Chapter Twenty-Two: Mal
He turned to survey the rest of their rag tag party. Kaden was pacing up and down the small ledge, and Aegeus and Edwige hovered over Nootau, who looked like shit. The man needed a month off in a luxury suit somewhere to heal and recuperate. Mal sincerely hoped the man got it as soon as this was over.
Nootau was a stubborn bastard, and Mal had no doubt how he would react if one of them were to suggest he stay here. Hell, they'd heard it enough already in the few days they'd taken to allow Nootau to heal as it was.
Mal patiently waited until Nootau was dressed and on his feet. He looked to sway slightly but held his ground.
"We ready?" he asked.
"Let's do this," Aegeus said and nodded. Edwige wrapped her hand around Nootau's waist and nodded in agreement. They all shouldered their bags and headed for the entrance to the lab they were currently in.
Mal opened the door carefully and glanced out into the passage. Making sure the coast was clear he opened the door fully, and they all made their way out, making sure to close the door behind them.
"Do you know where we are?" Edwige asked in a quiet voice.
Mal thought about everything he'd seen when he'd toured the facility. "I believe so."
They headed left as the sonar labs were at the end of a corridor and they had nowhere else to go.
The weight of Mal's knives and guns against his body comforted him as he walked. The click of Kaden's nails against the concrete floor sounded loud in the otherwise quiet space. The only other noise the soft tread of their shoes as they walked.
It was handy having a wolf in their party, Kaden's sense of smell being so much stronger than any of theirs. He led the group, making sure to sniff every doorway they came to to make sure no one was inside.
They checked every door, opening them to see what they'd find. So far they'd managed to find a whole lot of nothing. Just some old storage spaces and some unused barracks.
Mal rolled his shoulders trying to relieve some of the tension constricting his muscles. Sneaking around a castle looking for evidence of various crimes while trying not to get caught was frickin’ stressful.
Kaden halted mid-step, his muzzle lifted in the air. He growled and moved back quickly to their group. It didn’t take Mal long before he heard the first whispers of voices coming their way.
"Quick, in here," Aegeus whispered as he reopened the last door they had checked. The five of them hurriedly shuffled inside, closing the door behind them carefully. The room was pitch black and smelled musty with disuse.
They stayed quiet as they listened for the guards to pass.
"Dies ist eine Verschwendung von Zeit," one guard sounded like he was bitching.
"Boss sagte, dass wir patrouillieren, also patrouillieren wir," another responded.
"Aber es gibt nichts auf dieser Seite hier unten, nur Sonar-Forschung, und das ist nach acht geschlossen."
"Würden Sie beenden Ihre Beschwerde. Je schneller wir das machen, desto schneller kann ich wieder auf meine Shows aufpassen."
Their voices trailed off as they moved past them.
"Let's wait another minute before we move out."
"Good idea," Nootau agreed.
They stood silently in the dark as they waited and listened. Making sure nothing else was coming before Mal gave the okay to open the door and stepped out.
He had no idea how long they'd been down here, checking everything they could, they'd taken several corridors and hallways, to the point Mal had no idea where they were in conjunction with the ground level. They'd had to hide once more from a random patrol. Thankfully the rooms in this section didn't seem to be cared about as the majority of them were unlocked.
Mal stopped them all after their last search of a room wielded them nothing yet again.
"Look, I think we need to head upstairs."
"I think you're right," Nootau agreed. "Did you see anything on your tour that might lead us to the information we're looking for?"
Mal nodded. "I saw a sign for the Dragon Aerospace Research facility. As soon as I pointed to it and asked about it, the guild started sputtering then gave me some song and dance about it not being operational yet and pulled me in a different direction."
"Seeing as how that’s the name on the order we have, it definitely sounds like the place we want to start," Aegeus said.
"Before we move on, does anyone feel anything out of the ordinary?" Mal wanted to make sure they hadn’t tripped any magical alarms. He couldn’t feel anything, he just didn’t know if that was because there wasn’t anything or because he wasn’t magical.
Mal waited as his companions concentrated then all shook their heads. Kaden rubbed up against his leg and Mal automatically reached down to scratch the wolf behind the ears. The low rumbling noise brought a smile to Mal's face.
They found the lifts which were scan card accessible, so they were out of luck with those.
"Looks like we're taking the stairs," Mal said.
"That’s probably for the best," Edwige said, even as she looked at Nootau with worried eyes.
Nootau huffed. "I'm fine, perfectly capable of walking up a flight fucking of stairs."
Edwige didn't say anything, neither did she lose the worried look on her face.
The stairs weren't far. Mal opened the door and peeked his head in, looking up to make sure no one else was in there. Satisfied it was empty they all entered the stairwell. Mal silently closed the door behind him.
Kaden easily loped up the stairs to the first platform.
"Show off." Nootau bitched half-heartedly.
Mal couldn't help the grin.
