Gideon was the one who found the loose rocks.
It was a close thing too, because Carter hadn’t wanted him to get up. It’d torn at Gideon’s heart to leave him like that, especially when it felt nice just to hold Carter despite his height – he could really curl up and compact himself when he tried – but they needed to find a way to get out. And the door they’d come in wasn’t look like a hot option, not when there was no handle on their side of the stone.
In the centre of the back wall, however, there was a bunch of rubble. Like a cave in, Gideon had thought the longer he looked at it. And then he’d began clearing it away despite the fact that it was probably a dangerous idea.
But then Whisper had begun helping him, with their magic, and even Isha and Carter had sworn they felt okay enough. As far as Gideon could tell, they looked better than they had before, but both were still worn down and covered in filth that made it hard to tell.
They’d move about half of it when Gideon realised it hadn’t been a cave in, but what looked like a purposeful barricade. There was a staircase he could see through the cracks in the pile of stones. He told the others as much.
He was hot and sweaty – and also covered in mysterious fluids that were making him want to retch again – and smelled like decay, but he tried his best to push that from his mind. They just had to get out of the crypt, and then… Well. Find Shiloh, he supposed.
They cleared only enough for everyone to fit through a hole in the debris. Gideon helped Isha and Carter up first, and then Whisper, and then followed them into the stairwell. It was old, crumbling and smelled oddly like the new-fangled mothballs. At least, Gideon mused, it did not smell like the dead. He wished he smelled more like mothballs.
Gideon led them up the staircase, though they all stayed in a tight clump so none of them were never not touching someone else. At the top of the staircase, he found there was a cellar door. He pushed on it and heard a chain jiggle.
The wood felt a little soft, however, and Gideon wondered how bad it could possibly hurt if he tried to punch through it. He hadn’t brought his short swords and even if he still had his bow, it wouldn’t help now. His stomach twisted- that had been a good bow. A gift from Isha too.
“There’s a chunk of the stairs that’s loose next to your foot,” Isha suggested. Gideon bent down and sure enough, he found it. He lifted it, not as big as he’d wanted but better than nothing.
“Stand back.” Everyone abruptly backed away, and Gideon lifted the rock. Then he smashed it into the doors. Nothing happened, but he heard a sharp crack. He tried again, and this time, some of the wood crumbled.
He continued to bash the piece of stairs into the door until he’d made a sizeable hole. He set aside the stone and grabbed a splintering plank, before pulling on it until it bent and crack off the door.
Then, he reached out of the door, and minded the splinters as best he could as he pulled himself through the door. The wood scraped against his skin, digging through his clothes. He already knew that it’d sting later but couldn’t bring himself to care then. Once he was out of the doors, he turned, breathing a little harder, and kicked at the door to make a bigger hole.
Once they’d finally all climbed from the stairwell, Isha turned to him. “I meant to use the rock on the hinges,” she said. Gideon looked down at the door and still visible rusted hinges. His face grew hot.
“Shut up,” he growled.
Isha laughed. Her hair was knotted and looked more brown than blonde. Her forehead was splattered with gore and he hoped it wasn’t her own. There were stains covering her- covering all of them, and Gideon bit the inside of his cheek and tried to think of watching Carter stroke Achille’s neck soothingly when the horse freaked out.
“So, Shiloh,” Isha said. “Where do we think the Comtesse took her? Back to the prison house?”
Gideon turned, more on instinct than anything else, and searching their surroundings. They’d climbed out of an old cellar, and he could see the White Cathedral rising in the distance. He turned again and spotted The Spiral Tower. “There,” he said, pointing. At the curious looks he got, he shrugged. “Something Finn said. Nobody’s allowed up there, and he said… something about her keeping her skeletons up there. He didn’t know why he knew about it.”
“Best shot we have, I guess,” Isha said. “Let’s not get spotted, yeah? Don’t want to get arrested for a second time.”
And then she set off. All the discomfort he’d seen back after the – what had the others called them? The Undying? Sounded like a fairy tale villain. He wondered if that’d been Carter or Isha – had evaporated and she looked as steady as she always did.
It settled wrong in Gideon. It worried him.
Carter, on the other hand, dragged his feet as they began to follow her. Whisper leaned close to him and took his hand. “She’ll be okay, Carter. We’re going to fix this.”
