by Dan Hiestand
Guts Over Fear
Where Angels Sleep
Following yonder Star.
The House and its mysterious architect are not about to release their captive without a battle, however.
The Thief of Always
I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free.
Guts Over Fear
Inside the library, Relic was already looking for the section, having ascended up to the second level of the massive library. Isabelle was with him. Cedwyn was the last to enter, closing the door behind him.
Jace was at the table.
Gods of Sun and Sacrifice, the immense book Cedwyn had flipped through the day before, was still there, and now Jace was looking through it.
“No dust,” he said, somehow knowing exactly what page his friend had found the day before. “Remember how much dust was on this stuff yesterday?”
Jace glanced up.
“Makes you wonder if it was ever really there at all, doesn’t it?”
The revelation meant little to Cedwyn, who was by this time growing annoyed with Jace’s cryptic demeanor.
“No. What are you doing?” he asked, now standing right beside him, looking at the book for himself.
Jace was stopped on the obelisk illustration, and the coat of arms. It was a five-page section all together, and he ripped every one of them out.
“The insignia in this book matches the sails on those ships out there,” he said, jogging over to the narrow staircase leading up to the second level. “If we get out of this, it might prove useful.”
“Yeah, let me guess,” Cedwyn said. “You sneezed and the ghosts of the original High Council came out and told you to take ’em with you.”
Jace smiled as they ascended the stairs together, side by side.
“No, actually. That one I came up with on my own.”
Relic was in front of the location they were looking for, even before Jace and Cedwyn caught up to him in a particularly constricted aisle.
“20-402,” he said, running his finger over the spines of a dozen books. But then a look of frustration swept across his face when he got to the one etched clearly with the number 402, and he raised his hands to his hips, glancing at the number 20above the shelves again.
“What’s wrong?” Isabelle asked.
Relic sighed, pulling out the book and handing it to her.
She raised her eyebrows, passing it along to Cedwyn.
“Well, you were right, Jace,” he said after getting a look at it.
Jace glanced back at him, dividing his attention between Cedwyn and the book.
“What is it?”
“Why, it’s what we’re risking our lives for,” Cedwyn said with some anger. “Otherwise known as,” he glimpsed down to the cover again, reading it. “Trowel & Error: The Neophyte’s Guide to Gardening."
At this, Jace stepped closer and tore the book out of Cedwyn’s hands.
“What?” he asked, disbelieving.
“This idea was ridiculous from the start,” Cedwyn said. “We’re going back out to the entrance and taking our chances. C’mon.”
He started to move away, past a demoralized Jace, when Isabelle grabbed his wrist.
“Wait a minute,” she said, looking stunned.
“We don’t have a minute,” Cedwyn shot back, pulling his arm away. “Our problems are slightly more serious than choosing the right soil for turnips. It’s time for us to –”
“Shhh!” she cut him off, turning to Relic. “Rel, when we were in here reading about the Beacon Fleet …”
“Yeah?” he urged after she paused unexpectedly.
Jace looked up.
“What is it, Iz?”
“The locations on the upper level, the third floor, are marked with a series of three numbers, not two,” she said, and her eyes widened before she turned and took off.
Jace dropped the book at his feet and ran in fast pursuit, chasing her through a maze of bookshelves, past a large bust of some unknown, long-dead aristocrat and up another flight of stairs.
“Where are we going?” Cedwyn yelled, even more nervous now with the first floor completely out of sight behind them. At any moment, it could be filled with golden riders, and there would be no way of knowing.
“It isn’t 20-402,” she shouted back to them. “It’s 20-400-2! Three separate numbers!”
“She’s a genius,” Cedwyn whispered to himself, unable to contain the rush of optimism. “You’re a genius, girl!” he yelled up ahead.
Right in front of Cedwyn, Jace smiled as Isabelle stopped. She was already thumbing through an array of colorful books, pulling several off the shelf and out of her way. Relic was beside them now as well, watching eagerly as she found the spot.
The book was not the true discovery, however.
It was the false back of shelving behind it, complete with a finger hole.
Isabelle never hesitated. Pulling it free, she reached behind the paneling and into the wall; far enough so her arm was fully inside.
“I think I … feel … something,” she announced, and the others looked on like fascinated children as she stood on her toes to reach deeper. “Got it!”
She withdrew an old tattered book, and opened it at once, thumbing through a few pages before looking to Relic, a very serious expression on her face.
“I think you’re the one who should look at this,” she said, handing it to him.
For a while, a considerable while, Relic said nothing as he read, and for all his expression betrayed, he could have been reading about the meaning of life or how to properly darn a sock.
“What is it, Relic?” Jace was the first to ask, losing patience.
“It’s …” he took another long moment to let it sink in, then shook his head to clear his thoughts. “It’s Gabriel Foy’s record book.”
“Well, of course it is,” Cedwyn said, sighing and rolling his eyes. “Great.”
The book was tattered, even more so than the one Thean had given to Jace, and while they were both from the same time period, this one looked all the worse for wear. It was also marked to the pages Relic had been reading.
Beside Relic, Isabelle jostled around, trying to get a look over his shoulder, but he was holding it too low.
“It’s a layout of the entire mansion,” Relic said, staring at the floor plan drawn out flawlessly in Gabriel Foy’s hand. He turned to Jace and pointed down at a specific room. “We gotta get here.”
“What is it?”
“It’s that room next to the Communion Vault,” Relic said. “The one Artemus not-so-subtly guided us away from last night.”
Cedwyn stepped closer to look for himself, then leaned a little closer still.
“Those dimensions can’t be right,” he said, stunned. “Can they?”
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Relic said.
Jace shook his head.
“No, that’s impossible.”
