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“Please,” Nick begged, “could you stop this constant stream of inane babbling!” Nick wasn’t going to degrade himself by getting down on his knees, but five more minutes of Lupe’s chatter and he might have to resort to such drastic measures.
They were walking around the halls of Vertigos Tower, with the power on, as Lupe showed Nick the way back up to the dining room at the top of the tower.
“Babbling? Am I babbling? I don’t think I babble. I’ve been told a few times that I talk quite a lot, but I wouldn’t say I babble on about nothing.”
“Even if I did babble, I wouldn’t call it a bad thing. At least there are no awkward pauses in conversation. I mean…”
“Do you even know where you’re going?” Nick said suddenly. If he couldn’t shut Lupe up, he was at least going to get her to chatter about something relevant to their situation.
“Sort of,” Nick repeated.
“Well, I’ve only been working here a month and this place is huge, but I know which general direction to go in,” Lupe explained, looking down two corridors and finally choosing the left one.
“And which direction is that?”
“Great,” Nick said dryly, as Lupe changed her mind and decided to go down the right corridor instead.
“It’s not that bad,” Lupe responded to the grumpy look on Nick’s skull.
Nick was about to say something sarcastic and cutting, but decided to hold it back. Upsetting the person who knew the layout of the building, well sort of knew the layout of the building, wasn’t a wise move. So instead Nick decided to make a moody response.
“Oh really, how?”
“Well…” Lupe said slowly, “you’re not alone.”
On the other hand, if heavy sarcasm could get Lupe to be quiet…
“Two is always better than one!” Lupe continued happily, “and the lights are on, we’re not completely lost, the weather is nice and…we’re halfway there!” She finished excitedly as they came to a staircase.
“Out of interest how much sugar have you consumed this evening?” Nick asked as they ascended the stairs.
“What?” Lupe responded, confused.
Nick bathed in the few moments of confused silence he had created when Lupe asked: “So, what’s it like being a lawyer?”
“If you’re considering a career change, just don’t.”
“No, silly, I just wanted to know what it was like. You know, what’s good about it.”
“Well,” Nick thought for a moment, “the pay’s good.”
“Is that it?” Lupe said, almost giggling.
“Well…The pay is very, very good,” Nick started again as Lupe burst into a fit of giggles, “well, you’re stuck being an insignificant coat check girl, you could never understand” Nick said angrily.
“I like my job and in the end that’s all that matters,” Lupe defended herself as they walked through a door into a large room. It had a few small tables scattered around and several doors leading off into more corridors.
“You don’t want anything more? You don’t want to be top of the land of the dead? You don’t want more money, more power or anything?”
“No, I’m happy where I am.”
Before Nick could respond to Lupe’s lack of ambition the power went out.
“The lights have turned off,” she said.
“Really, I hadn’t noticed,” Nick responded sarcastically.
At that moment, something flew passed, narrowly missing Nick’s skull, and landed sticking out of the door.
“What was that? Did you…”
“Shhhh,” Nick whispered forcefully as he flicked his lighter on to look at the small item sticking out of the door, hoping it wasn’t what he thought it was. Bringing the flame up to the object, his notion was confirmed.
A sproutella dart.
“Get down!” Nick hissed to Lupe, flicking his lighter off and ducking down by a table on its side. Another shot echoed through the hall landing where Nick had been standing a few seconds ago.
There were several escape routes, they could choose any one, the nearest being only a few metres away from him. Nick was about to whisper to Lupe the plan, when he noticed she wasn’t with him.
The attacker was firing random shots into the room, no longer knowing where to aim. Nick fired two shots back, but in the impenetrable darkness he had next to no chance of a hit.
Five meters to the other side of him, Nick heard a whimper. Looking carefully into the darkness he could just make out the outline of Lupe. She was frozen to the spot, paralyzed in fear.
“Get down you fool!” Nick yelled, the sound of his voice drew the attacker’s shots towards him and the assailant let loose a round of ammunition.
Nick managed to narrowly avoid the cluster of darts and crawled to another table to use as cover, the attacker following the movement with his shots. Lupe still hadn’t moved, but instead found her voice and let out a scream.
