Chapter Twenty Five: Nootau
A Barrel of Idiots
Most intelligent intruders knew to get out as fast as possible. These imbeciles, however, had chosen to stay. To research in their library. What kind of incompetent group of spies sits around and reads? They didn't even seem sure what they were looking for. The fools didn't even seem to comprehend where they were, the kind of trouble they were in, or who they were dealing with.
How could the ragtag group of humans and Beings not know the Rubrum Lux if they had chosen to break into Schloss Rotlicht?
The ragtag group had broken into their Dragon Aerospace Research Centre Labs. That peeked some interest. Akemi wanted to know how these bumbling idiots managed to break into a facility as protected as the lab.
As she quietly followed the idiots from above on the second floor, Akemi wondered why the group had been so intent on dragons breeding and walkers. It was a strange combination to be searching information for. A few of the crew seemed to be able to collect and disseminate information but they still seemed to be poking around at random.
Except for Rolly, Edwige and Jaxx. Those three Akemi wanted to keep an eye on. They seemed to be the voices of reason and leaders of the group.
This whole break-in filled Akemi with a sense of unease, except the discontent she felt wasn't about the barrel of idiots below. They hadn't wanted something from Rubrum Lux, Eich und Baum, or any of their research. In fact, the fools felt like a bunch of harmless, rowdy college kits. The groups wanted to find some answers to questions. Digging for answers...
Akemi wanted to know those questions. She had some of her own.
If she allowed them to be caught, then Akemi might never get to ask hers. A growl of frustration left her. Strange occurrences were happening on her territory.
Akemi picked up speed, racing ahead of the idiots.
Stopping them became imperative.
Akemi grabbed onto the railing, swung her feet over and jumped. She drifted swiftly to the tops of the bookcases. They jostled a fraction, but Akemi was off and moving before they made any noticeable noise. Dust kicked up behind her. It made her nose itch and want to sneeze. Akemi made note to talk to the cleaning staff later.
A left had Akemi heading toward the back door she assumed they wanted to make their retreat from. Another jump had her on the floor, racing along. One more left and a large, heavy wooden door loomed up in front of her.
Akemi skidded to a halt, using one hand to keep her from slamming into the door.
"Wunderbar," she huffed out with a tiny amount of aggravation.
It wasn't like any of the group could outrun her. Not burdened the way they were. Akemi was not pleased that her irritation had gotten the better of her. Noise from behind her wouldn't let her wallow.
With a few steps to the right, Akemi hid in the shadows. The group shuffled up the row, making too much noise to be any trained subversives. Akemi watched them through the gaps in the books.
The healer led the group. Her merman had an arm under their wounded companion. The phoenix and the satyr followed closely behind her. Pain etched across the phoenix’s face as he walked. He had trouble keeping his wing from hitting the shelves. The satyr—the doctor. Why would a doctor and a healer be here?—tried to keep the wing stable. The gloomy little goblin and the banshee followed them while the wolf and Dragon Ranger brought up the rear.
Edwige stopped and yanked on the door ring. It didn't budge. She tried again.
"Dammit. Aegeus, give me a hand."
Just as the merman turned to hand their wounded off, the wolf stopped abruptly.
A fierce growl from him appeared to be Akemi's cue.
* * * * *
A growl from behind Nootau made him tense up, and fuck if that didn't hurt, but he didn't have time to ask why the wolf went all aggressive. Not when a tall woman in uniform stepped out next to Edwige.
"I'd advise not that door," she said, a heavy accent in her English. She put a hand on Edwige's arm.
"Edwige!" Nootau jumped forward but crumbled. Aegeus froze, swaying, clearly unsure who to help first. Noise, bodies, pressed up behind them.
"There are at least six men on the other side," the stranger continued. Her hand was still on Edwige's arm. "If you want to get caught, by all means, go."
"Get your hand off Edwige!" Nootau ground out. Aegeus put out an arm and knelt next to him.
The woman looked down at Nootau. She wore a nonplussed expression of a school marm. Fuck he hated that holier-than-thou judgment on her face. Nootau lifted a lip and made a growling noise of her own.
One of her eyebrows went up in a perfect arch.
It only served to anger Nootau more because how the fuck did people do that?
"Impressive," she said. "You're a Being?"
"Fuck off, princess."
"If I did that you would not like what happens to you and your companions when security catches up to you."
How cool was she? "If you say so."
"Ja." The woman straightened, apparently not concerned she was outnumbered nine to one.
