Hendrik eagerly nodded, stepping in to be the first one to go down even though he had no idea what awaited below, but he was tired of the mumbo jumbo conversation and was antsy to possibly meet his friends. Bo followed in after, and Raj after a few seconds hopped in too, closing the door above them and therefore blocking out the light from above, leaving only a warm light from below.
The ladder wasn't too long, and when he reached the bottom, he stepped out into an open room. On one wall was a long set of wooden shelves, stocked with various boxes and crates of foodstuffs, linens, and other various supplies. On the other walls there were a few doors - five in total - that looked to lead to other rooms. Aside from the shelving in the main room, there wasn't a whole lot. Firelit lamps hanging from the ceiling, and a big wooden table in the center with eight wooden chairs around it, some of them not matching.
Sitting at the table, there was a woman who resembled Raj a little - with a similar face structure and deep brown skin. Her coily black hair was even shorter, and she wore a long red dress, with a woven shawl over her shoulders. Her attention was on them the moment everyone started coming down, and she pulled away from the table and got to her feet.
She offered a warm smile, walking over to the three of them, and Raj stepped forward to give her a quick hug. When she pulled away, she turned to Hendrik.
"Hello," she said. "My name's Mel. What's yours?"
"Hendrik," he answered, lightly smiling in amusement since he was half-expecting a Mel - just not this one.
"I see you've already met my brother and Bo," she said. "Do you need anything? We can get some food ready, or water--"
"A bath. If you want a bath," Bo suggested. "Not saying you smell. Haven't sniffed you. But baths are always nice."
"If you need to sleep," Raj added. "We can prepare a bed for you."
Again, so much was said. Hendrik only said his name and he was getting bombarded with hospitality. Eating food out of a plate and spoon seemed pretty damn great, considering he had been eating like a cave man (and traveling with a literal animal) the past few weeks. And Bo was right, he probably did smell awful. He had to resist the urge to take up their option of sleep as well. Even a couple of thick blankets would be nice to sleep on.
But before he could do any of these things, he had to first take care of business.
"And all of that is greatly appreciated," he said sincerely, then paused as he eyed the other doors in the room. "But I'd like to meet everyone here first."
"Sure," Mel said softly. "There aren't too many more of us, but let me go see what they're up to."
She knocked on one of the walls on the furthest wall, and pushed it open, quietly announcing they had a new visitor, but not all of it was audible. Footsteps hurried to the door and the first person to step out was a shorter woman with light brown skin and straight black hair, pulled back in a long ponytail. She had choppy bangs and stray hairs around her face and big, green eyes. She wore a big, oversized leather jacket, and dressed like some kind of adventurer. It reminded Hendrik of the kind of clothes James wore when they first found him.
She spotted Hendrik quickly and very cheerfully walked over with a bright smile.
"Oh, hello!" she greeted. "My name's Clandestine, but you can call me Clanny for short. And don't worry if you forget my name in a few minutes, I don't mind if you ask again, since you're meeting a bunch of new people. What's your name?"
Hendrik had to force himself to pay attention to her and not anyone else who may be coming out of the room, so he only caught half of what she said.
"Hendrik," he said plainly this time, starting to get tired of introducing himself. He looked up right when another door opened. "Nice to meet you, Clan," he said distractedly.
Someone stepped out of the room Clandestine came out of, trailing behind much slower. Hendrik was disappointed when he quickly realized it wasn't someone he recognized. It was another woman, leaner, with short brown hair and light brown skin, and that was about all he saw before he stopped paying attention.
Clandestine spun around and gestured between the two of them.
"Hendrik, this is Raya," she said. "Raya, this is Hendrik."
Raya, the woman who wasn't any of the people Hendrik was hoping to see, merely nodded in his direction.
"That's pretty much it," Clandestine said, looking around the room, but then hesitated. "Except for Robin. Where'd he go?"
"Off to take a nap, I think," Mel said.
"That's it? That's everyone?" Hendrik said, not hiding back the surprise. "For such a large secretive base, I thought there would be a room full of people."
"Well, it's not our main base," Bo said. "We have dozens of bases across Nye, and various secret safehouses. This is just a touchpoint where we host mages on the way before reaching our final destination."
Hendrik nodded as if he was following along, but honestly, he had no clue what any of the context was. He had no idea what the hell they were really doing out here or where they were going. Frankly, he was surprised he could make it this far without anyone really noticing that he had no idea what the hell was even happening.
"Okay. If my comrades aren't here, then they may be over there," he said with a final quick nod to Bo. "Where can I find the main base?"
"Well, the information of its whereabouts are kept secret within a small group of people," Bo said. "We harbor a lot of mages escaping various dangers, and it's all to keep them safe and avoid being discovered. If you want to join us at the main base we can take you there, but for security reasons we wouldn't be able to send you off on your own."
Hendrik sighed. "Do you know of everyone's names? We could be saving a lot of time if you did."
"We keep thorough records of everyone who passes through our care," Bo said. "And records of those who choose to stay and join us. If you're willing to share the names of your friends you're looking for, we can check with our sources to see if they're with any other contacts of ours. Or maybe we've already encountered them."
It didn't hurt. Hendrik had been respecting everyone's privacy so far, but if he truly wanted to find them, it seemed he'd have to cooperate with others.
"Sure," he said, then flicked his eyes towards Mel. "Do you have another Mel on your team?"
Mel was already moving across the room and reaching into one of the boxes on the shelf. She pulled out a leatherbound book and a pencil, and sat down at the table, beginning to flip through it. It looked like several notes had been written. Dates, names, etc.