The attacker let lose another round of ammunition in Lupe’s direction and Nick heard a thud as her body collided with a table. No more sound left Lupe’s mouth.
Nick tried another shot, but only managed to unwittingly give away his position as more shots rained down on him.
Nick was in the middle of the room, with only a small table protecting him from the darts, the assailant concentrating all of his fire at him, yet Nick still didn’t know where the attacker was.
He was trapped.
No, he was Nick Virago; he wasn’t going to be out done by some buffoon. Then he had an idea.
Ducked down, the assailant still firing shots, he crawled to the edge of the table and set up his lighter on the edge. Immediately the attacker’s fire was drawn to the light source allowing Nick to slip away. He was almost to the door when one thing stopped him: Was Lupe still alive? He didn’t care or anything, he told himself, but he still had to check.
The attacker still hadn’t worked out that the lighter was a trick, so Nick crept around to where he had heard Lupe collide with a table. There he found Lupe; still, unmoving and petrified but flower free.
He gave her a quick prod (“Ow!”) and whispered: “Get up, we’re going.”
“N…n…no, we’ll get shot!” Lupe whispered back, starting to tremble.
“Leave the pessimism to me and let’s go!” Nick responded, getting impatient and giving Lupe a shove towards the door.
She stumbled, drawing the assailant’s attention back to them, who began rapidly shooting in their direction. Nick dragged Lupe through the door, the darts only just missing them, and both of them sprinted away not knowing where they were going.
After several floors had been put between them and their attacker, they finally stopped running.
“I thought you said the murderer wasn’t in the tower?” Lupe asked, panting slightly.
Nick didn’t reply; he was ready to collapse after all the running. Lawyers weren’t meant to do all this physical activity.
Finally he replied: “I didn’t think he had a gun either,”
“Well, at least we know now. That was the first time I’ve ever been in a gun fight. After you get over the first shock of being in a cross fire, it is actually quite exciting…”
“Wait, wait,” Nick cut off Lupe’s babbling, “you see every one who comes in and out of this tower don’t you?”
“Yes,” Lupe replied uncertainly.
“Apart from the eight guests did anyone else come into the tower tonight?”
Lupe thought back for a second and then replied definitely: “No, no one else.”
“The murderer is one of the guests,” Nick concluded and after a second of thought formed a new plan.
“Forget Max and Olivia, we have to get out as fast as possible,”
“O.K!” Lupe replied happily, “Thanks for rescuing me.”
“I didn’t rescue you.” Nick growled.
Rodrigo quickly walked down a flight of stairs into a long corridor. Or at least he thought it was long, he couldn’t see in the dark. He started walking down the corridor, his footsteps echoing around the walls.
That was when he first noticed it.
As he walked, he could hear another set of footsteps on top of his own. Almost stepping at the same time as his, but not quite.
At first he thought nothing of it, probably the echo distorting the sound he thought to himself. But still he was wary of the second set of foot steps.
He walked on for about a minute, trying to ignore the sounds, but he could not.
“Is there anybody out there?” He called out, whirling around to face the darkness behind him.
No one responded and without light he couldn’t see. He carried on walking and still the second set of footsteps was there.
Maybe he was imagining it: alone in the dark, a murderer on the loose. His imagination was probably playing tricks on him. But it was not.
Again, Rodrigo checked behind him. He walked back a few paces, stretched out his hand into the darkness, but only to grab thin air. Rodrigo carried on walking and the footsteps remained.
Now he tried to outwit the footsteps, catch them putting one down out of sync. He slowed his pace down, stopped suddenly, sped up, tried everything, but still the footsteps remained in time to his own.
In frustration he stopped again.
Two seconds later a footstep was heard, close, behind him.
Rodrigo couldn’t stand it anymore and he ran. All the way down the corridor and still the footsteps followed him. Finally he came to a door, went through and slammed it shut.
Rodrigo faced the door, waiting, waiting...
It creaked open.
A sproutella gun was held before him.
Rodrigo wanted to move, to escape, to run. But he couldn’t.
One shot and he slumped onto the floor in agony as the flowers took his skeletal body.
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