“Your honour! Who has this man, by choice, really injured by his crimes?”
Theo listened to the familiar melodic intonation of his lawyer’s voice, still unable to fathom the sequence of events that had led to this day; how he’d allowed himself to be swindled, coaxed and blackmailed back into The Attoli’s grip after the lengths he had gone to to free himself five years ago.
“If indeed they can even be called that? Do any of you think it possible that on that night at the abandoned manor, when making this deal, this man intended on causing such mayhem?” He continued. “It is an acknowledged truth that this cult has a history of blackmail, murder and ungodly rituals. We only know this because of Mr Gray’s exposure of these truths back in 1968 when attempting to escape their grasp. One could only expect people with such savage qualities as theirs to seek revenge. I ask of you to show compassion and consider what you would do if placed in his position.”
Theo shut his eyes and allowed his mind to take him to a place elsewhere. The voices all merged into one echoing buzz. He had just reached a point of serenity when he was startled back to reality by the judge. The judge clasped his hands together calmly, with purpose, interlocking his fingers.
“How does the jury find him?”
As he rested on a bruised leather sofa, facing the open French doors that overlooked the garden of the manor, he lifted a cigarette to his lips and inhaled deeply. A temperate hum of voices and music whirled around him. The party was in full swing now. The gentle summer breeze wafted into the room with gusts of sweetness, carrying the sugary pollen scent of that time of year. The intoxicating aroma delicately danced around him, soothing his vigilant nerves. With his free hand he rested a goblet on his thigh and let his head mould into the beaten leather. Closing his eyes he smiled with contentment. This was how he liked to feel. He was free.
The grandeur of the old abandoned manor house sat at odds to that of its run of the mill, ramshackle surroundings. The house itself was filled with bizarre and perplexing items. There was an unsettling combination of magnificence and neglect. On display were most of its celebrated items, both good and bad, from throughout the generations. Covered in a glimmering coating of dust, it was as though a moment in time had been preserved. Frozen. A rusty chandelier dangled from the high ceiling, it reminded him of a trap. He imagined that if he were to step beneath it, it would drop, violently, like a net in the jungle catching its prey – seizing him.
“Theo!” Felicity boomed into his ear. He jerked and looked at her. She tossed her blonde hair back and laughed at herself and then collapsed elegantly, like a fairy, onto the velvet cushion beside him. He looked at her and smiled. Her endearing habits intrigued him.
“My dear, why on earth are you sat here all by yourself?” she exclaimed, concern clouding her piercing blue eyes. “I was watching you from across the room. Tell me what you were thinking about.” He wondered why she would ask a question to which she knew she’d be denied the answer. She rested her arm on the chair. Her wrists were bound with straw bracelets; the ink of the ornate symbol of The Attolli peeked through the strands. Theo tried to identify the unsettlingly familiar outline but couldn’t quite make it out.
Simultaneously, they drew their goblets up to their lips, hers a soft crimson, his pale and chapped. The wine tasted of coins but they drank it anyway. That night, they appeared as though together, although their presence was never acknowledged as anything more than coincidence. It was, after all, a time where you could just be two people in a sea of many more. Suddenly she smiled and clasped his hand. Her skin felt delicate to him. Cool and smooth.
“I have to introduce you to my friends.” She leapt from the leather sofa and gestured for him to follow.
“Felicity,” he said, stopping her in her tracks. She turned to face him.
“Why here? Why do you all meet here?”
His question was met with a mischievous half smile.
“You tell me. You’re the wise man.” She raised a pallid brow.
He thought for a moment.
“You – you come here for one reason. At least I think you do. To free yourselves from the everlasting diet of gruel that your parents and grandparents lived on.”
She laughed and turned away, saying, “We can’t meet where we used to, some business that went on before I joined.” And she skipped on.
They weaved their way through the seemingly endless masses of dreadlocked hipsters, oblivious to their surroundings. She was mostly in light and he was mostly in shadow. Finally they reached the cooling air outside. It was nearly dark now and the weather had settled to a refreshing breeze. Her large eyes gleamed with excitement as she gestured to a group of people standing nearby. His gaze followed her gesture, to reveal a number of silhouettes, stood stark against a dilapidated orangery. Simultaneously, the members turned towards him, expressionless. Theo stiffened.
When closer, The Attolli were all dressed in white. The introductions were hostile and awkward. Felicity searched Theo’s face but he gave little away. He looked pale, expressionless, and his arms were folded defensively. Artemis – the leader of the group – looked at him like an insect.
“Felicity,” Artemis began, whilst holding Theo’s stare. “Run upstairs and fetch my coat, I should imagine we’ll be leaving soon.” He threw her a half-hearted smile before returning to his stare. Felicity reluctantly obliged, the reasoning behind the hostility intrigued her, but she did as he asked.
Upstairs, coat in hand, she sauntered over to the open balcony of the master bedroom to watch Theo. She noticed that he was tightly enclosed by The Attolli and engrossed in a heated conversation with Artemis. She crouched down behind iron railings to gain a better view, worried that it might turn violent. Theo’s timeless mannerisms had shifted to become adverse and defensive. She considered what two people who knew nothing of each other could possibly argue about. Artemis’s gesticulations became increasingly aggressive and animated, until he dramatically flung his hands into the air, whilst storming away, gesturing for Theo to follow him. As they disappeared around the corner of the house, Felicity ran downstairs and outside to follow them, keeping a safe distance away.
The two approached an old Bentley parked on the overgrown grass verge a little distance from the house. The tension between them seemed to have subsided. Artemis moved with purpose and authority. After a brief conversation he slowly opened the boot of the car. Felicity looked on as Theo appeared to lose all sense of rationality. He raised his hands to his head and violently ran his fingers through his dark quiff. Mouth open, he gaped, speechless at the mysterious reveal. His eyes flitted between the boot and Artemis. Artemis held an air of triumph yet maintained his authoritative persona. Felicity froze as a thousand thoughts raced through her mind.
Theo looked as though his world had just been torn apart. Artemis held out his hand and Theo seemed to just stare at it helplessly for a while. Reluctantly he shook it and then his hand fell limply to his side. On cue, the rest of the cult appeared, Artemis closed the boot and they piled into the car and sped away.
Theo was left reeling. Still, numb, unable to believe he had allowed himself to drop his guard. Felicity felt a burning desire to get closer, and as she did so, the moonlight revealed an intricate symbol on the crook of Theo’s neck that matched perfectly the one on her wrist. The shock left her reeling.