‘Has anyone told you what you’ll be doing down here?' Jason asked removing a small tablet device from his jacket.
With a shake of his head Chris answered. 'No, not really. I figured it will be much the same as I was doing before, cataloguing materials, literary searches, looking after the archive. You know, normal Ex Libris duties. Now I’m guessing it’s a little more complicated than all that?'
Jason was navigating the touch screen of the tablet and from what Chris could see it seemed to be a staff directory.
'It’s not that much more complicated. Basically you’ll just be learning the ropes for the first few weeks, the guy you’re replacing was a bit of a legend around here. Wrote a lot of the software you’ll be using. Anthony was something else.’ Jason said looking up from the small screen. ‘But don’t worry he wrote meticulous notes and procedures. Here…’ He said handing over the tablet.
The screen showed a picture of a man in his fifties wearing rimless, round glasses, his clean shaven face accentuated his long forehead and rounded features. His dark brown hair was lightly peppered with grey, it was cut close to his head probably to hide any emerging baldness. Apart from some striking blue eyes he was quite average. The accompanying caption read 'Anthony Reynolds - Ex Libris. MIA.' Chris looked up at Jason, 'MIA? Can an Ex Libris even go MIA?' Chris chuckled a little. 'What did he do, get lost in the Archives?’ He continued smiling at the slight joke but stopped when he noticed Jason was not.
'Believe it or not, that is exactly what happened. Anthony went down to the archives one day and now we can’t find him. He’s been gone for over six months with absolutely no trace.'
Chris took another look at the image on the tablet before handing it back. 'I know the archives are big, but surely they’re not that big. Right?’
‘Well, Anthony went in and he’s yet to come out, so it’s certainly changing our perspective on the whole thing.’ Jason put away the tablet. ‘The facts are that he’s gone and you’re it until he comes back or…’ His train of thought dissipated mid sentence, only adding to Chris’ first day nerves.
Silence fell between the two men letting the gentle hum of the lift fill the space, Chris let his mind drift as they descended down into the depths. Gods wandering the halls, trained killers casually drinking coffee in the same room, and a labyrinth of an archive wasn’t quite what he was expecting, life in London was going to be interesting to say the least. Chris looked over at Jason, his face uncharacteristically solemn and heavy, obviously thinking of the missing Ex Libris.
'Were you two close?' Chris asked eventually. Jason looked up and ahead staring at the closed lift doors. 'He was a good guy, friendly, always helpful. It was hard not to like him.' Jason coughed quietly and looked at Chris. ‘I’m sure he’ll turn up, probably got stuck in a compacts or something.' He laughed nervously and shuffled on his feet.
Chris smiled. 'Yeah, those things can be tricky. We’ll probably find him cross referenced under ‘Modern Icelandic literature’ or something.' Jason smiled, and Chris enjoyed the lighter shift in mood. The doors of the lift slid open and a harsh fluorescent light flooded in. Jason was still smiling as they walked through the entrance hallway leading to the Ex Libris offices.
'Well, here we are, four hundred feet under solid reinforced concrete, your own fortress of solitude. Nothing else exists on this level and the only thing below you is the archives. If you’re not used to the neon glow of two hundred fluorescent bulbs, you soon will be. Bathroom is on the right, kitchenette on the left, don’t get them mixed up, and your desk is dead ahead. Questions?' Jason strode through the Ex Libris office like he was an estate agent showing a newlywed couple their first home. Chris stood in the entrance way and looked around in awe. In stark contrast to the rest of the complex, the office before him was entirely decorated in dark wood, green leather, and white marble. It reminded Chris of a private library he once visited in the English country side. Just like that library books lined the walls, their leather bound spines creating a textured wallpaper interspersed with slats of wooden shelving. A very expensive looking mahogany desk sat in the middle of the incredibly large room. Not waiting, Jason now stood behind the desk and motioned for Chris to join him.
The desk was as neat and organised as you would expect from any half decent archivist. Chris stood back and admired the order and cleanliness of the work area while Jason sat down in the decent leather chair and logged onto the staff terminal.
'You’re ah, going to notice something unusual in a moment. Try…try not to freak out too much.' Jason said, spinning back to face the computer. Chris was intrigued. 'What do you...' Before he could finish, a woman appeared before them. She sat perched on the edge of the desk in a very professional black pencil skirt and white blouse. Her black stockinged legs were crossed and her right foot stretched in and out slightly as she leaned towards Jason. Red soled, black heels dangling precariously from her feet.
