It All Comes To Light
Antonia was in the process of preparing to sleep when she heard soft footfalls behind her. She spun quickly, hands out in a combat stance.
Her fear immediately turned to panic when she saw it was Rasten standing just inside her door.
"Dammit Rasten!" she cried as she grabbed her blanket and covered herself. "What in the Gods are you doing?"
Rasten, at the same time, forced himself to avert his eyes.
"I'm sorry!" he hissed. "I'm sorry! I just - I need to talk to you?"
They both froze when they heard footsteps beyond her door.
"Antonia?" It was Kitia's voice. "Are you alright?"
Rasten quickly held a finger to his lips, pleading desperately with his eyes. Then he jumped up into the vent and effectively vanished.
Sighing, Antonia mussed her hair a bit and pulled the door open, trying to look groggy.
"I thought I heard you cry out?" Kitia asked.
"It's nothing," Antonia lied. "Just a bad dream."
Kitia smiled gently. "You want some company?"
"No thanks," Antonia answered. "I'm fine, really. I'm just going to try and go back to sleep."
Kitia nodded. "Okay. If you need anything, come on down to my room, I'll be up for a while. Got a test in Master Philios' class in the morning."
"Ouch," Antonia said sympathetically.
"Tell me about it," Kitia replied. She heaved a resigned sigh. "Well, I guess I'll get back to it." Then she turned almost pleading. "You sure you don't want company?" She smiled.
Antonia laughed quietly. "Sorry to do it to you, but yes, I'm sure."
Kitia groaned and departed.
Smiling, Antonia let the door close, realizing that an exchange like that would not have been possible if not for Master David and his wife.
Her eyes drifted upwards to the open vent. "Okay, you," she said. "Get down here."
Once again, Rasten dropped to the floor.
"Thank you," He said, bubbling with relief. "I just didn't know who else to come to and - "
"Turn around," Antonia said sharply.
Antonia looked down at the blanket wrapped about her body and then back at him. "Turn around."
"Oh!" Rasten said. "Right! Yeah! Um, sorry!" He rubbed his hands together nervously and turned to face the wall.
Watching the young man closely, Antonia let the blanket fall to the floor and quickly stepped into her clothes.
"I really appreciate this, Antonia," Rasten began.
"Well, I don't," Antonia countered. "You're lucky I didn't break your arm!"
She turned and saw him, rooted in place. He hadn't moved a muscle. She smiled in spite of herself. He seemed so earnest. Finally she relented.
"You can turn back around now," she said.
When he turned back, she saw no levity in his expression. Instead, his face had what she could only describe as a haunted look. Her own smile melted away.
"Rasten?" she asked. "What is it?"
"I," Rasten began, starting to fidget nervously, as if he suddenly realized something he had overlooked. He looked in her eyes. "Never mind. If I tell you, your life might be in danger. Look, I'm sorry for dropping in on you like that, I-"
Antonia pushed him up against the wall. "You dropped in on me, while I was naked, and now you want to just jump back out again? How should I take that?"
"It wasn't a prank!" Rasten hissed defensively. "I -" He sighed. "I wanted to ask you about something, because I can't wrap my mind around it. At the same time, if I tell you what I saw, I'm going to put your life in danger! I only just now realized that part!"
"Very noble," Antonia folded her arms across her chest.
"Is it so hard for you to understand?" Rasten said. "I don't want you to get hurt!"
Antonia saw something in his eyes, and her stern expression melted away.
"Rasten?" she asked. "What have you gotten into?"
"Way, way WAY over my head," Rasten replied.
"So, why come to me?"
"I can't go to the Head without proof." Rasten explained. "And I can't tell Master David or Mistress Gabrielle, because they'll go to the Head Master."
"So you came to me?" Antonia asked.
"You're the only other person that I trust," Rasten replied automatically. Then his mouth clamped shut.
Antonia actually smiled softly. "Wow, I think that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me?" Her attempt to diffuse some of his anxiety failed. He rolled his eyes and looked as if he were about to jump back into the vent.
"Okay," she said gently. "Look. Tell me what's on your mind. I promise not to get involved if you ask me, okay?"
Rasten squirmed a little and grimaced. "Okay, but you aren't going to believe it! I still can't believe it! I mean the whole thing is so -"
"Rasten!" Antonia hissed. "I like you, but if you don't get to the point soon, I'm going to wring your neck!"
