True Deception, Chapter 19

“You underestimate the power of Birsha!” one of the security guards pronounced. “We sent your pictures to her, and she recognized you right away!”

            “How long did you think we would let a couple of dissidents defile our territory with their presence?” another security guard probed.

            Violet bravely retorted, “Well, you let us get pretty far into your factory! If we had wanted to do you harm, we would have done it already!”

            Even in the midst of this terrifying moment, I couldn’t help but admire Violet’s refusal to kowtow to their attempts at intimidation! A part of me worried that her brassiness would garner her some sort of punishment, but considering that we were completely surrounded by a group of people who considered us as treasonous traitors, I supposed that it didn’t really matter- we were doomed even if she complied with their decrees! Really, I had no idea how we could get out of this dire situation! There was eight Fallens around us, and I assumed that all of them had a potent supply of magic. Violet’s life force was weakening, so even if she gave up the last of it to save us, I doubted that she had enough left in her to get us away from danger! Unlike at the hospital and in the alleyway, there were no convenient pieces of silver for us to reverberate their own spells back at them! The only defense I could come up with was keeping them talking as long as possible so one of us could unearth a better solution to this conundrum, but if we didn’t figure something out fast, that strategy wouldn’t prevail for long! There had to be some way out of this- I refused to accept our demise at this point!

            “How lucky are we to become the ones who get to finish off Birsha’s enemies!” a third security guard maniacally rejoiced. They all raised their hands in order to strike us with a jinx, and I furiously wracked my brain in order to dig up a topic that might delay this eventuality…

            “Don’t you touch them!” Nathair’s voice commanded. Violet and I grew completely confused; as much as we needed a rescuer to come to our aid right then, we so no plausible cause for him to do that for us!

            The security guards seemed perplexed too, they almost didn’t clear a path for him as if they feared he had converted over to the wrong side of the battle. They reluctantly did though, and I beheld him for the first time! He was fairly tall, but his stature was hardly menacing since he had the frail stance of somebody whose malnourishment sapped the majority of his strength! If it weren’t for his wispy mustache, his face wouldn’t have had much color to it! His thin, penny-colored hair got styled in an obvious combover, and his buttoned-up polo suggested that he strove to keep up the appearance of a friendly yet firm boss, but his wrathful demeanor evaporated any chance of that happening! It was hard to believe a man like that would have any desire to show us an ounce of mercy, so my instincts instructed me not to trust him! Logically, I acknowledged that one of Birsha’s most loyal supporters was unlikely to offer us support, so I speculated that he intended to set us up for some sort of trap…

            A skeptical security guard objected to this move, “But, Boss! These guys-!”

            “I know who they are, and I know what they did, but why waste resources if we don’t have to?” Nathair argued. The security guards didn’t contend with that reasoning, but they obviously couldn’t fathom where he was going with this method he was in the process of enacting. Nathair draped an arm around Violet and me, and while he intended to convey an amicable gesture, his bony limbs felt more like we were getting trapped inside of a pillory! “I think we got off on the wrong foot, don’t you?” Neither Violet nor I had a response, but he didn’t need one. He suggested to us, “Come on, let’s wrap for a minute!”

            “What did you have in mind?” I’m sure I radiated a total mistrust of him, but I no longer cared to feign interest in this interaction! He didn’t steer us to a safer area, so I had no reason to accept any of his forms of goodwill.

            Nathair conversed, “I have in mind the same concept that you do- we wanna do what’s best for humanity! Am I right?”

            Violet folded her arms and remarked, “Funny, I don’t recall seeing any evidence that Birsha had any good intentions for humanity!”

            “That’s where you’re wrong!” Nathair differed. “Everything she does is for humankind’s own good!”

            “People are losing everything that matters to them! Many have lost their homes, and some can hardly feed themselves! Your regime has created laws so strict that we have a record number of innocent souls in prison! You’re taking away their freedom, how is that good for anyone?” I debated.

            Nathair countered with, “Have you seen what people do with absolute freedom? They lie, they cheat, they hurt each other… No one acts like an angel without consequences for their misdeeds! Human beings are wild animals at the core, and they need a tight leash to reign them in! People have to know their transgressions will get them punished or else our society will be overrun with chaos! By maintaining a strong hold over the world, Birsha is preserving a civilized society!”

            I disputed that, “I’m not saying the planet shouldn’t have any rules! I’m a lawyer for God’s sake! If someone commits a crime, they deserve punishment, but what about the people who haven’t broken any rules? They don’t deserve to get damned when all they do is the right thing!”

            “Human beings aren’t so blameless!” Nathair spat. “Hardly anybody is guiltfree, they all deserve to get disciplined for something! If you don’t deal them a preemptive strike, they’ll betray you! Only a fool trusts most people to act with high morals! I mean, look what’s been done already? Brisha may have come up with some of those guidelines, but she’s not the one carrying them out! See how many people are perfectly willing to stomp on one another? If you give these monsters more liberty, you’ll only create anarchy! Is that what you want?”

            “You’re judging the entire human race by what a small fraction of their brethren does!” I dissented. “Humankind can’t move forward without helping each other out, just like you have assistance right now as we speak! No one can do everything alone! Most people won’t act against their own self-interest, so the majority of individuals will do the morally correct choice if given the chance! They don’t know the truth of what’s going on, so their actions stem from doing what they deem as right1 If they had a full grasp of what’s happening, they would behave very differently! You gotta give them a true opportunity to show their real nature! Human beings are worth saving, and nothing you say will convince me otherwise!”

