CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

Richard only needed to wait three more minutes till school finished for the day. He felt confident that everything was good again. He stopped worrying about Ned and starting thinking about other issues that troubled him, such as the stress his friends faced when they applied for jobs. Richard's neighbour recently left high school and had trouble finding a job. He said that his parents were only telling him what jobs he should get instead of the steps he needed to take to get the job. He doesn't know where to start, he doesn't understand the application process, he doesn't know where to look, and he doesn't know where he can go to seek help. He felt that nobody could help him, that he was in big trouble, and that everyone else was moving ahead with their careers and he was lagging behind.

When the bell finally rang, Richard ran to the bus. When he hopped on the bus, the driver looked at him and said, "Get off my bus, yer punk!"

"Why can't I get on the bus?"

"After what you did yesterday, I don't want you on my bus. You'll have to walk home tonight."

"But it wasn't my fault!"

"I saw yer! You were throwing money around like some big shot rich kid. Well, that money almost cost me my life."

Richard felt like protesting. He had the energy to. But he pitied the bus driver too much.

Richard walked along the quiet residential streets. He thought deeply about what his father would think when he arrived home late that night. He then started to hear strange noises. He looked around and saw nothing. He was mentally exhausted. Perhaps the noise was a product of his unstable mind. He continued to walk.

He thought about Emily. She was a wonderful girl, and now that he had proven his innocence to her, he was getting closer and closer to her. If he married her he wouldn't have to work for the rest of his life. He'd just leech all the money from her dad. But then he thought about how boring life would be if he were infinitely rich. The initial spending spree would be fun, but after a while he'd get sick of it. He'd get sick and bored.

As Richard was lost in thought that noise interrupted him again. It was a distinct clonk noise that sounded as if someone had a metallic object on him. Richard checked his surroundings once again and saw nothing, but this time he was quite sure his mind wasn't playing tricks. Perhaps the noise was from a squirrel or a cat.

Richard walked past Bankstown, the abandoned church. The large concrete towers and dark windows spooked him like an illuminated red face in the blackness of night. Opposite the church was the football field where Nora was found on Wednesday. Richard kept walking again but then thought he had just walked over something odd. He took a step back and looked down on the concrete pavement. It was a drop of blood, which was still moist and warm. Spilled recently, he thought. He looked to his left and found another drop of blood a meter away, almost identical to the first. That drop of blood had another drop of blood nearby. In fact, there was a trail of blood heading straight into the church. Then, to his right, he saw the charred remains of a car that must've crashed into the tree. Everything was incinerated except the car's metal frame and the driver's skeleton.

Richard entered the abandoned church. There was writing on the wall reading Bankstown Church. Although it was abandoned, the church's lights were turned on. Somebody had been in there. Richard walked slowly towards the altar. The pews on his left and right were empty. Hundred of candles were lit at the front of the church, illuminating one giant crucifix that hung from the ceiling like a pendulum. Richard almost felt his heart explode when, on the large wooden crucifix, he saw Emily. Bloody images of Christ's crucifixion flashed in his mind, images of thorns, and images of an old man screaming as rusty nails were hammered into his hands. But Emily moved her head and looked at Richard. Thankfully, she wasn't dead. She wasn't able to say anything because a piece of cloth covered her mouth. Her arms were not nailed to the crucifix but were tied with nylon rope. Her legs were also tied to the bottom of the crucifix. Just like Nora, he thought. Just like Nora.

As Richard moved towards the front of the church the giant wooden crucifix kept turning. Just like a coin has two sides the crucifix had two sides. On one side was Emily and on the other side was Sherwin. He too was bound and gagged. The crucifix was about five meters from the floor. The rope connecting the crucifix to the ceiling was about seven meters long. Below the giant crucifix was a glass tank filled with water.

Richard reached the front of the church and stood next to the tank. He then saw Ned, sitting down about ten meters away. Ned's clothes were covered with blood, which dripped all over the floor. In one hand was a gold dagger. In the other hand was the Arkayz Bible—the one with the gold cover.

When Ned saw Richard, he put a bookmark in the bible, closed it, and smiled. "Hello, Richard."

"What are you doing? Why have you tied Emily and Sherwin to the crucifix like this?"

"They're going to die. And you're going to watch them die. Then you will die."

"Why are you doing this? The police will catch you. You'll go to jail."

"You have ruined everything. My whole life is ruined now because of you. I can't stand you. To take my revenge I will torture you mentally and physically, and then I will kill you. God will be happy with the sacrifices. He will forgive me for my sins."

"Why didn't you just stab Emily and Sherwin in the head? Why did you tie them to a crucifix, and then tie the crucifix to the ceiling above a glass tank filled with water?"

