Chapter : From The Inky Shadows
It felt like forever before nightfall came, but when it eventually arrived it was like flipping a switch. The warm colors of the surrounding Castlederg businesses turned to muted sands and grays, and tiny candles were lit in windows, allowing some semblance of coziness to fight out the chilly wind that blew in from the sea.
Tucker couldn’t really feel the cold in the air because of his orc skin, but when he glanced over at Shenna, who had waited faithfully with him as they sat against one of the empty walls of a nearby house, he saw that she was shivering.
“Are you alright?” Tucker asked, nodding at her shivers.
Shenna gave him a surprised look, then tried to laugh off his concern.
“I’m fine,” she replied, putting on an air of self-reliance even as her teeth chattered slightly. “Don’t worry about me.”
Tucker raised an eyebrow at her.
“I’m an orc,” he said flatly. “I can’t really feel the cold. At least it doesn’t bother me. But, you must think I’m blind if you think I can’t see you shivering up a storm over here.”
“I said I’m fine!” Shenna persisted. “We have a job to do. There’s no time to worry about the wind.”
Even as his companion tried to end the conversation there, Tucker wasn’t going to let her freeze to death, especially when there was going to be a lot more looking-out to do before dawn. He reached into his bag and pulled out the roll of Howland fur and handed it to Shenna.
“Here,” he told her. “Wrap yourself in this. It will keep you from freezing to death.”
Shenna stared at the pelt in Tucker’s hand and gave him a slight smile.
“I’m not going to freeze to death,” she said.
“It’s a figure of speech,” Tucker replied with a grin. Then, shaking the end of the pelt, he added, “Come on. Don’t turn down a little help. You’ll be better off for it, and we still have a while to go.”
In the end, Shenna gave in and wrapped the fur around her shoulders. She made a point to sigh loudly as Tucker watched her, but after a few minutes her shivering subsided and she appeared much more comfortable.
“Thank-you…” she muttered softly.
“Don’t mention it.”
They continued to keep their eyes glued to Wyatt Colton’s business. The man had not left the office yet, and already most of the shops were long-since closed for the evening.
“He certainly works late,” said Tucker.
“Isn’t it like you said?” asked Shenna. “He’s waiting until nobody’s watching to go about his dirty deeds.”
Tucker nodded. Shenna was right because just as she finished that statement, the flickering candlelight inside Colton’s front window was snuffed out and there was clear movement along the large windows. Shadows of Colton gathering up his things and readying to leave.
It was nearly time for action.
“Here we go…” muttered Tucker as he watched the front door open with a clink and Colton emerged.
The man was true to his money-loving self as Tucker observed Colton wearing a finely tailored, warm jacket with dark leather gloves and he even adorned his head with a matching hat. Over his shoulder he had a fancy bag that appeared expensive. His shoes glistened in the moonlight and their heels snicked on the stone walk as Colton secured the door and turned his key in the lock.
Tucker was glad that he and Shenna were far enough back that they weren’t noticeable as Colton started down the cobblestone street.
“There he goes,” said Shenna in a hushed voice.
Tucker was already getting to his feet, keeping against the wall. He waited until Colton was a little way down the street before beckoning Shenna.
“Follow me!” he said.
The two of them tailed Colton as the man traveled leisurely. To any ordinary person, Colton would appear to be doing nothing so extraordinary as just taking an evening stroll. Yet, Tucker and Shenna were both suspicious. They knew that the man was up to something, therefore Colton’s nonchalance was merely an act.
Colton slipped up for a brief moment when Tucker and Shenna got a little too close - their footsteps echoing off the nearby buildings. The man slowed and turned to look over his shoulder. Thankfully Tucker pulled Shenna over to the side, pressing beneath the shadow of an overhanging balcony.
The tension in those brief moments could have been sliced with a knife. Tucker held his breath, praying that Colton would just continue onwards without conflict. In a few moments, to his relief, the man did just that.
“We need to be more careful!” said Tucker under his breath, and Shenna agreed. The two of them hung back even further and when they started back up, they made sure to match their footsteps with Colton’s.
The man seemed to be heading further into the heart of Castlederg’s upper-class residential district. The buildings were all well-kept and had beautiful views, which had to be expensive.
“Where do you think he’s going?” asked Tucker. Shenna had to know Castlederg better than him, but she shrugged.
“I don’t know what would bring him down here,” she said. “There’s no businesses out here, and I have a hard time believing that a grand mage is living this close to the thriving waterfront without someone noticing. Word travels fast around here.”