"Okay, okay," Then he stopped and looked at her. "What?"
"I said, I like you, but you had better get to the point," Antonia replied.
"You - like me?"
"Okay, okay," Rasten let her lead him to the bed where he sat down. For the first time, she noticed how much he was trembling. Whatever he had seen had obviously shaken him up pretty bad. He took a few deep breaths and then the whole thing came spilling out.
As she listened to his tale, Antonia felt her jaw dropping in horror. When he finally finished, he sat still for a long moment, watching her expression carefully.
"Well?" he asked expectantly.
"It's a lot to take in," Antonia replied pacing a few steps away. "You're absolutely sure you heard him say that? I mean absolutely?"
Rasten nodded. "I wish I hadn't."
"And you know where he keeps those vials?" Antonia continued.
Rasten was already shaking his head. "I already thought about that," he said. "If we get caught, there's no telling what Quintis would do?"
"Oh I think we both know what he would do," Antonia said grimly. She thought for a moment and then sighed. "We have to tell the Head Master."
"Are you nuts?" Rasten said.
"Rasten!" Antonia shot back. "Look, I know that he's your friend and all, but this is way bigger than anything we can handle! We have to!"
Rasten edged back toward his escape route. "No way!" he said nervously. "I'm not getting any deeper into this! And I don't think you should either!"
"We don't have a choice!" Antonia shot back.
"Forget it!" Rasten repeated and he jumped into the vent and vanished.
It was too late. He was gone.
Antonia paced nervously about her chamber for only a few seconds, and then she left and went looking for David.
Gabrielle sat at the table, her head resting in her hands, eyes bloodshot and puffy from grief. David went to their small table and sat down beside her, rubbing her shoulder comfortingly.
"He lived a long life, honey," he offered. "I know that doesn't mean much, but-"
"No," Gabrielle sniffled. "No, you're right. It's just. I don't know him as that old man, I remember him from when, well, you know?"
"I know," David nodded. "I know." He rose and went to pick up a small glass. Taking a knife, he sliced a piece of lemon from the nearby bowl and then added it to the glass which he filled with water from a pitcher.
"Thirsty?" he asked.
Gabrielle shook her head.
There was a tentative knock at the door.
"I got it," David offered, but Gabrielle held up a hand.
"No, it's alright."
She went to the door and opened it, revealing a very nervous looking Antonia.
Gabrielle frowned. "What's wrong?"
Antonia entered the room and nodded to David.
"I'm sorry to bother you," she said sincerely. "But I just heard something that I think you should know about?"
David shrugged. "Let's hear it?" He took a drink of water and then frowned.
Something about it didn't taste right. Granted, the water around here wasn't the best, hence the lemon he added, but this was something distinctly different. There was an underlying taste, like an after taste, but slight and bitter. He felt something tighten in his throat. Then he recognized it. Bitter and at the same time, somewhat nutty, like - his eyes went wide - like almonds. Bitter almonds!
"Oh shit!" he choked and he let the glass fall to the floor as he lurched back to the small table.
"David?" Gabrielle cried out in alarm. She saw the redness in his face as his skin seemed to flush. "David! What is it?"
David ignored her, grasping for the rest of the lemon lying on the cutting board. He crammed the fruit into his mouth and sucked on it desperately. His legs gave out and he dropped to his knees, the pitcher and remaining fruits falling to the floor with a clatter.
"David!" Gabriele cried in a full blown panic. She rushed to his side with Antonia opposite.
David gesticulated wildly as he fumbled for another lemon and bit through the skin, still sucking furiously. He rolled his other hand outwards rapidly.
"More?" Gabrielle nodded. "More!" she turned to Antonia. "I think he needs more of those!"
Antonia scrambled about the floor and found two more, bringing them over to Gabrielle as she held David's head in her lap.
"What's happening?" she cried desperately.
David felt the acidic juice filling his mouth and seeping into his throat. He saw spots behind his eyes and heard his own heart thundering in his ears. He tried to keep himself calm, but the adrenaline surged through him. Finally, he felt some of the juice ease past the constriction in his throat. His tongue seemed to shrink. He grabbed another lemon and bit into it, like before. His breathing began to slow as blessed air started to flow back into his lungs. Still unable to speak he motioned for Antonia to find more of them.
