True Deception, Chapter 17

“I definitely heard voices out here!” the man who called out to us told whoever accompanied him. Violet and I grew as still as statues since we couldn’t fathom what sort of situation we got sent into, and while this guy conveyed a friendly tone, we couldn’t assume anything was safe right then! We had just survived an intense attack, and we were in no shape to live through another harrowing ordeal in that moment! We had no clue as to where Jeremy sent us, so we didn’t know if these individuals in our vicinity could be considered friends or foes! We suspected that he made us go somewhere purposeful, but there was still a possibility that he simply meant to get us as far away from that dangerous alleyway, which meant these people could be completely random! We couldn’t risk running into a new adversary or even a neutral passerby for that matter, anyone could turn on us! He may have drawn us to some potential allies to support us in our mission, but if that was the outcome of this cryptic experience, given the fate of our last ones, I would have preferred to carry out this undertaking alone! So, we stayed quiet and motionless in hopes that the curious strangers would lose interest and leave us to our own accord, and for a split second, we thought our plan had proven itself as effective…

            All of a sudden, bright lights illuminated the area, but our vision had become accustomed to the darkness, so it took a few seconds to actually see what was in our surroundings. What unfolded beneath us was a cobblestone pathway, and as we craned our heads up, we saw that it winded all around several small islands of plants and trees. We also noted an old, stone building that formed a perimeter around this space, so I gathered that we had landed in some sort of courtyard. A man with dusky, almond skin, a short, bushy beard, and a turban came out of the oak doors behind us with a veiled woman of a similar complexion following closely behind him, and before we even had a chance to get frightened by their appearance, the woman expressed in astonishment, “Oh Gurcharan, you were right! There are people here!”

            With a wry smile, Gurcharan responded to her, “I can’t even take the time to enjoy this occasion of me being right and you being…” She gave him a piercing glare, so he omitted the part of his sentence where he obviously would have proclaimed her as wrong about something. Instead, he cleared his throat and finished his thought, “Well, it’s unfortunate that I can’t celebrate this rarity because we have people in need of our assistance!”

            “You can take a minute to do a victory lap if you want,” I jokingly permitted. They’re playful antics instantly put me at ease, and I liked them enough already that I really hoped they had no intentions of double-crossing us!

            “Are you insane? If I do that, I’ll be the one sleeping out here!” Gurcharan kidded.

            His wife knelt down to help Violet stand up, and as she did so, she inquired, “What happened to you, dear?”

            Violet hesitantly replied, “It’s… It’s a long story…”

            “Do you need medical treatment of any kind?” Gurcharan asked me while he propped me up.

            “No!” I answered a little too hastily. I didn’t want to act rudely to these kind strangers, it was a knee-jerk reaction to the thought of possibly returning to Saint Cyprian’s! It would have been a disaster, but I couldn’t tell Gurcharan or his wife about our sordid history at that establishment! I appreciated the concern, but I also had to make it plain to him that going to the hospital wasn’t in our best interests, so I stated to him, “We’ll be okay after we get a bit of rest!”

            Gurcharan obliged with my wishes, “Very well! Jasleen, let’s escort them to the sleeping quarters.”

            As they guided us through the courtyard, Violet couldn’t resist querying, “Sleeping quarters? Where are we?”

            “The Sikh Gurdwara of Anwynston,” Jasleen informed her. “Do you recall how you got here?”

            “Everything was just a blur!” Violet seemed fairly delighted that she found a way to give her an honest response.

            Jasleen genially addressed her, “That’s not important right now. We’ll get you settled down and warm, and we can figure it out in the morning.” The more we interacted with this pair, the more I admired them! It was a pity that we couldn’t lengthen how long we stayed in their temple!

