Chapter Twenty-Two (Tibo)
Path of Least Resistance
He understood why he was driven down this road like there were harpies with whips chasing after him, but why hadn’t he just snuck out on his own? Sure Ashe had his own reasons, but Ashe was weirdly naive about a lot of things and probably hadn’t thought about what he was getting into. He was a moody bastard and Tibo didn’t really care what happened to him, but he was gonna get himself killed, him and his nice satyr lover, who really was one of the nicest people Tibo had ever met. How did someone live in the world and stay so kind-hearted and optimistic?
And Rolly. Oh, gods...Rolly, already hurt and exhausted. Tibo was gonna be the death of the one person in the world who truly understood him. His talented, smart-ass, gorgeous Rolly. Tibo turned to plant a soft kiss on that mass of red hair, the backs of his eyes stinging. But he couldn’t stop going after this thing. Something was wrong with him. He couldn’t stop.
The depot at Türlersee was just a platform and a little shed with a path leading toward the campgrounds and the open green shores where vacationers swam in the summer. Too early in the season for swimming, the lake was nearly deserted. Only a few campers and tents dotted the designated camping area and the few bundled-up day hikers were queuing up on the platform to take the train back.
Nestled in a bend of the lake on the opposite shore, the darker, heavily-forested side, the castle stood. Brooded maybe was a good word, but maybe that was what the shrinks called projection, Tibo’s own fears making the castle more foreboding.
“There’s a grand old pile for you. Looks a bit like my great uncle’s in county Kerry.” Rolly joined Tibo at the edge of the platform, his tone light and jaunty as if they really had come for sightseeing.
“You don’t fool me, McFarland,” Tibo murmured. “You’re as scared as I am.”
“I’ll not deny it,” Rolly whispered back. “But look like you’re out for a bit of craic for the nice tourists, yeah?”
They all stepped off the platform to the path. The plan at this point was to go through the sparsely populated campground and around the near end of the lake to give them time to observe the castle.
“What did you mean, out for crack?” Ashe asked when they’d walked out of hiker earshot.
“Not crack, boyo, craic.”
“Sounds the same to me,” Ashe grumbled.
“It means out for a little fun, is all. A good time.”
Tibo hitched his pack up. He’d brought rope and some other supplies along this time. A castle wasn’t like breaking and entering at a house. “It’s okay, Heyoka. You can tell him the Irish are weird. Cause they are.”
He was anticipating the cuff to the back of his head and managed to duck, just a whisper of long fingers mussing his hair. Despite himself, he laughed. Nerves, probably.
Once they’d left the campgrounds behind and had some tree cover themselves, Tibo stopped and pulled binoculars out of his pack. Really easy to find nice ones in Switzerland. These folks took their optics seriously.
Rolly held out his hand for them.
“Really? Imperious much?”
“Oh, big word there. Just a quick peek, Ti. Sun’s already going down. In a few minutes, my eyes won’t be worth shite.”
Tibo grumbled but handed them over anyway. Rolly scanned the far shore, jaw tight in concentration. Finally, he took the binoculars down and pointed. “Three small towers in the battlements, some movement in the windows. The keep’s taller but farther in. I don’t see patrols on the walls, but I suppose that would be old-fashioned for a modern tech company. A covered jetty well within sight of the towers. Looks like the old fortifications might have been mainly pointed toward the water side.”
“I’m sure as shit not thinking about getting in from the water side,” Tibo spat out.
Rolly gave him a one-armed hug. “Wouldn’t do that to you, love. Wouldn’t do to come at it over the water, in any case. Too visible.”
“So we’re hoping for something back in the trees?” Ashe asked as he took the binoculars from Rolly over Tibo’s head. “Over to the left where they’re thicker, maybe?”
Genius. Tibo didn’t roll his eyes, but it was close. “Yeah, probably. We’ll see what it looks like when we get closer.”
Tibo finally had his own binoculars back once Jaxx had taken a look as well and, yeah, Rolly was right. Any attempt on the lake side of the walls would be a crazy idea. There might be something along the back wall, of course. They couldn’t see that yet. But he was willing to bet that left side where the trees grew in close would be the best.
They strolled along, in no hurry since they had to wait for full dark. Rolly took his hand with a wink. Right. Vacationers. Just couples out for an evening stroll. When they reached tree cover on the path, they stopped to snack on the shelled nuts Rolly had brought along and to rest until dark. Noises from the campground reached them from time to time across the water. A laugh. The clank of pots. But the castle was quiet. A dragon circled and came in to land behind the castle, but they observed no other movement.
“Rolls?” Tibo asked as darkness settled. “How bad is it? Can you see anything?”