"Go!" Gabrielle ordered. "Quick!"
Antonia ran at a full sprint toward the kitchen. She threw anything hindering her out of her way and found the produce in a large cool stone bin. Taking as many as she could fold in her shirt she ran full speed back through the dining hall, up the stairs and down the hall back to David and Gabrielle's room.
When she burst in, David was squeezing the last of the fruits into his mouth. She quickly dropped her load on the table, grabbed the knife and cut the next one in two pieces, handing the first half to him. David dropped the expended fruit and latched onto the next one with the same vampiric intensity.
After he had consumed two more in like manner, his breathing slowed back down and his muscles relaxed. After a while, a growl issued from his throat and he clawed his way back to one of the chairs, pulling himself into it and bowing his head to the table.
"What's happening?" Antonia asked fearfully.
Gabrielle shook her head helplessly, her hands on his shoulders to steady him.
His one hand slid out from beneath his op of long hair, holding the rind of the last lemon while his other balled into a fist. He began pounding the table with growing intensity, as if finishing some deep internal struggle.
"Christ on a crutch!" he finally choked out.
"Antonia," Gabrielle said. "Get him some water."
"No!" David croaked. "Don't touch anything in this room!"
Antonia froze and Gabrielle looked down at him in confusion.
David looked up and grabbed the second half of another lemon and held that to his lips, sucking on it. He waived Antonia away from the small table. "Get the Head Master," he managed to say. "Now!"
Antonia nodded and bolted out the door.
The final sensations of constriction in his throat slowly died away and he breathed deeply.
"David?" Gabrielle asked. "Gods, David, what was that?"
Antonia burst back into the room with Hercules right behind her. Gabrielle's eyes went wide when she saw him. It was as if the years had flowed backwards. He stood, tall and strong. His beard was gone and his hair was once again the long deep brown of youth.
Gabrielle looked down at David and then back up at an apparently rejuvenated Hercules, her emotions riding a roller coaster. "What in Tartarus is going on around here?" she finally blurted out in a quavering voice.
"I'll explain everything later," Hercules replied, moving to David's side.
David raised his shaggy head, and he managed a weak smile. "What the hell happened to you?"
Hercules smiled and helped David ease upright. "You first?"
David breathed in deeply again. "Poison."
"What?" Hercules asked, his eyes wide.
"Poison?" Gabrielle asked at the same time.
"If I could just have a moment?" David managed to say. His voice sounded constricted. "I just need to - " The vomit erupted from his mouth, splattering all over the table. The three other occupants in the room all jumped back in surprise and revulsion. Once the convulsions were done, David smiled weakly again.
"There," he croaked. "I feel much better now."
Hercules reached around David and lifted him easily. "Let's get you down to Mistress Gadneye."
David shook his head. "Not necessary, really. Just a clean room will do."
Hercules looked over at Antonia. "Have Mistress Gadneye come up to my chamber as fast as she can."
"Yes, sir," Antonia nodded and she turned and ran out the door again.
As Antonia darted down the corridor, she ran into the last person she wanted to see.
Quintis quickly sidestepped out of her way as she came around the corner.
"What's going on?"
"Master David is ill!" Antonia shot back as she continued down the corridor.
"Is it bad?" Quintis called after her.
"I don't know!" Antonia replied and then she was gone.
As soon as she was out of sight, Quintis's concerned expression melted into a satisfied smile.
"Three down," he mused and he continued on his way.
When Gadneye entered the Head Masters chamber, she was still in her night shirt. She stopped short when she saw Hercules.
"Head Master?" she blurted in shock. "What?"
Hercules pointed at David, sitting upright in a large padded chair.
"Oh, yes, of course," Gadneye replied. She rushed to David's side.
"Hercules?" Gabrielle looked up at him. "What's going on? What happened to my husband? And what happened to you?"
"I think," Hercules folded his arms across his chest. "The same thing that happened to your husband?"
Gabrielle shook her head, frowning. "What?"
"It's a long story," Hercules smiled patiently. "Let me just say that I've learned something about my heritage."
"Being the son of Zeus?" Gabrielle asked.
"But how?" Gabrielle asked. "Who did this?"
Antonia was looking at David, still quite pale and haggard but improving quickly, her eyes were like glaciers.
"Quintis," she growled and she turned and darted from the room.
