Chapter XXIII: A Clockwork Mind
For the last week or so, Sophia felt as if she had been living in a dream. Spring break had meant being whisked away to exotic lands, far away in both space and time. Her footsteps were light and ethereal, and her heart filled with happiness at the thought of Adrian. As always, he had been the perfect gentleman, waiting on her every desire, no matter how capricious. Not that Sophia had many whims. He was her companion, her confidante, yet she still was not complete. Just being with him wasn't enough anymore.
Today, she was showing him around her home town, pointing out the park she used to play in as she was growing up, and the woodlands where she had seen her first badger.
They crossed to the other side of the road, following the tarmac as it descended a hill. A row of shops lay further ahead, and beyond the stone fountain stood a most unpleasant sight, her old high school. At once, unwanted memories clamoured for her attention. Mentally shaking her head, Sophia tilted her chin up and straightened her shoulders. The past was the past, and nothing more. Plus, she couldn't let Adrian see her discomfort.
Sophia took a deep breath of spring air and steered Adrian down a different street, away from the memories of those that had mocked and harmed her.
"This is where the main shopping arcades are," Sophia said, resuming her tour guide mode. She'd never had to take on such a role of responsibility, but found that she was enjoying herself immensely. Her initial reluctance to open up her home life to Adrian was fading; after all, he had shown her so many different delights and had asked for nothing in return, save a glimpse of her home life.
"Oh, do you come here often?" His tone was politely inquisitive.
"Not really," Sophia replied. She was about to say more, when she caught sight of a group of people further ahead. Sophia stiffened and her brain went into panic mode.
Calm down, calm down! She forced herself to not betray any visible sign of affectation. Of course you can't avoid them forever...maybe they've forgotten.
But the looks on their faces as she drew closer indicated that they hadn't. The youths whispered amongst themselves, some jostling each other and pointing at her. Adrian glanced at them and then back to Sophia with a quizzical expression.
"Still having fainting fits?" One of them called. The girls giggled as one of them feigned a swoon.
Sophia pretended not to have heard.
"Such a special child. Always got out of classes with a flutter of your eyes." She couldn't let the crooning voice get to her. She was stronger than them.
Adrian quietly asked, "Are they bothering you?"
"It's nothing. If I could deal with it back in school then I can deal with it now."
Adrian had always managed to impose a Victorian air on the atmosphere around him; here, in the artificial hustle and bustle of the shopping arcade, he looked very out of place in the face of the modern teenage verbal catapulting. Especially with his quiet manner and his conservative suit.
"Seeing older men too, my, my, how the little bird has flown from the nest." They smirked nastily.
"You don't know what you're talking about, Dan," Sophia muttered.
Her hand tightened on Adrian's, and she drew him away. Just carry on walking. She was so intent on the pavement ahead of her that she missed the swivel of Adrian's head as he turned around thoughtfully, memorising each face of the tormentors from her childhood.
The House of Charlemagne had been buzzing with an uneasy tension over the last few days. The agents sensed the beginnings of something, and with the imaginations of the trainees firing away, it was no wonder that the favourite talk was always of gloom and upcoming apocalypses.
Most of the House was out of bounds to Charlie Wheeler, who had been given a room in the trainee dorms. The people here seemed to be cool enough, if not a little on edge. Charlie wouldn't have minded constantly being supervised if someone would just tell him what the hell was going on. It hadn't been hard to grasp the fact that everyone was under strict instructions to keep their mouths shut and play nice with him. The stranger thing that he couldn't quite get his head around was that he felt as if he'd been here before. No matter how much he strained his mind, the memory eluded him like a fleeting wisp of a dream. Ah well, best to make the most of it and enjoy the comforts offered in this...prison.
At this moment in time, Charlie was currently confined to the Xbox section of the common room. He wasn't complaining. His easy charm had caught the attentions of many trainees, which meant that he was never bored or alone here.
"You are a very handsome boy," Freya said with a giggle, watching his fingers furiously at work with the controls. The results on screen showed his figure dusting off two dark warriors.
Charlie turned his head with a startled expression. "Oh, hello to you too, Miss Freya. How are you today?"
"I never understood that question," Freya said. She cocked her head to the side. "How am I? How am I what?"
"How are you doing?" Charlie grinned. He'd quickly gotten used to Freya's eccentric and childlike ways.
"That one too is just as confusing if you really think about it! But very well," she clapped her hands, "I am feeling like a ripe apple, about to drop to the ground."
