February 20, 2013 by Lyn
Sunday, February 8, 2004: immediately after Chapter 24
The halls below the school were dark and quiet. Too quiet. There was an air of tension weighing heavily on everyone, an air of anticipation as they crept through the halls. They had been entrusted with an important mission, and they were going to fulfill it to the best of their abilities.
“I’m just saying, if we’re fighting monsters, we should fight the harpies, too. Why not fight all the monsters?” There were a lot of things Lee seemed oblivious to. The tension of the mission, for one. The fact that the rest of the group thought his Keepers were worse monsters than the harpies he was on about, for another.
Porter wished he’d stop. He was not only making Bel uncomfortable, he was ruining the fun for everyone.
“Ack!” Bel plucked carefully at a series of thorns that had caught on her skirt. “Oh, dear, hold on.” She pulled on her gloves and pulled the last of the vine off of her. “Ah, there, I’ve got it. I apologize, gentlemen.”
“Everything alright?” Quintus stepped forward. “Porter, I’ve got this, please?”
The little kid was nice, and he’d already pulled their bacon out of the hawthorn fire twice. “Of course. Bel-my-love, just a step back, here…”
“You two are so sweet it hurts my teeth.”
“Gar, find something else to complain about, would you?” Porter frowned over Bel’s head at their crew-mate. “I like being sweet, and so does Bel.”
“Here is not the time for sweetness.”
At first, Porter thought that there were hidden dramatic levels to someone in their motley crew. But that was a female voice, a soft hiss, and they had only brought Bel with them for womenfolk.
“Sybil.” Bell tensed in his arms. “Ilian, come here.”
“We tried to negotiate with you. We are done negotiating.”
“We are not the ones who betrayed the treaty peace.” In his arms, his woman Porter loved seemed to grow taller and broader. “We are not the ones who attacked first.”
“And yet here you are, past our wards and uninvited.”
Now things were really going to get interesting. The snake-haired woman stepped out of the shadows. Behind her was another girl, barely older than a kid from the looks of it, dressed in a wetsuit with a breathing mask and hood. Porter had never seen her before, and, from the expression on Bel’s face, neither had she.
“Here we are. And here you are. What is it you want, Sybil?”
“So inhospitable. You were so polite before. And, again, you are on our land, we are not on yours.”
“But you have been. You have been attacking our students all year long. And now we are here to discuss matters in person.”
They were? That was the first Porter had heard of it. He thought they were here to get information. He glanced at his woman, wondering what she was up to.
“What’s with the suit?” Lee was, as always, so helpful. He reached out towards the second girl.
“It is to keep me from killing you.”
“Oh. Well. Um.” He tucked his hand in his pocket and sidled backwards. “Well. Um.”
“Let us pass.” Sometimes, Arundel’s fearlessness could be a real pain in the ass.
“Why should we?”
“Because we can’t keep fighting forever. We can’t keep up this silliness. Eventually, something important is going to break.”
“And,” Quintus pointed out, “You have taken over more than half of the third floor. If anyone has trespassed, it would be you guys.”
“And who are you?” All of the snakes looked at Quintus, although the girl herself continued to look at Bel. Porter didn’t like that.
“I’m Quintus. Who are you?”
“Who are all of you, while I am asking? A strange group, here. Children, mostly. Tiny people and kitty-cats.”
Porter was not offended. He’d heard far worse.
“We’re the team sent to question you.” Arundel stepped forward. Bel, sighing, stepped up next to him.
“Question us?” The snake-haired dame drew herself up to her full height, her snakes rearing like cobras. “Why would you question us? Why would you think you had the right to question us?”
“Someone’s been attacking our people.”
“The attacks have stopped since we have begun negotiating.”
The woman was lying. Porter could tell. He wondered if Arundel could tell.
“No, they haven’t. Now, let us through, or we’re going to-”
“Arundel.” Bel stepped in. “What Arundel means to say is this. We really need to know what’s going on down here. It is affecting all of us – and not just because you’re attacking us, not just because our third floor has been eaten by caverns – but because we know you are there. And our basic humanity requires that we help you.”
“Help us? Help up? What makes you assume that we need help? What makes you think that we want your help? You are the ones trapped, you poor deluded souls. You are the ones stuck in Regine’s miserable plan for world domination.”
