60 FOR 5
"The capability of negotiating...is something that means you not only have to understand fully what you believe and what your national interests are. But in order to be a really good negotiator, you have to try to figure out what the other person on the other side of the table has in mind." -Madeline Albright
Siberian Forest (Elysium)
Mary Falk knew it was a bad idea. She knew Alec Derevko would want to kill his distant descendent Irina. But Irina insisted that she be there.
And now, Mary the only one that can stop Alec from plunging his hidden blade into the back of Irina's skull.
The moment Alec teleported away, Mary knew exactly where Alec would reappear. And when he reappeared, he immediately had his right arm winding up behind him and was close enough to drive the blade into Irina's skull with a single step forward.
Mary is standing just as close to Irina as he is, which means she can reach Alec before Laurent can react and stop Alec and also before Irina can even turn around before she knew what hit her.
Alec steps up and thrusts his arm forward, but it's caught by two hands about six inches from Irina's head. The hands belong to Mary Falk, who lunged at him to stop him.
With his other arm, Alec tries to pry Mary's hands off of him, grunting and grimacing all the way. He even yells out "Let go of me!" But Mary doesn't. In fact, in something of a surprise to him, Mary tightens her already firm grip on Alec.
Irina turns around and watches the struggle take place behind her. She's a little surprised that Alec would try to attack her, but not overly so given his temper.
"We are assassins, and we are good at what we do...for it is all we do."
Irina remembers those haunting words from the first time Alec berated her in the Elysian Council chambers very, very well, along with him calling her pathetic to her face. That took guts that didn't exist in 99.9% of the human race in any era.
But above all else, she's actually more surprised that Mary stepped in to defend her. She still had some doubts about Mary going into this meeting, given their past, but those doubts appear to be alleviated for now.
As the struggle continues, Alec yells at Mary again. "Let go of me, dammit! She was..."
Mary yells back "She was reaching for her cell phone! She left her gun at my place, you stubborn bastard!"
Before Alec can fire an insult back at Mary, Laurent appears behind Alec and immediately bearhugs him, causing Mary to let go. With Alec's arms still flailing like a petulant child, Laurent drags Alec a few steps away from Mary and Irina.
Alec turns his head back as far as he can and yells "What the hell are you doing, Laurent?"
Laurent, not yelling in return but still very stern and cold, says "I was going to ask you the same thing. You were given an order to stand down."
"She was reaching for her pocket! She could have had a gun!"
Laurent stops and, in a quieter tone, says "Alec, you know how to spot guns from a distance. There is no humanly way she could have fit a gun in her jeans. Besides, I know that is not why you attacked her. You should know better than to lie to your best friend. I know why you attacked her, and so do you."
Alec lets out a deep, deep sigh as the fight in him goes out completely. His arms start flailing, and his muscles relax in Laurent's arms. With defeat all over his gruff voice, he tells Laurent "Let me go. Just...let me go."
Laurent slowly lets go of Alec and steps back a step to let Alec cool off in the cold Russian night.
Irina, who still has a hand in her pocket, pulls out the cell phone that Mary alluded to. "See, Alec?"
Alec keeps sneering at her, not saying a word. But he hates being wrong around people he hates.
Behind Irina and Mary, Milo Rambaldi takes a few steps forward. "Irina, why did you ask Alec to be here when you surely must have known that he would have tried to kill you, even if it meant defying my explicit orders?"
Irina turns back to Rambaldi and says "Someone walked up to me a while back and told me that I was pathetic right to my face. I wanted to prove that man wrong."
Alec snaps "That opinion has not changed, nor will it ever! You are what you are."
Irina turns back to Alec and says "I have nothing left to lose anymore, Alec. Nor am I on the run from governments around the world because I had to be a criminal in order to survive. I've been hiding my true self for far too long and I'm tired of it. Think about it, Alec. I want to help."
"I have been trained to spot a liar, and what you just said feels, sounds, and smells like horse manure. I don't know where in your bloodlines you acquired the ability to hide your true self so well, but it certainly wasn't from my part of your heritage."
"I've hidden my true self since the KGB asked me to be someone else for Jack Bristow."
"The KGB must have seen the treachery that lies within you to recruit you."
"That's bullshit, Alec and you know it. The KGB saw how desperate I was to make something out of my...'pathetic' life. That's what they did, taking desperate people like me. The Soviets have ways of breaking your will and molding you into what they want to be that even your cold exterior couldn't withstand. I saw many good people become mentally broken thanks to the KGB's brainwashing and not even make it through their program."
