My concussion induced sleep was interrupted by the young Oliver girl whispering to me. Wearily I opened one eye and spied the girl slumped against the neighbouring wall, trussed up in a similar fashion. She hissed at me again, like a kid in school passing notes behind the teachers back.
‘Hey!’ she whispered. ‘Are you ok? You’re bleeding a lot and you’re starting to go pale.’
I raised a heavy eyebrow at her and tried to look at myself. From what I could see my new shirt was covered in blood and torn in several places. I could only assume my face looked even worse. ‘Thanks for the concern, but I’ve been through worse.’ Which was sadly true. ‘Your mother and father sent me to find you.’ I nodded as much as I could towards the cult members back on the warehouse floor. ‘They been treating you alright?’ Rosie sat with her legs bent around to one side as if she was sitting on the grass quad of her school chatting with her friends. ‘I’m ok,’ she said looking at a spot on the floor. ‘They’ve had me locked in here most of the time. I get food every now and then, it’s terrible but I’m not starving. Has the High Priestess been asking about me?’ Her voice picked up when mentioning the Aphrodidic priestess, I noticed a lack of interest in her parents though.
‘Yeah, everyone has been real worried.’ I lied. The High Priestess could have cared less, Hel even her precious goddess barely gave me any incentive to find her. I decided not to waste the opportunity and asked her about the kidnapping. ‘Why you, Rosie? Why did they take you.’
‘I saw her.’ She replied indicating towards Discordia. ‘She was in the temple talking to one of the statues. At least I thought it was a statue at first, but then it moved.’
It was as I thought. ‘That my dear, was your goddess.’ I said struggling to keep my eyes open.
‘Get out!’ She exclaimed. ‘You mean that was the real Aphrodite? I was blessed with her presence?’ She practically squealed with delight. Yeah, that was the real goddess making a deal with the princess of strife, and all it got you was a one way ticket to the warehouse of your dreams. I decided it was better to keep her in the dark about her idol for now. ‘You’re lucky to have seen her, most priestesses never get to see the real face of the goddess. What a blessing.’ I tried hard not to roll my eyes, which was fairly easy as any movement was causing me imense pain. ‘Can you remember what they were talking about?’ I said through clenched teeth as I tried to contort my body into a semi upright position. It was far too tempting to nod off to sleep laying flat on the ground, and I needed to keep some wits about me, even if I didn’t have many to begin with. I breathed in sharply as I felt my ribs compress into my bruised chest.
‘Are you ok?’ She asked looking concerned. I closed my eyes as the pain rushed through me. ‘Yeah,’ I gasped. ‘Fine. Tell me what they said.’ I shifted slightly and the pain lessened momentarily. I opened my eyes after a moment and saw the young girl looking at me with a worried expression. ‘Go on,’ I prompted, ‘I’m not going to die.’ Yet.
‘Well, I don’t really remember much but they were talking about an apple or something. The other woman, the one out there, she was asking what was in it for her and the statue said something, but I couldn’t hear it. That’s when she noticed me. I thought she was just talking to herself, you know how people pray to the goddess by talking to her likeness? Anyway I just kept on walking past, I didn’t think much of it really.’
Poor kid, I thought, just another case of being in the wrong temple at the wrong time. It was hard to imagine this naive young thing doing the things Scarlett accused her of. ‘That’s all you remember?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, the next time I saw her she was waiting for me outside the school. I skipped class so I could get to Mr...’ She stopped herself from saying his name. ‘So I could go shopping.’ She was an even worse lier than I was. ‘She told me that the High Priestess wanted to see me urgently so I went with her. It was stupid I know, but she seemed really honest.’
‘Don’t beat yourself up kid.’ I said. ‘If you hadn’t gone quietly they would have made you. Trust me.’ She shivered as she looked at me. That’s right kid, I’m a poster child for going quietly. Something still bugged me though. ‘The police said you and Scarlett got into a fight a while back, what was that all about?’ The girl blushed and looked awkwardly at the ground.
‘We had a disagreement about a man...I mean, boy, but we sorted it out.’ I guessed she was referring to the wonderful Mr Strom, but I could tell she really didn’t want to talk about it.
‘Some disagreement.’ I said, dropping the subject. Now that I was able to sit upright without the world spinning too much, I figured it would be a good time to check my exit strategy. The room was sealed shut with the only exit being the plywood door I was dragged in through. Gutted long ago the office was full of nothing but dust and more dust. Not particularly helpful in this instance. It was then I remembered my weapon. Surprisingly it was still in my holster, how they missed it I wasn’t sure. Possibly my shirt blinded them, but more likely it was because the strap had broken and shifted towards my back when I hit the wall. Now I had an exit I just needed to get a hand free. ‘Kid,’ I said, ‘think you can reach these knots and untie me?’ She looked doubtful but said she’d give it a go.
It took some concerted effort and a whole mess of pain before we were in a position to do anything. I’ll give the kid this though, she was a wizard with the ropes. Even backwards and tied up she was able to free me within moments. Soon I had unbound my legs and freed her, it was a joyous moment for all concerned. Stiff with pain I rose to my knees and checked my weapon, it was undamaged from the fall and ready to go. My only concern was not getting myself or the kid killed. A full on charge from the room firing at anyone who moved might be enough to take down most of the cultists but it wouldn’t even scratch the goddess. We’d both be dead within moments. If I was alone I’d probably consider it further, but I couldn’t risk it with Rosie here. Amongst a feeling of responsibility I also needed her alive to get paid.