“Some, sure. But not like bloody goblin or satyr night vision eyes.”
Tibo nodded as he heaved himself to his feet. “We go in pairs then. Rolls, take my hand. Jaxx, you take Ashe’s. Try not to make noise. Too much noise, anyway. If someone catches us out here, we’re just hikers looking for a good place to fuck in the woods.”
When he left the trail to lead them out into the woods, he had to admit they weren’t too bad. Rolly followed carefully, mindful of where he put his feet. Jaxx’s instincts appeared to have kicked in and he moved without a sound. You could take the satyr out of the woods but you could never take the woods out of the satyr. Or something like that. Ashe wasn’t bad, either, sure footed and cautious.
The stones of the castle loomed up through the trees sooner than Tibo had anticipated and he brought them all up short. He pulled Rolly down with him, listening, watching for movement through the underbrush. There were lights in some of the windows on this side, and he didn’t like that. Worse, they were casement windows, the kind that opened out. Not the kind of thing that was easy to break into when it was closed. As far as he could see, all of the ones on this side were shut tight.
Tibo turned to his group. Whispers were sharp, so he kept his voice to a low murmur, nearly subvocal, “This side’s no good. Come on.”
They crept through the trees, keeping low. At the turning of the outerwall, Tibo stopped again and waved everyone down. A garage or vehicle building or something sat behind the castle, closed up but with outside lighting. A couple of men in dark uniforms, weapons slung on their shoulders, patrolled there. They didn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave and, damn it, they were right in the way unless Tibo took his little group all the way around the back of that vehicle shed where they’d be too far from the wall.
Heart hammering, Tibo closed his eyes, shivering.
“Hey.” Rolly pulled him close, speaking in his ear. “You all right there?”
“Yeah...I’m...I need to do a thing.”
Rolly nodded against his hair. “I’ve got you. Don’t push too hard.”
Struggling out of Rolly’s embrace, Tibo fought for a little space. He couldn’t have Rolly’s comfort at his back now, not for what he needed to do. He clutched his own fear tight, not a hard thing since he was fucking scared, and reached inside for the mental shift that allowed him to access the dark spaces. He had to visualize himself reaching to gather enough dark energy, thrumming along his nerves, in his head, screaming at his fingertips as he edged away from his companions. If he caught them in this, things could get bad.
Breathe in. Breath out. Ignore the shaking and shove. Tibo pushed all the fear hiding in the worst, nastiest parts of his brain--the night of the apartment fire, the foster home where the couple used canes as switches, the fucking boat ride across the channel--all the fears from his childhood, all the recent terrors he pushed out toward the two guards loitering at the door.
A night bird called and one of the guards startled, spinning toward the sound. The other cried out as an animal dashed through the underbrush. Tibo kept pushing, nearly screaming himself, shivering with terror as he kept throwing out his fear.
The guards exchanged a few sharp words, hurried into the vehicle shed and locked themselves in. Tibo sat hard on the ground, gasping and whimpering.
“Ow. Fucking ow.”
Rolly sighed and rubbed his back. “Control, Glent. This is why I nag you to practice.”
“Oh, fuck off. So not the time. It worked, didn’t it?”
Instead of continued nagging, Rolly helped him up and handed over a couple of aspirin, the kind with caffeine in them, which Tibo dry swallowed as he worked to get his shaking legs moving again.
They crept from cover to cover, along the side wall, past the shed, until they’d reached the back of the castle. More modern buildings sat behind the older stones a little farther on, running perpendicular to the castle, with only a couple of windows here and there on the long, utilitarian walls. Just around the corner, a scent tickled at Tibo’s nose, one that made him think of early mornings in his childhood with the bakery down the street. The smell of yeasty goodness came from a partially cracked window a little farther on.
“Come on,” Tibo jerked his head toward that window. “I think that’s the kitchen.”
The lights were off in the room, only one vent hood light still glowing on the far side. Between the four of them, they managed to force the window just far enough for Tibo to worm and wriggle his way through. He took a quick look around, just to be sure, but the kitchen was deserted. A long line of dish towel-covered shapes lined the counter along the back wall by the huge ovens. Bread dough rising. Tibo’s mouth watered, so, fine, he loved good bread, but now wasn’t the time.
Quickly, he cranked the window open all the way and helped the bigger folk inside. They’d probably hit the kitchen right after everything had been cleaned up and the bread dough set out. Pure luck to hit it at the perfect time.
“Keep to cover where you can,” Tibo murmured.
“Go left out of the kitchen,” Rolly said. “Willing to bet any experimental things happen in those white buildings out back.”
Tibo nodded and led the way into the castle.