11pm, Day 1; Lia

Lia Clifford sat in a very large, very square conference room listening to someone boring talk about something she didn't care about. It was difficult to see the person on the stage and it was hot and late and she'd been up for approximately 20 of the last 24 hours, which meant that all she really wanted to do at that point was go to sleep and maybe eat a slice of pizza first. The only reason she was there in the first place was because it got her out of school and it would look good on the college application that she needed to send in when she got back home. All about the extra-curriculars, you know. They're important.

She yawned and looked at Lindsay, the only other person she really ever talked to in her group. Lindsay was the one who asked her to join the group in the first place. Well, that's not entirely true. Jordan asked her to join the group. Secretly, Lia thought he had a crush on her even though he was technically dating Lindsay. There was the small possibility that this wasn't the reason he asked her to come along. It could have been because he genuinely liked Lia and thought she was a hard worker and would pull her weight on the team, which was more than he could say for a good portion of the other members. Lia was at the Senior Ohio Model United Nations, a convention for high school nerds with a passion to change the universe. Against her will, of course.

Lindsay was actually a very nice person. She'd never said a mean word to anyone in her life, as far as Lia could tell. It was very difficult for her to see past the good in people, which was a quality of hers that both annoyed and inspired admiration in Lia. She was petite, blonde, and completely, utterly a nerd. She attended Dungeons and Dragons Club religiously, was first chair in band, and could take out a professional video gamer with her eyes closed at Call of Duty. This was Lindsay, Lia's closest friend and most hated enemy.

Part of the reason why the pair got along so well was because of their differences, Lia always thought. Lia herself was the exact opposite of Lindsay in built; tall, slightly gangly with no waist to be seen, brown hair and eyes. Lia was the very definition of average, she thought. Everyone looked at her and forgot about her unless she opened her mouth. Then, and only then, was she noticed. Lia was conceited and she damn well knew it. In fact, she was proud of it. Often she said that her only good quality was her superior intellect, something that many people agreed with her about.

As she looked around the room, attempting to commit to memory the names of every delegation in the room, Lia glanced up at the clock and saw that it was past 11pm. She glanced down at the table to find that she'd unconsciously filled three napkins with doodles in the last hour alone. She thought over the previous six hours and suppressed a groan when she realized just how much more torture there was still to come. This particular session was supposed to last another hour at least.

Somehow, Lia didn't think that the real United Nations didn't meet for twelve straight hours.

The ballroom they were in was the grand ballroom of the hotel-slash-convention-center-slash-indoor-amusement-park. This meant that there was a great abundance of chandeliers hanging precariously above the heads of two thousand tired teenagers. As Lia stared up into the bright, plastic lights above until spots colored her vision, she wondered how hard it would be to find the room that held all the different chains and ropes holding said chandeliers up and whether it would be ethical to chop them down. She let her hand fall to the table with a thump, waking up the other members of her group, who briefly looked around as if disoriented and promptly fell back asleep.

The chairpeople of this glorious event had decided to stick Lia's group up on the balcony, at once providing them with endless entertainment and giving them the most privacy that could be garnered at an event such as this. Lia and her other best friend Kyle had spent the first hour of the tedious General Assembly process trying to create Frisbees out of paper cups and losing them in the ceiling. For the endless hours before they'd all been herded like cattle into the grand ballroom, Lia and her group had been stuck in a stuffy, tiny little portion of the conference center listening to other groups trying to sell their problems to the other groups. In its most basic form, Lia thought the last several hours could be summed up in 6 words: problem, resolution, give us money, repeat. Each and every group went through the same process and then everyone voted and decided whether their problem was heart-wrenching enough to make it to the floor of the General Assembly.

In the past seven hours, Lia had been given one hour to nourish herself and thirty minutes to revive her body into life.

This, Lia thought, was definitely in the top ten worst days of her life.

