True Deception, Chapter 14

I recognized him. The towering man with tawny skin, smoky hair, and a long, crooked nose sat on a small couch on the other side of the room, and while I was used to seeing him perched next to Nicole during their broadcasts in a fine suit, his unique visage made him easily identifiable in plain clothes. I didn’t watch their show very often because of the political bias presented in their version of the news, but if I knew that they were being forced to deliver that tripe, I would have tuned in to their show more regularly! While I couldn’t have known that their network was under the control of the Fallen, I wished that I had ignored their words so that I had some idea of what his personality was like. Right then, as Violet and I stood there, I couldn’t tell if we were in the presence of a friend or foe! Not that we could do much anyways with that security guard keeping an eye on us in the hall! It seemed like a difficult feat prior to this moment, but with this unknown variant now before us, the odds of Violet and I obtaining the information we needed from Nicole seemed nearly impossible! I remained motionless as my brain went blank on solution to this conundrum!

            Nicole, who had been leaning against the ledge on the vanity mirror across from us, gazed at us in awe. Clearly, she could see through our mail carrier disguise and was astonished at our presence, and I could tell that she ached to bombarde us with questions, but she didn’t say or do anything that would give our identities away. Instead, she stood up and politely asked us,” Can I help you?”

            “We have a certified letter for you to sign.” As I answered her, I stared at her in a meaningful way hoping to signify to her that we came her for a much different cause than what I conveyed to her moments ago.

            “Oh, I see.” She subtly signaled to us that she understood our situation, and while that came as a small wave of alleviation to me, I still felt confused on how we could discuss this vital issue with so many witnesses present! She didn’t give us any concrete prompts on how to proceed, so all I could do was hand her the envelope that Violet and I nicked from the supply room at that post office. As I did so, I realized that we hadn’t included an actual document for her to pull out! If that security guard beheld her putting her signature on an empty vessel, I fretted that we would end up battling our way out of the studio! Nicole must have sensed my distress since she chose not to write on the flat surface next to her and instead requested to her co-anchor, “Jeremy, can you give me that clipboard?”

            Jeremy picked up the item that she petitioned for, and I got relieved when I noticed that it had some papers on it! I prayed that she would pretend that one of them was new so that it looked more natural when she gave us the envelope back, and fortunately, that’s exactly what she did! She placed the envelope on top of the clipboard, and after she scribbled her name on it, it remained on this surface as she opened it and pretended to add something to her pile. Once she finished, she returned the envelope to our possession and stated, “Here you go.”

            I began to rejoice that the transaction had gone so smoothly, but soon I developed a frown from sheer disappointment! Our interaction would have come to a close at this point, and we didn’t gather anything viable from it! We put in so much work to get to this juncture, and apparently, it had all been for nothing! We couldn’t interrogate Nicole on what she knew about the Arch Deity, and we had no other way to converse with her on another occasion! I mean, I knew we could probably have cooked up another scheme, but it would take time, and the longer we waited, the more opportunities the Fallen had to wreak havoc on our society! Yes, it would have been fatal if we had attempted to dialogue on this subject, but it was devastating that we had no method of communicating about this topic whatsoever! My last shred of hope got dashed when I observed that the envelope was empty, which meant that she hadn’t slipped in any sort of message detailing a manner in which we could talk to each other privately! All Violet and I could do at this point was turn around and head out, and we started to do just that until…

            “Wait!” Jeremy called out to us. Violet and I swiveled back around not knowing what to expect. In the clips I saw of Nicole and Jeremy at work, they certainly acted like they were good buddies, but in this industry, it was difficult to discern whether or not they were being genuine or if they simply put on an act for the cameras. If their alliance was authentic, then I thought he may have had an offer of assistance to us, however, if they were adversaries, then he might have chosen this second to take us down! I also considered that the truth may have laid somewhere in between and that he had a more neutral objective to this interruption. Neither Violet nor I could make out any hints of his motives, he had such a poker face! We could only hope for the best as he inquired, “Can you take this with you?” He held up some mail for us to grab.

            “Sure,” I replied without enthusiasm. It was sealed and stamped prior to our visit, so I doubted that it contained any contents for Violet or me to go over! I supposed that I should have felt grateful that he wasn’t a loyalist to Birsha, but despite our guarantee of exiting from the station safely, I couldn’t muster any joy from this encounter! Actually, it kind of annoyed me that we had an extra task to perform as we tried to think of our next move! I decided that we could drop it off in the nearest postal box while we sought out a safe harbor, so I extended my arm to retrieve his mail.

            Jeremy pulled it back towards himself and let us know, “Oh, I forgot to put my card in it! Hold on!” He procured a letter opener and undid the adhesive. He then quickly found a fresh envelope to replace the ruined one, and he slipped in a business card before sealing everything up again. None of this appeared very noteworthy… except that he wasn’t at his own desk! This was definitely Nicole’s dressing room, only her name was etched on the door, so they couldn’t have been sharing this space, and yet he claimed he needed to add something to some mail that he got from her quarters! My curiosity peaked- did he know about Nicole’s secret investigation? Was he intending to give us some assistance in our journey or a warning not to interfere? I inwardly acknowledged that it was possible that he honestly had some mail to send, but something told me that he aimed to provide us with some aid! That insight only got confirmed by the earnest expression he bore as he handed the letter back to us! He very seriously regarded me, “Thank you!”

            I cordially addressed him, “Happy to be of service!” Violet and I walked out of that sector, and when we rejoined the security guard in the hall, I reviewed his demeanor and did not detect any changes, so we assumed that our correspondence hadn’t raised his suspicions! He initiated his obligation to lead us out without saying a peep to us, and I was totally fine with that! The less banter we engaged in with our probable foe, the more we increased our probability of vacating the premises with no incidents! My mind eagerly anticipated studying what Jeremy relayed to us, and for the sake of the world’s future as well as Violet’s fate, I crossed my fingers that we now held the key to finding the Arch Deity in our hands!

            The security guard who escorted us to Nicole and Jeremy reunited with his comrade stationed at the door, and the two of them watched us as we headed towards the back of the building. We came from that direction, so it would have been suspicious if we travelled toward the street, which is where I really wanted to go. I hankered to tear open this envelope immediately, but there was no way we would be able to do that traversing this course! There was nothing back there but cameras that could capture most of our movements, so how could we escape from this place let alone read Jeremy’s letter? I momentarily panicked that Violet would use her magic to get us out of here, and that was out of the question as feasible option for us to perform! She claimed that she had enough to last throughout the remainder of this mission, but I didn’t know how long she estimated that our quest would last! For all I knew, she could have only had days remaining, and I couldn’t bear the concept of losing her so abruptly! Thankfully, my anxious fantasies didn’t come to pass- Violet and I spotted a large chestnut tree in the back corner of their property line, and it hung over into their neighbor’s territory! We swiftly climbed it and got out of that perilous locale!

            We landed in the rearmost part of a movie theater, and while it was presently vacant, we didn’t dare to delve into our message until we could ensure total privacy, so we marched out of that parking lot and out onto the main avenue. While no one paid attention to us in these uniforms, my previous dread of getting identified by a passerby renewed itself in me! We kept our heads low so that our hats could conceal our faces, but the risk of getting caught persisted still! I wasn’t familiar with this division of Anwynston, so I couldn’t offer any suggestions to Violet on where to proceed to next. We wracked our heads until we happened to stumble upon a vacant construction zone, and when we spotted a port-a-potty on the site, we gazed to each other to wordlessly query on whether or not we should use that facility. Since time was of the essence in this harrowing scenario, we shrugged and agreed to give it a shot.

            This unit was pretty cramped, and if I had the opportunity to nestle this close to Violet in any other instance, I would have been thrilled! Unfortunately, the various odors that lingered in the air made any romantic notions I might have had vanish! Straight after Violet shut the door, she avidly directed me, “Open it!”

            Excitement cascaded throughout my body as I finally got to rip open this mysterious letter, and my optimism reached its pinnacle as I awaited the results! I truly expected to behold something marvelous that would provide us with some much-needed guidance! My hands shook as I held the document before me… and then my spirits deflated in an instant! “It’s a logistics company soliciting Nicole for business!” I hollowly announced.

            “Seriously?” Violet read the paper for herself, and she concluded, “That can’t be what he meant to tell us! What about the card he took from Nicole’s desk?”

            “Oh yeah!” This reminder prompted my aspirations for a fruitful outcome to rise once more! I didn’t get the impression that he aimed to rid himself of some junk mail, the business card he purposefully placed in this envelope had to offer us some insight to Jeremy and Nicole’s plan! I presumed he dealt us some means of contacting them in order to discuss the vital issue at play, and it shocked me that we received something else entirely! “It’s for a soup kitchen down the road!”

            Violet’s expression looked puzzled at first, but then she appeared to get struck by inspiration. “They must want us to meet them there!”

            That sounded plausible at first, but then I grew skeptical of this theory. “I dunno, it’s not exactly private there…”

            “There has to be something there that they want us to see!” Violet insisted. “Jeremy didn’t slip this in here by accident, and nothing about our outfits cause anyone to believe we might need these services! This means something! We need to find out what’s there!”

            “Alright,” I acquiesced. “I didn’t get any vibes from Jeremy that would make me think that he’s trying to set us up for a trap, so there probably is some sort of lead there. I just…” A prickly sensation developed all over my extremities, so I asserted, “We better keep our guard up just in case!”

            Violet put her hand on my shoulder, stared straight into my eyes, and voiced, “Jack, ‘til we find the Arch Deity and defeat Birsha, we always gotta keep our guard up!”

            I concurred, “Right!” For a minute, we said or did nothing more than stare deep into each other’s eyes! My heart fluttered for a flash, but before any other pleasurable phenomena occurred, the putrid stenches of this edifice invaded my nostrils again, so I appealed to Violet, “Can we get going?” She nodded and vigorously got on board with that proposal! We barged out of this stall, causing us to garner some strange faces from the pedestrians who witnessed this event! We gave them no explanation as we made our way out of that vicinity!

            I was astounded at how drastically different the conditions of the structures on this side of the street were compared to where we had originated! The news station was surrounded by professional and sophisticated complexes, and everything around this region seemed so rundown and neglected! The soup kitchen was no exception! It had blemishes so visible that I wondered how it was allowed to stand! It saddened me to see so little effort getting put into a neighborhood in dire need of improvements, and it made me that much more nervous to have gotten sent there! “Why would Jeremy and Nicole send us to this neck of the woods?”

            Violet reminded me, “Guardians go where they’re needed the most! Nicole and Jeremy are classy people, so they wouldn’t hang out here without a real good reason! I’m guessing one or both of them are a Deity who chose to assist this community! The soup kitchen is significant to at least one of them, so let’s go see why!” My hesitation hadn’t waivered, but I also had no inclination to stray away from Violet, so I continued to follow her.

            When we approached our destination, we paused our gait as we took a gander at the long line of folks waiting to get inside of the soup kitchen- it wrapped around the block! Neither of us were pleased with how long it would take for us to get inside, but we resigned ourselves to committing to this endeavor… Or, at least, we were going to! I froze as a wave of alarm stuck me unexpectedly! I didn’t see Nicole or Jeremy there, but I saw two individuals whose presence there horrified me to the core…

True Deception, Chapter 13

The shadowy figure emerged, and from our low vantage point on the nearby grass, Violet and I could see what looked like a janitor heading to his vehicle, the only one other than the mail trucks in the lot. I anticipated that we would wait until he was out of sight to make our move, but Violet had other plans! She grabbed a rock, and before I could ask her about what she was doing, she threw it towards the building! I panicked thinking that the man would notice it and retrace the projectile’s steps, but luckily, he used his car faab at the same moment that the stone landed, so her hasty choice didn’t get us discovered! I wondered why she couldn’t have waited to do that, but then I observed that she hadn’t even gotten close to the security camera! I almost had a serious discussion with her about this perceived error, but as the custodian’s lights lit up the entire area, I could see that her stone had landed in the doorway and had kept an entrance open for us! As the guy hovered into the darkness in the road ahead, I complimented Violet, “Nice work!”

            Violet remarked, “You sound surprised. You don’t think that I learned some survival skills in the woods?”

            I didn’t want to iterate my astonishment at her cleverness so she didn’t get the impression that I had no faith in her skills, ergo, I opted to deliver a witty retort instead, “How many houses were you breaking into, Goldilocks?” She grinned at my quip, and with the boost of confidence that her smile gave me, I picked up a piece of gravel and hurled it at the security camera. I could hear the small tinkle of its minute lens breaking, and just like that, it became safe for us to enter into the post office.

            We moved through the hall of offices slowly in case the owners of this property had the foresight to install additional security measures inside the premises, but so far, it didn’t appear as though anyone had thought to do that! “Remind me to use a different facility when I wanna send out important documents,” I kidded.

            “Sure, if we live long enough to be able to do that!” Violet jested back to me. “Alright, which one of these computers has the list we need?”

            “This one!” I indicated to the largest room in the vicinity, which prompted Violet to stare at me in a doubtful manner. I justified my conjecture, “It’s gotta be the manager’s, I’m sure it’ll have a master copy of everything.” She accepted my logic, so we went into that space.

            Much like Doctor Canenta’s office, this one had a ton of file cabinets in addition to a desk, but unlike his layout, these quarters were large enough to house everything without it becoming cramped for the people using it! We tiptoed over to his computer, and I could see that he hadn’t turned it off, so I used the mouse to wake up the monitor. The screen floated in front of us and demanded a password, and Violet frowned as she queried, “Are you a good hacker?”

            I responded to her, “Let’s find out.” I typed in one attempt, and it opened up onto the desktop right away!

            “How did you do that?” Violet gasped in a skeptical bewilderment.

            “You sound surprised!” I echoed her words from earlier. She still seemed suspicious about my expertise in this arena, so I let her know, “They have a list of passwords on a sticky note.”

