It’s not Thursday, but here’s the last installment for Tunnels! Sorry we’ve been on a hiatus for, like, forever. It’s a bit longer to compensate for the lack of posts, and I also want to give a trigger warning if you’re not okay with character death. I hope you guys like it, and always remember you can tell me what you think in the comments or by contacting me! I would love to hear what you have to say, and if you do like this series or this blog, please share with your friends!
We all freeze for a second: Finn on one side of the roof, me on the opposite, and the guy trying to kill us splitting the distance. The wind blows between us, as if we were on a roof on the surface. But we’re not; we’re deep underground.
“What is that?” Finn whispers, but his words bounce around the cavern. His finger still in the air from when he had tested the wind, Finn studies the environment with a different gleam in his eye, a bit more relaxed.
Now that I’m paying attention, I can feel the wind coming from behind me slowly but steadily growing more intense.
But, before I can continue thinking about it, the mercenary launches himself toward me, pouncing with his drepe darting. I barely get my sword up to block the thin weapon in time, and a loud clang rings out from metal against metal. I jump back from the force, heels landing on the very edge of the roof.
“Dude!” I say, rattled. “I thought we were all, like, having a moment.”
“I’m not paid to figure out what this place is or what’s happening.” His tone is bored again. “I’m here for to do a job.”
He pounces again, moving quicker than anything I’ve encountered. Every thought flies out of my mind. I move on instinct, twisting and turning between his blows. The drepe is as light and quick as he said; it bounces off my sword every other second, and we fill the air with the clangs of our weapons and the scuffs of our shoes. We dance on the edge of the roof, narrowly avoiding the other’s jabs and scrapes. Everything I’ve learned from Finn fades perfectly into the rhythm of the fight: left thrust, advance, lunge here, block there. The mercenary and I are in a weird unison, and everything else doesn’t exist.
That is, until the drepe in his hand falls loose by his side and then snaps, like a whip, at my hand. In a split second, it’s wrapped twice around my sword, and with a quick jerk, the mercenary flings my sword out of my hands. And I watch it fall, almost in slow motion, off the edge of the building.
Before I can breath, my heels are wavering on the edge of the roof with the drepe staring me down, the mercenary flicking it like the tail of a snake. I’m about to follow my sword over the edge, down down further into the earth. The wind, or whatever, is fierce now, and my mind for some reason thinks about how bad my hair probably looks right now. Looking past the guy about to kill me, I see Finn looking down off the other side of the roof. Wow, love how concerned he is about my almost-dying-right-now.
“Look, dude,” I say, hoping to get the Siaru guy back to the talking and away from the killing, “you can’t just kill me. I mean, it’s a too little personal to kill me if I don’t even know your name…”
I glance down behind me at the dirt floor down below, and I gulp a little. Why am I always almost falling off of things?
A crack of the drepe make my attention whip back to the mercenary. With his heavily gloved left hand, the guy slowly lifts up his mask, so for the first time I can see his face.
His blue eyes shine through the gloom of the cavern, unnaturally bright and reflective. The rest of his face is normal in my terms: smooth, dark skin, chin-length brown hair, stubble on his chin. He’s young, like his voice, probably only twenty, and handsome too. But his eyes narrow, almost into slits; he’s determined, focused, cold, detached.
“Callahan,” he growls.
His legs bend, as if to pounce. My body reflexively flinches backward.
I hear Finn’s voice from far away say something. It doesn’t register. The only thing that registers is that feeling in the pit of my stomach like I’m falling.
Because I am falling.
My feet stumble like in slow motion off of the roof as Callahan’s drepe flicks out to me deadly. Some part of my mind registers the pain as the drepe lashes my thighs, but the rest of my mind is too focused on the impending woosh-splat. My back to the ground, I gasp and flail for some sort of thing to save me.
Before I can process it, there’s some sort of pressure on my body below me. Then, I am falling…but, like, upward. Callahan disappears as I’m pushed toward the ceiling, arms and legs pushed to my side. All I can hear is whistling of the wind, and I can’t see for a few seconds, dark surrounding me on all sides. Then, something crashes into my stomach, knocking the wind out of me, and I’m yanked to my right on the ground. The whooshing fades a little as I’m pulled further to the right on the ground, but I’m too busy heaving in breaths and clutching my stomach.
It’s Finn. Just, you know, casually.
“What.” I cough, my eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness to see his faint outline. He’s lying on the ground next to me, looking windswept and dusty. The ceiling scrapes his head; he just barely fits in here.
He stamps his hand over my mouth, still dragging me down this new tunnel. I push his hand away, but I catch his drift and don’t say anything as we shuffle our way further from that weird…wind tunnel. Eventually, the ceiling slopes upward, and after a few minutes we’re able to stand up.