Okay, so chances were Nootau, Edwige and Jaxx didn't count for much, but damn.
"I am Akemi Fessler, Solar Celestial of the Rubrum Lux."
Everyone gasped. Nootau wanted to know what the fuck a solar celestial was. She certainly wasn't some god from above. Gorgeous, yes. A Being, possible. A God, fuck no.
Akemi smiled. "I believe you were pilfering our library for who we are?"
Aegeus gave her a hard look. "How long were you watching us?"
"Long enough," she answered coolly. Akemi still seemed to be looking down her nose at them. "Well, do I have your attention?"
Edwige wiggled her arm and was let go. She gave Akemi the stink eye before helping Aegeus get Nootau standing. The two of them boxed him in, and kept the others back. Mal, Tibo and Ashe seemed to be swearing under their breaths. Nootau wondered why they hadn't charged forward yet. He tried looking over his shoulder but found he couldn't.
Several other voices were hissing in hurried whispers so it seemed maybe the doctor and the banshee were keeping things in check. A low-pitched whine also filled the row of bookcases, so Kaden must have Mal's attention.
Edwige broke the stalemate. "It seems to be a night of meetings."
Akemi dipped her head slightly. "You did not all come together?"
That sent the eyebrow up again. "I must have a talk with my guards."
"Your security!" Nootau barked out.
"Hush," Akemi said. "Or my men will find us."
Nootau surge forward again only to be held back. Aegeus began to hum. Edwige kicked Nootau in the shin. Fuck. Nootau didn't whine in pain, though it was close. She hadn't held back.
"You're a siren," Akemi said. Something that resembled a smile appeared for a microsecond. "I see. Hm. Interesting group you lead, Edwige."
Edwige spoke up. "Why should we trust you?"
"You can't," Akemi answered simply. She shrugged and put her hands out palms up. "You will have to take a leap of faith."
"All right. Then how do we get out of the castle?"
"You do realize I have questions of my own, ja?"
"Yes," Edwige answered. "But getting Nootau out of here is more important. I have to believe you genuinely don't want us captured."
"I could be one of the bad guys," Akemi countered. Her stiff stance was betrayed by curiosity in her eyes.
"I don't think you are."
The answer seemed to stun the woman. Had what she asked been a test? Akemi frowned but then gave a slow nod. "First, we go up."
"Up?" Edwige craned her neck and turned her head.
"This is a very old castle, fräulien." Akemi gave them her back. "Do you not think it has its own secrets?"
* * * * *
Aegeus adjusted his hold on Nootau. The castle's secrets entailed several staircases, long halls, and a lot of ups, downs, and turns. Nootau hadn't the energy it took with the amount of physical exertion it took to keep up with the woman who found them.
Of course, Nootau initially protested being carried piggyback, but he shut up when Akemi offered hers but he climbed on Aegeus’ with Edwige's help. He may have shut up, but Aegeus sensed the agitation within their lover. Automatically he began to hum. It was automatic these days. Humming. So were his sore throat and copious amounts of tea. It had all become part his regular regime.
All of it drained him, but one foot in front of the other. That's all Aegeus could do.
"Am I getting too heavy?" Nootau murmured.
Aegeus put as much feeling into his answer as possible. "I will never let you go."
Nootau fell into silence.
They trekked on, much farther than Aegeus thought the castle extended. Old worn stone walls the color of slate blurred together as they went. Ornate frames held even older paintings or Accords or Treaties. Aegeus saw Rolly stop a time or two only to have Tibo drag him away. Glass lanterns lit the way, though the method of generating light changed as they dove deeper into the belly of the beast. First it was electricity, then gas, then well, Aegeus wasn't sure but wisps appeared in them as the walked toward them and went off as the group left the area.
The hallways and rooms became smaller. Fireplaces showed up, all stacked with wood and burning. Though the rooms didn't seem to be getting many visitors, they were kept up. Aegeus wondered who was doing the keeping.
Hopefully it wasn't a nisse or a cousin of theirs held under contract. All too frequently the Beings like them ended up being exploited. Too gullible for their own good.
But the care put into the rooms indicated a magical touch. Chances were it was a nisse, though their esteemed guide would most likely not see the question as favorable. Aegeus knew better than to ask it considering the circumstances, but his heart wanted to know.
"Who takes care of the castle?"
Akemi glanced back with a frown. "We have a crew of nisse."
"Something bothering you, Aegeus?"
"Are they under contract?"