            I pointed to the myriad of reminders hanging on the desk in front of me, and Violet’s face dawned in comprehension. She then commented, “Man, this place is wrought with security hazards!”

            As I searched through the folders on the computer, I conversed, “Lucky for us, huh?” I located the correct form, and then I puzzled, “This has a list of zip codes. Which one does the BBN belong in?”

            “We can look it up.” Violet took the reins and used an internet search engine to retrieve the information we needed. “There!”

            “I’m guessing they won’t mind if we take one of their sticky note papers!” I jotted down the ID number of the truck we needed to go to on a giant wad of this colorful stationary, but before Violet could react to what I conveyed to her….

            We both froze when we heard the loud bang of a door opening on the other end of the building! I hastily nabbed the info we obtained before we peeked out to survey the scene. A worker had come in, but thankfully, it wasn’t the owner of the office we were in! Not that this made us completely safer… The woman turned on a machine and began sorting through some envelopes, and while she wasn’t paying attention to this end of the establishment, she could easily have pinpointed us if we chose to move to a different room! I bore a pronounced grimace as I eyeballed the supply room at the end of the hall. We couldn’t complete this phase of the mission without our disguises, but if we actually made it to that area, I feared that we would get caught trying to leave! And I had no clue how long it would take before somebody started to load the trucks! The onset of this operation had gone so smoothly, and now our odds of success didn’t seem so high…

            Another person entered into the property and announced,” Hey, Kathy! I brought coffee!” As Kathy went to fetch her drink, Violet and I darted into the supply room!

            We found the mail carrier uniforms pretty fast, and while Violet initiated her wardrobe change from the privacy of a large stack of boxes, I tore of my garments out in the open. I assumed that the employees arriving at this hour were primarily stationed in another section, but I dreadfully fretted that an individual would use the backdoor and inevitably chance upon us! I grew so nervous about this possibility that my hands were almost shaking too much to button up my shirt! I was so close to finishing up when…

            A man walked in through the door near us! I halted my movements from sheer fright, and for a second, I believed he would pass by without interacting with us, but he doubled back and approached me in the supply room! I was sure that he would declare us in deep trouble, but instead, he gently put his hands on my back and advised me, “Hey buddy, there’s a bathroom down the hall if you need to put your uniform on here!”

            “Uh… Thanks, my friend!” I stammered. I felt relieved that he had no intention of turning us in, but I hoped that he wouldn’t prolong our conversation so that Violet and I could continue with our escape out of here!

            “No problem! I know what it’s like to be new! If you need anything else, come find me! My name’s Andy!” He showed me his badge on his polo.

            I jovially regarded him, “Thanks, Andy!” I prayed that he would leave after this, and once he gave me a supportive pat on the shoulder, he did exit out of our sector! Violet tossed a large hat onto my head, and we nicked a large envelope as we made our way towards the delivery truck lot.

            We passed a couple more postal workers as we went out, and I crossed my fingers that no one would engage with us on the way out. I felt sure that I hadn’t done a sufficient job hiding how jumbled my nerves were at that minute, and I fretted that a lengthy interaction might give our identities away to the wrong person! I had no inkling on whether or not any Fallen were employed in this branch, and even if we didn’t encounter any, our lack of expertise in this industry was bound to give us away! Plus, didn’t they display the most wanted posters in these joints? I took a deep breath and strove to push these qualms out of my mind in order to concentrate, but it was hard to fixate on anything but my rapid pulse! I can’t recall how much time it took to find the vehicle we sought- each step seemed like an hour to me! We hung out behind the truck until the coast was clear, and I beseeched the universe that the assigned driver to this unit wouldn’t head this way during the process! Finally, we were alone, and we hopped in without incident! I truly thought that the hard part was over until…

            We heard someone’s whistle coming closer and closer, so we had to swiftly assemble a barricade with the material inside! We achieved that just before the mail carrier opened the cargo door, and as they put in some last minute additions to their load, Violet and I held our breaths and knocked on wood that they couldn’t detect us! When we heard the doors shut again, we breathed a sigh of relief! I began to relax a little until Violet whispered, “There’s no windows in here!”

            She was correct, we were completely closed in! In a hushed tone, I asked her, “How are we gonna know when we get there then?” Violet answered by holding her hand up to perform a spell, and my heart sank completely! “Don’t do it!” I plead.

            Violet softly told me, “We have no other option! We won’t know where we’re going otherwise!”

            I cringed, and as she used her magic, I cringed knowing that it would physically hurt her to do so. I could feel a gentle wind flow in the cabin, so I knew it was over, but I didn’t dare to glance over until I knew she was done reacting to it. I listened to her shuffle slightly, and I assumed that she had briefly writhed in agony, which sent a million jagged pieces to my core! I had a growing care for her, and I loathed these remembrances on how depleted her life source had become! I let my inner aches to burn a renewed and more vigorous motivation to find the Arch Deity, and as we viewed the passing cityscape, I ardently wished that Nicole did turn out to be the one so we could extend Violet’s life!

            Several stops later, we beheld our appearance to the BBN studio! My excitement level elevated again, and I couldn’t wait to hear what Nicole had to say! I let myself believe that she could alleviate our woes immediately, especially Violet’s tragic circumstance, and that fervor chased away any angst I harbored over this ordeal! As we road towards the back of the property, I impatiently waited for the mail carrier to hit the brakes so we could finally complete our quest!

            The vehicle fluidly lowered to the ground, and I was mildly stunned to see that our mail carrier was Andy! At first, I was glad that we had such a friendly man unwittingly partnering with us because I didn’t think he would get too bent out of shape if he stumbled across us, but then I recalled our exchange in the supply room, and I pondered if that occurrence would make him connect the dots about our deceit! I forced myself to stay optimistic on this regardless of my trepidation- we were so close to our end goal, so I refused to accept failure at this critical juncture! He opened the trunk, and as soon as he ambled over to the property’s mailboxes, we burst out of the vehicle and disappeared from Andy’s sight!

            No one followed us, so I gathered that nobody was purvey to our suspect emergence! I spotted some security cameras alongside the structure, so I made sure to move as casually as possible. We initially intended to go to the front entrance, but when we saw a security guard stationed on one of the side doors, we decided to give this accessway a whirl. The gatekeeper here donned some silver sunglasses as well as silvery jewelry, and his clothing had small and subtle rhinestones of the same hue all over them. I couldn’t tell if this signified that he was a Falle nor if those Fallen executives simply wanted to protect one of their subordinates. I didn’t relish dealing with him, but I judged this to be a safer method of entry than the main doors since it had less traffic, so I had no hesitation about taking a shot with him!

            The security guard surveyed us thoroughly, and while our presence didn’t seem especially welcomed, he didn’t turn us away either. I confidently fibbed to him, “We’re here to deliver a certified letter to Nicole Avalloch.”

            “It takes two people to do that?” the security guard probed.

            “She’s in training,” I lied again. I felt that it was a plausible explanation, so I did not hold any concerns about him not permitting us admittance inside. My expectancy of such a daunting scheme coming to a close slowly arose in me… until…

            The security guard gruffly spoke into a headset, “We need an escort service at Entrance Two.”

            An escort? I wasn’t counting on a chaperone babysitting us for this phase of our plan! I timidly joked, “Wow! You guys really have tight security for a news station!”

            “You can never be too careful nowadays!” the security guard coldly stated. An even rougher-looking man joined his comrade’s side, and the door guard instructed, “Take them to Avalloch for a signature.”

            “Yes, sir!” the other man brusquely obliged. The gatekeeper stepped aside and created a narrow aisle for Violet and me, which we instantly used before he changed his mind. While we tailed behind this intimidating man through a sterile and practically blank hallway, I wracked my brain to unearth some technique of communicating to Nicole without this overseer catching on to our message. We ceased our footsteps at a door with Nicole’s name etched on it, and the guard barked, “Be quick!” I nodded in compliance, but my alarm heightened at how impossible it seemed for us to pull this off! We went in hoping for a favorable outcome despite our fears, but as we entered into her room, we realized that she wasn’t alone…

True Deception, Chapter 12

“I only have one idea, and it seems even riskier than the last one,” Violet told me. “I think we should head to the BBN building next.”

            “I’m so glad you said that!” I responded in relief. “I feel bad about ditching Nicole like that! She’s stuck doing the Fallen’s bidding, and it must have crushed her when we left! She’s probably been waiting for answers for years! I’ve been there before, it’s an awful thing to go through! I bet she must have so much frustration built up after getting so close and losing the opportunity so abruptly like that! It’ll be good to be able to help her out!”

            Violet only partially agreed with me, “Yes, that would be nice, but don’t forget, that’s not the main reason we would be going there!”

            This reminder made me frown. “Oh, right! We’d be there for those executives she mentioned. But we can’t go there just to fight them! Do you think that the Arch Deity could have chosen to hide there?”

            “Possibly. It’s also vaguely possible that we already met her…” Violet cryptically stated.

            “What, you mean Nicole?” I inquired with a hint of doubt in my voice.

            Violet picked up on my underlying tone and replied, “You don’t believe it’s at all likely?”

            As politely as I could, I differed with her, “If she were the Arch Deity, she wouldn’t give into the Fallen so much! Those jerks would have already disappeared from that news station! How could it be her?”

            “Deities are humans, they succumb to the same issues that we do,” Violet educated me. “Both our physical and mental health can hold us back from reaching our full potential, and remember, the Arch Deity hasn’t surfaced to put a stop to Birsha’s regime for a reason! Maybe she doesn’t have the confidence to pull it off. We can certainly assist her with that! You’ve got a real talent for that sort of thing!”

            “Thanks!” I grinned while trying not to let this attractive woman’s compliment elate my spirits too much. I shook off my more fanciful notions and brought up, “And what if she’s not the Arch Deity? Then what do we do?”

            Violet asserted, “We see what else she knows about this subject! She figured out our involvement in defying Birsha and her Army pretty quickly, so I’m guessing that she may know more about all this than we realize. If she’s not the Arch Deity, she may have learned some clues about their location. Or, at the very least, she might’ve gotten something handy to use against Birsha, so it’s worth a try to have a chat with her! However, there is one problem with this… how do we get to her without getting caught by those executives?”

            I mulled it over a bit and came up blank. “It’s hard to say without knowing the layout of the studio. There’s probably some sort of backdoor that we could use, but we won’t know that ‘til we get there! Actually, we probably couldn’t even do it then- I’m pretty sure they’d have surveillance surrounding the property! They’d capture us in a minute if we strolled up to the place and started sneaking around the entrances that aren’t open to the public!”

            “We would have to portray ourselves as someone they trust,” Violet noted.

            “Are you saying that we wear another disguise?” I asked her. “Do they have a cafeteria there?”

            Violet laughed, and then she answered me, “Not likely. They may have food delivered there sometimes, but I doubt they’d accept anything that they didn’t order. Even if they’re not smart enough to get suspicious about strangers randomly showing up at their doorstep, they’re executives, so they’ll be leery about anything that might cost them money… Not that I was ever like that when it came to running my company…”

            I teased her, “Uh huh, sure…”

            “Hey! I wasn’t cheap!” She pretended to show anger as she threw some grass at me.

            “Throwing projectiles at me, huh? A few seconds ago, you were trying to lessen my pain, and now you wanna create more injuries on me?” I feigned being affronted by her actions.

            She ribbed me, “Wow, I didn’t know you were so delicate!”

            I slyly reacted, “Okay, let’s see how you like it!” I plucked up a small clump and tossed it at her. She repeated the same move, and we went back and forth like that for a while! When no one appeared to win this scuffle, I called out, “Alright, truce!”

            Violet obliged, “Yes, truce. But this ceasefire won’t last forever!”

            I pretended to get scared by her threat, and we erupted in laughter. My pulse began to race, but unlike in the hospital, this time it had nothing to do with a severe case of stress! For a brief instance, I forgot that we were in the midst of planning a dangerous mission! In that moment, I almost felt like I was on a date with her, and when I realized that I had that thought, I immediately chastised myself for it! Not only had I gotten distracted from a vital task, but I nearly let myself fall into the temptation of acting upon my enamored inclinations for her! This woman was a Guardian, she was practically a goddess, and I found it improbable that a lady of that caliber would choose me as a lover! If I attempted something affectionate, I assumed that she would rebuff my advances and would lose the will to partner up with me to save the world! I couldn’t take the chance of going without her services, there was no way I could take on Birsha’s Army with her! It would have been lunacy for me to make that endeavor solo! I didn’t want to use her powers and deplete her life force unless we absolutely had to, but it was prudent to have somebody who could do magic on my side for this ordeal! I resolved to avoid any scenarios that had the potential to make me lose my ally, and I redirected my focus as I addressed her, “So, what would be a feasible disguise for us in this situation?”

            When I heard how bitter I sounded as I spoke to her, I grew worried that she would know that something was up with me! It irritated me that I felt spurned right then, and I inwardly harped on myself for not dating more when I had the chance! I never married, and I hardly ever got into a serious relationship because it was so rare to find a girl who didn’t adhere to the societal standard of isolationism. In addition to that, I sought out ladies who shared my passion for coming to the aid of people in need all around us, and that was even more of an unusual find during these times! Most individuals that I encountered were centered around nothing more than their own survival, which was totally understandable now that I thought about it. I wondered if I had simply been too picky, but still, I preferred to go out with someone who had the same drive of putting in great effort into altruism as I did. It drove me crazy to have somebody who had everything I ever wanted from a future life partner and not do anything to pursue that venture, and even though it would hurt like mad to ignore these sentiments, I knew that I had to do it… unless my emotions became obvious to her and she ended our quest!

            Thankfully, I didn’t think she detected anything based on the neutral way she relayed to me, “I’m not sure what we could wear to get into the BBN’s headquarters, but before we come up with that solution, we have to work out a way to get across town without getting recognized! Got any ideas on how to do that?”

