Black IceDeathsworn

Chapter 42 ∞ Troubled

Deathsworn

Chapter 42 ∞ Troubled

I looked ahead and found that, as the flames continued burning, Veils shrouded the sky as though they were just gathering around the bonfire. There really was no concrete way to describe them except that they were formless, nearly transparent shadows. Until now, I could not even begin to imagine where they came from. They didn’t dare hover too near the flames, but whenever one would stray far too close, it would get singed and immediately flee.

They were averse to fire but wasn’t as vulnerable as one would expect them to be. These things—just what were they after? Why had so many of them appeared all of a sudden?

“What is it, Evyionne?” Kora inquired.

As Kora coaxed an answer from me, a series of commotion erupted from inside the House. I looked over his shoulder to see, just in time, a huge hole being made on the wall. Someone just came crashing through. Kora picked me up in a hurry and backed away, watching with wide eyes as Mistress Veronika rolled so roughly on the ground she was practically bouncing.

“Koreva nul!” she cursed in Ovanol. She hurriedly picked herself up, brushing away the splinters that stuck on the thin fabric of her nightgown. A whip made of lightning appeared from her fingers, snapping at the ground as she lashed it across. It crackled sharply, hitting the grass and leaving it singed as it came singing with a clack of thunder.

She caught Kora and me looking at her in confusion. “Go and take the girl away, Kora. Someone’s entered Oblivion,” she said.

Her eyes lifted to the top of the roof. Several human shadows clad similarly in black appeared, crouched on top of the House like tigers eyeing their prey. There were several of them. Probably three.

One more guy came out from the hole Mistress Veronika made just now.

“Or some people,” she corrected herself with a sneer.

“So it wasn’t only one guy?” I intoned softly. I saw the fleet of Veils hovering around each one of these men and grew more shocked the more I stared.

“Evy?” Kora looked down to meet my eyes. “What do you mean?”

I rediverted my gaze to the blown up shed and he immediately understood what I meant. He probably just couldn’t imagine what happened just now. Even I still had a bit of trouble believing it myself.

“Come on,” he said and placed an arm under my knees effortlessly.

“Mistress Veronika,” I protested, gazing at the woman worriedly.

“Go,” she said. “I’ll handle this here. Wake up the others.”

“Where are we going?” I asked, turning to Kora.

“Where it’s safe,” he told me. “The security around the House have most definitely been compromised.”

“Why are they here?”

“For no good,” he replied. I watched as Mistress Veronika engaged in battle with the ninja assassins. “Did you see the face of one of theirs, Evy?” he asked.

“No.” I shook my head in reply. “But there was this one guy whose eyes looked very strange. Almost not human, really.”

“Almost not human,” he repeated.

There was only terse silence between us after that. I could feel Kora’s heart beating wildly as he rushed through Oblivion’s halls. Along the way, Maun had come out and was groggily making his way towards us. Seeing our haste, the silver-haired boy halted and gazed at us with confusion. Kora wordlessly grabbed him by the hand and dragged him with us in a rush. We then stopped by Erenol’s door. Kora set me down and burst through without even bothering to knock.

Erenol was burrowed deep under her thick blankets. Kora pulled it all away and was immediately received with a disgruntled face. I walked over hurriedly and slapped her leg. “Get up quickly, dummy.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Some guys just broke into Oblivion.”

My declaration seemed to have buzzed her out of sleep. Her eyes seemed to almost want to close, but she still sat up in alert. “It wasn’t Mistress Marga’s experiments again?” she asked.

“No. Now hurry,” I said, dragging her out of the bed.

“Evy?!” I heard my mother’s holler. Her voice was fraught with anxiety and fear. “Evy, where are you?”

“Mama!” I hollered back.

I heard thudding footsteps. We rushed out of Erenol’s bedroom to greet my adopted mother. Unexpectedly, however, it wasn’t she who came. A guy wielding a pair of hand scythes chained together by the handles rounded the corner, making the four of us back away in shock. Kora pulled all of us behind him. His hazel brown eyes met the reptilian ones of the man across of us and narrowed with disbelief.