"Come on, we still have a little ways to go. And the longer we’re here, the greater chance of discovery."
When they arrived at the ground floor platform, Mal couldn't help but notice that Nootau was a little out of breath. He didn't say anything the poor guy already had both Edwige and Aegeus all over him.
Mal poked his head out the door quickly and had a look around. Not another soul in sight. He ushered the others out of the stairwell and pointed them in the direction he remembered from the other day.
The ground floor was a complete change from the underground. Whereas the underground had been concrete walls and floors, only broken up by doors and light sconces, the ground floor looked much like you'd expect a castle to look. All apart from the updated tech.
Walls were covered in rich tapestries; the light's soft glow giving the place a nearly eerie feel. Before when he'd been shown around the lights brightened the entire area, now they were low and cast shadows in the far reaches where the light failed to permeate. Instead of the cold concrete under their feet, now thick carpet softened their footfalls.
"Come on; I recognise this place. I should be able to get us back to where I saw that sign for the research facility."
It was slow going up here, even though it was late at night there were more people on patrol than there was downstairs. The fact they had people patrolling the corridors had Mal's spidey-senses tingling. If they had nothing to hide then why the hell did they need night patrols?
Kaden huffed at them to get a move on, so they did. Mal led them back to where he'd seen the sign. The sign pointed them down a wide enclosed corridor that connected the main castle building to a set of modern looking buildings out the back. Next to the building was the dragon hangers.
"Let's move. Keep an eye out, I don't like being exposed like this, there may be people on the grounds." Mal really didn't like the large glass panels in the walkway, too many people could see them as they made their way to the facility. "Don't run, just act natural like you belong here."
Everyone nodded, and they started the trek across. As soon as they were across Mal breathed a sigh of relief. No alarms had sounded, so he didn't think they'd been spotted.
The door opened easily, and they all walked through. Whereas the castle was warm and inviting this place was cold and forbidding. The scent of bleach and something metallic-y, possibly blood hit Mal. Kaden sneezed and shook his head. If it was overwhelming for Mal, he couldn't contemplate how poor Kaden felt right now.
The passageways were white, while tile, white painted walls, the ceiling lights bright and covering every inch of the place. Black boxes sat affixed to the walls at every entrance, one next to the doorknob and the other at about eye level. Mal walked up to one and inspected them briefly.
"Shit!" he swore.
"What is it?" Aegeus asked.
“Fingerprint and retina scanners for all the doors. No wonder they left the main entrance open. No one will be getting into these rooms who shouldn't be there. Fuck!" he swore again. "We're so damned close."
"Come on," Edwige said. "Let's keep going; we never know what we might find." She smiled at them all. "As you said, we're so close; we can't just pack up and go home without looking."
"She's right," Nootau agreed.
The doors had name plates announcing what was within. They passed several offices belonging to various Doctors and a pathology lab before the corridor ended in a T-junction.
"Left or right?" Mal asked the group.
"Let's try left," Nootau answered.
They'd taken maybe a half dozen steps when Kaden stilled, his ears flattening on his head, his gums lifting showing his teeth.
A door opened on the left and a man walked out, dressed in a guard’s uniform, earbuds in his ears, staring at a phone in his hands. He really should have been taking his job a little more seriously. He turned his back on the group of them and closed the door behind him.
Before he could turn back around again, Mal crept up behind him and placed his arm around the man's neck, cutting off his air supply.
The man flailed about, he dropped his phone as his hands came up to claw at Mal's arm.
"Edwige?" Mal bit out between his teeth as he wrestled with the man. "Can you give this guy a draft of something to put him down?"
"Sure, sure." Edwige placed her bag on the ground and quickly rummaged around looking for what she needed.
Aegeus hurried over to Mal to help him hold the guard. Aegeus struggled with him as the guard tried to reach for his gun clipped to the belt. The last thing Mal wanted was a gun going off in a place like this, the noise alone would be enough to set off any alarms and bring people running from every direction.
He didn't want to kill the man. Otherwise, he could have pulled one of his knives and ended his life before the guard had even realised what'd happened.
Edwige finally hurried over and poured a draft down the man's throat. He'd spat some of it back out, but Mal had loosened his hold on the man's neck allowing him to take in deep breaths and swallow the liquid at the same time.
"It should take effect in a minute or two." She told them.
Mal nodded his thanks.
Slowly the man stopped fighting with them, his body dropping and becoming dead weight in Mal's grip.
"Now what do we do?" Nootau asked.
Mal thought about it as he let the man fall in a heap on the floor. The guy wasn't exactly a wallflower for fucks sake, he weighed a fucking ton.
"Thanks for the help," he said to Aegeus.
"Anytime." The merman nodded back at him.
Mal had a bad idea. The more he thought about it the more it seemed like it was their only way forward.
He looked at Nootau. "I have an idea, but you're probably not going to like it."