"And yet, you survived."
"Maybe I do have you to thank for that after all. Maybe I've got your stubbornness..."
Alec suddenly throws his hands up and yells "Oh this is complete nonsense! I'm not going to take part in this charade no more!" Alec then starts stomping away back towards the path to the portal.
A concerned Rambaldi asks "Where are you going?"
Alec points towards the general direction of the portal. "There is a real problem going on that way. The door to Hell is opened and instead I am in a debate with a woman I hate with all my heart."
In an almost innocent tone, Irina asks "Why is it that you hate me so much?"
Alec gives her a disbelieving look. "Did you already forget what all I told you in the Elysian chambers? Have you suddenly developed amnesia?"
"You feel somehow responsible for what I did in life. Does that about sum it up?"
Alec lets out an incredulous snicker, shakes his head, and walks away from the gathering and back towards the portal. There's obviously more that's gnawing at Alec about Irina, but it's obvious that he's done discussing it to Irina or anyone else for the night.
Laurent walks over and stands next to Rambaldi, who is also watching Alec walk away. Laurent sullenly comments "That man has a lot of anger in his heart. It has consumed him and made him bitter at not just Irina, but the world."
Rambaldi gives Laurent a curt nod. "We'll talk about that later. I have a theory I'd like to share with you when we get a moment in private."
Laurent just nods a little uneasily. He doesn't like when Rambaldi admits there's more he knows about the situation than he lets on, but then again, he should know better than to let that bother him by now. Laurent knows Rambaldi has forgotten more than Laurent has ever remembered.
Meanwhile, Irina gives Mary a surprise pat on the shoulder from behind. Mary jumps and looks back at Irina, not expecting that at all. She sees Irina cracking a small smile. "Thank you for having my back back there."
Mary just shrugs. "I told you bringing Alec here was a bad idea, Irina."
"I know you did. When all is said and done, I hope I have changed Alec's mind."
"That will be difficult to say the least."
"Difficult, yes. But it'll be such an accomplishment in the end. But he's not the only mind I have to change."
That last question came from Laurent. Mary and Irina both turn their attention to him and Rambaldi. Mary asks "What?"
Laurent curiously asks "Mary, I know everything that happened between you and Irina almost six years ago. And I know that you know the things that Irina has done in her life. And yet, you bring her here and prevent Alec from attacking her. Mary, I don't understand what is going on here. Perhaps you can shed some light on this mystery."
Mary sucks up her courage and says "I believe that Irina can help us get past this whole nightmare that we've been going through lately. In fact, I think she's our only hope."
"Is that so?"
"Yes. I'll have her discuss the details with you."
Rambaldi folds his hands and lets his arms hang at his waist. "Irina, I apologize for my assistant interrupting you before. Please, begin what you are here to discuss."
Irina nods and looks down at her phone. "In this phone, I have contact information, GPS coordinates, and communications between myself and the rest of the company that I crossed the portal with. I'm sure you know by now who they are."
"I am to understand that Francisco Alvarado, Gordon Dean, and Cesar Martinez have perished so far, yes?"
"And Julian Sark."
Laurent raises a curious eyebrow at that. Mary gives Irina a sudden glance and says "You never said anything about Sark..."
"You never asked."
As Mary lets out a sigh, Laurent asks "What happened to Julian Sark?"
"Kelly Peyton says that Francisco Alvarado's cartel army killed him."
"Do you believe her?"
"No. Kelly never found Julian all that endearing and she's a woman that works best on her own. There was no way would she work with Julian."
"You know this and yet, you let that happen. I sort of had the impression that you had some authority in your group."
"I do. But there was a reason I didn't voice a protest over having Sark look for Kelly in the Siberian woods. There was also a reason I picked Cesar and Mitch to be on this team when I know they were the very definition of loose cannons. And that's because I knew that their fates would be sealed on their own. Kelly had a gun, Sark didn't. Kelly killed Sark, that means there's one less man to deal with, and a pain in the ass at that. Cesar and Mitch...well, they're about as hateful as Alec is and I knew their fates would be sealed at some point, either at Tom and Nadia's hands or through some other means."
"That is very interesting, Irina. You say Kelly is still alive?"