            “Hmm…” I briefly contemplated this predicament. “I know I passed a number of businesses on the way to Sylph’s Hollow, but I didn’t anticipate quizzing myself on what was there or else I would have made more of an attempt to cement them in my memory! Let’s see… there was a florist, a liquor store, a dentist…”

            “There was a couple of restaurants too,” Violet added to my list. “And a hair salon too. Oh, and a vet’s office, which was next to a daycare and a post office…”

            That last one struck a chord with me. “A post office! They travel all over the city without too much of a hassle…”

            Violet queried, “Are you saying that we disguise ourselves as postal workers? Delivering mail would really eat up a lot of time!”

            “Yeah, and this place wouldn’t be as hectic as an understaffed hospital kitchen, we can’t just show up and start working!” I acknowledged. “I’m assuming that they would keep track of who they assign their vehicles to. It’s too bad ‘cause I know at some point one of those trucks would drive right up to BBN with no trouble from the Fallen!”

            “I wish we could hitch a ride with them! Wouldn’t be great if we could mail ourselves to the station?” Violet kidded, but that prompted her to unearth a more serious thought. “But we could hide ourselves underneath all of their letters and packages! I’m positive they have certain people sorting through the mail and that they’re not the same people delivering it, so it’s not like the mail carriers would check their trucks too thoroughly before beginning their route!  Hold on though, there’s bound to be multiple vehicles that they use, so how do we figure out which one is going to where we wanna go?”

            After ruminating over this matter for a spell, I submitted to her, “We’d have to break into the building while it’s closed.” She gasped at the prospect, and I articulated to her, “Yeah, it’s insane, but we don’t have a choice! We would need to borrow some uniforms anyways ‘cause even if we managed to stow away in the correct truck, those executives aren’t gonna let us inside with our plain clothes on.” Violet appeared hesitant at the outlook of my proposal, so I assured her, “If we can come up with a way to get to the news station that’s less complicated before we get there, we’ll do that, but if we can’t, then we gotta use this plan!”

            Violet gazed at the setting sun as she reflected on the proposition for a short interval, and as I anticipated her reply, I couldn’t ignore the fact that under any other circumstance, sitting together by a forest stream watching the dusk set in would be incredibly romantic! It was difficult to restrain myself from holding her right then, and a part of me lamented that we had this daunting task that prevented from using this idyllic scenery to initiate an amorous tryst! Most of my senses didn’t sincerely believe she would desire me in the same way I wanted her, but it was pleasurable to picture the two of us in a passionate embrace…

            “Alright, let’s do it,” Violet concluded.

            “Huh?” It stunned me to hear her utter that phrase1 Could my fantasy literally have been coming to life? My logical side urged me not to get my hopes up, but the rest of me ignored that advice and practically trembled with excitement…

            She expounded on her statement, “Well, I can’t root out any other method of getting into the BBN studio, and we can’t afford to sit around here ‘til something else pops into our heads! It’s extremely bonkers, but if we can pull it off, we’ll at least be safe heading over there! Those trucks have a bunch of silver in them, so we’ll have some protection in case some Fallens decide to ambush during the trip!”

            My exuberance sank down quite abruptly! Of course, she meant our post office plot! I admonished myself for being so foolish as to convince myself of any expectations of some kind of intimacy in the middle of a period of unrest for the planet, and I pondered how long it would take for those ridiculous abstractions to vacate my mind! Now I had to endure the pangs of disappointment coursing through my veins again, and it was incredibly challenging to shield my altered mood from her! My curiosity managed to permeate through my bitterness after a minute though, and I posed to her, “Why does silver have that type of capability?”

            “I don’t know the scientific explanation for it, but a Deity’s powers can’t penetrate it,” Violet illuminated on this for me. “That’s why Birsha’s Army wears armor- a Guardian would have to aim between all the silver to successfully administer a hex. We got so lucky in that arbitration room!”

            “Why didn’t those thugs in Saint Cyprian’s have any silver?” I questioned.

            Violet shrugged. “They could have worn a silver vest under their scrubs, but it wouldn’t have made a difference- we took them down with more conventional techniques! Funnily enough, they looked less prepared for hand-to-hand combat than magical warfare!” We both chortled at their error in judgment, and as we observed the stars commencing with their nightly appearance, it seemed even more unfair that a deadly force threatened the earth as we found ourselves in such a pleasant scene!

            Once the hour became late enough, Violet and I journeyed to the post office that edged the woods. We spotted several security cameras above its various entrances, but we didn’t see any signs of an alarm system, so I made the suggestion, “If we throw a rock hard enough at the lens, it can’t capture us jimmy-opening the locks on the door.”

            “Are you a good aim?” Violet probed.

            “We’re about to see!” I picked up a decently sized stone in the unkempt field that we stood in, but prior to me going for it, I espied a shadowy silhouette in the distance that caused me to cease my fire! “Quick! Hide!”

True Deception, Chapter 11

“What are you looking at, Nicole?” a producer on the other side of the parking lot asked the statuesque and very thin woman with stringy, auburn hair and an elegant skirt-suit who stood before us. I grew so irate that it rendered me unable to move or speak! I couldn’t believe we went through all that effort only to get discovered right afterwards! Birsha’s thugs in the nursing department failed to destroy us, but they may have gotten their way anyhow!

            “I… Uh…” Nicole glanced over at us, and then she answered the producer, “I thought I saw a stray cat in here, but it was just a squirrel!” A jolt of shock coursed throughout my veins! I felt certain that she would bring our hiding spot to everyone’s attention so that they could get the full story of what happened in the ICU, so it flabbergasted me that she would keep our location clandestine like that! She told her producer, “I’m gonna contact my sources real quick before we go live. I’ll be right there!” Violet turned back to me with a look of confusion on her face, and she wordlessly questioned me on what we should do. I couldn’t give her a response since I didn’t even know what was happening! At least, I didn’t until Nicole put her watch up to her chin as if she were speaking on the phone, and she covertly inquired to us, “So, why are you two sneaking around like this?”

            It was hard to tell if she aimed to assist us or if she simply wanted to get an exclusive scoop on the event that unfolded earlier. I wasn’t sure if I could trust her; after hearing her talk a little more, I identified her as the same reporter who accosted Violet and me before the trial, and she didn’t exactly present a chord of friendliness to us then! If we gave her too much information, she could potentially use it to double-cross us! However, if we didn’t indulge her at all, she could call us out and bring the entire media over to corner us! We had to placate her a tiny bit, so I decided to give her the truth, well, some of it. “We’re in danger! We need to get out of here without being seen!”

            Nicole probed, “Danger from who? Birsha’s army?”

            “This is off the record, isn’t it?” Violet posed to her.

            “Of course!” Nicole assured us. “Are you kidding? I don’t want them to have even more of a cause to follow me around!”

            Violet and I got another flash of surprise from her when she revealed that tidbit, and Violet queried, “Birsha’s Army is after you too?”

            With a bitter tone, Nicole stated, “If I said they’re after me, that would imply that I’m ahead of them! Birsha’s Army has a heavy presence at our station, and they control everything we do. I don’t get to choose the stories Jeremy and I cover during our broadcast, and when I’m out in the field, I gotta go with the angles they choose for me! I didn’t spend six years in college to become someone’s puppet, but here we are!”

            “Then why do you do it?” I pried. “Why don’t you go somewhere that she doesn’t control? She can’t have taken over every news outlet!” I paused and then added, “Can she?”

            “There’s a couple of small magazines that are outside of her dominion, but no one takes them seriously. I dunno, I guess I stay ‘cause I’m waiting for the one chance I’ll get someday of showing the world the actual facts of what’s going on. Plus, if I left, I could only imagine what would happen to the BBN without a good person’s input! I’ve convinced them to scrap some of their most ludicrous propaganda, so I suppose my presence has had a small impact!” Nicole sighed.

            Violet petitioned her, “How did you find out about Birsha? Did they actually say her name to you?”

            Nicole explained, “Oh, no! Most of the staff thinks they’re just really controlling executives, but my instincts led me to the conclusion that their stronghold over us stemmed from something bigger than a need for power over a television station! It seemed odd that they dictated what messages got broadcasted, so I did what any good journalist would do- I investigated them! One day, I followed a couple of them out the door, and I heard them mentioning it. I wish I could tell the world what I know, but how? Birsha’s influence reaches the entire planet, so it’s not like I could go anywhere with this knowledge! I could slip it into our show, but nobody would buy it! Birsha has everyone convinced that she’s innocent, so everybody would wind up thinking I’ve gone crazy! And then her Army would have me killed, and the truth would die with me! Then if I ever did share this with the world, would anyone do anything with it? Most of society is happy with the way their lives are, or they’re under the delusion that they’re satisfied, so if I did leak this secret, would any person actually care?”

            “We care!” I asserted. “I’ve never enjoyed the way everything got ran! They don’t keep us safe from natural disasters, and they’re definitely not treating everyday citizens with dignity in the name of the law! The earth is suffering, and it’s a wrong that shouldn’t last any longer!”

            “I know,” Nicole acknowledged the honesty of my statement. “When I saw you going into the courthouse, you had this look of righteousness about you, and so I wondered if there was more to the Violet Harlow saga then merely a spoiled brat running away from punishment. Then when you attributed the Cassiel murder to her, I figured that her Army would hunt you down! I never bought their claim of an unlawful killing and attempted murder on those guys in that arbitration room! You got a mistrial, you were essentially free from prison, so why would you put yourself in more legal jeopardy? But you never gave me a real reply to my original question- what are you guys doing here?”

            She seemed sincere, and I truly pitied her for her desire to act with veracity in her field getting squashed like that! I did not hold the belief that she would betray us anymore, but we had another problem… If we went into detail about our mission to find the Arch Deity, we would evoke the possibility of the cameras or even the police catching us, so we really didn’t have any spare minutes to give her the details that she craved. It felt like a shame to dismiss a potential ally in this battle for the soul of humanity, but as far as we could see, Violet and I were the only ones taking action to thwart Birsha’s evil regime, so it was imperative that we keep moving! Quite regretfully, I relayed to her, “We can’t discuss this right now! We gotta get out of here immediately!”

            I prayed that her immersion into Birsha’s reach would compel her to understand the urgency of our need to escape, but to my disappointment, she protested, “Oh, please don’t go! We’ve barely scratched the surface of this issue! Are you just running from her, or do you have plans to stop her? If it’s the latter, how do you intend to do it? What’s going on? Please! I’ve never been this close to knowing the full scope of it all! People need to know what’s occurring! I’m not sure what I would do with this info yet, but if I had it documented, then history would-.”

            “Hey, Nicole! Get over here! We’re ready to go live!” The producer motioned for her to join him.

            “Oh! Please, stay here so we can keep talking after this segment!” Nicole pleaded with us. She hurried over to where her colleagues were stationed with quite the distressed expression, and Violet gazed back at me for cues on whether or not we should continue with our getaway. I was slightly torn; Nicole did have a point on the significance of putting the background of our operation onto some kind of recording, and I did feel guilty for not being able to aid her when she pined for it so badly, but on the same token, we obviously couldn’t give her anything if we didn’t live long enough to narrate our chronicles! With that in mind, I gave Violet a nod, and we resumed our trek out of this vicinity.

            We ran through the rear parking lot with our heads looking over our shoulders and our fingers crossed that nobody would emerge from this side of the hospital or the vehicles in this section so that we could finally vacate the premises! Fortunately, no one did! We found a group of trees next to the freeway behind the property, and while the cars that utilized this road hovered high enough where their drivers were highly unlikely to notice any of our specific features, it was still nerve-wracking for us to traverse a channel so close to a densely populated quarter! We did our utmost to remain unseen by concealing ourselves with the plants we encountered, but I remained worried that someone would spot us, view our behavior as suspicious, and turn us in! In addition to fretting over the passersby, I got filled with anxiety that Nicole would figure out the path we took and drag us back to Saint Cyprian’s! To our relief, we reached the outer territory of Sylph’s Hollow, and once we entered into that terrain, our tension finally started to ease a little!

            After travelling into the thick of the forest, we slowed down our gait to some degree. I pondered what the ideal site to rest and recoup would be for us, and my puzzlement got resolved when Violet exclaimed, “Oh good! There’s some chamomiles down there!”

            We went down a small incline where a narrow brook steadily babbled, and she settled herself down amongst a patch of daisy-like flowers. The scene was picturesque, but my curiosity peaked as to why she had chosen this plot to situate ourselves at, so I asked her, “Is Birsha allergic to these things or something?”

            “I wish!” she answered with a giggle. “No, these things will help us with our pain.”

            “What pain?” Right after those words had left my mouth, my sedentary stance invited the aches I incurred during our confrontation with the Fallens began to set in. I groaned slightly, and Violet gave me an I-Told-You-So look, so I rectified my previous sentence, “Oh, I see!” She smirked as she commenced in gathering this peculiar supply for us, and it heartened me to see her grin after all we went through that day! She had such an enchanting smile, and I thought it was a shame that she had frowned so much during her days as a celebrity icon! Her happy image might have sold so much more merchandise than her constant scowl, it was very alluring! She glanced up at me, and I realized that not only had I been staring at her, but I had been enjoying her beauty more thoroughly than I should have! I didn’t comprehend why I had let myself get hypnotized in that manner, but it embarrassed me to have created an awkward moment between the two of us! The last thing I needed was for her to grow uncomfortable from my lack of grace and leave! She was a valuable partner in this quest, and I would have never forgiven myself if I drove her away! It was horrifying to picture the world getting doomed over an entirely avoidable complication, so I cleared my throat and switched my focus to a more viable matter, “So, what? We rub these plants on us and get rid of our sore muscles?”

            She corrected my conjecture, “No, we have to consume them. And since we don’t have the time or the means to steep them and turn them into tea, we’re gonna have to eat them!”

            I laughed due to my impression that she had made a joke, but when she maintained a serious face, I grew somewhat frazzled. “You want us to swallow these things?”

            “They’re not poisonous,” she argued.

            “Yeah, but they’re not clean!” I countered, and when I eyeballed the water next to us, I instantly knew I lost that debate! “Alright, fine! You win!”

