The doorbell kept buzzing as Carol hopped along trying to make herself decent by wrapping a red silk kimono around her. She mumbled at the door that she was coming, holding back the annoyed expletives she actually wanted to say. As she swung the door open Sarah was there, nudging Tony telling him to lay off the buzzer. An apologetic smile came over her face when she noticed Carol looking at her.
‘Oh hon…did we, uh interrupt anything?’ Sarah said sheepishly.
‘You’re timing is perfect as always, my love.’ Carol replied, running a hand through her thick and messy hair. A warm arm slipped around her waist as Richard snuck up behind her, resting his chin on her head.
‘Tell them we don’t want anything.’ Said Richard jokingly.
‘Richard!’ Sarah said happily, bounding into the room ready to give them both a hug. Tony hung back at the threshold, smiling at them all as Sarah squeezed the life out of the couple. Carol waved him in with a free hand.
‘Sorry Carol, it’s not a social visit this morning. To quote Mr Steed, “We’re needed!”’ Tony said, pointing his folded up umbrella into the air.
Work had once again managed to ruin a perfectly good day that was meant to be spent entirely in bed. Carol stood back away from Sarah and motioned for Richard to go and get his things.
‘Honestly, I can’t have a single day off in this job.’ He said, picking up his go- bag from the entrance hall and heading upstairs.
‘Do you two want to wait for him?’ Carol said offering up the lounge room to her guests.
‘You’re needed too, Carol. We all are.’ Said Sarah.
‘Me?’ Asked Carol with an air of confusion. ‘They never need me on these things.’
Ex Mentis was responsible for things of a psychological nature. It was a fairly new department compared to something like Richard’s. Ex Gladius was basically the entire reason Deus Ex existed, the armed division protecting the United Kingdom against the whims of the gods, and vice versa. Ex Mentis was designed to handle the more mundane events by talking with deities. Therapy for the gods. It was amazing how many major events could be prevented by booking deities into couples counselling, or allowing demigods to talk about how inadequate they feel compared to their parents. Being called into the field though, that was new. Usually Carol handled debriefings, well after the event. This would be her first field trip, and it excited her.
“I better go get dressed then, I guess?” Carol said with a grin and a twirl.
It wasn’t long before Carol found herself in the back of a sleek dark green car heading towards Birmingham. She had chosen to dress sensibly opting for long black trousers and a crisp white blouse that puffed around her arms. Her wardrobe was tailored around casual conversations and nodding wisely in a comfortable high back chair, nothing like Lavin’s all black combat gear. He sat up front, face hardened into soldier mode, they had hardly spoken the entire trip.
Sarah and the rest of the team were riding ahead in a separate car that looked exactly the same as hers. The sleek curves of the Jaguar Mk 2 looked unassuming, but the van behind hers held at least four heavily armed Ex Gladius members. The very short briefing given before they left indicated that the majority of Ex Gladius were already on site, making it one of the biggest response teams since the Loki incident.
After an hour and a half the silence in the car was getting to her. She liked to talk things though and so far nobody was telling her much. It was a DEUS EX level deity who had apparently gone rogue in a pub called The Old Crown. What exactly had set her off they didn’t know, but most of the patrons inside were probably dead or wishing they were. These things rarely went well for bystanders, and she was getting nervous the closer they got.
“How much longer till we get there?” Carol asked, leaning slightly forward to catch Lavin’s ear.
“Not long now. How are you holding up?” He replied without turning around.
“Not knowing things is killing me.” She said, slumping back into the soft leather seat.
“This is usually how things go. The containment team secures the area best they can, then when we arrive they give us a briefing.”
“Well it sucks. How am I supposed to prep anything if I don’t even know the god’s name?”
Lavin turned his head slightly to look at her. “You’ll be fine. You’re the smartest person I know.”
“I would have thought Sarah was the smartest person you know. She’s certainly the smartest I know.” She said, folding her arms.
“Sarah is booksmart, you…you’re street smart. Which in is exactly what these things need. Plus, you’re a team, work together, use each other’s strengths.” Lavin said, turning back to face the road. She hated when he was right about these sorts of things, but it was exactly what she needed to hear.
“I guess.” She said reluctantly.
