Airs and Heiresses
New York, 1938
St. Regis Hotel
"So there I was, staring down a barrel INCHES from death...and I told the man, 'darling REALLY, if you simply must shoot me do allow me to remove my earrings. They are Cartier, you know." Molly Maltese paused to take a sip of her Red Snapper, popping the olive neatly between her cherub lips before gnashing it to a pulp. "And the man was quite flummoxed, he said- I say, is that Riza Hawkeye?"
She rose, the group of rapt men in tuxedos and women in glittering dresses and furs murmuring their protests as she wended through their knees. But the apparition she was quite sure had been Riza Hawkeye had vanished in the crowd of New York socialites populating the exclusive terrace.
"Well, this place is a bit ritzy for Riza." she murmured, fairly certain her old acquaintance didn't make a habit of populating social-climbing fetes. And she reasoned, any time Riza had appeared before it was hardly ever for a pleasant cause. Well, maybe that was unfair. It just seemed she was more the swirl-of-furs-and-stiletto-daggers type than a frothy socializer like Molly herself.
Peering around, Molly saw nothing but the shadowed faces of revelers partially cloaked in the smoky haze. She had just been about to give up and go back to her companions when the most shocking hubbub began. Over on the north part of the terrace, she could distinctly hear the shouts of men and panicked screeching of females. Moving forward, she could just make out..
"Did you see... The Ambassador... who could have... murder! Someone has pushed the Ambassador off the building!" Molly picked up speed, expertly weaving through the crowd of panicked voices. Sirens already began to sound twenty stories below. Just as she grasped the ledge and looked over, an all too familiar voice sounded in her left ear.
"Oh hello there, old friend. Lovely breeze out today."
Before her stood Riza Hawkeye herself, looking utterly unruffled as several ladies fainted behind her.
Joseph couldn't wade through the murky water fast enough to stop Vulkie from her foolish act, but then the water simply just receded. Was this sewage pool of death just a ruse, or was someone helping them? Joseph had no idea. As Vulkie curled up, needing the moment to regain her senses, Joseph looked around. Everything was soaked to the bones in sewage water, except for the torch. He almost gave up on the light while helping Molly but was glad he held onto it.
Nevertheless they were still stuck in this chamber and the dampness wasn't helping. Both ladies were on the brink of insanity but the scent didn't bother Joseph as much. Nothing ever did after after his episode with narcotics when his dwelling dilapidated beyond sewage conditions. Joseph returned to the metal door and tested it. Now with more time perhaps they could get it open...
Vulkie was the best with locks but she was in no condition to try anything right now. Zeo started tapping on the frame with the handle of his gun, testing for weak spots. There were none. Faintly he heard a voice from beyond the door. He pressed his ear against the wet rusty door.
"Molly, I think someone IS calling for you."
Molly turned to the door, "Ed?"
"Mollllllly!" The voice was getting closer.
"Ed!" Molly exclaimed. Zeo began to bang on the door, helping the man on the other side identify their location. Molly's joy suddenly overcame with mixed emotions. "My blouse!" She looked down at her feces infested blouse. "He can't see me like this!"
"Women!" Zeo muttered under his breath, soft enough so neither ladies heard him. Ed finally came to the right door and banged on it. "Yes we're in here!" Zeo yelled. He heard three gun shots from the other side and the sound of some sliding mechanism, then metal door flung open. Golden light flooded the room temporally blinding those inside.
"Molly!" Ed was delighted seeing Molly alive. Zeo left them to their reunion and stepped into the hallway. Similar dungeon cells lined the narrow passageway. He could hear faint distress calls coming from a few of those doors.
Zeo fired his revolver at a heavy pad lock chaining a sliding rod in place. When that was lose he unbolt the locking mechanism. Zero was surprised to find none other than Archibold Kerr inside the cell. "Ambassador, why on earth are you in here?"
Dehydrated and thoroughly filthy, Kerr could hardly talk. "I don't know why the Sphinx... didn't kill me..." He rasped. Joseph continued to open other cells with the help of fellow detectives. They found a total of 8 ambassadors locked up. Something sinister was brewing. Zeo could sense it through the filth.
It was nearly a miracle getting help from the Indian Imperial Police. They thought he was full of himself until he mentioned Sphinx. It was no secret to the imperial police that Sphinx maintained the network of brothels and opium rings. Their problem had been trying to find the hideout; now they had their chance. Edward had finally been in a good mood. And then the ground opened up beneath him and he fell onto Jasper.
Ed had heard Molly's voice calling for him moments before. Everyone could hear the noises coming through the walls, and as they ventured deeper through the labyrinth, Ed began to call out. "Molly!" He yelled. Over and over again until they finally found the cell Zeo's group was in, down off a branching path a full level below them.
When they opened the mysterious door, the smell of sewage filed everyone's nostrils causing them to wrinkle their noses. "Molly!" Edward cried. "Can you move? Are you hurt?"
"I'm...my ankle is broken."
Before Edward could respond, Marc knelt down. "Let's take a look."
There was now enough light to see the black and purple bruising on her ankle. "No blood," Marc said. "That's a good thing. I'll be right back. Don't move."