Akemi stopped her march forward. When she turned, Aegeus knew she understood his implied meaning. One of her brows did the neat trick of arching perfectly. "They are. Is that a problem?"
Akemi regarded him for a moment then nodded. She turned back around, her armament on her uniform gleaming in the light.
So what did the nod mean?
Edwige did a palms up and got back in line behind their guide. Aegeus and the rest followed suit. So far no one had objected to Edwige's decision to follow Akemi. He had certainly expected it, but with all the hissing that went on behind him somehow the burst of anger had been contained.
A chuckle wafted against his ear. Nootau leaned in. "Ever our gallant hero. Will you take on the world for every injustice?"
"If I have to."
Simple answer to a complex observation, yes.
"But I will always protect Edwige and you first."
Again his comment was met with silence, and Nootau stiffened against him. After the past couple weeks with Nootau injured and laid up, and with everything tonight, Aegeus wasn't going to hold back his feelings or intentions anymore. He couldn't. He cared too much. Edwige was in love. He could see that much. Either Nootau would run or he would stay.
They turned around a bend in the hall, and stopped short. A dead end confronted them. Edwige had her arms folded over her chest while Akemi stood to one side looking extremely bored.
The others turned the corner, bumping into Aegeus. Nootau let out a pained moan.
"Sorry," Jaxx blurted.
"No problem. I think," Aegeus answered.
Tibo called out. "What's the hold up? Is this the trap part?"
"Quiet, Glent," Rolly snapped. "Listening first, remember?"
Mal spoke up, "If you think we'll let you bowl us over, you have another thing coming."
Akemi's perfect black eyebrow went up again. "If I wanted you dead, you'd be dead by now."
What a comforting thought.
"Now, if you all will wait a moment," Akemi said as she leaned against the dull stone. "I need assistance."
Several protests went up at once.
"How fucking stupid do you think we are?" Tibo snapped.
"I can burn you before help arrives," Ashe shouted.
Mal growled something indistinguishable. Sometimes his accent really was hard to understand.
Kaden barked and growled.
Edwige held up a hand. "Quiet you idiots!"
Akemi smiled in what appeared to be approval. "You think so too?"
Edwige gave a "sort of, yes" kind of nod. The group behind them did settle down. More of the hissing voices reprimanding those with hotter tempers in full steam.
"You will have to tell me how you managed to break in," Akemi said. Irritation flowed from her huff. "I still can't believe you managed to get into the aerospace labs."
Edwige's mouth pinched at the sides. Probably thinking the same as Aegeus. Nootau. No way would they let Akemi know he was a walker. They didn't trust their guide that far.
"Maybe one day," Edwige finally replied. "But first we have to get out."
"True. True." Akemi's face brightened and she pushed off the wall. "Ah, yes. Here we are. Guten morgen, Nico."
"Entschuldigen Sie," said a large, deep voice.
"Verzeihung," it said again.
"Who is he?"
"Beobachten seine Füße!" the voice snapped.
Several people danced from one foot to another until Jaxx and Ashe broke apart revealing a nisse standing at just over a foot with his white beard trailing against the floor. Nico brushed past Aegeus and Nootau, his pale tush on full display. Clothes were optional?
The nisse winked. "Guten morgen, foxy Mädchen."
Foxy? Aegeus frowned.
"Wie kann ich dir helfen?" The nisse continued.
Akemi pointed to the wall. "Kannst du die Tür öffnen?"
"Ja, foxy Mädchen."
The nisse stepped around Akemi and stood in front of the stone wall. All kinds of gray and brown colored stones with dark mortar stood defiantly in front of them. Nico hummed, swaying to and fro before he lifted his left hand. He mumbled under his breath as he touched stones in sequence, a faint glow started in the mortar. Lines spread. The rough shape of a door checkered over the stones, bright lines of silver etching it.
The stone door shuddered then swung in.
Nico stood back and bowed.
"Danke, Nico," Akemi replied, clapping. "Immer eine tolle Leistung."
"Für dich, alles."
After blowing Nico a kiss, Akemi turned to the group. "I can bring you to the end of the tunnel, but you are on your own after that."
"You're just going to let us go?" Nootau asked. His head went up and he narrowed his eyes. "I thought you had questions."
"I do," Akemi answered. "And who said I'd just let you go?"
"What does that mean?" Aegeus responded. He rubbed his thumb along Nootau's calf, shifting again.
Akemi pulled a phone out of her pocket. "You think I didn't have time to make a plan while watching all of you scurry about our library?"
