Paris, France; June 29th, 2012
“Where are we going?” Kierlan demanded from the back of the taxi, his face flattened against the window as he pleaded with the people flying by outside to call for help.
There was no hope of that now; the driver hadn’t even caught on to his desperate looks for help and any rational onlookers on the sidewalk were whizzing by too fast to see. Beside him, Russell held the cold metal barrel of the gun pressed firmly into his ribs, hidden beneath the loose material of Kierlan’s shirt. The rat scowled forward.
On Russell’s other side, Claire stared forlornly down into her lap, her hands hanging behind her. Tears ran silently and shamelessly down her reddened face.
Since they’d left the basement, Russell had shoved them into the cab with the warning that kept them quiet in the face of the ignorant driver. The second either of them begged for help, Kierlan would get a bullet in the side, followed by Claire, who’d get one in the mouth.
Kierlan hadn’t bothered to remind him that he couldn’t produce Claire in any less than the perfect condition he’d found her in, unless he welcomed the inevitable, painful, punishment that Natalia would bestow upon him. The instructions had been clear about that. The crazed look in the gunmen’s eye, however, clued that, unless he had a death wish, that wouldn’t be something he should say. If today had taught him anything, it was that Russell had tipped the scale toward psychopathic.
Whatever happened in the catacombs must have made him this way. Kierlan had worked with Russell for years and, though Russell had never been what anyone would necessarily call a ‘team player,’ he’d never blatantly gone against orders. Something must have happened in the underground that morning, he reasoned. Something bad.
Without his mind’s accord, his eyes stared, over Russell, at Claire, catching the drip of tears falling into her lap that she was unable to wipe away.
Claire tried not to think of where they were going or what Russell planned to do. Despite the effort she made, she failed.
“We’re missing someone important,” he replied, sharply prodding him with the gun. It was all he said on the matter.
Moments later, the taxi pulled up in front of the all too familiar hotel. Russell tossed a wad of bills into the front seat, receiving a heavily accented, “Thank you,” in response.
The passengers didn’t stay to listen. Heaving Kierlan to the sidewalk first, Russell pulled Claire along behind him by her arm, letting her fall unceremoniously to the ground when she stumbled out the door. Kierlan looked over, his cheek scraping against the cement, to find her in the same position, though her joined arms left her powerless against the ground that had rushed up to meet her. Blood surfaced and oozed to the ground from the new cuts on her face.
She averted her eyes, as he’d expected.
“Get up,” Russell ordered, hauling Claire to her feet by her wrists. Kierlan slowly lifted himself into a standing position and, of his own free will, strode through the entrance. Claire and Russell followed.
The first thing Claire saw when she staggered into the lobby was the back of Alex’s head across the room.
She faced her boyfriend, but the two of them were the only people she recognized in the room. James was the first to look up at them, gasping something unintelligible that made Alex spin around, finding them easily amongst the crowd. Her eyes bugged and her jaw hung silently while she tried to speak. Claire couldn’t help the pathetic look that overcame her when she glanced at her, and her heart dropped into her stomach when she realized, with startling finality, that Hayden and Scottie were missing. She knew immediately that something terrible had happened.
“Russ—!” Alex shrieked. She took one step forward, body poised to sprint across the lobby, eyes focused intently on the trails of tears streaking down Claire’s cheeks.
“Ah,” he warned, unveiling the gun pressed into Claire’s back, only slightly. Alex froze, flailing her hand uselessly against James’s chest, whimpering. A smile twitched onto Russell’s face as he looked between the two of them, noting with immense pleasure that Hayden and Scottie were nowhere to be found. Baring his teeth like the Cheshire cat, he continued, jabbing Claire in the back so she gave a startled sob, “Maybe we should take this upstairs. I think we have some things to talk about.”
Alex narrowed her eyes, subconsciously melting into James’s side. He wrapped an arm around her and nodded. “Ya. Maybe that would be best.” He, reluctantly, peeled himself away from her, leading the way toward their room. Alex ran to Claire, barely hindered when Russell tensed as she neared them.
“Back up!” he ordered as she shoved past him and the silent Kierlan, throwing her arms around her friend.
“Cool it, you freak!” she screeched. “What did you do to her?”
“I…I’m fine, Alex,” she whispered under her breath. “And I’m s…sorry. I d…didn’t mean what I said earlier.” She chuckled darkly. “T…Turns out I can’t protect myself after all.”
“Oh, honey, it’s okay,” Alex hummed, hugging her again. “I don’t mean to smother you, I swear.” She pulled skillfully at the ropes around Claire’s wrists, glaring up at Russell in challenge when his palms slapped against her hands. They remained in a deadlock for a few silent seconds.
“Fine,” he growled, pulling away from the pair to grip the back of Kierlan’s neck. He pushed him forward. “Follow him!”
“Where’s Scottie and H…Hayden?” Claire asked.
Alex shook her head sadly. “Don’t know. They never came back after we split up. We kinda thought they were with you.”
“If I hear either of you talk again, I’m blowing somebody’s head off,” Russell vowed as Alex felt the cold tap of metal against her shoulder. She bit her lip, holding back all the profanity she wanted to sling at him. Self preservation took over and she let her head hang, sharing an angry look with Claire.
Kierlan walked up the stairs beside James, keeping his gaze downcast to avoid suspicion. “When we get to the room, you get Claire away from him and I’m sure we can take him.”
James scowled over at him. “What did you do to Hayden and Scottie?”
The other man finally met his eyes with shock. “I didn’t touch either of them. I’m not responsible for any of this!”
James gave an unintelligible click of his tongue; obviously not believing him.
“What do I have to do to prove to you that I want to help?” Kierlan demanded, whipping his head toward Russell when he was promptly hushed with a smack to the head.
