Into the Dark: Six

Co-authored by Ciarente and Silver Night


The subway from the shuttleport into the city of Debreth was jam-packed. Amieta Invelen, Sarakai Voutelen, and the other members of the team they'd brought down to Annelle II stood awkwardly in the crush. Keeping weapons and equipment concealed while pressed cheek-by-jowl to five strangers was no easy trick.

They were all professionals, though, and no one gave them a second glance in the crowd as they disembarked in a stream of other passengers.

The station nearest to Alain's let them out on the broad promenade overlooking the river. With the rising sun just appearing above the horizon, the city was as beautiful as Amieta remembered, but now the trees interspersed between the houses on the slope across the river were in full leaf, their deep green a sharp contrast to the glowing golden stone that made up every building in Debreth and gave the city its elegant harmony.

She glanced behind her at the maze of pylons that supported the buildings and raised walkways on this side of the river, eyeing the dark line Cia had pointed out as the high water line of the annual flood, then signalled to her people with a jerk of her chin.

They followed her along the river side as most of the other passengers hurried eagerly towards the stairs leading up to the raised wooden streets, with only a few lingering by the thick stone balustrade at the river's edge. The river seemed higher than it had been in the winter, its surface covered with a thick layer of flowers that completely obscured the water.

They throw flowers, Cia had said. They throw flowers for luck ... now.

Old customs. Old traditions.

And from what Camille had said on the com, old tunnels, too.

And where best to start asking about the history of the city than the restaurant run by a man whose dedicated his life to keeping that history alive?

Signaling the rest of her team to wait outside Alain's, Amieta ducked inside with Sarakai, and looked around.

The restaurant was nearly empty, tables and chairs gone, kitchen stripped out. A throng of people were pulling boards from the walls and carrying them away, all supervised by Alain. As Amieta started towards him, he bellowed to no-one and everyone: "Hurry it up, there! The river waits for no-one!" Turning, he saw Amieta. "Well, if it isn't my co-owner! Here for the Day of Waters?"

"Not exactly," Amieta said. "Not exactly. Is there somewhere private we can talk?"

He studied her, and must have seen something in her expression, because he nodded and beckoned Amieta towards the part of the empty room where the kitchen had been, out of the worst of the bustle. Amieta followed, Sarakai planting herself nearby, keeping an eye out.

Ignoring the people continuing to dismantle the restaurant around them, Alain asked Amieta: "So what brings you here? Can't do you a meal at the moment, I'm afraid."

"I can see that," Amieta said. "You know about the history of the city, right? I wanted to ask if you know anything about tunnels here? Under the church across the water maybe?"

"Tunnels? Used to be. All over the town, until the cemetery at San Mara Mont Fortune washed into them." He shrugged. "Story goes they gathered the bones when the bodies finished rotting, sealed the tunnels up. No-one knows where the entrance is now. People say that getting into the tunnels is as difficult as getting under Fortune's skirt." He laughed, and clapped Amieta on the shoulder.

Amieta managed a chuckle. "Would anyone know where an entrance might be?"

Alain shrugged again. "Under Fortune's skirt, is all I've ever heard. Why?"

Trust him with the truth? Amieta studied him. Her instincts told her that Alain was not an entirely honest man, but they also told her that the kind of crimes a man like Alain tended to commit were along the lines of boosting his profit margin by buying tax-free black-market liquor. Not helping someone kidnap two girls.

"It's Camille and Cia," she said. "I think they're being held in those tunnels."

"The De Grace girls?" Alain asked. He made a circular gesture over his heart with his left hand, fingers curled loosely. "Fortune. That's no good."

"We'll get them out," Amieta reassured him.

Alain shook his head. "No, you don't understand, they're letting the waters loose in a few hours. Where you're standing will be underwater. Beneath ..."

Underwater. A chill touched her. "Ancestors forfend, so all those tunnels?..."

Alain nodded. "That's how the cemetery washed into them, all those years ago."

Amieta swore. "Well, it has to be near the Church. Camille could hear the singing."

