The office door slammed against the wall with a bang, and papers swirled restlessly across the desks of the darkened room. He looked up from his bottle of gin, bleary eyes just registering the figure outlined in the doorway. It was tall, and from the cast of the hips and tucked in-waist silhouetted in the black trench, it was a woman. She stood on black stilettos, and a black snood concealed her hair from view as surely as the netted veil did her face.
"Who is that?" he asked nervously, squinting his eyes. There was a pause, and then the figure moved forward, legs, hips rolling smoothly in an unmistakable way. He paled; rearing back in the chair so that it almost fell. He righted it with a clatter, fingers shaking.
"A ghost?" he breathed, suddenly terrified. Was the moonshine bad? Giving him the jake- was he hallucinating? The black ensemble of the woman suddenly seemed more foreboding than chic. "You...I thought you were dead!"
She moved forward, just inches away from him in the dim lamplight. Slowly, black satin-clad hands lifted up, grasped the edge of the veil, and pulled it back. Her glossy red lips shone in a vulpine smirk in the light.
"I never die. Nine lives, you know." Molly Maltese breathed in her sotto voice. "I've been to the end of the world, my dear, and I've brought back the case to end all cases for you."
It took only seconds for him to find the lever which spun the bookcase around, revealing Molly Maltese tied to a chair. He cocked the hammer back for a fourth shot, meant to kill the earthly sponsor.
The sponsor smiled again. "If you kill me, our Universal Aspirant will take my place."
"Who is that?" Marc whispered.
"Why don't you ask her yourSELF!" the sponsor wheezed underneath Marc's boot. Her eyes pointed toward one in the group. He held the hammer as he squeezed the trigger slowly, putting the safety on so the gun would not go off.
Marc turned and looked in the direction in which the Sponsor was staring. Right before his eyes, Marc looked at the Universal Aspirant to the Circle of Light. He slowly cocked the hammer back.
"Vulkie? Is there something you want to tell me?"
As the last words of the Sponsor echoed in Vulkie's ears, she began to think. "Why don't you ask her yourSELF?" the words were, and Vulkie knew what that meant. The detectives would suspect her of being involved too.
"Vulkie? Is there something you want to tell me?" Marc asked, while staring at Vulkie. The other detectives also began to stare. "What is there to tell? I mean, it's not like I did a bad..." Vulkie began, but was slammed against the wall by Joseph, who pulled his gun out of his jacket and placed it careful on Vulkie's head. "If I were you.." Joseph began, while cocking the hammer, "I would choose your next words VERY careful." he ended.
"I did a few favors for my contact in Delhi. And they gave me some fancy schmancy title, but that's all!" Vulkie shouted, while Marc joined Joseph. The two detectives stared right at her and small drops of sweat began to develop on the front of Vulkie's head.
"What could convince us that you are telling the truth, eh?" Marc whispered, while Molly and Andrew were holding their eyes on the Earthly Sponsor.
"For the love of god Marc, don't you still trust me? You are the most arrogant mistrusting son of a b*tch that I know! I've made up my mistakes from the past, still you don't trust me? You trust that b*tch that's lying on the ground over there?!" Vulkie shouted in his face, while pointing towards the Sponsor.
Tension was rising and everyone could feel it. It wouldn't take much to blow up the whole mission the detectives were on, and this wasn't looking good.
"If you don't trust me, I'll leave this place and you'll never hear from me, you HEAR ME?" Vulkie shouted. "I'm so sick of this sh*t, each and everytime that you don't trust me! So, what you gonna do about it? You gonna pull that trigger already Joseph, my dearest friend?" Vulkie said taunting, while waiting what was going to happen next...
So much had happened. So much had happened in these last few days. The fake ankh. Professor Dumbleton. The explosion. Molly missing. Vulkie’s nauseating car ride. Faction wars. Molly found. Enough to set anyone’s mind reeling.
It seemed like a quiet life could never be an option. The momentary comfort Riza had been able to glean from a night with Joseph sleeping beside her was something she could not describe. That night, her worries had been sapped right out of her, but by morning, the worries had flooded right back, underscored by her own unsureness of how to act…how to feel.
Riza was snapped out of her thoughts by Vulkie near-screaming, “You gonna pull that trigger already Joseph, my dearest friend?” She looked to be on the verge of tears.
Just as the men started to retort, Riza yelled, “Stop it!” Heads turned in surprise to look at her. “This is absolutely ridiculous! We don’t have time for this.” Riza snatched the gun from Joseph’s hand.
“Don’t fall for it,” she said, narrowing her eyes at the Sponsor. “She’s playing mind games, trying to drive us apart.”
“Riza,” Marc interrupted, “What if Vulkie’s really--”
Riza turned, pointing the gun at Marc, and fired a shot. He froze.
Behind him, a man was propelled backwards into the wall, clutching his chest as he slid down.