            As she handed me some chamomiles, she chuckled, “No, we both did! You’ll feel loads better after these kick in, and you’ll be in strong enough shape to fight off the next set of evil Deities we come across!”

            I wanted to dive more into this material, but after I had washed my bouquet, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else but eating this greenery! I took nasty medicine earlier in my life, but it was a much more achievable feat since that remedy came in an easy to choke down pill! I didn’t relish the concept of chewing this stuff, but since I didn’t have any other options in this juncture, I forced myself to man up and do it! I bit off a piece and… It didn’t taste as acrid as I feared they would! I meant to convey to her my shifted views on her suggestion, but when I beheld her gnawing on some too, an eighties’ tune popped into my head and I chortled. When she reacted in befuddlement, I clarified my action, “Sorry, it just reminded me of this song by PowerFlite called ‘Millionaire Dreaming.’ They were comparing their old lives with what they-.”

            “I don’t wanna eat no grass!/ Gimme some steak and a champagne glass!” she sang out loud, which totally floored me! Nobody else my age knew the lyrics to the classic hits I listened to! “I used to watch old music videos for inspiration for my designs.”

            “You did?” I was so stunned to hear this that I needed further confirmation of it!

            She expounded on that, “Yeah. They used such interesting shapes and colors in their fashion! Plus, it was fun to listen to some upbeat melodies while I worked!” My heart pounded wildly to learn that she had the same passion for this genre as me! It was an incredibly rare find! She then jested to me, “Evidently, you never shopped in my boutiques or else you would have known that already!”

            I shrugged. “I couldn’t afford it! Unless one of your pieces happened to end up in a thrift store!” I tittered at my rejoinder, and she found it comical too. As we partook in the same laughter, my spirits elated! I was dumbfounded that this woman wasn’t merely gorgeous, but she had a pure soul that did so much to benefit so many people in need and a fun, adventurous personality too! She was the perfect person, and all of a sudden, I realized that I was beginning to feel more than respect or friendship for her! I inwardly cringed at the notion of harboring romantic sentiments for someone I counted on to help me save the planet, it was a potential hazard to the cause! I knocked on wood that my fancy would pass so that my inconvenient emotions wouldn’t complicate our relationship and ruin everything for the future of humankind! I uncomfortably fidgeted with the flora in my hand, and I took a shot at getting my wits back in order by enquiring to her, “Okay… So, where else can we go to find the Arch Deity?”

True Deception, Chapter 10

“Hey!” Kory roared out as he suddenly struck something behind him, and to my horror, Doctor Canenta hit the ground hard enough to render him unconscious! As badly as I wanted to come to his aid, I had to strike back at Kory while his attention was still elsewhere! I used my elbow to hit him in the stomach, and thankfully, he inadvertently loosened his grasp! I slipped out, and once I faced him, he attempted to shoot another hex at me, so I pushed his arm so that his trajectory hit the floor! Before he could summon another spell, I punched him in the forehead and sent him flying to the ground! I dove to his side to pin down his arms and prevent him from using his magic, and he struggled against my grip! He rolled me onto my back, but he couldn’t loosen himself from my restraint! When I tried to think of my next move, I spotted a trail of blood by my head! I glanced to my right and realized that it unfortunately came from Doctor Canenta! I also noticed that he had dropped a syringe with some kind of serum in it, but I didn’t have much time to process it because Kory managed to free himself! I couldn’t reach his arms anymore, so he brewed up another jinx and taunted me, “Say goodbye, dissident!”

            “Goodbye!” I grabbed the syringe and drove it into his thigh! I assumed that Doctor Canenta had tried to inject him with something to knock him out, and as I pushed down on the plunger, I crossed my fingers that my hunch would prove correct! Mercifully, whatever concoction that was in there worked incredibly fast! He slowly grew more and more drowsy, and with one last glare at me, he fell unconscious!

            The crowd cheered at our victory, which felt strange to me since most of society was not on our side right then, and I attributed that to my efforts to persuade them to our position in the beginning of the confrontation. I suspected that it would work, but I had no inkling that it would be this effective! However, I hardly felt like patting myself on the back in that instance, my thoughts went straight to Doctor Canenta’s well-being! I turned to him, and a couple of nurses were already working on him! One of them reported to me, “He’s still alive, but we need to get him to the ER stat!”

            As they began to set up their hovering gurney, I inquired, “What about the…?”

            “We’re on it!” another nurse who was in the process of putting constraints on the knocked out blonde woman replied.

            “You guys did it!” The woman we had served food to earlier ran up to me as Violet put herself next to me. Violet had an expression of confusion and discomfort as the bystanders all teemed in to offer their accolades to us. “You saved us all!”

            How did she know that? I was grateful that they didn’t view us as the enemy as those nursing assistants attacked Violet and me, they could have easily interpreted the situation as the hospital staff defending their patients, but it surprised me that the people who made up the rest of Saint Cyprian’s gleaned that they were in danger too! I thought perhaps the admittance of them interfering with Doctor Canenta’s work coupled by the powerful force they used to fight us compelled them into apprehension, and they must have been fearful enough of these adversaries to overlook our criminal identity since nobody seemed tempted to turn us in! It was such a different reaction than the scene we encountered in downtown Anwynston, and it felt wonderful to receive this sort of jubilant admiration, but I didn’t let these festivities lull us into a false sense of security! Birsha wouldn’t allow the world to adopt a favorable perception of us, and it was only a matter of time before she sought vengeance for the damage we did to a group of thugs that I could only presume had some kind of allegiance to her, so I whispered to Violet, “We need to get out of here!”

            Violet gazed at the adoring onlookers doubtfully, and I couldn’t blame her for feeling hesitant about our exit! They all appeared to have grown attached to our presence, so it was going to be difficult to convince them to permit us to vacate the premises! Violet caught sight of the old man who helped us, and she pulled him in and told everyone, “Don’t forget to thank him! We couldn’t have done it without him!”

            The elderly man bashfully addressed everyone, “Aw, I was just doing my duty! I served as a Marine during Desert Storm, and I never stopped protecting my countrymen ever since!”

            As they all congratulated him for everything that he did, Violet and I were able to duck out from the masses’ reach, but we weren’t able to get very far! Somebody espied us pretty quickly and exclaimed, “Wait! Where are you going?”

            “Uh…” I mulled it over rapidly, and the first excuse I could dig up was, “We may have gotten hurt during all this, so we’re gonna go get examined in the ER.” The congregation seemed disappointed to lose us so soon, but they accepted our reasoning. Just when we were thinking that we would be able to bolt out with no fuss…

            “I’ll go with you,” a nurse volunteered.

            Violet and I strove to hide our grimaces at this development. Neither of us wanted to wound anyone’s feelings, but it was imperative that we got away from there as speedily as possible, so we couldn’t accept this offer. I could only imagine that the police would arrive shortly, and I was certain that they wouldn’t be as forgiving as the witnesses to this ordeal were! Plus, we had to figure out a new place to investigate as rapidly as possibly! The Arch Deity wasn’t here, but we had to discover where they were hidden in a flash or else the Fallen would have more opportunity to invoke their destruction on the planet! The longer we took, the more damage they could do, so we had to move with haste! I politely declined his proposal, “That’s okay, we can handle it ourselves.”

            The nurse insisted, “Absolutely not! If you are injured, you might collapse on the way there, and we can’t have that, can we?” Violet and I exchanged looks; we each recognized that we wouldn’t get a choice on this matter, so we relented. As this nurse escorted us to the elevator, the spectators cheered for us again. We cordially waved to them, but as soon as the doors shut, we ceased participating in that merriment and pondered over our next move.

            We stood in that space in silence for a long minute. I dearly wished that Violet and I could discuss the issue together, but we couldn’t even gesture to each other without this nurse detecting our communication! He seemed nice enough, definitely didn’t give us any negative vibes like those cronies did, but at this stage of our operation, we could not trust anybody! I studied Violet from head to toe, and she didn’t seem like she had any injuries that would require any extensive treatment, so I reasoned that we would most likely not get stuck there for too long. The hard part was going to be escaping before any authority figures arrived! I inwardly prayed that the Emergency Room entrance would be clear when we got released! I sincerely hoped that Violet wouldn’t have to use her dwindling life force to get us out of there! It drove me crazy to have no picture of what was coming, but at this point, all we could do was wait and see what we were met with in order to create our desperately needed plan!

            “Here we are!” the nurse suddenly announced. The abrupt break of silence made Violet and I both jump, and we tried not to look too nervous as we were led to the Emergency Room triage area. All of the staff appeared equally as chaotic as the cafeteria kitchen workers were, so I guessed that they also had a shortage of employees, an extreme number of cases, or both! The nurse brought us to a curtained off section that seemed like it was once part of the lobby, but it now got used as a screening room. It had a few examination tables with drapes that left each patient with physical privacy but not any auditory seclusion, and it had some basic first aid tools as well as a couple of wheelchairs ready for transporting patients who needed more intensive care, all of which I beseeched the universe wouldn’t get used on us! I knocked on wood that they would give us an expedient examination so we could rush out in a trice, but I worried that their thoroughness would mandate Violet and I to stay longer! It was one of the few instances that I wanted to get proven wrong on a viewpoint! The nurse asked us, “Do you two mind sharing a space?”

            “No, that’s fine,” Violet answered very agreeably. I got the impression that she acquiesced in the interest of expediency, but she attempted to shield this sentiment from the nurse so we could maintain our cover of actively seeking medical services. Either he didn’t catch on to her underlying emotions or he didn’t care because he made no mention of it, but in a way, I thought it would have been advantageous if he detected a drift of that so we could cease this waste of precious minutes!

            The nurse closed off our quarters, and for a second, I believed we were going to get some much-needed isolation, but apparently, he had merely signaled to a nearby doctor, who came in and greeted us with, “So, what have we got here?”

            The nurse stated, “Possible head trauma and internal bleeding.”

            “Thank you, Raziel.” The doctor approached us as Raziel left, and he started examining me first. As he visually scanned me, he inquired, “Any pain or numbness?”

            “No,” I hastily replied. Honestly, I had no clue what ailments I may have incurred as a result of that altercation because my adrenaline was too pumped up to really delve deep into myself and assess how I truly fared at this moment, but I had a suspicion that I didn’t have anything noteworthy plaguing me, so I felt no guilt in my response to him.

            He put his stethoscope up to my chest, and after a short listen, he noted, “Your heartbeat sure has accelerated! Let’s get your pulse!” I disliked the concept of getting tethered to the building with this device, but I stuck my arm out in a reluctant compliance anyways. While the machine read my vitals, he took a quick peek at Violet. “I don’t see any evidence of any cranial injuries. Can you take off your hair net?”

            Violet’s expression relayed a sense of dread at this directive. “You want me to take if off?” she apprehensively queried.

            “I have to check your entire skull,” the doctor justified his instruction to her.

            “Okay…” Violet unwillingly agreed.

            I inferred that she feared that this order would open up the possibility of the doctor recognizing us; if that were to occur, it would induce more unnecessary delays in our quest! To our dismay, her distress over this possibility may have been justified! The doctor peered at her curiously and probed, “Do I know you from somewhere?”

            My panic made the monitor attached me beep in warning, but before the doctor could react to this outcome, an azure light flashed and a siren blared! “Code blue! I’ll be right back!”

            Violet stood up and observed his movements, and as soon as he vanished from her scope, she commanded to me, “Come on!” I gladly ripped that instrument off of me, and I thanked our lucky stars that we had a clear shot at the exit! I could feel the fresh air hitting my skin, and right as I started to savor our win…

            We froze in front of the automatic doors when we beheld a line of media vans arriving! We concealed ourselves as much as we could, but that wouldn’t last long! “We can’t go out there!” Violet assessed. “If they see us coming out, they’ll wanna ask us about the incident in the ICU!”

            I suggested, “We can say we weren’t there. How would they know we were even involved?” Simultaneously, Violet and I realized that our getup would probably give us away if their sources notified them that a couple of food handlers saved the day, so we swiftly shed our uniforms! After we returned to our plain clothes, I posed to her, “Now what?”

            Violet searched around the vicinity, and then she proposed, “We could go through these bushes to get to the parking lot in the back.” That idea seemed a little outlandish to me, and when she saw my skeptical expression, she vocalized, “We can go back into the hospital and hope we don’t get seen, try our luck with the reporters, or go through the shrubs. Which one do you expect will turn out best for us?”

            She had a point, and while it still sounded like the odds were against us here, none of the other options had a phenomenal degree of certainty, so I acceded, “You’re right! Let’s do it!”

            We ducked down and took one last glance at the journalists who were assembling in front of Saint Cyprians, and when we were assured that nobody’s attention laid in our direction, we scurried into the foliage! The terrain we traversed had a coarse texture, but if it kept us free from prying eyes, then I did not want to complain too much! I kept staring at the camera crews and news people from between the leaves, and it amazed me that not one of them detected our presence in the greenery! The rear parking site was vacant, and as we inched closer and closer to our safe harbor, I grew more and more hopeful of get out of there without any further incidents! We had almost reached our destination when, all of a sudden, a pair of legs blocked our path! Alarm coursed throughout our bodies as a somewhat familiar female’s voice rang out, “What are you guys doing here?”

True Deception, Chapter 9

I could see them purposefully walking in our direction, and with the menacing looks on their faces, I knew their intentions didn’t bode well for us! I considered that it could have been a coincidence, and while I tried to ignore them, I sensed that they aimed to gain our attention. Violet knocked on the door, and I inwardly prayed that e would grant us access before we had no choice but to make contact with them! Thankfully, we heard a strong but muffled male’s voice respond to our gesture, “Come in!” We opened up his office’s entrance and pushed our cart in without hesitation! Fortunately, we managed to avoid Kory and his cronies, and now I just hoped that they didn’t interrupt us during our visit! We were at the footsteps of someone who could potentially help us save the planet, and I hated to think that we could get so close only to get pulled away so unceremoniously! I crossed my fingers that those thugs would lose interest in us and go elsewhere during this crucial juncture!

