Riley heard yelling and a voice she was so surprised to hear, she thought she had to still be dreaming.
“You know better, Roger. You knew I would have never allowed my niece down here. Now, wake her up and get her out of those sensors.”
“Aunt Alice?” Riley mumbled.
She opened her eyes. Sure enough, her aunt hovered over her. Her face was red and eerily similar to the dragon Riley had just slain. With how Alice’s nostrils flared, it was hard not to make the comparison. She couldn’t help but imagine smoke emerging from them.
“And you!” Her aunt was quick to turn on her. “Just what do you think you were doing, lying to me about why you were coming here? And don’t think I don’t know that’s what you did. I had my suspicions the moment you wanted to come here. You don’t think I know what’s going on down here? I’ve lived here my whole life, missy, and there is not a thing that goes on in this town that I don’t know about. The moment I saw Roger in your hospital room, I should have known he was trying to get you roped into this mess.”
Riley looked over and saw Dr. Phillips standing there. That was when it occurred to her. Dr. and Mrs. Phillips. It would make sense as he would have been the one to take Bruce from the hospital and get him down here, still being able to take care of him medically.
Dr. Phillips tried to stare down Aunt Alice, but she was not having it. She had her pointer finger out and now turned to train it back on him.
“I did not know she would be coming here, Alice. I didn’t-” Dr. Phillips started.
My aunt Alice jabbed him in the chest. “Like hell you didn’t. You and this ungodly program need to stay away from my family. You’ve already done enough, and I will not let you use her like you did me and my sister. You will not lay another hand on my family. Do…you…understand…me?” Aunt Alice made sure each of the last words were punctuated by a poke in the man’s chest. He winced with every one of them, the final one making him take a step back.
She turned back to Riley. “Get your crutches. We are getting out of here.”
Riley turned her head to look to her side. Bruce watched everything with wide eyes. Saber stood in the doorway, still wearing her suit, wires dangling from where they must not have been properly disengaged. Her mouth was open, as well, her jaw threatening to fall to the floor.
If she hadn’t scrambled out of the woman’s way, Aunt Alice would have barreled right over her as she rushed out of the room.
“Come on. Hurry up,” she hollered as she moved toward the stairs.
Dr. Phillips sighed. “Up you go.” He handed Riley her crutches and helped her out of bed.
“Thank you,” Bruce said.
Riley looked over at him and smiled. “Thank you.”
It had been amazing, and such an adventure. She wasn’t sure how she could just go back to her own life. Was this really over? Would she never be able to come back down here?
She moved toward the stairs, passing Mrs. Phillips outside the small room. She gave Riley a weak smile as she also mouthed her thanks. Riley nodded.
“Riley, hurry it up.”
Riley caught up to her.
“If your friend hadn’t called me… How could you? Of all places, of all people. Riley, you need to stay away from here. Promise me you will.”
Aunt Alice looked Riley in the eyes. She couldn’t remember the last time her aunt actually looked at her like this. It was like she cared.
Riley was not fooled, but she didn’t know what else to say. She just nodded. “Okay.”
“Here. Let me help you.” Her aunt placed an arm around her shoulders, and they both worked their way up the stairs. Suzy waited for them at the top, her mouth hanging open. She couldn’t see what was down there, but she knew there was something extraordinary.
“You cannot be here,” Max said from behind her, grasping her arm and trying to pull her away from the steps.
Suzy shook off his hand. “You’re okay.” Riley smiled up at her. “O-M-G, I can’t believe you were in, like, some kind of dungeon. What do they have down there? Do they have other people locked away?”
Riley’s face registered shock. Well, yeah, she had been in a dungeon. Then she realized her friend was talking about the lab. From where Suzy stood, she really couldn’t see what was down there.
Riley laughed. “No, there’s no one else down there. None that aren’t supposed to be anyway.” She wrapped her arms around her friend, pulling her into a hug.
“Come on. Let’s go,” Aunt Alice said.
With one final look back, Riley followed her out. She knew it wouldn’t be the last time she was down there. She didn’t care what it took. She would become a Dream Chaser.