'Morning Jason, Christopher.’ She nodded in his direction. ‘How are you both today?' From her appearance she looked to be in her early thirties, but something in her voice suggested that she was a lot older than she looked. Her auburn hair was pulled back into a messy bun and held in place with a large red hair clip, she gently tucked a stray hair behind her ear as she looked over at Chris. Her sad blue-grey eyes matched her gentle face as she gave him a half smile and looked away shyly.
'Chris, this is Sarah, your new colleague. Well, sort of.'
'Uh, pleasure to meet you.' Chris flicked a confused look at Jason as Sarah ignored his outstretched hand. 'Hologram?' He asked, trying to look through Sarah.
Jason nodded. 'Got it in one. He’s pretty quick Sarah, might just keep you on your toes.’
Sarah sighed and hopped down from the bench. 'It’s official then. He’s not coming back is he?'
Jason made a pained face, this was obviously a subject he was used to discussing. 'It’s not as if we’ve given up, Sarah. You of all people should know that. But the department needs Ex Libris to keep running, we had to get someone else in.' Chris moved out of the way as Sarah walked away from Jason, her image rippling as she passed through the desk.
'Look,' Jason said, his hands outstretched in a gesture of apology. ‘As soon as Anthony turns up Chris here will be shipped back to Aus. I’ll personally buy the kid a plane ticket. No offence, Chris.'
‘Uh, none taken…I think.'
'Come on Sarah, think of it as a temp job. Tony’s just popped off on holiday and Chris is here is filling in.' Jason had placed a friendly arm around Chris and was shaking him slightly to emphasise his point. Clearly Sarah would be able to see through such an obvious ploy, Chris thought just as she replied.
'Do you mean that, Jason?'
'Of course I mean it! Sarah, darling, have I ever lied to you?'
Just as Chris was thinking the conversation couldn’t become any more clichéd, the lift doors erupted spreading red hot shards across the archive floor. With little warning six thick, concrete blast doors slid quickly into place, on after the other, blocking the entrance hallway completely. Both Chris and Jason were thrown to the floor and the world went black for a moment as the lights failed and Chris’s face met solid ground.
A red glow fell over the library as both men slowly raised their heads from the cold marble floor. Sarah now stood at the back of the room looking down sadly at a red and grey lump on the floor. It took a few seconds before Chris recognised the lump as Carol. He rushed over to her despite the calls from Jason to wait, she looked like a discarded pile of bloody clothing, crumpled and dirty.
'She’s alive.’ Sarah said softly. Chris ignored the hologram and searched for a pulse desperately trying to remember anything from the all First Aid courses he had taken over the years. Silently Jason made his way over and knelt at Carol’s feet, gently touching her leg. 'What the Hel was that, Sarah?' he said, eyes fixed on Carol.
'A level ten Demi, unconfirmed.'
'Ten? A level ten couldn’t do that, not without some help. How’d she even get past Janus?’ He gave Carol’s leg a comforting pat before standing up to face Sarah. 'Have you called in Ex Gladius yet?'
Sarah turned to look at Jason, sounding slightly vexed as she answered, 'Yes Jason, it was the first thing I did after pulling up the blast doors. They’ve had to take the service route. ETA two minutes.'
'Good, good.' He replied, ignoring her bitter expression.
Chris looked up at them both, he had managed to roll Carol onto her side in a haphazard recovery position, her torn clothes were soaked in blood from thousands of cuts along her body. 'Uh guys,' Chris said placing his black suit jacket over her. ‘What about Carol? Her breathing is bad and this is a lot of blood, like a lot. She needs a hospital.’ His panicked voice cracked and echoed around the red room. Jason smiled down at Chris, 'She’ll be fine, don’t worry. Carol’s a Hel of a lot tougher than you might think.' He reassuringly place a hand on Chris’s shoulder and squeezed lightly. 'So Sarah, what do we know about this Demi? She’s most certainly not a level ten, not now anyway.'
Sarah tilted her head and stared blankly towards the blast doors as if listening to some unheard music. Her voice slipped into a trance like speech pattern, what was previously normal, fluid speech became halted, less natural. 'File found: Melania Palmer. Born 1981, Camden. Claims to be a daughter of Peleus. Neither Peleus nor the mortal mother will back the stated claim of birthright.'
'Well now, given the circumstances I think that claim might have some traction, don’t you?’ He walked towards the blast doors, his hand absently stroking a non existent beard. ‘So, she’s pissed that we won’t recognise her heritage, that’s fair enough, but what does she want with Ex Libris? It’s not like we’re hiding the birth certificate.’ Jason turned and looked at Chris. ‘Any ideas?'
Chris shook his head. 'Uh sorry, first day remember? Plus I haven’t had any field training, the closest I got to this sort of thing was filing reports.'
'You do know who Peleus is though, right?' Jason asked.