            They opened a set of French doors that led into a vast room with a myriad of cots neatly lined up in several uniform rows. A couple of guests were scattered throughout the facility, but not many folks appeared to occupy this building during this hour. I recalled that we arrived at the news station towards the end of Andy’s route, so I calculated that the sun must have set sometime after our battle with those executives behind the soup kitchen, which meant that it would be a while before most denizens of this property would arrive to use their beds. I felt relieved to think that Violet and I might get some privacy in order for us to discuss our next move, and I crossed my fingers that none of these occupants would recognize Violet or me so we wouldn’t lose our safety nest before deciphering a proper strategy to continue our quest!

            Jasleen began setting up a couple of cots with blankets and pillows as Gurcharan explained, “I’m afraid we’re all out of food to give you, but we should have more coming first thing in the morning. If you need anything, feel free to come back to the office and let us know! However, there’s also a couple of attendants here that can take care of you as well.”

            “Thank you so much!” I extended my hand to him, and he graciously shook it. It warmed me up inside to meet such an altruistic soul, but very quickly after denoting this pleasant development, it occurred to me that I better keep my distance from these two from now on if I wanted to keep them safe from Birsha’s Army! I glanced around and did not see anyone looking in this direction, and while Violet said that the Fallen tend to avoid religious institutions, at this point, I couldn’t count on anywhere being totally secure for us!

            “Here’s some clothes donated to our center!” Jasleen plopped a large box between our cots and offered, “When you feel up to it, you’re welcome to choose a new outfit to wear!”

            It baffled me as to why she felt compelled to provide us with new garments to wear until I gazed down to what we had on… Our clothing had gotten torn to shreds! Thankfully, we had enough left on us to not expose anything salacious! I’m sure they must have had a plethora of dubiety on our unsightly appearances, and it floored me that they had a high enough level of benevolence that they did not probe too deep into our recent past! We conveyed our gratitude to them as they exited this sector, and as I watched them leave, I inwardly prayed that our presence in their lives would not cause them to endure any trouble!

            A person who resembled somebody who might work in this place interrupted my train of thought, “Are you two doing alright?”

            “Huh? Oh, yeah! We’re fine.” I didn’t know whether or not I gave that woman a lie or not. We went through a lot that day, and the road ahead of us didn’t seem to bode much better for us, but at the same time, we were lucky to be alive! I decided not to settle my internal argument and communicated to the attendant, “We just need to take it easy for a bit.”

            “Very good! Have a nice rest!” She nodded her head in a cordial manner before moving on to the next person. Violet and I laid down on our cots so that we wouldn’t face anymore intrusions, but I could hear that woman friendlily chatting with someone in the distance, which indicated to us that seclusion may not come to us on a regular basis!

            I turned over and whispered to Violet, “Why do you think Jeremy sent us here?’

            In a hushed tone, Violet theorized, “He wanted to keep us safe. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gurcharan or Jasleen were Guardians, but mostly, I imagine that he aimed to get us out of harm’s way.”

            “No, I mean why did he send us here?” I quietly clarified to her. “Nicole was in trouble too; he could have rescued her, his friend, his colleague of several years… Why did he pick us?”

            “Must’ve been something in his intuition,” Violet assessed. “I don’t know many people other than us who are willing to battle mystical forces and rid the planet of pure evil, and I doubt he’s met anyone that audacious either! He had to have believed that doing this was his best odds in saving the world! He was willing to sacrifice his life to protect humanity…”

            My gut wrenched in tight knots to hear that insight! I couldn’t stand to think that he depleted his life force just for us, an honor that I certainly didn’t feel worthy of! “But we’re not any closer to finding the Arch Deity than we were before! He could have lived and used his resources to locate them, he didn’t need to…” I couldn’t say that he died because that would have made it real, so I opted to finish my topic of conversation without including that in my vocabulary. “He could have let us try our luck with the police! We might have made it out okay!”

