'OKAY,' I whispered. 'Any ideas?'
Ahead of us, blocking the road, the same two army vehicles we had seen the previous day were motionless hulks - limned in the muted glow of a solitary streetlamp, and the distant light of the portable lamps set upon the road beyond them. Voices drifted across to our hiding place behind a nearby wall, and shadows could be seen moving beneath the carriers. At the end of the road, rendered almost invisible by gloom, and distance, a couple of sentries lounged in attitudes of somnolent negligence; their presence betrayed by wisps of breath that drifted upwards in the still air.
Snow had begun to fall less than half an hour previously; earlier than was usual for the time of year. A few light flakes at first, more imagined than seen, they now drifted from the bloated clouds in fat, lazy, wet clumps; that clung to our clothing and obscured our vision.
'My plan is but a simple thing.' Beside me, Tanith shivered; her body pressed against mine. 'Methinks, I would not have foreseen seeing snow again so soon.' She shivered again. 'Verily, do I prefer the temperate clime of my home.'
'At least, it'll be warmer inside the hospital I whispered. 'And, it's an incentive to get inside.'
'You speak truly.' Tanith rose, and began to make her way carefully towards the nearer of the two guards. After a second, I followed, ready to provide dubious backup, if required. For a moment, I considered drawing Albion, and reached back for the sword - but decided, at the last moment, that stealth was, probably, the better option.
'Want me to take the other guy?' I whispered to Tanith's back. She paused and shook her head.
'T'will be quieter,' she hissed softly, 'if I deal with them.'
'All yours.' I hung back a little, and watched her cautiously approach the first guard, my sword hand ready.
The guards never knew what hit them.
I sensed a soft emanation of power from Tanith; a mild warmth. It was so gentle, I thought at first, that I had imagined it.
As she approached the guards, I expected that, any second, one or the other would notice her, and sound the alarm. But they saw, or rather, Tanith caused them to see, nothing. She moved easily up behind the pair, and stretched out her hands. A finger gently stroked each man's forehead, and both stopped.
And, I mean; stopped - literally. Their movement slowed; the wisps of vapor issuing from their mouths all but disappearing. The guards became statues of themselves; unblinking, sightless eyes gazing out into the distance.
'Hellfire.' I whispered. 'Are they still alive?'
'Indeed.' Tanith gently closed their eyes, presumably to protect them from the cold and snow. 'I have merely suspended their higher functions.' She gave the motionless men a final, satisfied look. 'For a space of time; some several hours, they will have no concept of the passage of time. When'st they recover, they will have no memory of what hath transpired.'
'That looked easy.' I waved an experimental hand back and forth, in front of a guard's face. The human statue was oblivious to our presence. 'Why didn't you just do this earlier? Maybe you wouldn't have worn yourself out so much.'
'Because,' Tanith moved off silently again, towards the carriers, 'the other method I employed, though wearisome, was safer for those I affected. This method contains certain dangers, inherent within the mind. There is a chance, though it is small, that one or more of these men may never awaken.'
'I can live with it, if you can.'
Any sympathy I might have had with these men who were, after all, just doing their job, had evaporated when they had quarantined my home and my friends, in an attempt to keep me from stopping their masters - whoever they were. 'You going to deal with the others the same way?'
'This is my strategy; inasmuch as I have such a one.' Tanith said. She threw me an amused look. 'Did I not say, my plan was but, a simple thing?'
'You did indeed.' Her smile was infectious; it warmed my soul, and made anything seem possible. 'Lead on, my Lady.' Tanith inclined her head in an elegant half-bow, and turned towards the carriers.
There were another ten soldiers manning the roadblock - I know; I counted them. Less than ten minutes later, there were another ten human dummies, and we were pushing open the doors to the hospital.
The brightly lit corridor was silent; an eerie contrast to the usual hubbub that greeted my visit. Everything around us was brilliantly illuminated; the posters lining the walls visible in sharp clarity. To our right, the area used by hospital volunteers stood deserted and, through the second set of doors, the large waiting area to the left was in a similar state. I moved towards the doors, and they hissed open quietly, the noise startling in its intensity; I had to resist the urge to reach for my sword.
I gazed cautiously around the empty waiting room. Everything appeared to be operational; the vending machine in the corner advertised an assortment of calorific treats, in brightly illuminated colors, and the small flat screens high in the corners still flashed information and advertisements to a non-existent audience. Rows of blue, upholstered, uncomfortable looking seats ran in ordered rows from one side to the other, facing the empty reception area. It was an eerie sight; a stage set; waiting for the actors and camera crews to take up position and begin shooting.
After so many visits, I was used to the sterile, clinical atmosphere of the hospital, but it clearly unnerved Tanith. Taking her hand, we stepped together into the waiting area, keeping to the side as we moved towards the exit to the right. After a minute, I stopped, and listened intently, my ears straining to pick up even the slightest indication that we weren't the only living things in the building. Nothing. The look on Tanith's face told me that she could sense nothing either. I lifted my head slightly.
'Hello?' The single word echoed across the room. My voice sounded incredibly loud as it shattered the stillness, and I instantly regretted opening my mouth. Even Tanith looked startled.
'Sorry.' I shrugged, and moved forwards. 'Rebecca's room is this way. Second floor.'
I led the way across the waiting area, towards the lifts. In the brittle silence, our footfalls (well, mine, at least; Tanith moved like a ghost) sounded incredibly loud against the tiled floor. We reached the lift area, and stopped. I reached out, to press the button that would summon one of the two elevators, but paused, finger upon the button.