Aethin hurried along another of his favored passages, ones that he and a select few knew about. It allowed him to bypass many tunnels that have been left sadly neglected. Even using one of the soulless networks that were maintained had his heart pounding, and Fear whispering loudly in his ear. Only here in his private tunnels did his Core calm, he knew it was foolish, these tunnels were only a step above the soulless in the skill of craftsmanship. But it’s better than nothing, ‘At the very least these will hold out long enough for me to move on.’ He thought calming his channels and try to suppress the chill coursing through him.
With reaching the end of the current tunnel he was in he placed his hand on its surface waiting for the signals from the Wards to show that no one was near. This section of the Settlement is more populated with soulless and the last thing he wanted was them learning of better-protected tunnels. When the all-clear was given he quickly had the passage open and stepped through closing it behind him.
He didn’t linger as the beating of his Core quickly rose. His Fears returning and growing in intensity with every passing moment as he traveled his way through the joke of a network around him. Others passed, maids and lower cast Chanters. Their strides were far more relaxed and carefree than his, ‘the sweet relief of being oblivious’ he thought as their forms receded ‘thinking’s these hack jobs of tunnels will keep them safe’.
He slowed his pace as he closed on another entrance to his personal passages. Ears up he listened for any hints of movement as he placed his hand and waited for the acknowledgment from the Wards. Once the signal was given it opened and he dashed into the new tunnel. He leaned against the wall, taking deep breaths as his Core hammered in his chest. He normally wasn’t this whined-up, but with their Nightmares assaulting the walls, the illusion of safety he had built up crumbled away. He wasn't home within the safe confines of his House safely tucked away in a Sanctum Cycles old.
No, he was at a fringe Settlement testing the grounds to see if it could become a permanent one. From the reaction the Nightmares were giving off that answer would be a clear no. Not unless large resources would be pulled and used in the Settlement to fortify its walls. Which would never occur even if there was time to do so.
Shakily he pushed from the wall and continued towards his destination. The children wouldn’t wake for a time after their minds and been flooded with bits of his knowledge. When they did wake they would be sluggish and not all that clear in the head, and they would be hungry. A perfect reason for him to go and grab a few provisions for them. That it would take him to more secure tunnels was just a side benefit. He did need these moments of peace if he was to teach them properly.
They can’t afford another slip up with this batch of Newborn. How Vernac and his Servants foiled up to begin with was a mystery. ‘Can’t have happened at a worse time’ he thought as he rounded a corner that marked the halfway point of this tunnel. His Core had settled somewhat as the rest of the passages he will enter won’t be as neglected as those before. Still, they didn't hold a crystal compared to his tunnels, he foolishly showed open hope for this place, and privately still does. Though it was becoming clear that the Elders of the Sanctums weren't truly interested in this Settlement. Least not from his view, what he’d seen with the lack of effort put into making the Wards. The people that have arrived or have been appointed here made it clear that this is just a dumping ground for excess or unwanted people.
His body froze as from the corner of his eye he witnesses one of the Wards slightly change green. When his head snapped around the Ward had already begun to revert to its pure white. That did bring him some relief, but not much as he began shaking. He knew much about their Nightmares, he had to if he wanted to stay clear of them, and what he saw made his blood run cold. As he watched other runes flick green then back to white in quick sessions. ‘Giver, their marking out the settlement size.’
His breathing became quick gasps as he went into a panic, and crumpled into a ball on the floor. He stayed in that positions for several Sequences has he struggled for control over his vessel, only regaining it when the Wards had stopped flashing and he believed himself alone. Quickly he scrambled up from the floor and ran to the end of the passage.
Entering into the Soulless tunnels sent another chill down his spine as he felt even less secure. He, however, had little choice, the Newborn will be in need of food after they woke, and they were now his key to leaving this place alive. ‘Vernac can be consumed by the Nightmares if he thinks I’m going to hand them over to him.’ His pace slowed as he neared a corner, peaking around it showed that none of the Wards were flashing warnings of being under assault.
