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Ascent of the Tower

“Why do I get the feeling that this is just going to end in pain?”

“Oh, don’t be so pessimistic all the time,” Lupe replied. Lupe and Nick were both still in the main hall, still locked inside the tower, but now they were trying to find something to use as a battering ram.

“I’m not pessimistic, I’m a realist,” Nick said, “And I think that’s a lot better than constantly spouting mindless optimism. We could use that statue over there.”

“I don’t constantly spout mindless optimism! And anyway it’s better to smile and hope for the best than to be all gloomy about a situation. And optimists have happier lives,” Lupe said walking over to were Nick was pointing, “We can’t use that! It’s art! What if it breaks? I’d get in trouble! We…”

“One; I’m sure that under the current circumstances the people who own this place would understand the slight vandalism of their property, two; if they didn’t they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it, not in the law courts anyway and three; optimists don’t get anywhere in this world.”

Lupe paused for a moment and said: “Optimists do have happier lives, my…”

“And four; we are dead.”

“I do know…”

“Do you? Sometimes I have to wonder,”

Lupe ignored this last remark, she was used to Nick’s sarcastic comments, while Nick had got used to her constant chatter. She instead read the plaque on the Aztec statue: “Manuel Nombre – designed and financed the construction of Vertigos Tower.”

“Yes, let’s definitely use this statue.”

Nick took a good grip on the arm of the statue, or what he thought was an arm (you never could really tell with those Aztec style statues) and pulled it over onto its side onto the floor. Nick bent down to lift one side of the statue up, when he realized Lupe was just standing watching.

“Are you going to help me?”

“Oh, sorry,” she muttered quickly grabbing the other side.

“Things that involve strength are not my area of expertise,” Nick said, making Lupe giggle, “One, two, three…”

Together, they lifted the statue up off the ground.

“Now what?” Lupe said, her grip already slipping.

“We run at the doors… Go!”

BANG!

No effect.

BANG!

Still no effect.

“I…can’t…hold it…anymore,” Lupe gasped dropping her side of the statue… right onto Nick’s foot.

“#! !!!” Nick yelled, hopping away on one foot.

“Oh… I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to! I didn’t realize…”

“What? That stone statues are heavy?” Nick said between gritted teeth, leaning on the door, holding his foot just above the floor.

“Does it hurt?”

“No.”

“Really? Because it looked to me like…”

“Yes, of course it hurt you moron,” Nick said viciously, “Er…no offence,” he added quickly.

“You really need to work on your people skills,”

“Not helping,” Nick winced, testing his foot back down on the ground.

“And swearing isn’t nice.”

“Who are you? My mother?”

“I’m just saying…”

“You’re always just saying,” Nick pointed out, his foot was in working order, but it was still painful.

“Is there anything I can do?” Lupe said, openly concerned as Nick tried limping across the room

“Just, don’t go near anymore statues…or any other heavy objects that can cause me pain.”

“O.K!” Lupe replied brightly, laughing slightly.

Nick was about to tell Lupe that he wasn’t joking and that her amount of bouncy energy was unnatural when another voice spoke from the stairs: “So how exactly is this getting the power back on?”

“Olivia?” Nick responded before realizing: “Where’s Max?”

Olivia paused dramatically before answering: “Dead.”

What! Maximino dead? This meant that his job was over… Well he had compensation for that, but how did Olivia escape being sprouted? Surely she was with Maximino?

“What happened? Weren’t you with him?” Nick asked, suspicious.

“We got separated at the lifts and when I reached the bottom I found him: smashed into a million pieces. Dead along with Charlie and Rodrigo,” she replied, strutting elegantly and seductively down the stairs to stand next to Nick, ignoring Lupe completely.

“How do you know?” Nick asked slowly.

“Yes, who…” Lupe started but was cut off by Olivia, still refusing to acknowledge Lupe’s presence.

“I came across them before hearing your racket,” she answered smiling sweetly, the look didn’t suit her.

Nick had seen her act that way to Maximino, even to Hector, but never to him. She had always been her true cold self during their affair. Olivia made it clear that if Nick didn’t like her attitude then he could take a hike. She could easily find someone else to put a bit of danger and excitement into her so boring afterlife.