"Huh. Did you know that the story of gravity being realised by Newton when an apple dropped onto his head is just a mere myth?"
Freya's eyes widened and she clapped a hand to her mouth. "No way!"
Just then, Alex popped around the corner. Seeing his girlfriend leaning in that close to the new boy triggered a primeval feeling of possession to root in his stomach and settle on his frown. The dark shadow of the impending Psy Ops assessment did little to ease his mood. But luckily (or unluckily, depending on which way one took this), the assessment had been pushed back due to the team being kept busy with behind the scenes work. And no, he hadn't asked what.
"Freya, I feel like going into town. How about we go check out that new place on Leicester Square?"
"Hmm, I don't feel like it right now. I'd much rather stay here and play." She ruffled Charlie's hair with a girly laugh.
"Oh, I think I know what you're talking about." Charlie paused the game and swivelled his head to face Alex. "I went there with some friends the day before I ah, got relocated. Great place. You should check out the tree they have growing inside it."
"Wow!" Freya clapped her hands. "Actually I've changed my mind. Can we go right now? Please?"
"Uh, sure," Alex murmured, taken aback by Freya's sudden flip.
"Charlie, are you coming too?" She smiled sweetly at the youth.
"Of course not, they won't let me out of this building!" Charlie laughed and returned to his game, missing the scowl on Alex's face.
Vicky, who had caught the whole exchange, flashed Alex a vixen smile as he walked past. The smug glint in her eyes could not be mistaken for anything other than satisfaction at Alex and his jealousy over a kid that was five years younger than him. Hmph, serves him right for going after Freya even whilst he'd still been going out with her.
On determining that the second mental patient was no longer housed at the asylum, Darren immediately sought out a member of staff and threatened to torture the man if he did not reveal what had happened. With the information safely in his mind, and the cowardly man now drained of blood, Darren stormed off, not caring if the other workers discovered the body in the bushes.
Darren was furious that his second target had been moved, especially when he was so close to undoing everything that Azureal had striven for. If he could send Azureal back to hell, or better yet, destroy the fiend, then he would finally be able to roam this world free and unbidden. No longer would he be walking in that damned angel's shadow. With that thought in mind, Darren set off towards the address his last unfortunate victim had uttered.
One sunset later, and it was raining by the time Darren arrived at the location. The rain splattered on the trench coat that he'd acquired, drenching his hair and soaking through his boots, but the vampire paid no heed to the weather. His whole intent was focused on the Georgian mansion before him. His hands gripped the iron railing of the fence, eyes narrowing as they scanned the building, searching for any sign of movement from the windows that still had their curtains undrawn. This would be a good entry point but...he was too exposed.
Slinking back into the haggard woodlands, Darren prowled the fence, seeking another way in. No such luck at the next point, for there was too much hedge for him to get a clear idea of what lay beyond. He was getting an extremely bad feeling about this place. He didn't know what, but there was the prickling at the back of his neck that had never been wrong.
An owl stared at him, hooting softly from its lofty perch, and through the branches, Darren could make out a sliver of the crescent moon. Was it mocking him tonight?
Damn this all to hell, he thought with a scowl, wiping the rain from his brow with a furious swipe. There was nothing wrong with this place, and he needed to stop being so damn paranoid.
Jaw clenched, Darren took a few steps back and launched himself at the fence. His hands gripped the metal bars and he heaved himself up, muscles straining, until he was at the top. Beads of sweat mingled with the raindrops, but he was so close now. It would be easy work to avoid the sharp spikes and drop down to the other side.
He shifted his weight, leaning slightly past the spikes and that was when the stench of magic hit him like a brick wall. Senses reeling, Darren fell backwards with a small cry, landing awkwardly with a thud upon the ground. A sharp burst of pain exploded in his brain. Goddamnit, he'd twisted or broken something important. Biting his lip, Darren slammed his fist upon the ground in frustration.
Why the hell did I not listen to my senses?
Of course it had been a magical alarm that he'd set off! But that wasn't all. Almost immediately afterwards, a whole horde of people appeared; some from the building, others from the grounds. They were bearing torches and what looked like very lethal weaponry.
"What the hell?" Darren muttered, cursing both his ancestors and the heavens. Without wasting another second, he leapt to his feet and dived for cover behind an ancient oak tree, scraping his skin on the gnarled bark. Taking deep breaths, he tested his ankle, doubling his silent curses when he heard the voices drawing closer.
"Quick, throw a blanket visual over the whole area."