He quickens his pace towards the food stock paying no mind to the noise he made. The Nightmares already knew they were here, the moment the Settlement had been measured their attack will begin.
As he passed down one tunnel after the other it became clear others had already moved themselves to the better maintained and made passages. ‘That’s fine, yes, good no chance of worthless deciding to follow me. Wish I would see a guard around though, they're supposed to be checking the tunnels!’ This thought sent him from a quick walk to an actual jog as the ramifications of this settled in. ‘Could they have already launched their attack? He wondered. 'Worthless Scouts, they lied to us! Failed their only Task.’
‘Calm, calm everything is fine, this is good, yes very good’ a smile returned to his face as he pushed aside the growing whispers. ‘The guards will be busy, Vernac will be out of the way, and no one will be looking for me or my new Acolyte for a time.’
When he arrived there are several Servants going about packing up stored goods for removal. The last bit of proof that an attack either from the guards or the Nightmares was already underway. The Servants stopped their work when they noticed him, all bowing in respect, and the leader stepping forward. “Aethin Val Mentor an honor to meet” he bowed slightly again “Is there something we can help you with, I have some Servants ready for any packages you may need to be transported.”
Aethin gave the servant little attention, as he eyed what food remained, sending an Offer to the Giver that he arrived when he did. When his overview of the food was complete he finally acknowledged the Servant in front of him. “Have your men load what remains of the food stock best to revitalize the soul onto trays.” When the servant looked about to complain Aethin smiled holding up a hand to stop him. “It is needed for the defense of our Settlement, to ready the Newborn for battle.”
The Servant still showed signs of Worry affecting him, perhaps it went against his early orders for the food. He however still had his men obey Aethins order, no matter how reluctant he was. Aethin far outranked them in Worth and if he decided to, he could merely kill them, it would be unlikely that he would face any repercussions for this action. He was even tempted to just kill them after they did their work, masking the fact it was him who came to get supplies.
He held this thought at bay. Everyone was going to be needed High or Low if they were going to a have any hope of evacuating into the tunnels. Tunnels that weren't protected by Wards, tunnels which will be infested with Nightmares picking stragglers off one at a time.
When the food was done being loaded onto large trays that would require two or three servants to carry, he performed a quick simple Chant, and they began to float. Not for long and he would have to continually cast this Chant, using up precise bits of his Soul. Sadly it was necessary for if he didn't he would have to have the Soulless follow him back to the Newborn, learning all his secret passages. Then he really would have had no choice but to kill them.
With their Task done he left the Soundless without any form of farewell, three trays following behind him. ‘Truly a blessing that these tunnels are already bare.’ He thought as scenes played in his head of the number of people, perhaps Guards that would have stopped and asked him questions or even worse try to subtly take food from the trays.
Things weren’t, however, all warding. As he traveled his Core drummed in his chest, all sides of the tunnel walls, roof, floor Wards were flashing from white to green. He wanted to run but the trays wouldn’t be able to keep up with him. He would need to pour far more Soul into the Chant for it to do so. Right now that was the last thing he wanted, needed. He Offered the whole way to the secret passage that the Nightmares didn’t decide to breach the tunnel he was in. Well, any of the tunnels he may be in for that matter. If there had been anyone else left around they would have departed instantly after this display before him. If it wasn’t for the Newborn in his care at the moment he would have done the same.
Arriving and entering his passage he found that it too was under intense probing, far worse as the Wards were yellow. His vessel screamed at him to run, along with Worry and Fear, but again the trays stopped him, he took a moment to renew the trays Chant. It took a few tries as his mouth refused to move properly as it jittered wildly from Fear. When he finally did succeed he hurried to the exit hands hugging himself, his eyes directed towards the floor. Which the Wards to were flashing but not near the levels of the walls and ceiling. The only part of the passage that wasn’t under assault was the stone wall that hid the passage itself. Its Wards were still the every calming white.