"Quintis?" Gabrielle repeated. "Antonia! Wait!"
Quintis strode casually down the darkened corridor, humming to himself. By now, the only one left to eliminate would be Gabrielle, and that would be easy. After that, the rest would follow simply enough and his foothold in this land would be secure.
Footfalls echoed behind him. He turned and saw Rasten drop to the floor behind him.
"Well, Rat?" he smiled coldly. "Got anything for me?"
Rasten was shaking as he stepped forward.
"Yeah," he said. And he lashed out with a vicious punch that reeled Quintis back a few paces. "I can't let you do this, Quintis!" he said in a frightened voice. He struck again, only to have his attack easily blocked. Then he was pressed face first against the wall.
"I'll give you that first one," Quintis hissed in his ear. "But that's all you get!" He spun the young man around and sent him skidding across the hall, striking the opposite side hard enough to see stars.
"Poor Rasten," Quintis gloated. "Is this how you repay my generosity? I was all set to make you one of my top guys? Now, you go and do this?" He kicked the boy savagely. Rasten cried out in pain as the air blasted from his lungs.
"Boys," Quintis called. Trajen, Darus, and Atrophis emerged from the nearby shadows. "I think Rasten needs to be reminded who's really in charge here?"
Rasten struggled to rise, then rough hands yanked him to his feet and Trajen's fist pounded into his jaw.
"Take him outside and give him his lesson for tonight," Quintis said casually. "After that, we'll start mopping up the rest of the scum in our temple."
"Temple?" Rasten choked. "Quintis? What are you talking about?"
"Yes!" Quintis hissed, his eyes alight with wild fury. "Temple! My temple!" He looked at the others and waived his hand dismissively.
"You're crazy, Quintis!" Rasten cried, as Darus and Trajen dragged him away. "You're completely insane!"
Antonia came out into the courtyard.
"Quintis!" she cried in rage. A groan answered her. She looked over near the shadows of a nearby corner and spied someone moving. She stalked over, her hands balled into fists, ready for a fight. Instead, she saw the shape of a person lying against the stone, trying to move. It waived a hand feebly.
"Antonia," it croaked. "Get out of here!"
"Rasten?" Antonia knelt down next to him. His face was a bloody, puffy mass. "Who did this to you?"
"I tried to stop him," Rasten choked. "I really tried."
Antonia moved some of his matted hair from his eyes. "Just be still."
"You got to get out of here," Rasten continued desperately.
"Come on," Antonia reached around him and tried to haul him up. "I'm going to get you some help."
Laughter echoed from the opposite side of the raised platform. Looking up, she saw Trajen standing there, arms folded across his chest.
"Would you look at that?" he said. "Old Rasten the Rat has himself a girlfriend?"
"Maybe a little," Darus replied, stepping from the nearby archway. The two of them laughed at the joke. Then Darus's eyes went dark. "You should have listened to him, little one." He shrugged.
"Get out of the way," Antonia growled as she held Rasten up beside her.
"I don't think so," Trajen shook his head. "You want him? Then you'll have to go through us first?"
"Just get out of here," Rasten whispered.
As gently as she could, Antonia lowered Rasten to the ground and then faced the two boys.
"Oooo," Darus said after seeing her face. "I think she's a bit angry?"
Trajen chuckled. "No wizard to save your little ass now, girlie," he said. "So what are you going to do?"
Antonia looked at Darus and then up at Trajen. She smiled coldly. "First, I'm going to teach you some manners," She looked back at Darus. "Then I'll have you on your knees begging for mercy."
Both boys laughed at the boldness of that statement.
"Well," Trajen said, stepping away from the edge of the stage. "I guess you better get started?"
Antonia climbed the steps up to the stage.
"It was an extract," Gadneye said. "From what Master David says. A fermented oil from a nut?"
"Almonds," David corrected her, as he slowly got to his feet. He was a bit wobbly, but rapidly getting his equilibrium back. "Oil from stale almonds. A primitive form of cyanide."
"While I am not familiar with the name of the poison," Gadneye looked at David critically. "I believe the young master's assessment to be correct, as was his actions once he realized he had been poisoned. The lemon juice somehow counteracted the poison?"
Gabrielle looked at David and smiled in relief. "Is there anything you don't know?" she asked.
David shrugged. "Read about it in Readers Digest. Where's Tony?"