The good thing about being up on the balcony was that Lia was able to see what was going on down on the floor below. Very few people had come and gone in the last hour, and Lia had all but stopped paying attention to the people below. But a fresh breeze caused her to look down for a minute and find a group of five or so men entering the room, dressed completely in black. Lia sighed, disappointed. These men were not interesting at all. Everyone else in the conference was in costume and these costumes weren't even creative. She supposed they were like the Taliban or whatever.

But then another door opened further down in the room and more guys in black strode in, acting as though they owned the place. They began winding their way through the labyrinth of the conference hall, stopping every so often to pull someone from their seat and herd them towards the center of the room. Lia sat up a little straighter and leaned forward, trying to get a good visual on what was happening. Finally, something interesting was going on, and she couldn't see it!

As she looked on from above, the men gathered up on the stage of the ballroom, pushing the guy speaking out of the way and getting a rise out of the judges. Only when they were on the stage did Lia realize what had seemed so off about them; they were wearing ski masks and toting serious-looking guns. She was about half-way onto the top of the table at that point and the other members of her group had woken up and were looking around with scared expressions on their faces. Lindsay had locked onto Lia's hand with a death grip and Lia felt her hand growing number by the second. She was so captivated with the scene below her that she jumped a mile out of her seat when she felt a tap on her shoulder. Lia twisted around to find that one of the men in black was standing behind her, motioning for her to get up. Lindsay squeezed even harder on her hand and Lia yanked it away with a hiss, rubbing it slightly. The man motioned again for her to stand up, growing impatient.

All that was visible about him were his eyes. They were like looking into the deepest pools of water in an icy Maine cove in the middle of January. Lia felt herself staring and she knew that she couldn't stop, even if she had wanted to. Only a gasp from Mallory, who apparently had only just noticed the man standing in front of her, tore her gaze away from those beautiful, haunting eyes. She glanced over at the girl before turning her eyes back to the man, who motioned once more for her to stand up.

"Absolutely not," Lia said, turning back around. She'd heard of situations like this at conferences where they take students out and hold them 'hostage' in order to teach leadership training.

The man took her arm roughly and pulled Lia up from her chair, causing the seat to fall over. Kyle sprang up from his seat, taking a step towards the pair and Lia rolled her eyes.

"Let go of her!" he yelled.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Lia asked at the same time. As Kyle took another step forward, the man pulled Lia to him and took out a gun, shiny silver and deadly cold, pointing it at her forehead and twisting her arm behind her back. Kyle immediately held up his hands and took a step back.

"Okay, okay, just relax, okay? I'll go. Okay?" Lia protested.

"Sit," the man said, motioning with the gun for Kyle to comply, which he did, falling all over himself to sit down. Lia saw that Lindsay was shaking with fear and was about to bite a hole through her lip, she was chewing on it so hard.

"Don't make this harder than it has to be," the man muttered in Lia's ear, pressing the gun into her lower back as he steered them towards the microphone at the center of the balcony. He released her arm and she shook it out slightly, trying to get the feeling back. She looked back over her shoulder at her group, silently pleading with them to help her. She knew they couldn't do anything and she still didn't feel like the situation was quite real, even with the gun pressed up against her back.

"Hands up. Don't move unless I tell you to," the man said, his hot breath tickling Lia's ear once more. Lia held her hands up in front of her, noticing how they were shaking. She swallowed hard and tried to calm her body.

On the floor beneath her, Lia saw some of the girls were starting to cry at the sight of the guns. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw several adults try to edge out of the conference room. Everyone was muttering amongst themselves and a girl had fainted on the floor. A woman had taken her cell phone out and was dialing a number when the man behind Lia pulled his gun away from her back and shot the phone right out of the woman's hands, a shot that Lia had no idea how he pulled off. There was a collective scream around the room that was almost louder than the gunshot itself.

"If anyone moves, I'll shoot," he announced almost lazily to the hall. Lia felt her body dissolve into a fresh bout of trembles as the now-warmed metal returned to her back. She instinctively craned her neck and shifted, trying to get as far away from the metal as possible.

