head around the corner, careful not to let anything but her forehead and eyes show. What she saw made her heart drop.
The Overtakers were indeed training. She could see a lot of well known Disney villains in the mix: Geston, Mother Gothel, and Jack Sparrow, to name a few. All were engaged in some sort of weapons training: spears, swords, daggers, axes, or (in Geston's case) their bare hands. But what sickened her most was what they were attacking. Straw and cardboard dummies were strewn everywhere, each painted to look like a person. Though the images were crude, it was very clear that the people depicted were the Kingdom Keepers.
Amanda crawled back from the opening, feeling sick and light-headed. The idea that the OTs were actually training—there was no way the Keepers could win. They could barely hold out on their own now, but if the OTs were learning how to fight them…
"We should keep going," Charlene whispered, seemingly recovered from the sight. "The boys will be waiting."
Jess looked up, looking slightly dazed. "There." She pointed toward the far wall.
Barely visible through the deep shadows was a door, the word STORAGE painted in bold white letters on the front.
Jess stood up and began to walk toward it, her eyes slightly glazed.
Charlene and Amanda scrambled to their feet and hurried to follow.
They reached the door and Jess pulled on the handle. Locked tight. The resistance seemed to snap her out of her reverie. She frowned.
"Finn's behind this door," she announced. "And so is the Fob."
Charlene gently pushed to the front. "You guys watch my back," she ordered. "I'm going to scout around for a few feet inside to make sure there's no ambushes, then let you guys in. I'll knock when I'm ready, and you knock back so I know to open the door."
Before Amanda could protest, Charlene had poked her face through the door. After a second, she must have decided the coast was clear, because she stepped the rest of the way in and disappeared.
Amanda and Jess stood with their backs to the wall, nervously watching the orange glow of light about fifty feet away.
"—heard something," a voice said from the doorway.
Amanda and Jess exchanged panicked looks as footsteps sounded from inside the training room, heading for the opening. If anyone exited that room, the girls would be spotted almost instantly.
They dove behind a few empty cardboard boxes—why they were there, Amanda didn't know—and crouched low to the ground.
Amanda tried to control her frantic heartbeat when the footsteps paused before heading in their direction. She and Jess cowered deeper into the shadows, fearful eyes staring at the floor as the shadow of a woman grew taller and taller as the person eased closer.
"Gothel!" someone barked from the doorway.
The shadow stopped moving, the fat shadow that must've been the villain's head turning toward the sound.
"Get back here!" the same voice repeated. "We need to you to show this dolt over here how to hold a knife without cutting himself."
The shadowy head turned once more in their direction, studying the boxes.
Amanda held her breath, her fists clenched tightly at her sides. If Mother Gothel moved even one step forward, she would be able to see the girls. Amanda silently prayed Charlene didn't knock on the door at this moment. Then things would get messy. Well, messier.
To both girls' intense relief, the woman turned and glided back to the lit doorway.
Amanda waited a few more moments to make sure she was gone, then let out her breath in a sigh of relief. She stood, Jess standing with her, and they moved back to the door.
A slight knock echoed on the far side, and Amanda hastily knocked back, casting furtive glances over her shoulder to make sure Gothel hadn't heard them.
The door swung open and Jess and Amanda practically dove into the opening, barely keeping their footing as they collided with Charlene in their attempt to get through.
"Careful," Charlene hissed, closing the door. "The OTs are right here!"
Amanda and Jess froze.
"Okay, not right here," Charlene amended. "But close."
Amanda stood, helping her sister up beside her. "Where's Finn?" she demanded.
Charlene shrugged. "Don't know yet. How about we go look for him?" She plunged through a rack of pirate clothing, and only then did Amanda take a good look at her surroundings.
The first thing she noticed was the cold. It was at most thirty degrees in here, and Amanda could see their breath puffing in the air. Definitely an OT hideout. Next was what was in the room. Rack after rack after rack of costumes stood in their way, marching off for about twenty feet in all directions. Behind those were floor to ceiling shelves (around forty feet tall) chock full of so many odds and ends Amanda nearly got vertigo trying to take it all in.
"Come on!" Jess urged, grabbing her sister by the hand and pulling her after Charlene.
