This story is in response to the November Speculative Fiction Prompt found here.
The sound of an incessant drip continued to echo throughout the underground corridor as I continued forward, backpack strapped to my shoulders and my high heals in hand. I stopped caring long ago that the stiletto snapped in half as I ran from the Chimera-or what I thought was a Chimera. I wasn’t about to stick around to find out…its three heads seemed enough for me to pass on that invitation.
If Max were alive, he would have reminded me of my ignorance in leaving the quarter tonight, meeting or not. His words would have seeped from his lips in that eloquently infallible way, leaving me transfixed at his every phrasing as he so often did.
Shaking off the fading memories of my past, I continued to trudge through the dark passageway, glad to be alone. The meeting I left was almost too much, I was glad for the interruption.
I paused for a moment, the drip drip dripping slowly diminishing behind me, a beacon of my progress forward. I knew the underground tunnels well enough near my quarter, but further towards Mission headquarters I was rusty. Luckily, the cement columns held ancient runes within their construction and if you had any ounce of magic in your blood could reveal them- although at times that could be difficult.
Upon analyzing the columns, I noted one donning a small crack in its surface, placed in a manner I knew well. To an innocent bystander, the visual would lend no extra scrutinizing. For me, it was no crack, but rather an indicator of something more. What that was, I would soon find out.
Placing my hand on its surface and facing what I believed to be east, I cleared my mind of all chatter, thoughts and strategy. I opened to the possibility of learning something new-and being vulnerable to it- which wasn’t easy to do. Especially if a Chimera was potentially creeping behind you, dark flames erupting out of its ugly heads.
I placed my hand across the crack and knew instantly I was correct: it was a polar rune. My fingers felt a hot crackle vibrate beneath them as the rune infiltrated my mind, my body temporarily paralyzed as it revealed the information it held. The imagery wavered, my concentration not what it should be given my current situation.
I took a breath.
Suddenly, a map was uncovered, as if cellophane delicately placed over the corridor. I stood perched, a sleek shimmer illuminating my future path. Before I could memorize the pathway to the exit, a loud sound erupted from behind me, the map subsequently dissolving before my mind’s eye.
As I stood alert, waiting for my body to readjust, I continued to assess the noise- was it the three headed beast? That I doubted, I was able to sneak out through the basement faster than most who were fleeing around me, and most didn’t know this hidden escape that Max once showed me. As far as I knew, no one else followed me…what was here, so close?
As the Runes affects wore off, I turned towards the noise, but nothing appeared. It sounded like a large footprint in water, but I was unsure as my heartbeat rang throughout my ear drums in a deep throb. As I let my heart settle, I slowly pulled out my hunting knife, holding it ready at my side. Before I could react in a timely fashion, a figure appeared towards my front.
“Cassidy.” A low resonating voice echoed. The person was standing approximately thirty feet from my stance, but I could see little in the dim lighting.
“Who are you?” Before the creature, or person, could answer, he stepped out of the shadow and revealed himself. “Felix? Is that you?” I lowered my weapon.
He replied, “I’m so glad to see you!” We embraced in a warm hug.
“I didn’t see you at the meeting today, it’s been almost a year, I think.” I said, relieved that he wasn’t a beast hell bent on eating me for supper.
“I’m on Oliver’s radar, I’ve been forced into hiding.” His physique looked older, the skin on his face wilted, holding years of strain from those running in the quarters. But there was a spark in his eye, his brown hair still shaved and his feet still adorned by the same tattered army boot. “And I was there, just in the shadows, if you will. I tried to catch you after the mayhem started but man do you run fast.”
I laughed, “I thought you were the Chimera.”
“Can you believe a Chimera showed? I think they handled it. But if I worked directly for Mission, I would watch my back. Oliver has never sent anything so viscous before. I think he has troops building or he wouldn’t have been so blunt.”
“I was wondering if he was sent or working alone. Either way, that’s not a good sign.”
“Not in the least, and luckily no one died. I think that may be a first for a Chimera attack, at least this far in the city.” He replied.
“You think it is Oliver?”
“Oh, I know. He had that awful silver medallion hanging from his middle neck. God, I hope no one ever says I have a middle neck.”
I laughed. “So, how did you find this cooridor?” I asked looking around, suddenly wary that others may be lurking if he found me so promptly.
He paused a moment, his voice low. “Max showed me, some time ago.”
I nodded, nothing more to be said on that subject. “So, I was just exposing a Polar Rune, I couldn’t remember the exit from here. But someone distracted me, so I didn’t get the details.”
“Polars are the worst. And no worries, I remember the way. I used this tunnel as escape a few months back- Max really saved me with that one.”
I smiled as we began walking, the pillars surrounding us continued their redundancy.
“So…” he broke the silence, “how are you?” It was the question I got asked the most. It had been six months since Max’s death, but it felt like a lifetime. I didn’t fault those who asked, they meant well.
