Hope was the kind of girl that you unexpectedly found yourself gravitating towards without explanation. The type of girl that without ever knowing the effect she had on people, pulled everyone towards her.
I mean sure, at just twenty-one, Hope’s beauty captured the attention of most, but that’s not the reason people stuck around. She had blue eyes that reflected neon from the sun each day as she took her surf board out against the waves, while her blonde hair darkened as the salt water cleansed her body.
She had an infectious smile, but what was almost sadistically funny, was that she liked solitary, and in reality wasn’t in the best emotional state. See, Hope had mastered the art of masking the dark clouds that hung over her with clear skies and starry nights that left others envious.
People never noticed the truth behind her eyes, the emptiness and betrayal she felt with every minute that passed by…but then again, she never let anyone close enough to notice all the anxieties that plagued her.
Hope was definitive in her beliefs and opinions, which although offered stubborn roots to some of the negative feelings she encountered, allowed her to form connections in unexpected places.
In spite of these relationships and friends, the darker thoughts always crept in, and she would being lying if she told you she had never thought about what it would be like for everything to fade away. But now, sitting with her legs dangling over the edge of a high rise, she could definitively say she wanted to live.
As recently as the week before, she honestly thought that taking her own life was potentially on the cards, that is of course, if she decided to finally take the plunge, but the fact that someone else was trying to take if from her really pissed her off. Unfortunately, the decision of whether she would live or die wasn’t up to her right now, it was up to the man who had a gun pressed against Hope’s back.
Somehow, Hope had managed to get involved in something so much bigger than her. Even though she barely knew the beat up man that her life was being leveraged for, it didn’t stop the unknown assailants from thinking Hope was the key to breaking him.
Hell, Hope wasn’t even sure what his name was, but what she did know was that even though she had only seen him on his knees, he was tall and could definitely hold his own, in a light-haired, handsome, brown-eyed action hero kind of way. So, why wasn’t he fighting back? She knew his name was something that started with the letter j; like Johnny, Jack, or James, but her train of thought was broken she heard the click of the gun’s safety flicking off.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Rob, come on, no need to do anything hasty!” Jake said as he tried to act nonchalantly, and not let them see how much Hope meant to him while he was being held down by two exceptionally heavy duty men.
Rob, who from what Hope had seen, offered very little in terms of remarkability other than his impeccable Italian suit, smiled and manically spoke, “Well, Jakey, I’m getting real sick, AND TIRED, OF YOUR GODDAM GAMES!”
He took a few seconds to calm himself down, “Tell me where it is. Tell me where it is right now or I swear I’ll shoot her in the back.”
With his face blank, Jake replied, “For the last time. I. Don’t. Know.”
A flicker of relief soared through Hope when she felt the pressure of the gun leave her back, but it was quickly replaced by complete and utter terror, as Rob shoved her off the rooftop, only barely managing to grab Hope’s wrist to pause her fall.
“JESUS! FINE!” Jake yelled, “I’ll tell you where it is, just pull her back up!”
Rob looked at him for a long amount of time, while Hope dangled ten stories high, “First tell me where it is, then she comes up, then we leave you be.”
Jake didn’t hesitate, “Centennial cemetery. There’s a mausoleum with four columns and two angels holding swords above the entrance. There’s a pattern on the door. On the right hand side of the door, you press the circles in the right sequence, it unlocks. Three, one, five, four, three. Go down the staircase, turn left and go about two hundred metres and it will be in the chamber where I left it.”
Hope was hoisted back up, and crumpled to the ground grateful for the concrete underneath her. Rob signalled the two body builders who were standing over Jake, and one threw a bag over his head, while the other pulled him to a standing position, and seconds later the same happened to Hope.
Using what she assumed was a service elevator not to alarm guests at the hotel of the apparent kidnapping taking place, Hope found herself in a car. It was a good few hours before she felt to handbrake go on, and she and Jake were tossed out of the car with their hoods off, face first into dirt.
They were in the middle of nowhere, by some bridge that seemed unnecessary. Jake and Hope stood side by side as they watched the dust storm created by the car speeding away.
Hope turned to Jake and shoved him, not that it made him shift much, “What the hell! Why did they think we knew each other?!”
He smiled, “You know before he died he told me you were strong willed like this.”
“You’re damn right I’m strong willed. You didn’t answer my question! So what did you tell them to make them think we knew each other…wait who told you I was strong willed?” Hope said, while taking a few unconscious steps backward.
“No need to fret Hope, but we do need to start moving. If it will help you move faster, I will tell you any answer to any ten questions you ask on the way.” He had already started walking, knowing that she couldn’t resist the mystery of it all.
When she caught pace with him, he started answering her initial questions, “They thought we knew each other because I had a picture of you in my apartment, and before you say anything about me being a stalker, I was asked to find you by your late uncle. Eight questions left.”
Hope remained silent while she collected her thoughts, because there wasn’t any point in becoming hot headed and not getting the most information as possible from Jake. When she did finally speak, the question surprised him, “Do you have a good relationship with your family?”
She stood her ground when his brow furrowed perplexed by the question choice. But Hope knew depending on what answer he gave her, she could know whether to trust anything he said.