I figure we’re far enough away now. “What the hell?”
“That wind,” Finn says, handing me my sword which must have gone up instead of down too, “was weird, just like you said. This dimension is a connection of tunnels, which we’ve already seen, and to the surface. They must be arranged in some way that directs the wind in certain ways, like next to the building, luckily.”
He emphasizes that last word, cueing me in on the fact that he’s still angry.
Before I can defend myself, he continues, “So, when you mentioned the wind was weird, I thought about the tunnels and how the earth quaked and opened a new one that the mercenary came down. While you were distracting him, I came to this whole wind tunnel conclusion.”
I roll my eyes. “Theory, you mean.”
“Yeah, fine, theory.” He concedes. “So, I took a chance.”
I look at him sharply. “You mean, you jumped. Off a building. On a theory.”
He doesn’t look at me. “Well, who put us on that building in the first place?”
I ignore that, and we keep on for a while, half-walking half-jogging, coming across crossing paths and curves and hills and all. Some tunnels to our left and right are filled with wind blowing in one direction, and it makes me wonder what on the surface is causing these wind tunnels. After five minutes, we come across another crossroads, and in the deep silence of being under the earth, there’s a sound coming from the tunnel at our right. Footsteps.
As if by signal, both Finn and I start running, and so do the footsteps. Rats in a maze, the only sounds our heavy breathing and boots on the dirt, all I know is Finn at my side, running through these tunnels. My heart pounds against my chest, my legs burn and ache, my only thought is that I never want this to end. Surging adrenaline and the uncertainty of our future propels me forward like helium and hydrogen to a star, burning and glowing in the night.
Then, just like that, I see Finn suddenly disappear from my vision. I have to take a few steps to slow myself down, and I jog back to where Finn is standing, still as one of those meerkats right before they bolt back down into their holes.
“What?” I can’t get the rest of my question out, tugging slightly on his arm to indicate the forward motion that which we should be traveling in very quickly before the crazy mercenary catches us.
“He’s gone.” Finn says, cocking his head slightly to the right, listening intently.
I open my mouth, but then I notice it too. The footsteps trailing us have stopped.
“Are you sure?” I try to whisper, but my breathing is too heavy, making my voice bounce all around the tunnel. “I mean, he’s not just….like, in stealth mode?”
Finn pivots, starting to cautiously walk back where we came. “I don’t think so.”
I stand for a second, confused, and then I catch back up with him. “Why would he just leave? I thought he had like ‘a job to do’ or whatever…”
“Unless he finished it.” Walking back where we came, Finn examines the ground and the soft imprints of our boots from a few minutes ago. I watch him as we creep back, hand on my sword as part of me is expecting Callahan to pop out from some side tunnel.
After a few minutes, Finn halts again in a crossroad we had passed a few minutes ago. “He is gone. Here, you see his prints here? And over here they’re gone.”
He points to the crossroad, where even I can tell there are three sets of prints, and then where we came from which only has our two.
“How’d he just disappear?” I throw my hands up, trying to look for some sort of clue of where he went.
I pivot around in a circle, looking down each tunnel. Then, I notice Finn, at my left, just staring at me. But not directly at me, at my hands.
“Wha…” I trail off, noticing the feeling like a weight is lifted from my wrist. Still staring at Finn, I grasp with my right hand at my left wrist.
“The watch.” I whisper, an anvil sinking in my chest. “He took the watch.”
My voice echoes through the tunnels, bouncing off the smooth dirt walls. My face is flushed, and I clench my teeth at the feeling of tears welling up behind my eyes. How did I not notice? How could I be so stupid?
“Hey!” Finn’s voice makes me stop. He steps in front of me and puts his rough hands on my shoulders, forcing me to look him in the eye. “Deal with it later. Use what you’re feeling to help you get it back. That anger, that frustration can be used for good. But right now, let’s focus on finding the Door. I don’t think he was here to kill us.”
At that, Finn turns around to walk down the tunnel we came from. My face is still burning from anger and embarrassment, but I don’t really have a choice but to follow him. I push those feelings down, just like Finn said to. I can deal with anything but disappointing him.
“So,” I say softly, “he wasn’t here to kill us then? He was here for the watch?”
Finn takes a few minutes before responding. “Maybe. But the Searu are rarely hired for something so simple.”
Stealing something off the wrist of the most renown wegferend’s apprentice is simple? I give a light laugh.
