We walked briskly through the north building lobby towards the main entrance to the headquarters of the Church of Mammon, fighting the urge to run. Isambard had told everyone to keep walking until we were out of view of the main entrance, we didn’t want to arouse suspicion by running full pelt through the building no matter how much we wanted to. I was especially aware that Richard Guyard, a man who very much wanted me dead, was in that very building, some number of floors above us.
“Hi Verity.” a voice from somewhere made me jump. I was far too high strung right now. The person who had talked was Julia, once more sitting at the reception desk.
“Hi.” I said, still walking towards the entrance.
“Going somewhere?” Julia asked.
“Yep.” I replied. Anywhere that isn’t here.
Isambard reached the door first and pulled it open. Faith, Trey and I walked through. I gave Julia a little wave, I’m not entirely sure why. Isambard came out after us and closed the door.
“Left.” Isambard said and we all turned left and continued our not-run down the pavement. Then the moment we were out of view of the headquarters of the Church of Mammon’s glass front we abandoned the not-run and broke into a very real actual run.
“We need to get as far away as possible from the headquarters.” Isambard said.
“Turn left at the end of the block, then right two blocks later and we’ll reach a back alley.” Trey said. Had he been preparing for this? We followed Trey’s directions, mercifully the road we had to cross was clear, and entered into a back alley. It was tight and, even in the just-past-midday sun, dark, as the tall buildings either side looked like they’d block the sun at every angle but ninety degrees. We kept going, trying to put as much distance as we could between us and the Church of Mammon.
“Left at the end.” Trey said as we approached a junction. We all obeyed. “Right, then right again.” Trey instructed again. We turned right at the next opportunity, finding ourselves in a narrow corridor. Faith was fastest and took the lead, followed by Trey, then me, then Isambard. We ran down the alley. I was impressed by how well Faith and Trey were running while carrying the suitcases filled with money. Then, just as we were close to the next right turn, I heard something behind us.
No, above us.
I looked up and saw a figure flying through the air above us. Before I even realised what I was looking at, and before I could react, Isambard shouted:
Trey ducked immediately but Faith turned to see what was going on. She didn’t even have time to yell out before Tom Beckman collided with her, throwing her to the floor. He’d found us already! Not only that, but he’d launched himself over us to cut us off! Beckman got up. Faith lay on the ground, not moving. She was either unconscious, or Beckman had cast trap on her. Either way, she wasn’t going to be helping. We’d all come to a stop, none of us moving as Beckman dusted himself off. Our choices were simple. We could try and run, or we could try and fight.
Trey cast a blade and charged at Beckman. Fight it was. Isambard cast his own blade as Trey swung down at Tom Beckman. With a clap like thunder, Trey’s attack was halted by Tom Beckman’s own crackling blade.
“How did you find us?!” I heard Trey roar.
“It’s pretty simple really.” Beckman replied calmly, somehow more calmly than I’d ever heard him before. “I know this area and I know you, Mr Beal. When you ran I knew that you would take the most insignificant and obtuse route you could, sacrificing distance from the headquarters of the Church of Mammon to reduce the chance of anyone working out where you were heading.” Beckman pushed Trey off him. Trey stumbled backwards. “I trained you, Mr Beal, and this is exactly the route I would choose.” Beckman eyed Trey, and Isambard behind him. “Please do not resist. I have been ordered to bring Miss Pour in by any means necessary, but I would rather not cause further harm.”
“Further harm?” Isambard echoed, “How can you say that? You know exactly what Guyard has planned for Verity!”
“I will do whatever is needed to protect the order the Church of Mammon has created.” Beckman replied, his voice still perfectly calm.
“You didn’t create anything! The Church of Mammon didn’t create anything!” Trey countered. “It’s all a lie! Jeremiah Guyard found a power beyond anything he could have dreamed of, and his first thought was to ensure that it would never be available to those who might need it most.”
“I owe my life to the Church of Mammon, Mr Beal.” Beckman was still calm, and he began walking slowly towards Trey, “I know where my loyalties lie.”
Beckman could not be talked out of this. In that moment I knew. Just as Richard Guyard saw me as a threat to the order of the world he loved so much, Tom Beckman saw me as a threat to the very belief system that had given his life a new-found purpose all those years ago. He could not stray from the path he had chosen years ago. The only way we were going to escape was by beating him.