"This can't be coincidence. Fuck that, I'm going over."
"For the love of...cover her, Sheng."
He didn't care if he was seen now. Darren turned tail and ran away as fast as his injured ankle would allow.
"I'm not going to be around for much longer. I feel a fresh beginning ahead for me," Freya murmured dreamily.
"What, you're going to quit this place?" Charlie raised an eyebrow. "I'd like to join you if that's OK."
"Of course," Freya said, settling comfortably into the hollow she had carved out for herself on the Xbox sofa. She twirled a strand of her red hair, looking wistful for a second.
"Although any notions of escape must be suspended tonight," he remarked dryly, turning his head to see what the source of the sudden commotion was.
Huh, so a large group of older men and women had entered the common room. They didn't look very dry or very happy. One of the men whom Charlie recognised as Professor Alistair Gray made his way forward and clapped his hands to get everybody's attention. At once, the chatter ceased and the television sets were muted.
"Can we make sure that all field agents, both active and inactive are present?"
Some of the trainees ran off to carry out the Gray's bidding, whilst others stayed out of curiosity. The authoritative man's eyes settled upon Charlie, who returned the gaze calmly and without flinching.
"Would you be so kind as to permit me to have a bit of time alone with my agency?"
Charlie nodded and switched off the TV. Despite how pleasant everyone was being to him, he did not forget that he was still essentially a prisoner here, and that nothing had been explained to him at all. But there was no use throwing a strop, like Elise or Claire would.
Elise...Claire...he still needed to work through what the hell had happened back then...
With a sigh, Charlie stood up and left the room.
Gray watched the boy disappear. The confusion was evident in his eyes and his aura. A twinge of emotion passed across Gray's face but he shook it off. There were more pressing matters to be dealing with.
"As some of you know, it has recently come to my attention that we have been thrown into the beginnings of something that we are barely aware of. We are potentially looking at a code red."
There were a few gasps. Code red meant something cataclysmic and most certainly world changing.
"And we may be dealing with a member of the Fallen."
Even more gasps. None of the agents present here had ever encountered a celestial entity before; most had only dealt with lower level demons, nothing more. The lack of historical evidence had led many people and agents to believe that the celestial was nothing more than obscure myth, and so many Houses had dropped this topic from their curriculum. After all, how could a human mind even try to seek to understand something so divine?
"I suspect that many of you will be in the library tonight." Gray's tone was dry.
"At the moment, we do not know what this being's 'plan' is, however, what we do know is that it has cost us both human lives and minds. It is our duty as the Paladins to protect humanity from those which seek to harm, and for that, we cannot allow this being to continue to walk this world.
"Throughout the history of the Paladins, there had been fewer than five reported dealings with a member of the Fallen. Scholars in the past believed that all such dealings eventually resulted in untimely death, and that the fallen made sure that any pacts made were kept as undetectable as possible. By the time the metaphysical alarm had been rung there was no evidence left. We will not let that happen!"
Gray's words held his audience hypnotised.
"For this, I need all of your co-operation now. Each and every one of you, in one united team."
Throughout Gray's speech, Vicky kept on fiddling restlessly. She didn't care about fallen angels and all that crap, she just wanted him to get to the point.
"However, at this moment, we also have a minor annoyance to deal with, which may or may not be related to this potential code red. No, I have a strong suspicion that it is inexplicably related, and so, without further ado, I will make this announcement, that we have a new addition to the hit list: the vampire Delano Montoya is to be targeted and brought in, unharmed, or at the very least, in a condition in which he is able to speak."
Vicky, Alex and Freya suddenly straightened up and stared at each other.
"Luckily, the target has been magically tagged when he set off one of our security alarms tonight, so we should have little difficulty in tracking him down."
Realisation dawned on Vicky's face. "Wait a minute, you mean the guy that tried to breach our fence just now was..."
"That bastard," she growled, hands balling up into fists. "If I'd known it was him I would've taken him out straight away."
"Remember, this is not personal," Gray said, shooting the brunette a glance. "This is business."
Wahey, another chapter completed! I've drawn out a plan for the rest of the story, so it should be a rollercoaster ride from now onwards as we enter dundundun the final phase! I spent a week on vacation in Rome, which is why this update is a little late, but I think it was worth it as now I have so much inspiration! I've also picked up some more Italian so I may go back and look over my old translations :3
Hmm, it's 1am and I haven't proofread this chapter yet so please lemme know if there are any big errors!