“We…” Lupe started but Olivia cut her off, moving to block Lupe from conversation: “Sounded like you were trying to batter down the doors.”

“We were; the doors are locked,” Nick answered.

“How inconvenient,” Olivia said, smiling slightly.

Finally Lupe burst, “Excuse me,” she said walking around to stand back next to Nick so she could be heard, “but do you two know each other?”

“And you are?” Olivia asked scathingly, even she couldn’t ignore a direct question.

“I’m Lupe,” she replied, Olivia looked at her as if Lupe was a piece of chewing gum she had just found on the bottom of her shoe.

“You’re not that coat check girl from the Calavera Café are you?”

“Yes, that’s me. But now I work…”

“I thought you had higher tastes than that Nick,” Olivia said, again blocking Lupe from conversation.

“What?”

“I’m teasing you,” Olivia said moving closer to Nick and whispering: “I know you would never associate yourself with trash like that,” Olivia gave Lupe a snide glance as Lupe crossed her arms. Was that jealousy Olivia could see on Lupe’s skull?

Nick was thinking hard - if Rodrigo, Charlie, Maximino and Hector had all been sprouted… who did that leave to be the murderer?

“The remaining suspects - Domino, Celso and Olivia…” He said finally, mostly to himself.

“I’m on the suspect list, now am I?” Olivia said in a flirty manner.

“Yes,” Lupe said shortly.

“I thought it was innocent until proven guilty?”

“Leave the legal matters to me, all we need to do is get out,” Nick said, turning back to the business of the doors.

“There’s a room on the fourth floor that has a few sets of keys to this door,” Lupe stated, becoming her bubbly self again. Apparently the knowledge that Olivia was a suspect had brought back her cheerfulness.

“And who asked your opinion?” Olivia asked unpleasantly.

“Nick wants to know it, don’t you Nick?”

“No one wants to know,” Olivia said before Nick could even reply.

“But, it’s the best plan we’ve got,” he said to Lupe’s happiness.

They were about to set off, back up the stairs, when Olivia slipped her arm around Nick to draw out his sproutella gun.

“Olivia, I don’t think this is the time or the place.”

She ignored this comment and cracked the gun open to reveal Nick’s remaining ammunition.

“Nick you have two shots left out of eight. When have you used six darts?”

“Er…”

“When we were attacked, you fired some, didn’t you?” Lupe answered for him, trying to be helpful.

“All Six?”

“I haven’t reloaded in a while,” Nick said finally.

“Hmmm…” Olivia said handing the gun back.

---

“Please, help me; I can’t climb up any further!” Lola called up to Domino, who was lazing about on top of the tower battlements. Lola was almost to the top, but not quite. She still had a few metres to go and by now all her energy had disappeared.

She didn’t know how she had made it this far. Domino had not helped her one bit and instead was always a few metres ahead, taunting her all the way. She would have broken down into tears many times by now if she was still alive, but skeletons don’t have tear ducts.

“Please,” she begged, her grip on the hard stone slipping.

“But, you’re doing so well,” he called down to her; Lola could see he was laughing.

“I’m going to fall!”

“Then I advise you hold on,” he replied, blowing smoke from a new cigar upwards into the night air.

Lola took a glance down at the ground that stretched out so many metres beneath her and quickly whished she hadn’t as a new lease of fear took her. Lola could hear her own breathing getting faster and faster, the distance she had to climb seeming longer and longer till it reached impossible.

Oh…why had she done this?

Because Lupe needs my help, something inside her answered.

Lola looked up into Domino’s smirking skull. He waved.

“When I get up there, I’m going to wipe that evil grin right off his face,” she told herself.

She knew she would never do anything of the sort, but this simple sentence seemed to bring her a new sense of determination.

She looked up at the stone and moved her fingers to the next hand hold. She took a deep, steadying breath and pulled herself up. Not looking at Domino or the hard ground beneath her, she pulled herself up again to the next handhold and the next and the next.