"Yes. She remains with the army as a liaison for the rest of us. In fact, I'm the only one she trusts now in our group."
Laurent concludes "I'm sure that is by your doing."
Irina smirks and says "Maybe."
Rambaldi reflects a bit on that information, then says "You've given us valuable information already. Before you continue on, might I ask why you are being as cooperative as you are? Is it because of your desire to be this woman you've been repressing all this time?"
"Yes. I want to make a deal with you. The nuggets about Sark, Kelly, Cesar, and Mitch were free. Everything else will come with a price."
"And what price might that be?"
"After I help you hunt down and take out the rest of my crew, I wish to remain in Elysium. I am asking for both amnesty and forgiveness for my past crimes. As I explained to Mary earlier tonight, it is my desire to be the person I should have been all my life, the person that I hid under the veil of being a KGB agent and later a criminal."
Laurent has a look of total disbelief on his face. While he doesn't share Alec's bloodthirsty anger towards her, he knows better than to take Irina at face value. This is amazing to him, and it again gets him wondering about how Irina convinced Mary to bring her in front of Rambaldi.
As for Rambaldi, he keeps his neutral expression on his face and asks "And what person would that be, Irina?"
Irina looks down at the ground timidly, which is a feeling that Irina rarely shows. "A mother to Nadia...and a wife to Jack."
Mary openly gasps at the last part. Irina said nothing to her about wanting to mend the burnt bridge between her and Jack. Perhaps there was a reason for that. After all, Mary has become a mother figure to Nadia, and Irina knows fully what Mary has done for Nadia. Perhaps she knew Nadia would be a weak point with Mary that she could exploit. As Irina looks over at her after hearing her gasp, Mary says "You think Alec will be hard to convince? Jack's a whole 'nother story!"
Irina turns back to Rambaldi. "Which leads me to my next request. As I am giving up the rest of my crew, it's highly possible that the others in my company may start to feel suspicious about me. Therefore, I may need a secure place to stay at some point."
Laurent, being the one to talk to about security, asks "Are you talking about an empty house? Because that would be easy to accommodate, seeing as we have plenty here."
Irina shakes her head. "I'd like to be placed under Jack's protection."
Now Mary can't believe it. "Are you nuts?"
"That's not the first time I've been called that."
Laurent chuckles and shakes his head as he starts looking up at the sky in disbelief. This whole story Irina is telling is getting more and more unbelievable to him as well.
But Rambaldi is not laughing. Nor is he looking in disbelief at Irina. Instead, he's very, very intrigued, like the gears in his brain are cranking in overdrive. "I cannot approve your request at this time, but only because I don't have the power to do so. But, I will forward your offer to the rest of the Elysian Council immediately."
Laurent jerks his head to face Rambaldi with a stunned look. "Milo, you can't be..."
Rambaldi turns towards Laurent and cuts him of. "...serious? Do you think I've gone...what was that Mary just said...nuts?"
Laurent nods his head slowly, not saying anything.
Rambaldi smirks as he chuckles. "Laurent, as a man that handles security for this realm, surely you must know that we have had some difficulty dealing with our new damned guests. And now, Irina has offered us a solution to this problem."
Laurent says "But..." but is cut off when Rambaldi turns to Irina and says "We need a moment."
Rambaldi grabs Laurent's arm and teleports off somewhere with him.
Meanwhile, Irina looks down at the ground and starts chuckling herself. "I just spoke to Milo Rambaldi. A man whose prophecy I studied and pursued for so long just had a conversation with me. Never in a million years would I have predicted that would happen."
Mary isn't all that interested in discussing the unbelievability that exists in Elysium right now. Instead, she asks "Irina, I bought the story about you and Nadia because as a mother I get it. But you and Jack? That will never happen!"
Irina looks over at Mary with a confident look. "You don't know Jack like I do."
"I know he's not going to let you back into his life."
"No...at least not right away. But when he sees that I'm serious about what I'm offering here, he'll come around."
"I wouldn't be so sure."
"I am. He thought for a while that I ordered a hit on Sydney. When I didn't, he let me help him in Sovogda. Now why would he do that? To a normal person, Jack comes across all stoic and expressionless. But I know something about him no one else does. See, there's a special look he gives me. It's very subtle, and only a woman with my training can spot it. His head sinks a bit on his neck, his facial muscles are relaxed...he's even got a little twinkle in his eye." Irina laughs at the last part, then says "And when our mission in Sovogda was over, you saw how he just let me go instead of fulfilling his CIA promise. Deep beneath that rigid exterior of his is a man who hasn't let me go. Nor have I let him go, either." Irina hangs her head a bit, then looks back at Mary. "You probably saw it in your husband when he took you back into his life."