There really wasn't a way to respond to her question. She had them out-maneuvered. That much was obvious. For all he knew, Akemi had them zigzagging all over the castle to confuse them.
"Nico, warte bitte auf mich," Akemi said as Aegeus mulled over their position.
"Ja, foxy Mädchen."
His Edwige followed foxy with unfaltering confidence. Just like she followed Akemi through the stone door made by the nisse. Like Aegeus wanted to, but he got stalled by a one-foot tall blockade.
Nico glared up at Aegeus with crossed arms. A curl of his lip showed yellowed teeth. His low bass grumbled out, "Behandlen foxy richtig, sie ist eine der guten."
"I–" Aegeus wasn't sure what the nisse said, but it felt like something Aegeus would say about Edwige or Nootau. "Yes."
The nisse stepped to the side and waved them through.
Aegeus almost dropped Nootau, having to duck to get through the door. Luckily, he did not. Nootau was already in dire need of healing. Aegeus didn't want to add more onto the list of damages. He shuffled through as quickly as possible. Too many impatient hot heads were behind him for Aegeus to take his time.
To the Gods above and Mother Earth below, please don't let this be a trap.
When the doorway fell away, a large cavernous tunnel stretched out before them. The rock didn't have the same coloring or feel to it the stones did in the castle. Older, a dull wet gleam to them. Like they had been worn down through time.
The others pushed up behind Aegeus and he stepped up by Edwige. Her hand went to Nootau, smoothing over his back. The interest Akemi showed in the affectionate gesture left Aegeus unsettled. There were too many problems with their escape. The number one being Akemi. And it seemed Aegeus wasn't the only one who was feeling vulnerable.
Tibo pushed to the front. A blustering wind barely contained within the cavern. Rolly had a hand on his shoulder but his grip was tenuous.
"Wait a minute—" Tibo rolled Rolly's hand off. "Now look. We followed you blind long enough!"
"Glent, not now, ya arse," Rolly hissed.
"She's probably got people ready to capture us the moment we leave this fucking castle."
Akemi chuckled. "Little goblin—"
Tibo cursed out, and Rolly did his best to hold onto his bandmate. He'd have had better luck if he were an octopus, though. With each twist and slip, Tibo's anger grew, the waves of emotions beating up against them. Ashe and Mal started adding their voices to the mix. Something had to be done before fists started getting thrown again. Humming seemed like the best option.
The effect wasn't immediate, but Tibo settled down for the most part, allowing Rolly to stroke his shoulders. Mal and Ashe quieted down as well.
Akemi went on unfazed. "If I wanted you captured, I would've done so in the library."
"And why didn’t you, is what I’d like to know?" Rolly asked.
"Because you're idiots."
Everyone stared at her. Only to startle when Nootau began laughing. Gods above, Aegeus almost dropped him. Hot tears landed on Aegeus shoulder while he wondered if the toll of their activities made Nootau snap. Certainly seemed like it.
When Nootau's laughter died away, Akemi slid her eyes to him. "Done?"
Akemi nodded as she tapped her hip. "Your little group is obviously not adept at whatever you're trying to accomplish, but you do seem concerned with certain activities that raise questions. I want to know what you know."
Nootau tapped Aegeus's shoulder. "Lemme down for a minute."
Aegeus loosened his hold and Nootau slithered down his back, then leaned heavily against him.
"And why do you want to know what we know?"
"Because you're idiots, lucky idiots, who seem to be fumbling for answers about things I don't know about," Akemi answered simply. "I don't like having questionable activities pointing at my doorstep."
A surge of camaraderie spiked through Aegeus. "And so you're going to let us walk out of here?"
Tibo pointed up. "I knew it!"
"I do need to be able to know where to find you, ja?" Akemi said.
"We could lie to you," Rolly countered. "Just fecking vanish."
"No, you can't." Akemi put a hand into her pocket and pulled out her phone. "You try to vanish and I'll have the authorities put out arrest warrants for all of you. I'm sure the last thing the manager for The Flying Mantas wants is for two of his members on the Most Wanted Fugitive list."
More curses flew from Tibo. Rolly grimaced as he held the goblin back.
"My wife and I really enjoyed your Paris concert a couple years ago."
Holy Gods. Akemi had more nerve than a naked dryad in a room full of satyrs.
"Here is my cell," Akemi handed it to Edwige. "When you guys find a hiding spot, call my wife's number. Don't think about losing it. You don't want me having to sniff you out. Oh, and did any of you happen to drive? I'm going to have to dispose of those vehicles."