"Not on this one," Bo answered, while Mel started flipping through pages.
"Can I ask if you know where your friends were last?" Mel asked. "Or where or when you last saw them? That might help me narrow down where to look."
Hendrik suppressed a laugh. "Oh, you don't want to know. But that information's not going to help. I have no clue where they could be now."
He paused for a second, thinking.
"But I last saw them a little over two weeks ago, if that helps," he added.
He had no clue if the others were even on Nye, but he knew how long he had been here. If they all transported together, then they could have only been spotted for the last two weeks.
Mel hummed and nodded, continuing to flip around, seeming to flip to a certain section.
"And other names?" Bo asked.
Hendrik hummed. Since he was on Nye and James was from here, naturally his next thought went to him.
"James. That ring a bell?" he asked.
Mel lifted up a finger and nodded, flipping to a page closer to the middle of the book.
"Yes," she said. "He's not here, but we did get word of a James and an Eve, traveling with a group of mages, near the bor-"
"Yes. Yes, that's them," Hendrik interrupted, immediately perking up. "Where are they? Who else is with them?"
"Our source didn't name all of the people with them," Mel said. "But she said they numbered to a group of six, including James and Eve. It was mentioned a healing mage and a fire mage were among them." She paused, scanning something on the page. "Two healing mages, and a light mage," she corrected.
Hendrik quickly went through the names in his head. He left the caves with Malkiel, Rudy, and Finn with the premise that the others would follow. And based on other-Mel's description, it sounded like she was describing Mel, Elias, Elise, and Alistair.
Finally, Hendrik found something that felt real again. He was determined to find them.
"Where are they?" he asked again.
"They were last seen near Sticks," Mel said. "Just south of the Wilds. So, southwest of us, now."
Well that wasn't entirely helpful. She could have said they were near Mars and Hendrik would have believed her.
"So, they're close," he said as a shot in the dark.
"It's hard to say since we don't have exact locations, and we don't know where they're heading, but our information says they were going north," Mel said. "If they stayed on that trajectory, that could put them anywhere from a few days of travel away to a week, maybe a week and a half, depending on how fast they're moving. A group that size, if they're on foot, though, probably on the lower end of that estimate."
Hendrik nodded again, more vigorously this time. He was putting all the pieces together, trying to connect the dots.
"Yes. Okay. Good. When are we leaving?" he asked.
There was a beat of silence.
"We've already sent out one of our own to go find them, since they were reported to us," Bo said. "We may not have to leave to find them. The plan was to lead them here."
Hendrik was not pleased with this answer. He was just handed this fantastic piece of news, and now he was expected to sit tight and wait? Wasn't that what he practically did the past two weeks? He felt like he had to do something about this. Take action. Anything. Not just wait around.
"Wouldn't it be faster if we try to flag them down and expedite the whole thing?" Hendrik asked.
"Considering we've sent out our friend to search for a small group of people in a pretty wide stretch of land, if we went out there to try to find her and your friends as well, it may end up only slowing down the process for when you see them again," Bo said. "There are a lot of unknowns."
"So, what, I'm just supposed to sit back and relax when I just found out that my friends have been found?" Hendrik asked sharply, his voice rising.
"I understand it makes most sense to run out and find them," Bo said calmly. "If they were my own friends I'd be tempted to do the same. But I promise you we never give up on following through with leads. We always pursue it until we find them, and by any means possible, we bring them to safety."
"If you're willing to wait here, we do intend to bring them to this base if they agree to come with us," Mel added. "We can send out a messenger bird to relay to them that you're here. That may help with incentive, if, for any reason, they're not interested in our assistance."
Hendrik gritted his teeth, but then sighed and relaxed.
Fine. He could wait.
"We won't force you to stay," Bo added. "If you want to go find them, you can. But we have a way of doing things here. We'll offer you resources and a place to stay if you'll take it, but I have to look out for the people under me."
"I trust your word. I'll stay a week and wait. But if they don't arrive then, I'll find them on my own," Hendrik said.
"I completely understand," Bo said with a small smile. "Sounds like a plan, then."
Mel nodded and closed the book of records and names, and got up to put it away.
"In the mean time, do you want to take us up on anything?" Bo asked. "Food? Water?"
"Don't put that book away yet. I have other names to check up on," Hendrik said.
Mel paused, and sat back down, setting the book back on the table. "Of course," she said. "You last saw them two weeks ago as well?"
Hendrik nodded. "Yes. Two men and a child. Rudy and Malkiel."
Mel flipped back to where she'd been reading before, and started skimming, flipping a few pages back and forth. With a small sigh, she shook her head and gave Hendrik and apologetic look.
"I'm sorry, I don't see anything," she said.
Considering that Hendrik was just with Malkiel, Rudy, and Finn before he transported to Nye, he wasn't sure what to do with that information. He only hoped that they were all doing okay.
"Well," he said with a sigh. "You mentioned food?"
Mel smiled softly.
"Yes, we did mention food," she said. "Are you hungry?"
"I could eat," Hendrik said as he glanced at Bo. "But first, I should probably take that bath. I don't want Bo to lose his sense of smell over here."
Bo laughed at that.
"I think I'll survive. I've smelled Robin's farts," he said. "That's way worse."
"Yeah, I know. I smelled that too," Hendrik grumbled.
"That explains a lot," Bo said with a little amused smile. "But sure. Let's get you that bath, then."