James whispered, hiding his words from Russell when the gunman stood close behind them, “I don’t know how you fit into this, but I will find out.”
“I—” he began.
“I don’t think you know the extent of what happens if I fail,” James interjected. “You don’t seem to understand what’s going on.”
Kierlan snickered humorlessly. “What’s to get? I’m dealing with crazy people who think they’re reenacting some movie or something.”
James didn’t laugh. “Who hired you?”
“No one hired me!” he enthused quietly. “I’m a private party.”
As they came to the third floor, the pushing against each of their backs became more insistent. James was the first to near their door, but he halted before he could open it, feeling a disturbance in the air. They couldn’t go inside.
“What’re you waiting for?” Russell demanded. “Move!”
James shook his head, listening intently for any sound on the other side of the door. “We can’t go in there.”
“Why not,” Russell growled, pulling his respective key card from the pocket of his sweatpants.
“There’s somebody in there.”
Shaking his head, Russell pushed the card into the slot, shaking James’s hand away from him when he tried to protest. He flung the door open, letting it creak to a halt against the wall.
They didn’t see him at first, but, as Russell forced them inside, each of them passed the room divider. Claire was the first inside, catching herself against the doorway when she tripped over the edge of the carpet.
Then, she saw him.
Rather, she saw what was left of him. The others followed shortly after to investigate the reason behind Claire’s quickly changing face.
Angra Mainyu was alone as he stood in the suite’s living room, bedecked in the same tattered robes he’d materialized in earlier that day, but the God himself had significantly changed. While much of his skin remained intact, Mainyu’s face was rapidly becoming a scene directly from a horror movie. Cracks ran through the skin around his nose like a shattered mirror, oozing blood that ran down his face. Claire’s hand immediately flew over her mouth.
“What the f—” Russell began as he rounded the corner, coming into Mainyu’s view. Dropping his jaw, the meager man shook when he raised his gun.
“Jesus,” Kierlan gasped. “What are you?”
The God barely spared him a glance, every fiber of his otherworldly being focused on Claire. “Ziba,” he breathed, relief coloring his tone. “I have longed for this day for eternities.” He reached for her.
Kierlan snapped out of the trance his shock had cast over him enough to step infinitesimally closer to her. “What do you want?” he demanded, breaking their uninterrupted stare. He easily snatched the gun from Russell’s trembling hands. Gesturing to the distance between the god and the girl with his chin, he said, “Back off, Ugly.”
Mainyu slowly met Kierlan’s determined, and absolutely terrified, face as if he was a bug on his windshield. “Step aside, mortal. Your earthly weapons are of no use against me.”
“We’ll see about that when I blow a freaking hole in your head. What do you want?”
The god looked away again to step closer to Claire, who matched his step backward. “I want my love incarnate. She is to come with me.”
James stood beside Kierlan, blocking Claire completely from view, his palms crackling with blue sparks. Kierlan and Russell stared dumbly at the energy dancing across his hands, failing to come up with a rational excuse for it. “She’s not going anywhere.”
Mainyu laughed. “I have waited for her too long to bow to a mortal, or any lesser being. Try to stop me.”
He moved fast, hands gripping Claire, too tightly, around the arms before they could blink. Kierlan’s reaction was faster around the trigger and, with a twitch of a finger, the flesh surrounding Mainyu’s left eye blew away with the bullet. The God snarled at the human man, but kept his grip on Claire, dragging her toward the window.
“Help me!” she shrieked, using all her weight to resist him.
James said nothing as he thrust his arms out, letting bolts of lights spring from his flesh to Mainyu’s chest with the deafening screech of static.
The God flew across the room like Kierlan had done earlier, hitting the wall and landing in a jumble of limbs around his robes. Unlike the mortal who’d suffered James’s powers, Mainyu bounced back easily, face twisted with rage. He looked for a weakness among them, but he didn’t stand a chance without his powers.
With another gut-wrenchingly yearning look at Claire, he growled, in the voice of the devil, “You will realize soon enough, young one, that now and forever, you are mine!”
Gathering his robes in his hand, Mainyu inconspicuously looked toward the darkened window before he took off running, crashing through the glass and vanishing into the night. Gun-less and practically helpless, Russell went to follow, standing on the windowsill. He stared down, down, down and wondered how the last guy had managed a landing that hadn’t left him flat in the sidewalk. Unfortunately, his wish to be away from the freak with lightning hands took precedence over his fear of heights. He readied himself to jump.
James was already running headlong toward the door to pursue Mainyu when the thought struck him that Russell might actually do it.
“Stop him!” he threw back over his shoulder.
Kierlan ogled at the scorch marks on the wall, courtesy of the lightning that had… materialized in James’s hand. There had to be some kind of explanation. “What the hell,” he whispered, turning his head every which way, as if seeing the black ash in a new light would make it appear more plausible. It didn’t change the fact that he’d just watched a man shoot bolts of lightning from his skin.
“Cole!” James shrieked, disappearing into the hallway.
Kierlan shook his head, entering reality once more. He reacted quickly, shoving the gun into his waistband and pulling the rat out of the window by the back of his shirt in one movement, letting him fall clumsily onto the coffee table. He couldn’t help the wicked smile that formed on his face with the taste of revenge, especially when the flimsy wood collapsed under Russell’s weight, leaving him stunned on the floor. Kierlan stepped over the splinters, stooping down beside the body on the floor.
Frightened eyes stared up at him.
“I think we have some things to talk about, Russell,” he sang, weaving his fingers through the man’s hair and smashing his head into the floor.
Russell cried out.
“And if you even think about telling them about me,” he continued in a hush, “I’ll make you wish you were dead!”