“If we’re the ones stuck, why are you the ones in a basement? Why are you the ones who have to steal our girls to get any?”
It was possible that Arundel wasn’t being diplomatic.
Then again, Porter wasn’t sure his buddy knew the meaning of the word.
The snake-woman hissed. All of her snakes hissed.
“You shouldn’t have said that.” The littler girl took a step back, and then another one. Porter reached for a Door.
“You should not have said that.” The snake-woman stepped forward. “You should not assume we are trapped. Helpless. Useless.”
“No one said you were useless, lady.”
Arundel was being as diplomatic as ever. Porter sighed. They were going to need a Door. Maybe lots of Doors.
“Not you, perhaps, but you don’t need to say it for it to be heard. You don’t need to use your mouth for me to understand it.”
“You’re talking crazy talk.” Lee frowned at her. “Come on, Sybil, you were cool yesterday.”
Porter reached for a Door. He was definitely going to need it.
The snake-woman hissed, loudly. Again, all her snakes hissed back. “Perhaps nobody should talk anymore. Perhaps everyone should fall down. If you were all gone, they would have to use us. If they had nobody else for their project but the rejects, then they would use the rejects and the exiles, now wouldn’t they?”
“Look, you want the school up there with their nut jobs, you’re welcome to it.” Lee’s shrug was eloquent. Porter couldn’t find it in him to disagree with the younger guy. “It’s a madhouse up there.”
“You have not seen what it is like down below.”
“Do you always sound like a bad movie?” Annnnnd now Quintus was getting in on the fun. “Look, leave Lee alone, okay? He’s got enough problems. Pick on someone your own size.”
She looked down at him. “That would not be you then, little man.”
“Hey, that was a low blow.” He grinned up at her. “I’d say below the belt, but my belt is pretty far down.”
Porter relaxed. If they were turning to jokes, things were going to be all right. Humor made everything better.
“This is no laughing matter!” The woman bellowed it in a voice nothing like her speaking voice. It felt as if it was shaking the foundations of the building. Perhaps of the world. “Our lives are not a joke! “
Not good, not good. Porter grabbed a Door and threw Belfreja through it, then started shoving people as fast as he could. Quintus. Arien. Gar. He had to save Gar. Things were moving too fast. Arundel was mantling, no, Aru, no, shit, this is going to be bad. The woman was still shouting. The littler woman was pulling her wetsuit off.
“Ar…” He grabbed his friend and pulled. But Arundel’s arm was like a block of marble, and he was heavier than stone.
They had to get out of here. Porter fell backwards through the door, pulling Arundel on top of him.
“…and whoever wins will back the other crew in another fight later.”
The terrifying tiny woman made it sound so reasonable. Ceinwen thought it was nuts, but Thorburn was nodding. So, she noticed to her chagrin, was Basalt. Curry, she expected stupidity from. But Basalt?
“It sounds like fun,” the rocky guy was agreeing. “All right, Ahouva, please stay with Ceinwen.”
Thorburn turned to Ceinwen. “Cein, if nobody comes to break this up in… five minutes,” he passed her his watch, “then go find a teacher. Try to stay out of the way, please.”
Please was new. “Okay.”
She and Ahouva watched just inside Thorburn’s doorway. “This is insane.” She kept her voice quiet; she didn’t want either their Keepers or Boom to hear her.
“But they look so excited. Like this is some sort of party.”
“Ready?” The mink-woman had been in quick negotiations with Basalt. He nodded, she nodded, and they stepped back behind an invisible line, like the beginning of some sports match.
And then all hell broke loose.
Ceinwen checked the watch. 12:02. She looked up, and Thorburn was wielding a huge hammer, swinging it like a baseball bat. He was kind of terrifying and kind of hot like that. Basalt was… being Basalt, and Curry was a mass of pine needles.
She glanced at Ahouva. When she glanced back, Zita was clamped on to Curry’s back like a lamprey, and the big guy, Howard, was charging towards her Thorburn, shouting Workings.
Ahouva clung to Ceinwen’s arm. “I can’t look.”