“What is this?” he muttered.

The man crossed the hall slowly, the chains on his blade clacking against his clothes. We all backpedaled, regarding the newcomer with horror.

“Dragon’s mercy,” Kora said. He then herded us away and we all broke into a sprint. As expected, the man wielding the hand scythes began to a run as well, chasing after us. Erenol began screaming in fear while I gritted my teeth and focused on pumping my legs. Maun nearly tripped over his own feet, but he managed to keep himself up with the help of Kora steadying him.

We navigated the halls but was eventually met with a dead end. No matter how wide the House was, it ultimately had limited space. Kora hesitated for a moment but he eventually opened the last door to our right and shoved us inside. He then locked the door, shoved a chair under the knob and backed away to the farthest corner with all of us in his arms.

It was the storage room where all the unused stuff and furniture went. Even my old baby crib was here too.

Nevertheless, he knew this wouldn’t be enough to defend us. He went to the chair, kicked it down, broke off its leg, and held up the piece like he would a baseball bat.

As expected, the door began to be bombarded by assaults. The hand scythe of his came crashing through the wood, tearing it apart and reducing it to splinters. The chair that was pushed under was kicked back and the door literally flew off its hinges. Erenol clung tight to me in fear as Maun gripped my other arm tightly, making me wince.

“You two!” I exclaimed, shaking them off lightly. “You’re going to end up killing me first before that guy does!”

The tight grips on me loosened a little.

“S-sorry…” Erenol trailed off as she sniffed.

Kora prepared to meet the guy head on, but it was obvious his measly improvised weapon would not be able to stand up to those scythes. At this rate, it was akin to putting one’s head under the blade willingly.

I saw the Veils hanging around the man feel excited as he brandished his weapon—as though they knew someone’s blood would spill tonight. I looked over to Kora, swallowing heavily as I became fraught with worry.

“You can compel them, you know,” I heard a voice say by my ear.

I turned slightly to the side, recognizing who it was that said it.

“You know how.”

“How?” I muttered.

“Sing.”

Dafuq. This wasn’t some Disney movie where confrontations with the enemy turn the scene into a freaking musical performance! If I had to do this every freaking time I had to fight, I would die.

Then again, I would also die if I didn’t.

Speaking of death, what would happen to me if I died? I recall Amber saying something along me already dead.

Just as I made up my resolve to finally open my mouth, the ninja guy dove in for the kill. He swung one scythe at Kora and easily sliced apart the broken foot of the chair. Kora, on the other hand, evaded the next swing and hauled the rest of the chair he’d broken earlier at the man.

“You think I care if you broke the foot? Fine. Just have a go at the whole thing!”

Nevertheless, it was still futile. The man easily cut through the whole chair as well, leaving Kora with two big chunks. Nevertheless, Kora wasn’t quite the man to give up as well. He used that moment when the intruder was blinded to get a kick in, foot pumping on the stomach of the enemy squarely and shoving him back and out the entryway.

He smashed against the hallway wall. Just as the ninja guy tried to get back up and resume the assault, a steel rack came smashing at his skull. I saw my mother bravely swinging the pole with every strength she could muster. He was stunned for a few moments, but it didn’t work in the end and it was the pole that ended up suffering instead—bent out of shape, almost taking on the silhouette of his head.

My mother backed away in horror as the man raised the scythe with an intent to kill. My mouth dropped to let out a scream.

Just as the blade lashed forward, someone else came into the scene. What looked like gold cloth caught the blade. A part of me expected it would deter the weapon for a bit before it was sliced through, but there was none of that at all. Instead, that forward swinging motion was manipulated and redirected to another direction, the golden cloth twisting neatly around the head of the scythe as a figure gracefully weaved under the man’s arms. I saw, to my surprise, Mistress Neilly stringing the smothered scythe along with her and twisting the man by the elbow so harshly that he came flying off his feet, briefly spinning in the air before landing on his back.

My jaw dropped and what sound should have come out of my throat just then was stifled by the surprise I felt.

“Now, Hellen!” Mistress Neilly exclaimed.

My mother tearfully brought down the metal pole repeatedly on his head—but that did none of it.