Her attention moved to the window as the lush countryside flashed past her. Carol regretted not getting enough time to eat breakfast as her stomach grumbled loudly. She clutched her stomach tightly, mostly to muffle the embarrassing sound, but partially to comfort herself. Lavin’s hand snaked around towards her, a silver wrapped ration bar in it. She smiled at his practical nature and took the offered food, making sure to brush her fingers along his hand in the process. As Carol opened and took a tentative bite of the ration she could see a faint smile reflected in the windscreen from Lavin. She smiled back, but it quickly disappeared as the bland ration hit her taste buds. ‘Should have gone with the eggs’, she thought to herself, taking another small bite.
The Old Crown was one of those places that had either been in existence forever, or built yesterday to make it look old, you could never tell. The Tudor style building was wonky in places and gave the appearance that it was one strong wind away from falling across the road. On a normal dreary English afternoon, the entire place would have been full of moderately happy patrons talking and drinking. Today however, the place was surrounded by heavily armed Ex Gladius members, their black uniforms not dissimilar from regular tactical police. Their car got waved through a cordoned off road by someone she didn’t recognise and soon after found herself in the middle of a briefing.
‘The Deus Ex is occupying the main bar area. She has about twenty captives that are still alive, as far as we can tell, sir.’ Said an older man, clad head to toe in black. His large rifle slung across his front which he leaned on with one hand as he pointed in various directions with the other. Lavin nodded as he took in the scene. Carol hadn’t seen him in a command role before, but being the most senior Ex Gladius member on site the role fell to him. His eyes absorbed every detail, while his face gave nothing away. Command suited him, she thought to herself.
‘Do we know her name?’ Carol asked, and was met with a blank stare from the older man. He looked to Lavin with questioning eyes.
‘I believe the head of Ex Mentis asked you a question, Sergeant.’ Lavin said.
‘Brigantina, ma’am. That’s what one of the survivors said at least. We haven’t been able to verify this though.’
’Brigantina?’ Queried Sarah from over Carol’s shoulder. ‘If it is her, she’s a bit far from Hadrian’s Wall then.’ It was Carol’s turn to shoot a questioning look. ’She’s a Celtic goddess, the southern most point of her territory is the wall. She doesn’t tend to move past it.’ Sarah clarified.
‘So we’ve got a deity a little far from home and causing trouble. That about it?’ Lavin asked of no one in particular.
‘That’s the gist of it, sir.’ Replied the sergeant. ‘That and she’s asked to see Ex Mentis.’
‘So we have had contact with the deity?’ Asked Lavin, squaring up to the sergeant.
‘Sort of, sir. She…it’s better if you come see.’ He said. Lavin gestured for him to lead the way, and the sergeant took them to a small portable marquee set-up in a side street. The white tarpaulin was pulled aside to let them in. Carol noticed the neat row of sheets on the ground first, it took a while for her brain to register the lumps underneath as bodies.
‘Oh gods.’ She whispered to herself. Sarah bumped into her and gasped as she took in the scene.
‘Did she do all this?’ Lavin said, crouching down to lift up the corner of the nearest sheet.
‘I’m afraid so, sir. This is her message…’
Lavin lifted the rest of the sheet up, exposing the body of a man in his forties. He was mostly untouched, bar the large ‘M’ carved into his chest. Carol counted the bodies, there were six including the one Lavin was in front of. ’Mentis. It says mentis doesn’t it?’ She asked, not wanting to know the answer.
‘Afraid so, ma’am.’ Replied the sergeant.
‘Why would she do that?’ Asked Sarah, already backing away.
‘Some deities are stuck in the past, the Celtic ones tend to be a lot…rougher than the older ones.’ Explained Tony, looking over Sarah’s shoulder.
‘Yeah, and some are just fucking psychopaths.’ Said Carol. ‘I’ve seen enough.’
Carol left the tent and breathed deeply in the cool air, trying to wash away the vision of the bodies in her head. ‘What am I about to walk into?’ She thought, silently regretting leaving the warmth of her bed this morning. A comforting arm encircled her waist from behind, and once she realised it belonged to Sarah, Carol relaxed into it and let it turn into a hug.
‘This is messed up.’ Sarah said, not one to sugar coat anything. Carol agreed, leaning further into the embrace.
‘What am I going to do that Lavin and his team couldn’t?’ Carol asked. ‘I can try talking her down but usually my patients want to be there, to an extent at least.