“You’ve got that right,” said Tucker. He was thinking of how his reputation had thrived once Delphine spoke of how he had rescued her two sons. He focused on Colton as he saw the man turn left and start up a side-street, which went uphill. At the top of the hill, Tucker saw, was a waist-high stone fence surrounding a matching stone building, complete with a steepled roof.
“Why is he heading for the cathedral?” asked Shenna with a frown. “That place has been deserted since the last Divine Speaker moved on to Arran. You don’t think that there’s someone secretly living in there?”
“Could be possible,” said Tucker. “Where I come from, people like that are called squatters.”
This got a snort out of Shenna who had to struggle to compose herself and keep quiet.
“That’s a stupid name!” she said under her breath. “Where in the world did you come from?”
There was no time to share in her mirth beyond a brief smile because Colton started through the opening in the stone fence and moved towards the steps of the front entrance. Shenna and Tucker crouched up against the fence and peered around the corner to watch him as he moved.
“Hey, wait a minute!” said Tucker after a moment. “He’s not going to the doorway. He’s moving out back.”
Sure enough, Colton ignored the large wooden front door of the cathedral and disappeared around the corner of the building. Tucker stood up and started to hurry towards the building with Shenna in tow.
“What’s back there?” he asked.
“Just a cemetery,” answered Shenna. “There’s only the one entrance to the building, and he just passed it.”
“Maybe he’s just passing through…” added Tucker. They both made it to the corner of the building and stopped to listen.
Where Tucker expected to hear Colton’s footsteps crunching through the dead grass that covered the neglected cemetery, there was nothing but dead air. It sounded as if the man had suddenly come to a stop. Tucker glanced at Shenna, then motioned with his eyes that he was going to risk a look around the corner.
Shenna nodded in agreement and Tucker leaned slowly and carefully around the building’s sharp edge.
As he scanned the cemetery, which was relatively modest for a bustling seaside port, Tucker’s brow furrowed more and more as he realized that there were plenty of tall pillar-like tombstones and other grave markers...but no sign of Colton. At first he thought that maybe the man was crouched down behind one of the larger rectangular granite stones, but the more he waited, the more he saw that there was absolutely nothing moving in the cemetery.
“What?” he muttered, giving the area another scan.
Shenna leaned closer to him and said, “What’s the matter?”
“I don’t see him anywhere!”
Tucker gave up on being discrete and moved completely around the corner and walked into the cemetery. He walked past each and every one of the tombstones and monoliths, confirming that there was no sign of Colton anywhere.
“Where did he go?” said Tucker in frustration. “He couldn’t have teleported somewhere!”
“Unless he’s the mage we are tracking,” suggested Shenna. “You never know. He could be putting on a front as a normal businessman.”
“That makes no sense,” said Tucker as he looked beyond the stone fencing, hoping to see Colton moving beyond the cemetery. Perhaps he had jumped the fence and was trying to make sure nobody kept on his trail. Then again, from everything Tucker had seen up to this point, it appeared that Colton was oblivious that he was being followed. He groaned. “Wherever he went, I don’t think it’s beyond this cemetery. We’d be able to see him still going on foot from here. The surrounding area is deserted.” He ran a hand along the back of his neck where his helmet had rubbed against his skin. “You don’t think he honestly is the mage we’re looking for?”
“How can you tell if someone’s a mage?” she asked. “Are there any obvious signs?”
At these two questions, Tucker found himself stuck. “I hadn’t really thought about it until now,” he replied. “I guess a mage can look like anyone else. They aren’t all required to wear robes and carry a staff…”
Shenna chuckled. “Look at you,” she said. “You’re wearing a knight’s armor. That’s hardly something I would expect a mage to wear...unless he’s trying to mislead someone. Who’s to say that Colton isn’t just a mage undercover?”
“That could be the case,” said Tucker, shaking his head. “But, if he teleported himself away, why did he go through all the trouble of walking to this deserted cemetery in order to do it? He could have just as easily teleported from his office to wherever he was heading. And he didn’t have to go out at all. Didn’t you say that he lives above his office?”
It was a mystery, but a mystery that Tucker intended to solve. He still didn’t believe that Colton was a mage. For some reason, in his gut, he expected that once he ran into another true mage, he would recognize them instinctually.
It wasn’t time to give up.
“Look around,” he instructed Shenna. “Tell me if you see anything out of the ordinary - anything that can explain where Colton went. Maybe there’s a secret entrance to somewhere.”