            We hardly had room for our cart due to how packed this room had gotten! File cabinets lined the floors, and shelves full of papers, binders, and books filled up the walls! A small section in the far end managed to fit a small desk, and aside from a computer, a slender man in a white lab coat hunched over a stack of materials, studying them quite ardently. His slanted eyes appeared even more narrow as he poured over his reading so intensely, and his salt and pepper hair stood on his head rather limply. It was obvious that he hadn’t taken a break in ages, and since he had a slot reserved for food to come to his workplace, I gathered that he seldom took a break! Violet and I stood there for several seconds, and he had yet to acknowledge our presence, so I cautiously addressed him, “Doctor Canenta?”

            “Yes?” Finally, he tore himself away from his literature and gazed up at his guests. When he caught a glimpse of our uniforms, he surmised our purpose for being there. “Oh, it’s lunchtime already?”

            “Technically, it’s past lunch,” Violet politely differed. “The kitchen is a little backed up, so everyone’s meals are late.”

            He peered at the clock on his watch, and he wondered, “How is it already afternoon?” He took off his glasses and rubbed his weary eyes. He then croaked out to us, “I’m sorry! Don’t mind me! You can set the tray wherever there’s room.” Violet and I scanned the area and couldn’t find any space large enough for his repast, so he let out an exasperated groan, “Ugh! You know what, it’s fine!” He slammed his book shut and grumbled, “It’s not like it’ll make a difference anyway!”

            As he pushed aside his research in frustration, Violet queried him, “What won’t make a difference?”

            “Oh, don’t worry about it,” Doctor Canenta attempted to wave us off. “It’s not important.’

            “It’s gotta be pretty important for you to spend all of your time on it!” I indicated to all of the informational bodies that surrounded us.

            Doctor Canenta knew I had a point, but I assumed that he deciphered that we held genuine empathy for him because his attitude shifted from guarding his feelings to relenting to our desire to comprehend what ailed him. “Years ago, I made a goal of creating a vaccine for retrograde amnesia. So many different ailments produce memory loss: dementia, alcoholism, head trauma, et cetera, it would make a huge difference to a large number of people to be able to treat that better! I almost have it, but there’s one piece of the puzzle I’m missing. Every time I get close to the answer, it suddenly vanishes and I have to start all over! I don’t understand why I just can’t move forward with this!”

            He may not have understood the reason that his work kept disappearing, but Violet and I instantly knew what was happening to his data- The Fallens used their powers to make it disappear! This made me feel even more certain that those unpleasant nursing assistants were Deities, why else would they have become so upset about our encounter with this doctor? I couldn’t fathom the reasoning behind their aspiration to prevent millions of individuals who suffered from this problem from getting treatment, but I felt sure that they were responsible for Doctor Canenta’s lack of progress! This also lessened the likelihood that this world-renowned physician was the Arch Deity, and it made me ponder about the odds of actually finding them here. If they were situated in this hospital somewhere, wouldn’t they have intervened by now? I didn’t esteem that the Arch Deity would allow this to continue, and disappointment began to spread throughout me. I spotted a similar expression creep in for Violet, so I knew we were on the same page on this matter. We could no longer stay in this place! I wanted to aid Doctor Canenta in his valiant quest, but with this location turning out to be a dead end for our mission, we needed to move on to our next destination quickly! It was imperative for us to escape without detection from our adversaries, but I was clueless on a method of exiting gracefully at this point! Plus, it didn’t feel right leaving a hard-working healer in conditions like this…

            Doctor Canenta went on, “I keep thinking that if I spend a little longer investigating this topic, I’ll come across the information I need to complete the vaccine! But maybe I’m wasting my time! Maybe I’m just not meant to make this discovery!”

            “Don’t give up yet!” I encouraged him. “No one should give up on a dream that benefits the world like that! If you never stop trying, you’ll…” I trailed off when I remembered that his lack of success had nothing to do with him not having any determination. His persistence wouldn’t be of consequence so long as the Fallen haunted this building, and I bit lip from picturing him obsessively striving for a cure for an eternity and never achieving success through no fault of his own. If the Fallen remained in this vicinity, he would likely never see victory! I felt guilty for pressuring him to remain in this kind of situation, and that sentiment only got heightened by the fact that we couldn’t oust these malevolent beings to rescue him from this calamity! What they were doing was wrong, but our focus had to stay on the Arch Deity. It’s not like all of the Fallen shared a connection… right?

            “Maybe a change of setting would do the trick…” Violet suggested to him. “Sometimes if I can’t come up with new plans, I stop constantly doing the same routine and go somewhere else to mull it over. Refreshing the mind like that makes it easier to drum up new ideas!”

            Doctor Canenta contemplated this proposal, and I was blown away by her cleverness! Her advice would definitely have been of service to him even if he didn’t have Fallens secretly plaguing him, but if she convinced him to clear out of Saint Cyprian’s, he wouldn’t be at their mercy anymore and could discover that remedy with very little obstacles! I knew this brilliance would prevail, and soon I realized that I may not have been the only one to hold that view…

            A pounding at the door made Violet and me jump! We didn’t think anyone with timing like that had any good intentions, but apparently Doctor Canenta didn’t view it as very ominous since he invited the perpetrator inside, “Come in!”

            I suspected that Kory may have shown up eventually, but it was a totally different experience to actually have him in front of us! He and his goons gazed at us with grim faces, and I had a compelling urge to abruptly run out of this property! That wasn’t possible with our only way out getting blocked by these forbidding figures though! I supposed that Violet’s magic had the potential to get us out of there fast and safely, but I refused to tap into her life force unless it was absolutely necessary. Besides, if Kory and his gang had powers of their own, I couldn’t guarantee that we would have been able to slip out unscathed. Additionally, we had innocent bystanders all around us, so we needed to use caution to avoid putting them into harm’s way! I reassured myself with the notion that we didn’t have any solid proof that these guys were Fallens, and they had already used this intimidating tactic to fool us once, so I reasoned that perhaps they didn’t have a perilous purpose for this meeting. My gut wasn’t persuaded by that, but I had no other option but to go for a friendly resolution to whatever debacle they brought to us! I casually regarded them, “Sorry! I know we’re a little behind on our route! We got caught up in-.”

            “We need to talk,” Kory seethed. He and his lackeys created a path for us in the hallway, but neither Violet nor I were eager to heed this request. We glanced back to Doctor Canenta, who gave us a befuddled shrug. When Violet and I looked to each other for non-verbal wisdom, we came up blank, so we unwillingly accepted that this confrontation was inevitable!

            “I’m sorry if we caused your patients any discomfort by our slow service!” I apologized again as we wheeled our cart out of Doctor Canenta’s office. “We’ll be more careful from now on!”

            Violet and I attempted to resume our cafeteria duties, but Kory’s team had us cornered! Kory blocked our vehicle from moving ahead, and he sharply relayed to us, “You’re not going anywhere!” His comrades closed in on us, and suddenly, I regretted not bolting out when we had the opportunity! “HR has some uniform pieces missing from their inventory! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this happened the same day we got two new employees to the kitchen that no one has ever heard of!”

            A lump rose up in my throat! We were caught! I couldn’t help but succumb to my panic as I felt more and more trapped in that moment! How on earth were we going to elude this danger? Luckily, Violet was pretty coolheaded in the midst of this brewing storm, and she shot back with, “HR said that to you? I didn’t know HR would contact a few nursing assistants about the hospital’s logistical concerns!”

            “Don’t get smart with me, Miss Harlow! That’s right! I know who you are!” He pulled her closer to him and lowered the tone of his voice as he demanded, “Why are you here?”

            “Hey! Get your hands off of her!” I shouted with full bravado. I had confidence that she could have defended herself from this slight regardless if I spoke up on her behalf or not, but I became aware of the growing number of witnesses watching this event unfold, and I theorized that we may fare better in this altercation by convincing them to side with us. “We don’t want any trouble! We’ll leave and be out of your hair, it’ll give everyone what they want! Come on, Violet!”

            We tried to head to the exit, but Kory and his lot didn’t budge! The blonde woman who stood before us spat, “You don’t get to go ‘til we say you can! What are you doing in our hospital?”

            Violet retorted, “Your hospital? Who put you clowns in charge?”

            “We did!” The good-looking narcissist held his palm up and conjured a small spark to briefly demonstrate their abilities. We weren’t shocked by this admission, but it was disheartening to confirm what we conjectured about them! “This is our hospital! We decide who stays and goes!”

            “Alright, we get it! You don’t want us here! So, why don’t you let us leave? Do you keep people around just to torture them? Is that why you’ve been interfering with Doctor Canenta’s research?” I abandoned all pretense in hopes of throwing them off enough to permit us to vacate this locale.

            The crowd who had gathered gasped at my accusation, but it didn’t appear to have ruffled our rivals! They completely blocked out everyone else as they commenced carried forth with this showdown, and the tall and stocky man dismissed my assertion, “That’s our business, not yours! You’re gonna tell us why you’re meddling with our operation or else…!”

            Violet challenged him, “Or else what?”

            I don’t think either of us expected them to hex us in front of so many onlookers, but apparently whatever dark motive they had for remaining in Saint Cyprian’s was worth revealing their true nature since Kory raised his fingers up and sent us flying into the wall on the other side of the hall! As the dust dissipated, we could see the threatening hellions marching towards us! Violet handed me a silver tray, and prior to me having the chance to enquire about this move, she grabbed one of her own and used it as a shield. The jinx that the good-looking narcissist sent to her bounced off of it and reverberated back to him, which immediately knocked him to the ground! We hid behind these blockades while Kory and the tall and stocky man threw more magic at us. I deduced that we couldn’t rely on this strategy for too long, and I wracked my brain trying to figure out how we could best them without sacrificing anything from Violet’s life span!

            All of a sudden, it occurred to me that the blonde woman was nowhere to be seen, and right as I made that recognition, she resurfaced from underneath the rubble from our collision and apprehended me! Violet almost performed a spell to rescue me, but as our foes neared us, the old man we chatted with earlier emerged from his room and used his tray to hit the tall and stocky guy’s skull, which instantly forced him to the floor! Kory would have launched a counterattack, but he got distracted by Violet punching the blonde woman on the nose! I was free from her grip, but Kory seized me before I could defend myself! “Goodbye, dissident!” he stated coldly as he raised his arm up and summoned some potent magic…

True Deception, Chapter 8

My entire set of limbs filled with dread as I turned around, and their cold expressions did nothing to dissuade my fear from heightening! The short but buff man in the middle stared at me with a very pronounced frown, and I waited for him to deliver the worst… “Can you grab this patient’s tray on your way to the kitchen?” he requested.

            “Oh!” I reacted in complete relief. “Of course!”

            “Kory, you’re awful!” a gaunt, pale-haired woman in the mix guffawed as everyone snickered at his antics. I quickly went into the room he referenced to retrieve the tray, and the woman advised Violet, “Don’t mind him! He always messes with the new people here!”

            Violet gave her a nervous smile, but otherwise, she clammed up. I assumed that she worried about opening her mouth and getting recognized, so as I carried the tray out of the room, I asked, “How did you know we were new here?”

            A tall, stocky man answered sardonically, “Gee, I don’t know! I think it was just the… everything about you!” His cronies all chortled at his quip.

            The guy who may have been considered good-looking if he didn’t bear such a mean expression recommended, “Loosen up! Your job will only get harder if you don’t learn to take things less seriously!”

            I inwardly criticized that concept. First of all, if someone had day one jitters, telling them to just get over it wouldn’t work at all! Secondly, there was a difference between loosening up and putting up with slightly abusive behavior! Thirdly, and most importantly, Violet and I had to take our job seriously! We threw ourselves into this gig to find the person with the power to save the world, so it was quite a sobering occupation for us! I obviously didn’t bring any of this up to them, and under any other circumstances, I would’ve stood up to these thugs, but we didn’t have a minute to spare on this mission! Plus, the first man who spoke to us started eying us suspiciously, so I rapidly came up with an excuse to end this conversation, “Well, we don’t wanna be late, so we gotta go! See you all later!”

            We didn’t wait for them to finish bidding us a good day as we turned back around and returned to heading to our destination. As we got out of earshot of that menacing group, I whispered to Violet, “Were they Fallens?”

            She softly responded to me, “We’ll need to keep an eye on them for sure!” It sounded as though she agreed with my assertion but didn’t want to say anything conclusive in case they were simply a bunch of jerks, and as we neared the cafeteria, I beseeched the universe to prevent us from running into them again during our shift!

            When we entered into the kitchen area, I saw several workers at many different stations hastily preparing food, and I realized that, for a minute, I almost forgot what we came in here to do! I supposed that it may not have been an entirely bad development since I didn’t have the opportunity to overthink my task and make myself nervous, but now that we were in there, I fretted about our odds of success again! It didn’t appear as though there was an assignment we could do, every section seemed to have been occupied! Right as I considered going back and cooking up some other method of skulking around the hospital, a rather obtuse guy in a chef’s apron approached us and inquired, “Did Angela actually hire us some help?”

            “How else would we have gotten here?” Violet chirped. I tried not to crack up as I denoted her practice of implying a response without actually lying. I guessed that the red haired lady we saw in HR may have been Angela, and she definitely had no clue that we were there at that moment…

            “Yes! Thank the heavens! We are so short staffed!” the man rejoiced. “We need this food to go out ASAP!” He indicated to a large, metal rack with wheels and several slots in it. “The room numbers that they go to are on the shelves. Don’t’ chat with the patients unless you have to ‘cause we got more meals that gotta come out! Any questions?” If Violet or I had any queries about our directions, we wouldn’t have had a chance to get them our because he instantly swiveled around and went back to the project he had done prior to our arrival. “Thanks guys!” He preoccupied himself again, so Violet and I gave each other a shrug and headed out of the door.