Mary shrugs and says "My husband Thomas isn't as complicated as Jack is, though."
"Jack's not all that complicated. He likes to think he is, but once you get past the thousand yard stare, you realize he's not all that different from any other man that loves his family."
"Keep in mind, that's all before you were a whisker away from putting a bullet in Sydney's head when he shot and killed you. I'm willing to bet that Jack probably hates you at least as much as Alec does."
"I told you I wasn't going to kill Sydney. I meant it then and I meant it now. All he did was prove he loved Sydney more than anything, which I can't blame him for at all. I deserved my fate. But as it relates to me, all Jack did was prevent Sydney from killing me."
Mary raises a curious eyebrow at that rather interesting point of view. She finds it hard to believe that Sydney would have done that herself.
But before she can raise her voice in protest, Rambaldi and Laurent reappear again in their old spot. Rambaldi speaks first. "I'm going to go speak to the Elysian Council about your offer. Is there anything else you need from me?"
Irina smirks and says "No, but there is something else you need from me."
"Have you met with The Ambassador yet?"
Rambaldi shakes his head. "We're still waiting on him to make his grand appearance. We were told a half an hour."
"Yeah, he's big on dramatic entrances."
"You've met him before?"
"Yeah. Big guy and very greedy. Like to gamble. But he's also a man who likes to haggle. He lives for negotiating."
"I was just discussing that with Aristotle before this meeting. What does he have that we could want?"
"Besides amnesty for me, you can ask for the lives of anyone that you've lost here. Were it me, I'd make it a point to mention that pursuing the rest of my crew comes with great risk and you want something in return. That'll get his wheels spinning. He's a sucker for a deal."
Laurent points out "No one that myself or the other assassins have killed didn't have it coming to them already. I'm afraid there's no one..."
Mary speaks up. "Hey! Did you forget about Charlie O'Doyle and Jerome Thompson already? What about Julieta Romero? You can get them back!"
Rambaldi then says "That's assuming Hell is where they went. We have no assurances of that, nor any knowledge of where those that perish here do go."
Irina says "They go to Hell...eventually. I don't know all the details, but there were others submerged in the frozen lake that claimed they were in Elysium. Ancient folk. Maybe there's a waiting list of some kind."
"I shall ask for those three, then. We'll see if they can't locate them. Laurent, is there anyone else you can think of?"
Laurent shakes his head. "No. But we should be getting back to the portal. We've spent enough time here."
Mary steps forward. "So, you're ok with Irina's plan, Laurent?" Mary knows Laurent is a good judge of character, and if he's signed off on it, then maybe she'll fully buy into Irina's plan, too.
Instead, Laurent sullenly says "I trust Rambaldi's judgment. My opinions on this matter are irrelevant." This doesn't give Mary any comfort, for she's still not entirely sold on Irina yet.
Rambaldi gives a slight bow and says "I must be off. Farewell, ladies." Rambaldi then grabs Laurent again and teleports back to the portal site.
Irina says "I guess I should be going as well."
Mary turns suddenly and says "Wait. You're going back to watch over Mitch, right?"
Irina nods. "Yes, I have to make sure he hasn't gotten out of his restraints."
Mary nods and says "I want to come with you. I think we should discuss how you're going to hand Mitch over to Tom and Nadia. This should be taken care of sooner rather than later."
Irina thinks it over for a bit, then nods. "Yeah, we can do that. Let's go." Irina grabs Mary's hand and teleports to the Charleston Restaurant in Baltimore.
Back at the portal site, the assassins remain in a semi-circle around the portal. Paris is off to the side while Rambaldi addresses the rest of the council about the most interesting conversation he just had with Irina. The rest of the council members seem in disbelief and, in hushed voices, appear to be quite animated.
But as Laurent observes his surroundings, he knows that there is one man who, above all else, can't believe the subject matter the councilmen are discussing.
Alec looks displeased as he stares at the man that initially greeted them on the other side of the portal. Actually, his glare isn't all that different than the harsh glare he has nowadays, but his furrowed eyes and heavy breathing suggest he's quite pissed about the Irina situation and can't do a damn thing about it.