‘He was one of the Argonaughts and the father of Achilles. I’ve never heard that he had more children though, didn’t even know he was still alive.'
'Well, you know how it is with these gods most of them can’t keep it in their pants. You’d be surprised how many people have slept with a god and not known it, half the night clubs in London are full of them. Bloody randy buggers.' Jason walked over and half sat on the desk, 'Sorry, I forgot you’re not as clued up as Anthony was. The levels refer to how far someone is away from a major god, a level ten Demi is well ten generations away and fairly innocuous.'
'But,' Chris said slowly getting to his feet, 'this Melania obviously isn’t that powerless.’
‘Indeed, adding to her claim to be Peleus’s daughter. So, the question again is, what do we have that she wants?’ said Jason, folding his arms. ‘It’s not recognition, she could have just filed for a Section 453 paternity test, waited a few months and we’d have found out if she was or wasn’t a demigod.’ Jason moved away from the desk and started to pace and think out-loud. ’Pissed off illegitimate daughter, big arse archives, what is it we’re missing?'
'Wait,' said Chris, turning to face the holographic Sarah, ‘missing archives…Sarah, where are the archives proper?’
Sarah shot daggers at Chris. 'That is not at all funny, Chris.'
Before he had a chance to stammer out an apology, Jason had started walking towards the back of the room. 'That’s not what he meant, Sarah. Obviously she want’s something in the archives, and I’ll hazard a guess it’s something that belonged to Peleus’s.'
A look of understanding flashed across Sarah’s face and she softened her expression. 'Cavalry’s arrived.’ Said Sarah, tilting her head slightly. A large metal tube rose out of the floor next to Jason revealing a private lift. The door slid open and inside stood Commander Lavin and his Ex Gladius squad.
A wall of black Kevlar and assault rifles filed out of the lift’s cab and onto the Ex Libris office. Three men took up positions in front of the blast doors, their weapons trained on the unmoving concrete and steel. A fourth, the only woman in the unit, quickly made her way to the desk’s terminal and began typing in commands while patching various equipment into the computer’s ports. Lavin strode across the floor scanning the large room, he looked down and inspected the prone and bleeding Carol as he walked past. 'Ouch.’ He said at Chris. ‘She’ll feel that in the morning. What have we got Lieutenant?' The woman addressed the Commander without looking away from the monitor. 'Back up systems are coming online Sir, we’ll have visual in a few minutes.'
'Good work Lieutenant. Chief?'
'In position, Sir.' Replied the most thickset of the three men. Lavin nodded back and turned to address Jason. 'Jason, get these two back to the surface, we’ve got it covered here.' He continued walking towards the main desk, giving Sarah a friendly nod as he passed her.
Jason called out from the back of the room. 'Commander, we think we know why she’s here, there’s something in the archives she wants.'
Lavin turned around slowly and snapped his fingers, 'Brack!' he barked.
'Sir! Yes Sir!' responded the young officer, his attention not wavering from the blast doors he was currently facing.
'What is our mission?'
'Sir! To stop the Demi from breaching the barrier and accessing the archives, Sir!' Brack’s Scouse accent thickly laced his words.
'And why is that Petty Officer?'
'Sir!' Replied the third member of the unit. 'The Demi is after the Sword of Peleus, making her invincible in battle, Sir!' Lavin simply looked at Jason and Chris, a smug grin across his face.
Jason stared back at the Commander. 'Chris,' he said deflated. ‘Help me get Carol into the lift.'
Lavin watched as the two men gently picked up their co-worker and shuffled into the small cylinder. Jason and Chris looked around the room silently as the Ex Gladius unit relaxed enough to begin setting up defensive positions and various equipment. Carol let out a small moan as the doors slid shut and the lift began to descend.
'I thought we were going back to the surface?' Asked Chris, shifting his hold on the semiconscious Carol. The uncharacteristically quiet Jason simply looked over and grinned at Chris. 'Lavin doesn’t control everything around here you know’. As the lift arrived at it’s destination the control panel displayed the word ‘Archives’ in neon green. Sarah stood before them as the doors slid open, her skirt and blouse replaced by a midnight black three piece suit and tie, a thin veil hid her face. Chris and Jason carried Carol from the cab and laid her out on the cold concrete floor of the archive. Setting her down gently Chris looked up and around taking in the archives for the first time. The main reception was but a mere appetiser compared to the surroundings he now found himself in. Countless relics spread out in all directions, each shelved and catalogued meticulously. Hints of gold and silver gleamed under the large industrial warehouse lights suspended from the high ceiling above. For the first time since signing the transfer papers Chris became aware of the Herculean scope of his new job, managing the history of the unknown world. His grasp of the sheer impressiveness of the archives materialised as a long drawn out whistle passing over his lips.