            Violet and I prioritized the tallest floor before anything else to put as much distance between ourselves and those nasty nursing assistants, and while we wanted to heed that cook’s wishes for us to process with hastiness, we also needed a little bit of time to study the people we encountered. Any one of them could have turned out to be the Arch Deity, and the only way we were going to decipher whether someone held that title or not was to spend a considerable stretch with each individual! I felt guilty about putting the kitchen behind schedule, but once we accomplished our goal, these employees would become better off in the long run, so I reasoned that they would forgive us later, prompting me to accept that our boss for the day may end up chewing us out but that it would prove to be worth it in the end!

            Our first customer was a frail and very old man who sat up in his bed forlornly watching the holographic television set across from him. When I spotted the retro flick he had on, I exclaimed, “I love this movie!”

            “You do?” The elderly gentleman glanced up in surprise. “I didn’t think youngsters like you had any interest in these ancient movies!”

            “Are you kidding? I’m obsessed with eighties’ stuff!” I joyfully relayed to him. “The storytelling was amazing! Especially for this Galactic Battles series! It’s got such an intense plotline!”

            The old man grinned as he reminisced, “You should have seen it in theatres! It was so exciting!”

            With a bit of incredulity, I posed to him, “Wait, you were young in that decade? Oh, you’re so lucky! I would give anything to have had that experience!”

            “Yeah, it was an awesome era to be young in!” The elderly gentleman beamed as he recalled the fond memories of the past.

            “Jack, before you get a detailed account of this man’s childhood, let him eat! We don’t want his food to get cold!” Violet kindly directed me as she set a tray on his bedside table. My spirits deflated a little due to my thorough enjoyment of this chat, but when I espied the look in her eyes, I got the hint that she didn’t believe that he was who we were searching for, which was pretty disappointing! I would have really enjoyed it if I had the chance to talk with him further!

            The man gazed at his tray in awe as he commented, “Wow! They’re serving us on silver platters?”

            Violet explained, “Recycled metal turned out to be more cost effective than plastic.”

            “Well, isn’t that something!” the old man remarked. “Technology may have gotten better since I was young, but I’ll always miss living in the twentieth century!” I chuckled slightly as we began wheeling our cart out of the room. It was unfortunate that this guy wasn’t the Arch Deity, and I didn’t relish leaving him when he clearly needed some support, but I noticed that his mood definitely got elevated after our brief visit, so I ultimately left with a feeling of fulfillment.

            “Finally! I’m starving!” a woman around our age cried out jubilantly as she sat up in her bed and eagerly waited for the arrival of her repast. When Violet set down the tray, the woman articulated, “Wow, it’s real food? I was expecting some New Food!”

            Violet genially addressed her, “That certainly would be easier for us to carry!” They both laughed, and then Violet elaborated, “I’m guessing that they have to prepare fresh stuff for purity reasons.”

            As the woman dug into her soup first, she queried, “Didn’t they explain all that to you in your training?”

            “Actually, they’re so short staffed that they kinda just threw us out here!” Violet conversed. “Our training was basically just two sentences!”

            “Really?” The woman raised an eyebrow at that.

            As the two of them interacted, I considered repeating the same line that Violet had used on me about the patient’s food getting cold, but the woman had already started to eat a little. I considered coming up with a new way to point out to Violet that we needed to keep moving, but then I assessed that perhaps her prolonged stay here signified that she had a suspicion that this woman could have been beneficial to us in some way, so I zipped my lips and let myself get distracted by the television show that she had on. I never really cared much for soap operas, but with all of the chaos that we dealt with recently, a little melodrama didn’t seem like such a terrible ordeal to endure! I was prepared to make my peace with this selection until it went to commercial…

            The woman in the hospital bed merrily noted, “Oh, it’s Nancy Nox! Don’t you just love her?”

            Violet’s face soured as she eyeballed “Nancy Nox” promoting some sort of anti-aging serum, and I fully expected her to spout out something sarcastic, but instead, she truthfully stated, “If I didn’t like her, I definitely wouldn’t say it out loud! The public adores her!” This woman giggled as if Violet had delivered a comedic punchline, and as she continued to watch the advertisement in delight, Violet and I walked away.

            While we were pushing our cart out of her room, I unintentionally caught a glimpse of the television set again, and under my breath, I muttered, “If she wants to look younger, she can save some money and take her off her stupid mask!”

            Violet smirked in amusement, and she quietly asked, “Did I break the spell she had over you?”

            “No. I never really liked her,” I answered her. Violet peered at me in disbelief, so I insisted, “I mean it! She acts all sweet and harmless, but I always found her behavior so phony! She has wrinkles around her eyes that had to have gotten there from constantly glaring at people, and it reminds me of this neighbor we had from a place I lived at when I was a kid. She was constantly spying on what me and my friends were doing, and when we started ignoring her lectures, she called the cops on us for every dumb complaint she had! Once, she actually sent the police to our house ‘cause my friends and I were playing basketball in my family’s driveway! She claimed that we could throw the ball into her yard and disturb her precious rose bushes, and I’m guessing she believed that the officer who showed up would be on her side, but they ended up filing a nuisance report on her! If she knew that my dad used to be a cop, she probably wouldn’t have bothered!” Violet tittered heartily at that, and it was hard to not get mesmerized by her laughter! I pulled myself out of the reverie pretty fast and went back to the original topic, “So, yeah, I never really trusted Nancy Nox! But I had no idea she was a-.”

            “No!” Violet blurted out in revulsion. Initially, I took that gesture as a cue for me to omit the assertion of her true nature as a Fallen, but when I saw that she was staring at the television set in shock, I figured out that my word choice hadn’t upset her. She appeared seriously troubled by what she beheld, so naturally, I had to see what had caused this distress for her. The screen featured a deeply stern female with dark makeup painted on so straight that the lines looked razor sharp! She had the extremely faint skin of a person who never basked in any sunlight, and her pronounced jawline conveyed an air of unceasing authority. She had beady eyes too, which reminded me of…

            I questioned, “Is that-?”

            She confirmed, “Yes!” As we darted away from that area, Violet griped, “Unbelievable! She used her own image in one of her ads!” She halted in front of the next room, and her stirred-up emotions addled her for a second as she tried to locate this patient’s meal. “Where is it?” She spotted a note in the corresponding slot and huffed, “Oh, they’re going in for surgery and can’t eat anything! Great! That’s just great!”

            “Hey!” I gently grabbed her by the shoulder and reminded her, “She can’t hurt you right now!”

            “I know that!” she snapped. After she spoke, she recognized how forceful she had come across, so she apologized, “Sorry! It made me remember…” She trailed off as a cautionary measure in the event that we were overheard, and when she caught my concerned expression, she assured me, “I’ll be fine! I gotta get used to the idea of facing her again! I just didn’t expect to confront her in her actual form this soon!” She mulled it over for an instance and then pondered, “Why would she take a risk like that?”

            I shrugged. “Maybe she’s trying to intimidate us. She knows we’re on the run, and so she probably thought she should find subtle ways to-.” I cut myself off when I caught sight of the aides we ran into earlier entering into a room down the hall, and I instantly regretted the time we spent discussing this subject! “We gotta go!” I declared.

            She concurred, and we speedily moved to the next door. It threw us off when we could see that we hadn’t come to an ordinary ICU room- it was a smaller space with a plaque on the door that donned the label “Doctor Raphael Canenta!” It bewildered me to stand before the office of a soul who had accomplished so much, and with the vast amount of good he did for humanity, I began to contemplate the possibility of him turning out to be the Arch Deity! I felt certain that it was at least viable for him to be a Guardian, but I didn’t think that it was advisable to observe him right then. We had already delayed our duty to the cafeteria long enough, we couldn’t risk giving that possibly Fallen crew a motive to accost us! I told myself that we could return to this spot later, and right as we were about to carry on with our project, they came back into the hallway and started to head in our direction! We tried to ignore them as we pursued our route, but then suddenly, I saw something that made me freeze in my tracks! Violet turned to me in bafflement, but when I showed her what got my attention like that, she totally understood my actions…

True Deception, Chapter 7

“We’re at Saint Cyprian’s!” Violet announced. ‘Do you know what that means?”

            With a faint hint of hope in my voice, I guessed, “You can get back some of the life force that you lost?”

            Violet gently disputed that notion by explaining, “Doctors can’t bring it back. The only way Guardians can get their powers strengthened is if one of our peers gives up some or all of theirs. Well… there is one other way- the Arch Deity can enhance someone’s life force without harming their own. Theirs regenerates itself… unless they give up all of it when it’s time to name a new Arch Deity.”

            “Wow, so we have even more cause to find this Arch Deity!” I exclaimed, which made her blush slightly. She saved my life, so I had to return the favor! I put more determination than ever in my desire to accomplish this feat, which prompted me to avidly ask her, “So, you think the Arch Deity could be in this hospital?”

            “Maybe,” she answered. “They do a lot of research on new cures and improvements in medicine here. They’re the ones who discovered that the molecules in pharmaceuticals can get cloned and make manufacturing medication a lot cheaper! But ever since then, they’ve struggled to come up with any new developments. Doctor Canenta works out of this place, and he’s the top immunologist in the country, so if he can’t come up with anything, to me, that only means one thing…”

            I deduced, “The Fallen are intervening here!” It seemed like the perfect spot for the Arch Deity to position themselves… except… “If the Arch Deity chose this spot, wouldn’t they have expelled all of the Fallen already?”

            Violet told me, “Not necessarily. Unless the Arch Deity is the head of HR, they can’t control who gets hired. And they definitely wouldn’t be able to stop anybody from receiving services here! They could try putting up a protective spell, but that doesn’t always work or else Edward would still be alive…” Her face contorted into a guilty expression as that fresh memory’s scar stung her a little.

            “His death isn’t your fault! Birsha killed him, and you did everything you could to prevent that from happening, so don’t blame yourself for losing him- blame her!” She appeared to know all that on one level, but that didn’t seem to lessen her pain. I supposed that his demise would probably always haunt her because she took on the responsibility of protecting everyone who worked for her. I felt duty-bound to keep Violet safe, and if something ever happened to her, I would never forgive myself! After giving the matter some consideration, I decided that the best way to handle this situation was to keep her thoughts away from that awful recollection, so I brought her attention back to the task at hand, “The Arch Deity could be here then! Great! Let’s go find them!”

            “Wait!” Violet stopped me from climbing the ladder leading out of the sewage system. “We can’t just barge into Saint Cyprian’s as if there’s a wing of the hospital set up for people who want to visit them! We don’t even know what they look like!”

            I frowned at this unpleasant realization. She was right; the Arch Deity could have been anyone- any age, any gender, any race, the list goes on! We had no idea who we were actually pursuing! I should have realized that they would be difficult to recognize, after all, it took me forever to find a regular Deity! They blend in so well with the rest of society and purposely make themselves hard to locate. I always wondered why that was until today, and now I couldn’t blame them for not wanting to make their powers known! If the general public learned of their existence, they would bleed their life force dry without a care! I totally understood why they did it, but it became utterly irritating to me right then since it made our job incredibly arduous! “How do we figure out who the Arch Deity is?”

            She let me know, “Well, we would have to study everyone’s behavior. A lot of beings like to help one another, especially in the healthcare community, but a Guardian’s desire to save innocent souls goes beyond the ordinary! As the head Guardian, the Arch Deity would show a lot of leadership in caring for people’s well-being!”

            “There’s gotta be more to it than that!” I politely objected. “I act like that, and I don’t have any powers!”

            “I know! To be honest, I thought you were a Deity at first,” Violet confessed. When she saw my surprised reaction, she clarified, “You have a light in you that I rarely see in anyone who isn’t a Guardian! It’s unusual to meet somebody whose purpose is to help save the world!”

            It was my turn to flush in that scenario! Compliments didn’t come to me often! In fact, my boss never praised me for my good work, the only way I would know that I pleased him was if he didn’t criticize my performance! Oh sure, my parents would toss me some accolades when I got the chance to speak to them, but still, I seldom received acclaim for what I did or for any of my favorable characteristics! It felt especially strange to hear admiration from someone I held in high esteem! I suspected that she might elaborate on that statement, but I couldn’t allow that to occur! Not only for the sake of my humility, but I couldn’t let anything distract me from our important mission! I cleared my throat and inquired, “So, other than an elevated sense of watching out for humanity, how else do we distinguish an Arch Deity from a normal being?”

            She replied, “The same way you found me- we look for signs of magic.”

            “We have to keep an eye out for extraordinary whims of wanting save everyone and signs of spell-work? That sounds like we have to spend a lot of time in the hospital!” I observed. “How can we stay there for so long without getting kicked out? Do we have to give ourselves a serious injury or something?”

            “If we hurt ourselves, we’d make ourselves too weak to fight against the Fallen that infiltrated Saint Cyprian’s,” Violet pointed out, which I had to acknowledge as the truth. “We would also be limiting ourselves to one section of the hospital. We need to explore the entire building to see if the Arch Deity is there.” Before I could speculate as to how that would even be possible, Violet stated, “We need a way to blend in so well that no one would question whether or not we belong there, so we need a disguise! We can’t pretend to be doctors or nurses ‘cause they might test our expertise. We need something so low ranking that most people wouldn’t make eye contact with us let alone speak with us…” We both mulled it over for a while…

            A small but bustling office was plugging in data on their holographic computers when, all of a sudden, a woman with bright red hair and an obnoxiously hued outfit took several big whiffs of the air and proclaimed, “I think something is burning!”

            One of the men declared, “I’ll stop working when you know something is burning!” Seconds later, a flame engulfed part of the wall near the front entrance of that structure! The employees all screamed as the fire alarm blared and the sprinklers went off, and as they all raced out of the backdoor, the red-haired lady gave that confidant man an I-Told-You-So stare, and the man exasperatedly addressed her, “Don’t even say it!”