“You mean like a tunnel?” she replied as she started looking around the stones.
“Or a crypt of some kind.”
“A crypt?” shuddered Shenna. “If you think I’m going into one of those, you can throw that idea right out of the water. I’m not going underground.”
“You won’t have to,” assured Tucker. “I’m more than capable of navigating any underground tunnels myself. After all, with my abilities, I can light the way.” Not to mention, he thought, I still have one skill point that’s saved up. Now that I’m Level 3, maybe there’s something useful that I can enable to make tracking Colton a lot easier. He would have to look into that once they figured out where the man had gone.
After a few minutes of searching and coming up with no leads, Shenna called out from the far end of the cemetery.
“Over here! I think I found what we’re looking for.”
Tucker straightened up and hurried through the crunchy grass, weaving in between a few stones, until he make it over to the corner where Shenna was standing. The spot was nestled in the meeting place of the stone fencing and the empty wall of the cathedral.
“What is it?” asked Tucker, and Shenna pointed down at the ground.
“There. A grate of some kind.”
Sure enough, though it was partially hidden by the overgrown grass, Tucker spotted the square metal grate. It reminded him of the ones that could be found inside older homes, allowing hot air from a wood stove up through the levels of a house. But, this grate was large enough for a person to squeeze through.
“Do you think he went down there?” asked Shenna.
Tucker caught her eyes and shrugged.
“There’s only one way to find out.”
Reaching his fingers through the openings in the grate, Tucker lifted it up with an “Ooomph” and set it aside. This was a little difficult to do as the size and weight of the grate were cumbersome. The only reassuring part of this process was how little sound the grate made, which added to the idea that Colton was able to sneak down this opening without being heard.
Once the strange sewer-like opening was unobstructed, Tucker was able to look inside, with Shenna also leaning over the edge to peer into the inky blackness beyond.
There were no stairs that Tucker would see. In fact, it looked like the hole was just a black smudge in the earth, albeit a perfectly rectangular smudge.
“What do you think is down there?” asked Shenna. Her voice echoed through the opening, getting softer and softer until it faded into the noise of a wind blowing down below them.
Tucker glanced around the grassy lawn and spotted a few broken tree branches that had been scattered during the various storms at the seafront, and he took one of the larger branches and lit the end of it with Flamethrower. The magical flame was bright enough that Tucker was able to dip the makeshift torch down into the hole and illuminate its interior. He was pleased to see that the hole wasn’t just a straight drop down into nothingness, but rather there was a ladder built into the side, which was constructed of some sort of metal.
“Here we go,” said Tucker as he stuck the torch into the ground and moved around until his feet were dangling down into the hole. “This is my way down.”
Shenna’s shoulders tensed and as Tucker started to lower himself down into the darkness, one rung at a time, she reached out and grabbed him by the sleeve.
He glanced up at her, blinking a few times.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“You don’t even know what’s down there! Are you completely crazy?”
“I’m an explorer,” he said. “Nobody knows what’s in the unknown until they explore it. Why? Are you afraid that I won’t be able to handle myself against a single man?”
Shenna swallowed, then brushed her hair out of her face.
“I’m just saying that it’s the middle of the night, and you’re going to put yourself underground without even knowing anything about where you might be heading. There could be traps down there, or worse.”
Tucker pressed his lips together, appreciating that Shenna was watching out for him. But, he was right that there was no way he could find answers without doing a little exploring.
“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I will handle myself. I’ve got my sword, and then if anything jumps out, I can use my abilities to push them away. You stay up here and keep an eye out for anything suspicious. I’ll come back out this way, no matter what happens. Who knows? I might not get to the bottom of this whole scheme tonight. But, at least we’ll leave here with more information than we had when we first started out. Alright?”
Shenna still seemed uneasy, but eventually she nodded.
“Fine. Just be careful down there.” She pulled the torch out of the soft earth and handed it to Tucker.
“I will be.”
With one last look at the outside world, Tucker descended into the depths of the mysterious tunnel. It was only a few rungs before his head cleared the opening and he was enveloped in darkness, with his only light being the halo generated by his torch.
As he continued downwards, a ping sounded in his ears. It was an alert.
Bio: I have been a writer pretty much from the time I could hold a pencil and scribble letters. I am looking to develop my craft and better my storytelling. I am a huge fan of fantasy and horror in all their incarnations. When I'm not reading, I'm usually hunting for Legos. You can find me trying to decipher the mini-figure blind bags at the local big-box store.