The Snake and the Mirror

Chapter 44


“Talk” Asha slammed the man against the alley wall, hand pressed against his chesr as she stared him down.

“N-no.” The man tried to summon up what resistance he had. He was taller than Asha, but not by much. “The things they’d do to me if I talked…”

Leyla’s sword pierced the wall beside his chest, blade shimmering with heat.

“And the things we’ll do if you don’t?” He asked, eyeing him carefully.

It was a bluff on their part, if a dangerous one. Asha and Leyla had both been pretty strict on that point to Hazif and Freny. They were rebels and they had to fight, but they weren’t torturers, they wouldn’t sink to URIEL’s level.

The man was a mid-level employee at a nearby facility they had been tracking. They had hoped they might glean something from his walking route, but they’d been disappointed. Now, with their gestating cult in very dire straits it was time to start playing more dangerously. Hitting URIEL where they were weak, and even possibly uncovering some fo their secrets, was too valuable of an opportunity to slip by.

Asha pushed her hand hard against his chest, fingers spreading as spiritual energy coursed through her body beneath her skin. For him, it would have felt very hot, not enough to burn but enough to start making him sweat.

“I don’t believe you.” He said “If you were going to torture me you wouldn’t do it in some alley where I could scream for help.”

“Scream and the guards come down on us.” Leyla said.

“Yes, both of us.” The man pushed against her hand, even as he flinched at the heat. “And that’s worse for you than it is for me.

“Look” Asha said “We know you work with URIEL, we know there’s a lot of traffic and shipping into that facility. We’re not looking to hurt anyone.”

“You’ve killed a lot of soldiers” He spat back.

“Yes, we have.” Leyla said “Men armed with guns while we acted in self-defense, who serve a tyrannical empress. We just need to get inside, after that we’ll make our own way. It won’t be the first time.”

“Wait…” The man’s face went from confusion to revelation “You’re the ones who attacked the SV-facility a few months ago?”

“Uh…” Leyla paused as Asha shot him an angry glance. That had likely been where they had found Freny, but letting the man know only made him more of a witness.

“No no that’s brilliant!” The man’s face lit up “I thought you were just thieves or terrorists or something…well, I guess you’re both, but my friend Faraj was one of the scientists there. He said you got them to leave unharmed…Though he said you burned through his lab coat!”

“Yeah that was us…” Asha nodded “We’re not really in the business of killing civilians and unarmed scientists.”

“Who are you then?” He asked “There’s a thousand rumors going around but no one really knows for sure…”

“Well we’ve kind of needed to keep anonymity” Asha said before shaking her head “Back on the matter, we want into that facility.”

“Well I can’t give you my access codes or anything, they’ll know it was me.” He said.

“Make it work” Leyla said “Honestly this is a formality. Force us and we’ll go through the front door.”

The man gulped, clearly straining for an answer. “…early morning, 3AM or so, minimal staff on-site and I could…leave a few perimeter doors open after my shift ends. If you time it right you might be able to slip in without much fuss.”

“Tempting as that sounds” Leyla said “It seems a little too much like a trap.”

“No I swear! It’s not a trap” He said, and Asha couldn’t sense a lie in his words.

“He’s not lying” Asha said “But that was a pretty quick reversal.”

“It’s about more than just my neck” He said “There are a lot of people I work with…good people, some of them working against their will…They’re unhappy but alive, and I wouldn’t sell them out to some bombers or terrorists…but you spared Faraj’s life…and I hope you’ll spare theirs as well.”

“If they’re unarmed and they stay out of our way” Asha said “Then we’re not going to hurt them. But hat about your work? And the URIEL Loyalists?”

The man’s face hardened “Damn them…you think it’s sinister up here o nthe surface? The things they’re doing down there…it’s inhuman, there’s no other word for it. If I had a choice I’d…Can I just ask one thing?”

“We’re listening” Leyla said.

“When you leave, if everyone is out, burn the place down. I don’t want any trace of it left and…well it’s a bit self-serving but it would cover any evidence I leave of helping you as well.”

“I think we can manage that.” Asha said “Although…if there’s more that you’d like to do against URIEL, or you need to go underground, then I know a goddess that might interest you.”


It was late at night when they reconvened near the URIEL facility. Much like the last one the building was fairly mundane at the surface, the only sign of anything odd being the sizable perimeter wall surrounding it. They met about a block down the road, but rather than bring Eli along this time they had more potent reinforcements.

“I’m not followed” Freny huffed as Asha checked the corner of the street again.

“You think it’s wise to bring her?” Leyla asked, glancing at Freny “She’s going to be recognized.”

“Hazif’s fault for mentioning it in front of her” Asha grumbled. The second Freny had learned there was going to be a fight she had demanded to be a part of it. She might have been on their side, but she still had a bloodthirsty streak.

“We’ll just have to keep our eyes on her and make sure she doesn’t get too much publicity.”

“Alright…” Lela sighed before handing Freny a long scarf to tie around her face, though with her long horns and whipping scaled tail it seemed almost a pointless gesture.

Together, moving quickly and quietly, they headed towards the facility wall. As they got close, however, Freny suddenly stiffened visibly, halting in her tracks.

“What’s wrong?” Asha hissed, eyes darting around out of fear they’d be spotted early.