            After they all scrambled out of there, Violet and I rushed in next to the weakening blaze, and as Violet stood watch in the lobby, I zoomed into the supply room. “This feels wrong!” Violet fretfully commented.

            “It’s not,” I differed with her as I grabbed the materials we would need for this endeavor. “An old client of mine got caught taking some of this stuff home, that was stealing. We’re bringing it back when we’re done, so it’s really more of a loan.” As I exited that area, I remarked, “Any inconvenience we caused for them will be for their own good in the end!”

            “I know,” Violet frowned as we dashed out the door. “It just seems so dishonest! I hope that we don’t have to constantly deceive others for this quest! It may tempt me to the Fallen’s side!”

            We snuck out of the hospital’s human resources office and crouched between the cars as we traversed the parking lot. When we got to a fairly secluded section near some trees, I handed Violet some uniform pieces and opined, “That’ll never happen! We’re being secretive, but it’s for an effort to do the right thing! Birsha and those politicians she controls conceal certain truths to do harm to humanity- that’s true deception! Here’s something I learned from defending my cases: not everyone who breaks the law is a bad guy! If we didn’t fight back, we’d be committing a far worse crime!”

            Violet straightened out her hairnet as I tied an apron for her, and she sounded less anxious as she admitted, “You’re right! I guess I spent so much time being my real self in Sylph’s Hollow that I forgot I spent so many years pretending to be something I’m not already! I did a lot of snooping and spying back then, and I blended in well in the Fallen’s world…” We switched places so she could tie my knot, and then she went on, “I always worried that I’d go too far and never come back! I came awfully close…”

            “But you didn’t cross over!” I reminded her. “You were tested, and you passed! If you did it once, you can do it again! Besides, we might find the Arch Deity today, you’ll never have to do anything like that again!” I checked out my reflection in a car’s window, and the getup altered my visage so drastically that I almost didn’t recognize myself! I laughed, “Wow, they really haven’t updated cafeteria workers’ clothes in the last seventy years! I’m pretty sure I saw an extra in one of Arielle’s music videos that wore something like this!”

            “Do I look like a cafeteria worker, or will people still see me as Violet Harlow?” she posed to me.
            I turned back around, and even through a less than flattering disguise, she had an attractive appeal to her! Personally, I had never seen a person in this field who bore such appealing features, but I couldn’t disclose that to her! I would have been mortified to have screwed up our shot at saving the planet by creating an uncomfortable circumstance like that! Although she had done some modeling gigs in the past, she had morphed into a successful businesswoman, so she more than likely wouldn’t enjoy getting ogled at anymore! But why was I gawking at her like that though? Yes, I always viewed her as pretty, but I had dealt with lovely ladies previously, and I typically got over my awkwardness fairly quickly. I blamed the rising anticipation of this venture in clouding my judgment, and I rapidly shook off my excitement in order to concentrate on the potential peril we might face along the way. I assured Violet, “Nobody will ever suspect a billionaire is serving them food!” She smiled gratefully, which I had to persuade myself to not savor too much. I couldn’t comprehend why I continued to get entranced in such a manner, but I didn’t have a moment to spare for analyzing this occurrence! I queried to Violet, “Ready to go?” She nodded, and we headed inside of Saint Cyprian’s.

            We used the signs that the property had posted to guide us towards the kitchen, but as we passed by the various patients and personnel, we covertly watched their conduct. So far, we didn’t’ witness anything that stood out, and while I logically worked out that we wouldn’t stumble across the Arch Deity at the onset of our operation, I started to wish we could rapidly run into our target because it was obvious that individuals who belonged in our department didn’t customarily take this route! The people we passed gazed up at us in surprise, and I began to grow such doubts about our likelihood of victory that day! All it would have taken was one person to call us out, and it would have been all over! After folks got over their mild shock of our arrival in these quarters, they returned to the business they had in progress, so I strove to convince myself that our masquerade was proving effective. Despite that reasoning, I still inwardly trembled by the precariousness we placed upon ourselves!

            When we rounded the corner, we passed by a group of gruffly composed nursing assistants, and something about them gave me the chills! I didn’t believe that a surly expression would have been enough to have that kind of reverberance in my body, it was something about their aura. A lot of staff members showed indications of being in the midst of a long shift, but this group had all the markings of a full night’s rest as well as a filling meal, so for t hem to have a demeanor that conveyed so much animosity meant only one thing to me- they were Fallens!

            Violet obviously got the same vibes that I did for she avoided eye contact with them and drifted to the other side of the hall. I mimicked her move, but I could sense that their eyes had gotten locked on us! I prayed that we could go by them without having to interact with anyone in this crew, and for a minute, I reckoned that we were going to squeak by without incident! Right as I was starting to regard that incident as benign, a deep voice from behind us bellowed, “Hey, you two! Get over here!”

True Deception, Chapter 6

“Oh look! Nancy Nox is giving a press conference!” a man announced as he gazed at the image projected on the screens of an antique television shop. Most of the passerby’s around him gravitated to that storefront and watched as a petite, old woman sat in a wheelchair as cameras and microphones floated towards her. Her beady, dark eyes flickered between all of the various media members who had gathered before her, and she began fidgeting with her tight, gray updo- a tic that most people probably attributed to nerves, but Violet and I knew better! Her pale skin and soft jawline had most people fooled into believing she wouldn’t harm a fly, and I could only picture the dumbstruck expressions on their faces when we tarnished that polished façade!

            “Good afternoon, dearies!” Nancy Nox croaked out. “It has come to my attention that an accused criminal claimed that I played a part in the murder of a nice, young man…” Some of the crowd who had assembled in front of her audibly scoffed at that concept, and she concurred with their opinion, “I know! I was just as surprised as you were! What can I say? I would never do such a thing!” She shuddered, which Violet and I understood that this stemmed from Deities’ aversion to telling fibs, but she excused that reaction with, “Even the thought of doing something so awful is too much for me to bear!” She winced again, then she queried, “Any questions?”

            One reporter asked her, “Miss Nox, why do you think Violet Harlow would make such an outrageous accusation about you?”

            Nancy Nox answered, “People do some crazy stuff when they’re desperate! Do you guys remember the man who said he killed his wife because his goldfish told him to do it? I’m not implying that Miss Harlow has any issues with her mental health, but I’m sure the courts will want to evaluate her once they find her!”

            “Why you…!” Violet nearly blurted out. I turned my face to her so I could non-verbally communicate with her while keeping my concealment that my hood offered intact, and I shook my head to implore her not to finish that sentence. She reluctantly bit her lip, and thankfully for us, everyone was too engrossed by that sham that Birsha was putting on to notice Violet’s outburst.

            “Do you think the courts should charge Violet Harlow with perjury?” a newsperson inquired to Nancy Nox.

            Nancy Nox simply replied, If the prosecutors think they can prove someone lied under oath, then they probably should do it.”

            A journalist probed, “Has Violet Harlow’s testimony affected any of your endorsement deals?”

            “Oh no! It seems that most of the public isn’t taking that preposterous statement seriously! Well, thank you for listening! I have a lot of appointments to get to today, so please excuse me!” I had never seen a press conference where reporters didn’t throw out as many hard-hitting questions as possible in hopes of grabbing the speaker’s attention and tempt them into engaging with their audience more at the end, but as Nancy Nox wheeled herself off of the stage, the attendees all clapped and cheered! Some even shouted out words of adoration to her! It was so bizarre to me! Why did everybody automatically trust everything that she vocalized?

            “What a sweet woman!” one spectator remarked. I wonder what kind of endorsement deal she’s working on right now!”

            Violet’s scowl deepened, and honestly, I couldn’t take much more of their tripe, so I suggested, “Let’s go!”

            As we headed out of downtown Anwynston, we kept our heads down to keep our identities hidden. I had no clue if authorities plastered our wanted photos to the masses yet, but we planned this excursion under the assumption that they did just that. At first, I was terrified of entering this section of town because the idea of getting captured at the infancy of our plan to take down the Fallen haunted me to no end, but nobody really bothered us yet, so my worry began to ebb. I wanted to praise Violet for having the foresight of grabbing a couple of cloaks from her hideout at Patty’s cottage, but despite her concealment, I could ascertain that what we witnessed a minute ago bothered her significantly. My motivation swayed to a desire to comfort her, but we agreed not to talk to each other until we got out of such a highly populated area. I couldn’t let her hurt for that long though, so I leaned in and whispered, “She was lying, you know that, right?”

            She abruptly halted her footsteps in front of a narrow, fenced in area between two brick walls, and after a second of contemplation, she gestured for me to follow her inside. We squeezed through a small hole in the fence, and on the other side, I saw mostly dirt with a few patches of green. Upon closer inspection, I could tell that the caretakers of this lot had seriously made a considerable effort to fix this place up after the series of disasters that we all went through. In the middle of this spot, we stumbled across a decorative Star of David, which signified that this building was a synagogue. Violet knelt down in front of this symbol and acted as though she were praying, and when I mimicked her action, she told me, “She only lied in the beginning. Her stance on perjury may have sounded like she was saying that she thought I was lying, but technically, she didn’t speak those words. The Fallen are experts in semantics!”

            “So, the Fallen in positions of power can lie without actually lying?” I surmised.

            “Yup! Either that or they pay normal beings to do it for them,” Violet illuminated to me.

            I grimaced at the way those Deities in control played with words to convey false narratives to average citizens, but I didn’t dwell on that notion for too long. We didn’t know where we would discover our safe harbor, but I realized it would most likely take some time to locate. In the meantime, I wanted to cheer Violet up since her concentration was vitally important in this venture… Well, that as well as the fact that I felt as though her angelic nature should make her feel confident about herself! She was an incredibly good soul, and she didn’t deserve the flack she had gotten! This prompted me to reassure her, “Well, Birsha was making you sound like you lost your marbles, but it’s not true! They’re gonna do everything they can to smear both of our reputations, but don’t pay attention to that! We’re gonna keep doing the right thing for the world, and one day, they’ll figure out the truth! Their whole story will change once they learn what we did to save them all! Don’t let those jerks get to you! The Fallen want us to buckle before we get a chance to succeed, but we’re not gonna give them that, are we?”

            She quite composedly responded, “Of course not!” She tried to radiate an air of nonchalance as she conversed with me, but I could distinguish an elevated spirit in her after I gave my speech! It really heartened me to know that I possessed the capacity to heal someone who was imbued with a transcendent ability to mend other people’s afflictions! “I’m not one to dwell on the past for too long!” she changed the subject by advising, “Let’s focus on the future! The Arch Deity could be anywhere in the world, so where do we wanna start our search for them?”

            “Well, we’re already in Anwynston, why don’t we begin here?” I proposed.

            “Okay, but let’s say that we eliminate all of the possibilities in Anwynston, then where do we go next?”

            I hadn’t considered that outcome prior to this moment! I spent years scouting for a Guardian in this city because every region was said to have at least one, and I always assumed that whoever I found would have an innate ability to find the Arch Deity if they couldn’t handle the situation with the Fallen themselves. Now that the task of discovering their whereabouts had been placed on me, it suddenly seemed incredibly daunting! I couldn’t fathom how long it may take to roam the entire planet, but I suspected that it probably would take us years to pull off such a feat! The Fallen would have ample opportunity to do so much damage to society before that day finally occurred! It disturbed me greatly, but I had to shake that thought off! I couldn’t let these potentialities intimidate me from such an urgent calling! I reassured myself with the insight that the Arch Deity may turn up in this town, and with this favorable development in my mind, I recommended, “Let’s just cross that bridge when we come to it! We need to pick an area to kick off our operation! You spent a long time chasing after the Fallen, what are some places they may infiltrated?”

            She mulled it over for a while, and then she came up with, “They’re in almost every government institution we have not to mention anywhere else that has a powerful influence on people! Schools, corporate headquarters, even…”

            She trailed off when a couple of individuals exited the synagogue and headed into the garden. We slowly rose up and walked towards the street entrance with as much casualness as we could muster, and fortunately, the pair didn’t bother us! Not that returning to the community gave me much comfort! We had to go back to crossing our fingers that no authority figures would get the chance to accost us, which didn’t seem likely unless a meddlesome observer managed to catch a glimpse of our visage and turned us in! Reasonably, I didn’t estimate that we would get hassled as we simply traversed the neighborhood, but the longer we aimlessly wandered around, the more we increased our odds of getting caught! I wracked my brain to unearth the most optimum destination for us to go to, and as I blanked out on the matter, I knocked on wood that Violet had something up her sleeves for us!

            We were getting close to leaving the downtown sector, and I grew hopeful that the less densely occupied quarters would allow us to gain more privacy. All we had to do was make it a couple of more blocks… All of a sudden, a homeless man who had been lounging in front of a shoe store sprung up and beseeched us, “Hey! Do you guys have any spare change? I’m trying to get something to eat…”

            “I don’t have any money, but I can take care of your hunger.” Violet took out a pellet from her pocket and handed it to him. “It’s tomato soup! If you can get someone to give you a glass of water, then… What?” She noticed that the homeless man was staring at the pellet in disappointment.

            “It’s just that… Well… I need the cash more than the food…” he admitted.

            Violet made a noise of annoyance and then snatched the pellet back from him. “I can’t help you with that!”

            We resumed our trek out of this locale… for a second! The homeless man appeared to have gotten offended by her taking that meal from him, so he tailed us and whined, “Hey! That was mine! Give it back!” We ignored him, so he attempted to get our attention by tugging on Violet’s hood. Her concealment got pulled off, and he seemed to be able to identify her! “Wait, you told me you didn’t have money, but you’re rich!”

            His outburst caught the interest of the pedestrians who chanced upon this scene, and to our horror, everybody knew who she was! “That’s Violet Harlow!” one person yelled.

            “Someone, call the police!” another one ordered.

            “Run!” I directed to Violet.

            We started to sprint, but a member of the crowd blocked our path! “Oh no! You’re not going anywhere! You’re gonna pay for what you did!”