I replied, “I’m alright.”
“You know, you can tell me the truth. We grew up together.”
“I don’t know what to say, really. It’ll be awhile, I think, until things feel normal again.”
“Of course. I think that even though he is gone, his death spurred a lot. More than you know.”
“What do you mean?” Max died while working for Mission, an organization formed to help those inflicted by bad magic, and to fight those using their powers for the depraved. This day in age, Oliver had his hands in almost anyone who met that criteria, which was unfortunate given his history in our nation’s government.
“More protocols. Just last week, ten would have been dead if it wasn’t for what Max unearthed that night. It took time to get them passed, but it was necessary. People shouldn’t be going into buildings manned by Oliver’s men without prior sweeping for new-age magical beasts.”
“Strange a Chimera should show up today, then.”
“I don’t think that was an accident, but now, Oliver knows we have the technology. We saved ten men last week, but next time we may not be that lucky.”
I replied, “it does help, hearing that his death meant something.”
“I know.” He placed his hand on my shoulder. “I was glad to see you made it tonight, regardless.”
“It was my first time being back. I almost couldn’t bring myself to step through those doors- so many memories.”
“People noticed you there, though. It will be good; it reminds Mission of what can happen if they aren’t careful. Sometimes they get to big for their britches.” Felix led us through more tunnels and we slowly began to incline towards the streets surface.
I asked, “where are you living, now that you’re in hiding?”
“I bounce around, afraid to stay anywhere too long, especially since most homes aren’t dredlocked.” It was rare to find homes in the older quarters that were dredlocked- most that were able to don that protection were mansions and large houses owned by the rich. It typically consisted of a warlock performing a sweep and cloaking the home in a protective spell- all of which were not cheap, but there were other, more off the book ways to achieve the same result- although sometimes things wouldn’t go as planned. With Oliver’s rise in power, it decreased our chances of veiling our magic from the rest of the country. And if that got out, it would be much worse than a lone Chimera attack.
After almost an hour of walking, we finally approached a ladder leading to a rusted metal grate. Felix climbed first, placed his hands on the metal and muttered “procedamus”. The gate peeled itself back and we clambered through, revealing a small disheveled office.
I asked, “where are we?”
“Pete’s office, believe it or not.”
“I haven’t seen Pete in ages.”
“Probably because he’s in Vincula.” Vincula was the largest prison cell for those of magical significance. The prisons existence was highly debated, and Oliver worked tirelessly to accuse Mission leaders of maleficence to have them locked up there. Vincula prided itself in its neutrality within city politics- if they caught someone wrongdoing, they would catch you, one way or another. And their criteria for admittance seemed to depend on the day, although those in power would categorically disagree. We suspected them of working with Oliver for years, but no one has been able to prove it.
“That breaks my heart, he was so sweet.”
“Unfortunately, Oliver cares little about the demeaner of his targets.”
I looked around the small room as it appeared untouched by anyone but Pete himself. Tall stacks of paperwork, books and herbs were strewn about haphazardly. He was one of the most well versed herbologists in the quarters, creating remedies and potions that no one would dare attempt. “This looks exactly how I would expect his office to look.”
“I stay here sometimes, when I’m this far into the city. I try to keep everything just so; it seems to be some form of organized chaos. If only I knew what these plants could do… and had the ability to use it. Speaking of, are you still at the college?”
“I took a short break and just went back last week, actually.”
“Good for you.” He smiled as we discussed next steps.
“Well, I’m still in the home Max and I bought a couple years back- it has more rooms than I’d like to look at, to be honest. If you’d like, you can always hide out there. I don’t think many know where I live, he was pretty good at placing a veil.”
He looked surprised. “Are you serious? You would let me stay?”
“Of course, why not?”
He laughed, “I don’t know, I just expected you to be out of that home.”
“You and me both. But it’s better protected than most, and I enjoy being out of the city.”
“I have to deliver this package tonight,” he leaned over and picked up a box next to Pete’s desk, “but I didn’t have plans on where to stay after.”
“Where are you taking it?”
“To the Norman.”
“On West Quarter?” West Quarter was an older part of the magical region. It seemed to be more secluded than the others and filled with more mystery, yet not a lot appeared to happen there either. This combination lead most to avoid the area, there was nothing that needed to be seen there, anyway.
“Yep, one in the same.”
We continued to stand in Pete’s small office, and I surprised myself by asking, “can I come with you?”
“You want to come with me to the Norman?”
“I’ve been feeling cagey lately. Plus, it’s nice to get out of the house. My adrenaline is still spiked from that damn Chimera.”
“More the merrier. Shouldn’t take me long.” As he gathered what he needed from Pete’s small office I stood by the door, looking out the front window. For the first time in a while, I felt like I was getting my life back. Perhaps there was more to live after Max’s death after all.