'You can say that again kid.' Said Jason standing up. 'Good Sarah.’ He began, posing dramatically. ‘Cast thy nighted colour off and let thine eye look like a friend on the Archives.' His voice echoing down the rows of shelving that ran the lengths of the enormous space. Sarah raised her veil and rolled her eyes while Jason made his way to the lone desk that guarded the entrance to the shelves. Its dark wooden surface illuminated by a lone bankers lamp and held a large LCD screen and keyboard. Jason motioned for Chris to join him, ‘You’re the Ex Libris, do your library wizardry and see if you can find that sword.'
Finally feeling useful, Chris eagerly took up the chair at the desk and began to call up the archive catalogue. All the Ex Libris offices used the same system and from this screen, with the right passwords, he could even search the shelves of the archives he left behind in Australia. His fingers flew across the keyboard as he began to search for the sword’s holding record. Finding things came easy to Chris, he was a very organised person even before joining Ex Libris and working with archives and catalogues had only reinforced that. Jason watched mesmerised by the way Chris navigated the catalogue software. 'These things have always confused me, it took me five hours to find a report I needed last week. You my Ex Libris friend, are a godsend.'
Chris laughed awkwardly, he still hadn’t learnt how to take a complement.
'Ah, gentlemen…’ said Sarah, standing next to a row of shelving.
'Just a minute Sarah, I’ve almost found it.' Chris replied, waving a dismissing hand at her. 'Yes! There it is, section...'
Chris was interrupted as Sarah talked over him, 'Section B, row J, isle 93, third shelf from the bottom.'
The two men looked at her blankly.
'What?' She said shrugging her shoulders. 'It’s my job. I’m a computer.’
Sheepishly Chris thanked Sarah and turned to Jason. ‘I can go grab the sword if you stay with Carol?’
Jason nodded and Chris started out down the labyrinth of shelves.
'Chris,’ he said, 'don’t get lost, yeah.' A half smile forced itself across his lips as he watched Chris disappear into the shadows. He sighed and sat down on the cold concrete floor next to the unconscious Carol, her soft, slow breathing the only sign of life. ’Buggered if I could find you again.' He said running a nervous hand through his thick black hair.
It was easy enough to find your way around the archives if you knew what to look for. Luckily Chris knew all the tricks of the Ex Libris trade and made short work of the carefully catalogued maze. Row after row of scrolls, books, boxes, and various other relics passed him as he jogged by. The hints of gold and silver he first saw in the darkness now became large sheets of metal blinding him from the glare of the overhead lighting. Resisting the urge to reach out and touch the items he passed Chris rounded a corner and spotted the section he was after.
'Over here.' Called out Sarah as she stepped out from a row of shelving, her veil now gone leaving her long auburn hair to curl and spill around her shoulders.
'So.’ Said Chris kneeling down to search the lower shelf. ‘This sort of thing happen a lot around here?'
‘What? You mean being attacked by angry demigods, Ex Gladius units taking over the Ex Libris offices, and hiding out in the archives looking for ancient relics to save the day? No, not really. Usually there’s more cataloguing involved.'
Chris looked up at her and a smile he didn’t know he was holding back broke over his face as the stress of the past few hours erupted from him as laughter. As quickly as it arrived however, the laughter dissolved into a long, drawn out, sigh. He doubled over almost touching the polished concrete with his forehead. ‘I really don’t know if I’m cut out for this, Sarah.’ He mumbled into the floor. Eyes closed he breathed in trying to force his body to calm down. Had she a physical body Chris would have felt Sarah kneel down beside him and place a friendly arm on his back. As it were her voice simply sounded soft and close to his ear. ‘Chris, none of us are. This is an archive, the hardest part of your day should be figuring out what to include in an item’s record. The thing is, we all get thrust into terrible situations, and we either sink or swim.’
Chris opened his eyes and turned to face the sound of Sarah’s voice. Her eyes, while semi transparent, still held a look of kindness, of pity. ‘If you wanted to, I think you’ve got what it takes to swim through this. It’s not going to be easy though.’
’Nothing ever is though, is it?’ Chris replied.
‘Nothing worth doing at least. Come on, the sword should be around here.’ Sarah said gesturing next to him. He smiled a little. It was hard but he attempted to push back at the fears and doubts that were swirling around his head and get on with the job at hand.
‘Here it is.’ He said pulling a long heavy sword out from the shelving. The golden blade hummed in his hands as it slipped gently out from the simple leather scabbard. The knowledge and raw power of the sword began to flow through Chris as he held it out under the garish lighting. Sarah watched as Chris’s eyes narrowed and he grinned wickedly at the sword. 'Chris?’ She said softly.