Nootau looked back at him, a slight apprehension showing on his features. "What?"
"You're a walker."
"Yeah, so what?"
Mal waved at the body of the guard. "Can you transform into…" he left it hanging, not wanting to complete his sentence.
Aegeus and Edwige's eyes went wide, horror and shock on their features. Nootau stared at him like he'd grown a second head.
"Just think about it," Mal continued quickly. “If we're with a guard, we'd be able to move around a lot faster, and his fingerprints and retinas are obviously in the system, you'd be able to open any of the doors we need."
"No," Edwige said adamantly.
"Not going to happen," Aegeus agreed.
"I'll do it." Nootau nodded. His featured remained stone cold.
Mal didn't know much about walkers, he just had a feeling this was their only way forward.
Edwige and Aegeus turned to Nootau, both of them with their mouths open, about to tell Nootau their thoughts on the matter when he silenced them.
"Stop," he said before they could start. He stepped forward and kissed Edwige on the cheek then did the same to Aegeus. "This is the only way; you have to see that."
"But you're not fully recovered from the dragon yet!" Edwige said, her voice full of pain.
"I'll be fine; I can do this."
"I don't like this," Aegeus said.
"I don't either, but it has to be done."
Nootau removed a wickedly sharp looking knife. Before he could step around his partners, Aegeus pulled him into a deep kiss.
"You make sure you come back to us, you hear me. We're not done here by a long shot."
Nootau nodded but didn't respond.
He stepped forward and knelt next to the guard.
"Someone want to help me strip this guy?" Nootau asked.
Mal and Aegeus hurried over and stripped the guard out of his clothes. Nootau stood and removed his own, pulling on the larger items that belonged to the guard.
Mal watched as Nootau took a deep breath, placed the knife against the skin of the guard's abdomen and with clean precise cuts removed a piece of his flesh.
Edwige hurried forward to doctor the guard, quickly cleaning and dressing the wound. The last thing they needed was a puddle of blood leading people right to them.
Nootau lifted the shirt, pushed his pants down slightly, and with a deep breath placed the piece of skin against the spot on his hip.
Mal watched in horror as Nootau transformed. It wasn't like watching Kaden, who went seamlessly from human to wolf. No this was horrifying and jagged, and painful. Nootau's body convulsed and flailed on the ground. Aegeus and Edwige both rushing to his side, Aegeus humming, Edwige nearly in tears as she tried to talk to Nootau. Mal doubted the man could hear anything they were saying.
Long minutes later, a duplicate of the guard lay panting on the floor where Nootau had been previously. Edwige and Aegeus as his side, quietly talking to him.
It took them another five minutes to slowly lift Nootau to his feet. The Nootau guard didn't look well, his white skin looked almost pasty and sick. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and his hands shook slightly.
Kaden softly barked from halfway down the corridor getting all their attention. Mal quickly jogged down to see what it was.
The sign on the door read "Genetics Lab." Mal gave Kaden a rough scratch behind the ears. "If you weren't a wolf right now I could kiss you."
Kaden whined which Mal thought was cute.
"Down here guys," Mal called.
The others collected their belongings and slowly made their way to where Mal stood. Nootau's steps looked heavy like the man was struggling. Mal had no idea transforming would take so much out of him.
When they reached Mal he pointed to the plaque on the door. Edwige's and Aegeus' eyes brightened.
“Right, you guys get in there, leave the door open for me,” Mal said.
"Where are you going?' Aegeus asked him.
"I'm going to get rid of that guy. We can't just leave a naked man lying in the middle of the corridor; I'll try and find somewhere I can stash him."
"Right, sounds like a good idea," Aegeus agreed.
"I'll be back as quickly as I can. Don’t forget to leave the door open for me."
"Will do. Good luck," Edwige said as she helped Nootau step up to the scanners.
Mal waited, he wanted to see them safely inside before he took off. Nootau's movements were slow, almost sluggish as he scanned his fingerprint and stepped up for the eye scan.
The light on the door turned green and the lock clicked.
Aegeus pushed open the door and checked inside. The was empty as he stepped across the threshold. Kaden whined slightly, and Edwige shivered as she helped Nootau.
Kaden shook himself and seemed to settle.
"Everything okay?" Mal asked.
Kaden wandered over to him and licked Mal's hand, before turning and heading through the open door.
"Edwige, everything okay with you?"
"Yes. I thought I felt something, but it's gone. Probably just someone walking over my grave."
Mal didn't like the sound of that.
"If you're sure."
"I am, you should go get that done so you can come back and help us." She motioned in the direction of the unconscious guard and Mal nodded his agreement.
Mal jogged back to the guard and hefted the man up. He really wasn't light. It was times like this Mal was thankful for all the training he'd been through. First with the armed forces and then as a ranger. He took off down the passage looking for anywhere suitable he could dump this guy. He wanted to get back and help the other search.
They were so close, Mal could feel it.