“They’re in there, no doubt looking for Kent. What should we do?”
Paul frowned, “I actually think I should just walk up to them and ask them what they’re doing here. Pretend I don’t know anything and see what they say to that.”
Oriana gasped, “Oh Paul, that’s so obvious. They don’t know you and as far as they know you’re working for the owner of this site. Asking them how they are might get us some real answers. To think here I was thinking we should just watch them. Well, I’ll use my phone to record what happens just in case.”
Paul nodded his agreement, straightened up to his full height and walked confidently into the main doors. Peterson and Nix noticed him almost immediately. Rather than wait for them to start the conversation Paul decided the most convincing course of action was to take the initiative. In his most authoritative voice he boomed to the men in the large old building, “Excuse me gentlemen, what are you doing here? This building is off limits to the public!”
Oriana slipped along the outside of the building and found a hole in the wall to listen into. The hole was quite close to the ground so after fiddling with her phone camera she figured it would be safe to record the action inside.
Peterson and Nix walked up to Paul looking equally authoritarian, and they too spoke as confidently, “We are engineers from the brick company who own this site; we’re here to inspect the property to access the structural integrity of the buildings.”
Paul looked at them sternly. Knowing that the men were lying; he felt encouraged to play his hand even further, “Is that so? Who is your supervisor and what is the name of our company? Because I also work for them as well.”
Oriana watched in horror as Peterson and Nix smoothly reached into their jacket pockets and each drew out a gun; pointing them at Paul. Paul’s face turned white and he started trembling. He raised his hands even before Peterson and Nix ordered him to.
Kelly had travelled farther down the pipe than she thought she ought to, so she started shouting out Kent’s name as loud as she could. She was about to turn back when she noticed a light down a side pipe. Ducking down it quickly she found she had to stoop quite a bit to get through. When she reached the other end where she’d seen the light she stepped out into a chamber. This one had a large pool of water and a small platform to walk along. There was a metal grill in the roof and a couple of other pipes leading away in other directions. On the other side of the pool of water was a large tunnel that was impossible to reach without stepping into the water.
Kelly shone her torch into the water but it was too muddy to see anything underneath it. There was no way of telling if it was a few centimetres deep or a few metres deep. She turned off her torch and the chamber was plunged into complete darkness except for a small amount of light that oozed into the chamber from the grill high in the roof. She looked at the grill for a few moments and concluded that probably wasn’t the light she had seen from the main tunnel.
“Hello?” she called out, “is there anybody here? I saw your light. It’s ok, I don’t mean you any harm.”
“Hello!” echoed a voice from somewhere in the darkness. Kelly flashed her torch in several directions but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.
“Hi!” she called back, “Are you Kent?”
“Who would like to know?”
“I’m Kelly, I am Oriana’s best friend.”
“Why isn’t Oriana here with you?
“Because she’s being followed by these two creepy guys who are looking for you. So she sent me here to warn you.”
There was silence for a few moments before Kent replied, “That’s disconcerting. Who are these two creepy guys?”
“They claimed to be policemen, but it turns out they were lying. They said that you were part of some crazy cult and they were after you.”
Kelly spoke again, “Well, are you part of a cult?”
“What is a cult?”
“That’s not the kind of encouraging response I was looking for,” answered Kelly.
“What kind of response did you want?”
“A denial that you’re in a cult, not a discussion about what a cult is. I mean, isn’t that just what a person in a cult would say?”
“I think it’s an important conversation to have, especially when accusations of being in a ‘crazy cult’ are concerned.”
“That’s quite true, and I wouldn’t mind having that conversation with you some other time, but Oriana wanted me to also tell you that she’s buying you time to escape right now and she doesn’t know how long she can keep them off your trail.”
“What?” Kent’s voice was sounding alarmed now.
“Oriana told them you were living in the brick kiln to buy you some time. She’s over there now distracting them for you.”
Kelly heard a thunderous splashing of water and out from the tunnel on the far side of the pool Kent appeared. He charged across the pool of water seemingly coasting over the top of it. Just a couple of centimetres below the surface of the water there must have been a platform that only a person knowledgeable with the tunnels could have known was there. Kent reached the other side and stood next to Kelly. She could see clearly the concern in his face.
“If those men are who I think they are then she’s in a lot of danger. We had better go and get her before she gets herself injured.”
Peterson stood his ground keeping his gun trained on Paul, while Nix slipped around behind Paul and padded down his pockets. Nix found his wallet, keys, and phone. He removed Paul’s license from his wallet, then placed the remaining items on the ground in front of him. Peterson gestured to Nix and Nix responded with a shake of his head. Nix stepped back and observed Paul from the side.
“Who are you?” began Peterson.
“I’m Paul. I am not looking for any trouble.”
“Why did you come here Paul?”
“I saw you in here, and I wanted to know what you were doing.”
Oriana was fixed to the hole in the wall she was peeping in from. She was recording everything. She needed to stop recording if she was to call for help, instead she had just continued recording the scene playing out inside the kiln. She didn’t know what to do. Should she keep recording, call for help, distract them? Between fight and flight there is freeze, and that’s exactly what she did.
“Paul,” started Peterson, “we are government agents. We have permission to go wherever we like and do whatever we need to in order to keep this nation safe. We are after a dangerous fugitive who was sighted in this vicinity recently. Do you know anything about him?”
Paul looked at Peterson nervously.
“Come on lad, tell me what you know, we will let you go once we find him.”
Paul opened his mouth, but another voice called out over him.
“Sybaran Peterson, still claiming to be an agent of government I see.”
Kent appeared from the main entrance of the abandoned building. Nix stepped back and retrained his gun on Kent. Peterson nodded his head slightly in acknowledgement of Kent’s arrival.