            Nathair took a second to soak in my words before responding, “Alright… Kill them!” He pushed us away from him, and the security guards sneered in a demented delight to see us in such a vulnerable position! Violet and I had no shot at mapping out any escape routes, and at first, we were totally blindsided! I didn’t know how we would get out of this still breathing!

            Just as they unleashed their hexes, Violet and I ducked and rolled to the side of the ramp! Their trajectories all missed us and hit the ground, which formed a giant hole that led to the factory level. Under ordinary circumstances, I never would have even considered doing a jump from so high up, but whatever injury that occurred from such a leap seemed like a batter fate than what we might endure up there, so without giving it any more contemplation, Violet and I grabbed each other’s hand and took the plunge before any of those Fallen had an opening to strike us again!

            The factory workers all stopped their activities to watch us plummet to the surface. Violet and I both landed on our feet, and the instant we made contact with the ground, I felt a shockwave of pain course throughout my legs! I could sense that something inside of me had torn or broke, but I had no time to nurse my wounds! In the seconds it had taken for us to touch down, Nathair ran to a spot overlooking these quarters and shouted, “There’s a ten-thousand-dollar reward for bringing these two murderers in, dead or alive! Get them!”

            Everyone abandoned their posts to pursue us, and we had no other option but to ignore our agony and flee! A couple of the machinists hurled spells at us, but we were able to hurry swiftly enough to avoid them! We had to pause when we reached the rows of stitchers since they approached us brandishing scissors and large needles! I could see an exit behind them in the laboratory area, but I didn’t know how we could get past the sea of weaponized opponents until I pinpointed a trolley close to us. I led Violet onto the base, and after doing a running start, I hopped onto it too. Our velocity knocked down most of the people standing in our way, but a few managed to get a couple of cuts on us as we passed them. We got nearer and nearer to the exit, and right as I dared to anticipate a victory for our side…

            A chemist spilled some kind of slippery substance onto the cement beneath us! Our route zigzagged around until we crashed into a table full of chemicals, and we had to jerk out of the path of vials containing strange stuff that tumbled in our direction! From his lofty position above everyone, Nathair mocked us, “Where’s your basically good humans now?” A flood of individuals marched towards us, and we could see several of them ready to use their magic against us! Violet grabbed the cart and flipped it over to shield us, and while it was effective in protecting us, it didn’t allow us to budge from this site! We only had feet between us and the exit, but if we exposed any inch of our bodies to them, we could succumb to the jinxes’ full blast! Our minds whirred at full throttle to acquire a resolution for this perilous quandary, but we fell short of materializing anything prior to the obligation to take action…

            “Oh, did I forget to let you know that Birsha is arriving shortly?” Nathair taunted us. “If my crew doesn’t get you, you can bet that she will!” He emitted a maddening cackle, which would have thoroughly vexed me except that I was overcome by the gnawing sensation at the pit of my stomach! Birsha would show up in the flesh? In our prime, we likely did not have favorable odds of besting her, and in our condition at the present, only a miracle could save us!

            “Hold on tight!” Violet directed me. I clutched onto the trolley, but it baffled me as to why until I saw her grab a flask of a silvery liquid. During her brief uncovering, a Fallen fired a hex at her, and she flung her flask in the same beat. Right as she crouched back down and clasped onto the trolley again, two things took place in unison: a shadow of a woman in a frilly dress loomed over us, and the silvery liquid met the Fallen’s magic…

            BOOM! An explosion erupted and sent us flying through the brick wall and out into the grassy field beside the factory! We could see smoke billowing throughout the building before us, but we knew that if anyone withstood that detonation, it wouldn’t be long before they initiated a search for us! We used the last of our remaining strength to make an endeavor to reach a secure location, but it didn’t take long for our afflictions to catch up with us! We did all we could, but our anguish became too unbearable to continue! I lifted a heavy hand with the goal of signaling to the passing cars that we needed help, but ultimately, it registered to me that no one would want to tend to us, not when we had a price on our heads! My eyes got too heavy to leave them open, and when I quit resisting the urge to close them, I eked out a silhouette heading towards our proximity…

            I couldn’t guess the extent of time I was unconscious, but as my wits returned to me, I found myself in a place of warmth. My immediate assumption was that Birsha captured us and started to burn our corpses, so I bolted up to do something about that! When I arose, it stunned me to behold that I was surrounded by white sheets! They gently flowed to a small gust, and their soft appearance had a very comforting effect! I then noticed that my legs and torso were cocooned in a plush cloth, and I laid on some downy cushions as well. I inhaled a soothing fragrance, and tranquil music played in the background. All of this would have been very calming if it weren’t for the fact that I had no notion of where I ended up! And something important lacked from my scope… “Violet? Violet? Where are-?”

            A faint voice from behind the curtains responded, “I’m here!”

            After I yanked the drapery next to me, I felt a wave of relief rush over me! It alleviated my apprehension immensely to see her beside me unharmed! Despite finding each other, we couldn’t determine how we got to this unknown locale! “Waking up in a strange scene again- déjà-vu, huh?” I aimed to quell our anxiety with humor, but it didn’t have a comical result for either of us!

            “Where did we end up this time?” Violet inquired.

            “I believe I can address that,” a mysterious person replied.

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…”