She was probably the only one in the school not looking, by this point, except the students Luke had dragged off. A few yards behind the scrimmage line, Kheper looked like he was taking bets. Basalt was down, the mink-girl on top of him. Cynara, right, Kheper’s Keeper. Someone was screaming “stop it, stop it.”
She checked to make sure it wasn’t her, or Ahouva. No, neither of them were screaming; it was Ellen. Everyone was ignoring her, except her crew, who were doing their best to calm her down.
The members of Boom shouted cheerful orders and counter-orders at each other, apparently unconcerned about the way Basalt was pummeling Cynara or the way Curry was turning purple in one spot and pink in another. And then green, as Zita spat out a mouthful of – well, of Curry – and went in for another bite.
Thorburn and Howard were locked in what looked like a mortal combat. 12:05. Ceinwen looked away. It was too much.
“Cee, you’re glowing.”
“…hunh, I am. That doesn’t usually happen when I’m awake.” She took another step back into the room. “Is it…”
“Ow.” Ahouva winced. “I forget how strong he is… oh, that’s the ceiling! That’s not good.” A loud crashing sound interrupted her. Ceinwen peeked.
Portions of the ceiling were, indeed, falling down. Thorburn and Howard were still going at it. Curry, on the other hand, had gotten his hands around Zita’s neck.
Cynara was laughing. Laughing, and shouting out Workings. Tempero… oh, no.
Slowly, and clearly unwillingly, Basalt stood up and walked over to begin hitting Thorburn. Still laughing, bleeding from her lip, her nose, and her forehead, Cya followed him.
“…cheating…” Curry sputtered, but another bite from Zita stopped that line of argument.
“Not yet.” A hole opened up in the floor beneath Thorburn, leaving him knee-deep in the floor. “This is just having fun.”
12:07. Something smelled of fire. The crowd was pressing tighter and tighter to the fight, which was getting, itself, tighter and tighter, ringed around her Thorburn. There was blood everywhere. There was hardly any floor left around the combat. And the ceiling was starting to creak and fall.
“Jasfe Unutu, Jasfe Unutu, Jasfe Unutu, stop it.”
Having used up his words for the day on the Working to repair the crumbing building, Doug waded into the combat.
The Librarian had been reading this vile stuff for hours, and she was still reading.
The stash of papers and books Porter had found for her was tainted, disgusting, and evil. It left Wysteria feeling as if her hands were dirty when she handled it, and gave her nightmares she needed to Jasfe Intinn to avoid.
She put her gloves on and read it anyway. It was, after all, a treasure trove of information. It told her what had been done here, and what the planners of the original facility here had been hoping to find. More than that, it told her things about Ellehemaei physiology that no sane Shenera Endra would ever research. This could be useful, even if the methods were reprehensible.
Today, she had read three studies on the effects of hawthorn, rowan, and iron, along with oak, copper, and turquoise, on the bodies of Faded, weak-blooded, half-bloods, and full-blooded Ellehemaei: homo sirenis, unexpressed homo sirenis hybrids, and expressed homo sirenis hybrids.
She set the paper aside. The scientists had found a few interesting things about hawthorn in the blood stream and its inhibiting effects on Workings. Some of this, the staff at Addergoole had already speculated about; the collars the Nedetakaei Dragon had put on Shahin and Emrys had told them more about their enemy than, she thought, said enemy could have anticipated.
Wysteria hoped they never had any cause to use that information. It turned her stomach, and she did not have an easy stomach to turn.
She needed something less offensive to read for a moment.
She put down that set of papers and turned to another box. Somewhere in all of this stomach-turning mess, there had to be information useful for their current problem. The Exile Students might be a relatively recent problem, but the levels of the facility they had exiled themselves to were original to the building.
Identification of Specimens in the General Public. No.
Incarceration of High-Strength Specimens. No.
Resistance to Mind Control Techniques. Interesting, but no.
Facility Emergency Plans, with Evacuation map. There, that was what she needed. She pushed the other boxes aside, straightened her gloves, and began reading in earnest.
The plan was laid out tidily by level. It included all the specimens that needed to be evacuated, but, more importantly, it included maps.
The first three levels she bypassed. The Director had done quite extensive renovations to those levels, especially the dorm level. Those plans would tell her very little of use. What she wanted was the fourth floor. They had always assumed they had to have a bolt hole, some sort of way out. They had, amongst themselves, assumed that the exiles had put up a pretense of staying down there and then simply faded out into the world.
