The stars were exploding. The air was cold and the earth quaked. Every breath he took made him consider taking another. Clement stood, body shivering, teeth vibrating, inside the bowels of the town's local church. The sign that once guarded the entrance with pride and purpose, welcoming its visitors with open arms, no longer adorned a name nor mission. Two charred stakes of rotten wood were all that remained. "Saint Sonia" he whispered to himself. Clement had a thing for names. He believed everyone and everything in life has a purpose, therefore deserving the privilege of a title. At the moment, Saint Sonia was keeping him hidden from many dangers. More importantly, she was keeping him alive; a pretty important purpose he thought, the most crucial purpose of all.
Clement knew the stars weren't really exploding in the sky. He just thought a healthy imagination and a little fantasy might help lighten the mood. Ten large openings lined the church walls. Beneath each of the portals slept piles of stained glass. In the right light, the combination created an illusion quite unlike any other on earth. Clement called them Mud Rainbows. In the center of the church stood sixteen marble pillars. They were tattooed at their crowns with gorgeous frescos, each one intricately depicting the life stages of Christ.
Fire stains left the bases of the pillars deformed and weak, yet each fresco sat high enough to avoid the stretching claws of the flames. He craned his neck to admire the resilient artwork. "Closer to heaven, the safer you are" he mumbled with sarcasm. Behind the altar, which was now hiding beneath piles of stones from the gaping hole in the ceiling above, hung a bronze crucifix. Once held in place by three steel chains, it now pathetically swung by one.
Clement had tried numerous times to take down the crucifix. He hated watching it hang in such shame. After the third attempt of stacking pieces of broken pews together proved unworthy, he took the hard fall as a sign to stop. He then began to pray to the swaying cross above for his ankle to only be strained. He needed to be mobile, ready to move at any moment. His life depended on it. A broken ankle, meant death. He was a stubborn man who had just turned fifty the previous night. Nursing a horrid hangover, he decided to hold his whiskey coated breath for as long as possible before hurting himself.
Maybe he would simply pass out, sink to the floor and wake up a few moments later. Maybe he would pass out, fall, hit his head on a rock, bleed out and die. Maybe he would just choke, cough and be fine. Odds weighed, he stopped his breathing. A few moments passed then suddenly weight number three fell. He quickly erupted with a deep and vile cough. Saliva found quick exits, like a shotgun buckshot.
"Can you please stop being an idiot, and stop mumbling to yourself. It was weird at first, now it's just annoying" a soft voice as sharp as winter proclaimed. As a thin, tall figure emerged from the depths of the church's shadows. Aida stood a few feet behind Clement; arms crossed, with eyes penetrating his body worse than the wind.
"How is your ankle? Can you put pressure on it?"
Although his wife of seven years, Clement knew Aida's beloved tone was not sincere, strictly business. He knew she was no idiot. A broken ankle for anyone in their company meant death.
"Like you care" he said.
"I need to know, Clement. In case we're forced to leave you behind. I like to plan ahead, you know that."
He couldn't help but smile. Although eleven years younger, Aida had always been tenacious. Cold as a killer, warm as a lover. It was that lustful balance of machinery and human that fueled Clement's attraction to Aida. He claims that this attraction is what ultimately led to his marriage proposal. For Aida, it was solely her attraction to older, powerful men. She had plans, big plans, and she knew what she had to do to achieve them. Her manipulation? Or true love? Each side claimed a different version of their history.
"As much as I would truly enjoy seeing the expression your angelic face would make if you did actually have to leave me behind, I am afraid we are both going to have to wait. Ankle is good to go. A bit sore, but nothing to worry about."
"I hope not" she said.
Aida was positioned beside the main door, peering through a bullet hole.
"Because we have movement, tree line."
Clement sprouted to his feet and shimmied his way to the nearest portal. He peeked his head through the hole while removing a small cylinder object from one of his jacket's deep pockets and gazed out into the night. Aida was right, multiple shadows shifted beneath the tree line which rested on the outskirts of the town. Through the scope, Clement guessed the assailants were no more than a mile out from the church's front door.
"We need to move" he said. "Fast. Get the priest."
Aida left her post by the main door and rushed to the chapel, which was one floor beneath them. At the base of the stairs, she was met by a long, candlelit corridor. Aggravation set in. She knew time was of the essence, so she broke out into a full sprint. She finally reached the end of the corridor, where a stone archway adorned with a pair of brass angels engraved into the rock announced her arrival. She stepped through the threshold of the chapel and found the priest in the back of the room, on his knees, praying to a golden crucifix.
"We need to leave" Aida exclaimed.
"One moment child, I have not finished praying."
Aida knew of the immediate dangers and took no part in the priests devotion to his religion. She stormed her way across the room and grabbed the old man by his shoulders, lifting him cleanly to his feet.
"No more prayers father. It's time to go."
Surprised by the sheer strength of this thin woman, he dared not challenge her. He could feel the fire stoking in her eyes and decided to succumb. He too, knew of the dangers that lay before them. Although a priest, strong in faith, he was not quite yet ready to meet his maker. "Lead the way my child."
"Where is the violin?" Asked Aida, annoyed.