Antigone: śn’tɪgənɪ [an-tig-uh-nee]; Against birth.
* * * *
In an alternate reality not far from here, minority groups lived with equal rights. It didn’t matter if you were a Manticore, a banshee, or baku, as long as you registered with the government and obeyed the laws, life could run smoothly – most of the time...
A vague sense of unease settled over Omar as he glanced up at the trendy angular sign. “Different Dimensions”, it read.
“Do you think she will assist me? Or am I simply wasting time?” he asked his companion Lugh.
“What?” Lugh replied, finally drawing his attention away from the plump derriere of a female passer-by. “Oh. I don’t know. You can only go in and find out.”
“You’re right,” Omar breathed, ignoring his unease as he pushed the shining metal and glass door open.
A sing-song chime rang as they passed the threshold. Instantly, a small, brown woman hurried up towards them. Omar watched as she neared. Dressed in a fashionably tight skirt and top, the woman’s clothes clearly did not suit her age – or her figure. He noticed her dark brown eyes narrow as she assessed them.
“Can I help you gentlemen?” she asked sweetly peering up at both Lugh and Omar from behind chic rectangular glasses.
“Indeed. I am looking for Antigone Watson,” Omar replied, throwing a casual glance at the dreadful modernist paintings that defiled the walls.
The little lady looked a little irritated by their request, but quickly recovered from it. “Ms Watson is currently at lunch. Are you certain there is nothing I could assist with?”
Omar sighed. “No, could we perhaps look at the... err, artworks until she returns?”
The small woman beamed. “Of course you may,” she said graciously, “I will be over by the desk should you need anything.”
Nodding their dismissal, Omar and Lugh looked around the gallery. Two large and open rooms loomed before them. They strode forward and simultaneously paused in front of cluster of white ottoman seats. An enormous painting of a crudely drawn red square dominated the wall space.
“This is an insult to art,” Lugh hissed.
Omar nodded in agreement, and picked up a pamphlet that hung on the wall beside it. The pamphlet read; ‘Study of a square’ by Gigi Kaczmaszyk, £3,200, and contained a short biography about the artist and references to her other works.
“Study of a square?” Lugh said incredulously his Irish lilt becoming more pronounced, “study my bloody arse. I’ll be betting any money that she’s had her four-year old paint that.”
“Indeed,” Omar agreed smiling.
The small woman reappeared beside them.
“Beautiful isn’t it?” she commented without waiting for a response. “Are you certain I cannot assist you? Perhaps you would prefer to take a look at our Realist exhibition and sale in the next room?”
“No thank you,” Omar replied, smiling dismissively, “we would rather wait for Ms Watson.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed again. “As you wish,” she murmured, and her words made Omar cringe.
For several long minutes, Lugh and Omar looked at several other paintings of squares and circles. They were hovering beside a large acrylic painting of a black hexagon, arguing the virtues of shapes with more than four sides; when the door chime rang – hollow and jarring.
A woman, tall and windswept rushed into the room, her face flushed from the cool wind.
“My goodness, what is it with that wind?” Her voice was pleasantly British middle-class. She brushed her chin-length hair out of her face and slapped a large handbag down behind the front desk then handed over a tall take-away coffee to the small woman. “Tina - there wasn’t a gust when I left, and now it’s practically gale-force... Something to do with climate change, I’ll wager...” she stopped and her almond shaped eyes tightened as she assessed the two men in the gallery.
“Ms Watson, these two gentlemen have been waiting to see you,” the small woman announced.
Of course, though she may pretend otherwise, Antigone had noticed the men the very moment she had reached the shop front. Well, rather, she had noticed their souls. Lugh’s soul was a shining beacon in the room and was almost too bright to observe. It was whole, strong, and good, something her darker brethren would dearly covet. Omar’s however, was damaged, though it shone warm and orange within him. Curiously, Antigone noted a small orange glow coming from the backpack he carried. Antigone frowned, as she always did when observing souls, the tall dark man was carrying a piece of his soul in his backpack. Did he know this? How had he managed this feat? Even as a fairly knowledgeable Nephilim, Antigone could not dissect a soul and leave the individual unmarred – and this man looked good, almost too good. Antigone gazed searchingly at Omar before inhaling deeply and walking up to them.
“Gentlemen, how may I be of assistance?” Antigone asked, throwing another glance at the backpack.
Immediately, the man stepped to the side, obscuring her view of his backpack – a strange action that Antigone could not miss or understand.
