This first draft is dedicated to my good friend Rebecca Veight
“What’s a grotto?” She trailed off. Her eyes instantly glanced over at the two strangers sprawled out, they handed a bottle back and forth to each other, as they talked.
One of the strangers in the room, a young male spoke up with a thick Parisian accent. “A grotto is just a glorified party room for those who don’t care to dress up to impress the aristocracy in the clubs up there.” He pointed at the ceiling. “Vive la France!” He straightened himself, saluting Killian’s shirt with the French flag painted on his chest.
“What?” Emma asked.
The young man stood from his sprawled sitting position and bowed, tipping his red beret cap. “Where are my manners? I am Maurice,” he then pointed to the young attractive, pink haired girl with a pixie cut, her head shaved on the sides and back, sitting next to him, “and this is my associate, Sophie.”
“I’m Emma, and this is my…” She looked at him, not sure he was her boyfriend, she said, “This is Killian.”
Killian glared at Maurice and Sophie from the entrance of the grotto, but remained utterly silent. He made Maurice noticeably uncomfortable with his stare, his arms crossed, and his scowl. Emma tried to put her arm around Killian, but he shrugged it off. She looked up and over at the front of his face, as Sophie’s innocently cute face hid a cunning nature which her street savvy eyes could not. Sophie pretended indifference to them, tipping the bottle up, and drinking, while subtle watching the room.
“So, you are both fellow cataphiles like us? No?” Maurice tensely grinned and twirled his beret like a steering wheel.
With his chin protruded, Killian said nothing, so Emma spoke again. “What’s a cataphile? And for goodness sake, will someone tell me what a grotto is?” Her tone, riled, it loudly vibrated off the interior walls.
Sophie took another swig and then placed the bagged bottle, scrunching it with a paper rustling, glass clang on the ground. She put her index finger to her lips. “Shhhh, they’ll here you,” she said the rest in French, “you stupid American girl.”
“Who, other people?” Emma only knew English.
Ha, she scornfully laughed. “No, the police.” She took another swig from the bottle. “They patrol some of the shallow tunnels trying to catch cataphiles like us.”
Emma shrugged her shoulders. “So.”
“So they’ll through you in jail if you’re caught down here,” Maurice said.
Sophie leaned over and kissed Maurice on the lips. The two of them shamelessly exhibited their passions as if they were the only ones in the grotto. Killian ushered Emma over toward the large, dirt stained, and shredded fabric chair across the room from Maurice and Sophie. He sat, watching as a voyeur, rubbing his pronounced chin, but he was not deriving enjoyment, he was thinking. Emma, oblivious to his expressions, hopped on his lap and began kissing him as well. She closed her eyes, as Killian teased, while rubbing his lips across hers, yet he angled his head, and inspected Sophie and Maurice who enjoyed being watched. Then, all at once, Killian broke lips, held Emma back, and pointed to an overused, dark blue backpack, flopped over on the ground next to Maurice.
“Hey, what’s in there?”
“Here?” Maurice’s eyes lit up and he too pushed Sophie to the side, flipping her off the chair entirely, as he reached for the backpack.
Emma wrinkled her nose and pouted, taking a place on the hard armrest. Sophie frowned and rolled her eyes at Maurice from the floor, locking lips only with the bagged bottle now.
“Don’t get him started.” Sophie groaned, as she wiped mouth.
Emma, now interested, leaned in their direction. “Why, what’s in there?”
Killian keenly waited, hiding his eagerness well, as Maurice opened his backpack and pulled out several random items most cataphiles carried in the tunnels. He placed in a pile, water, batteries, food, and a flashlight from out of his backpack, while digging toward the bottom.
“I’m going to be the first cataphile to kill a Dweller down here in these catacombs.” Maurice gaily said.
“Not this again.” Sophie shook her head, and then removed her button down gray shirt, revealing a black sleeveless camisole, along with an inked left arm, covered in pink tattoos from her deltoid to her elbow.
Her eyes asquint, Emma removed herself from the hard armrest and stood. “What’s a Dweller?”
“Um, uh.” Maurice scratched his scalp rapidly, with a confused look. “Let me show you.” He pulled a flask out first. “This is Holy Water.” He placed next to the outside of the bag. “And if that doesn’t work, I’ve got this beauty.” He pulled a handgun from his bag.
Emma gasped, jolting back. “Are you insane?”
“Relax, it’s safe.”
“Here,” Maurice put it back in his bag. “Happy now? Anyway, I have this,” he flashed an old video tape. “This is proof that Dwellers exist.”
Sophie rolled her head back at him. “You only see what you want to see.”
The two of them began to argue violently in French, and then they began kissing each other’s necks. Emma put her hands on her hips, but Killian remained emotionless as a calculating onlooker.
“Hello! Can you two please stop the gross public display of affection,” she said, gesturing toward Maurice, “and you, finish what you were telling me.”