There were about ten girls including Lia being held hostage, Lia calculated. That meant there were only ten men to take out. Ten men with ten guns versus two hundred terrified students and fifty shocked adults. Lia silently begged the room to somehow take out the men, to sneak up on them and overpower them, to blatantly attack them, anything to get the men away from those girls. But the room was silent, waiting for the man to speak again. Only one man tried to inch his way out of the ballroom, but there was another deafening boom next to Lia's head as another shot embedded itself in the doorframe next to the escapee's head. He dropped to the ground and cowered, afraid. Lia heard her captor's snort of disgust.

"Coward," he muttered so none could hear him save Lia.

"I want you to listen very carefully," he said to the room, "because next time, I won't miss. This," he paused, waving his gun around erratically, "is not a crisis simulation. As I've already proved to you, this gun is real and it will rip a hole through you like paper." He paused and Lia could hear the smile in his voice, even though she couldn't see it.

"We have ten hostages. Go ahead, count them. Reassure yourselves that the girl sitting next to you isn't our hostage yet, but know that if you don't follow my instructions exactly, she'll be next. Am I clear?" he stopped as though he was waiting for an answer. Lia felt a chill crawl up her spin and embed itself in her neck. She looked over at her group and saw that Lindsay was on the verge of fainting and she felt a pang in her chest. Lia bit her lip and looked back down at the floor, trying to convince herself that it wasn't real, it was all a dream.

"I put cameras and microphones and little hidden gadgets all around the room. If anyone wants to try finding them, go ahead. But you'd better be aware that someone's death will be on your head." Lia looked up and immediately found one of the cameras hidden in the overhang of the conference hall where no one would be able to see it. She closed her eyes and suppressed a shudder.

"Since I don't know if you're smart enough to understand this on your own, I'll spell it out for you," the man said, a sneer in his voice. "Don't try to follow us. Not only will I kill you, I'll kill someone else too. If you try to call for help or something, more people will die. Sit tight kiddies, I'll be back later."

He stopped talking and pushed the gun into the side of Lia's head, propelling her forward with his other hand. She stumbled and cried out in pain when he caught her arm, wrenching it backwards hard. The sound was short, sharp in the silence of the hall. Faintly, she could hear people crying softly and others moaning in fear. Lia's eyes filled with tears of pain, but the man didn't stop. He continued pushing her forward, down the stairs and out the door until they were in the hallway beyond the ballroom. The other hostages had been herded out into the hallway as well and Lia looked around the ragged group, realizing that she only knew one other girl. Most of them were crying, and Lia felt like crying too, but she held it in and tipped her chin upwards, remembering what her sister had told her. If one acts like a victim, one will be treated like a victim.

Once again, Lia was reminded that her coming to the conference was a mistake.

The man in black didn't miss a beat as he emerged from the stairwell. He dragged Lia down the hallway and didn't look back to see if the others followed, but Lia could hear the girls sobbing as they were being rushed down the hallway as well. The man set a pace that was far too fast for Lia and she became quickly disoriented as they were drawn through corridors and stairwells that Lia hadn't even known existed. She was tossed around the halls like a rag doll until the man stopped in front of a single door and kicked it open. It slammed against the wall inside, making Lia jump.

They began to climb the stairs, not giving Lia any time to catch her breath. She tripped as they began to ascend the stairs and the man let go of her arm, pushing her in front of him so that she could grip the railing. He continued to push her up the stairs much too fast and she lost count of the number of flights they climbed after ten. They never stopped on any landings. They never entered any doorways. She tried to stop once but was quickly pushed forward again, scraping her hands on the metal of the stairs.

"Keep going, bitch," the man snarled. Lia took her long skirt in her hand and held the railing in her other hand and continued to climb, putting on a brave face as though the comment hadn't hurt her.