The men were both tall and unfairly handsome, Antigone noted. The one with the backpack however, observed her with cool, intelligent black eyes, whilst the other, blonde and golden, looked vaguely bored.
“Are you Antigone Watson?” Omar asked, his strangely accented voice pleasantly deep.
“Yes,” Antigone answered a frown creasing between her brows. “Are you interested in this painting?”
“Hell no,” Lugh laughed.
Antigone threw him a withering glance. “Well, how can I help you?” she took an obvious glance at her expensive-looking watch.
“We require your skills as a Nephilim, not as an Art Dealer,” Omar explained, his voice deceptively mild.
The wind left Antigone’s lungs as if she’d just been stabbed. Pain-like panic struck her chest and she suddenly felt light-headed. How did they know?
“I beg your pardon?” she gasped and tried desperately to suck down some air.
“I think you heard me,” Omar replied softly, as the woman at the desk shuffled her papers in an attempt cover her eavesdropping.
“Tina,” Antigone called over her shoulder, “I will take these gentlemen into the coffee lounge to discuss some art, hold any phone-calls please,” she looked at Omar. “Follow me please,” she added, hating the fact she sounded breathless.
With her heart hammering a wild tattoo, Antigone ushered Lugh and Omar into the coffee lounge at the back of the gallery.
“Take a seat,” Antigone urged and quickly turned to the kitchenette. “Coffee or tea?”
“We didn’t come for a coffee, Nephilim,” Lugh said, sinking down onto a squishy couch that sat beside the coffee table.
Antigone spun around. “Do not call me that!”
“Why? It is what you are, is it not?” Omar demanded.
Antigone hesitated, momentarily struck by his old fashioned speech.
“No! I am not,” she eventually replied, “I’m just a person!”
“A very tall person, who seems to peer into people an awful lot, I’d say,” Omar countered smoothly.
“Lots of people are tall! You both are quite tall!” Antigone retorted. She looked around wildly but her gaze got stuck again on Omar’s backpack with its glowing bit of orange soul. The inoffensive backpack was nestled on the couch between the men, almost as if it were being guarded.
“Why are you looking at my bag?” a smile tugged at the corner of Omar’s mouth. “It’s twice now I have noticed you doing so.”
“What?” Antigone snapped, dismayed that he was so perceptive. “Well, you could be a shop-lifter, I’ve a mind to check it before you leave!”
“Check it for what, a fifty by seventy inch painting of a red square? Or, perhaps that rather infantile painting of a wobbly circle?” Omar replied dryly.
“Be quiet,” Antigone’s face reddened at their insults.
Lugh sniggered again, but fell silent.
“Or perhaps you want to check it because you can see something in there, something that only the Nephilim can see?” Omar pressed.
Antigone was silent for a brief moment. “I am not a Nephilim!” she whispered.
“Then you are a liar,” Omar clarified.
“How dare you!”
“Are you trying to keep your nature a secret? I know you are unregistered,” Omar continued.
“I want you both to leave. Now!” Antigone gasped.
Omar and Lugh were quiet for a languidly strolling moment.
“OK, we will leave,” Omar finally said and stood up.
Antigone stared at them, shocked and unable to believe they would leave so readily.
“What exactly are you?” Antigone whispered as Omar picked up the backpack.
“I am a Tuatha De Dannan,” Lugh replied proudly.
“Not you,” Antigone whispered, “you,” she pointed towards Omar and he shrugged.
“Confidences are only begot by the sharing of other confidences, Ms Watson. Something you appear unwilling to do,” Omar replied with a smile. “Here is a card – where I will be staying. Feel free to contact me.”
Omar handed Antigone a gilt edged calling card. She glanced down at it and read his name.
“I prefer simple Omar. Call me – if you want to share confidences,” he added.
Without further word, Omar and Lugh left the “Different Dimensions” art gallery and made their way back to the hotel.
“Do you think she’ll call?” Lugh asked, his eyes captured by a graceful looking woman in a virtually transparent skirt.
“Yes, I do.”
* * * *
Back in the gallery Antigone hung her head over the kitchenette sink. Hot, uncomfortable waves of anxiety washed through her. How did those men know what she was? What did they want? What exactly was Omar? Why did he have a Tuatha warrior by his side? Why were they guarding part of Omar’s soul? Why did they leave so readily? She looked at the calling card. He was staying in a flashy hotel, in the London Docklands, not far from the gallery. Part of her very much wanted answers, yet the other half wanted to run.