“See, the Searu are mercenaries, and when hired, they will pretty much do anything.” Finn says. “They don’t ask questions; they just do whatever they’re hired to, if it’s at a good price. A lot of people want wegferends dead, so it’s almost a sign of your reputation if you eventually face a Searu. None have ever come after me before, but they’ve got a reputation. Remember Preado? That’s where they’re from originally.”
I think about the small pirate town of a dimension we visited to get information on the robber of the Repository. Home to thieves and the black market of the dimensions, I can totally see how the Searu come from there.
“But,” Finn continues, while hanging a right, “the question is why was he hired. We can worry about who later. If he wanted to kill us, he wouldn’t have left. If he just wanted the watch, he would have left immediately after he stole it from you, probably sometime while you were fighting.”
I choke down the anger clogging my throat when Finn mentions the watch and force myself to keep my head up, looking straight down into the darkness of the tunnel.
“He said he had a job to do, but he never said what it was.” Finn says, fiddling with his coat, this thing he does when he’s contemplating. “So, what was it?”
We spend the next half hour in complete silence, wandering aimlessly through tunnel after tunnel. We’re completely lost, we have no idea why Callahan left, and I’m getting hungry.
Suddenly, Finn makes another random right down another random tunnel, and we hit a dead end. But not just a dead end.
“Well, where the hell have you been?” I roll my eyes at the shivering piece of reality in front of us. We found the Door, just randomly. What a world.
Finn rolls his eyes and drags me to the Door, and we finally hop away from the maze of tunnels.
After a few minutes in Malacia, we’re finally home sweet home back on everyone’s favorite plateau. Except for a minute, I think we’re somewhere completely different, because there are people bustling about everywhere.
“What’s happening?” I ask Finn at my right as a guy armed to the teeth rushes past us and through a Door. This is the most people I’ve seen on the plateau, probably around thirty, and everyone seems to be coming from and going in the largest building about ten feet away in the center of the plateau.
He doesn’t respond, but his eyes are wide and his jaw is clenched. Something happened, something not good.
He starts to stride toward the building, and I have to jog slightly to keep up. The people rushing this way and that, most human but some not quite, diving and ducking out of our way, almost making a path for Finn and I.
He bursts through the double doors, and we walked into a small waiting room of sorts where Neva stands, silently and still, in the middle of the room as if she’s waiting for us. I see as we walk up there are some hallways branching off left and right, all with the same pasty yellow paint that looks like it’s straight out of a hospital. Neva’s white dress makes the entire room look pale and devoid of life. She closes her eyes, slowly and deliberately, as if she doesn’t want to look us in the eye.
When we reach her, the silence between Finn and Neva leaves the question in the air. I stand to Finn’s left, and after a moment, I realize there’s someone else in the room.
Behind Neva, Rhett sits at the desk, clad in his usual brown and black, but he doesn’t look at me. He’s looking directly across the room, just empty staring. On the desk in front of him is my worn copy of The Great Gatsby I told him he could have this morning. His face is red, splotches around his eyes. His long, lanky hands are shaking in his lap.
“Rhett!” I run up to him, kneeling next to his chair. My voice falls to a whisper. “Rhett, look at me.”
He doesn’t. I look back to Neva, and her eyes are closed again in pain. Finn shouts an expletive and bursts out of the room, kicking a chair that was in his path. The sound of the chair hitting the wall bounces about the silence of the room.
“What happened?” I ask Neva.
She sighs, as if composing herself. “Beata is dead.”
It hits me like a stone in my stomach.
I didn’t even really know her. At all, actually. I met her once. But that’s a real live human being that I knew, that I knew was important to my friends, and she’s gone.
I push my thoughts away to focus on the present. I grip Rhett’s hand, which is shaking so hard that he can’t grasp it back. He hardly seems to be breathing, let alone have functional motor skills.
“He’s,” Neva stops to take a shaky breath, “he’s processing. So is Finn. It’ll take…”
“Who did it?” I interrupt, my body ice-cold. “Who killed her?”
“A hired hand.” She says. “Someone paid him to do their dirty work. A mercenary.”
Everything connects now. “A Searu, right?”
She looks at me, shock written on her face. “How did you…”
“Shit.” I say. Now I know why he’s so angry. “We just met one. We thought…we thought he was hired to kill us. He wasn’t. He was hired to distract us.”
Neva sighs, looking as frustrated as I feel. But I feel like I can’t move. I kneel there, holding on to Rhett’s hand, just in case he needs me. Eventually, I hear Neva’s heels clicking off down some hallway somewhere. And then it’s just me and Rhett and the silence.
And I can feel something change. In the air, inside me, somewhere, everywhere. This wasn’t the world I thought I stepped into. But it’s the one I’m in now.
The Adventures of Elizabeth Shelley will be back next week!