After a good ten minutes of shoving through clothing articles, stirring up dust and feathers and stifling sneezes, the girls emerged on the other side of the sea of costumes.
Amanda coughed, trying to get the dust out of her lungs when Charlene clamped a hand over her mouth.
"Quiet!" she murmured.
That's when Amanda heard it: the sound of a woman's voice echoing through the massive storeroom, accompanied by a pained groan.
"Finn," Jess gasped.
All three girls took off toward the sound as swiftly as they dared, trying to balance stealth with speed. Amanda copied Charlene and clamped a hand over her mouth and nose, so the steam from her breath dissipated into the air invisibly.
The voice grew louder and louder as they grew closer and closer, and Amanda recognized it as the voice of the Evil Queen.
They rounded a corner and Charlene quickly yanked the two of them down behind a stack of wooden crates.
Amanda and Jess glanced at Charlene curiously.
Charlene gestured down the aisle they had been just about to pass, using her fingers to make a circlet around her head before clamping her hand back over her mouth and nose.
Slowly, cautiously, the three girls peeked out from behind the crates.
What Amanda saw brought a lump to her throat.
Curled in the fetal position inside a cage barely big enough to hold him was Finn Whitman. His back was to her, so Amanda couldn't see his face, but it was clear he was in pain. The cage dangled at about head height, suspended by a chain from the ceiling. Standing next to the dangling cage was indeed the Evil Queen, prowling around like she was the one caged like an animal.
Amanda lunged forward, but Charlene and Jess held her firmly back, keeping her down.
"Talk now and I will ease your suffering," the Evil Queen was saying. "You may have the button and return safely to your home. All you need to do is tell us where the old Imagineer is."
Finn groaned something that Amanda couldn't hear, but apparently it wasn't the answer the Queen wanted.
She scowled, flicking her fingers at Finn's curled form.
Finn cried out, curling into an even smaller ball as tears ran down his cheeks, his teeth clamped tightly into his jeans to avoid giving the witch the satisfaction of hearing his screams.
Amanda felt like screaming herself—out of frustration, anger, and desperation that she couldn't do anything but watch as Finn was tortured.
"Now will you talk?" the Queen asked.
Finn stiffly shook his head.
The Queen sighed, as if disappointed. "Ah, well, I can wait. After all, I do have all eternity. Sooner or later, Finn Whitman, you will break, and I intend to be here when you do." She cackled wickedly as she stalked away from the cage, her purple cloak billowing out behind her. She disappeared around the corner of a shelf, and her footsteps slowly faded into nothingness.
The only sound heard was Finn's pained gasps as he fought against the spell placed on him.
Amanda leapt forward, and this time Charlene and Jess didn't stop her. She jogged to the front of the cage so she could see Finn and he could see her. She gasped in shock.
Finn did not look good. His skin was pale, his lips blue though he was sweating buckets. Blood oozed from his knee where his teeth were currently planted, and his whole face was contorted in agony. His clothes were torn in multiple places, many with red stains on the ruined fabric. Scorch marks peppered his arms and his hair stood on end, almost as if he had stuck his finger in an electrical socket.
"Finn?" she whispered.
His eyes cracked open, and when he looked at her she almost sobbed. She hadn't realized how much she'd missed him, even for only a day until just that moment.
He pried his teeth out of his knee. "Amanda?" he wheezed.
Amanda pressed her forehead against the cage. "Here," she assured him.
She heard Charlene and Jess coming up behind her, followed by a few more sets of feet that must have been Philby, Maybeck, and Willa, but at the moment she only had eyes for Finn.
"Whoa, dude," Maybeck said, though his voice had a barely noticeable tremor. "What happened to you?"
Finn grinned, then winced and clutched his stomach even tighter. "Got caught," he gasped, closing his eyes. "Thought it'd be obvious."
"Can you All Clear through the bars?" Philby asked.
Finn opened his eyes, singling out Philby. "No."
"Have you tried?"
Finn closed his eyes, his face creased in pain and concentration. Suddenly, he cried out, jerking against the bars of his cage and sending it swinging. His DHI flickered, then disappeared completely.
Amanda squeaked in horror.
Then just as suddenly as he had disappeared, he reappeared, once again in the fetal position with his eyes tightly closed.
"I think it's safe to say that Finn shouldn't do that again," Jess said dryly, her face pale.
