This is the fifth part of my fortnightly serial. If you missed Part 4, you can read it here.
Part 5: Rebels
This was a terrible idea. As Janet went down the stairs, she began listing in her mind the number of things that could go wrong. She could get lost, just by forgetting her way. She could get lost because the hotel’s architecture could change. She could fall through the floor. Someone could see her, question her, and then probably fire her. She could end up in another world full of unfriendly people.
What could go right? She could make her way to the basement, find the door, open it, and what? Hope that the two people were still just sitting behind it in the dark, too afraid to go back? Would she go into the corridor to rescue them? As she began counting the doors in the basement corridor, Janet decided that might be a step too far. If the balance between the hotel and the other worlds could be upset by how many other-worlders were here, then she didn’t want to test what her being there might do to that. If they weren’t just behind the door, she would just have to sneak out again, and feel only slightly less guilty than she did now.
She opened the door and felt a surge of relief to see it was the right room. Her relief vanished when she saw that there was no other door here. She ran her hands over the wall where the door used to be. It just felt like concrete. Well, Hela did say it shouldn’t have been there. Now it wasn’t. So that was that.
She heard a chair fall and turned. Robin Foxglove and Paxton Blackthorn stood there. For a moment, they just stared at each other.
“Mistress?” asked Robin. “Can you help us?”
“What are you doing here?” asked Janet. “I saw you leave.”
“Paxton is adept at illusory magics.”
Paxton swallowed. “I studied at the Academy.”
“What does that mean?”
“What you saw was an illusion.”
It still seemed impossible. “Hela reads minds. She would have known.”
Robin gave her an odd look. “Only surface thoughts. They are easy enough to hide.”
Oh great, thought Janet, so I’m the only one here whose thoughts are on show? She had better start thinking of walls in her mind. Now that she was in front of the two she had thought to rescue, she was having second thoughts. Exactly how could she help? What if they were actually dangerous criminals? “Why do they want you dead, back there?” she asked.
Robin and Paxton exchanged looks. “You are of this world?” asked Paxton.
“That’s right.” She had thought it was obvious.
“What do you know of Durridel?” asked Robin.
“Nothing. Next to nothing. I mean, apparently there are princes, but that’s really it.”
“I could show you what we did that made Prince Kieri want us dead,” said Paxton. He held out his hand.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Just take my hand.”
Janet hesitated. She had thought she was way out of her depth before. Now it felt like the rabbit hole would never end. They needed her, though for what, she had no idea. This could be a chance to learn more about this crazy place. Slowly, she placed her hand in his —
— and felt the weight of the pickaxe in his hand. The cavern rang with the sound of picks hitting rock. To his left and to his right, others laboured at getting the argil out. His hand ached. Every muscle was sore. He looked up, where the cave walls arched high above twisted and black. After a glance around to check if anyone was paying attention, he put his back against the stone, and, thank the All-Powerful, it did not move or twist beneath him. He slid down to the ground and let his eyes close.
“Get up!” A stinging on his cheek. He opened his eyes. The guard with a whip stood over him. “Keep working.”
Paxton rose with an effort and continued chipping at the black rock. From the other side of the cave he could feel Robin’s concern. He shook his head. I’m fine.
You had better be. It’s nearly time.
It was time. The third bell struck just then and the miners, the beaten down dregs of people down there with Robin and Paxton, sprang into life, running for the mine exit, hitting any guards in the way. Robin was faster than anyone, having wrested the whip from the nearest guard, and was throttling him with it. Others gathered argil for themselves before they ran for the exits.
Paxton stayed with his back against the wall. A twist of the mind and he was invisible to all. He was not a fighter. But of course, this place was not safe. The stone twisted beneath him and he found himself tipping back into unknowable dark —
A hand pulled him up. Robin. “We have to get out of here.”
He clung to her as they ran, past the fighting and into the caves. Robin was light-footed and seemed to know where to step to avoid the jutting out bits. Paxton stumbled behind, but kept up. When the sounds of the fighting were gone, they stopped.
“I don’t know where we are,” said Robin. “Do you think you can get us out of here?”
“I think so,” said Paxton, taking his hand from hers —
— and Janet stumbled back and nearly fell over the table behind her. “What the hell was that?” She gripped the table below her to assure herself that she was really here.
“I am sorry. It seemed simpler than an explanation.”
“Well, it wasn’t. That was you?”
“That was when we escaped from the mines. We had to incite a rebellion to do it. That is why Prince Kieri has sentenced us to death.”
Janet shook her head. “Why were you down there in the first place?”
“There was a Prince who was exiled from Durridel,” said Robin.
“Exile Prince?” Hadn’t Hela mentioned that, what was his name … “Telar?”
“How did you know that name?”
“He’s staying here, in the penthouse. I think they said he’d been here a while.”
“Well, we were of his people.” Robin sighed. “When he was exiled, his land and his people were split between those Princes who had nearby lands. So we became of Prince Kieri. She did not feel bound to us as a Prince feels bound to their people.”
“Prince Telar felt no such bond, either.” Paxton said.
