Paris, France; June 30th, 2012
“A phone?! I will kill you!” Natalia shrieked, kicking the phone out of Alex’s hand. Alex heard the crack of splintering bone before she felt the pain, but even that was only temporary. She cried out when the agony set in, cradling her injured hand against her chest. “Shut up, you worthless girl!”
Alex glowered up at the assassin through tears, wincing when she felt the throbbing radiate through her arm. “Go to hell, Natalia!” she hissed through her clenched teeth, biting the inside of her mouth.
Natalia only smiled, throwing her head back in a barking laugh. Alex suppressed the overwhelming urge to smack the condescending grin off her face, but she tested the limit of the chains binding her ankle, nonetheless. Natalia finally let her head hang, facing Alex once again.
“Oh, Alexandria,” she chuckled before her face went serious. Alex fell back onto the floor when she felt the woman’s heavy shoe hit her ribcage, rolling her over onto her side. Over the sound of Alex’s hacking cough, she deadpanned, “I’m already in hell.”
Alex felt the burning trails of saltwater run down her face, but she kept quiet, her eyes squeezed tightly shut, until she heard Natalia’s steps echo further away. She choked on a whimper, her mind dancing with the switch between her hand and her ribs. She bit her lip against the ache, finally opening her eyes to assess the situation they’d gotten themselves into. Before she could look, however, her sight was interrupted by a mud-caked leg, curled up to support another, broken, one.
Scrambling to sit up, Alex leaned over the unbound girl, resisting the urge to poke the girl to awareness. By the state of her being, she couldn’t find an inch on her that she thought would be safe to touch. And, upon closer inspection, Alex found that the girl wasn’t asleep, as she had previously thought. Her eyes were open, staring blindly at the wall while she breathed evenly, in, out, in, out.
“Janie?” Alex whispered, getting as close to the girl as she could without touching her.
The girl said nothing.
Clearing her throat, wincing when the sharp breath made her ribs protest, Alex tried again. “Are you Janie?”
“Taran’s Janie?” she continued.
The broken captive didn’t move. Alex was losing hope that she would ever get a response, and, slowly, she sank back to her place by the wall.
“You know Taran?” a hoarse voice croaked, spurring Alex back into motion, though her body begged her not to.
“Ya!” she exclaimed. Remembering where they were and who could be watching, she lowered her voice. “He sent me here.”
Janie carefully rolled onto her back, groaning as she did. The slightest hint of excitement emerged in her voice. “Why’d he do that?”
Alex’s smile faltered when she finally saw the prisoner’s swollen face. “He wanted me to tell you something.”
“What is it?” she pleaded. “Tell me!”
“He said he’s coming to get you.”
A grimace erupted on Janie’s face, the best she could do with her face in its current state. “He is?” she asked, her voice an octave higher.
Alex nodded fervently. “He’s on his way now.”
Moisture gathered in Janie’s eyes, trailing down her face. “I knew he’d come. I knew it. He promised.”
“He misses you,” Alex continued, loving the life refilling the girl.
Janie smiled through another sob. “He does?”
“Ya. And him and my boyfriend are coming to get us right now. I’m Alex.”
“How are they gonna find us, Alex?” Janie asked.
Alex said, “I called them and told them. But, I need your help.”
Janie’s face abruptly went serious. “I don’t know how much I can help. My leg’s broken. I’m really messed up.”
Alex’s jaw clenched. “Janie, I need to get out of this shackle. When the boys get here, there’s no way they’ll be able to find us in the dark. The only way we’ll ever get out of here is if I can somehow show them the way. Do you know how to get out of here?”
Janie knit her brow, looking around the room for any sign of sanctuary. She flinched when her eyes landed on the back of Natalia’s head, remembering all the times they’d met; times they would hopefully never have again. “All I can think is that, if anyone’s got a key, she does. And there’s no way either of us can get it,” she whispered.
Alex sighed, pursuing her lips. “There’s gotta be a way. Think! Our lives depend on it. And maybe more.”
Determined to keep herself from the hopeless pit she’d waded in for so long, Janie stared tirelessly at the chain connecting Alex to the wall. After a long moment of silence, her head finally whipped back into place. “Quick question!” she gasped.
“Was this place ever used as a prison?” she demanded, eyeing the shackles.
Alex narrowed her eyes suspiciously, grabbing the chain. “Obviously,” she mumbled, glancing pointedly at the metal in her hand.
