They laid on their bellies and rolled on the floor with an intensity that made Alestor cringe like animals. You could call them cultists. Lost sheep was a better word. Pigs for slaughter was probably the best word.
And these children of Astyanax dragged themselves on the dirty floor with their mouths agape and their eyes bloodshot. They took steps forward, like lizards chasing the heat of the sun out of the shade. They were here for worship. Of Astyanax, of that demon who promised their family names the world and who had delivered nothing but the false hope and the anxiety. Still, they would worship.
Because people can believe lies if the promise is better than the existence they live now. Lies are some of the reasons people don’t hang themselves every second of the second. Lies, sweet lies.
The most excited for today’s offering were those in the front who had crawled on their knees. Their shins bled through their ripped and stained pants. Around them, the floral wallpaper from the rotting walls peeling away. This wallpaper fell, landing on the cultists like fallen scabs of the earth, black and brown and clinging to the worshipers as they slithered up the room.
It used to be an office meeting room once. Once, now it lay lopsided and uneven and nearly about to collapse and on the end where an old projector screen once buzzed with life, was the makeshift altar. A collection of candles, of scripture and of those purple flowers in broken vases. The cheap dollar candles stood lonely like acolytes in church. They flickered and illuminated and warmed the white-cloth wrapped faces of the cultists. The worshippers came up. They picked the candles and held them close to their chest. Like awkward pirouettes, they rushed around the broken long table in the center, the base of the fire shaking left and right. Others walked through the dancing ring, placing bones in the collapsed table.
The symbol of Astyanax, already drawn center-most. They propped the bones one by one, of all varying size; a femur, a skull, a hand (still fresh, this one). They tore their purple flowers and chanted, throwing pedal after pedal inside the arcane symbol.
Unholy worship, unholy sacrifice. Another member came up, he held something in his hand.
A cup. A goblet, bejeweled and stained looking, dented at the lip. Alestor came up to it. He put it at the very center of all the pretty sticks and bones and flowers.
He looked back, the veil on his head was purple. Far different from the white they all wore, the eight others.
Alestor looked back at the girl, Sophie, stubbornly laid in the corner of the room. Her deep breaths sucked in the sack.
“Bring the chair,” Alestor said. One of the degenerates rushed to the other end of the room. Alestor picked up the girl and sat her in the wooden chair. Her feet dangled high above the ground. They rocked it, four of them, laughing as they did so. Sophie’s breathing grew, her mask bloating and collapsing like a lung. Alestor came from behind and pushed the chair. It went forward, screeching and scratching the floor and causing Sophie to scream some. He laid her out in front of a corpse, another girl (older, this one) and bleeding through a sack.
And she was siphoned. Alestor put the cup underneath the corpse, Sophia shook and screamed at the sight. And Alestor siphoned the blood, pressing down hard on the wounds the corpse had and letting the blood flow down into the little goblet.
Sophie screamed. Crying.
“Now you relax, or you’ll end up like her,” Alestor said. But he was sweating, and his were shaking.
And what he meant, really was; I don’t want to kill another.
He rose from his knelt position, cup in hand.
He started for a table in the corner, near the window where some oddities rested. Flowers, mushrooms, herbs and a dead pigeon, decapitated.
He couldn’t quite make it.
The tremor underneath his feet stopped him.
“I thought you said we had this under control.” Alestor tried stabilizing himself, he glared at one of the cultists (as if it mattered, his face was hidden).
“We do. We do!” The woman cried. “It just…takes time.”
“Takes time,” Alestor said, his voice growing. “We don’t have time to take!”
His limbs tingled with worry. Needle prickles, all across his chest like his lungs had become a living puffer fish expanding and puncturing his chest cavity. The building shook again. He tried balancing himself, again but fell and dropped the blood from his cup.
“F***!” He lifted himself.
The Vicars screamed underneath. He heard a dog cry. Now the other eight worshippers looked around, no longer in dance or jovial play. Sophie was still crying. But no one could say a word.
They’re going to get us. He looked at the girl. And I don’t have time to collect anyone else.
Alestor looked around and shook, and his worry made the others do the same.
But she’s a girl?
He slapped his face.
But what’s another one to the mound? What’s one more sin?
His face turned clockwise to the girl still rolling in her seat.