“You stupid woman!” Mistress Kora hollered. “You already know that doesn’t work. Why are you still doing it?!”

“But I—” my mother looked on cluelessly.

“You kick it where you mean it!” Kora said further.

My mother remained clueless.

“Woman, the other head!” Kora snapped his fingers several times, reaching past a point of impatience.

“Oh.” My mother finally brought down the pole to the so-called other head. This time, we all heard a crack.

“Ooouiiieee,” the reptile-eyed man whimpered before finally passing out from the pain.

My mother then dropped the pole, which was now broken and unusable, and looked over to where I was. “I suppose not all nuts are tough to crack,” she said.

What was I supposed to do? Laugh at the jokes or scream in fright? Could I do both?

She came over and took me into her arms, tears streaming down her face. She looked at both Maun and Erneol as well, planting kisses on their foreheads in utter relief.

“Oh, children,” she whispered.

Mistress Neilly came in next. She wrapped something around my shoulders. “Here,” she said. “This should come in handy at the moment.”

I looked at what she made me wear and found the golden cloth that she’d used earlier as an improvised weapon draped on me. It was my swaddle, made from those mighty spider silk things that she’d told me about. No wonder it was able to very efficiently catch that weapon without being torn.

I slipped my hand through one of the large, hanging sleeve and patted for the one on the other side—but found none.

I ran a hand on the other end of the jacket in confusion. There was actually only one sleeve on this one. The other side wasn’t quite done and was just hanging around my waist like some sort of cape. Was I seeing things right?

“I wasn’t done with the other end,” she told me sheepishly. “I was doing it. I only just got to finish one half just now and I had this in my hand when all these crazy things happened. I didn’t know what else to do.”

“We have to go,” Mistress Kora said. He herded us all out of the room.

The three of the adults exchanged glances as we moved, and they all seemed to come to silent agreement on what to do next.

We ran, but I didn’t know where exactly we were going, so I just followed everyone else. Eventually, we rounded into one of the pristine corners of Oblivion. It was a plain sitting area where I would find the mistresses reading books or just plain…sitting. I usually found nobody here mainly because there was nothing to do around these parts except, well, sit.

Kora knelt on the floor. He began tapping on the tiles while anxiously muttering to himself, “Where is it? Where is it?”

“It’s over here,” my adoptive mother said. She fingered one of the planks. “Anyone has a knife or something?”

Mistress Neilly whipped out scissors which I raised a brow to. “You never know when you need to cut something,” she said.

My mother said nothing, taking the scissors off of Mistress Neilly’s hands and wedging its blade into the gap between the planks. With a jut, she lifted it, revealing a handle beneath—a lever of some sort.

Maun, Erenol, and I gazed on with wonder as my mother pulled on the hidden lever. She didn’t have enough strength, however, so Kora swooped in and helped her pull. There was a small groan. A small but thick partition hatched, and a set of stairs were revealed underneath.

“You two, take the children and hide,” Kora said, coaxing us inside.

“What about you?” Mistress Neilly asked, grasping at Kora’s sleeves worriedly.

“I’ll go get the others,” he said. “I don’t think Veronika is faring well with all those men coming at her either. Stay here and be quiet. I’ll try to be back as soon as I can.”

Both Mistress Neilly and my adoptive mother were hesitant, but they agreed with him in the end and descended into the darkness of the underground hideout with us. Kora then retracted the lever and had the partition rolling back into place once more, sealing the entrance. There were sounds on top that seemed to me as though he was placing back the floor board over the hidden lever. The footsteps that faded into the distance told me that he finally left.

The silence and the darkness that caped over us helped ease some of the tension. I calmed down significantly. Nevertheless, it didn’t numb the presence of the Veils. With all the commotion fading, I began unwillingly focusing on that uncomfortable coldness that they emitted. I realized they grew even thicker.

I was worried for my other mistresses. There was something ominous in the horizon.

 

 

Chapter 43 ∞ Swamp

 

“Hellen, you get the lights,” Mistress Neilly said. “I thought I saw some lamps over to your side.”