His response was a simple grunt, his eyes not wavering from the golden sword in his hands.
'Chris, put the sword down now OK. We’ve got to get back to Jason and Carol, remember?' Sarah stepped forward and reached out a hand to touch him before remembering her incorporeal state. 'Chris!' She yelled desperately, trying to snap him out of the trance.
'Huh?' Chris said looking perplexed as he slammed the sword back into it’s sheath. His eyes refocused and he looked blankly at Sarah. ‘Here it is.’ He said as if nothing had happened.
'We better head back to Jason.’ She said relieved. ‘And I think you better keep that sword in it’s scabbard.' She warned.
‘Heard that one before.’ Chris said chuckling until he noticed the unamused look on Sarah’s face. 'Right, ah, sorry. Let’s get going then?’ He said clearing his throat. As they started to make their way back to the lift Chris’s eye wandered to an opposite shelf. Stopping, he picked up a small golden box inlayed in obsidian with various symbols. Noting the catalogue tag he looked at Sarah and asked, ‘is this what I think it is?'
Sarah looked at him curiously, tilting her head slightly. Eventually she smiled at him. 'I like the way you think Christopher. Anthony would be proud.'
Box and sword in hand, the two quickly made their way back to the waiting Carol and Jason.
Carol, all alone, was sat up against the small desk and gave a weak wave as Chris came into view. Letting go a sigh of relief he smiled and waved back a little too enthusiastically. 'Hey.’ He said as he knelt down in front of her.
'Hey yourself.' She said weakly as the two stared fixedly at each other. Breaking eye contact Carol looked up at Sarah, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear she smiled at the hologram.
'What happened? Why were you thrown through the lift? How are you even alive!’ Chris’s voice raised an octave as the panicked questions flew from him.
'Turns out it wasn’t Somnus who was waiting for me in my office.’ She said.
Jason returned from from some unseen water fountain and held out plastic cup. ‘Told you, kid, she’s tougher than she looks.’ He said as Carol accepted the offered water. ‘And that’s saying something!’
Carol rolled her eyes at him. ’No wonder your cat prefers the neighbours.’ She said between sips.
Not wanting them to start a tête-à-tête in the middle of a crisis, Chris stood up and held out the sword to Jason. 'One Sword of Peleus. Would you like me to log that out to you?'
'Hey, nice work. See Carol, he’s not just a pretty face after all.’ Jason seemed to ignore the obscene hand gesture Carol gave in response. 'What’s in the box?' He said gesturing at the other artefact.
'Oh,' said Chris as he removed the small box from under his arm. ‘Just something I thought might be useful, probably not though. So...uh, what’s the plan?'
'Well.’ Began Jason, skipping over Chris’s self-deprecating yet cryptic answer. 'I figured we’d get the sword, head upstairs, do something, save the day, annoy Lavin, and bugger off for an early lunch.' He waved the sheathed sword about in a faux fencing motion to animate his speech. Someone coughed awkwardly and Jason slowly realised no one else was as enthusiastic about his plan as he was. Leaning on the sword like a walking cane he looked at his colleges. 'I don’t suppose any of you have a better idea then?’ he asked.
Chris, who may or may not have coughed earlier, gradually put his hand up.
'Chris, honey. You don’t need to raise your hand.' Carol said softly, her face showing a smile usually reserved for small children and the slow-witted. Realising his mistake Chris lowered his hand, trying to hide it as a nervous twitch. 'I was thinking that I could take the sword up to the library and I could be a distraction. Get her focused on me and the sword not Lavin and his unit.' He explained. 'That’s an even worse idea than his.’ Scoffed Carol. 'No offence.'
'None taken.' Replied both Jason and Chris simultaneously.
Sighing, Carol looked at them both. 'It’s obvious that I’m the one who needs to take that bloody thing up there.' She said attempting to get to her feet.
Jason caught her as she half fell, half-stumbled. 'Yeah and then what, bleed on her? I think Chris’s plan has some merit, not much mind you, but some.'
Carol winced as Jason lowered her to the ground. ‘Well, if you’re going to go off and get yourself killed at least take Sarah with you. If anything she can act as another distraction.' She said nodding at the hologram.
'Then it’s final. Chris will go up there, save the day, annoy Lavin, and we’ll all have a nice pub lunch.' Jason said as he handed Chris the sword and lead him towards the lift. 'Now remember.’ He said pressing the call button, 'try not to get yourself killed, it took months to find a replacement for Anthony and frankly I can’t be bothered starting over again.' The doors swished open and Jason all but pushed Chris into the lift’s cab. Fighting the overwhelming but sudden urge to collapse onto the floor and re-think his life, Chris turned and caught the door with the sword before it shut. 'Uh,' he said looking over at Carol, ‘can I just ask before I go off to my sudden and inevitable death...'