“Oh yes,” he wiped his lips, pushing Sophie off to the side again. Maurice tied his firebrick red, shoulder length dreadlocks with a white rubber band. “This is a grotto. This is a lime stone room that has evolved over the years as a hangout for cataphiles before they make the trek as deep as they can into the tunnels. When a cataphile makes it deeper than anyone else has ever been before, he tags it, as a badge of honor, which is worthy of respect.” Maurice shook a can of spray paint from his bag. “And then you take a picture or video and brag to other cataphiles about it.”
Mortals, Immortals, and Portals
“That is not why I am here.” Acuumyn knew their intentions were pure. He got up and walked over to a large, ancient stone wall in amongst the ruins, urging Revekka and Maximilian to follow him. “This is the lone reason I have come.” He pressed three small stones in coded succession along the wall, and a larger, several ton sized piece of rock ground, as it slid back and sideways on its own. Acuumyn reached inside and pulled out two separate scrolls from the large wall. Both coiled tightly, and tied with cloth in the middle, but flaring out wider at the ends. One was beige and the other was transparent, and while both were rolled securely, tied with cloth ribbons, one ribbon was blue and the other green. He then turned and handed a scroll to each of them.
“What’s this?” Maximilian asked, attempted to untie his scroll.
Acuumyn quickly put his fingers on Maximilian’s hand. “No,” he calmly said. “If the Shroud captures you or the scroll, not knowing what you have will be a benefit.”
Maximilian looked at the scroll and then up at Acuumyn. “I understand.”
“Good, now I need each of you to take the farthest route from the other until you deliver this to Caron at the castle…”
Revekka interrupted. “Have you not heard? Caron is gravely injured from his encounter with the dark lord of the Shroud, Malum.”
Acuumyn arched his neck until his chin hit his chest. “I had not heard.” His head sprung up, he looked intensely into Revekka’s eyes. “And what of my son? What of Appollos?”
Revekka stared back for an eternal second. “I don’t know.”
“He’s alright.” Maximilian nodded. “Benoit has informed me that everyone else is intact and doing well.”
Acuumyn, relieved, inhaled with renewed strength and hope. “All is not lost.” He walked through the ruins, inviting his two companions to have a seat next to him on large stones in among the Grecian relics. “Come, tell me, what have your missions revealed, what have I missed?” He patted the large stone seat in front where they should sit and face him as they spoke. “Humanity has not detected our presence. Yet we have been here since the beginning, and have fought to free them.”
Revekka and Maximilian sat down, holding a gaze at each other with an inquisitive frustration. Each waited and silently wanted the other to talk first. Neither spoke, so Acuumyn urged them to tell him once more.
“It’s gotten so much worse,” Maximilian said, breaking his silence first. He frowned and looked away and down, while he rolled his tongue inside his mouth. He had become discouraged, frustrated by his time on earth. “As you already know, the young knights who were trained to destroy the Shroud, have not only joined the dark lord, Malum, but have become a powerful force of shadow warriors, loyal only to him throughout the earth.”
“I see,” Acuumyn said, his countenance filled with regret. “Malum has bigger plans than previously thought.”
“That is not all,” Maximilian continued. “The former knights have grown powerful with the Shroud, and they do many things without conscience. They have influenced humanity on a subconscious level, spreading fear, doubt, paranoia, and hopelessness throughout the earth.” He became more aggravated when hearing his own words. “Malum has appointed certain shadow warriors as princes over many governments of the earth, to control the leaders, and their masses. Malum has spread fear even among immortals of an all knowing and almighty one referred to simply as, the first immortal, and there are even rumblings that Dwellers, once extinct, have risen again. In fact, there have been many recent disappearances in Paris, the last being a mother and her young daughter disappearing. Some say the Dwellers live under the city in a maze of catacombs…”
Acuumyn interrupted. He nodded, and took several contemplative breaths, before thanking Maximilian for his unfinished report. “I have heard all that I need. You have done well, so consider your former mission both a success and concluded at this point.” He turned his attention toward Revekka. “What of you?” He opened his hand and rubbed his chin.
First, Revekka gave a sorrowful glance at Maximilian before turning her head in Acuumyn’s direction. “All that was said is true, and more I’m afraid.”
“But you are an empath.” Acuumyn paused, raising an eyebrow. “How is it you have not become insane from the suffering you have experienced through humanity?”
Her face remained soft. Her eyes glimmered with optimism. The halfings still live, and I believe in the prophesy. Where many of the young, immortal knights failed, the halflings will triumph.”
“Is that it?” Maximilian replied with haste, shaking his head with a mocking, loud puff of air out his nostrils. “They don’t have what it takes to wipe out the Shroud’s approaching army. The immortal war is coming to earth, and you place all of your hopes on two aimless teenagers?” He scoffed