"You're gonna be okay," Edward assured Molly.
Marc returned seconds later with an unlit wood torch. He tore the rag off of the wood, and then broke it in half. He placed boths pieces on either side of her foot. Edward watched as Marc tore the sleeves off his own coat. "Molly, I'll be straight and honest with you. This is going to hurt. Ed, grab her hand."
Ed felt like Molly was going to tear his hand off when Marc tied the makeshift splint around her ankle. She let out a cry that would make anyone's blood run cold. "My God," Ed thought. He had never felt a woman's grip quite like that. And yet there was something about it, that made him like her even more.
"Alright," Ed said. "Up we go." He placed one of her arms behind his neck. Marc did the same. Both men lifted Molly back onto one foot.
Joseph appeared in the room. "We have a problem," he said. He led Marc, Riza, Vulkie, and Jasper out of the room.
Moments later a voiced yelled out. "Ed, get Molly out here!" Marc's voice echoed off the walls. He followed the sound of the voices, reaching the rest of the group. "We have eight ambassadors down here, including Archibald Kerr. They're all too weak to fight and move forward."
"Kerr? I though he was back in London by now" Edward said.
"Yeah, well we all did. Doesn't matter now," Marc said.
"What do you propose?"
Marc shook his head. "I'll leave that up to you." Edward felt the color drain from his face. Marc was going to take an order?
"Jasper," Edward said. "Stay here with them until backup arrives. Then hurry your ass up and catch up with us."
"With all due respect," Jasper objected, "I think we need to get them out, get Molly some proper treatment, and--"
"We do not have time for that. Just do it."
Jasper nodded. He gave a nervous look at the rest of the group. "Go on," he said. "I'll catch up shortly."
Something in Edward's gut told him that wasn't the best idea. He helped Molly move, following the rest of the group deeper into the vast underground.
"Listen," Edward said as he and Molly trailed the group. "I want to apologize to you all for my brash decisions, my recklessness, and everything."
"I'll accept your apology," Marc said after a moment of silence. "In fact I think--"
"Shut up," Riza said as she stopped moving. "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Edward whispered. Immediately there was a loud rumbling sound and the ground beneath their feet shook.
The detectives staggered, clinging to each other and the walls to keep their balance as the ground rocked violently beneath their feet. Suddenly, the floor let off a blinding glow as a large circle surrounded the group and lines began etching themselves into the bedrock, crossing each other until a distinct pattern emerged. This was bad. Before anyone had time to react, it was already too late.
Black tendrils sprung up from the ground and wrapped themselves around the detectives' arms and legs, binding them in place. Someone screamed. Then slowly, unbelievably, the tendrils began to drag them downwards, straight into the rock. Riza struggled furiously, but she had been completely immobilized. There was no way she could reach her dagger now. The air was rife with panic. The shaking had gotten so bad that Riza was afraid the tunnel would collapse altogether. Within seconds, Riza felt her field of vision lowering and lowering, until all she could see was a rim of granite at eye level. Then everything went black.
They were falling through a freezing, dark, empty space. The wind howled past her ears, intermingled with the screams of the others. Someone's hand brushed past hers. Riza's stomach lurched as she flipped in midair. For a moment, pure dread overtook her and she could think about nothing except how they were going to die. Eventually they would all hit the ground and die. And that would be it.
Then suddenly, she stopped falling, frozen in midair. Before she could even exhale, she heard a booming laugh and she began to fall again. She hit the ground hard and all the air was knocked out of her lungs. She gasped, the taste of copper filling her mouth. Her hearing extra sensitive in the darkness, she heard the grotesque thumps of her friends as they landed all around her. As she tried to prop herself up, the world spun.
"Is everyone okay?" Joseph's voice echoed out weakly.
The space was dim but Zeo could still make out the silhouettes of his mates. Everyone seemed shaken but not badly injured as they slowly righted themselves.
The group was stopped in mid air to be prevented from dying, Zeo reasoned, and the ambassadors were kept alive as well, if just barely, so anyhow murder was not in the Sphinx’ agenda now.
What was it then that they are after?
The same voice boomed again, in a mock laughter that filled every inch of the room, coming from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. A glow appeared in the centre, causing everyone to step back. The scent of sulfur filled everyone’s nostrils as a soft figure grew from the ground like molten lava, until it solidified into a man, with perfectly chiseled chest and arms, but as Zeo looked down, the naked figure had smooth female legs and no genitalia of any sort. Glowing tendrils adorned its body like gold chains, wrapping themselves delicately around its arms, chest and legs. The figure had no feet, however, with the legs implanted into the ground like a potted tree.
Zeo drew his revolver and heard everyone in the group doing the same thing with their guns or knives. The figure in the centre smirked as it scoured the group like preschool children. Its voice burst with amusement as it remarked, with a voice that was neither male nor female, “This is delicious indeed!”
Riza had never seen anything like it before. A glowing figure which was neither a full man nor a full woman had just risen out of the ground as though it were born of the earth itself. Its radiance was the sole source of light in the space, simultaneously awe-inspiring and terrifying.