“We gotta go,” Riza said in a tone of finality. She was starting to feel like her old self again.
Andrew strode over to Molly and with the flick of a knife, freed her from her restraints. He unceremoniously threw her over his shoulder.
“What about the Sponsor?”
“Bring her too.”
As Vulkie waited for the fatal shot that would end her life, it didn't come. Before either Joseph or Marc could act, Riza intervened by shouting "Stop it!". Everyone turned their heads to Riza. Riza continued by saying that they didn't have time for this and snatched Joseph's gun away. As Riza continued to say that the Sponsor was playing mind tricks, Marc interrupted by saying "Riza, what if Vulkie's really--". Vulkie shouted "DON'T YOU DARE FINISH THAT SENTENCE LACRIMOSA!". By the time Vulkie had shouted it out, Riza turned around, aimed the gun at Marc and fired a shot. Marc instantly froze as the bullet passed through the space that was between his right arm and his body. The bullet whirled and eventually hit a thug, who was propelled backwards into the wall and clutched his chest while he slowly slid down.
"We gotta go" Riza said. Andrew quickly strode over to Molly and freed her from her restraints, and threw Molly over her shoulder.
"What about the Sponsor?" Joseph asked, pointing towards her.
"Bring her too." Riza said coldly. As the detectives began to leave, only Marc and Vulkie were left in the room. "I swear to God Marc, on this day, that if you even DARE to accuse me of being something I'm not without any sort of proof, I will make sure you EVER regretted that you accused me of doing such a thing. DO YOU HERE ME?!" Vulkie shouted in Marc's face. Marc was still frozen by Riza's action, but was awakened by Vulkie's shouting.
"I... I understand.. I.." Marc mumbled, but he couldn't find the right words. As Vulkie almost left the room, she went over to the goon that had been hit. He was heavily breathing and blood was flowing out of his wound and his life was fading away, each second that he still breathed. "You know..." Vulkie whispered in the thug's ear, as she gently bended down, "I am getting so tired of this SH*T!" Vulkie yelled, while driving her heel in the goon's gaping wound. The goon let out one more yell, before he died... (cont.)
"Come on!" Vulkie shouted to Marc, "we need to leave, NOW!". Marc instantly followed her and they met up with the other detectives at the elevator. As Joseph had already slammed the button to call the elevator, a henchman belonging to the Circle of Light exited the stairwell and entered the floor the detectives were on. "Hold it RIGHT THERE!" the thug shouted, while he pulled out his gun. Riza instantly kneeled down, got a dagger from her hiding place in her stiletto boot and threw it towards the thug, who was instantly hit in his heart.
As of the sudden reaction by being hit, the thug fired his gun and the bullet whirled past the detectives, shattering a light at the middle of the hall. By the time the thug was lying on the ground, the elevator doors opened and the detectives got into the elevator.
"We need to make a run for the exit. Once they see we got Molly, they'll try to stop us and ask us unnecessary questions. If there's any trouble, I'll hold them off" Vulkie said, and the detectives nodded. Riza slammed her fist on the ground floor button and the elevator descended...
***The main entrance of the Hotel***
"Boys, they can be here any moment..." the police chief said, while looking at his men, who were setting up barricades at the entrance. "I want you to look out for them. They are considered highly dangerous, armed and presumably have no intention to give themselves up. You are hereby authorized to kill, I repeat, authorized to KILL" the chief continued.
As the elevator doors opened, the detectives came out of the elevator, silently, but quickly and made there way to the exit of the hotel by going through the main entrance, only to hear the hotel manager shout: "There they are, Mr. Stanton!", while he pointed to the group of detectives.
"Uh oh..." Joseph mumbled. Vulkie whispered: "Go to the back of the hotel when I say go...". The situation was bad and the detectives had nowhere else to go... (cont.)
Riza, Joseph, Marc, Andrew and Molly (who Andrew was carrying) were beginning to run to the back of the hotel, making their way through the crowd that was still in the foyer of the hotel. Vulkie decided to take a dive behind the receptionist desk and fire some shots from there.
"FIRE AT WILL!" Stanton shouted and the police men that were standing at the entrance began to fire at the desk. Vulkie pulled the hotel manager down, since she didn't want any innocent blood on her hands. She held a gun to his face and shouted, above the gunfire, "DID YOU WARN THE POLICE?!". The hotel manager shouted back, saying: "I DIDN'T. ONE OF THE GUESTS DID AS HE HEARD A GUNSHOT!".
"Great" Vulkie thought... As she waited for the police men to run out of bullets, she began to think. Where could she go to?! And all of a sudden, she remembered where to go to. Across the receptionist's desk was the entrance of the dining hall and there was a window there, which came out on an alley. She only prayed that her friends made it out through the back and that they eventually would meet each other again...