Laurent walks up close to Alec, not wanting to cause a stir among the other assassins or Paris. Alec shifts is eyes over to him. He looks at Laurent like he was Judas Iscariot himself and grumbles "What do you want?"
With his voice lowered, Laurent replies "I want to discuss the situation with Irina, but I won't do it unless you have an open mind."
"Perhaps I have the most open mind of anyone here, because I know who Irina is and I know better than to trust her. I feel like the only person here with common sense."
"Actually, you might change that opinion when I tell you what I discussed with Milo."
Alec turns his head and studies Rambaldi for a bit. Rambaldi is deep into an argument with Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius over Irina's request. Alec then chuckles and says "It's just not me you have to change the opinion of. It seems the other council members aren't as ready to embrace that vile woman like you and Milo are."
"I'm not ready to embrace Irina at all. But I am ready to use whatever inside help she can give us."
"What the hell does she want from us anyway?"
"Amnesty and forgiveness. She wants to stay in Elysium and be a mother..."
"HA!" Everyone gathered suddenly glances his direction, including the council members. Alec glares at them back, then just shrugs dismissively. "The man told a joke. Relax." Everyone goes back to what they were doing and takes Alec at his word, all knowing he's not the person to argue with.
Laurent then resumes speaking at just above a whisper. "She also wants to rekindle her marriage with Jack Bristow. That part is what I discussed with Milo."
"I hope you discussed how impossible that will be."
"Impossible, I know. But we discussed how we're going to take advantage of that part. It involves you."
Alec immediately perks up and folds his arms. "I'm listening."
"I cannot discuss that now. There is not enough time to explain the plan."
"Is that the reason? Or is this something that is supposed to be kept a secret from everyone else?"
Laurent glares at Alec a bit, then turns away to focus on the bickering council members. Alec is right: this is a plan only he and Rambaldi discussed. And it may only be them two plus Alec that actually know of it.
For Alec, Laurent's hinting of a plan only unsettles him more. It's one thing for Rambaldi to keep secrets, but it's another for a man he calls his best friend to keep them. But the fact that they're involving him somehow makes him wonder just what they do have planned for Irina.
But he has no more time to think about the plan, because the man on the other side of the portal has stepped through. In a very formal voice now, almost mocking, he tells everyone "Gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to introduce the Elysian Ambassador of Hell: Mammon!" The man walks back and steps to the side of the portal, on the Elysian side. He's joined by a second similar-sized man who stands to the other side of the portal.
Mammon. The Prince of Greed. It has been written in religious stories that there are Seven Princes of Hell, each representing one of the seven deadly sins. Irina said Mammon lived for making a deal. She should have mentioned that the man liked making deals that favored him, being the very embodiment of greed and all.
After a few seconds, a large man appears on the other wide of the portal. He's walking very casually, like he's in no real hurry to get to where he's going. He then steps through, giving the portal a large ripple.
Everyone, including Laurent, assesses this mountain of a man. Laurent is above-average in height and even he has to bend his neck to look up at Mammon's face. He puts Mammon at about 7 feet tall. Mammon's head is bald, his eyes dark as charcoal, his face clean-cut, and his mouth cracked in a cocky smile. His skin is bronze, his muscles are ripped, and he spared no expense to appear rich to everyone gathered. He has diamond earrings, enough gold chains on his neck to make Mr. T blush, and the finest silk robes he could find. The man is excess in the flesh.
Mammon stops his slow lumbering about 10 feet in front of the Elysian Council. The assassins, including Laurent, remain in attack position in case he starts acting hostile.
He looks down at the Elysian Council and observes the five for a few moments. He then lets out a deep chuckle. Finally, he addresses the council in a friendly, formal tone with his deep, gravely voice. "Greetings. I am Mammon, the Elysian Ambassador to Hell. It has been far too long since I have spoken to anyone in this realm. Tell me, which one of you now leads this place?"
Aristotle is technically the highest ranking official in Elysium, being the High Counselor. But instead, it's Milo Rambaldi that steps forward. He doesn't appear all that intimidated by Mammon, perhaps because Irina prepared him somewhat. "Greetings and salutations, Prince. My name is Milo Rambaldi. I serve on the Elysian High Council and, while I am one of the leaders here, I will speak on behalf of the Council and every citizen here."