There was some rustle and clanking over to my right. I couldn’t see anything at all, but I still felt Maun and Erenol clinging to either side of me. My arms were starting to feel numb from their death grips, but I didn’t have the heart to push them away. What happened—was happening—tonight was nothing short of traumatizing after all.

There was a small spark. A crackle, a pop. And a light flickered to life. My mother held up an antique gas lamp—one that came with a sparker to help light up the wick inside. It was very old technology that people hardly used anymore, but it still came in handy during moments similar to right now.

When the light flooded the room, I was finally able to see where we were and what kind of place it was. Old bricks lined up the walls. Cobwebs hang in the corners. The air was thick and musty. It had probably had not circulated properly for the last ten…twenty years or so. Before us was a lengthy tunnel that looked like something out of a horror game while there was furniture scattered about next to the stairs that led up to the surface. The light wasn’t very bright to be able to illuminate what was ahead of us well enough to make me comfortable.

“Where does this lead to?” I asked.

“Outside,” my mother replied. “Only for desperate moments.”

“You expected we would have something like this?” I followed.

“Oblivion deals with a lot of things, Evy. Some of them are more complicated than we would like to acknowledge ourselves,” Mistress Neilly said.

“Are we going to leave without the others?” I continued, stepping towards my mother while peeling off the fingers that were gripping me so hard. “I need to breathe, dammit,” I told the two on either side of me. “Can you stop being koalas for a minute and just…I’m supposed to be the youngest here, double dammit.”

At least physically. I’m actually older than these two by a lifetime.

“Just a little longer please,” Erenol muttered, clinging to me while sniffing. Her eyes were rimmed with tears though she was trying hard so that they didn’t fall. “I just don’t want to be left behind.”

Maun, on the other hand, was just…quiet, frozen…scared stiff. His eyes were wide and blank. Whatever I said just now seemed to have just breezed over his head—into one ear, right out the other. I pursed my lips guiltily, looking at the two of them with brows furrowed.

 “No one’s going to leave anyone behind,” Mistress Neilly firmly stated. “You three listen to Hellen and me, alright? You three precious morsels will not be left behind. Oblivion is strong. Leave it to your mistresses to figure it all out.”

 “Your mistress is right. We’ll stay here for now to see what happens, but we best make preparations first,” my mother replied. “We have got to find out what is happening and who sent those people into Oblivion. Judging by how they were able to get in without a hitch, that must mean they pack considerable power and means.”

I looked at the two of them and said, “I’ve got to say something.”

Neilly and my mother exchanged glances.

“Evy, what is it?” my mother inquired.

“I actually stayed up late tonight and opened the windows. This guy came in through the them and I hid in the bathroom,” I said. “He…wasn’t normal.”

“How?” she prompted.

“He had these eyes…like those of a snake. I think you might’ve seen it too a while ago,” I told my adoptive mother. “And there were things around him. Around all them.”

Mistress Neilly walked up to my mother’s side and faced me. “What things?”

“They were the same shadows I saw around Maun when I found him. No one else can see them, I think. They may have something to do with death—when the person is close to it, at least. They’re just small shadows. I don’t really know what they are though.” I paused, eyeing my mistress and mother’s faces as I confessed. “I don’t know if this would be of help at all, I’m sorry. I might just be making a big deal of everything.”

“What are they? They clearly aren’t human?” my mother muttered softly herself, confused. She sought Mistress Neilly’s opinion, head turning to gaze at her in the eye.

“Obviously, Hellen. Just take a look at what happened when you tried to smash that man’s head in,” Mistress Neilly pointed out. “Even a metal pole gave up. That isn’t something you see every day.”

“Are they even Conduits?” Hellenia asked. “I have never heard of Conduits having such eyes or inhuman physique.”

“They might be, but it’s hard to say. Though…Vertvaldenians aren’t like that either, are they?” Neilly supported.

“No. Of course not. They have amazing physical prowess, but I don’t think they are like those men at all. And we have no grudges with them. They are much too busy fighting their own wars at the moment to even be bothered to come all the way here and find trouble with us. Then again…”

“Lamia must have an idea,” Neilly said. She wrung her hands nervously. “Did she find trouble with someone recently?”