'Level three Demigoddess. Pretty much invincible, with low-to-mid psychic powers.' She replied, pre-empting his question. Chris looked back at her with a shocked face.
'Oh,' she continued, 'and I was born about two hundred years ago, but some say I don’t look a day over twenty-five.' Jason snorted but quickly covered it up with a cough.
'Well then.’ Said Chris eventually. ‘That, uh, explains a few things.'
'Does it now?' She asked sarcastically. Before Chris had a chance to explain Jason pushed him back and the door began to close. 'Good luck, mate.' said Jason. ‘You’ll need it.' He finished as Chris disappeared into the cold, metal cylinder.
Since Sarah didn’t need to use the lift Chris was alone for the ascent. The sword felt surprisingly light in his hand despite it being described in the catalogue as being over twenty five pounds. It felt the same weight as the small box in his other hand. A warm tingling sensation flowed from the sword and into him, filling his body with a fresh energy. He had never, ever, felt this good it was like he could single handedly take on the world. Whatever waited for him upstairs he was ready for it. With that thought the lift doors opened he suddenly found himself surrounded by weapons fire and shouting. Lavin’s men were retreating back as a casually dressed woman hurled solid blocks of concrete across the room, apparently impervious to the hail of bullets flying at her. Chris quickly hit the door close button and pressed himself hard up against the side of the lift. 'I am so not ready for this.' He said out loud.
Panic rose up from his chest and pushed him to the floor as flashes of the carnage outside the lift filled his mind. Fighting the crushing sense of utter doom, Chris tried to calm himself down by using a tai chi breathing technique Lorna had once shown him. Breathe in and fill the dan tian. Breathe out. Breathe in… His racing heart began to slow and the feeling of dread started to fade into a normal background level. Eventually he could open his clenched eyes and not feel the gripping pangs of panic flooding into his mind. No outside sound seemed to penetrate the metal cab of the lift. Despite this, the thunderous sound of Ex Gladius’s automatic weapons still echoed in his ears, and the tremors from the slabs of concrete hitting the office’s floor penetrated and resonated throughout the small metal cage. Without warning, a large chunk of concrete hit the side of the lift knocking Chris sideways. As it fell from his hand, the sword of Peleus spilled out of its black leather sheath. Lying exposed it began to emit a low hum, one that quickly became louder, and louder, resonating throughout the lift until all that Chris could hear was the imposing thrum of the sword. Clasping his hands over his ears in desperation Chris tried to block the sound out as he shuffled towards the source. Its golden blade shone bright even in the damaged and dull lift, light and shadow danced along the blade’s edge. Beyond unbearable the sound forced its way into his ear as Chris reached out to grasp the blade’s hilt.
No sooner had he curled his hand around the sword’s grip the humming stopped. Silence once again returned to the small metal cab. Relieved, Chris struggled to his feet sliding the sword back into the scabbard on his way up. As he was steadying himself on the large chunk of concrete now lodged in the metal wall, the lift door flew aside and revealed an impatient Sarah, now dressed in black cargo pants and a matching long sleeved t-shirt, her long hair pulled back into a sharp pony tail. 'What are you doing hiding in here? Come on.’ She all but yelled at him.
Startled and a little stunned, Chris half mumbled an apology and followed Sarah out onto the library floor. The fight had since withdrawn behind the lift allowing the hologram and Ex Libris to scurry across the marble floor without being seen. Sarah led them to the relative safety of the main desk where they took refuge behind its bullet splintered modesty panel. Chris gripped the sword to his chest as the sound of Ex Gladius’s weapons fired off in vain. The demigoddess continued her rampage, throwing chunks of rubble at her attackers, each landing with a terrible thud that echoed around the large room.
‘She’s using the remains of the blast doors as crude, but effective, weapons. She must have punched her way through all six doors...amazing.' said Sarah, peeking over the counter.
'Fascinating.' Replied Chris closing his eyes tightly with every thud. His mind kept repeating the phrase “it’s my first day” in time with the thuds of rubble hitting the back wall and floor. He wanted nothing more than to be back home, or at the very least live long enough to return there.
'I’m thinking,' said Sarah as she took cover once again, 'we let Lavin and his men draw her further back while we approach from the rear. Take her by surprise.'
Bullets populated the air above their heads as the Ex Gladius returned fire. The sword continued to vibrate gently in Chris’s grip, rumbling through his chest and mixing with the rapid beats of his heart. Forcing his eyes open, Chris looked over at Sarah. 'Actually,' he said getting to his feet, 'I’ve got another idea.'
