Finn and I stand there, frozen, on top of the roof, the wind dancing around us, and the trapdoor smacks against the stone as it flings open. Nothing seems to move except the small particles of dirt as the thing that has been chasing us through the tunnels of this weird dimension climbs up to face us.
The first thing I see is the dusty black hair on top of…the guy’s head. The guy. It’s just a…guy. Not going to lie, I’m a little disappointed.
As he heaves each foot up step by step, I take notice of the rest of his tall but thin body. Under his scruffy black hair is some sort of mask, a deep brown color, covering his entire face with two bug-like glass bubbles for the eyes. It looks a bit like a mix between a gas mask and plague doctor mask, minus the long nose. The guy’s skin is completely covered, clad head to toe in clothes of brown and black. What sticks out is a thin silver wire of sorts, which snakes up his right arm,way up to his neck where it seems the wire-thing attaches to the mask-thing.
After what feels like forever, his black boots touch lightly down on the roof, and only then do I see what the wire really is. The silver thing winds down around his arm to land firmly in his right palm, extending out into a weapon of some sort. It’s tiny and sharp, the very tip scratching lightly against the roof as his hand hangs at his side. A small part inside me insists that the weapon is so small it couldn’t possibly hurt, but a smarter piece of me listens to the cue I get from Finn, who immediately stiffens at the sight of the guy.
A second passes between us, a slight whistling of wind the only sound. The dude just stares across the roof, about twenty feet away, not moving a muscle. Finally, I can’t take it anymore. Finn and this guy might be able to just throw menacing looks at each other, but the silence is too much.
“You know, we didn’t order any pizza.” I say. “I thought maybe the running-away would clue you in, but I guess I wouldn’t say no to breadsticks.”
I wasn’t expecting an answer, so when I hear a deep laughter through the mask, my breath catches. Finn must be surprised too, as his eyes narrow and his head cocks slightly to the right.
The man’s voice is lighter than I expect, but it comes out a little Darth Vader-esque with the mask. “What can I say? The Searu deliver.”
Finn audibly growls, and he takes a half step to his right, so he’s partially blocking my body from view. I, however, am just surprised someone in another weird dimension actually gets my sense of humor for once.
“Know him?” I ask Finn under my breath. He doesn’t get a chance to answer before this Searu dude responds.
“He knows of us.” He chortles, but his body posture doesn’t move an inch, still as a statue. “The Searu tend to avoid the famous Finnegan.”
“Ah, yes,” Finn says, low and controlled, “definitely have heard of the Searu. Always been a bit offended I hadn’t met one of you before. Flattered, by the way. Who was it?”
I think this is the exact moment I decide to give up on trying to not feel confused every second that I’m out with Finn. So I just let the conversation continue.
“Anonymous,” he says, his tone now flat and almost bored, “but reliable.”
Finn snorts. “They better be. How much? It better not be less than a hundred thousand, because if it is, anonymous is really ripping you off. I can’t even tell you how many people want me dead.”
With his last word, my eyes go wide. Oh. This guy isn’t just trying to kill us; he’s been paid to kill us. The…Searu or whatever are like mercenaries. I guess. Another day at the job…this weird, weird job.
The mercenary’s mask-face looks at me, in my moment of realization, and I get the bad feeling that he’s smiling under there.
“Usually the prey are less concerned with the pay,” he stops for a moment as if to consider, “but it’s…satisfactory.”
Finn gives me a tiny nudge as his eyes scan the room, probably looking for some way to get us out of this. But the mercenary lifts his right hand, the one with the wire looking thing, and he gives the slightest motion. The wire whips, making it straighten with a slight crack, and his masked face tilts down. Something about this movement makes me think he’s done talking…
“Oh, come on now.” Finn flips his sword handle over in his hand, the only sign that he’s anxious. “I’m sure whatever he’s paying, we can match, make an arrangement, sort something out, that kind of thing.”
The Searu takes a step forward, apparently declining Finn’s offer. Nothing Finn’s saying has been doing anything, so I figure that I might as well do a second stupid thing today. At least I’m consistent. I step to my right, from around Finn’s back and into the mercenary’s full view.
“Ooo, a shiny little wire! I’m so scared!” I flash him a smile and keep stepping away from Finn. If I can just distract him away from Finn for long enough, he’ll figure something out…hopefully.
I cast a sideways glance to Finn for a split second, hoping he’s picking up on my half-plan, and his eyes are narrowed, but his jaw is set. He’s mad about it, but he can’t think of another plan. I’m getting better at reading him. Either that, or I’m spending way too much time with him.
“It’s a drepe.” My bait works, as the mercenary locks on me as I prowl the edge of the roof, wind whipping at Finn’s coat across from me. “The preferred weapon of the Searu. Light, sharp, packs a sting…”
“Question,” I interrupt, keeping my eyes on him, slowly sidestepping the edge of the roof and putting on an air of confidence, “how’d you know we were in this dimension?”
He doesn’t answer.
I keep going, the questions spilling out of me. The mercenary stalking around me, slowly hunching down as if preparing to spring. “Do you know what this place is? Did you cause the earthquake? And what about the Door? You make it disappear, or move, or whatever? What happened to this underground city? And since we’re underground…”
I trail off. Finn’s eyes are narrowed, and I realize he came to the same conclusion I had. He licks a finger and holds it up into the air, his coat whipping about around him in the wind. The mercenary, between the two of us, straightens suddenly, looking around between his mask, probably noticing it too. He doesn’t know either.
I finish my conclusion, saying aloud what we’re all thinking. “If we’re underground, how is there wind?”
Sorry this installment is so short! Tunnels: Part 4 will be up next Thursday!