“Other than Prince Thoran? Not that I know of,” Hellenia replied.

Find trouble with somebody? “I might…” I intoned.

They looked at me.

“You found trouble with these people?” my mother dubiously inquired.

No,that’s not it,I replied exasperatedly. Even if I wanted to find trouble with anybody, it wasn’t like I left the House at all during the past few months. Ever since that time in the alley where we almost got killed…or kidnapped, we stayed in Oblivion. Not once did we step foot outside—and we were contented because we had each other, as cheesy as that sounded.

“What is it, then?” Neilly asked.

“I accidentally overheard Captain Leiran and Mistress Lamia talking some time ago,” I confessed. “I don’t know if it’s this, but Mistress Lamia wanted to expose the empress and keep the prince away from the throne by doing so. Apparently, the empress had ties to something she called the Poison Syndicate and was probably the reason why the emperor had fallen ill.”

Hearing my words, Erenol gazed at me, stunned—so much that she forgot herself for a second, even her fear.

“Poison Syndicate?” Mistress Neilly echoed. “How in the world could Lamia have found trouble with these people? I thought they were just myths. There wasn’t even proof that they were real.”

“She found evidence, apparently,” I said. “She sent Captain Leiran to investigate.”

“Good dragons above,” my mother whispered, her fingers wedged between her teeth as she paced about worriedly. Looking at her body language, I realized her anxiety had reached new levels. While I didn’t think they were seeing each other formally, Captain Leiran had courted her for nearly…ten years now. Talk about devotion. If a guy was that persistent and sincere, I don’t think any woman would be so stiff and cold as to not reciprocate the affection—unless they were truly not interested, which, from what I could recall, didn’t describe my mother at all.

“Hellen, calm down for a moment,” Mistress Neilly said. “Let’s focus on preparing. We need to make sure the children are safe first and foremost.”

“Alright.” She took a deep breath, regaining some calm as she nodded. “Let’s make our way out of Oblivion,” my mother said. “This should lead to the sewers.”

“The sewers?” Erenol shuddered.

Maun was still motionless.

“Do you remember how to get to Safia’s?” Mistress Neilly asked.

“Through there? No, not really.”

“We’ll just have to make do. I know a way which will lead us to Inning Street. It should be a short travel from there.”

“Alright. Come on, everyone. Let’s go.” Hellenia began rounding up everyone, lifting the gas lamp to the level of her eyes and walking on ahead.

“I thought you said we weren’t going to leave anybody behind,” Erenol said. “What about the others?”

“There’s a difference between leaving for a moment and abandoning completely. You have to understand that the other mistresses will want you all safe before they save themselves first. We need to be able to deal with everything and we can’t do that properly if we’re worrying about you,” Neilly told us with a firm voice. “So please, everyone, move. The faster we go, the sooner we come back.”

“You’re planning to return?” I asked, throat tight with worry.

“We have to,” my mother replied. “Safia will be able to take care of you.”

After that was silence. Our labored breathing bounced ominously on the walls along with the sound of our rushing footsteps fluttering through the aged, brick floor. Maun and Erenol finally had a will of their own to break away from me and move by themselves, but they stuck really close and clung on my clothes whenever they would fall behind a little. I didn’t admonish them as I had because even I felt it better if they were close. Despite my actions and attitude towards these two, I still worried they would do something stupid.

We journeyed for minutes—ten or fifteen. The tunnels were long and a stench eventually hit our noses, getting stronger the farther down we went. Eventually, the tunnels began streaming with foul water and it took a lot of effort not to shudder in disgust every second. My soles were already drenched in the substance along with the ends of my clothes. Erenol was much more vocal than I was, but being reprimanded and told to keep quiet had her holding back from complaining too much.

Eventually, we came upon a gated opening that led to a much bigger tunnel. As we made our way to the mouth, I picked up on the sharp coldness which made me halt.

“No, wait, stop,” I said.

“Evy?”