"RELOADING" several police men shouted and Vulkie took her chance. She leapt over the receptionist's desk and ran towards the dining hall. She almost knocked over a man who crossed her path, trying to seek cover and continued to run, while being chased by police men. As she faintly heard a slow motion version of "Stop.. or.. I.. will.. shoot..", she duck and hear a bullet whirl past her head which shattered the window that was looking out over the alley. Vulkie took another leap and with a somersault, she managed to stand herself up on the alley. As she quickly looked around, she couldn't see the rest of the detectives, who must've already fled.
Vulkie took her chance and fled through the alley, praying that she could lose the cops and find a way to meet up with the rest of the gang again...
The alley was dark, except for the light in the windows that were closed as soon as the first police officer shot at the detectives. The quick footsteps followed one after the other like a furious rain. A scared lonely cat disappeared in a trash can the moment a car stopped at the end of the alley.
"Hey, kids, come here!" a rough voice shouted. While everyone was pulling their guns, the man continued motioning for them to get inside of the car. "Quick, this way!"
Marc was the first to reach the door, and pointing his gun at the man said, "We're going to need this car. Out. Now!"
The man, fat, with a dirty hat tilted at the back of his head, laughed in the same rough voice.
"You don't need a car, you need help. Get in the car; we're fans of your work."
Marc gave a confused look at his companions, every one of them tired. Corelli looked at Molly, and then said, "We're going to need help, what's the deal?"
"It's a square deal: you need help, we need help. Now get in the car, kids, we'll talk later."
Marc sat next to the fat man; the others found a tall man in the backside of the car. The fat man introduced the tall blonde man as Phil, and called himself David. Marc still had his gun pointed at David.
"Put down that gun." David made a U-turn in the street. "You won't need it."
"If you try something, I'll--"
"I won't, kid. Now relax, we'll get to our temporary HQ soon."
"And it looks like you have company," added Phil with a smile, looking at the now unconscious Earthly Sponsor. "I'm liking you more and more every second; that's enough to buy security."
Someone whispered to Corelli in a sweet voice and that startled him, wakened him immediately. The car was now parked in front of the monumental Parker Sulphuric Company, a dark and dusty building in what looked like the industrial part of the city. The group felt that just by being there they could smell the long-gone acids.
"This is your HQ?" Corelli repressed a yawn. "I thought it would be something different."
"Would you trust us if we had another kind of HQ?" asked Phil, buttoning his coat a few feet away of the car. Zeo briefly saw a gun underneath the coat.
"Besides, it's just temporary," said a man who appeared in the front door. The man all dressed in white was sporting a polite smile, his voice calm. Looking at David, he said, "Thanks, David, take the lady to our Chamber of Truth, she may be of help. May Enlightened Minds Prevail."
"Later, kids," David carried away the Earthly Sponsor and left Phil and the man in white with the detectives.
"May Enlightened Minds Prevail? Are you a member of the OoS?" asked Zeo.
"OoS?" Corelli looked confusedly at Molly.
"Order of Socrates, another criminal faction in this game."
"Oh no, my dear lady, you're wrong, we're not a criminal faction. We are a light in the dark times, like this one. I am the High Philosopher: Orson Galatas, and I'd like to you to join us in our tactical meeting, we want to stop this nonsense."
Molly raised an eyebrow.
"We'll be there."
"Thank you. In the meanwhile you can rest; Phil will show you your quarters." Galatas bowed briefly and left.
"We're not going to join them." Marc was furious.
"Some of us are hurt, Mister Lacrimosa, we can't afford to lose a moment to rest," said Corelli.
"What if they try something?"
"They would have done it early." Molly's voice was a whisper. Phil was waiting at some distance, looking at the horizon.
"Then we'll see what they have to say at the meeting," added Marc.
"Except you're not going to the meeting." Riza looked at Marc, and with a gesture opened the phrase to Zeo.
"Why not!? I'm part of the group!" said Marc, angry. Zeo looked disappointed.
"Do you think it's the best?" Zeo looked intensely at Riza.
"We'll need some diplomacy, I'm sick of everyone going dynamite. We can't blow this opportunity."
"We've been through a lot, and I don't think this time we could get out of here shooting," added Corelli, caressing his broken arm.
"We'll decide who's going to the meeting later, we need to rest," said Molly.
No one spoke as the cars left the area. Marc turned his head and looked out the window, noticing a familiar sign. The hotel. He was in a most familiar part of town. Pulling out his notepad, Marc mapped out the area. This would come in handy, he thought. The car eventually pulled to a stop and Marc climbed out, not really listening to the conversations until certain things were said.
The argument escalated, and Marc raised his voice, nearly screaming.
He was banned from a meeting with the rest of the group.
Fine, Marc thought. He was shown to his room for some rest and was given a new set of clothes to change into.
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