I holstered the gun, I was going to need a better plan. That’s when I remembered the back door. I peeked my head above the partitioning to look out of the internal windows running the length of the small office. It allowed me an unfettered view of the warehouse in which to plan our escape. They had neglected to leave anyone standing guard out side the door and if it was unlocked, like I hoped it would be, then there would be no problem. The worshipers were back on their knees praying at their goddess of strife and were making enough noise to cover up the sound of the back door opening, it might be risky though if we both tried for it. All you would need is a stray pair of eyes to spot us both sneaking around and we were dead. I crouched back down and looked at Rosie.
‘Ok kid. This is what we’re going to do. I’m going to go out this door and sneak along the side wall toward the alter. While I’m doing that you’re going to head out and make your way to that back door.’ I pointed in the general direction, her face looked confused. ‘It’s unlocked, don’t worry, just try and be quiet when you open it. Now when you get outside there’s a hole in the wire fence, just go straight ahead along the back dock here and you’ll see it. Once you’re out just keep running. Don’t stop for any noises or calls, just keep on going. When you’re about half an hour away find a phone and call your parents to come get you. Got that?’ She looked back at me blankly. Kids today, I swear.
‘What’s not to get kid?’ I asked, ‘you follow me out and go out the back door there, broken fence, run, parents. Simple.’
‘I got that part, jackass.’ She screwed up her face like I was the one who was simple. ‘What are you going to be doing while I’m sneaking out the back door? Why don’t we both just make a break for it?’ The kid looked concerned, or scared. Either way she got some points from me. ‘I’m going to make a distraction, give you enough time to get out before they even notice you’re missing. If we both run there’s a strong chance they’ll see us and I don’t think we want to find out what they’ll do to us then. Just follow the plan, ok. I’ve still got a few aces up my sleeve, don’t you worry.’ She had every right to worry but I wasn’t about to put that kind of guilt on a kid, even if she wasn’t so innocent.
Crouching down I held the gun in one hand and reached out for the door knob with the other. Rosie squatted behind me and I gave her a smile. ‘Ready kid?’ I asked. She nodded back and I slowly turned the handle. I said a silent prayer as the door swung open quietly and I was able to make my way along the side of the warehouse, my ribs protesting with every step. When I was about halfway to the alter I waved on Rosie, I watched as she crawled on hands and knees towards the back door. I signalled for her to wait when she reached the door, it was up to me now to buy some time before they noticed her. I steeled my nerves with a deep breath, which unfortunately did more to induce pain than to relieve it. I staggered to my feet, gun in hand and opened fire on the crowd of six. Within a blink of an eye I had wounded three of them and was looking for my fourth. The sound of the gun shots cut sharply though the air, cracking against the iron girders and echoing back at me, my ears would have been ringing had I not already been suffering a slight concussion. Out of the corner of my eye I watched Rosie open the metal door and start running, as long as I kept these guys busy she would be safe soon enough.
The followers lucky enough not to be wounded had taken cover behind the various packing crates and the makeshift alter. A knife flew at me, missing my face by a few inches as I turned my head to watch it fly by. When I turned back I saw the head of the woman who had attacked me earlier disappearing behind cover. I took cover myself behind a nearby pole, pressing up flat against it least I leave a wide enough target for them to hit. I was yet to see any guns but it wasn’t mortal weapons I was worried about.
‘That’s enough!’ The goddess’s voice thundered through me, and I could feel her anger in every syllable as she spat out the order. Gone was the suit and in its place a pitch black dress that moved in some unfelt breeze, her hair snaked up and around her head, her eyes glowing a dull, angry red.
Now that’s what I had been afraid of. The smart thing to do would be to come out with my hands up but I’m not known for being smart and I wasn’t about to start now. I lent around the pole and emptied a clip into her. The bullets landed on their mark with a sickening thunk but they did little if anything to stop the angry goddess. Hiding back behind the pole I started to feel a pull. At first I thought I was my back finally giving out and sending me crashing towards the ground but then I noticed small bolts and discarded scrap migrating towards me. I shot a quick look behind and saw Discordia reaching out towards me, her followers safely behind her. Quickly my body began to pull towards her, my chest and all its cracked ribs was wanting to collapse into my spine while my arms hung uselessly out behind my back. The gun fell from my hand and flew backwards smacking the goddess square in the face, if it hurt she showed no sign.
Soon the pain was beyond bearable, the sheer amount of force pulling on my delicate system was enough to snap bones and crush organs. As if a grim preview, a neighbouring girder gave in and folded clean in half. I tried to think of options as my forehead tried to make friends with my medulla oblongata. Surrender seemed the only option that didn’t end in my immediate death, and like an old man in a nursing home I was just buying time. It took a while for the syllables to form but I managed some how to call out my surrender. Almost instantly the pulling force disappeared and I crashed to the ground, unknown to me until the end, I had been pulled half way up the steel pole. I didn’t even bother resisting when two suits tentatively came up to grab me, they wrenched on my arms but I could barely feel it through the barely functioning mass of pain that my body has become. I’m sure I must have blacked out for the next thing I knew I was being tied to the makeshift alter in a sacrificial lamb sort of way. This was now officially the worse case I had ever worked.