“Someone’s coming,” I told them. “It’s the same guys.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Hellen, the lights—put it out.” Mistress Neilly grabbed the gas lamp my mother was holding. She lifted the top open and blew, putting out the fire and enshrouding us in darkness.

Mistress Neilly then pulled us all with her and retreated back into the tunnel to hide. As there was no light, it was hard to see so we settled with patting blindly on the walls to make our way through. Eventually, we finally came to the left turn we came out of earlier and immediately sat down to keep quiet. Neilly then had us putting our backs pressing against the cold, damp walls. We let ourselves be blanketed by the deafening silence, having nothing else to break it other than the sound of our breathing—even that, we had to keep down.

Mistress Neilly leaned past the walls to peek while I, nestled in her arms, jutted my head out a little as well. The presence grew sharper and signaled that they were finally there. I clenched my hand tight around her sleeve and tugged a little. She held my hand firmly.

The only way we actually got to see the enemy was through their neon eyes. They glowed in the darkness ever so faintly.

I recoiled, but I didn’t dare move. I felt everyone else tense. They probably had their backs pressed so hard against the walls that it would only take a little more to completely merge with it.

We didn’t dare make any more sounds as they marched past. They paused briefly to check the tunnels but, finding nothing, continued on their way.

They passed by and I felt a cold draft rush in as they did. It wasn’t from the wind because there was hardly any current down here at all. Rather, I got a peek of them and saw that they had those things—Veils—floating around them as well. Mistress Neilly leaned out a little bit to catch a sight of them leaving before turning to us and saying, “They’ve got the whole place locked down.”

“How did they know?” my mother whispered.

“It doesn’t matter,” Mistress Neilly said. “We’ll just have to make a run for it. At this point, we cannot stay down here for too long lest we get discovered. We have to go to the nearest exit—the problem is that it’s…a little way away. Things are looking a little bleak.”

“I can sense them,” I told my Mistress Neilly and my mother. “I know when they’re near. That might be of some help to us.”

My mother and mistress exchanged glances.

“Alright, Evy. You tell us,” my mother said. “I don’t understand though—how are they related to your element?”

I shook my head cluelessly. Perhaps Amber would be able to answer that.

We first made sure the men who went past us just now were no more before we climbed our way out of the mouth and into the main tunnel. The place was dark and there was virtually no light. Navigating in the darkness was impossible so my mother had to reignite the fire in the gas lamp, but she set it to the lowest setting, barely enough to let us see an arm away from where we stood.

We had to jump down from the mouth of Oblivion’s tunnel, which caused sounds that didn’t settle well with our nerves. We tried to be quiet as much as possible, trying not to make so much splashes as we moved through the water. At this point, I had long since adjusted to the foul odor rising from the putrid waters in the sewer.

We descended on the walkways. I scooted away from the funnel that contained the sewage, turning my head away from the foul scent. The waters looked quite deep and was breaching on the walkways a little. We had had to stick to the corners so as to not get wet—more than we already did. Maun very nearly fell over if I hadn’t caught him and pulled him back.

“Honestly, be careful,” I said. “That looks deep. I don’t think anyone here knows how to swim.”

We made haste for the exit under Mistress Neilly’s command. She seemed to have familiarized herself well with the path. Thankfully, we had had not made contact with any of those men so far.

Until we did.

The same taste of death breached my senses and I hurriedly informed everyone.

“Mistress, mama,” I said with urgency.

I didn’t need to say anymore. Both of them looked around in panic, wondering where we could go to hide. The silence after that drew our attention to the whispering waters at our feet.

Mistress Neilly and my mother exchanged glances before looking at the waste waters.

“No,” Erenol said. “No. No.”

“Down, everyone,” Mistress Neilly said as she took the lamp from my mother’s hands. “We don’t have a choice.”

“Oh sh—”

No need to point out the obvious, Eren,” my mother told her with a sigh. She decided she would go ahead of everyone, descending into the waters. It was deep enough that she sunk midthigh. “We’re actually quite lucky. It’s autumn so it rains a lot, otherwise, this would be empty. Evy, come down first,” she said, holding her hand out to me.

“This sewer also collects rainwater?” I asked.