“It doesn’t matter, I’m not going to see him again,” she muttered, still staring at the card.
“Ms Watson! If you are quite finished, there are other customers awaiting your assistance!” Tina hissed from the doorway.
“OK, Tina, I’m onto it,” Antigone sighed and slipped the calling card into the pocket of her trousers.
The day passed rather quietly after that. Antigone had a few customers and even made two sales (almost unheard of). Yet, her mind was constantly drawn back to the tall man with the bit of soul in his backpack. Omar.
The fact that Omar, whoever he was, had discovered her identity filled her with an unshakeable fear. If a stranger knew what she was – then who else might? Hunters? She couldn’t help but wince at the thought of a Mafia Hunter capturing her and forcing her to do their bidding.
When she had closed the Gallery for the evening, Antigone hurriedly walked down the darkened street, the Docklands were a new re-vamp of an old area and had a sterile and new feel to it. The streets were remarkably empty for a Wednesday evening. The icy, gale-like wind had reared its head again and she cinched her coat tight around her waist to ward off its frosty grip, and rushed in the direction of her flat.
Antigone lived in a brand new high-rise development. It was nice and soul-less, a necessity for a Nephilim’s abode. Old houses, often still held the remnant traces of human spirits, which were unpleasant for even a hardened Nephilim to live with.
I’ll have to stop at the supermarket. Antigone mused to herself as she hurried down yet another empty street. I’m nearly out milk, bread and tampons. The supermarket was on the next corner, a shining warm beacon of light in the cold. All the other shops were darkened. Not a single light globe glowed in their depths (this was a new ‘green Earth’ policy that most businesses tried to adhere to). Antigone hunched her shoulders against the buffeting wind, still trying to shake a feeling of impending doom. The supermarket was close now.
Just as Antigone was about to cross the road, she heard a snigger from behind.
Startled, she spun around, nearly breaking the heel on her sweet pink Jimmy Choo. Her hair ruffled over her face and she clawed it out her eyes.
“Hello sweet Nephilim,” a sinister and oily voice sang from the encroaching gloom.
Antigone peered fearfully into the darkness. If a human had been there, she would have seen the soft glow of a soul, but nothing stirred in the inky blackness that now surrounded her. There was another bitter gust of wind, and Antigone waited no longer, she turned and broke into a pelt.
Who else knows I am a Nephilim? She frantically wondered as her heels slammed down the street.
“An-tig-oh-nee!” it chortled, “You can’t run.” The disembodied voice echoed around her. “You can’t run from what you can’t see!”
They know my name!
To her dismay, the lights suddenly went out at the supermarket and she could see Mr and Mrs Ng pulling down the metal roller-shutters.
“Mrs Ng!” Antigone screamed panting, “don’t close the shop!”
“She won’t hear you,” the voice assured her. “No one will.”
“Mrs Ng!” Antigone screamed regardless, panic boiling through her body. She knew that at 7:00 pm on a Wednesday night, Mr and Mrs Ng’s supermarket would be the last bastion of help until she reached her apartment block. Surrounding her now were only empty shops, and semi-renovated factories, all empty.
A wail bubbled up in Antigone’s throat as suddenly the thin stiletto heel (that had coped marvellously up until now) collapsed underneath her. She crumpled to the pavement, her knee colliding painfully with the pavers and her wrists jarring with the impact.
Antigone reached up and swept the hair from her face. She glanced back down the street, one by one the orange streetlights were turning off. The darkness was coming, swiftly, and she wasn’t about to let it catch her. Forcing herself to stand, Antigone began a loping hobble in the direction of the supermarket. She would bang on the door until Mr or Mrs Ng opened it. So far, her assailant was only a voice, a mean and creepy one, but still only a voice.
It was then out of the dark, she felt something touch her shoulder.
A high pitched shriek erupted from somewhere deep within her and she turned around to face it.
A person stood behind her; a person who wasn’t really a person. In the flesh, a tall muscle bound man stood, tightly gripping her shoulders. His face was vacant and not a trace of thought or intelligence glimmered behind his eyes. Without a doubt, Antigone knew she was staring at the face of a Hunter, a soul-less Magical Construct. There was not even a weak smouldering soul in the gargantuan man. The place where his soul should have shone was as black as the night surrounding them.
Frantically Antigone squirmed trying to twist out of his bruising grip. She kicked at his shins, but he would acknowledge no pain and his hold on her did not lessen.
“Let me go!” she cried, “Let me go!”
