Growling sounded from behind a nearby shrub, and Gwynivara’s nerves filled with dread. She stood with her sword at the ready, but Emorick pushed her arm aside. “That won’t be necessary.” Despite her nerves still needling inside her, she relaxed her arm more, yet she watched warily as a creature stirred the bushes. An almost metallic-looking hyena emerged, and everything in Gwynivara’s impulses made her muscles tense up in anticipation of a fight. She kept glancing over to Emorick, who stood coolly as the beast crept closer and closer. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her questioning expression, so he assured her, “Wait for it!” When it came to the point between the catacombs and a large tree, it activated a tripwire, which made a gun in the tree blast it in the chest. With a final yelp, it fell backwards and remained motionless. As Gwynivara’s body flooded with relief and admiration, Emorick grinned. “What? You think I’d establish a hideout without any protection?”
His comment made her laugh a little, but soon after, she apologized, “That was probably from me, sorry!”
“Never apologize for being human!” As Emorick pulled the stone slab far enough for them to enter, he told her, “Besides, it happens a lot around here.” She realized that he had a point and decided to let it go, which became easy to do now that the door had opened.
Upon the first impression, the inside had all the markings of what one would expect from a catacomb tomb. Cavern rooms were barricaded by small, rod-iron fences. A few torches lined the walls to give the space a dim light. The center of the vast room was empty save for the stone floor, but as Emorick put the stone slab door back into its original place, Gwynivara observed that each cavern room contained two polished, wooden coffins, which prompted her to ask, “Whose bodies are in there?”
He finished closing the stone slab door and then answered her, “An old family. We like to think their spirits help protect us, but, more often than not, we find that anyone who ventures down here doesn’t have the gall to stay long.”
Emorick led Gwynivara down the long row of cavern rooms, and, at the end, a broad indentation filled the center of the wall. An ornate coffin propped up inside a glass case took the majority of the space, and a fresco painting of early townspeople covered most of the facade behind it. Emorick went behind the casket, and after Gwynivara joined him, he told her, “If you’re ever followed by police or anyone else who isn’t welcome, make sure they don’t see this.” Giving him the utmost attention, Gwynivara watched as he pushed the fresco wall, and to her astonishment, it opened up like a door! They stepped inside quickly and shut the door.
They stood on a foyer where the walls, ceiling, and floor were all made of stone. The end of the platform had a steep staircase whose darkened walls gave no indication of what may exist on the other side, but Gwynivara could see a small light glowing at the end of the staircase. At that moment, an elderly woman’s voice called out, “An bhfuil tú ina chara?”
“Is cara liom!” Emorick called back. He turned to Gwynivara and instructed, “Memorize that.” Gwynivara nodded and whispered it quietly to herself.
They watched as the tiny speck of light grew larger and larger. The echo of the individual’s footsteps sounded soft but grew louder as someone climbed up the stairs. A woman surfaced with a lantern in her hand. She had to be at least in her eighties, but she had a vibrant glow in her skin suggesting that she had an almost youthful amount of energy. She had a very gaunt body, but the way she carried herself conveyed that she was by no means frail. Gwynivara heard her speak in Gaelic, so she was a little surprised to see that she was Asian. Her wide eyes flickered over to Gwynivara and gleamed delightfully. “Oh, ni hao! I’m Niqun!”
“Gwyn.” She extended her hand.
Niqun shook her hand and said, “Welcome! Follow me!”
Niqun headed back down the stairs, Gwynivara went after her, and Emorick brought up the rear. Emorick explained, “Everyone takes turns guarding the front entrance. We’re not likely to have any problems, but if an adversary ever shows up-”
“They better not cross me!” Niqun interjected. “They’ll be sorry if they do!” Gwynivara giggled a little by her abrupt boldness. Meeting Niqun made her feel more at ease about her time here. She had hoped that the rest of the residents here would offer an equal amount of personality. At the bottom of the stairs, Gwynivara saw a cushioned bench and a long curtain rod with red drapes that obviously had the purpose of providing the door guard some privacy if they required it. Niqun dimmed the lantern and flopped back onto the bench. “Okay, Gwyn! Here we are! Wan’an!”
Gywnivara smiled and replied, “Thank you.” She could hear a quiet babble of conversation and commerce coming from the other side of the curtain. Her anticipation surmounted as Emorick strode over to the curtains. He noticed Gwynivara’s eagerness, grinned, and announced, “Welcome to the Rebel Hideout!”
He pulled back the drapes, and Gwynivara was pleasantly astonished to see a warmly lit hallway with large, cavern rooms where a small array of folks roamed in and out. The vast hall stretched as far as the eye could see, and the people roaming the hall all seemed so relaxed for the most part. A few people had despondent faces and walked alone, but the majority had a cordial demeanor. Like the catacombs, everything from the ceiling to the floor was made of stone, but the amber light and amiable conversation gave it more of a homey feel. Gwynivara remarked, “Wow!”
Emorick chuckled, “Were you expecting a rat’s nest?” Gwyinvara didn’t want to admit it, but she also didn’t want to lie, so she smiled sheepishly. Emorick didn’t seem offended by that at all. “That’s alright. Generally, criminal hideouts aren’t so nice. But considering we’re all suffering from a disease that feeds on darkness, I didn’t think it was smart to have us live in doom and gloom.”
Gwynivara nodded in comprehension. “That makes sense!”
