September 23, 2012 by Lyn
Thursday, September 18, 2003
There was a stench in the hallways that Doug recognized, and he didn’t like it.
He’d set Lily, Arna, and Heidi to patrolling the upper floors in their free time, but they were, strong and wise as they were, still students. He saved the third floor for himself, because that’s where the stench was the worst, and told Lemon to stay with her crew as much as possible.
His Mentorship and VanderLinden’s babies inside her would keep her safe from the students, but he did not need the girl carrying his potential Aunt or Uncle to get jumped by a monster, and they already knew something, or someone, was after her.
He growled quietly. He could tell that there was somebody here. Somebody infiltrating their hallways, threatening his girls. He could smell the Nedetakaei bastard – nothing else stank like that, fetid right down to their rotten soul – but he couldn’t find him. Tuapeka, probably, bending the world to hide him. But Doug was going to locate him, and Doug was going to do so before he got whatever he was here for.
They had a couple extra students working the Store, checking every niche and every nook for a stowaway, practicing their Idu while Reid did the real work and searched for minds busy hiding from the students. The Arcade was too small to be a good hiding place, and anyone who stepped into the Library would have to deal with Wysteria. Doug wasn’t sure he’d bet on himself to win against the Librarian on her home turf, much less some pissant Nedetakaei.
The main spaces were taken care of. That left the rest of the third floor – storage, unused classrooms, empty dorms, all waiting for a later date, an unspoken-of emergency – for Doug. And he was going to sniff every damn corner of it.
He knew the tracking Workings by memory; they were the second thing he taught any of his Students, after “don’t get hit.” He muttered them off, one after another, seeking focus, hoping for direction. He was angry, and it was making him jittery; he was worried, and that was making him angrier.
There! There was something stronger, a stench that was half physical and half an emotional taint. Sour, like bad milk and old sweat. He opened the door – this would be a dorm, some day, when the class size got larger. Right now, it was a pile of furniture, and, in one corner, a strong strench. Fear. Fear? Doug frowned and moved into the room.
Behind the desks, underneath a stack of mattresses, somebody had built a nest, a little hidey-hole not more than three feet on a side. Finnegan had come here to hide, years ago; Doug remembered Allyse laughing about it. He was sure the skinny chameleon-boy hadn’t been the only one. But this stink was recent. Someone had come here within the last week.
Doug sat down, touching the walls with his fingers. The nest was only the beginning of it. Not only was a student afraid enough to come here to hide – again, when they thought they’d dealt with all of the bad behavior, rooted out the last of the monsters – but they had come through the walls. He didn’t think it was Porter; what did the tiger-boy have to be afraid of? Akaterina? She had the ability, but though she seemed less than thrilled with Agravain, she hadn’t been showing any of the signs of abuse. Who else was there, that could use the walls like a doorway?
If Porter wasn’t the direct answer, perhaps he was the indirect one; maybe the kitty-boy could find out for Doug what was through there – without disturbing the scene and scaring off their quarry.
He wasn’t expecting his phone to ring; his phone never rang. Only Sylvia and Arundel really even needed to talk to him, and they could just knock on his door.
He was startled enough that he didn’t answer it at first. Ringggg…. He looked up from his book. Was that his computer, making sound effects? Ringggg….. no, maybe Arundel or Timora playing some sort of joke on him? Ringgg…. “Balderdash!” He dove across his bed, getting the phone on the fourth ring.
“Am I interrupting something?” Luke sounded even more sour than ever.
“Uh, nosir, just working on my homework.” If by homework, of course, he meant comic books.
“Good. Get down to the third floor; Doug needs you for something there.”
“Is everyone all right, sir?” Why would Doug need him? He wasn’t cy’Doug or even cy’Luca.
“Probably. But I want you down there now.
“Should I bring Arundel?”
“No, this isn’t this sort of problem. We need you to open a Door.”
“Oh.” He shrugged his vest on and sat his fedora on his head while balancing the phone pressed against his ear. “Well, that makes sense, I guess.”
Now, the PE teacher sounded amused. “There will be chances to save the world later, kid, I’m sure of it. Today, you just need to save a wall.”
