February 27, 2013 by Lyn
Leo carefully made his way through the cave-like halls; their “enemies” had Worked most of the floor into narrow rocky passageways. Last time he’d gone through the growing array of tunnels, he’d had his crew with him. This time, there was no Cynara to widen the tunnels for him and his antlers scraped against stone as he maneuvered his way through.
“…just saying… harpies… all the monsters…”
“Ack! …hold on… there…”
Voices echoed back through the cavern from the “official” scouting group, bouncing around from all directions. The section of the third floor that had been taken over by the cave tunnels was, he and his crew had discovered, completely unreliable for following voices – intentionally, he assumed. With that in mind, he ignored the “where” of the voices entirely and listened closely to how clearly they were coming through.
As long as he could tell whether he was getting closer or further away, it was good enough. It wasn’t that easy to get lost down here – though come to think of it, he hadn’t been here without Cya before. Or Zita. Not that being with Zita made it easier or more difficult to get lost.
Well, the younger group wasn’t making it difficult to follow them. And if he had to, he could just spy on one of them and figure out where they were.
He carefully maneuvered through another narrow passage, steadying himself against the stone and frowning. He’d forgotten how thirsty you got after losing blood. That was why blood drives always give you juice and cookies, afterwards; replace the liquids and—
“Water.” The voice coming from above was new, but strangely familiar. “Water would do it.” Then, still from above, echoed a long giggle.
It was only long, hard-won force of habit that kept him from freezing on the spot. Zita? No, it wasn’t Zita. It couldn’t possibly be Zita – in fact, he was completely positive that it was definitely not Zita.
So. Zita’s possibly-evil, probably-psychotic twin? Which meant whoever she was hanging out with…
“And who is this?” A second unfamiliar voice followed him as he slowly continued along: a deep voice, rumbling ominously as it echoed through the caverns.
“Whoever” being him. A wide grin spread over his face before disappearing in a quickly stifled curse as he was hit with another wave of dizziness. The whole blood-loss thing was getting ridiculous. He needed to do something about it.
Pausing against the cavern walls, Leo considered his options for a moment then placed two fingers over his jugular vein. “Meentik Tlacatl gamma Leofric cy’Luca αἷμα εν φλέβα,” he murmured just above a whisper, concentrating intently on the blood coming into existence inside the vein, slowly.
“Is that the one who…?”
“No, not him.”
Could they hear him? Did they know he could hear them? It didn’t seem likely. They wouldn’t be talking about him like that if they knew he could hear them. Fortunately, aforementioned habit when he heard voices was always “pretend you don’t,” so he just had keep that up.
“Did you tell Her?”
“She’s busy with the others.” Her voice, whoever she was, still sounded way too much like Zita’s for his comfort. “She had the gas cloud with her.”
Maybe he should…
…no. He couldn’t run off and face against the bad guys solo, without any fanfare or building conflict. That’s not how it worked. The group ahead would run into a few easier opponents, win a few times, feel good about themselves for a bit – then the serious fight would show up. That was when he would jump in. He couldn’t rush these things.
“I still say we should flood the place.”
The voices from above faded from hearing as the third and new voice cut in. For a split second he wondered if he should go back… but that wasn’t part of the plan. If they did flood the place, he’d deal with it when it happened. Maybe later, he would come back.
“Let us pass.” Arundel’s voice drifted back, sounding clear but still some distance away.
“Why should we?” Leofric didn’t recognize her voice – and while that alone wasn’t enough to rule her out of the scouting group, the context made it obvious enough.
“Because we can’t—”
Squeezing the rest of the way around the corner, he almost didn’t notice the curtain of vines until several of them reached out, grabbing for his right arm.
He immediately jerked his arm away, taking a step backwards and reflexively falling into a combat stance. He watched the vines for a minute after they subsided for any further signs of aggression but as they continued to mind their own business, he relaxed again and frowned in irritation. If they were still here, he must have taken a different turn from the main group at some point – which was definitely not what he’d intended.
Fortunately and unfortunately, it sounded like he was getting close. Fortunate because he wasn’t going the wrong way: unfortunate because he didn’t want to show up too early. Closing his eyes and listening carefully to the conversation (and for anything suspicious), he murmured a relatively complex Idu Hiko working.
An image slowly pulled itself together in his mind’s eye: the younger students, a surprisingly large number of which he recognized, facing off in a T-intersection against two young women. (As much as any of them were men and women.) One – the one who seemed to be the speaker – had almost snake-like hair, and the other seemed to be wearing… scuba-diving equipment?
Leofric shook his head as he ended the Working and returned his attention to the vines. Normally he would have attacked them – the move proving useless and ineffective as the vines quickly grabbed his sword, then his arm – and one of the others would do something sensible like light them on fire. He’d get singed, act mildly indignant and be favored with a sarcastic reply.
Right now, he had the fortunate disadvantage of being alone, which meant he was free to act entirely out of character and be sensible.
Looking over the vines carefully, he found the most likely places for them to be growing from and quietly muttered an Abatu Huamu Working targeting them.
It worked: the vines lashed out at him as they died, with very few reaching far enough to even touch him. But even with minimal resistance it was taking longer than he liked. The noises from up ahead were growing louder as he slowly worked through – and just as he was nearing the end, a Ninth wearing a thick leather collar dashed around the corner, his shaggy ears flapping.
Leofric whirled around at the boy’s approach, not having enough time to do more than register “student” before a notebook was shoved in his direction.
“Invisible whispering said give this to you. Fifth floor plans.”
Raising his eyebrows and glancing down at the notebook – more of a binder, really – Leofric held up a finger to his lips. If he could hear the group ahead, they could hear him. Them.
Invisible whispering, huh. Well. That was an unexpected twist – unexpected to Leo, even, which was unheard of and a little disconcerting. Invisible whispering helping him wasn’t that strange, but… why did he need a map?
Wait, the fifth floor? How far down does this place go?
“Who’s your Keeper?” he asked just above a whisper, taking the map.
“Gregori.” The boy grinned broadly at the admission.
Leo made a mental note (just in case this came back to bite him later, somehow – you never know) and nodded his thanks before gesturing at him to go back the way he came.
As the dog-boy dashed off as quickly as he’d arrived, Leofric flipped through a few pages of the unexpected delivery. It was actually a map: almost more like floor plans, really.
“This is no laughing matter!” The “enemy” speaker’s voice suddenly rang through the tunnels, echoing and vibrating from what felt like all directions at once. “Our lives are not a joke!”
And then silence.
Leofric’s sword was out before the echoes had even stopped, slashing through the last thin curtain of animated vines. He darted forward, brushing away the falling vegetation in its death throes and pausing only briefly as he reached the intersection to take stock the situation.
…And everyone was gone. Or, well, leaving.
The two from down here were almost out of view, and if that wasn’t a magical closing door then he was… never mind. It was a magical door, and it was closing.
Sprinting forward, Leo flipped his sword’s empty scabbard around, jamming the end of it into the bottom corner of the doorway just before the door itself closed. And froze, waiting for the count of three to see if anyone noticed and came back out.
As nothing happened, he gently pried it open and followed, letting the door close quietly behind him and disappear. These halls weren’t cave-like at all: they looked almost like a normal school building, complete with chipped linoleum and mint-green walls. And they echoed, too.
Leofric glanced down the halls, quickly taking in the situation. A secret school under a secret school? So that’s what’s going on…
But the greater plots of the mastermind behind all of this could wait for later.