“Guys?” Isabelle chimed in, and they turned to her. “This was in there, too,” she said, holding up what appeared to be a beautiful orange marble.
Jace was looking down at the book again, but Relic and Cedwyn kept staring at the gemstone.
“It’s a golden sapphire,” Jace said.
“How can you tell?” she asked, holding it up to the light.
Jace took the book out of Relic’s hands, opened the pages further and held it up so Isabelle could see. There, next to the sketch of a fountain crafted into the likeness of a serpent, the marble gemstone was drawn. Labeled beneath, the words: Golden Sapphire.
“Ah,” she said.
Jace handed the book back to Relic, turning to Cedwyn as he did so.
“That fountain is hiding a staircase. A sort of secret passage,” he said. “It leads down to a series of tunnels.”
“You’re kidding me,” Cedwyn said, and after a pause he started laughing, excitedly ruffling Jace’s hair. “You’re kidding me!”
Relic was reading on.
“According to this, it’s an old escape route.” He flipped through the pages mapping out the caverns. “One of them leads right to the stables!”
Isabelle didn’t bother to hide her excitement.
“Looks like we might get out this, after all!”
“Okay, okay,” Jace said, trying to calm himself as much as the others. “Let’s just relax for a second. That fountain’s in the conservatory, which is right next to the Communion Vault.”
Relic had the page saved with his finger.
“Right,” he said.
“Alright,” Jace said. “That's our play. But we still gotta try to get that message to Aleister.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Relic said. “But I …”
Jace was already turning to Cedwyn, and had opened his mouth to ask him something when he recognized Relic’s concern.
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing. It’s just that … alright, even discounting the fact that this is all just a little too convenient, Gabriel refers to these caverns as The Tunnels of Armageddon. It may not be the free ticket out of here we think.”
“Listen,” Cedwyn said. “I don’t care if they're called The Tunnels of You’re Definitely Gonna Die Down Here. That’s where we’re going. Far as being too convenient, well, the laws of logic and reality don’t appear to apply within these walls. Now, apparently,” he nodded to Jace. “The ghost of Gabriel Foy told this crazy bastard where to find his record book, and if that doesn’t count as divine intervention, then I don’t know what does.” He paused a minute, looking back the way they came and growing antsy with the action. “But I don’t have to remind you guys that that door at the end of the corridor we have to get through, in the foyer before Paladin Hall, leads right back out into the lobby. If someone starts coming after us they’ll be able to cut us off before we get there.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was just about to say,” Jace agreed. “We gotta get going.”
Isabelle was looking at Jace, and her eyes narrowed slightly; watching him as if she had noticed something the others had not in that briefest of moments. Was it just her imagination, or had she really just seen the Jace on the balcony flicker in his expression?
Relic nodded, opening his cloak just long enough to stow the record book in the pack around his shoulder.
Isabelle opened hers as well, but to take it off.
“No sense in keeping them anymore,” she said, tossing it in a heap on the floor. “They’ll do nothing but impede us in a fight. Plus, we’re not exactly trying to hide our intentions anymore.”
“You’re assuming there won’t be guards anywhere else in the mansion,” Jace said. “That we’ll only come into contact with those who have to come through the lobby.”
Isabelle shrugged, slipping the golden sapphire into her pack.
“A chance I’m willing to take.”
“So am I,” Cedwyn said, shedding his cloak as well. “She’s right.”
Jace and Relic simply followed suit without another word.
“Shall we, then?” Cedwyn asked, extending his arm in the direction leading back, and he waited for the others to pass.
The Outrider point team was on the move now, running at full speed through the top levels of the library, sliding down the brass railings of the staircases to descend them without touching a step. It was only a matter of seconds before they were back on the first floor, and much to their relief, the door was still closed. All remained quiet beyond. Speed was their priority now, and risks would have to be taken.
Cedwyn’s words rang loud in Jace’s ears, and intensified with each passing step. The whole world felt as an hourglass, and he opened the door at the back of the library with the sensation of slogging in deep mud. He stepped out into the corridor beyond, finding himself for the second time in as many days, face to face with the Greywall captain in the portrait across the way. Then he glanced to the right, in the opposite direction of Paladin Hall.
“What’s the hold up?” Cedwyn asked, waiting behind with the others to advance.
“What’s down that way?” Jace asked. He knew that while he had been napping the day before, Cedwyn was exploring the mansion. “A quicker way, maybe?”
Cedwyn drew his crossbows, Relic and Isabelle beside him doing the same.
“No,” he said. “Just the kitchen. Then it goes down into those wine cellars and menageries I mentioned.”
“Alright,” Jace said; he was moving down the narrow corridor even before the word passed his lips, and then right at that moment, their worst fears were realized.
A colossal boom heralded the manor doors suddenly opening, echoes mingling in the lobby with the sounds of shouts and heavy footfalls.
“Jace!” Cedwyn yelled. “Looks like they just discovered –”
“Yeah!” he acknowledged, but he was already running as fast as he could. All they could do was focus on what was in front of them; that little stretch of hall was the only patch of ground in the world.
Jace was at the first step leading up to the landing when the door to the left began to open, and he was just a little too late; his only chance to close it was to dive forward, falling over the last step, pushing against it with that brief, wild momentum.
It was sheer surprise that hobbled the golden rider, forcing him to stumble back. It was only by chance that the Outriders hadn’t been cut off right there in that moment; that everything hadn’t been lost. Now, regaining his bearings, the enemy was trying to force his way again, calling back to his comrades that he had found the Outriders.
Cedwyn was there now, helping Jace brace the door shut.
“They’re here!” said the voice, muffled only slightly. “In the foyer!”