Penance

The cuffs which were securing her hands behind her back weren’t too much of a problem. What was the problem, however, was the two people who were keeping an iron grip on her arms, the four or five people guarding the door, and the innumerable number of people who kept the entire area under tight armed surveillance. In short, she was not about to go anywhere on her own accord, except perhaps to a very bloody death.

The way things were going now, though, death didn’t sound like that bad of an idea anymore.

The apparent leader of the group looked her up and down. “So this was what old Gero had been up to before the incident. Amazing little work of art, this one.” The corner of his mouth lifted into a crooked grin. “She’ll enjoy working for us.” He nodded towards someone behind her, and she felt herself being dragged out of the room.

***

The cell was dark, dank, and cold. On top of that, with her arms still cuffed behind her back, it was just about impossible to sit in a comfortable manner. After a bit of trial and error, she nestled herself against the inside corner of the room. Even in this position, though, the cuffs cut into her wrists and her arms were forced back just far enough to hurt. That was also about when the shock wore off and she became aware of the other injuries she sustained. Bruises, cuts, and scrapes stung and throbbed along her arms and legs from the chase which had taken her and her pursuers through a literal obstacle course. And then there were the injuries from earlier—but she didn’t ever want to think about that.

Of all the emotions that whirled inside of her, she was first and foremost confused, both at the recent turn of events and the other feelings she was experiencing. Worst of all was that empty, aching sensation she was getting at this very moment, which the darkness seemed to be magnifying. And that Thing which she was trying to keep out of her mind kept teasing its way back into her thoughts, making her heart race and her face break out in a cold sweat.

She looked up with a start as the heavy metal door swung open and people stepped in. Without any explanation she was yanked to her feet and pulled out into the blinding light. But instead of heading back to the room where she was earlier, her ‘escorts’ were taking her into a different direction.

“I don’t get that Johanes guy,” remarked one of the said ‘escorts’. “Why would he want a freak like her?”

“Maybe he’s been keeping his brains in his pants so long that he’s finally lost it,” cracked the other. “Or maybe Management hasn’t told him about her ‘special abilities’ yet.”

“How could he not know?”

Before the other could answer, they were joined by a third person. “Hey. Word from Management.” There was the sound of a piece of paper exchanging hands.

The first could be heard reacting in surprise. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

The other snickered. “Well, orders are orders, and if Managment wants us to dress her up real nice, we’ll do it. Maybe we should ask Rheba to pick something out for her, too, eh?”

“Very funny.”

***

The dress was a beautiful blue material up to the breasts, the shoulders and wrist-length sleeves a lighter blue mesh, and upon the collar was stitched intricate designs in dark blue. Altogether, with some small pearls in her ears, plus a touch of makeup and lilac perfume and a pair of badly colored pumps, she looked stunning, even with her arms cuffed behind her back.

“She looks pretty good in that getup,” remarked the other ‘escort’, the same from earlier. “I’m almost jealous of Johanes.”

The first groaned. “Don’t you start, too.”

“That was a joke,” the other mumbled.

Before long, she was on her way again; this time, though, she was handled in a more gentle manner, perhaps due to the nature of the dress.

The end of her walk was a large room with a large bed. At the foot of the bed stood a middle-aged man in a pressed dark suit with a somewhat weary yet anxious expression. As he caught sight of her, he became more nervous.

“Thank you,” he said to her ‘escorts’. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like you to leave us.”

The first ‘escort’ nodded. “We’ll be waiting outside.”

The man gave the ‘escort’ a Look. “Please.”

After a long pause, the other ‘escort’ spoke up. “Very well.” With slight bows, the two exited the room.

After the door shut, the man walked up to her and stared into her eyes as if he was looking for something. He then reached up to touch her face, but drew back before his hand made contact. He drew in a deep breath.

“Sit down,” he offered, gesturing to the bed, trying to be amicable without sounding forced. As she obeyed, the man went around the room pulling, pushing, and even occasionally hitting things. “Don’t want anyone peeking on us,” he explained. After a couple of minutes, he let out a satisfied: “There.” Before coming back to her he picked up something from his drawer, and, sitting down next to her, reached behind her.

The cuffs were released with a sharp click.

“Much better, isn’t it?” He smiled. Without waiting for an answer, he stood back up and walked to the other side of the room. “The name’s Kent Johanes, but you can just call me Kent. And you?”

“I have no name.”

“Then you should give yourself one,” Kent suggested. With the push of a button, one of the walls rolled back . “You know what this is?” She shook her head. “It’s a secret getaway. I had it put into this room a long time ago in case a bust happened, but I’ve never used it.” Kent smiled as he leaned against the wall. “It leads to a section of town well away from here. If you hurry, you’ll be halfway out before anybody notices that you’re gone.”

Now she was confused, and her face showed it. “I don’t understand.”

Kent sighed. “I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of, but I would never be able to live with myself if I just stood by and did nothing this time.”