“Almost there, almost there,” she told herself over and over again, “Just one more final push…”

She triumphantly grabbed onto the battlement and swung herself over onto the tower floor, turning to look at what must be a shocked look on Domino’s skull.

Well, she was wrong about that.

“See, without my help you would have never have made it,” he said walking away to the door that led back into the tower- still smirking!

“What…You…how?” Lola was left gaping, how could anyone think like that? She stood in disbelief at Domino’s arrogance, before remembering that she was on a mission and walked through the small black door into the tower and saw Domino was already walking away down a corridor.

“Wait,” she called out, “Are you just going to leave me?”

“Yep, I’ve got unfinished business remember?” Domino replied, discarding his cigar.

“Well O.K,” she paused for a while before saying: “You were telling the truth about there being a murderer in here, weren’t you?” Lola checked, hoping this hadn’t all been one big lie. She was sure this man was capable of it.

“Of course,”

“Well…do you have any idea who it could be?”

Domino thought for a moment before answering: “Could be anyone.”

“Anyone?”

“Everyone here was made to walk so that means everyone has done something…how should I put this? Immoral.”

“Immoral?”

“Such as murder. And after you’ve done it once, it’s easy do to again.”

“Well, I’ve never killed anybody,” Lola said naively.

Domino chuckled for a moment before responding: “All I’m saying is that everybody here was able to commit the murder so trust nobody.”

Leaving Lola with that thought, he swaggered away down the corridor.

Leaving Lola alone.

---

“I thought you said this place was only two floors away?” Olivia took a snipe at Lupe.

“I’m sure it’s down this corridor… sort of,” Lupe said checking a side door, nope not there…

“How can you get lost in the light? I wouldn’t have thought even you could manage that,” Olivia continued, taking every opportunity to bring Lupe down.

“I... I… Well I…” Lupe stuttered.

“Leave her alone for Pete’s sake Olivia; she’s trying to help us,”

“And when did you start looking out for the interests of anyone else other than yourself,” Olivia asked, slightly taken aback.

“I don’t, I just know we’ll get out a lot faster if you stopped constantly insulting her.”

Olivia had kept up a stream of spiteful comments towards Lupe until her confidence had been crushed and her knowledge of the tower seemed to have vanished with it. But after Nick’s words she seemed to regain herself a bit.

“I think it’s just through this door and then down another corridor,” she said a note of that bubbly energy back in her voice.

Lupe opened the door…

“AHHHHHH!”

Celso Flores fell through the door frame… sprouted.

Lupe jumped back in shock, grabbing onto Nicks arm, turning her head away from the sight.

This was the first time she had ever seen a sprouted soul.

Olivia took a few steps towards the remains of Celso and bent down studying the flowery mess.

“Better remove Flores from your suspect …” Olivia stopped in her tracks, gazing suspiciously (if she had eyes they would be narrowed) to the left of Nick. He followed her gaze to were Lupe was hanging onto his arm in a white knuckle grip.

“Er…Lupe?”

“Yes?” Lupe whimpered, not removing her gaze from the wall behind them.

“Let… go… please,” he said, trying to pry her hands off. After she had let go Olivia still didn’t seem satisfied and so Nick took a few steps away from Lupe to the right.

Olivia had been suspicious that this pitiful girl may have feelings for Nick; she was just the type to fall for whoever she was slung together with in a survival situation. Pathetic. Lupe didn’t have a chance with Nick Virago, even if she, Olivia, hadn’t been there; Nick was almost as cruel, merciless and un- feeling as she was and didn’t understand the “meaning of love” let alone feel it. Or was she giving him too much credit? It didn’t matter; now that she was here Lupe stood no chance.

Lupe meanwhile, had finally got a hold of herself and was looking at the pile of leaves that was Celso Flores.

“Is he… dead?” She asked finally.

“What do you think he’s doing? Sleeping in a bush?” Olivia said, a new tone of viciousness in her voice.

Nick gave Flores a savage kick to what he judged to be the stomach: “Yes, I think it would be a correct assumption to say Flores is definitely dead.”

“I think I’m going to be sick…” Lupe said turning away again. If she was or not Olivia and Nick couldn’t see as the power went out.



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