"That wasn't supposed to happen," Philby murmured, looking absolutely shell-shocked.
"They must've put a spell on him," Willa said. "Like, one that'll terminate his DHI or something if he tries to go All Clear."
An ominous silence overcame the group, broken only by Finn's ragged breathing.
"We'll have to do it the old-fashioned way," Philby decided. "Willa, can you pick the lock?"
Willa stepped forward—now barely limping—studying the lock on the cage. "Sure. Okay, can someone find me a nail file and a bobby pin?"
"Here." Charlene stepped forward, pulling something from her hair. "I've got a bobby pin." She reached into her pocket and removed a flat, six inch piece of metal. "And a nail file." She passed them to Willa who immediately set to work on the lock.
Maybeck shook his head slowly. "The stuff you girls carry around with you…" He left the sentence hanging, continuing to shake his head.
Charlene went to retort when Finn grunted and opened his eyes.
"Maleficent," he moaned. "The Return."
"It's okay, Finn," Amanda said, reaching her hand out and rubbing his knee through the bars with her finger. "We know. Just hold on, okay?"
Finn sighed, allowing his eyes to flicker closed again, though his body was still as stiff as a board.
Amanda hadn't realized she was crying until a drop fell on her hand. She quickly reached up to wipe the tears away, ashamed at being so weak.
"Got it!" Willa announced triumphantly as the lock clicked. She swung the cage door open and stepped aside as Maybeck and Philby pushed past.
Carefully, Maybeck reached in and grabbed Finn under his arms.
Finn cried out slightly and Maybeck immediately loosened his grip.
"Sorry, man," Maybeck muttered, "but this is gonna hurt. You ready?"
Amanda reached into the cage and gripped Finn's hand tightly.
Finn inclined his head slightly. "Ready."
With one mighty heave, Maybeck yanked his friend out of the cage, just managing to keep the both of them upright.
Finn bit down on his own shoulder and wailed, the sound greatly muffled by his sleeve and flesh.
"Well, well, well," a voice tutted behind them. "Look at what we have here."
Amanda felt her blood run cold, which was entirely possible since the temperature seemed to have dropped another twenty degrees. She turned slowly, keeping a tight hold on the barely conscious Finn's hand.
Standing fifteen feet behind the Keepers, having crept up unnoticed while everyone was focused on Finn, was Maleficent, flanked by the Evil Queen.
Maleficent tilted her head. "I see you tried to free your little leader. Well, I'm afraid you fell right into my trap." She smiled coldly. "Now I have all of you." She raised one green finger and electricity crackled around the tip.
White hot anger rose inside Amanda, her vision tinging red with hatred. This…this creature had taken Finn from her. Had tortured him and trapped the other Keepers in the park. Now she had all of the Keepers in her grasp.
"Not today, witch," Amanda growled, surprising even herself by how menacing she sounded. She raised her arms up, channeling all her anger into one massive push.
Both women flew backward: ten feet…fifteen feet…twenty feet, blasting through anything and everything in their way. They would've gone farther except their progress was stopped by a massive metal shelf, the massive CLANG of their heads on impact echoing throughout the storeroom.
The others stared at her in shock, but she didn't care. She raced after the two women, charging through the trails of destruction they'd left behind them as they'd shot like rockets across the room. She finally reached the shelf that stopped them and found the two sprawled on the floor, out cold.
Smiling grimly, she reached into Maleficent's robes, patting the sides until she found what she wanted. She pulled out the Return and jogged back to her friends, who were still staring at her in comprehensively except for Finn, who was lolling against Maybeck's shoulder.
"Well?" Amanda demanded as she reached them. "Let's go!"
Philby was the first to recover, running forward to loop Finn's other arm over his shoulder. "Amanda's right. We need to leave before they wake up!"
The others sprang into action and began to move toward the exit, Jess supporting Willa so she didn't have to put as much weight on her bad ankle, and Philby and Maybeck dragging an unconscious Finn between them.
The seven of them sat next to the statue of Walt Disney and Mickey, all slumped wearily around the statue's base.
The park had closed over an hour ago, and Amanda marveled at how different the parks were after dark. No matter how many times she did it (admittedly, not many) she would never get used to the lack of sound and activity that accompanied the closing of Disney for the night.
