Somewhere in Northern France; June 30th, 2012
Janie swung back and forth over someone’s shoulder as they strode into the unknown.
She didn’t know the answers to the major questions she’d asked herself since her incarceration, but the feeling of the breeze against her face was unmistakable, as was the sight of the sidewalk below. Tape covered her mouth and her arms were forced under her, bound tightly at the wrists. In her opinion, it was unnecessary, given the severity of the injuries around her body; it wasn’t as if she could fight them off.
It wasn’t as if she could run away.
The man carrying Hayden walked behind them, his captive’s blonde hair brushing against the ground while she helplessly swung, bound and gagged. Janie could only assume Scottie was being carried ahead of her while they were led away by Natalia. The sound of her signature heels clacking against the concrete sidewalk was the only sound in Janie’s ears, other than her own heartbeat as the blood rushed to her head.
She wished that she could talk to Hayden and Scottie, to ask them what they knew and if they had any idea where they were going. Unfortunately, since they’d been placed side by side in the trunk of the car that brought them here, their mouths had been taped. Hayden had rested her head on her boyfriend’s shoulder, wondering which of them would die first while they waited for salvation.
Janie had no one to turn to for comfort and now she was sure there’d be no help coming for them. Even if Taran did come back with help, there’d be no one back at the prison to save after tonight. Given the contents of the message they’d sent to Hayden and Scottie’s friends, she was sure that, by the day’s end, there wouldn’t be anything to save at all. She didn’t cry, didn’t try to resist, and swung back and forth, waiting for what they had planned for her.
She could immediately tell that they’d stepped inside when the pleasant breeze on her face turned stale and the light of the streetlamps went dark. They stopped once they were fully immersed in the dark tunnels of catacombs, giving Natalia the chance to light a match. She pulled one of the torches from the wall and let it burst into light, illuminating the group.
They continued through the tunnels seeing Natalia light the torches on the wall as they went deeper and deeper underground. The air grew cold as they went and the quiet drip of water echoing through the cavern warred with Natalia’s footsteps.
“Where’s Russ?” the guy carrying Hayden asked, adjusting her so he wouldn’t step on her hair.
Natalia didn’t turn to face him. “Russell knew what was at stake if he did not get here on time. We cannot postpone the sacrifice waiting for him anymore.”
“What about Vilmore?”
“I have no idea where Vilmore has gone.”
“How much further?” the other demanded, grunting under the weight of his captive, Scottie.
“Look for yourself, you idiot! I can see it from here.”
Sure enough, brightness lit the rest of the tunnel as they neared their destination.
A room lined with the torches was suddenly upon them, and Janie was dropped to the floor like a bag of trash. She let herself flop against the ground, completely relaxed. She didn’t curl up to nurse what hurt, which, at the moment, was everything. Her flat eyes glanced around the room, briefly finding the walls of human remains and realizing: this was it. This was the place where she would find her end, just like all the other unnamed people in the walls.
Then her eyes landed on the center of the room.
A stone slab was being slowly lowered to the floor by three men. They exhaled loudly as it landed with a crash, rubbing their hands together when the heavy rock was out of their hands. Her tied hands were pulled over head, her body dragged to the wall where she was forced to sit up against the skeletal remains. A cold shackle closed around her ankle, chaining her to the floor. Her hands fell into her lap.
“Mortal!” a voice roared. A figure bedecked in tattered robes stood across the room, his face hidden from her as he scowled mercilessly at Natalia.
“My lord,” she bowed deeply, placing her forehead to her knee.
His hand sliced through the air, backhanding Natalia hard enough to send her falling to the floor. “You promised me Bomani!” he bellowed.
She pulled herself up with some difficulty, chest heaving as she gasped for air. “My…” she swallowed, shaking her head. “My apologies, my Lord. He escaped yesterday. All efforts to recover him have, so far, been unsuccessful.”
The man turned away from her, finally revealing his face. “You mortals are useless!”
Janie pushed herself back into the wall with a bloodcurdling shriek, muffled by the tape over her mouth. She tried to flee but fell short when her ankle caught on the shackle. Her fingernails scratched against the floor as she tried to crawl away, succeeding only in painting the floor with blood she couldn’t spare. His eyes were burning through her, glowing red through the firelight. The flesh of his face was freely hanging from his jaw, the other parts completely bared bone or nothing at all, revealing the remnants of a decaying tongue. The same went for his abdomen, where a hole was blasted clean through him. His legs were more skeleton than living man.
While Janie cowered on the floor, Natalia returned to bowing before Angra Mainyu, her face stinging like fire. “I apologize again, My Lord. I was not there to stop him. But you may take your pick of anyone else here…”
“This will not be satisfactory! I cannot have Bomani walking around when I am so close to taking Ziba,” he snarled, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and skeletal index finger. “I should kill you for this, mortal scum.”
Natalia closed her eyes tightly, still bent over her knee. “We can find him, My Lord. We will bring him to you if you would just remain here.”
He scowled down at her. “No.”
“But, My Lord, you are still weak—”
“No. The angel has him now.”
Natalia didn’t show fear. She said nothing. Mainyu watched her for another moment before his eyes fell on the other two captives slung carelessly over the other men’s shoulders.