She picked up the binder of Level Four plans, but the binder beneath that caught her attention. Level… Five? The building only had four levels.
She set the Level Four Plans aside. She could deal with those next. First, she wanted to know about Level Five.
She flipped open the notebook; a piece of red paper was paper-clipped to the front page.
Level Five has been Quarantined and Sealed.
Level Five is Off-Limits to All Personnel. If something should breach the seals, kill on sight.
That boded poorly. Wysteria turned the page.
Level Five: Research and Development
That boded even less well. She thought back to the animal carcass the crew aptly named Boom had dragged back with them – a monster she had not found in any of her books. She thought of some of the things Luke had murmured about, talking to the staff in private.
She turned her steno pad to a fresh sheet of paper and turned the page.
She ignored two pages of “Classified Information: Top Secret Clearance Only” warnings. If the government had not wanted her to read these papers, they should not have left them in her basement where anyone with a teleporting Siberian tiger could find them.
An abstract was paper-clipped in, clearly mimeographed from another study. She paused there. There was usually a good deal of information available, if nothing else, in what people chose to leave out.
Results of mixing homo sirenes DNA with that of terrestrial animals.
Studies of never-before seen animals native to homo sirenes’ breeding grounds.
Potential cross-breeding between terrestrial and sireneta animals, as well as between homo sirenes and animals.
Our research has shown that the homo sirenis can be a remarkably versatile being. This study seeks to discover whether or not these specimens can breed with terrestrial mammals as easily as with humans.
Areas of focus will include:
* The cross-breeding itself.
* Second-generation cross-breeding.
* Potential sentience of the resultant offspring.
In addition, we have gathered, through the help of a couple willing homo sirenis volunteers, several specimens from the creatures’ breeding grounds. Further study will tell us where these branched from conventional animals’ evolution, which made help determine where homo sirenis branched from homo sapiens.
Wysteria stared at the page. Animals? Willing volunteers? The creatures clearly weren’t from Ellehem; those gates were impassable. Someone had to have been playing a horrible prank on the scientists.
How much of a prank, however, and how badly awry had it gone? She would have to look further into that later; right now, she needed floor plans.
If there were Nedetakaei-created monsters down there, she needed those floor plans yesterday.
The up-level students had gotten away, and closed a door that hadn’t been there until they’d opened it, shutting it in Sybil and Amantia’s face.
Sybil’s lips were pressed tight to each other, and every single one of her snakes was hissing at the closed doors.
“That’s it.” She snapped her head around to glare at Amantia. “We are going to open the gates. Inigo was right. We pull out all the stops. Let them live with it. If they think they’re so good, let them deal with it.”
“Sibyl, I don’t think they meant…”
“And which one of us deals with people, mmm? Trust me, Amie. Trust me. This is the best way. Whining, entitled little shits who think they have have such big problems. Well.” She turned her back on the door and on Amantia. “We’re going to give them something to worry about.”
“But, Sibyl, how are we going to deal with the things? I mean, we can’t deal with them now.” The Things haunted most of Amantia’s worst nightmares. The ones that didn’t involve her killing all of her friends with a sneeze.
“We’re not. We’re going to get the rest of our team, and we’re going to leave.”
“Just our team?”
“If you keep arguing with me, Amie, we’re going to leave you behind, too. You could stay down here with the rejects and the misfits and the monsters. And maybe, if you’re really lucky, those bumbling fools from upstairs will mistake you for one of those, and finish your life before the creatures find you. So. Do you want to keep arguing, Amie?”
They wouldn’t stop to see if she was a real monster. Or, if they assumed that she wasn’t, somehow, they’d kill themselves with her. She swallowed. “No, Sibyl.”
“Good. I knew you’d see sense. You’re a smart one, after all.” Sibyl stomped off, leaving Amantia to hurry after her.
“I don’t know where Tokka and Inigo are. Have you seen Anita?”
“She’s wherever Tokka is.” Of course. Where else would Anita be.”
“Right. So, we’ll have to hope they’re further upstream laying traps. And not further downstream.”
“I thought we weren’t going to have any more questions, Amie.”
“We weren’t. But how are you going to knock out the wards and seals?”