“It’s a combined sewage system,” she replied. “But this is not the time to entertain those questions. Come down.”

“See? That means it’s not purely crap. Feel better about it?” I looked over to Erenol.

No,” Eren countered.

I obliged and prepared to hop over the edge. She supported me by my waist as Mistress Neilly held my shoulders. I quietly sank into the putrid waters, fixing my golden jacket around myself when I felt one side of it sliding off. To think the first time I would be wearing this would be on a swim in the sewer—I would not forget this ever.

It was freezing cold. I shuddered in disgust and discomfort just thinking of what could be inthis, but I would rather be here than out in the open if ever those men come.

Just thinking of all the infections that I could catch just swimming in these, I immediately felt myself getting sick.

Maun came next. He had grown significantly over the past few months he had stayed with us in Oblivion. He was healthier with more meat on his bones, though still quite runty compared to the average kid around his age. He maintained that androgynous physique.

Mistress Neilly was the last to come down. She handed the lamp to Mistress Lamia and slowly descended herself. I was in a bit of panic because the presence of death was getting stronger.

“Alright, everyone, hold your breath—” Mistress Neilly began.

“I already am,” Erenol cut in whining.

“—Evy, tell us when they come.”

I nodded. “Okay.”

I waited for a few moments. When I sensed the sharp presence coming our way, I gave the cue and everyone descended under the murky water. It was very hard to hold my breath in—not when I was repeatedly gagging. At some point, I had to cover my nose and puff my cheeks, closing my eyes tight just so I wouldn’t know where I was. We all kept a close grip on one another and, somehow, that support went a long way to enduring this whole suffering.

The sharp presence came and I knew theyhad arrived.

For some reason, those bastards even lingered. I could feel that they knew something was off. I was already suffocating where I was sitting—it took a lot of effort not to just inhale the water. However, remembering what it could contain, I held myself back.

I felt Erenol shaking. Her hands grasped at my arms and she gripped tight in desperation. She was probably drowning.

It wasn’t time yet though and if she broke to the surface now, we would definitely be discovered. And, as predicted, she did try. I grabbed her shoulder and kept her down, nonetheless, and my mother did so as well. We pinned her tight under the water. I felt my mother shuffle for a bit, her hand leaving me to wrap around Eren. I forced my eyes open, tried to see what I could in the darkness—but there was nothing.

I didn’t know what was happening.

Eventually, they did leave, but by the time they did, I realized I was beginning to lose consciousness. Had my Mistress Neilly not pulled me to the surface, I would probably not be breathing anymore.

We didn’t make a lot of commotion rising because we knew that should we make something too big of a noise, we would be found out. I tried not to be too greedy with the air that greeted me, but I could not hold back the sharp sound as it streamed into my needy lungs.

“Let’s go, let’s go,” Mistress Neilly said.

We were soaking wet in sewer waters. We probably smelled like it too.

“The gas lamp is no longer working,” my mother whispered. There was a clutter from the tin cover and dreadful silence filled the atmosphere.

“How would we see our way out?” Eren anxiously inquired.

“Just stay close to the walls. The manholes aren’t completely covered. We should see the moonlight when we go,” Mistress Neilly informed us.

“Stay close and lock arms so no one gets separated,” my mother told us.

We got out one at a time very carefully and steadily made our way through the tunnel. We settled with clawing through the darkness—which was awful and nerve-wracking.

After a long time of blindly making our way around, we finally got a glimpse of light.

“Over there,” I said.

We made our way to the light source and found a manhole. It had a small hole in the very middle of it which was emitting a ray of silver and orange light from both the sky and the streets.

“Up, up,” my mother told everyone. We climbed the rusty ladders that were pinned against the wall. Mistress Neilly headed up before everyone and pushed at the manhole, lifting it and sliding it open. The groaning of the heavy metal against the stone pavement rumbled throughout the tunnel like a growling beast. My heart leapt to my throat when I thought of how those men must’ve heard it.

We made our haste out of the sewers, crawling out like smelly rats.

I couldn’t even begin to say how good it was to finally get a whiff of fresh air.

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