Relief held him as it gave an indication that the passage it was connected to was still safe and hadn’t yet been breached by any Nightmares. He still placed a hand to check that the tunnel was empty. And proved to be for now, but when stone slide away he very nearly had it come crashing back down to shield him from the situation. The Soulless tunnel Wards were all red, panic gasps echoed down the tunnel as he placed a hand over his pleading Core.
His legs were shaking the whole way through the tunnel, tears streaming down his face, as he choked back sobs. His hidden passage is clearly marked for all to see. The only piece of wall where the Wards was white. It took many Sequences for him to center himself and get his hands to stop shaking so he could form a proper connection. The wall slideway and he dived inside herding the trays along as much as he dared. The Nightmares seem to have little interest in this tunnel as most of the Wards were white. Why? Aethin couldn’t care as he laid on the floor soaking up this point of relative safety. ‘The Giver guides’ he thought his smile returning ‘truly guides, if I had waited we all would be about to go hungry.’ As he got to his knees and forced himself up. ‘For all the blessing I still wouldn’t have gone to get any food, not after seeing that.’
Normally he would return to his quickened pace, but now, now he was worn down, and his Core felt as if it was going to give out. He held a hand against the wall as he made his way to the Newborn. Doing his best to block out the thought of the other Soulless tunnels he was going to navigate to get back to them. As he moved he couldn’t, even in his tired state, stop from wondering how things had gone wrong so quickly.
‘The Scouts were undertrained and not the best sort, to begin with, but this, this is too much of a mess even for them.’ He recalled their report that things were picking up, an increased sighting of lower Nightmares scurrying around, but nothing of a full-on swarm.
‘A curse upon those who made these shoddy tunnels’ he proclaimed as he paused to rest knowing the passage would soon end. ‘And a lesser one for me for not having had made a separate tunnel network all for myself.’
Arriving and sliding away from the secret passage he found this Soulless tunnel better off. At least compared to the previous one. Most of the wards gave off an orange glow, only a few with the sinister red. His Core still wasn’t too happy about the situation, even less so when it occurred to him the previous tunnel might be one of the Nightmares breaching points. He’ll have to take a different route to reach the other evacuees, and even worse most of the passages they would travel through would be Soulless ones.
As he moved the Wards warnings became less, as a growing number of them glowed white and green. By the time he reached the last secret passage, all the Wards around him were white. Same for the ones in his tunnel as he entered it, sliding the entryway back into place. His Core, channels, and stance, in general, relaxed and worn down. The stress washing way and its toll showing itself. He needed to rest, he knew, but the Nightmares attack was already underway, and the passages he was in only had some many exit points.
He came to stop as his Core leaped, noticing that one of the Newborn was in the tunnel laying on his back. Aethin slowly approached the boy unsure how he was in the tunnel. Not till he remembered that he hadn’t closed the entrance to it from the Heart Chamber.
The child seemed fine, sleeping happily, the Heart side effects coming out in full force. Anyone else would have awoken from the noise Aethin and the trays were making. He wasn’t exactly trying to be subtle or hide his moments anymore.
‘Why are you here?’ he wondered. Centering himself he stepped over the child intent to find out if something in the Heart Chamber had happened. But when he arrived nothing seemed amiss, the other two children were asleep. The Wards glowed white save for a few at the top of the tipped ceiling. No threat at the present to be found, looking back down the tunnel he came ‘Was he just looking for me?’ it wouldn’t surprise him, that child was smart, aware of things, unlike the others. The one he would take with him as support if things become dire.
He sent the trays hovering over to a corner as he went to retrieve the child. As he approached he hummed a quick Chant and the boy slowly lifted up in the air, following Aethin as he made his way back to the others. There he laid him near the other two, hoping they wouldn’t be too sore from sleeping on cold stone.
All he had to do now was wait. He could wake them but under the side effect of the Heart, he doubted they would remember anything he tried to teach them. So as thing were collapsing around him he had himself a small snack of food and basked in these last few moments of calm.