His words still made no sense to her, but she did know that he was offering her a chance at freedom. She rose to her feet and discarded the high-heeled shoes which impeded her movement.

She was about to go when Kent spoke up again. “Before you leave, promise me something.”

“What?”

“If we ever meet again, pretend you don’t know me.”

She blinked. “A—all right.”

“Good. Now get going!”

He didn’t need to tell her that twice.

***

It took them less than a week to find her. This time, her arms were forced even further back.

“You’ve been a naughty girl, trying to run away on us like that.” The apparent leader traced a taunting finger along her dress. “And you ruined such a nice outfit, too.”

He snapped a finger, and Kent was brought in, looking worse for wear. Remembering her promise, she kept her face a blank mask.

“And Kent,” the apparent leader crooned. “I’m disappointed in you. You’ve been with us for so long.” He cracked his knuckles. “But that only makes things worse, doesn’t it?”

It was at this point that she wished she could turn herself off.

***

Again, there was no light in the cell. But this time, she was grateful, for the darkness hid her face. Beside her, Kent lay in what could be described as a heap. Her hands had been freed before she was dumped into this cell, but she didn’t dare touch Kent for fear of hurting him further.

“Go to sleep,” Kent advised. “You’re going to need the rest.”

“But—”

“Don’t worry, I’ll think of something.”

Reassured by Kent’s words, she closed her eyes and allowed the exhaustion to overtake her.

***

The bright orange-red flames were devouring everything in sight. The smoke stung her eyes and her lungs, the air was hot, and the roar of the fire drowned out all other sounds.

She was trapped. Every exit she tried was blocked by the raging inferno, and she had learned—the hard way—that fire was not something to be touched. There was nowhere left to go but up.

The man standing on the roof was beautiful and frightening at the same time. His wild hair, long robe, and white wings were stirred by an invisible wind as he surveyed the chaos below, a long
sword clenched in one hand. As he turned to face her, her heart stopped beating.

His eyes, like hers, had no pupils. But what made them so awful to look at was that they were burning. The very expression of divine rage in those eyes seemed to set the surrounding air on fire. She felt her entire being peeling away, layer by layer, under his smoldering glare.

He spoke. The words made no sense to her, but the unmistakable sinking feeling in her stomach told her that she was doomed. Her instincts were confirmed when he raised his sword into the air.

***

She forced her eyes open, and to her relief found herself back in her cell, the morning light trickling through the tiny barred window.

“Hey,” Kent greeted, propping himself against a wall. “Had a rough night?”

She puzzled a moment over how to answer Kent without telling him, but at the same time not lying, either. “I’ve been through worse.”

Thankfully, Kent didn’t further pursue the subject. “Man, I’m starved,” he complained instead. “Don’t they still have the decency to give us something to eat?”

A little while later, Kent received his answer: a tray of food enough to maybe feed one person was pushed into the room through the small opening at the bottom of the door.

“Ah, great!” Kent began digging into the food at once. After the first few mouthfuls, though, he stopped and looked at her. “Don’t you want any?”

“I don’t need much food.”

“Maybe not, but when was the last time you ate?” She said nothing. Kent pushed the tray towards her. “Come on. You’ve got to have something.”

Seeing Kent’s resolute expression, she picked up a small piece of food and nibbled at it. The next thing she knew, she was pretty much inhaling the rest of the meal. She didn’t realize what she had done until every bit of the food was gone.

She raised her guilty eyes to Kent. “I-I’m sorry—”

He raised a hand to silence her. “You don’t need to apologize for being hungry.”

“I’d hate to interrupt such a touching moment,” a voice from outside the cell remarked. “But you’re wanted elsewhere.”

***

They were taken into a large room that was filled with panels covered with flashing buttons.

“This,” the apparent leader said, gesturing to the panels. “Is our latest project, and we need to test it.” He grinned. “Guess who the guinea pig is.” He walked up to one of the panels and began pressing buttons. “Now, letsee.  To which universe should we send a traitor?”

With a roar that startled everyone in the room, Kent broke free of his captors and rammed into the apparent leader, causing him to press several buttons and send the machine haywire. At the same time, the guards, trained to fire at possible escapees, drew their weapons.

“Now!” Kent shouted to her, as a multicolored portal opened and shots began sounding all over the room.

“No, you idiots!” The apparent leader screamed, taking cover. “Don’t hit the machine!”

She stomped hard on the toes of the person holding her back and made a mad dash for the portal, looking around to find Kent as she dodged bullets. She gasp as she saw that Kent had been hit in several places and would die if she didn’t get him out of there.

“Go!” Kent mouthed, forcing himself to his feet. Thinking that he was getting up to join her, she jumped into the portal.

She turned around just in time to see Kent throw himself in front of her to take the bullets meant for her. The portal closed moments after that, and she felt herself losing consciousness as she was ‘sucked’ through a strange tunnel.

Just before passing out, she shed her first tear.

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