“How would you knock them out?”
“Well, I’d render Teacher unconscious and wrapped in Hawthorne, which should cut off the Workings, and then I’d break the physical seal by using Abatu on its backing. If that didn’t work, I might try Abatu on the door, but you’d have to find someone with the right Word for that.”
“Exactly.” From the sick smile on Sybil’s face, Amie knew that the other woman hadn’t had a plan at all. “That’s just what we’re going to do. And, luckily, I know just the person to do it.”
“I don’t have that Word.”
“No. But Nolan will do what you ask, and he does.”
Nolan. Amantia stared at Sibyl for a moment. That was going to far. Using Nolan. Using Nolan for anything was just cruel, and using him for this… “It could kill him.”
“So could the monsters in the deep. So could a stiff breeze.” Sibyl shrugged. “He will die helping his friends, then. You know he loves helping his friends. Helping you.”
Amantia swallowed. No. No, that was too far. No, No, No. She reached for the valve on her suit, released it, and started running. Before Sibyl could stop her. Before anyone could stop her. She had to get help. She had to get help from the up-above people, because if she didn’t, they were all beyond doomed.
Luke hated waiting. He hated waiting helplessly more than he hated most other things in the world. And there wasn’t a thing he could do. It pissed him off.
Those damn rebels. Allowing them to exile themselves had been a bad idea – not the worst idea they’d had in building this place, but a pretty damn bad one nonetheless. And now. Now he couldn’t get down there, he couldn’t get the kids down there to send an adult to talk, and everything was going to hell.
Privately, he wondered if Kairos was dead. She’d never been the strongest, and if there was something going bad down there, it might have been enough. The students might have overpowered her – not one group or the other on their own, but if the two groups had banded together, and taken her unaware, they might have been able to do it. She could have simply, as half-breeds did sometimes, died of an unexpected, sudden old age.
A wind nearly knocked him over as he paced. The Ninth Cohort boy, Speed, the little ganameda, darted past him, earning his name and then some. And on his other side, a different flavor of wind.
“Luke.” The wind croaked at him. “We need to find Laurel. There are things I’ve found. We have bigger problems.”
If there was one thing Luke didn’t want to hear right now, it was we have bigger problems. But at least now he had something he could do, if he was lucky.
“What problem?” He was already heading towards Laurel’s office.
“The fifth floor.” It must be urgent, if she was bothering to talk to him.
“The… shit, there’s five? That wasn’t in the papers. There wasn’t a fifth floor. We revamped the entire place.”
“Not the fourth floor.”
“We did some work there, too. For later.”
“Not enough. Clearly. Stop.”
Luke did not like being given orders, but he stopped. She had the sort of voice that did that to a man. “What?”
“The fifth floor. They left experimental subjects there.”
“Left…” His wings flared wide. “More fae? Left down there?” For decades. Decades. His stomach was turning.
“Apparent fauna. They were breeding them.”
“They can’t still be ali…” He stopped. “Shit. The griffon Boom-plus killed. Shit, how did they stay alive?”
“Made their own ecosystem. But if one has gotten out…”
No wonder the kids down there were angry. Luke’s stomach had gone from turning to rocks. They had sent those kids down there – not all of them, but enough of them to be culpable – and there had been monsters below them, waiting.
Luke wondered how many of the Rebel Class and the Others had survived. Were the few they’d see the only ones left?
I’m sure Ardell was really fucking scared. Or Meshach.
Students can be monsters, too.
We didn’t know! It was a weak protest to his mind. They hadn’t know – but they should have. They should have been paying more attention.
A wind flapped in Luke’s face. An index card, tidily printed, pressed itself against his nose. Now is not the time for stewing in guilt. Now is the time for fixing things.
“You had that one ready?”
Another card: It comes up more often than you’d think.
Luke choked on a laugh. “It would. So, fixing things. Do you have a plan?”
“I sent the floor plans down to the scouting expedition. But we have to get adults down there.” Wysteria’s voice sounded as if it were getting even thinner. “Our children could be in a great deal of danger.”
Luke nodded brusquely. “Of course. But those wards are impenetrable. I’ve tried, departed gods, I’ve tried everything I could think of.”