“Maybe not,” Janie challenged. “Maybe they brought the shackles in just for us. You said you called your boyfriend, where’s your phone?”
Quirking an eyebrow, Alex pointed to the shattered phone a few feet from the other girl’s head. Gasping, she let her arm fall. She didn’t have medical experience, but she thought it was safe to assume her rib was broken. “Natalia,” she breathed through the pain, “kicked it. It’s gotta be broken.”
Janie hesitantly rolled onto her less-painful side and reached for the phone. “Maybe not,” she hissed, scraping her long fingernails across the floor. “Maybe it still works.”
Alex didn’t understand what they needed the phone for, but she couldn’t help but feel victorious when Janie grabbed it. When the cellular was safely held in both of Janie’s hands, she handed it to Alex. “Turn it on.”
“It’s not gonna work,” Alex insisted. “It’s destroyed.”
“It’s our only hope. Just do it!” Janie begged.
Alex pressed the button that would turn it on, but she barely looked at it, knowing she would find no change. To her surprise, light shone up into her face around a spider web of cracks. “It worked!” she said, shock coloring her voice.
Janie finally breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God.”
Still skeptical, Alex kept still. “Ya, that’s great. What do you want me to do with it, now? The cops’ll think I’m nuts!”
“No,” Janie replied. “It’s not to make a call. Go on Google. Look up if the Catacombs were ever used as a prison.”
“Why?” Alex demanded.
Janie rolled her eyes. “’Cuz if the Catacombs weren’t a prison, how are there shackles in here? And my guess is that they’re not supposed to be here. These chains look way too clean to have been lying here for hundreds of years.”
Alex quickly typed her question into the search engine and waited; she hid the phone under her when Natalia looked over, casting flickering glances down at the massacred screen until, finally, her answer popped up. “You’re right,” she said. “It’s a burial place, not a prison. I assume you know a way that this can help us?”
Janie nodded. “They would’ve needed to bolt the chains into the ceiling, sometime recently. The catacombs are hundreds of years old, so there’s no way the ceiling’s prepared to support the weight of heavy chains, a metal bolt, and a human being.”
Alex’s wide eyes had been glazed over from the beginning. “In English, please?” she sneered.
Janie pursed her lips. “Just pull on it.”
Alex gripped the chain in her hand and tugged. A slight shower of dirt sprinkled over them, but she made little to no leeway.
“Harder than that,” Janie ordered.
Ignoring the pain burning through her torso, Alex readjusted her grip with both hands and, using all of her weight, yanked the chain from the ceiling, along with the huge chunks of dirt that had been packed around it. Janie covered her face, but she still felt the dirt fall into her mouth while it was cracked in a huge smile. “Go,” she pleaded, noticing when Natalia turned to face the noise.
Alex stared dumbly at the chain in her hands, barely hearing Janie’s plea while she contemplated her luck.
“You!” Natalia shrieked, approaching them quickly.
Realizing she had to move quickly, Alex lurched to her feet, chain still gripped in her hand. Without looking back, she ran into the tunnels, praying the way she was going was the right one.
“Alex!” Natalia shrieked, following closely behind her. “Do not make this harder than it has to be!”
The only responses Alex gave were her heavy grunts of exertion.
Alex could hear that Natalia was quickly gaining, even in the less than practical shoes she wore. Dread filled her as she realized it was more than likely she would be caught soon, especially since she had no idea where she was going and the metal constricting her ankle was weighing her down so heavily. She pushed herself harder, but it was far from a surprise when she felt herself being torn backward.
Fueled by the hand fisted in the fabric of her shirt, Alex’s body soared through the air before it finally landed with a harsh thud against the ground.
She stared up the ceiling for a moment, trying to catch her breath. Unfortunately, in the gap between action, Natalia was suddenly upon her, the barrel of a gun even closer still. Alex didn’t bother to breathe and, slowly, she lifted her hands, her bindings clasped tightly in her hand.
“Woah,” Alex breathed, tilting her chin up and away from the weapon. “Just…just take it easy.”
Natalia chuckled, letting the barrel rest against the flesh of Alex’s neck, a threatening reminder. “No, Alexandria, you take it easy. We are going back to that room now, where you are going to behave yourself, or I will put a bullet in your head. Understood?”