"She said something about Quintis and ran out of here," Hercules offered.
"I think she knows something," Gabrielle added. "We need to find her. Fast!"
"I'll start in the courtyard," David offered.
"I'll check her room and get the others," Gabrielle repeated.
"I've got the boys rooms," Hercules finished. He looked at David skeptically. "You sure you're all right?"
"Getting better by the second," David lied. "Let's go."
Antonia landed hard with a cry of pain. She rolled over and got back to her feet, her eyes fixed on the man before her. Trajen laughed and held is hands out. "What are you waiting for?"
Antonia got back to her feet.
"Don't fight like a juggernaut," she thought to herself.
Trajen came in again, and once again, Antonia was sent flying. This time, she stayed on the ground, her hands planted, looking up at him.
Trajen moved in again and caught her left foot in his nose when she spun around, springing to her feet.
As Trajen came forward after rocking back, he found her in midair, her foot lashing out again. This time he went down hard.
Antonia stepped back, grinning. It actually worked! She hadn't been thinking about what to do, she had just done it and it had worked! Triumphant exeuberence flooded through her body, fueling her confidence. It made the whole situation seem somewhat surreal. It made it - fun?
Trajen got to his feet and saw the blood on his hand. His face twisted into a snarl of rage. "You little bitch!" he spat and he charged in again. Antonia seemed to dance just out of his reach, moving from side to side, only occasionally having to actually deflect his blows.
Down below, Darus watched with growing concern as the once helpless "target" of everyone's exercises was slowly wearing his comrade down. He drew a long knife from behind his back and flipped it over, preparing to throw.
A hand clamped on his wrist when he drew back, spinning him around. His eyes went wide in horror. "You?"
"Hi." David grinned and he punched Darus square in the nose. The boy sprawled on the ground unconscious. He shook is sore hand and sighed. "Some people's kids."
David check to be certain that Darus was really out and then looked back up at the stage.
Antonia had Trajen completely frustrated. She ducked and weaved as she moved in, and then dropped down, her legs shooting out and struck, open palm right in Trajen's groin.
Even David winced in sympathy.
Trajen went down to his knees, his eyes bulging. He looked up to see Antonia standing over him, proud and defiant. Then her small fist plowed into his face and he knew no more.
David grinned with pride. "Not bad, kiddo?" he said.
Antonia grinned broadly.
"Come on," David said. "Let's get Rasten some help."
"You go ahead," Antonia replied, her gaze going dark. "I still have a promise to keep with that one." She nodded towards the unconscious Darus.
David saw the look and a smile pulled at the corners of his mouth.
"Okay," he rubbed his hands together. "Let's have a little fun."
The world slowly came into focus and feeling returned to his limbs. The first thing Darus saw was Trajen, bound and gagged, lying in front of the stage like a trussed rabbit. Then he realized that he was also bound to one of the thick posts in the center of the yard, his ankles tied and his arms bound above his head. He couldn't move a muscle.
"Hi there!" David said cheerfully. His head snapped to the side and his eyes went wide in horror.
"You!" He blurted. "It's impossible! You're supposed to be dead?"
"Actually," David corrected him patiently. "I'm not supposed to be born yet."
Darus frowned in confusion, and then he saw Antonia step into view, his knife in her hand.
"Oh, yeah," David sighed. "I almost forgot. I believe this young lady has a few things to discuss with you?" He rose to his feet and brushed off his knees. Then he moved to a conscious, but still visibly weak Rasten and helped him up. The young man leaned against David, staring defiantly at Darus, his eyes blazing from pain.
"Well," David said casually. He looked at Antonia ad smiled. "I'll take him up to Mistress Gadneye, and leave you to it then?"
"Fine," Antonia growled. She turned the knife in the moonlight, watching the pale reflection dance across Darus' eyes.
David shook his head ruefully. "Man, you really screwed up. I think she means to kill you? For your sake, I hope she does it fast."
"What?" Darus looked from the blade back to David and then to the blade again. "She can't!"
"Oh, yeah, she can," David nodded. "And considering the fact that you were ready to kill her, I think it seems fair?" He looked at Rasten. "Don't you?"
"Absolutely," Rasten replied darkly.
"Wait a minute!" Darus cried in a rising voice. "You can't do this! You'll both be witnesses!"
David and Rasten looked at one another.