“Sir?” Cynara cy’Drake stepped around the corner, bleeding from the side of her mouth. “Sir, I think Leo found a way to get through the wards.”
“Leo… blast that boy, how?” Luke was already walking. Half of his cameras were inoperable, but the remaining half might just do it.
“I don’t know yet, sir.”
“And how long have you known he’s gone?”
“Please don’t ask me that, sir.”
“Hrmph. Well, he is your crew.”
“He is.” She shrugged, as if to say “what can you do.” “You told him not to go on a grand adventure, sir, what did you think he’d do?”
“I don’t know, listen to his Mentor?” Luke snarled it. “I didn’t have time to coddle him.”
“Nobody does. Nobody has time for any of it. But here we are, sir.”
“That’s it, Cya. Go back to your room. Keep the rest of your crew in your room or there will be detention for all of you for the rest of the year.”
“Will be fine without you. I will call you the minute I find him.”
“Yes, sir.” She sounded rebellious. He didn’t blame her. But she would probably obey him. She had a pretty level head on her shoulders.
“Well.” He looked to the faint scent of flowers. “Let’s see if we can figure out what Leo did.”
“And if we can duplicate it.”
What Leo Did
Leofric’s lack of argument when told that no, he couldn’t go with the Ninths on their excursion, he was too strong, should have been a immediate red flag. It probably was to his crew, but they knew better than to get in the way when Leo behaved “unexpectedly”, so it was with no opposition to speak of that he quietly slipped down the tunnels after the team of kids.
And it was with complete surprise that he ran smack into a ward. Biting back a startled curse, he stared at the invisible wall in overwhelming disappointment.
The disappointment didn’t last very long, though, before turning into indignation. This might be a chance for the side-characters to level up a bit, but that doesn’t mean he could be locked out! He had to be there. It was the main storyline and dammit, he was the main character.
Frowning in irritation, he reached out a hand until it came up against the ward’s resistance, dragging it across to see how far it extended.
Several minutes and nearly as many tests later, Leo came to the aggravated conclusion that the thing the ward was stopping was, in fact, just him. Rocks, his swords, pieces of cut-off hair, his shirt – which was now lying on the ground beyond the ward, completely inaccessible and a clear sign to anyone who might come by that he had been there – all passed through untouched.
What he didn’t understand and what was driving him up a wall was: how come the newbie Ninths could get through and he, of all people, couldn’t? He could defeat any one of them blindfolded with his arms tied behind his back! And somehow they could get through this one lousy ward?
You’re too powerful. Leofric paused in his frustrated fidgeting as the words popped into his head: the explanation of why he couldn’t go on this mission. He was too powerful.
As the answer clicked into place (and the problem of “how to get through the ward” turned into “how to be less powerful”), Leo’s frustration vanished and he stared thoughtfully through the ward. Less powerful was the same as weaker; he needed to find some way to weaken himself.
(A tiny voice of caution warned that he wouldn’t be very useful that way. He ignored it.)
One way a person gets weaker is by over-exertion. Training too hard for too long, for example. Or by doing too difficult a Working, he thought, recalling some of his earlier magic experiments. It could work, but…
Leofric grimaced. He’d never been very good at judging his limits with Workings. It was just as likely – if not more likely – that he would over-reach too far and knock himself out. Again. Having someone (or God forbid, the Ninths down the tunnel) come back and find him sprawled out unconscious in front of this stupid ward would be embarrassing at best.
Besides, none of the spells he could think of that might tire him out enough were even slightly subtle. Not to mention the school’s magic surveillance; they’d notice him for sure.
All of which meant over-reaching with magic was out. Tiring himself out by other means would take hours; he didn’t have that kind of time. Which led him to the other major cause of weakness: injury.
He looked consideringly down at himself. Chopping off a limb would be quick, but the weakness-to-inconvenience ratio was way too high. Stabbing– He shook his head. Running through every injury he could think of would also take hours, even if he limited it to ones he’d had before. He needed to come at this from another angle. What caused weakness from injury?
Blood loss. Of course. Leo grinned in an expression usually reserved for opponents who think they’re winning, but aren’t. (The fact that the opponent was a magical ward didn’t seem to deter him.) He would bleed himself until he could get through.