“Save a wall.” He couldn’t help muttering it a bit. He really wasn’t the save-the-world sort, but he wouldn’t mind saving another girl or two. “All right, sir, on it.” He hung up, because he couldn’t vanish like Batman, and opened a Door underneath himself.
He was getting better at those. The trick was to swing properly so that you landed on the floor, and then just use a Working to close the door. He pushed the door up with a thought and a couple Words – which was probably the most awesome thing ever – and started looking for Doug.
The low-level muttering got him in the right direction; from there, he opened normal, ordinary, mundane doors until he found the assistant PE teacher glowering at a desk.
“Here.” Doug jabbed a finger in the direction of a wall. “Open that.”
“Yessir.” Always a pleasure to serve, sir, whatever the Administration wants, if I open enough Doors will you let me off without the rest of the graduation requirements? He didn’t bother with the patter; it was wasted on Doug. Instead, he grabbed for an invisible doorknob, pulled, and opened a Door that hadn’t been there before he touched it.
Except it had. He could feel a portal already waiting for him, the way a few places – like the Door out of his room via the floor – got used to being a Door even when they’d never been a door. “Hunh.” He pulled it open with a flourish, never mind that entirely-non-dramatic comment, and stepped aside before Doug could push him aside.
“Hunh.” At first, he thought Doug was making fun of him; then he saw the inside of the room – cubby? Space he’d opened a Door into. The Door was short; he hadn’t noticed that at first, but it barely came up to his chest. The place inside was just as small, maybe f foot on a side, and full of soft, cartoony blankets and enough fluorescent fixtures to light up a space three times bigger.
He poked with the blankets and pillows with a toe. “That’s not a first-year Working, is that?” He could come up with stories about the person who’d built this nest. He didn’t like any of them.
“Nope.” Doug stroked the polyester fleece, his nostrils flaring. “Not adult, either.”
The older guy looked, Porter thought, disappointed. “Well…” He took a step backwards. “Need me for anything else?”
Porter waited. Doug was notoriously taciturn; it was possible “yeah” was all he’d say.
The teacher finally came out with another word. “Watch.” And then several words in a row. “Damsels in distress, you know. Or guys.”
“Keep an eye out for people in bad situations.” Porter touched his hat rim in salute. “I can do that, sir.” He was already doing that.
“Good.” Doug grunted, and toed the blankets again. “Someone wants to stay hidden.”
“Can you blame them?” He regretted it the moment it was out of his mouth, but by then it was too late. He was already getting the Stare of Death. And then, after he was pretty sure Doug was going to wither him away to nothing by sheer force of his gaze, no Words needed, the teacher grunted and nodded.
“Nope. Can’t. But I can be angry it’s needed.”
That was the most words Porter had gotten from Doug, ever. He nodded, touched his hat brim again, although he wasn’t quite sure why, and closed the Door.
As it shut, though, he thought he saw a flicker of movement.
Probably nothing, he lied to himself. Someone needed that hiding hole more than he needed the information.
Someone had been in his den.
Nothing was moved, not that he could see. The boy pushed everything to one side, just to be sure. They liked to leave traps there, under the bedding. Traps, or poison, things that bit or things that rent flesh. Anything that had been touched was suspect. Anything that had been seen was suspect.
And someone had seen in here. The boy had seen light when he came in, light from the outside, light from a door. Had they found his secret stash? He brushed his hand across his tripwires, but they were untouched. His stash was probably safe then.
The blankets, though, they had been tampered with. And he’d learned the hard way that tampering wasn’t always visible to the senses, not even to a Working. He breathed a fire Working across them. For a moment, his small space was full of flame, brushing against the walls, coloring everything brilliantly orange. Then it faded, leaving him in the dark.
In the dark. The boy slapped at the switches hurriedly, turning on his lights. Never in the dark. Never in the dark. “Never in the dark,” he whispered, very quietly, in case whoever had been here was still nearby, still in earshot.
The walls were scorched with black soot, but some bits of his blankets remained. He muttered an Abatu to destroy the remnants, and began painstakingly making himself a new pile of cushions.
He shouldn’t stay here. But this den had taken him so long to build. If anyone bothered him while he was in here, well… he could always burn them, too.
Comforted by the thought and exhausted by his Workings, the boy fell asleep.
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST.
Want more, sooner?