"What? Us?" David asked.
"I'm unconscious," Rasten smiled in spite of a split lip.
"And I'm dead," David added. "We can't see squat. Have fun you two."
The two of them shuffled off, leaving the frightened Darus in Antonia's tender care.
She simply stared at him for a long moment, as if considering the best way to bone him, like she might do to a chicken.
"You know," She said in an icy tone. "I remember every thing you've done tome from the first day I came here. That's quite a lot. All the way up to the other night, in the woods."
She crouched before him and gently scraped the point of the knife on his cheek. "I think you owe me something?" she growled. The knife flicked down and up in a flash and one of the buttons on his vest popped off.
"What are you doing?" Darus asked. His eyes were wide and sweat beaded on his forehead.
"What would you have done to me in the woods?" she asked knowingly. "If David hadn't evened the odds? What would you have done?" She looked up at him knowingly.
"Hey!" Darus protested. "It was all a game to get you to quit, that's all!"
Another button popped off, exposing more of his chest.
"Just a game?" Antonia said sweetly. "Well, that's all right, honey. This is just a game too. It's called "give me what I want."" Another button fell away.
"What?" Darus cried.
"Oh, I'm just giving myself room to work, honey," Antonia said casually. "That's all. We haven't gotten to the good stuff yet."
The last of his buttons popped and his vest fell open.
"What do you want?" Darus asked desperately.
Antonia smiled like a snowstorm. "That's what makes this so much fun. I get to keep going until you figure it out?"
The point of the knife touched the base of his neck and slowly, she let it slide down towards past his navel, towards his belt and back up, all the while, staring into his eyes with cold intensity.
"You see," she said relentlessly. "I think you would have beat me in the forest the other night? Raped me? Even killed me? So you can imagine the ideas that gave me, hmm?"
"No! No we wouldn't!" Darus protested. "We just wanted to scare you is all! I swear!"
Antonia shook her head. "I don't believe you." The knife traced its way down towards his belt again and slowly began sawing through the leather.
"Do you know what they do to horses that they don't want to breed?" She asked. The belt fell away. The knife point began gently snapping the threads holding the top button on his pants. "Usually, they do it quick, so the animal doesn't suffer too much."
"Look!" Darus said desperately. "Look, I'm sorry, alright! I'm sorry!"
Antonia smiled, and the next button on his pants popped off.
"Just don't!" Darus pleaded. "Please!" there were actually tears running down his cheeks.
"What?" Antonia asked, her eyebrows rising. "What did you say?"
Darus was weeping and blubbering now. "Please don't!" He begged, shaking like a leaf. "Please, please, please!"
From behind him, he heard a snort. Craning his neck, he saw David and Rasten still standing a few paces away. Both of them were trying to contain their laughter. Even though the effort almost made Rasten pass out.
"You see?" Antonia smiled, putting her lips next to his ear and whispering in a husky voice. "I told you I'd make you beg for mercy." She sat back and smiled, then in a flash, reversed the blade and stabbed it into the ground inches away from the young man's crotch.
Darus screamed in momentary panic.
Antonia laughed out loud and drew the knife back out. She cut his bonds and stepped away.
"Now get out of here!" She growled. "And don't come back!"
Stumbling to his feet, and holding his pants up, Darus ran for the main gate in panic and vanished into the night.
"Damn, girl," David said, still smiling. "You're cold. You had me worried for a few moments there?"
Antonia smiled and went over to them. She looked back at Trajen, still bound and gagged.
"What about him?" she asked.
David shrugged and immediately regretted the movement when Rasten sucked in a painful breath.
"Leave him, for now." He said. "We'll let Hercules deal with him." He looked at Rasten. "Come on, kid. Let's get you to Mistress Gadneye."
Antonia slipped under Rasten's other arm and the two of them helped the beaten boy back towards the school. Somewhere along the way, Rasten's head dropped forward and he fell unconscious.
On the way, they ran into Gabrielle and the rest of the girls, all carrying some kind of weapon.
"What's this?" David asked as they slid into the infirmary. "A lynch mob on PMS?"
They all exchanged a confused look, except for Gabrielle, who merely shook her head and fixed him with a critical stare.
"What's happening?" She asked.
"Darus is probably half way to the ocean by now," David said. "Trajen is out in the courtyard, nicely trussed up. I don't know about the other two?"