‘She asked for you to be here, yes in a messed up way, but she did ask. Maybe this is her only way of reaching out?’ Sarah said, turning to look Carol in the eyes. ‘You might be able to put her on a good path, save a lot of people’s lives just by giving it a chance and believing in yourself.’
Sarah was always one to talk her up, she was a like a one woman cheer squad. While it was annoying to have your self deprecating voice be questioned, it only made Carol love her more. She squeezed Sarah tightly, letting the soothing smell of her hair fill her nose.
‘You’re right. I have to try at least.’ Said Carol. ‘Thanks love.’
They hugged for a while longer, until Carol gave a final squeeze and kissed Sarah chastely and went to move away. ‘Not going to lie, I’m terrified of going in there alone.’ She said.
‘Oh, I’m coming in with you. No question about it, I wouldn’t let you face that alone.’ Said Sarah, folding her arms.
‘What? I can’t risk you being in there, did you see what she did to those people in the tent? I’ve at least got some protection from that.’
Sarah shook her head. ‘I don’t care who your father was, you need support and I am here for you.’ Sarah said matter-of-factly.
‘Sarah, love.’ Carol said, placing her hands on Sarah’s shoulders. ‘I’m a demigod, you’re a mortal. It makes no sense for you to put your life at risk for me.’
‘I love you, idiot. That’s all the reason I need.’
Carol smiled and felt her heart fill with warmth. ‘You’re the idiot.’ She said half jokingly. ‘I’m not going to be able to change your mind about this am I?’
Sarah shook her head no, and Carol ran a gentle hand through Sara’s hair sweeping it away from her face. ‘Thank you.’ She said, and meant it.
‘You ready, Carol?’ Asked Lavin, adjusting the straps on his tactical armour as he exited the tent. The rest of Ex Gladius moved around him to secure the entrance to the pub. Carol nodded and Lavin guided them both towards the rest of the team. Aaron from Ex Machina was waiting for them and waved Carol over. He held out a dagger in a scabbard for her and she took it, albeit reluctantly.
‘What’s this?’ She asked, drawing the long triangular blade. It looked Roman in design but she wasn’t sure.
‘It’s a parazonium.’ He said as if that answered everything.
‘Pretty, for a dagger.’ She said, putting the blade away and handing it back. Aaron refused it and pushed it towards her.
‘It’s for you. Roma used to carry one and it gives off an aura of courage. Thought you could use some.’ He said in his subtle Australian accent.
‘Oh. Thanks?’ She said, looking to fasten the scabbard and belt to herself.
‘Goes on the left.’ He said with a wink and walked away to a safer distance.
Sarah had been given an Ex Gladius vest and was waiting for her at the door. The two women looked at each other and linked hands, before nodding to Lavin. He reached and pushed open the pub door slowly to let them through.
‘We’re monitoring everything inside and I have the windows covered. If you need help, just yell, Sarah has a two-way.’ He said. His face was unreadable when he went into soldier mode, but she saw concern in his eyes. It was subtle but she knew him well enough to see it.
‘Good luck.’ He said as Carol sucked in a big breath of air and pushed through the doorway.
The inside of the Old Crown was in fitting with its external features. Lots of exposed dark wooden beams, plain plaster walls covered in brass ornaments, and framed black and white photos. Classic pub fit out put a long bar in the middle and tables and chairs surrounding it, like a panopticon of inebriation. It took a short time for Carol’s eyes to adjust to the dim interior, but soon she noticed the huddle of scared people in the back corner, and the large woman standing over them. The goddess, Brigantina, stood tall with her long braided brown hair circling the top of her head. She dressed relatively casual with a plain white blouse tucked into her faded blue jeans. The spear she held in her left hand was slightly less casual, and thoughts of it impaling her ran through Carol’s mind.
With a hand resting absent-mindedly on the dagger hanging from her belt, Carol swallowed hard and made her way slowly towards the deity.
‘Stop! Who are you?’ Demanded Brigantina, spear stretched out.
‘I’m Carol, Carol Andrews. The head of Ex Mentis. You asked for me. I think?’
‘You’re the one that can give me what I want?’ Brigantina said, looking Carol over with a mixture of confusion and disgust.
‘Well, that depends on what you want. Am I correct in the assumption that I’m addressing the goddess Brigantina?’
‘Indeed.’ She said, bringing the spear to rest back at her side with a thump.