When he realised she was serious, Jake sighed, looked up towards the sky and responded, “You really know how to put a guy on the spot. No, I’m not close with my family. Typical story I guess. Boy is disowned by his family after he refuses to take over the family business. His younger brother takes his place as the heir and from then on they tell everyone that their oldest son died in a tragic accident.”
Hope was surprised at Jake’s honest reply to her out of the blue question, but judging by the answer he provided she decided there was no reason for him to lie to her.
They had been walking in the opposite direction to the way the car had sped off, and suddenly, Jake started walking off the road and into the rows of perfectly lined trees that tracked the highway.
“Are we going somewhere specific? Because we’re going pretty far off the beaten path,” Even though she was asking, Hope didn’t hesitate to follow.
They walked for a few more paces before Jake crouched down and brushed some leaves off a white plaque at the base of a tree which didn’t look any different than all the others from Hope’s perspective. Smiling, he straightened his back, turned ninety degrees to the left and started walking, counting as he went.
When he reached nineteen he stopped, looked at her and said, “This, Hope, is where we’re going.”
Jake extended his arm and placed the palm of his hand on the tree he was facing. An electric blue handprint began glowing on the bark, and lingered even when he removed his hand. Quickly, he grabbed Hope and pulled her close before whispering, “Hold on tight, and don’t let go.”
A small section of the ground, just big enough to fit the two of them began to drop rapidly into a cavern. Hope was so shocked she couldn’t make a noise and instead clutched Jake tighter.
It was pitch black, but Hope had that feeling you get when you know you’re in a closed in space. She didn’t dare move as the speed they were going made the air rush over them, like water flowing in rapids, as if they following a predetermined pneumatic tube.
Eventually, all the twists and turns stopped, and their bodies came to an abrupt halt in a dimly lit room. Lying on top of Jake and exacerbated, Hope started laughing and let her body relax.
Through the laughter and after rolling off Jake and onto her back she managed, “What the hell was that? You seem just as relieved as me that it’s over.”
“That was an old form of transport that hasn’t been upgraded yet, but we should still be able to contact headquarters from here,” he jumped up while groaning with a smile and chuckling, “Ah, I haven’t been in one of those since I was a kid. Definitely won’t be doing that again anytime soon.”
He lent a hand to Hope to pull her up and they headed tentatively to a room with five monitors that looked like they had seen better days. The entire place looked as though it hadn’t seen anyone in years, but when Jake played with a few switches for the generators, the lights and computers flickered to life.
By this point, Hope had decided that she wouldn’t ask any more questions, she knew she would eventually find out the answers by letting events play out on their own accord.
She was watching as Jake brought up a basic text console and began writing a message outlining the events that had unfolded without mentioning Hope. The words PROTECT ATONEMENT ALPHA ON ROUTE appeared in green font on the screen.
Jake mumbled to himself and then turned to Hope, “Screw the number of questions I gave you, I think the best way to protect Atonement is to tell you everything I know, something doesn’t feel right about everything that’s happened today.”
She looked at him for a long while, and he returned the gaze. Hope sat down on the floor, cross-legged and motioned for him to join, “How about we start with your name? It’s Jake right? Hi, I’m Hope, nice to meet you.”
Sitting opposite her with one knee up and the other leg tucked underneath, he smiled, “My name is Jake Kelly, I’m a twenty-five year old agent for a secret order of humans who possess the genes of the ancients. I was tasked to find, obtain, and protect what we refer to as Atonement, which is what those men were also looking for.”
Hope studied his face as he spoke, “It is said to be a powerful weapon that could be good or bad depending on who is wielding it, which I suppose is like most powerful devices in fantasy or reality.”
Jake shifted slightly and rested his arm on the knee that was up and stretched out the other, “No one had ever come close to finding Atonement, because no one knew what they were looking for, until now. I just sent Rob and the two steroid junkies on a wild goose chase, because I and I alone, know where Atonement resides.”
He broke eye contact with Hope for the first time in the conversation and looked at the wall, “See, I learnt something recently, Atonement isn’t a thing, it’s a person.”
As Jake looked back her, Hope gathered from the look in his eyes that she was the person he was talking about, but strangely she wasn’t even remotely shocked.
She had never felt like she truly knew herself, that there had to be something more. Maybe that’s why Hope always felt like a violent war was taking place inside her, maybe that’s why she had so many dark thoughts that she had to fight every day. Not understanding the things that were going on inside her mind, she had wanted to take her own life but now…now she could finally find some clarity.
Jake had seen her mind working to decipher the information, and when he saw a spark in Hope’s eyes, as if something suddenly made sense, he continued, “Whether you like it or not, you are the centre of something extraordinary. My people say they need your help, so the ancient line can live on. But now I’m not entirely sure you’re safety is guaranteed, and I’m not willing to hand you blindly into their hands. I made your uncle a promise to keep you safe, and I refuse to break that promise.”
Hope spoke with conviction as she replied, “I think that you’re the one person who will be able to help me figure out who I am…what I am. I’m putting my faith in you, which is something I’ve never done in the past. It has always just been me fighting my battles alone.”
He nodded exuding honour, “Well, now I will be there by your side. I swear to never break that trust, because there’s something about you, Hope. It’s like for the first time I know where my loyalties are and what I was put on this earth to do.”
Hope smiled as she felt a buzz of excitement building in the pit of her stomach, “Jake, I think we’re going on an adventure.”
By Naomi Eleanor