A Curse of Tooth and Claw: Chapter Ten
In which Kiki and her crew find themselves in a tight spot.
With Aurelia and the others in tow, Kiki, Luna, and Turi inched down the dark corridor. Because of the meager light provided by the torches, they were forced to move slowly, taking care where they stepped in the darkness. The first two corners had been a success, but there were still three other turns around corners to go through. If they met with any patrols—and they were sure to do so—then it was only a matter of time before their luck ran out.
“We’re almost there,” Turi said under her breath, casting anxious looks over his shoulder.
“Quiet,” Luna said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I hear feet.”
Kiki’s heart dropped through her middle and landed somewhere in the pit of her stomach. She felt her mouth go dry, her tongue stuck against the top of her mouth. She could hardly swallow.
Luna crouched on one knee, motioning for the others to do the same. The footsteps drew closer still and Luna held up a finger to hush them. Kiki was only able to hear her own heartbeat as it pounded hard against her ears. The footsteps halted and the team held their breath.
A voice rang out—a throaty, low voice—and Kiki’s blood turned to ice. Solana Ramirez sure had the worst timing.
“Turi?” the voice said, echoing off the walls. “Is that you?
Turi’s eyes grew round with fear and he shook his head in reply.
Luna nudged Turi forward, forcing him around the corner and right into Solana's path.
“I need you to go over the supply report for the top brass,” Solana said. “I’m headed back to the Wall but need this turned in right away."
Turi hesitated a moment too long.
"Now," Solana barked, her voice echoing through the stone halls.
“I… I just have a few questions,” Turi managed to say.
Solana grunted at that and though Kiki couldn't see the Commander through the stone, could only guess that the officer had allowed Turi to ask his questions because Turi started to fire off a series of statements that were full of facts and figures it made her head spin.
Meanwhile, Kiki stood as still as a stone statue. She didn't dare move a muscle or breathe too hard lest Solana would hear the three of them hiding around the corner.
Time ticked by ever so slowly as Turi prattled on. How long had it been? Minutes? Seconds? It was all the same if Solana peeked around that corner--all of it would be over.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Aurelia sneak back the way they had come. Aurelia held a finger to her lips and a smile on her face.
What was she doing? Kiki wanted to yell at the girl, tell her that whatever half-baked idea had popped into her head would get them all thrown right back into the dungeons. But her throat wouldn't move.
Turi kept up his run-on sentence and then Solana's voice rang out suddenly again.
“I'm sorry, Turi, I don't have all night. I'll deal with you later. Just get back to the supply hall and recheck those numbers.”
“I’ll have it done.”
“You better.” Solana’s boots clip-clopped as she headed back the way she came.
Kiki’s breath caught as the footsteps receded leaving alone silence that was broken only by the pounding of her heart. She let out a long sigh as Luna rose from the ground and Turi rounded the corner to meet them.
“That was close,” Aurelia whispered.
"Hey, where did that girl go?" Turi asked, eyes scanning the darkness for the smuggler.
Suddenly there was an echoing crash of a metal door slamming shut.
"What in the hell is this?" Solana said, her voice like ice.
Aurelia was already running, the echo of her footsteps leading right to the turn where if Solana spotted the rest of them, they'd be done for.
Kiki jerked her head, urging Luna and Turi to move, to run back the way they came.
Instead, Luna moved in the opposite direction. Kiki grabbed the girl's shoulder, shaking her head no. Aurelia was rounding the corner and Solana was in hot pursuit. Aurelia’s pace had been slow at first, but the lights of Solana’s torch had given her wings. Her machete hid behind her back and was ready to strike.
Kiki had no idea how Solana would react if she knew that both Luna and Turi were trying to help Kiki. One thing she did know was that Solana would throw her friends into the dungeon and that she'd never be able to see any of them ever again. They would likely be separated; maybe even executed. Aurelia would be taken in for questioning and Kiki had no idea what kind of lies the smuggler might tell.
Kiki grabbed Luna's arm into a vice grip and dove forward, Turi hot on their heels. But Solana was too fast and caught up to them. She snatched Luna by the hair and ripped her off her feet.
Solana’s fists were clenched, and the corners of her lips had turned into a scowl. She glared at Kiki with such intensity that her insides cowered away. "What is the meaning of this?" Solana said in a low growl.
Aurelia skidded into the hallway and raised a glass jar into the air. It was the jar of solvent that Luna had brought with her. Only now it glowed with the light of the noonday sun.
The bright light engulfed Solana and she squinted, her grip slipping on Luna's hair.
“Duck!” Aurelia yelled and threw the jar of solvent ahead of her.
Kiki ducked, pulling Luna down with her. Solana and Turi weren't so lucky. The light enveloped them and then a split-second later the solvent splashed over them, bubbling and hissing like acid that ate through the stone flooring of the corridor. Solana and Turi were enveloped in the vapors, but only for a second.
Aurelia caught up to the group and yanked on Luna's arm. The two of them ran towards the opening of the corridor ahead, leaving Kiki and Turi to fend for themselves.
Kiki couldn't see Solana through the dark gray miasma that now swept down the corridor like a slow-moving wave. It had probably been the solvent that activated the dungeon's containment field. If the light didn't set it off, then the solvent certainly would.
Kiki ran to Turi's side, but the moment she touched his shoulder to help him up, the field went live with a wave of sound so loud that it knocked Kiki to her knees. The sound was unlike anything she'd ever heard before, like the ringing of a million bells so loud that it shattered her eardrums. She covered her ears to muffle the sound, but it didn't help. It just kept getting louder and louder until she was sure her head would explode.
"Kiki!" Luna called out through the ringing in her ears. "The exit, now!"
Kiki staggered to her feet, her limbs feeling heavy. "We're not leaving him!"
Kiki pulled at Turi’s uniform, desperate to get him away from the vapor.
“Help me!” Kiki cried to Luna, who came running back and grabbed a hold of Turi’s shoulders just as Kiki grabbed his feet.
Solana rolled on the ground, her face contorted with pain. Steam rolled off her as the acid ate through her uniform.
“You’ll pay for this,” Solana said. “I swear it.”
As Kiki turned her back, Solana grabbed a hold of her leg and tried to pull her down.
Kiki screamed at the contact from Solana's hand on her ankle. Her skin burned and blistered at the touch. Kiki yanked her leg away.
"We have to go!" Luna cried as she yanked on Kiki's arm.
"What about her?" Kiki said, her conscious rebelling against her. Solana was many things, but she didn't deserve this.
"We can't!" Kiki tried to pull her arm away but Luna's grip was like a vice.
"L-let's go!" Luna pleaded. "We have to."
Kiki glanced backward one last time. The skin of Solana's face bubbled and her eyes were bright red. Still, that didn't stop the Commander from pulling herself together and lurching to her feet.
A sense of awe filled Kiki at how Solana staggered forward as if she intended to pursue them still. As if she weren't minutes from death.
Aurelia was already running ahead, Turi's arm draped over her shoulder as she dragged him with her.
"There's the exit," Luna cried.
As they emerged from the dungeon, the sky above was pale and hazy. There was a faint sulfuric smell of burned stone as she stumbled into the Demoncorps camp.
Kiki's mouth was full of bitterness she couldn't quite make out. It was the sour taste of nausea and the bitter flavor of acid in her throat. What had she just done?
There was no coming back from this. Not after just leaving Solana like that.
Despite the fatigue that pulled at Kiki's very bones, she knew they had to push on. The Wall and the Cicatrix were close and a storm was brewing. In this new world, there was nowhere left for them to go except forwards.