            Violet asserted, “Keyword: might! In all honesty, I wasn’t too sure we’d make it out of there! Even if I used my magic against them, they already called for backup. And sooner or later, that stupid executive would have paged for reinforcements from the rest of Birsha’s Army! How would we have gotten out of that? Jeremy most likely saved our lives!” What she articulated rang true for me, but it did not chase the guilt away! On the contrary, I berated myself for getting into a situation where he felt obligated to do that! Right as I was contemplating on what I ought to have done to prevent that tragic outcome, Violet bitterly sympathized with me, “It sucks, doesn’t it? Knowing that someone got themselves killed so that you would live…”

            My eyes widened when I recollected that Violet’s servant took a deadly hit for her, meaning that this had become the second occurrence of this nature for her! Any agony I endured in this instance, hers was doubled! It tore me up to see the mental torture that got inflicted on her from all of the trauma she went through washing over her again, and she didn’t deserve it at all! She was the bravest and most selfless person I had ever met, and while I had no inkling of why Jeremy chose to bail me out, I could totally understand why he would protect hers! She was more powerful than she realized, and if anyone was going to preserve civilization from absolute doom, it would be her! I counted myself as lucky to even play a small role in her glorious future! I couldn’t let someone with that much potential give up, so I firmly exclaimed, “Yes, it’s awful! But you know what would be worse? If they did it all for nothing! Let’s honor their memory and solve this dilemma once and for all!”

            “You’re right! We can’t disappoint them!” Violet rallied herself back to the cause. I couldn’t help it, seeing her look of determination made my heart purr! As much as I attempted to avoid letting my attraction to her distract me form our operation, it was too difficult to keep from relishing in how alluring she looked with that degree of tenacity etched on her face! I could have savored this image for hours, so I was glad her focus hadn’t gotten swayed like mine had! “We’re gonna need new disguises!”

            “Yeah, no kidding!” I heartily agreed as I peeked at the tattered remains of our previous attire. After mulling it over for a trice, I puzzled, “Wait, you wanna pick out our disguises before we decide where we’re going?”

            Violet brought up, “Do you remember what we were talking about when those executives showed up?”

            With the numerous events that happened this evening, I had nearly forgotten about that exchange! “Oh right! Nicole mentioned that one of Birsha’s sponsors could be holding the Arch Deity. So, we’re infiltrating Nerium Night Ware?”

            “We gotta check it out!” Violet contended. “The Arch Deity didn’t end up somewhere where they didn’t have a purpose! Guardians go where they’re most needed, sites where they can prevent the most destruction from getting unleashed! Right now, the most potent damage is coming from misinformation and dark money, and Nathair Schuman shells out both! It’s possible that the Arch Deity got trapped while they were trying to put a stop to his corruptive abuse!”

            “Yeah, that would make sense! And even if they’re not there, we could learn a lot about Birsha by studying one of her lackeys! But if we get caught, can we survive a factory full of Fallens?” I questioned.

            Violet shrugged. “We can’t afford to sit and recover for too long!” I concurred with her, and then she opined, “I’m willing to bet that Nerium Night Ware is guarded way more efficiently than the post office, so we can’t break in at night this time around. We’ll need t o pose as people who would be welcomed onto the factory floor.”

            I pondered, “Who would Nathair Schuman give that sort of access to?”

            “I dunno…” Violet frowned as she contemplated this subject. “I’m not even sure where we would get a uniform right now!” She eyeballed the box of donated clothes and avidly dug into it. “I feel bad that we can’t return these mail carrier outfits!”

            “Technically, those executives made them get ruined,” I reasoned to her. “I mean, if they hadn’t attacked us, then Jeremy wouldn’t have…” I cut myself off as that fresh wound burned me once again.

            Violet grimaced too, but she forced herself to not fixate on those memories during such a critical juncture. Her purposefulness took over once more, that is until she came across something that had a negative impact on her. “Most of this came from my line! Why would… Oh yeah, no one wants to associate with me ‘cause they all believe I’m a murderer!”

            I reassured her, “It’s their loss! Once we clear our names, they’ll be begging to get it back!” I’m not positive she completely bought that, but she seemed somewhat pleased by my gesture, a circumstance that almost got me to repeat my fanciful tailspin! Luckily, something else caught my eye that forced me to break that cycle! “I think I have an idea…”

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