            Violet and I tried to bypass him, but the throng surrounded us! We had no room to escape! This was a nightmare come true, but it only got worse when a police car showed up above us! An officer in that vehicle commanded, “Freeze! You’re under arrest!”

            My heart wanted to sink in defeat, but I denied myself the opportunity to stoop to that level! We were outnumbered for sure, but I deemed that we could still find a way to slip past some people if we could get some kind of diversion to sway their focus away from us! I softly instructed Violet, “Use your magic to distract them!”

            Violet kept her hands in her pocket, but I could tell she was performing a spell! For a brief instance, it seemed as though we were relenting to our adversaries, but then suddenly, a cloud of smoke enveloped around the congregation! It provided a shield around us, but we couldn’t see far ahead. I wanted to question her on this move, but then she opened a manhole beneath our feet! I hadn’t even seen that until she did that! Her maneuver depicted total logic to me right then, and we zipped down the ladder and put the lid back on in time to avoid the fog’s lifting! I could scarcely comprehend it! We got out of there safely!

            Once we gained some distance between us and where we originated, we ceased our running and gave ourselves a rest. I complimented Violet, “That was quick thinking on your part! You-!” I espied her clutching her chest, and my mirth from our accomplishment instantly evaporated! “What’s wrong?”

            “I’ll be alright,” Violet asserted. She saw my doubtful face, so she iterated her point, “No, really! It’s just… A deity’s powers are connected to their life force. If we do too many spells, we shorten our lives.” This alarmed me to my core, so she strove to put me at ease, “I have enough to complete our quest, we just gotta minimize how often we gotta magick our way out of conundrums!” She grinned at me encouragingly, and while I loved the way she smiled, it unnerved me to learn this! I loathed the idea of shortening her years of living for this undertaking, but the chances of us locating the Arch Deity without a matching show of force against the Fallen seemed slim! Violet spotted a sight in the small window over our heads that pleased her, and she made one more push to bring me some alleviation, “I know what will make you feel better! We may have reached a breakthrough in our mission…!”

True Deception, Chapter 5

“There’s no need to panic!” I reassured her. I had seen other clients suffer from anxiety attacks, but usually it happened before the trial! Of course, this case was different for so many reasons. She had to endure immeasurable pressure from both an aggressive prosecutor and a hostile audience, and she would potentially have to face another ordeal like that when her new trial began. She had to undergo an unbelievable nightmare, but that challenge was over! Yes, she more than likely would have to deal with the resentment of the public over her small victory, and I imagined she would receive scores of sharp criticisms for implicating an adored spokesperson in a crime, but I hoped that she would forget all that for the sake of our vital mission to the planet! I crossed my fingers that I could say something to convince her anxious feelings to subside for a while! “After we take down the Fallen, no one will care about what went on-!”

            “We’re not safe here!” Violet fretfully declared. “We need to leave immediately! They’re coming for us!”

            I didn’t want to question her judgment, but I couldn’t fathom the possibility of anyone exceptionally dangerous breaking into a place as secure as this let alone finding the opportunity to attack us! I tried to convey as much politeness as possible as I pointed this out to her, “We’re in one of the most guarded buildings in the country. No one can-.”

            She brushed past me and spat, “Fine! If you wanna deal with Birsha’s army, then be my guest!”

            “Who’s Birsha?” I inquired right as she reached for the doorknob. She turned back towards me, and I think she was about to explain it when she suddenly heard footsteps in the hall…

            “Get down!” she commanded as she tackled me to the floor! I wanted to press her on why she believed detecting someone in the hallway signified an urgent need to shield us, but then…

            The door burst open, and I’m not exaggerating there- an explosion sounded and blasted it away! My mind went numb at the realization of Violet’s hysteria having some merit, and I kicked myself for not trusting her instincts! I flipped myself over and prepared to negotiate my way out of peril, but instead, my jaw dropped as I saw our intruders! They floated in the air on hoverboards, which weren’t an uncommon mode of transportation of this era but were not allowed to get used on federal property, and they wore platinum helmets as well as mail with a letter B stretched across their chest! They had large, metallic sunglasses that obscured half of their faces, and they aimed their palms at us as if they were brandishing a weapon! I had such dubiety over the situation, so many enquiries swirling in my head, but out of all of the things I could have canvassed them on, it surprised me when I blurted out, “How did you get past security?”

            The men snickered, and one of them regarded me with a sneer, “I see you were warned of our existence! And yet you went ahead and made an accusation against Birsha anyways! You’re either very brave or extremely foolish!”

            “It’s gotta be the latter,” the other man snickered. “If they had anticipated this moment, they would have come up with a better plan for our encounter!”

            “Listen, we don’t want any trouble!” Violet addressed him. “No one believes us, so there isn’t any real damage to Nancy Nox’s reputation…”

            The first man informed her, “You’ve already proven that you can’t be trusted, so we’re not here to negotiate with you!”

            The second man raised his hand higher and seethed, “Goodbye, dissidents!”

            I sensed a powerful force strengthening in his arm, so I pushed his hoverboard away from us! He fired some magic in the same second, so his spell got released in the direction that his fingers had abruptly shifted to- his partner! The other man disintegrated into several pieces, and while the remaining man gaped at this occurrence, Violet used his distraction to fire a hex of her own at him! While he plummeted to the earth, his armor disappeared! As I stared at this phenomenon incredulously, Violet grabbed my hand and ordered, “Let’s go!”

            A commotion brewed in the hall, so Violet used her powers to create a hole in the wall! She led me outside, and I willingly let her lead me away from there! I writhed in guilt for not heeding her warning when she raised the alarm initially- she tried to avoid us having that confrontation, and I could only pray that she didn’t resent me for that misjudgment! I thanked our lucky stars that we managed to survive that ambush, and as we raced through the streets of downtown Anwynston, I felt grateful that we had a pretty clear path to wherever we were going! I supposed that most people were still gathered in front of the courthouse, especially as our trial ended in a riot! It amazed me that just minutes ago, the day had seemed so normal! I had no indication of what to expect from here, and all I could think to do was beseech the universe to keep those men’s cronies from finding us during our escape!

            We came to an old, colonial church, and we veered to the alley behind it where its occupants kept their trash. We crouched between the dumpster and some garbage bags, and Violet breathily let me know, “We should be okay here. Birsha’s soldiers tend to avoid setting foot on religious grounds.”

            Even though I was panting from all that exertion I just went through, my curiosity over the matter burned so brightly that I was able to summon the energy to inquire, “So… What’s going on? We offended Birsha by defaming her friend, Nancy Nox?”

            “No, Nancy Nox is Birsha!” Violet revealed. “Once I became a Guardian, I founded the Rebels of Hollywood and took on a malicious personality to gain the Fallen’s trust. One day, I got invited to a garden party at Nancy Nox’s house, and I went snooping in her house because I thought the Fallen would go after her. Instead, I found her shedding her old lady costume as she gave instructions to an army of armored people! I ran home and put up every kind of protection I could in order to gain some time to think of what to do. I wanted to stop the Fallens’ control of society, but I had no way to take on an entire militia alone! Birsha managed to get past my defenses, but I had no idea she was there until my servant threw himself in front of me and took the shot heading in my direction! I fought Birsha, but she was too powerful for me, so I had to get away! I managed to make them lose my trail when I went into the woods, and I never left!”

            “You mean you gave up on your quest to take down the Fallen?” I gasped.

            She bristled at the implication of her quitting a goal that held so much importance. “I didn’t give up! I just didn’t know what to do! Eventually, I discovered a bunch of people in Sylph’s Hollow who needed help, so I watched over them. In secret, obviously! It was refreshing to be so anonymous, and living alone meant I could quit pretending to be something I’m not! For the first time in ages, I felt as though I could truly be myself, and that just got amplified when I met Grandma! She needed some assistance, and the more I got to know her, the more I liked her! And after living as such an unlikeable person, it was nice to have someone like me like that! Between adopting a new grandmother and finding folks I could really be useful to, I felt really fulfilled for the first time ages! I was actually making a difference for once! I knew it wouldn’t last, I knew that the Fallen were still out there wreaking havoc everywhere they touched, but I could never figure out a way to beat them, so I didn’t wanna go back until I came up with a solution. I did come back though, but I still don’t have any kind of remedy to fix all they’ve done…”

            I responded to her, “You don’t? I thought it was obvious… We have to find the Arch Deity so they can end all this!”

            “We’re wanted criminals, Jack!” she disputed my suggestion. “It’s not like we can go sneaking around the entire region!”

            “We can’t spend our whole lives running either!” I differed. “Finding them is our only shot at freedom! Not just for us either! If we can find them, we can free everyone in the world from Birsha’s tyranny!”

            I thought that my argument would inspire her to assist me in making plans to discover where the Arch Deity might dwell, but instead, she gazed at me piteously and then hung her head as she lamented, “I never should have brought you into this! I caused the death of one being, and now-!”

            Interrupting that self-defeating concept, I asserted, “You didn’t bring me into this! I was looking for the Arch Deity long before I met you, and I’m really glad I have your help ‘cause I wouldn’t have been able to live through Birsha’s attacks without you! You’re saving me by sticking by me through this!”

            Violet smiled gratefully at me for sharing this sentiment, and that made my heart beat faster! It warmed me up inside knowing that I brought a small dose of happiness to this brave woman’s tragic circumstances! She gazed up at the clouds as if they would dole out some much needed advice on settling her conflicted emotions, and after a brief instance of contemplation, she wondered, “Why does the Arch Deity need to get found? If they know we need them, why aren’t they out there fighting for us already?”
            “I don’t know!” I admitted. “I considered that during my walks in Sylph’s Hollow, and I never really came up with a solid answer. I just decided to trust that they had a good reason for not coming to our defense immediately, and I assumed me finding them would…” My watch buzzed, and a text message from my boss prying into my whereabouts floated above me!

            “He tracked us down with that thing yesterday!” Violet recalled.

            The memory of that unpleasantness made me shudder! I loathed his ability to track me down and bring me to him whenever it suited his needs, and then it occurred to me that he would likely repeat the same action in this instance! I instantly removed it as if I had a dirty snake on me, and I threw it into the bushes to separate myself from it. When I realized the GPS would still bring authorities to our proximity, I relayed to Violet, “We gotta get out of here!”

            We both sprung up and bolted out of there! I had no inkling of where else we could gather that would guarantee a reasonable amount of protection, but Violet appeared to know where she was going, so I followed her lead. Shortly, I realized that were heading into Sylph’s Hollow, and at first, that made absolute sense to me since that was where Violet hid for years. When I remembered that the police had already found us in that territory, I probed, “Are you sure we wanna go here…?”

            “Yes,” she affirmed. “We gotta go check on Grandma!”

            “That’s insane!” I exclaimed. After the words came out of my mouth, I noted the offensive nature of that opinion, so I rephrased my sentence, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude, but don’t you think that since they already pinpointed us there that they would automatically go looking for us in that spot?”

            Violet riposted, “Yes, that’s exactly why we need to check on her! They know she’s connected to us, and who knows what lengths they’d go to in order to track us down…!” There was a lot of logic behind that justification, so I didn’t dispute this move any longer as we ran toward’s Patty’s cottage.

            When we neared our destination, we heard a raucous contention blaring from the vicinity of her adopted grandmother’s home, so we hastened our steps! As we got into earshot of the perpetrators of that verbal brawl, I deciphered Patty’s voice saying, “Are you deaf? Didn’t you hear me tell you that no one can come onto my property without a warrant?”

            “You want a warrant? Fine!” one police officer held her hands behind her back and hid her magic as she conjured up a piece of paper, and then she shoved it into Patty’s hands as if she had kept it int her pocket all along and got annoyed by having to retrieve it for her. “Here!”

            “This isn’t signed by a judge!” Patty observed after studying the document. As she coolly handed it back to that policewoman, I admired the shrewdness that she displayed in a stressful juncture like this! The male officer randomly peeked behind him, so Violet and I ducked behind some shrubs. We could still clearly listen to the conversation from our hideout, and we overheard her insist to these officers, “You have no legal cause to enter my house!”

            The male police officer warned her, “Look lady, if you don’t cooperate with our investigation, there’ll be consequences to pay…”

            He raised his hand threateningly, which made Violet involuntarily yell out, “No!” The officers whipped their heads to where we stood, so Violet used her powers to knock them out! She ran up to the completely bewildered Patty, and with great urgency, she communicated, “Sorry, Grandma! We don’t have a lot of time to explain, but there’s some really dangerous people after us, and they know you helped us before, so they’ll coming looking for us here! It’s not safe for you and Grandpa to stay here! You’re gonna have to go away for a while!”

            “But what about you two?” Patty queried. “What will you-?”

            “Don’t worry about us!” Violet advised. “Just go!”

            Patty sorrowfully expressed, “Well, I’ll go, but don’t think that I won’t be worrying about you!” She gave Violet a hug and plead, “Stay safe, you hear!”

            Violet assured her, “I will!”

            Patty turned to me and directed, “You bring her back to me when this is all over!”

            Privately, I esteemed that Violet’s Guardian status would cause her to take on more of the protective role in this scenario, but I didn’t dare to debate that issue right then. “I will! Now, you and your husband please go!”

            With tears forming in her eyes, Patty went inside her abode. Seconds later, the garage door opened, and an elderly gentlemen backed a pickup truck out of its shelter. As they elevated over the treetops, Patty waved to us, a gesture we returned back to her. At first, I could only imagine the pain she was going through, but then it dawned on me that I was in the same boat! Until the Arch Deity was unearthed, I wouldn’t be able to go back to my place either! When I left my apartment this morning, I had no idea that I may have taken a glimpse at all my possessions for the last time! I couldn’t fathom when or if I would ever be able to return, and that stung a little, but I wouldn’t let myself succumb to grimness! I emphasized to myself that we had an important job to do, and as we watched the old couple fly away, I felt as though our journey had truly begun! While we watched the two of them disappear into the canopy, I pondered, “So, where do we go from here?”