Mammon gives Rambaldi a curious look. "I do not know you. However, I do recognize the others..." He starts naming the council members from left to right "...Marcus Aurelius, Albert Einstein, Aristotle...I figured he'd be the leader...and Paris of Troy." Mammon stops and focuses his intimidating gaze on Paris. "I have a bone to pick with you, boy."
Rambaldi cuts him off. "Then you can pick it with me. And quite frankly, I'm insulted that you don't know me. But I will feel sad about that later. I am here to discuss what this portal is doing here..."
"And I am here to discuss where my assets have gone! And I am here to discuss just why the leaders of this realm have been ignoring me since your revolution!"
"That was not my decision. I cannot speak to any of that."
"Then let the man who can step forward."
Aristotle steps up next to Rambaldi. "When King Nebuchadnezzar and his minions were overthrown, they made it a point to burn all the documents they could find. That included the protocols for communicating with Hell, along with other vital documents that discussed the operation of this realm. It was a long while before order was restored again."
Mammon points at Paris. "The little man was a part of that council, he should have known..."
Paris steps forward. "I wasn't made privy to everything that was going on. I knew about these meetings of yours, but I didn't know how or when they happened...or even why."
Aristotle then says "We saw no benefit to re-opening the lines of communication with Hell. We wanted to focus on our own problems. Besides, there was a rumor that Nebuchadnezzar went around and shut down all the portals he could. Is that true, Mammon?"
Mammon nods. "It is true. But he was defeated before he got to this one. We had forgotten about it ourselves until..." He gives Paris another death glare. "...the little one's wife ran away from her duties one day. She ran to the remote corner of Hell this portal exists in."
Paris worriedly asks "How do you know that?"
"Because a man that values his assets watches over his assets! After this little scheme of hers was hatched and my missing damned crossed the portal, I caught up to her. It took quite a bit of torture for her to tell me everything..."
Paris yells out "Damn you!"
"I'm already damned. Thank you for reminding me of what I already have known for thousands of years."
Aristotle tersely tells Paris "Get back. You're not helping."
Paris backs off, which causes Mammon to chuckle in delight. "It looks to me like I'm not the only man in authority here that is upset with the feeble Paris of Troy."
Rambaldi then retakes control of the conversation. "Paris is no longer a part of this council. He has deceived us."
"Of course he did. Helen told me everything." Mammon then glances over at Paris once again. "An interesting little scheme you had there. But playtime's over." He then looks back at Rambaldi. "We're going to need our lost damned back."
Rambaldi slowly nods his head. "That process has already begun...Francisco Alvarado, Gordon Dean, Cesar Martinez, and Julian Sark have already been taken care of."
Mammon quickly snaps "Is that so?" He then reaches into a pocket and pulls out a two-way radio. "Purgatory Central Command, this is Mammon. I need you to check on the recent arrivals of Francisco Alvarado, Gordon Dean, Cesar Martinez, and Julian Sark. They recently escaped from Hell's custody and were slain by the agents in Elysium. I need a response as soon as possible. Over."
After a couple seconds, everyone hears someone on the other end of the radio say "Ten-four. Checking now. Over."
Rambaldi curiously asks "Purgatory? Is that where the dead go?"
This causes Mammon to start laughing almost hysterically. The councilmen and assassins don't seem as amused as the Prince of Greed right now. In fact, just about every one of them feels pretty dumb. When Mammon finishes his laughing fit, he says "Wow! Nebuchadnezzar and his crew really did leave you people in the dark!"
Rambaldi folds his arms on his waist, a trademark of his when he's trying to remain calm and open his ears. "Perhaps you can shed some light on the things we do not know, starting with where the dead go."
Mammon clears his throat and, now a little more respectful, says "There is a lot you probably don't know, and will probably have to be covered in a longer meeting. But yes, Purgatory is where the dead first go. The exception, of course, is if Elysium designates a soul to be worthy of being there before hand and thus they get to avoid going to that wasteland. In the old days, Elysium and Hell would compete for the souls that went there...the old Elysian regime was not as proactive about the souls on Earth as you are now. The souls that went to Purgatory were the primary subject in many of our meetings, in fact."
Laurent comments "There were many less than desirable people in Elysium even after the takeover. It was difficult for us assassins at times."
"I'm sure it was. I heard stories about you and the rest of your crew from the people that came to us via Elysium. Brutal stuff..."
Rambaldi changes the subject quickly. "What is Purgatory like? Is it as undesirable as Hell is?"