“Don’t hate me. They’ve made a martyr out of you. Not me.” Alestor walked up to her. “They pushed me to this. Day in, day out with their nosy pickings. They dragged me and hurt me and forced me. There could have been others, older people maybe. So don’t hate me, sweetheart.” His voice softened to a whimper. “I don’t have the luxury of choice anymore, I’m sorry.”
He put a hand on her. And just like the routine goes, she did not cooperate. Her body morphed to stone-like rigidity. And from the little hole in her sack, Sophie looked through. There was no gag in her, the earthquakes must have shaken it out, and he didn’t have enough time to put another one in her.
She stared right into him. Tears in her eyes, hate hot and red and glazed.
“You killed him. Didn’t you?” Sophie asked. Alestor’s hands shook. He tried grabbing her. The sweat dripped down from his scalp, it slipped from his wet face. He looked greased all across, slippery. Unable to stand, unable to move without the fumble and trip. She screamed again.
“You killed him, didn’t you! My friend Pip.”
“Shut up,” Alestor said. “Shut up! Shut up!” He dragged her.
“Come on, help!” Alestor shouted to cultists. Some of them tried, others looked more…apprehensive. The building shook, all of them fell.
Smoke rose from the lower floors, up the side of the building.
That was about the time some of them called it quits. The rest were paralyzed with fear.
“Idiots.” Alestor heaved the girl, his knees buckled each step.
“What do we do?” One of the cultists clung to his feet. He kicked her away.
“Stop the Vicars, trash,” Alestor said.
“I’ll remember your face!” The girl said. “I’ll tell them everything.”
“Be quiet.” Alestor slapped the girl, she spat out blood at his face. And she looked up to him, as he dragged her through the dirty and cracked floor. He looked up, all hate and anger and sadness and…disappointment made apparent in those glossy eyes.
“My name is Sophie.” She forced the words out from between her grit teeth. “And you killed my friend Pip.”
Alestor went cold. Names make it worse, names always made it worse.
just shut up just shut up shutupshutshutshutup
“You little bitch!” He raised his hand. “Shut the f*** up.”
But his scream did not scare her, nor did the threat. Because there wasn’t an ounce of conviction in Alestor. He was shaking, he was sweating, he was nervous and looking every direction as they made it to the center of the room.
“You can’t keep me quiet. Not me or anyone you’ve hurt.” Sophie said. Alestor reached for her neck, she moved her head. He slipped and grabbed her cheek and pulled her halfway, as his grip slip. She wrestled from him, like a fish in his hands.
And he was just about to grab her, just about to get his hold.
But a glass knife came up. He backed away, it sliced him across his eye.
She cut her ropes. I didn’t notice? Stupid. Stupid! Stupidstupidstupid
He reached for her, managed to grab her wrist and pull the knife out. Then she punched him, and pushed him and just about the time the rest were about to help Alestor, the building shook again.
She stumbled and crawled, and Alestor tried following. Behind him, the floor collapsed. Two people sunk inside. The fire grew.
Sophie stood, leveraging herself with the help of the door frame. She looked back to him, to Alestor laying on his belly in the room.
“The world might forget. But I don’t, I never will.” She said. “You’ll get yours, believe that.”
It was like his heart was about to burst. Like his veins ran cold and his neck-flesh bloomed with prickling fear, goosebumps. The rope from her arms now dangled in her hands.
Alestor stood, a small trinket above (a bulb, was it?) fell on his head. He closed his eyes, only for a moment.
A moment is all it takes for trouble and ruin.
She ran out.
“I’ll go catch her.” Alestor rubbed his scalp.
“What’s going on down low though?” One of them said. Another looked outside, put his hands on the bars and faced down. The whole second floor was erupting with flames from the windows with the fury of Vulcan’s furnace. Something was being worked, they all heard the noises of steel and of flesh and of mighty shouts.
“Don’t worry about it,” Alestor said, to his side the goblet rolled. He picked it up. “Just get out, any way you can. There are plenty of escapes, you know them.”
“And what if we can’t?” A young woman said.
“Then you preserve our secrecy.” His eyes looked cold in the darkness. “You do anything. Anything.”
He turned from them and rubbed his scalp. Blood leaked down. He stood up shaky like a collapsed pyramid of cards desperately trying to rebuild itself. And stepped outside, bleeding and disfigured, the cartilage in his nose nearly busted open. Bits of glass were stuck in his cheeks.
And he looked down the hall, on one side the sound of monsters and man. Steel and growl.
On the other, nubile footsteps.
So he started running.