Robin glared. ”That matters little now. All of us that used to be of Prince Telar were sent to do hard labour, like criminals. At the docks, in the mines, building the towers. We were sent to the argil mines. That would be hard work in the best of times. It’s worse now. Things have changed.”
“Argil is the deposit of old magic,” said Paxton, “which can be used to fuel new magic. That means that it changes the landscape around it. That black stone you saw, it wasn’t argil, but it was what all stone will become when in the presence of magic for too long.”
“It looked like volcanic rock.”
“Yes. volcanic — changed rock. It had been changed. But the changes were still happening.”
“The magic that holds Durridel together has changed, become more volatile,” said Robin. “Our relationship with Himmeria has become fraught, and with that, the lands rebel against the bridges between our lands. The mines were too near to the portals to this hotel and to Himmeria, and so they were apt to change.”
“Oh.” Janet remembered the bottomless pit in the lobby. “That might be because of what’s happening here, too.”
“Possibly. A week before we came up with our plan, the caves had opened up and two people fell through.”
Robin continued. “We rebelled because to continue mining would have meant death, if we were there for long enough. Do you think we are deserving of death?”
“No, of course not. But I don’t know how much I can do to help,” said Janet. “I’m new here. I don’t know anything about this place, nobody here trusts me or likes me really —”
“But you are the anchor,” said Paxton.
“How do you know about that?”
Paxton shrugged. “To cast illusions well, you must see clearly.”
It made sense, in a way. ”What does it matter if I’m the anchor?”
“If you are the anchor, then you are part of this place. You belong here. You can permit us to stay. We shall be forced to return without permission.”
“I’m not really the anchor, though. I think I’m still in the testing phase or something. This is only my second day. I don’t know where any of the rooms are, I couldn’t help you find your way around.”
“We will find a place. We just need your permission. You are on the staff. It will count.”
Janet sighed. “Well, if that’s all you’re looking for, then fine, you have my permission to stay. I don’t think it’ll do any good, though. Once Hela or anyone else finds out you’re still here, they’ll send you back.”
“They don’t have to find out. We can take care of ourselves,” said Robin.
“All right,” said Janet, “I’d better get out of here then. Good luck.”
She reached for the door. Robin came forward and clasped Janet’s hand in two of her own. “You have saved our lives, Mistress. How can we repay you?”
“Just call me Janet,” said Janet. “And maybe if you could help me get out of here unseen, that would be a great help.”
“I can do that,” said Paxton.
Janet opened the door. “Uh oh.” Instead of opening into the basement corridor, there were now three different paths away from the door. “This looks different. I don’t know if I can find my way back.”
Paxton came forward. He placed a hand on the door frame. “You want to get to the door that leads back to your world?”
“Uh, yes, that’s one way of putting it.”
“I think I can lead you there.”
He looked down at her. “This place is built with magic. Even when it twists and turns, the magic shows how those pieces fit together. And the exit to Earth is important, and labelled in all the spells.”
Janet stared at the blank corridors. “I don’t suppose you could show me how it looks.”
“I could, actually.” He held out a hand.
Well, and why not? Janet took it. For a moment, everything looked just the same. Then she gasped. Thin silver threads ran through the walls, the ceiling, the floor — shifting and glimmering everywhere she looked. She raised a hand to the nearest wall and watched the strings come together where her hand was. “This is magic?”
“How can you use it to lead you? All the strings look the same.”
“I told you. I have learnt to see true. I can see what spells are made from these threads of magic, and use that.”
Janet looked at Paxton’s other hand, the one on the door frame. She could see threads coming from his own hand, going into the wall. “Is that something I could learn?”
“I could teach you, if you’d like. It would be a small price to pay for what you have done for us tonight.”
“Honestly, that would be great.” Janet pulled her hand from Paxton’s, and watched as the strings of light vanished. “So which way?”
Paxton pointed to his right. Together they navigated the series of corridors up the stairs. The way was longer this time. Robin followed behind, drawing a couple of daggers.
“Are those necessary?”
Robin looked at the daggers in her hands, shrugged and put them in her pockets. Janet felt like the woman was only humouring her. She shrugged and turned back. They went up the stairs and down another series of corridors, before Paxton stopped.
“The entrance is in that large room around the corner. Robin and I cannot go in with you; there are many spells there to detect intruders. Too many for me or Robin to get around. But you can make it on your own?”
Janet peeked around the corner and saw the lobby, a strangely comforting sight. “I’ll be fine. Thanks.” She frowned. “If you’re going to teach me how you see your way around, how will I find you?”
“It seems few people come to the lower level. Come downstairs when you have time to yourself, and we will find you.”
“All right,” said Janet hesitantly. “Until then, I guess.”
The lobby was a little more crowded than it had been before. A group of people that seemed to be family were huddled around the receptionist’s desk, having an argument that looked on the verge of violence. Janet scurried across, not bothering to sneak. There wasn’t really anywhere to hide. Luckily, nobody seemed to care she was there.
She walked out into the carpark and drove home. It wasn’t until she had parked the car in front of her parent’s house that her heart stopped racing.
Want to keep reading? Part 6 is here.
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