“Yeah,” Carter mumbled, and kicked a stray rock. “I’m just tired of fixing things. I, um. I’m just tired.”
Whisper nodded and Gideon saw a flash of gold in their eyes. Carter’s shoulder relaxed, and Gideon let out a breath. Thank goodness for Whisper and their ability to calm Carter down.
The tower was a lot taller when they got closer to it. Gideon had to crane his neck back, and slowed his pace slightly, but Isha ploughed right ahead. She didn’t look daunted by the height at all, walked right up the few steps to get to the one, ebony door. The tower itself was made of a slate-grey stone, and Gideon had to wonder if it was supposed to be some poor representation of the Spire.
They followed her up the steps and Isha crouched at the door when the handle only jiggled a little. Gideon peered down at her, and she cast a look over her shoulder at him as if sensing it.
“How do you think we got into the crypt?” she asked at his dubious look as the padlock clicked, and she popped it open.
“It was locked when we got there,” Gideon grumbled.
Whisper shrugged, watching Isha. “We went to the private entrance.”
Of course you did, Gideon thought grumpily. Isha’s mouth twitched as she turned the handle and stood up to push the door open.
They all shuffled quickly into the tower for fear of being seen, and then shut the door quietly behind them. Gideon suddenly felt naked. He had no weapons, and nobody was supposed to be in this tower. If Aelina was really hiding anything in here, she’d have guards.
“Shouldn’t there be, um, guards?” Carter echoed. Gideon glanced around- it wasn’t an overly large tower. There was a spiral staircase to their right, a few wooden chairs in front of them, and a large wooden storage unit that had cabinets and, below that, drawers.
Above them the spiral staircase led to another level, but it was anyone’s guess what was up there.
Isha moved over to the shelving unit and opened the cabinets. Gideon watched and, over her shoulder, spotted shelves of food products and mugs. Isha made a confused noise from the back of her throat and shut the cabinets. Gideon glanced at the table, and his stomach somersaulted at the sight of a fresh apple. There was a bite taken out of it, and it hadn’t browned.
He walked forward. “Isha, someone’s been here recently,” he said as she opened the top drawer. He watched as she pulled a long strip of leather and inspected it. Well, he thought a little bitterly. At least she was armed now- she could do wonders with a little string like that.
The sound of bootsteps made him glance over to where Carter had begun wandering up the stairs. Gideon thought about telling him not to go up there, but even if he wanted to, his mouth didn’t seem to want to work anyway. Whisper had shifted to follow him.
Then the doors of the tower opened.
Isha was beside him in a heartbeat, wielding the strip of leather on her hand and in a readied stance. Whisper quickly joined Carter on the stairs, out of reach. The person stepped in was guard armour- but it was oversized, as if it didn’t fit the wearer properly.
Gideon held himself still and wondered how easily he could break one of the chairs apart to use as a stick.
Then the guard began to unbuckle his armour. Gideon exchanged a glance with Isha but turned back when the man’s breastplate hit the ground with a clatter. Underneath, the man was wearing the same black leather armour as the assassins that had come after Whisper. Gideon’s heart wriggled into his throat.
After all his armour had been shed, the man reached up to pull the helmet off. Gideon saw a flash of teeth under a grin, and then the helmet was thrown to the side.
“Finn,” Isha said through a breath. She relaxed, dropping her head and letting the leather fall back to her side. “Were you trying to give us a heart attack?”
Finn’s grin didn’t waver, and Gideon’s chest tightened. It took him a moment too long to open his mouth, to say, “Isha, his eyes-”
Without anymore hesitation, Finn had whipped out a wavy dagger, and lunged forward. Gideon shoved Isha out of the way just in time, and Finn missed her as she tumbled to the ground. ///
He hardly faltered at the missed assault, only pivoting on his heel and raising his dagger. All in one motion, he stabbed downwards at Gideon. Gideon leapt backwards and crashed into the wooden table and chairs behind him. He caught himself on the edge of the table as Finn spun again, and advanced towards him.
Gideon backed away and grabbed one of the chairs by its back. Finn’s grin was calm, replaced by complete focus that looked terrifyingly blank on his expression.