‘Under different circumstances I would say it was a pleasure, but I got your…message.’ Said Carol. She looked over the remaining hostages, they were huddled together scared but safe. Carol could hear Sarah moving slowly behind her, the crunch of her shoes on broken glass put the Ex Libris to her left, close to the bar.
‘Who is she? Another Mentis?’ Asked Brigantina.
‘This is Sarah, she’s here to help me get you what you need.’ Said Carol. Sarah gave a small wave and an awkward smile. The goddess sniffed the air in disgust, eyeing off the Ex Libris.
‘I suppose mortals have their uses.’ The goddess said, turning her attention back to Carol.
Carol didn’t need to see her face to know that Sarah was rolling her eyes at that statement. She needed to resolve this quickly which meant that their pleasantries were done.
‘How exactly can Deus Ex help you today, goddess?’ Carol said, taking a few tentative steps forward, putting herself ahead of Sarah.
‘Someone is encroaching on my territory . I want you to stop them.’ Said Brigantina with more than a hint of anger in her voice.
‘Bold statement, considering you’re the one outside of her territory.’ Sarah’s calm voice cut through the tense air. Carol sent her a look. Brigantina mostly ignored her. ’I came here to have words with them myself, but the coward has managed to avoid me.’
‘And you would like us to do what exactly? Mediate a solution?’ Asked Carol.
‘I want you to fix it.’ Said the goddess, stepping forward and looking Carol directly in the eye. ‘I will not stand for this cowardice and disrespect!’ The dusty pub air rippled with tension as the two women could feel the goddess’ anger rising off her like a heat wave.
Sarah shot Carol a worried look, but Carol waved a hand dismissively at her. Addressing the goddess, Carol said ‘That’s all well and good, but there are ways to do this without hurting innocent people.’ Brigantina tilted her head slightly in thought.
‘Non-believers are worthless to me.’ She said dismissively. ‘Although I feel a few of them are beginning to change their minds.’ A sly grin crept over her face as the hostages cowered behind her.
‘Nothing like a bit of fear to convert you…’ whispered Sarah offhandedly.
‘If they’re worthless to you then let them go outside, unharmed. We’re here now, and trust me, you have our attention.’ Carol said. Getting the hostages out of the building, and out of harm was her first priority. She studied the goddess’s face to see her reaction. The grin had disappeared in thought. Brigantina turned to observe her captives, all of whom cowered under her gaze. It could have been a trick of the light but Carol could have sworn the goddess had picked up a subtle, red glow about her. The intimidating goddess turned back with a bigger grin.
‘You know.’ She said, moving her spear to her dominant hand. ‘I think we can resolve this with a simple expansion of my own territory. The terror these mortals feel for me? I haven’t felt that in centuries. And I like it!’ A faint red glow filtered past her eyes as she spoke, and Carol instinctively stepped back.
‘Fear isn’t the only way to gain worshippers. We can work with you to build up a following, that’s kind of what Ex Mentis does…’ Carol reasoned. She tried to hide the obvious bluff, sure they could work on strategies to gain new followers, but did they work? Some of the time, in reality, there just wasn’t a lot of people these days who would be willing to worship a Late Antiquity Celtic goddess. The goddess paused momentarily and studied Carol while she contemplated the offer. Carol’s hand reached down to grip the hilt of the dagger tightly, hopping for some courage in the face of scrutiny. Whatever Brigantina found in Carol’s face she didn’t seem to like it. The faint red glow around her eyes that had dimmed momentarily came back with a strong intensity as the goddess made up her mind.
‘My way sounds more fun, Mentis.’ Said the goddess. She extended out her spear and aimed it at Sarah. ‘Let’s see if I can convert one of you.’ Carol didn’t have time to think as red energy shot from the spear, slicing and crackling through the air. The smell of ozone filling her nose as she screamed and dove in front of her love.
Brigantina’s energy ripped through Carol’s side pushing her back into Sarah. The pain was excruciating as that divine light wrapped around her, searing her nerves and eating through her soft flesh. She could smell herself burning and her ears rang with the intensity of a thousand concerts. As Carol hit the floor she was only vaguely aware of the Ex Gladius team rushing in to subdue the rogue goddess. The sound of gunfire and the clash of a spear against rifle were muted tones in her head that sounded so far away. ‘At least Sarah’s safe.’ She thought, succumbing to the warm blackness of unconsciousness. ‘I didn’t completely fuck it up.'