Quietly murmuring a Working, he sketched out a circle in the air. It was a modified version of his typical clean-up spell: Abatu Tlacatl αἷμα etc., except instead of eliminating blood on an object, it would eliminate any blood that fell into the circle he’d drawn in the air. It wouldn’t do to leave a mess when trying to sneak in, after all.
Feeling much more cheerful now that he had a solution, he pulled out his pocket-knife and flipped it open, holding his hands over the circle and quickly slashing open his wrist with a flourish.
Blood spurted out instantly, dripping off his forearm and vanishing in a sizzle of vapor as it fell through his magic clean-up circle. Still holding the bloodied knife, he leaned his undamaged arm against the ward and waited.
Disappointment started creeping into the corners of his mind as he felt himself getting closer and closer to passing out – until the barrier against his arm softened and gave way.
“Jasfe Tlacatl ῥύσει.” His voice, quiet as it was, sounded much too loud as it broke the near-silence and he mentally cursed, hoping no one heard. The bleeding from his wrist abruptly stopped, the wound itself closing more slowly: much more slowly than his healing spells had in a long while.
Leo bent down, picking up his shirt and wiping off the knife-blade. He bumped into the tunnel wall as he stood; the blood loss had made him a bit wobblier than he’d anticipated. Determining to compensate better, he slipped his shirt back on and started down the hole.
“This is insane.”
Doug stood glowering at his father, surrounded by some of the most powerful students and almost all of the staff.
Luke shrugged. “It worked.”
“It worked for an insane boy not yet an Adult. Why do you think it will work for you?”
“The theory is sound.” Even if he did agree with Doug, they were desperate.
“The theory is insane.”
“Stop saying that.” Luke lifted the knife to his arm and muttered a short Working. This was going to sting.
A petite girl in a wet suit and mask barreled out of the fourth floor stairwell and plowed into Luke. “You have to stop her. You have to stop her.” She wrapped herself around his leg. “Please. Or we’re all dead.”
The crowd around him moved closer. He held up a hand to fend them off, and looked down at the girl. Barely more than a child – and he remembered when she’d Changed. “Amantia.”
She peeked up at him. “You know me?”
“I remember you.” He remembered her Change, too. The suit would only contain her for so long. “Who do we need to stop, Amantia?”
“…Sybil.” He had known, when he had seen her stand forth to negotiate for the Rebel Class, that things had a good chance of going really badly. But she’d been the representative they’d chosen, and, at that point, they’d held all the cards. “What is she doing now?”
“She’s going to break the wards. She’s going to release all the things on the bottom floor. She’s going to hurt the Teacher.”
“Going to…” His wings flared, catching someone standing too close. “How is she going to break the wards, Amantia?”
The tiny girl flinched back. “Teacher is focusing on the wards. That’s the only reason they’re still holding. Too many things have cracked them lately. So Teacher has been spending all her concentration holding them. If Sibyl breaks Teacher’s concentration…”
“She’s going to attack Kairos.” Somewhere behind Luke, Laurel hissed it. “Luke…”
“Somebody go get Caitrin. If she breaks the wards, we can get in. If she doesn’t, then we’re stuck with this method.”
“Dr. Caitrin is busy. Perhaps I can help?” Zita was suddenly at the front of the crowd.
Luke swallowed a few choice curse words. “Stay behind me and don’t do anything crazy.” He could send for Jo. He really should send for Jo. But he had a feeling Zita would find a way to come along anyway. “Someone go get Nurse Jo. Someone else…” He looked around. “Amantia. Go with Ginger.”
“Ginger, you’re not a fighter. Take Ama out to the meadow. Nowhere else, just to the meadow.” The breeze there should be enough to disperse the girl’s poison before it could hurt anyone too much. Amantia, go with Ginger.” In the long run, they’d have to figure out what to do with her and the rest of their problem children. “And we’ll deal with this.”
He turned towards the ward, knife ready again. He was, he realized, banking now on Sybil’s plan being successful, and Kairos being sufficiently wounded to fail in her wards. He felt like a ghoul.
“This is gonna be a mess.” Doug’s mutter was intended for Luke’s ears alone, but he could see from the ripples through the crowd that others had heard him.
“It’s already a mess. Now we have to clean it up.”
“What Leo Did” section written by The Inventrix
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