"Which church?" Alain asked, frowning.

"Fortune of the Waters, I think," Amieta said. "Their family is involved with it, or something."

"It was built for the De Graces," Alain said. "As a fortress. Before the city, some say."

"So they would know, if there were an entrance to the tunnels there?" Amieta asked.

"I'd think, at least Lorraine de Grace - your Cia's mother - would. She was interested in the history of the family."

"Too bad she isn't available," Amieta said. "But if she knew, she might have told her husband ... " She turned. "Sarakai, send teams to the other churches, in case. We'll check out Fortune on the Waters."

Sarakai nodded, with a crisp, "Sir," and began issuing orders over coms.

"You'd better hurry," Alain said. "The river rises fast. And no-one can fight it." He eyes Amieta's hands. "Not even you."

"So Cia has told me," Amieta said dryly. "I don't suppose a thermal strike on the lakes up-stream... Well, no time to check, let's get moving, Sarakai. Have whoever isn't checking other churches join us as they can."

"Good luck," Alain said, his sober expression indicating he thought they'd need it.

Amieta nodded to Alain and strode out, Sarakai in tow.

The promenade was getting more crowded, many people at the river's edge, attaching themselves to safety harnesses that hooked into solid metal fastenings in the stone balustrade. Amieta pushed her way through the crowd, leaving startled and indignant cries behind her.

When she and Sarakai reached the tall arching bridge that was closest to Fortune of the Waters church, it was packed almost solid with people clearly seeking the best vantage point.

Amieta forced her way forward. "Move it, come on, out of the way."

"You can't just push in," a tall, burly man objected, planting himself in front of her, arms folded. He glared down at her. "If you can't get here in time, you - "

"Move!" Amieta snarled. I don't have time for this shit.

"If you think - "

Whatever else he might have been going to say was cut short as Amieta grabbed him by the biceps and heaved him aside. She heard him yell, heard someone scream, didn't turn to look as the crowd parted in front of her much more quickly. A splash, the sound of hovercraft engines ... it all faded behind her as she reached clearer ground and broke into a jog, the church in view ahead.

A queue of people waited to file inside. Amieta shoved her way to the front, Sarakai and several Safe and Sound operatives following her.

They had to force their way past the people patiently climbing the narrow, winding staircase. Amieta elbowed her way through, ignoring how the roof and the throng of people pressed in on her.

The church itself was nearly empty as people continued to queue to climb another flight of stairs which Amieta guessed led to the roof, remembering Camille talking about watching the Festival from Fortune of the Waters. She ignored the curious stares, looking around.

It was as beautiful as she remembered it, the elaborate painted designs glimmering a little as the morning sunlight fell through the stained-glass windows and cast puddles of brilliantly coloured light on the thick flagstones of the floor.

At the other end of the church to the stairs, the massive mosaic of Fortune stood behind an altar of smooth blonde stone, the waters of the river shown swirling around her feet and the hem of her skirt.

"Spread out." Amieta said. "Check everywhere. Sarakai with me."

She strode to the mosaic, studying the altar, the floor beneath it. Sarakai joined her, bending to look at the join between wall and floor. As she straightened, her shadow moved over the mosaic. The stones that made up Fortune's skirt faded to dullness without the light.

The ones studded along the hem still shone.

Amieta frowned again and ran her hand over them, feeling an irregularity. That one's recessed. And that one.

Four stones were definitely a little deeper in the wall than the others. Amieta studied them, and then with a shrug pressed one.

The floor beneath her seemed to shift a little - so little it was just on the edge of her boosted senses.

Amieta pressed harder, stretching to push on one of the other recessed stones at the same time. Definitely moving.

She stepped aside and called Sarakai over. "Press there - and there - when I say. Three, two, one, go."

As they pushed, a flagstone almost directly beneath her feet slid aside with a grinding noise. Beneath it, a staircase, steep enough to almost be called a ladder, led down.

Amieta swallowed, and felt the blood drain from her face.

You knew it was going to be tunnels.

She drew her sidearm, and followed by Sarakai, descended into the dark.

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