Alex nodded, but, internally, desperation roiled inside her. She couldn’t go back there. She couldn’t.
Natalia hauled her newest captive to her feet, shoving her back where they’d come from while she thrust the gun back into her waistband. Hearing the click of Natalia’s designer slacks snapping into place around her waist, Alex took a deep breath, prepared to run again.
She couldn’t go back.
Slowly, inconspicuously, she swung the chain and, turning, let it fly into Natalia’s face.
“Der’mo!” she shrieked, grasping at her face as it rapidly turned red with blood from her broken nose. She fell with a heavy crash against the floor, both hands grasping at her nose and mouth. An imprint already began to show in her normally flawless face from the patterns of the chain, but Alex sent the heavy metal down again, crashing against Natalia’s eyes with a strength that made her go still.
Alex knew she shouldn’t care, but she studied Natalia’s body for a moment, just long enough to notice the even rise and fall of her chest. As she looked, however, she noticed the gun’s handle protruding from the assassin’s clothes. Seizing the opportunity, Alex grabbed the gun and sprinted headlong down the tunnels, screaming, “James!”
Her echo answered back.
“James!” she repeated.
After some time, she was graced with the voice of an angel.
“Alex?” his voice called back.
“Over here!” she begged, blind in the dark. “James, I’m over here.”
Suddenly, he turned the corner of one of the tunnel walls, nearly smacking into her, Taran and Kierlan in tow. Noticing the other, despite the lack of light, the couple embraced tightly. “Thank God,” he whispered into her hair, rubbing his hand up and down her back. “Thank God.”
Alex leaned away from him, urgently pointing down the tunnel behind her with the gun. “I know where they are! C’mon!”
James nodded, running down the hall after her. Taran and Kierlan followed closely behind, wordless; the air between them was still tense from their recent spat. Alex led them through the underground, pausing only momentarily to step over Natalia when they neared the room. Kierlan hung back while the others ran ahead, stooping down next to Natalia, searching for something that could help him. Knowingly, he pushed up one of the legs of her pants, displaying the top of her boot, and the gun handle emerging from it.
Grinning, he grabbed it. “Thanks, Petrov,” he whispered, continuing through the dark to join his party.
Alex was the first to see the light, picking up the pace when she recalled the way Mainyu had held her friend, barely conscious and caught up in some kind of trance. As she passed over the threshold separating the circular room from the rest of the underground, her eyes flickered to the mortal men posted around the perimeter, watching Mainyu rape Claire’s mind with his powers. Janie seemed to be the only one aware of her presence, a smile on her face.
Alex kept silent, studying the gun for anything that could go wrong.
Taran almost fell into the room in his haste, head shooting in every direction while he searched for one person in particular. He kept quiet as well, noting the guns strapped to each of the men in the room. His eyes fell on Janie only after hers fell on him. Ecstatic beyond any feeling she’d ever had in her life, Janie’s jaw dropped.
She gasped, slightly louder than a breath, “Taran!”
She realized her mistake too late. Each man in the room, excluding Mainyu, whipped around to face the entrance, already fumbling for their weapons, but, thankfully, Alex was first. Despite the break in her abdomen, she raised both hands, the gun held amateurishly between them, and let the first shot ring out through the room.
Alex thought it a little surreal when one man fell, bleeding, to the floor, but the next was quick to follow.
When Kierlan arrived to pick up the slack, she looked to the god who seemed completely unaware of the commotion around him. She had no snappy one-liner to shoot at him, or a mocking demand. All she had was a gun in her hand. As she raised it, she kept both eyes open and focused on the side of his face closest to her. Without missing a beat, she squeezed the trigger, waiting for the unmistakable spout of blood to shoot back at her.
He jerked precariously away from her when the bullet met his temple.
Claire fell from his grasp and sprawled out across the floor in an unconscious heap. Alex would have run to help, if not for Mainyu’s slow movements when he fell back into his previously kneeling position. Pulling himself to his feet, he stood, looking away from her for a moment.
No sound or change in stature revealed that he was angry.
Suddenly, the god spun, arm outstretched and fire burning in his eyes. “Witch!” he screamed waving his palm from her direction to the wall.
Alex couldn’t see what it was that it hit her, but, as he turned, her body flew out of his path, connecting forcefully against the human remains. She vaguely heard someone, probably James, call her name when she fell to the floor, sending the gun skittering across the room.