They continued climbing for what seemed like hours. Often, the other girls behind her cried out as they fell. There were shouts as the men yelled at them to hurry up, to keep going, faster, faster, but the blue-eyed man was silent throughout the entire ordeal. Lia wanted to look back, to see whether any of the other girls were hurt, but she knew all she would see was a wall of solid black muscle and those cold blue eyes. The pace he set was relentless, no doubt designed to tire the girls out so they wouldn't resist whatever he had planned to do with them. Lia's calves screamed at her and somewhere along the way, she'd lost a shoe and the flower that had held her long brown hair back. Her hair tumbled down into her eyes and she blew it out of the way as they stopped on the last landing. A large metal door with the number 30 marked on it in bright red paint loomed in front of her.

Lia almost fell over with relief. Her side felt as though someone had sliced it open and her legs were like overcooked noodles. Her head swam and she thought for a terrifying second that she was going to pass out from the exertion of climbing all those stairs. The man behind her pushed her through the door and she stared down a long hall, wondering how she could possibly walk down there in her current physical state. Her tired mind reasoned that she could either complain about it or she could accept it and move on. The second one seemed to save the most energy, so she didn't say anything, just kept walking. She was, after all, a hostage. From what she'd seen on TV and read in books, hostages never complained. Either that, or they got shot.

The girls were herded through the door and as the last one passed through, the man turned and locked the door behind him, tucking the key down in his pocket. He ushered them down the hallway at a slightly more reasonable pace until they came to another, wooden door. He opened it using a code-pad just like the kind Lia had on her doors at home. She swallowed another lump of fear at the thought that the police wouldn't be able to get through the door. She pushed the thought away, hoping she wouldn't need the police to be able to get her out of the situation.

Once everyone was in the room, the man turned and locked the door from the inside with another keypad. Lia didn't pay attention to what the codes were. She was still focusing on gulping air down into her burning lungs. One girl had collapsed on the floor and one of the men was leaning over her, trying to bring her around. Another girl was hyperventilating and another looked like she was having an asthma attack. Other than various aches and pains, Lia felt okay, just slightly winded. She was in fairly good shape, having worked out every day she could for two years prior. Although she'd done very little physical activity for about a year, she was still in fairly good shape.

The man behind her was surveying the room critically, his hands loose at his sides and the gun tucked back in its holster on his hip. He held a nonchalant air about himself that Lia envied. It was as though he didn't care about what was happening around him so long as he controlled it. He held himself with the ease that goes along with having a lot of power and knowing what to do with it. He stretched his arms out and walked into the hotel suite. He reminded her of a panther; full of quiet strength and able to pounce in half a second if he needed to. The other men looked bulky and heavy, like sumo wrestlers, but his was a slim, toned kind of muscle. She had no doubt in her mind that he could beat everyone in the room into a pulp if he wanted to.

He ripped his mask off, running his hands through his hair and turning to face Lia. He tossed the mask to the side and not looking as it landed in the open bag behind him. Lia's breath slowed as she took in his face. It was angular and strong, with dark, bushy eyebrows that matched the color of his disheveled, curly brown hair perfectly. His nose was big, but it didn't overpower his face. His mouth curved in a smirk of superiority that Lia found mildly annoying. She figured it was his default facial expression. He had the barest shadow of facial hair as if he hadn't bothered to shave for the last two days. His arms were thick and powerful and the black shirt he wore showed his arms and toned chest off perfectly. His clothes seemed to hang off of his as if they were perfectly tailored for his body and his body only.

If he'd been anyone else, Lia would have thought he was quite attractive.

Suddenly, she became painfully aware that he was studying her own features as well and she snapped her eyes to the ground, blushing. Without a word, he gestured for her to enter the beautiful penthouse suite of the hotel. A thick brick settled in Lia's stomach as she surveyed the room that she had a feeling would become her own personal hell.

Sorry, not a new chapter. But I got writer's block and went back and reread the entire story thus far and I thought it needed a rewriting pretty badly. So that's what I'm in the process of doing. If you've already reviewed this chapter and would like to give me feedback, which I would greatly appreciate, feel free to PM me and I'll try to get back to you. Thanks!