The Magical Construct looked blankly at her, awaiting his invisible master’s instruction.
“Please follow my Hunter, Ms Watson,” the oily voice echoed. “There is nothing you can do but assist me now.”
Antigone looked around trying to find a person who could help, if there was even one person around, she could temporarily push their soul into the body of the Hunter and talk them into letting her go. Unfortunately, there was no one around, or if there were, they were deep behind thick brick walls, and no help to her.
“All right,” she whimpered, “ouch! Please, loosen his grip!”
There was a greasy laugh that echoed around the street. “I think not - Nephilim.”
The Hunter then turned Antigone around and steered her down a dark alley way.
Everything was black, all street lamps had been extinguished. However, through the gloom, Antigone could see three souls quite distinctly. Two of which she recognised.
“Omar?” she cried, absurdly relieved to see him, “Are you responsible for this?” and tried to shake off the grip of the Hunter.
A small ball of glowing light suddenly illuminated the alley, it was a pale red, and the scents of cinnamon, all spice and pepper seemed to waft gently from it, erasing the stale odour of the garbage bins that putrefied nearby.
Beneath the orb of light an enormous Manticore stood. Part man, part lion he was a horrifying sight to behold. A mutated humanoid face that looked as though the skin of a man had been stretched over the skull of a lion – gazed at her. His muzzle and nose were inhumanly large and broad, and jutted above a wide mouth. Antigone stared with mounting horror. The strange face seemed to hold a slight grin and the wide spaced, almond shaped eyes seemed to twinkle with what looked like amusement. Antigone’s heart pounded, as the lion’s body, the colour of burnished gold, padded up to her. The manticore was so large his head met her at her breast height. Antigone’s innards squeezed with anxiety, and blood roared through her head. Unable to tear her eyes from the creature, all she could think was - is he going to kill me? Yet, from inside the massive body, Antigone could see his soul glowing a soft yellow, and Antigone’s anxiety eased somewhat. This Manticore was not here to hurt her – of that she was suddenly certain.
“Release the woman,” Omar’s voice rang out into the night, startling Antigone afresh.
The disembodied voice hissed sounding thoroughly pissed off. “Never!”
The Hunter tightened his grip on her shoulder again, and this time Antigone winced in pain.
“Then, Phil, its dinner time,” Omar sighed.
The Manticore grinned, showing rows of sharp deadly teeth, and Antigone felt her heart beat faster. Swiftly, with his muscles moving fluidly underneath his thick pelt, the manticore padded around her. His human-like face sniffing her as he passed. Suddenly the orb of light was extinguished.
For less than a second, Antigone stood frozen with indecision in the darkness. She felt, rather than heard, the Manticore leap up at the Hunter holding her and as the weight of the beast brought the Hunter down - it pulled her with him. Antigone screamed as she collapsed half on top of the Hunter. He didn’t move, but his hands still bit into her shoulders painfully. Antigone wailed – terror dislocating her body from her mind. She struggled wildly.
“Phil, release the woman!” Omar roared in the darkness, but all Antigone could hear was a sick wet tearing and the patter of something heavier than water hitting the ground. She screamed again but suddenly she felt the hands lighten on her shoulders. Immediately she jumped to her feet, trembling. Still unable to see, Antigone stumbled forward shaking herself, as two heavy things thudded to the ground behind her.
“Agh!” Antigone shrieked, a surge of panic rising again. The sounds of chomping and wetness seemed to resound around her and she found herself disorientated. She stood shivering in the blackness, unable to figure out which way to go.
“Antigone, walk forward and come to me,” Omar urged, his voice calm, and Antigone hastened to oblige. She scurried towards the twin glowing souls that were Omar and Lugh.
Antigone stood beside Omar, and jumped when he spoke. “Phil, when you are quite finished, bathe in the river, and return to the hotel room. Leave no evidence.”
“Shut up,” came the manticore’s wet, full mouthed retort.
The disembodied voice was no-where to be heard.
Antigone felt a hysterical sob catch painfully in her throat. She didn’t want to go anywhere with Omar and Lugh, but she didn’t dare walk past the wet munching and crunching coming from the other side of the alley either.
“Come Antigone, you must come - before he returns with more Magical Constructs. You are fortunate that I have found you at this precarious moment, let us not waste the opportunity.”
“Who is he? What are you? What the hell is going on?” Antigone cried, but never-the-less followed the warmly glowing souls out of the dark and into a suddenly brightly lit street.