“Who are these humans?”
Natalia jerked up, looking back at the others who may have turned out to be her saving grace, after all. “These are Ziba’s friends. We’re using them to lure her here.”
A Cheshire cat grin slowly broke out on Mainyu’s face. “Excellent.”
Hayden groaned into the tape as her back hit the floor beside Scottie. Her eyes fell on Janie across the room and knew exactly who was in the room with them. The look of terror on Janie’s face could tell that better than the unmistakable sound of Mainyu’s voice. When she finally tore her gaze from the older girl, her eyes fell on Scottie as he was hauled off the ground.
“We will use him instead, then,” Mainyu ordered. “I think it is time I remind Ziba why she should come to me.”
Natalia straightened up. “Yes, My Lord. What would you like us to do with them?”
Mainyu pointed to Janie. “Leave her with that one. I am sure we will think of something to do with them. Him. Put him on the stone.”
Hayden wanted to scream and curse in protest, but she couldn’t get anything past the gag. As she was pulled to the wall beside Janie and locked into a shackle at her ankle, she screamed into the tape, begging them to put her love back beside her, where he belonged. The only response she received was a swift kick to her beautiful face, and a gruff, “Shut up.”
Otherwise, she was completely ignored, everyone’s complete attention focused on Scottie.
They tore the tape from Scottie’s mouth.
“Shit!” he yelled, his head jerking up as the tape came off. “Get the hell off me! Help!”
“Do not waste your breath, Scott,” Natalia advised, kneeling on his one side and gesturing for one of the others to mirror her. “No one can hear you down here.”
Scottie didn’t listen. “Help!” he shrieked, trying to roll off the slab. Natalia caught him by the shoulder, pinning him down while the man on the opposite side did the same to the other. Hayden watched, horrified, as Mainyu pulled a dagger from his robes and the flesh of his hand simultaneously slip off. Scottie had done the same, and struggled to escape their grasp as the God of Destruction neared him. “Jesus Christ! Somebody help me!”
Mainyu mumbled under his breath as he walked toward the stone slab, feeling the dagger grow hot with anticipation. “Grant me all the powers of my birth through this sacrifice, that I may smite those who resist me. With the taking of this mortal’s life, I will live again.” Slowly, he raised the dagger over his head, stepping closer to Scottie’s body.
Scottie didn’t move, knowing it was useless to fight at this point. His head lolled to the side, waiting for Hayden to look at him. “Baby,” he almost squeaked, traitor tears trailing down his face. “Hayden, look at me. Please?”
Hayden didn’t want to look at him. She didn’t want to see what grisly things they planned on doing to him. She couldn’t deny him this, though. Her eyes found his through the moisture obstructing her view. “What?” she whimpered.
He smiled, despite the circumstances. “I love you,” he mouthed.
Hayden sniffled, keeping her eyes fixed on his, even when she knew the knife had found its mark in his chest, and he never looked away, even when he felt the pain. “I love you, too, Scottie, always,” she vowed, just a short second before his head fell back, the life leaving him.
She crumpled backwards, hugging Janie when she saw that the older girl had watched their final exchange. They felt the stifling wind as it blew from Mainyu’s body, rendering him fully intact like they had never seen him. A grayish glow lit him from within, his eyes completely black and a smile on his face.
Hayden and Janie held onto each other, wishing that this nightmare would end.
“Are you sure this is how you get there?” James asked, shoving through branches behind Taran as he ran through the brush.
Taran stopped for a moment, finding a shred from his shirt stuck on a thorn. “Positive,” he snapped, throwing the cloth back at his companion.
James fumbled to catch it, eyeing it closely, and then threw it to the ground. When he looked up, Taran had taken off running again. He struggled to catch up. “And what’s your plan when we get there?” he called.
Taran broke through the tree line and hid behind a bush, looking out for guards. “You zap people with your energy…things…and I’ll punch ‘em. We get Janie, we run.”
James had barely knelt down beside him when Taran took off toward the back door of the building, the door he’d escaped through just yesterday. “Good plan,” James muttered, standing and following dutifully, ready to strike.
Taran threw the door open.
He wasn’t expecting to be faced with an abandoned room. James fell into the room behind him, knocking Taran off balance and startling James into a scream.
“Shhh!” Taran panicked, looking around for any sign of the armed men.
Nothing. There wasn’t even a whisper throughout the whole warehouse.
“Taran, I don’t think…” James said, eyeing for a gun, a man, anything that hinted there’d ever been human existence there.
“She’s here. They kept her downstairs. Come on!” Taran urged, bounding down the steps to the basement. James followed slowly behind, knowing the worst was to come. Then, he stopped.
A sour breeze swept the room, the air unmistakably stained with gray. James had seen it, dreaded it for hundreds of years. Staggering backward, he knew exactly what had happened. The sacrifice.
Inhaling deeply as the wind blew heavily through the room, the stale air caught in his lungs, burning him like he’d breathed in fire.
“God help us,” he coughed under his breath, falling to his knees under the weight of his failure. “He’s back.”
Blissfully unaware in the corridor below, Taran ran headlong toward the familiar door, slowing only as he noticed it was already open. Looking silently around the corner, he felt the breath leave him when he saw that Janie was gone.