"This is an ancient Arkayzian Ceremonial Act. By tying someone up to a crucifix and then dropping the crucifix in water to drown him, you send the sinner's soul automatically to hell."

"Are you going to crucify me as well?"

"There are only two sides to a crucifix. There is no room for you now. After you have watched your friends die I will shoot you with this tranquilliser." He took out the tranquilliser rifle he had on him. "Then I will crucify and drown you in a similar manner."

"You're crazy. The police will come and put you in jail. How will you dispose of the bodies? Your fingerprints are all over the church."

Ned then pointed to a dozen drums of petrol to his side. He took out a grenade and held it up for Richard to see. "I'll blow this place up. All the evidence will be disintegrated. This is an abandoned church, Richard. It burns very easily." He then put the grenade on the ground and picked up his gold dagger. "Any more questions you want to ask me?"

Richard looked at the shining gold dagger in Ned's hands. He pointed to the seven-meter rope connecting the crucifix to the ceiling. The crucifix was five meters from the ground. "How are you going to reach that rope and cut it from where you are?"

"I'll throw my dagger from here and cut the rope."

Richard had a smirk on his face. "You can't throw that accurately. It's impossible."

"Watch," said Ned and he threw the golden dagger at the rope. The throw was so precise that the dagger's blade hit the middle of the rope precisely, cutting it into two pieces of rope, each 3.5 meters long. The crucifix fell with a large splash into the tank of water.

Richard ducked to avoid water splashing on him. He turned quickly and saw Ned lift up his tranquilliser gun and point it at him. Richard took out his gold dagger and ran towards Ned. Ned fired the tranquilliser gun at Richard just as Richard threw his dagger at the fat boy. The paths of the gold dagger and the tranquilliser dart intersected. Since the gold dagger was heavier, it continued to fly towards Ned, but the tranquilliser dart was safely deflected.

Realizing that a dagger was flying towards him, Ned ran, but he mistakenly slipped on the grenade that he had left on the ground. The grenade lost its pin and rolled towards Richard. Ned tried to regain balance after slipping on the grenade but ended up falling on the drums, soaking himself in petrol.

The grenade kept rolling till it hit the glass tank. In two seconds it would explode. Richard looked at the glass tank. Emily and Sherwin were trying their best to hold their breaths. The glass on the tank was about fifteen centimetres thick, so Richard ran to the other side of the tank and waited for the grenade to explode.

Ned kept slipping over the petrol spilled on the ground. When he got up he was sent up even further as the grenade exploded and the shockwaves hit him. A large fireball emerged and the church, which was mainly old wood, started to burn furiously. The fire inched its way towards the drums of petrol. After flying in the air for a few seconds Ned landed leg-first on another drum of petrol. He landed with so much force that several bones in his right leg snapped simultaneously. Another drum of petrol fell over and emptied itself onto Ned. Ned was paralysed below the waist but still tried to reach for his tranquilliser gun, which he could almost reach.

Richard was relatively unhurt by the explosion. He went to the glass tank and was surprised to find that the force of the grenade wasn't enough to fully destroy the glass tank, which still stood.

Emily and Sherwin were in the water. They had been holding their breath for twenty seconds now. Richard saw Ned lying flat on the ground at the other side of the church. He was paralysed below the waist. He was desperately reaching for his tranquilliser gun on the floor next to him. The fire was blazing all around him. The organs were alight, the altar was alight, and the walls were starting to crumble. Richard could feel the heat of the fire on his cheeks. The glass tank was still standing but upon closer inspection giant cracks were emerging.

Richard saw Ned's gold dagger—the one he threw at the rope—lying a meter from the tank. He forced the dagger in between the cracks in the tank and applied enough force on it so that the cracks started to open up. Water poured out. So exhausted, Richard took a moment to breath. He then breathed in one large gulp of air and pulled on the dagger handle with so much force that his face went red. The crack opened up even more, and the water started to pour out faster.

Suddenly the glass tank shattered. Five hundred litres of water spilled all over the floor. The church continued to burn. Most of the water simply boiled straight away and evaporated. The fire spread to the strained-glass windows, which, one by one, also started to shatter as the heat intensified. The walls were a sea of orange and red. The fire heading towards Ned was only a meter away from reaching the petrol. Ned lunged further and finally grabbed his tranquilliser gun.

Using the gold dagger, Richard cut off the ropes that tied Emily's hands to the crucifix. When her hands were free she immediately took out the cloth covering her mouth and shouted, "Watch out, Richard! Behind you!"

Richard turned to Ned, but before he could clearly see anything he felt a sharp sting on his right arm and found a tranquilliser dart there. He dropped the gold dagger to the ground and pulled out the dart from his arm. He looked at what seemed like a hypodermic syringe with wings. A cool sensation started to spread from his arms all over his body. His vision became blurry and he fell to the ground.