Man, it's been a while. First off, I just want to say a big thanks to BlueDevious1 for continuing to bump this story - seriously, you rock. Second, I'm really sorry for how long it's been since I updated. For everyone who's still reading, and anyone who may be new to my story - this one's for you. Thanks for reading!
The European countryside was undoubtedly beautiful beyond their rental car's window as they drove from Austria to Italy, but Amy didn't glance outside once.
Sitting in the passenger seat (something Dan had complained about until he realized it meant that he could stretch out across the backseat), Amy pored over every inch of the circa. 1770 Mozart concert poster. Dan had already thoroughly examined it, proclaiming that it was identical to the one they'd stolen from Alistair's cane the first time around, but Amy couldn't help running her hand over the fragile paper, holding it close to her face and then far away, trying to find something - anything - that might indicate who had placed it in the abbey.
"Nothing," Dan said from the back as he checked his phone for the hundredth time since they'd left Salzburg. Nellie sighed in the driver's seat. They had been trying to get in touch with Fiske all day, but so far there had been no response. Erasmus had told them last time they'd seen him, back in Paris, that he was heading out to do some deep undercover work, so he was out too. Nellie drummed her fingers anxiously against the steering wheel.
"To be clear - if I see Jonah's limo, I'm following again, right?" she checked, glancing towards Amy. The Madrigal leader nodded, not taking her eyes from the paper.
"Seriously?" Dan moaned. "You do realize that's a one-way ticket to Janus Land, AKA insane boat chase round 2. We don't even need those pages! We know the second clue is tungsten."
"I know," she said, finally looking up to meet Dan's eyes in the rearview mirror. "But it's the same thing as the Lucian stronghold back in Paris. We need to start bringing the branches together, and at this point, that means dragging them all into the Clue Hunt. Plus, we need to make more of a name for ourselves beyond just being Grace's grandchildren, or else they'll never respect us."
Dan rolled his eyes, slumping back against the seat. "Yeah, yeah, I get it," he waved a hand dismissively. "I'm just not looking forward to it. We barely got out of there last time. And I mean, don't get me wrong, driving that boat Mission Impossible style was awesome - but doing it for a real reason, like finding a clue, made it way more interesting."
Nellie raised her eyebrow, but Amy spoke up again before she could comment. "How about answers?"
"What?" Dan sat up, interest immediately piqued.
"A real reason to go through all that. Answers," Amy elaborated, twisting around in her seat so she could address both Nellie and Dan. "We won't be able to talk to Jonah. His father will be there the whole time on the way to the stronghold, and there'll be too many Janus eyes and ears around once we're there. But after the boat chase, remember whose yacht we ended up on?"
"Ian?" Dan realized. Amy nodded.
"We haven't been able to really talk with him since before Paris. He was at the church when it blew up, and he talked with Erasmus - he knows that things aren't right. And if I know Ian, he'll be doing his own recon for answers," Amy explained. "He has more resources at his disposal, and he's still a Lucian - he may know what happened to Irina and Alistair."
"What about Natalie?" Nellie asked, keeping her eyes on the road but glancing at her passengers every once in a while. Amy gave a half-shrug.
"Ian will find some way to distract her. He'll want to talk to us as much as we want to talk to him," she said with certainty, turning back to the paper on her lap to begin examining it once more. Dan nodded once.
While Nellie made noises of agreement in the front seat, Dan turned away, snagging his bag from the floor near his feet and riffling through it. He was starving - it was a long car ride to Venice, and their meal at the Salzburg cafe already seemed like ages ago. Dan was certain he had stuffed a chocolate bar or two in a pocket at some point; he checked the front, smaller ones first before unzipping the main pocket and sticking his hand into the mess that was in there.
Dan paused as his fingers brushed something hard. He blinked, glancing towards the front, but both girls were busy staring the road and the concert poster respectively and weren't paying any attention.
Slowly, twisting slightly to hide it from sight, Dan pulled a thin binder out of his bag. He had honestly almost forgotten about this - he was so used to not having it, and what with all the chaos in Paris, and in Austria, he had been sufficiently distracted. Heart beating fast in his chest, Dan slowly opened the binder and stared through the protective plastic cover at the only picture he had of his parents.
What would they think of all of this, he wondered, staring at their happy faces. It was a question he had asked himself frequently during the Clue Hunt, but it took on a whole new meaning now that time travel (time travel!) had been added to the mix. Dan and Amy had lamented the fact that their trip through time had not taken them far enough to see Grace alive once more - but how incredible would it have been if they had gone back even further? What if - the thought made his heart both leap and ache - what if they had had the chance to see their parents again?
Dan shook himself quickly, not wanting to sink down the slippery slope of 'what-ifs'. He closed the binder with slightly more force than was necessary just as Nellie hit a bump in the road, causing the binder to jolt out of his hands and thump against the floor.
Grumbling slightly, Dan reached down to pick it up - only to freeze as he saw a thin corner of paper, too small and at the wrong angle to be the photo, poking out of the top. His heart began to pound in his chest as he snatched up the binder, flipping it open and, for the first time since returning to the Clue Hunt, turned the plastic sleeve over. A small piece of paper was nestled behind the photo, one that he was absolutely certain had not been there before Grace's funeral. Fingers trembling slightly - who had put it there? Who had gotten so close - TOO CLOSE - to this one last connection to his parents? - Dan wrenched the paper from the sleeve, unfolding it almost angrily as he scanned what was on it. Then he stopped dead. Blinked once, long and slow. Read it again, much slower. Read it again. And again.
The binder slipped from Dan's slackened hand once more, but he barely noticed.
"Guys..." The unsteady tone of Dan's voice instantly caught Amy and Nellie's attention, and the girls turned as best they could to look at him, catching sight of his pale face. Dan tore his eyes away from the paper to meet their concerned gazes, fingers tightening around the small slip as he looked first at Nellie, then at Amy.
He swallowed shakily, and held up the note.
"Things just got way more complicated."