Sarah watched as Chris clumsily leapt over the counter and began running towards the giant demigoddess. She threw her head back exasperation before dissolving into the holographic either.
Chris had absolutely no idea what he was doing. Less than an hour ago he was having a relaxed tour of the Deus Ex offices, and the next moment he was running full pelt towards a homicidal minor deity, this was not a typical first day on the job. As his senses were overloaded with the sound of weapons fire and shouting echoing in his ears, and the harsh smell of gunpowder and concrete dust filled his nose, the reality of the situation began to take hold. The idea of charging the Demi from behind had its advantages such as the element of surprise, however it also put him on the receiving end of the Ex Gladius attack. Chris had mere seconds to dive behind a random piece of concrete half buried in the floor before a hail of bullets burst past him. His ears pounded with the sound of his beating heart and ragged breath as he held tight and waited for a clear moment to continue his run. Stealing a quick look from behind the boulder Chris spotted Sarah crouching behind another discarded piece of blast door, beckoning him over. Gathering up all his courage with three deep breaths Chris blindly sprinted across the Ex Libris floor coming to a sliding halt narrowly avoiding the hail of bullets that followed him.
'Fancy. Meeting. You…here.' He said between ragged breaths. Sarah ignored him as she checked out the skirmish happening mere meters away. 'She’s got Lavin and his men trapped against a corner, it doesn’t look good.'
Chris cautiously looked over the top of the rock. 'Either Lavin knows something we don’t or he’s not the brilliant tactician his file says he is. Can you get over there and find out what he’s up to?' Sarah nodded and shimmered out of existence. Within seconds she reappeared, yelling. 'Get down!'
Before he had a chance to utter a confused syllable the air around him turned to flame as an incendiary device exploded directly behind him.
The world became deathly silent. Sword and box flung from his hand, scattered across the floor. Chris tried to pick himself up disoriented from the faint ringing in his ears and blinding smoke around him. Through the thick haze he saw Sarah walk towards him, her image slightly warped and twisted by the fire burning behind her. Despite the lack of sound Chris knew she was yelling at him. She pointed at his right arm and her mouth opened and soundlessly asked if he was ok. Looking down he saw what was left of his shirt melting into patches of charred flesh. For a split second he almost admired the patters left in his scorched arm, burnt fabric melting into red flesh. Then the searing pain began. He produced a deep, guttural scream which at that moment was the worst thing he could do.
Having been knocked down by the blast, the demigoddess Melania pulled herself up and onto her feet. Only her clothes seemed damaged from the fire as they hung off her like burnt rags. Lavin’s men had used the explosion as a distraction so they could regroup near the entrance to the Ex Libris office, buying them space from the raging deity. Her immediate threat seemingly gone, Melania turned her attention to the screaming Ex Libris behind her. It didn’t take long before her eyes shifted to the humming golden sword lying next to him. Ignoring modesty, she shucked off the burning remnants of her clothing and ran for the sword.
'Chris!' Sarah yelled, growing frustrated by the fact she couldn’t touch or help him. 'Chris! You have to get up! Come on, stop screaming and get up! She’s coming!'
His face twisted in torment as he ignored her, gripping his arm in pain. The demigoddess almost upon them Sarah had to act fast her head blankly tilted to one side while she searched her databases, in less than a second she had her answer. Kneeling at his side Sara whispered in the now whimpering Chris’s ear.
'Is this how you want to die Chris? Burnt and crushed like Lorna? Is that it? You feel guilty over what you could have done, how you could have saved her but chose not to? You’re a coward Christopher Strom. You’re a coward and you let that poor woman die. Just like you’re going to do to everyone else here if you don’t get up!'
Tears and blood streamed down his burnt cheek as he looked Sarah deep in the eye. 'I.' He said leaning on his good arm. 'Didn’t. Kill. Her.' His face dour and assertive despite the intense pain flooding from both his arm and heart. Staggering, he reached down and snatched the sword up just in time to come face-to-face with the demigoddess.
'Melania. Bastard daughter of Peleus, hero of nothing, destroyer of...doors. By order of the Deus Ex I command you to stop!' Christopher shouted thrusting the sharp end of the sword towards her face. The pain in his arm dulled slightly and was replaced with the solid thrum of the sword’s vibration. To Chris’s utter surprise, the Melania stopped dead in her tracks, the sword’s gleaming blade almost close enough to slice her throat.
'Uh...OK, good!' He said, now at a loss.