"Ah, you still subscribe to the notion that Hell is this dark and evil place. I get it, good and evil and all that jazz. But you see, human nature isn't black and white like that. In fact, I know you have souls of your own that have been on both sides of the supposed good and evil fence. There are some you have in Elysium that we in Hell would like for our own purposes. But we do not quibble over that, partly because we never meet anymore and partly because there is such a backlog in Purgatory that you people have done nothing to help weed out, we have enough problems of our own with the souls we do have. I don't think you should despise us so much, for we are actually doing existence a great service by housing the worst of the worst eternally. But to answer your question, Mister Rambaldi, Purgatory is nothing."
"Nothing? Compared to Hell?"
"Nothing as in nothing. There is no color in Purgatory. There is no sky in Purgatory. There is no wind in Purgatory. There is nothing to smell in Purgatory. There is no temperature in Purgatory. There are no hills in Purgatory. There is a ground in Purgatory, but it stretches as far as the eye can see. It is an expansive place as empty as a man can imagine. They say from the moment you arrive in Purgatory, if you decide to start walking in one direction in search for another human being, you can walk and walk for centuries before spotting anyone. And that's only if we don't claim you first. To many, Hell is a relief. And Hell is not so bad for some, but it can be a nightmare for others. That depends on the life you lived...and whether we like you or not."
Rambaldi nods and turns his head to Aristotle. "Shall we make our proposal, then?"
Aristotle lets out a sigh and looks over at Marcus and Einstein, who both look apprehensive about answering that question. Marcus never responds, but Einstein gives a quick headnod. Begrudgingly, Aristotle turns back to Rambaldi and gives him a headnod of his own, signaling to go ahead with the offer.
Mammon impatiently asks "What are you looking to offer?"
Rambaldi turns to him and replies "I propose we rekindle these soul meetings right here and now. You are missing some of your 'assets', and we have assets of our own that we are interested in. I hear you're a man who likes to make a deal."
Mammon smirks and says "Of course. Well, let's put all our cards on the table, shall we? There are 60 damned souls that crossed over this portal into Elysium. Now, depending on what I hear back from Purgatory Central Command, that number will shrink to 56..."
Laurent steps forward. "Giving you those four lives were not easy, and neither will the remaining 55."
Mammon corrects him somewhat frustratedly. "There are 56 that are still outstanding. Did you not hear me correctly?"
Rambaldi speaks for Laurent. "He did. But we want to keep one of those lives for ourselves."
Mammon lets out a surprised and angry gasp. "I beg your pardon?"
"I will get to this person in a bit. But listen to me, Mammon. You want us to find 60 lives for you. We're asking only for 5."
Mammon lets out a sigh and looks away, like he's debating even entertaining this idea. But his internal debate would be short. 60 for 5...numbers in his favor. "Ok, name them."
"The first three will be souls of little importance to you. They have unjustly perished at the hands of the very souls you are seeking. Assuming what you say about Purgatory is right, they should be there right now. We want them back."
"Who are they?"
"Jerome Thompson, originally from Oakland, California. Former CIA tactical team operative. Charlie O'Doyle, from Boston, Massachusetts by way of Belfast, Ireland. Was on the same CIA tactical team as Jerome...this after training to be a part of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. All his kills came during his time in the CIA and all of his kills were in the line of duty, just like Jerome."
"Interesting. We like IRA members..."
"Let's just say he didn't make the cut. So you don't want him."
"Fine. And the third?"
"Julieta Romero, originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Former prostitute against her will. Killed a couple...well, let's call them 'overly-aggressive clients'."
"I see. Prostitutes are good for morale in Hell. She may be difficult to let go."
"And it may prove difficult giving you the remaining 56 men on your list, sir."
"Point taken. Now, who else do you want?"
Rambaldi turns his gaze over to Paris of Troy. He almost can't believe he's about to make the request he's going to make. But, he's going to make it anyway for his own reasons.
Finally, he turns back to Mammon and says "Helen of Troy."
Every non-council member gasps. Mammon, the assassins, and Paris. Paris disbelievingly says "Milo, are you serious?"
Mammon is less than pleased at that request. "Wait a minute! Helen is a valuable asset for us! And besides, you should be giving US Paris for betraying you!"