“This place…” Freny said quietly “This place. This place. This place…”

“Freny” Asha took firm hold of her shoulder, bringing her back to clarity. Freny shivered her eyes narrowing as her face set into a scowl.

“Are we killing?” She asked, pointed teeth bared.

“If they try to attack.” Asha said “If they don’t, then don’t attack.”

“Hate this place.”

“We’re going to burn it down” Leyla said “All of it, to ash. But first we need to get inside.”

Freny growled again but nodded her head in assent. Together the three of them moved back quickly to the perimeter wall.

The man had told them about a maintenance door on the west wall that was normally locked tight but lacked a guard. They found ti without arousing suspicion and Asha tested the handle, finding the door was unlocked.

“Good man” Asha smiled, but Leyla remained alert.

“It could still be a trap.” He said “be ready”

The maintenance door led into a shaft that, if the man was to be believed, would lead them directly into the facility without having to cross the yard that was strewn with guard. Of course, normally the maintenance hall had its own security but they were trusting their new friend had fulfilled his part of the bargain and seen to it.

True to his word, they found a ladder that led down into a darkened hallway that pointed them towards the facility. Once inside, he had warned, they’d largely be on their own. He lacked the clearance and the courage to try and disengage as much security as he could, and t might have tipped the guards off ahead of time. He had predicted that the second they managed to get to the lower levels the guards would come running.

The long hall from the maintenance office into the facility ended in a steel door that Asha also found to be unlocked. She opened it slowly, poking her head out to find a crisp sterile-looking white lab that was blessedly empty. Most researchers, he had said, would have gone home by now. Many of those who remained were never allowed to leave.

Leyla led them through the halls, sword in hand, as Freny brought up the rear and Asha moved between them, all of them with eyes and ears ready to catch the first sound of interception.

The sound of boots came from around the corner as a security guard rounded it. Asha could seen the startled confusion in his eyes before his body tensed, muscles moving to lift his weapon.

“Freeze!” He shouted, rifle rising to point at them, but Asha was quicker. In one swift blue or motion she moved past Leyla, drawing an arrow before releasing it. The man was falling with an arrow in his chest before he even knew what happened.

“Move” Asha said “The clock just started ticking.”

The man had said the stairwells to lower levels were in the southwest corner, and once again he was proven right as Freny forced open the sealed iron door with draconic strength, revealing the concrete stairwell spiraling before them. As the door was forced, however, alarms began to blaze throughout the facility.

The three of them threw themselves down the stairs, rushing from landing to landing to get to the bottom-most level where URIEL’s dirtiest secrets would be hiding. As they moved deeper, Freny’s movements became steadily more erratic, shivers running up and down her body.

“Hate this place…” She kept repeating over and over, and Asha placed a hand on her shoulder, trying to use her power to calm the dragon woman down. She wasn’t sure if it worked, but Freny did seem to calm visibly at her touch.

The door at the bottom of the stairwell was larger and thicker than the others had been.

“Give me a moment.” Leyla said and he moved his hands over the frame, pressing his palms against where the lock sealed the door and where the hidden hinges were as heat emanated from his skin, enough to soften steel.

He stood back, parts of the door glowing softly orange, before turning to Freny.

“Your show, Freny.”

Freny growled, teeth bared and tail whipping from side to side as she charged the door. There was a sound of wrenching metal as her clawed gauntlets stabbed into the reinforced steel and the door buckled before her before being ripped free from its hinges with a screeching groan of rent metal.

“Good job” Asha said, hurrying through after as she looked around “What in God’s name…”

The halls above had been spotless and sterile, a hall like any advanced research laboratory. Here, however, the halls were darker, lit only by harsh LEDs that bruned in the ceiling. The walls were covered with a tangle of cables and wires that covered every scrap of wall not covered in switches and dials that served some unknown purpose.

The hall branched out into several others, all of them similarly strange as they hurried to find something they could use, or at the very least a place to set their fire. Coming through another door, they found a large bunker that was clearly meant to serve as a dormitory.

A number of scientists, casually dressed in civilian clothes or lab coats stared as the trio entered. The alarms were still blaring outside and several were brandishing rudimentary clubs or fire axes.

“They’re here!” One of them hurried forward, brandishing his axe. “The intruders! They’re here to kill us all!”

“We’re not!” Asha said hurriedly “Just here to stop…whatever’s happening down here.”

“Monsters” Freny spoke next “They make monsters…”

Freny’s eyes were looking over them, narrowed and almost burning with hatred as she stared them down.

“Our work is important! We do the Queen’s bidding and we’ll be rewarded! That’s what she said!” the man shouted, still brandishing his axe dangerously.

“Asif, calm down.” A woman behind the axe-wielding man stepped up to him, placing a hand on his shoulder “I’m sure we can just…talk this…”

In one sudden motion she grabbed the back of his head and slammed it into the nearest deck, causing the man to crumple to the ground.

“Idiot” She muttered before looking up at the three of them. “And a zealot. The rest of us are more than happy to leave if you’re offering escape.”

“Umm…” Asha glanced between the fallen man and the woman “And who are you?”

“Varia Archeille, formerly willingly of URIEL. Now, I would like to leave if at all possible.”




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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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