Finn shifted at her right, the first time he'd moved since they made it here ten minutes ago.
She jerked to a sitting position, hovering over him as he groaned and opened his eyes.
"What happened?" he asked, his words slightly slurred.
"We got you out," Amanda said.
He sat up, looking slightly dazed and beat up, but showing no signs of being in pain.
"How?" he asked.
"Willa used a bobby pin and a nail file to pick the lock," she said.
Finn frowned. "But Maleficent and the Evil Queen. What happened to them?"
"You should, have seen her, Finn," Charlene said, her face glowing. "She totally defeated those two baddies single-handedly!"
Amanda blushed. "It wasn't that great."
"Are you kidding?" Willa said. "It was amazing!"
Finn held up his hands in a time-out gesture. "One at a time!" he cried. "Full story, please."
The others took turns telling Finn what had happened during his absence, with certain embellishments on the part of Maybeck.
Finn listened intently, looking surprised and—proud?—when they described Amanda's enormous push. He whistled softly. "Wow. I wish I was awake to see it."
"While we're telling each other our life stories," Maybeck said, "what happened to you?"
Finn looked slightly uncomfortable. "Oh. Well, after I left the teepee, I headed out of Tomorrowland. I was planning on taking a long loop to get them off my trail, and then head over to Escher's Keep." He rubbed the back of his neck. "They were expecting me. They set up an ambush just outside the castle walls. They had me completely surrounded. Then the Evil Queen came out, cast a spell on me, and…well, the rest is history."
Amanda studied his face closely. "Finn? What did they do to you?"
"Nothing," he said quickly.
The others exchanged disbelieving looks.
"What did they want?" Amanda asked instead, changing tack.
Finn relaxed visibly when they dropped the subject of his imprisonment. "They wanted to know a lot of stuff, like where you guys were camped out, Walt's pen, future attack plans. But what they wanted most was Wayne." He shook his head. "I didn't tell them anything, of course. I didn't know the answers in the first place. But…" He flinched, his expression far away.
Amanda felt her eyes brimming with tears. She just managed to keep them back as she reached forward to take Finn's hand.
She could sense the others watching them, but she didn't care.
She leaned forward and kissed him softly on the cheek. "It'll be okay," she whispered so only he could hear her.
He nodded, though his expression said he wasn't so sure.
Philby awkwardly cleared his throat behind them. "Um, we probably should return now. The OTs might decided to give us another go tonight."
Finn finally turned and faced Amanda. "Will you be okay?" he asked, concern dancing in his eyes. "You and Jess aren't DHIs, right?"
The irony of his comment almost made Amanda laugh. He was the one who had been tortured for almost four hours straight, and he was asking her if she'd be okay? Her heart fluttered within her. He was so sweet.
She shrugged. "We'll be fine. I'll push a hole through the fence or something." She pulled the Return out of her pocket and handed it to Finn. He studied it critically, as if remembering how it had been used as a bargaining chip for him to talk just an hour earlier. He gave her one last look.
"Oh, stop it, silly," Amanda giggled, giving him a light shove. "You're not my mother. And speaking of your mother, you might want to let her know that you're up when you crossover."
Finn's face flushed with guilt. "Okay." He scooted closer to the statue and held out his hand. Charlene took it, then reached out and grabbed Maybeck, who in turn took Willa's, who then took Philby's.
Amanda stepped off the statue base, giving them some space, Jess following her.
Amanda looked up to see Finn looking down at her, his eyes shining with gratitude. "Thank you."
He turned to the others. "Thanks to all of you. For saving me."
Maybeck shrugged. "Yeah, well, even though you're annoying as heck, Whitman, we couldn't just leave you to those crones."
Finn smiled. "Look who's talking."
Maybeck raised a challenging eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," Finn said innocently. "Good night, everyone."
He pressed the button, and all five of them shimmered and disappeared.
Amanda stared at the spot where Finn had been sitting moments before, a strange ache in her chest.
"Ooh!" Jess squealed next to her. "You so like him!"
"Shut up," Amanda said half-heartedly. But she didn't deny it. She smiled. Yes, she did like Finn. A lot.
She grabbed her sister's hand, heading for the entrance to the park. "Come on. Let's get out of here."