Rambaldi, not one to get mixed up in the hysteria, calmly replies "Let me tell you the story of two men that are two of my close confidantes in Elysium. The first man was one of my most loyal bodyguards and apprentices in life. He fell in love with a woman from his hometown and brought her to Italy. When the Holy Roman Catholic Church turned its back on me, they targeted his pregnant wife and nearly killed her. But even though she lived, he swore revenge on the attackers. He gave up his life for the one he loved."
At this point, Laurent closes his eyes and hangs his head in shame. Rambaldi is using his past as some sort of justification for Paris's actions. He doesn't agree with that at all, but all he could do is accept Rambaldi's final decision.
Rambaldi continues. "The other man is a descendant of the first person. In the past 11 years or so, this man fell in love with a woman who went through many hardships in life. He vowed to protect her, and even waited for her when she was put in a coma for a year. When she was pregnant, she was attacked by his worst enemy. She, along with the child, died in the process. He swore revenge on the attacker. He won...and he too gave up his life for the one that he loved."
Mammon points out "But Paris tried to have you killed!"
Rambaldi, as if he was ignoring that comment, says "The first man in my story inspired me to change my prophecy completely. I had been working all my life under the assumption that greed is the biggest driving force in people. But he, and the second man in my story, proved that it was actually love. Are you familiar with the term Omnia Vincit Amor, sir?"
Mammon rolls his eyes, not at all entertained by this story. "Love Conquers All...blah blah blah. Your story, and that stupid line, is as ridiculous as your request."
"But it would be just as ridiculous to condemn a man for doing anything he could for the one he loved when the whole success of my prophecy relied on a man doing anything he could for the one he loved. Paris has spent a couple thousand years without the one he loved, knowing that her conditions in Hell were less than favorable. Quite frankly, enduring that for as long as he has would drive any man into temporary insanity when that woman suddenly showed up again. Wouldn't you agree?"
"And the insane should be the property of Hell! I shouldn't even be having this discussion with you!"
Paris steps up. "Milo, you don't have to do this! I will take my punishment in Hell if it means I get to be with Helen again!"
Rambaldi turns to Paris and sternly tells him "Be careful what you wish for. If you interrupt me again, I may actually honor that wish." As Paris backs off, Rambaldi turns to Mammon and says "Paris has suffered enough. And so has Helen. A couple thousand years without each other is enough punishment. So Helen of Troy is one of the five I want in return."
Mammon still looks displeased. "Do I even want to know what the fifth person is?"
"Yes, you do. Because this person is how we're going to get the other 55 people you are missing back in your hands. And in exchange for that, she's asking that she stay with us."
"It's a 'she', is it? Which Jezebel successfully sold you that lie?"
"I do not believe it is a lie. And that 'Jezabel' is Irina Derevko."
Under his breath, Alec lets out a "Son of a bitch..."
Laurent puts a hand on Alec's shoulder and leans in to whisper "Like I said, we don't fully believe her story yet. We want to milk her for what we can. But if she deceives us, you can kill her." Alec looks back at Laurent with a surprised look. Laurent smirks and says "I'll go over the details later."
Mammon, meanwhile, says "You are putting a lot of confidence into such an evil woman."
"I don't believe she is all that evil, to be honest. But those reasons are my own. But I am not an unreasonable man lacking common sense, Mammon. So that is why I'm only asking for the right to keep her in Elysium when all is said and done. Should she go back on her word, you may see her again."
Mammon grumbles and goes to say something, but his two-way radio goes off. "Prince Mammon, this is Purgatory Central Command. The four men you requested are indeed in our custody. Shall I start the transfer? Over."
Mammon chuckles and turns back to Rambaldi. "You have been a man of your word so far."
Rambaldi calmly replies "And you have been fair yourself, Prince. Do we have a deal?"
Mammon thinks for a bit, then gets on the two-way radio. "Ten-four. I will be right down to receive these men myself. I need to check on three other souls as well. I will have the details when I see you. Over."
On the radio, everyone hears "Ten-four."
Mammon then tells Rambaldi "I have to leave to receive these men. Farewell, gentlemen."
Mammon turns to return to the portal, but Rambaldi steps forward. "What about our offer?"
Mammon stops, turns around slowly, and flatly says "You will hear my counter-proposal when I am ready to make it. Keep a few men at the portal, and we shall do the same. When I am ready, your men will know. Farewell." Then, he walks through the portal, with the two guards from Hell walking through behind him.
END OF CHAPTER