“I see that none of you will be convinced.” Beckman readied his blade. “So be it.”
“Are you sure you want to fight?” Isambard asked, but he readied his blade too. “Last time we fought I think we were pretty evenly matched, and this time there are two assailants for you to fight.” Trey readied his blade too. Beckman shook his head.
“Mr Poster, you would truly make a great practitioner of Divitaetion, if only you did something about that arrogance of yours. We are but servants of Mammon, are we not?” Trey swung at Beckman mid sentence. There was another noise like thunder as Trey’s blade clashed with Beckman’s once again. Isambard dropped a coin and, the moment he stepped on it, was launched into the air. He flew over Trey and Beckman’s heads, landing on the ground beyond them. He swung his own blade, but Beckman had already seen it and produced a blade in his free hand. He parried Isambard’s attack, and then kicked Trey in the stomach, catching him off guard.
There was no room for me to join the fray and, even if there was, I’m not sure I would be much help. Isambard and Trey attacked viciously, and Beckman expertly blocked each and every swing. The air was filled with cracking noises as blade clashed with blade. Beckman should have been at a disadvantage! There was nowhere for him to go, nowhere to run. In front and behind him were two very angry, blade-wielding former acolytes of the Church of Mammon, and on either side of him were tall brick walls, closing him in. And yet he stood his ground, not giving Isambard or Trey a single inch. The movements of all three combatants was so fast that I could barely keep track, but Beckman didn’t seem to be pressing a counterattack, he was merely defending. He was defending well, not a single attack was getting through, but he wasn’t doing anything to try and modify his current situation or reverse the flow of battle. Was it because he was surrounded, and didn’t want to focus on one enemy, lest the other catch him unaware? Was it that, or was he waiting for something? If so, what was he waiting for?
I realised it too late. Trey’s blade dissipated and, in that moment, Beckman dropped one of his blades and grabbed Trey by the neck. For a moment I expected Beckman to try and cast trap on Trey but instead he gave an inhuman roar in a most un-Tom-Beckman-like way and slammed Trey face first into the wall. There was a sickening crunch and Trey fell limp. Beckman knew a few alternate ways to incapacitating his foes, it seemed. But behind him I saw Isambard swinging his blade, going for Beckman. He had spent just a few moments too many focussed on taking down Trey, and it would be his downfall.
Beckman twisted his body and pointed the blade still in his hand towards Isambard and, with a roar, the blade burst forwards, shooting out at Isambard. Beckman was using a bank card, and he’d just rapidly increased the value of his blade to thrust it out into Isambard. Isambard himself managed the catch Beckman’s blade with his own but it shattered immediately, and Beckman’s blade carried on through, skewering Isambard in the side. Isambard went down, clutching his wound.
“Please stay down, Mr Poster.” Tom Beckman addressed his fallen foe as he stood up. He dismissed the blade he had caught Isambard with and turned to face me.
“Can I trust you to now come quietly, Miss Pour?” he asked.
I was shaking. I was shaking like it was that cold and dark midwinter night all those years ago and I was curled up under my duvet and nothing I did made the cold go away. This was it. I was going to die. Tom Beckman was going to capture me and Richard Guyard was going to have me killed.
But something had helped me, on that dark and cold night. And that something was going to help me again. I thought of the photo in my pocket. I pictured the three smiling faces upon it. Blades erupted from both my arms. For whatever reason, Divitaetion using the photo was far more flexible than when using money.
“I see…” Beckman sighed. “I am very sorry Miss Pour.” He cast another blade and attacked. I batted his attack aside, shattering it instantly. No money in the world could withstand what I was feeling right now and what that photo in my pocket meant to me. It wasn’t only the one remaining connection I had to a father I never knew, it was not the only thing that would extend my life, even by a few seconds. Beckman cast another blade but I shattered that one. Now it was my turn to attack. I advance on Beckman, slashing at him furiously. Beckman retreated rapidly. Dodging and weaving to avoid my wild swings. Occasionally he’d try to cast another blade from a note but I’d shatter it straight away. What did he think a mere one hundred dollars would do to help him in this situation?
And why wasn’t he using his bank card?
I stepped on something thin and plastic and-