“Finn!” Carter shouted above them. Finn’s eyes never left Gideon’s but narrowed slightly. They glowed, faint and almost unnoticeable but there. A soft, red glow. “Finn!”
Once again, Finn launched forward. Gideon lifted the chair and propelled himself forward, using the chairs and its legs as his shield. He knocked Finn backwards, but to his slight disappointment, Finn remained on his feet.
He almost didn’t spot Isha right away, but then she suddenly had the strip of leather around his throat. Her legs were wrapped around his waist, and it was another miracle that Finn didn’t topple at her sudden weight as she leapt onto his back. She propped her elbows against his shoulders, pulling back and upwards and cutting off Finn’s air. “Yield,” she spat in his ear. Or, above his ear. “Finn, yield.”
Later, Gideon would curse himself for watching in that moment. He let the chair slack in his arms, watching as Finn gasped for air as Isha pulled tight against his throat. Gideon allowed himself a sharp breath.
And then Finn sneered, raised his dagger, and drove it back straight into Isha’s hip.
Isha cried out and he could see her grip loosen on Finn’s chokehold. Finn staggered backwards then, quickly, and slammed her into the wall behind them. She hit her elbow and the leader strip fluttered away harmlessly. Isha, no longer with an anchor point, slid from Finn’s back onto the floor, dagger still partially in her hip.
The second Finn whirled to face her, Gideon launched forward and brought the chair down over Finn’s head. He crumpled to the floor. Gideon blinked down at him, trying to steady his breathing. He looked so small, so innocent like that.
Then he turned towards Isha and crouched beside her. He heard the rush of bootsteps and soon Carter was on her other side. Isha had her head resting against the wall and her expression was contorted. She reached up, offering on hand to each other of them. The hand she offered to Gideon was coated in a glistening mess of blood, but he still took it. Couldn’t be worse than what he was already covered in. Isha smiled; her eyes closed as her breathing evened out.
“I don’t think he hit anything important,” Isha said airily. Then, she laughed, and her eyes opened. “Except, you know. Me.”
Gideon squeezed her hand. “It’s not funny, Isha,” he said, but his tone was quiet and urgent. She met his gaze, and the corners of her eyes crinkled.
“Nothing is funny to you,” she chastised. Then her gaze drifted towards Finn and she sat up straighter against the stone. “What happened?”
“The Comtesse,” Whisper said. Gideon turned to find them beside Finn, eyes closed as their hand hovered over his forehead. “I can’t get in, I can’t- his mind is locked from me. I can’t get him back.” They opened their eyes.
Carter was looking down at the dagger sticking out from Isha’s hip and was beginning to grow rather pale. “Shouldn’t we do something about, um. About the knife? Sticking out of her?”
“Best not to right now, Kitten,” Isha said. Her fingers curled around Carter’s hand and he glanced up to meet her gaze. Her smile returned, and she gazed at him fondly. “I can’t say this is the first time this has happened.” Her eyes darted sideways towards Gideon. “Even Gideon was a culprit once.”
“That was an accident,” Gideon groaned. “And it was hardly a stab wound.”
She rolled her eyes. “Tell that to the sutures they had to give me.” Isha winked at Carter, who looked torn between feeling unsettled and smiling. Isha squeezed Gideon’s hand again, and by the looks of, Carter’s too. “I’m okay- go find Shiloh. I’ll just rest here and wait for you to return.”
Gideon glanced back to find Whisper looking at him with a raised eyebrow. They were waiting for him to decide what came next. “You and Carter go up,” Gideon decided. “I want to stay here with her-”
“I’ve been through worse,” Isha grouched and Gideon shot her a look.
“-and make sure that Finn doesn’t wake up and get any more notions about stabbing people,” Gideon finished pointedly. Isha’s mouth twisted with displeasure, but she shrugged nonchalantly.
“As you say,” she snarked.
From the corner of his gaze, Gideon caught Carter sending him an amused glance. Gideon offered his free hand not covered in blood – well, not covered in Isha’s blood anyway – and Carter took it with a quick, grateful squeeze. Then he stood and followed Whisper as they led him up the staircase.
He settled on the wall beside Isha, still holding her hand, and watched Finn where he lay prone, breathing silent and evenly. His stomach clenched tight enough to hurt.
What did you do?
word count: 2,563