As the detectives pulled out their weapons, the figure boomed, "Do not think you can defeat me with those childish playthings of yours!" It spread its arms apart, then clapped them together. For a second, Riza saw a smooth blue gem embedded in the center of its left palm. The figure began to weave a series of signs with its hands, too fast for Riza to follow. It raised both arms into the air and a swirling black vortex appeared.
Riza watched as the gun Joseph wielded shook violently in his hands, then yanked itself out of his grip and flew into the vortex. The same began to happen to everyone else's weapons. As Riza's dagger flung itself into the vortex, she felt a tugging at her chest. The next second, her spare dagger tore straight through her jacket and spiraled away, also disappearing into the void.
Molly gave a loud shriek as her gun ripped straight through the side of her expensive handbag. She stared at the gaping hole with disbelief, and then with fury.
"It's sucking our weapons away!" Marc exclaimed, staring at the empty hands where his revolver had been only seconds before.
The group looked around at each other, the same thought running through their heads. Without their weapons, what could they do? No one moved. At this point, they did not know what else the figure was capable of.
Marc felt as though his hand was going to rip off when his Derringer was taken. Although he showed no emotion, he was nervous. This...thing, this person, had a power beyond imagination. The figure moved its hands quickly. "Sit!" It shouted. "And stay!"
Everyone fell to the ground, unable to move their arms or legs. Everyone swore aloud as they tried to move. "Silence!" The figure screamed. It waved its hand at the wall to its right. A door formed and slid open. In walked a dozen people, all naked and showing no genitalia. "Bring forth the horrific!"
Two people walked in, dragging someone in chains. The prisoner barely put up a fight. Four more people followed, pushing a large brass bull on an even bigger wagon. They stopped and opened a door on the side of the bull and forced the prisoner inside. After the door was shut and locked, a fire was started directly underneath its belly.
"Let him be an example to all who fail our order!" As the brass heated from the fire, the man's screams bellowed from brazen bull as he slowly cooked alive. Marc closed his eyes hearing the screams. It was a sound he had grown accustomed to in the spoils of war. But the screams never ceased to bother him. When the screaming finally stopped, the fire was snuffed and the wagon taken removed from the room.
"Bring forth the ambassador!" The figure called out. Two more figures appeared on either side of a naked man. The ambassador showed no emotion upon his face. He put up no fight, and for a moment, it seemed like he didn't blink. Marc frowned. Something wasn't right.
The figure approached the ambassador with a large blade in its hand. It grabbed the ambassador's genitals with its other hand. With one quick swipe, all of his genitals were gone. Everyone watched in shock as the ambassador made no movements. Not one flinch or blink as the blood poured from the wound. The figure weaved its hands making another set of symbols and then grabbed the wound.
Light glowed from the figure's hand, and when it moved away, the cut was healed. The figure turned towards the crowd of people. "The ambassador is now one of us. He will be our new liaison into the world. The ambassador will show the world the Order of the Sphinx. Soon, we will all be in a perfect world. There will no longer be any gender superiority. We will be one gender, one race united. Those who try to stop us will see death by Brazen Bull." The figure raised its hands once more, making a series of symbols again. It gently touched the ambassador's throat. "Do you aware to uphold our way of life, to keep secret the cause of our order even in death?"
"I do," the ambassador said. What ever the figure had done, it changed the ambassador's voice to gender neutral. The figure looked at the audience.
One by one, they left the room. The figure turned and nodded at the two people holding the ambassador. They too, turned and left the room. It turned and looked at the group of detectives. "Now," it said. "Where were we?"
Molly shuddered and winced as she took in the scene. Several things were happening at once that simply did not agree with her. Namely, some poor fool just got burned in an archaic display of torture. Oh, these temple types. Always carrying on with arcanum and whatnot, prone to such overdramatized displays.
Should she really be thinking this? She wondered, and then deduced she may be in shock. Anything to avoid the pervading odor of burned flesh and the appalling display of castration before them. She wondered if one in their group would be next. How hopelessly outdated. She wondered what they might do to women- it seemed their situations may be a little harder to reverse.
The glowing figure shifted, as though in surprise- and then, booming laughter. "Another come to witness majesty?" it asked no one in particular, and raised its hand to the ceiling commandingly.
"What in the--" a familiar voice was heard, and then a coarse yell as Jasper plummeted unbecomingly from the sky and landed with a solid thud on top of Molly.
Death. Death death death she was going to die, she thought grimly as her cheek met cold tile, pinioned under the weight of Jasper... who was huge. Every bone in her body screamed in protest and her neck was jarred at a most alarming angle. The spectacle drew mixed reviews from the group- some shouting "Jasper?" in alarm and most whispering "Molly, are you alright?" Whatever force kept their arms and legs immobile prevented Molly from righting herself though she tried, and from Jasper's muffled curses above her, he also was unsuccessful. She dimly felt blood running from her lips to pool on the cold tile, but wasn't half so preoccupied by that as she was by the blazing pain traversing her spine. It felt as though it would snap like an overwrought tree branch at any moment.
"You've got to let her up!" Riza called to the thing. "She can't...she's hurt ."
"I'm so sorry, Molly!" Jasper called frantically to her, and Molly gave a little cough in reply.
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