“You are mistaken Kent, I have progressed through the ranks, my new title is sophim now.”
“What, you a sophim? Surely you’re too dull for such a rank.”
“Meanwhile, you have taken the Druid’s Oath. Explicitly against my advice when last we met.”
Kent approached the trio slowly; Paul was still standing with his arms up looking quite apprehensive with the exchanged going on from either side of him.
“I did it for a reason that I am sure even you would approve of.”
“And what reason was that?”
“I wanted money.”
Peterson chuckled for the first time. Oriana felt a chill down her spine as he laughed. There was something cold and menacing about his demeanour. Oriana detected some movement to her right, she looked up and there was Kelly sneaking up towards her. Oriana indicated for her to be quiet and to come closer. Kelly lay down next to Oriana and helped her to hold her phone up as her arms were getting tired.
“Don’t call the police,” whispered Kelly, “Apparently Kent knows these goons and thinks he can get rid of them so long as we keep recording them.”
Oriana nodded her acknowledgement, although a part of her was screaming at her demanding she call the police immediately. She felt she was doing something wrong in not calling them.
“So you wanted your grandfather’s inheritance?” asked the now jovial Peterson.
“Yes, I thought, what is three years of study, poverty, and service if I can get a couple of million dollars out of it?” said Kent cheerfully.
Peterson nodded, “So you don’t actually believe any of this religious nonsense? You are just going through the motions so as to collect your inheritance?”
Peterson actually looked more relaxed as though he was ready to lower his gun and possibly let Kent go. Paul noticed this and concluded that Kent must know what he is doing, and that whatever dispute these men had with each other, it was going to be resolved soon.
“Well yeah, at the time, I thought it was a bunch of silly stuff my grandfather took far too seriously. Like my father said, my grandfather was an eccentric old crank. However, my grandfather’s will was so interesting; leaving all that money on the condition that I commit myself to a religious order for three years. Back in those days, I prayed a lot for money.”
“Good, I am impressed Kent. Praying for money is something I approve of. What do you pray about now?”
“Well, now I pray to be strong enough to not be tempted by my grandfather’s money.”
Peterson’s calmer demeanour fell away from this face. His eyes glowed with hostile determination. The muscles in his arms tightened and the gun he was pointing at Paul by degrees was more menacing than ever before. One could see malicious energy being channelled through the weapon. Paul’s sense of growing ease at Peterson’s mellowing of attitude over the last few minutes was gone as he wondered what it was that Kent had said that so enraged Peterson.
Peterson’s voice was no longer relaxed, nor was it impassive like before, now it was dripping with vicious intent, “I actually hate slaughtering lambs. This young one here was entirely innocent. I was prepared to let him go free until you just said that. Alas, you are making me destroy him.”
“I am not making you do anything, you can still choose to let him go Sophim Peterson, you have an issue with me not him.”
“Yes, but I need to punish you, and torturing and murdering this man in front of you will drive home the message to your kind just how serious it is to defy the Tyranni.”
Paul’s joints started rattling as the probability of his imminent demise increased. Fearing that he might try to make a run for it Nix savagely kicked Paul in the back of his knee and brought him crashing down onto the concrete floor. Paul yelped in pain as his knee impacted heavily with the ground. Outside Oriana and Kelly gasped and shivered. Oriana grabbed Kelly’s phone from her pocket. Unable to unlock her phone she asked Kelly for her access code. Kelly still holding Oriana’s phone shook her head and indicated to keep watching.
“Yes, but I have a very good reason for you to not harm this man and to let him and myself go,” said Kent in a tone that seemed far too relaxed for the situation to allow.
Peterson laughed cruelly, “Go ahead, try to convince me not to start blasting his knee caps out in the next thirty seconds.”
“Because this entire conversation is being heard and recorded by two of my allies who are just standing outside,” said Kent simply.
Nix spun around and spotted the phone recording them from the hole in the wall.
“Oh shit!” cried Nix. He swivelled around to the hole and then back to Kent unsure which target to give priority to. Peterson grimaced and loosened his grip on his gun.
“What’s to stop us from killing them too?” asked Peterson eventually.
“You can’t stop them from uploading that video to the Internet in time.”
“And what’s to stop you from doing it anyway?”
“Three reasons: One, that I don’t want the police pestering me; I have a mission to complete and they would only get in my way. Two, that so long as I have that recording you won’t try to hurt me or my allies. Three, I give you my word that if you leave here without hurting anyone, I will not release that video.”
Peterson considered this, eventually he told Nix to put his gun away; while he did the same.
“Very well Kent. We are done here, and we will leave you be. We will also leave your friends behind and do nothing to hurt them whatsoever. We aren’t unreasonable after all. We respect strength.”
He waved at the camera and walked away with Nix in tow. The women scrambled to their feet and ran to the entrance on the opposite end to where Peterson and Nix were heading. They found Kent helping a lame Paul to his feet.
“Oriana, keep an eye on those two men, Kelly, you help me with Paul. His knee is badly bruised. We shall have to get him away from here as quickly as possible.”
Oriana watched after the two men as they walked down to the carpark and got into their car and drove out of the parking lot. By this time Paul was hobbling on one leg and Kelly was helping him out of the building. A few minutes later they had all made it underneath the willow tree and Kent was helping Paul into the drain box. Paul was starting to feel better enough to put some weight on his injured leg and was able to limp up the ladder into Kent’s home, although some pushing was needed.
Soon the four of them were seated at the table in the middle of Kent’s chamber. He had produced two old fold out deck chairs for the two women, while Paul was lying back in the armchair. Kent had taken out a first aid kit and given Paul some painkillers. Kent examined the injured knee carefully.
“It’s badly bruised, but the bones aren’t injured. You should be back to normal in a week or two. I am sorry they did this to you. It is my fault that this happened.”