Emorick informed her, “Everything you need for day to day function can be found in one of these rooms. The first room on the left has women’s clothes and shoes, men’s clothes are on the right. Feel free to take what you need, but keep in mind we only get supplies a little at a time, so no hoarding. Let me get you settled in before you explore though.” Gwynivara agreed, and they walked on. “This room has any toiletries you may need-shampoo, toothpaste, et cetera. Over here, we have snacks and dry food. Next to that is a shared kitchen. We have volunteer chefs that prepare meals for large groups sometimes, but if you’re hungry any time, feel free to use it. Across from the kitchen is our first aid station. We can treat minor injuries and illnesses, but if you have any major injuries, we’ll have to rush you to an actual hospital. Next to that is a ceremony room that people use for worship services; Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, or whatever other religion is welcome! Across from that we have an activity room with games and other things in case you get bored.”
They reached a fork in the road, and whether Gwynivara looked left or right, the cavern rooms all seemed much smaller than the ones behind them. She also noted that these rooms all had doors. Before they went on, Gwynivara inquired, “How do jobs get assigned?”
“It’s all volunteer based,” Emorick answered her. “Each room has a schedule, and generally people are pretty good about making sure the vacant spots are filled before it’s too late. Now, if you go all the way to the left, we have a large auditorium where we practice combat. You’re going to to live in the far right with the other officers. I purposely put our practice grounds on the opposite side of our living quarters so that the officers have to pass by everyone and help anyone in need.”
“And I’m an officer?” Gwynivara was surprised by this title.
“Clearly, you’re a fighter and have the mentality of an officer!” He bent in close and whispered, “You saw the video. We need strong minds to make sure that never happens here.”
Gwynivara’s eyes widened with concern. She sincerely hoped that an incident like that occurred seldomly in the hideout. As they passed by the houses, Gwynivara noticed that some people kept their doors open, but most people had them shut. She hoped that this was simply due to the hour of the day and not a usual occurrence, otherwise she didn’t know how she would be able to watch over the other inhabitants.
At the end of the hall, Gwynivara saw one cavern room that appeared to be larger than the rest. Emorick explained, “That’s my room. It’s also the armory. For safety purposes, we can’t have easy access to dangerous weapons. If anyone would like to learn how to use more advanced weapons, they’re certainly allowed to stop by and request lessons though. I do give everyone a large dagger for protection, just in case.”
Gwynivara briefly wondered where the weapons and the other supplies came from, but she now felt a little tired and decided to ask about that at another time. So, she simply asked him, “Which one is my room?”
“Two doors left of mine,” Emorick answered. He opened her door, and Gwynivara’s eyes sparkled as she saw her new living quarters. Even though her space comprised of a single room again, there was more space than what she had before. The bed looked a little larger than her last one, and the pillows and sheets seemed more cushiony than the old one too. She had a nightstand with a radio like she had previously, but this one stood next to an ornate candlestick. The side opposite to the nightstand had a small fireplace nestled nicely into the wall. On her right, next to the dresser, she saw another door. Emorick saw where her eyes rested, so he revealed, “That’s a bathroom. You’ll have to share it with your neighbor, who happens to be my son. You guys…should get along.” Gwynivara noticed the hesitation in his voice but decided not to ask. If there was any issue involving his son, it was probably none of her business, she thought. “If you need more batteries for the radio or matches for the fireplace, you can find them in the toiletries room.”
“Thank you so much!” Gwynivara truly felt grateful for everything. At the same time, it also felt so strange! When she woke up this morning, she was just a janitor renting a room in a mobile home, and now she was an officer in a rebellion! Her new surroundings and title definitely were an improvement, but it was so different than before and she still found it hard to believe. Everything changed so fast that she found it difficult to accept it mentally!
Emorick softly pat her back. “If you need anything, you know where to find me. Training begins at o eight hundred hours. See you in the morning!”
“Good night!” she chimed as he left. She took a moment to soak it all in. It still didn’t feel real to her. She saw what time it was and decided to get ready for bed. She set her sword down by the dresser, and she remembered that she had already dressed in her pajamas, so she didn’t need to do much to get ready for the night. She shook off the disbelief in her thoughts and went into the bathroom.
The bathroom was small, but the way it was built almost made it seem luxurious. The shower door was made of glass, but the rest was made of stone. They had a small bowl in place of a sink, and there was a faucet right above it. The toilet gave the feel of an outhouse, but it didn’t have a bad smell to it at all. Gwynivara vaguely wondered who was responsible for cleaning it. Since she got appointed as an officer, she relished in the fact that she was, most likely, done with janitorial duties!
As she washed her face, she noticed another door on the opposite side. That had to be Emorick’s son’s room, she figured. She saw a razor and shaving cream on the sink, and she pondered what it would be like to share a bathroom with a guy. So much curiosity surfaced now! She had so many questions about who he was. He must be an officer too, she thought, to live in this section. She wondered about his history and how he got Venenatus Sanguis. She figured that she would find out tomorrow at training and would get to know her new neighbor in the morning. It would be rude to introduce herself at this time of night; after all, he was more than likely sleeping right now. Or was he…?
She heard a loud crash coming from his son’s room! She pressed her ear to the wall, and it sounded like flapping wings. It sure sounded ominous, but she wasn’t sure if it was what she thought it was. If she was wrong and it was a pet or the radio, she would feel terrible for barging in. However, she remembered that Emorick had mentioned that it was part of her duties to watch over the other members. She decided it was best to take the risk and apologize later if she was wrong. She opened the door slowly, and in an instant, she knew that she wasn’t wrong!