Gabrielle nodded. She turned back to the other girls.
"Kitia, Norena, Antonia, stay here with Rasten." She ordered. "The rest, down to the courtyard and guard Trajen."
The three girls assigned to guard duty in the courtyard nodded once and departed at a jog.
David and Antonia gently let Rasten down upon the nearest bed as Gadneye came out with a bowl of water and a clean cloth.
Gabrielle hovered out of the way, looking down at Rasten and wincing in sympathy.
David stepped back a few paces, while Antonia simply knelt down on the opposite side of the bed, holding the unconscious boy's hand.
Kitia and Norena, another tall, willowy girl with delicate features and piercing pale blue eyes, stepped outside the door and took up positions on either side.
"He looks pretty bad," Norena commented, after the door closed.
Kitia nodded. "I think he'll be alright, though."
Norena smiled. "I hope so." She thought for a moment and smiled. "I always thought he was kind of cute?"
Kitia looked across the doorway at her.
Norena shrugged. "In a nervous bunny rabbit sort of way?"
Kitia stared at her for a long moment, and then laughed quietly as she tried to focus on the task at hand.
"When you put it like that," she commented. "Yeah, I guess you're right?"
Antonia watched as Mistress Gadneye gently cleaned the blood and grime from Rasten's beaten face. As she worked, he began mumbling out loud, though they couldn't make out the words.
Antonia watched and felt her heart aching for the boy. She leaned close to his mouth, trying to hear what he was saying.
David and Gabrielle looked down at him.
"What's he saying?" Gabrielle asked sympathetically.
Antonia shrugged and looked up. "He just keeps repeating: I tried."
David was the first one to make the connection. He smiled appreciatively.
"He tried to confront Quintis on his own," he said knowingly.
Antonia shook her head, looking down at Rasten. "But he had to know this would happen? Why?"
"You don't know?" David asked.
Antonia looked at the two of them for a moment, and then dawning settled on her face.
David shrugged. "When he wakes up, you can ask him?"
Antonia saw the answer in David and Gabrielle's faces. She sighed and rolled her eyes skyward. "Oh, the idiot!"
"Yup," David grinned. "No good deed goes unpunished." He looked at Gabrielle. "We need to go."
They found Hercules in the boys' dorm area, searching in vain for Quintis.
"No luck?" David asked.
Hercules shook his head. "I know he's still here!"
David considered for a moment. "I know this is going to seem very cliché, but are there any lower levels to this place? A dungeon, or underground temple?"
Hercules nodded. "Yeah, Ioulas and I walled it up before we started the academy. The old entrance is just down here." He led the way towards the back of the building. They stopped at a long abandoned corridor that ended in a solid wall of more recent construction.
David frowned at it, rubbing the scar around his eye thoughtfully.
Gabrielle watched his gaze unfocus for a moment.
"It's just the way I left it," Hercules said with a sigh.
"No it isn't," David countered.
Unconvinced, Hercules led them down to the wall and patted the stone. "Seems solid enough for me?"
"Hercules," Gabrielle said patiently. "Trust him. David knows about things like this."
Gently, David placed one hand and then the other against the cold unyielding stone. He withdrew quickly and then brought his hands back lightly grazing the rough surface.
"Oh man," he commented appreciatively. "This is good work. Damn good work."
"Thank you," Hercules replied dryly.
David seemed not to hear him, his fingers still gently brushing the stone.
"Just like a song," he whispered to himself. His eyes fluttered closed. As if oblivious to everything but his task, his lips began to move softly.
"I was strolling through the park one day,
In the merry, merry Month of May."
A faint smile appeared on his lips.
"We smoked a little grass,
Then we kicked a little ass,
In the merry, merry Month of May."
With the last "Month of May" his hands passed through the stone!
Hercules's mouth dropped open in surprise as the illusion began to crumble away like dust revealing a large gaping hole in the masonry. Stones littered the dusty steps that descended into the bowels of the castle.
David's eyes fluttered open and he smiled appreciatively. "I think there's a lot more to our friend, Quintis, than we've been led to believe?"
Hercules edged forward. "Why doesn't that make me feel any better?" He stepped through the gap and began the descent.
David gestured grandly for his wife to proceed, and then followed her down. Behind him, the illusion reasserted itself, and all that remained was a long, deserted corridor.
Back to the Academy