'Give me my birthright mortal and this can end here.' Melania spoke, her voice a mixture of terrifying and heavenly at the same time. Chris looked up at the woman before him, she was half naked with what was once jeans and a t-shirt draped about her, and covered in a thin layer of sweat. Simple, curled black hair fell about her shoulders, covered in dust and slightly singed from the explosion. Standing only a few inches above him in height, Melania had the body of a champion weight lifter, up close and personal it was imposing but it only hinted at the superhuman acts which had got her to this point. Looking at the chunks of concrete and twisted metal spread around her Chris’s mind had difficulty aligning the acts of a demigoddess with the woman standing at the end of the sword.
'Never?' He croaked, trying to stand defiant while also wishing for Lavin and his team to save him.
Melania laughed and reached forward to take the sword from his grip. Sheer panic kicked in and Chris swung the sword blindly missing his target completely. She laughed again and closed the gap between them.
'Chris! Get down!' Came a cry from behind. Remembering the last time Sarah told him to get down Chris instantly collapsed to the floor and hugged his head.
Melania was hit with the full brunt of the Ex Gladius’ weapons, forcing her to take several steps back. Reaching out, the demigoddess tried to grab the nearest piece of rubble to retaliate. Raising the concrete block above her head Melania readied herself for the throw when she abruptly stopped mid swing Deep cross hatching appeared all over her skin as an invisible net flowed over her and tightened. She screamed as her body quickly became so tightly bound that, unable to speak, she simply fell to the ground. Her dark green eyes open wide in fear. Silence once again fell over the offices of Ex Libris.
The crunching footsteps of the Ex Gladius unit echoed all around him as Chris picked himself up off the floor for what was the umpteenth time today. 'I swear.’ He said brushing himself off. ‘All I ever seem to do in this life is fall over.'
'Destroyer of doors?' Sarah said as she appeared behind him.
'Hey.’ He said turning. ’It’s hard to think of witty comments in the heat of battle. I’d like to see you try.' He retorted, smiling and brushing the dust off the front of his shirt. She returned the smile as they watched the four members of Ex Gladius secure the bound Melania. Lavin walked slowly towards them.
'Mind explaining something to me, Ex Libris?' He said, accentuating the ‘Ex’ in his title.
'Hephaestus’s trap.’ He replied. ‘It’s an unbreakable chain-link net, so small as to be invisible. He used it to trap his wife Aphrodite and her lover Apollo in their bed.’ He couldn’t help but smile at his own handy work. ‘I figured if it could hold two of the most powerful gods in the pantheon then a demigoddess would be a piece of cake.’ He explained, unsure how to read the soldier’s face.
'I know what trapped her son, I’m not a complete idiot.’ Snapped Lavin, looking Chris directly in the eye, 'What I want to know is, what the bloody hell were you doing up here in the first place? You’re lucky all you got was a burnt arm, son. My team could have killed you! Do you understand?’ His voice somehow managed to invoke every authority figure in Chris’s short life, he could feel himself shrinking down on the spot.
‘I’m here to protect you from the likes of that.’ He said pointing to the bound demigoddess. 'Your job,’ he said swinging the accusatory finger around to stab Chris square in the chest, ’is to look after books, and bits of old junk, got that Libris?' With that Lavin turned, nodded politely to Sarah and walked off to join his team. Chris was left stunned.
'I think he likes you.' Sarah said smiling. 'Come on, the others are here.’
Sarah walked Chris over to the back corner of the room past the rubble, splintered wood, and burnt paper that now covered the floor. The remains of a bookcase swung out from the wall and Jason appeared with Carol hanging off his shoulder.
'Here.’ Jason said passing Carol over to Chris. 'I think this one is for you.'
Chris managed to sling Carol over his unburnt side, one supporting the other to remain somewhat upright.
'Right, so.’ Jason said, clapping his hands together and striding out of the emergency stairwell. 'Sarah filled us in and the plan appears to have been a huge success!' He seemingly ignored the ruined Ex Libris office before him. 'The day is saved and from what I can see Lavin looks thoroughly pissed off. As a bonus none of us are dead! The only thing left now is to knock off and head over to the pub.’ He jovially slapped Chris on the back almost knocking him and Carol over.
'What about the Archives?’ Chris asked.
'Sod it, you can clean it up tomorrow. It is your first day after all. Now, no more work talk. Pub!' He commanded marching off towards what remained of the entrance hallway.
'Uh, genius.’ Called Carol sarcastically. ‘The emergency stairwell is the only way out of here now.’ Chris hobbled around and lead them both back through the open bookcase.
'I knew that.’ Said Jason turning around mid stride. 'Pub!' He exclaimed loudly pushing his way past them and up the stairs. As Jason started climbing the stairs two at a time encouraging them to hurry up, Chris gently tightened his grip around Carol’s waist. She responded by leaning her head gently on his shoulder.
‘I think I’m going to like it here.’ He thought to himself, as they started their long, painful ascent.