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Look Ma, No Self, No Sense, No Death! [IC]

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November 9th, 2019, 5.22AM

 

The tunnels below Claremont Academy

 

A pair of mops and buckets filled with foaming water fell with a crash in front of Nicholas and Leroy.

 

"Awright, cadets!" Basil Falks, scrawny and short as he was under a two-sizes-too-big set of overalls and a baseball cap that had once been blue, maybe back in 1970, still had an air of utter command as he leveled the two boys with his gimlet brown-eyed stare. "These are the evacuation and concealed movement tunnels! It's been my privilege to work in them for over a decade, but I'm getting too old to do it all by myself! That's why I picked you pups! Nick," he pointed a bony finger at the speechless spectrum-sensitive, "I know you can keep a secret, and you have a janitor's dedication and poise under all that shrinking violet business. Leroy," he pointed that same finger at the elegant otherworld prince, "you can carry things okay and I know Nick will keep you out of trouble. I don't have to repeat myself, but you will not speak of what you see down here on penalty of...on penalty of whatever it is I come up with later."

 

"Now we're starting off with a very simple job: the exit passages out of grounds aren't much-used and need a little polishing up. I won't have some kid slipping on some patch of grease and getting eaten by zombies, no sir." He looked at one of the walls, tracing his fingers over the polished titanium, whispering "Never again..."

 

He quirked his head like a bird at the two boys "Anyway, that's the long and short of it. Go right-left-left-left-back and you'll find the spot. Give a holler if anything's started living down there. Yes Nick, you can holler too, won't hurt my feelings to have repair work to do if it saves you kids a funeral. Now git!"

 

With that, Basil turned on a dime and sped off down the hallways, the splendid lighting letting the duo watch him turn suddenly into a door that had definitely not been there when he started walking.

 

Then they were alone.

 

Picking up a bucket and mop, Leroy smiled at Nick. Even in the plainest clothes he had, a brown  sideless tunic and heeled platform sandals, with his curly hair up in a bun, the clan-scarred and dragon-tattooed teenager cut an expensive figure.

 

"So, good Nick, how wonderful to see you out of paracausal physics! Have you drunk deep of life? I will take the buckets, let us say, and you the mops?"

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Claremont is full of secrets.

 

That phrase kept bouncing through Nick's mind. He'd encountered Basil a few times during the year. Something about the man seemed off. Not bad off, but his mumbling didn't help. If pressed Nick would admit he kinda liked the guy. The Iowan wondered what secrets Basil knew. Janitors, after all, often knew more than most.

 

The early hour accounted for most of these muddled musings. While used to early mornings helping his great uncle, he never exactly liked being up this time of day. Time aside, being selected for the duty felt like a honor. Whether or not it was one seemed immaterial.

 

Nick cringed at the metal-concrete clang of the buckets. His eyes crossed staring at Basil's finger. He didn't really know what to think of Mr. Falks' assessment of him. The morning simply moved too fast for him to process. So his initial response consisted of owl-like blinking.

 

Much like Basil moments ago, Nick quirked his head at the janitor's sudden disappearance, and for that matter, the sudden appearance of a new door. Leroy, however, pulled his attention away from the weirdness. And the funeral remark...

 

Nick looked like Nick, awkwardness and all, in once-white sneakers. The occasion, however, necessitated a pair of faded overalls that fit better than Basil's. Regarding the eloquent dragon prince, Nick returned a warm smile that reached his eyes.

 

Two quick nods and the mops rested over his shoulder. He looked around for his bearings, replaying the route in his head and visibly puzzling over what "back" meant. One a likely path, he thumbed toward it and headed that way.

 

As he walked, he swept one hand toward Leroy as if asking about his life. Perhaps his way of making friendly conversation without actually speaking.

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His sandals scraped across the ground as the prince walked beside the other boy, and catching sight of his look Leroy smiled warmly, launching at once into his usual chatter.

 

"Myself? Oh, not much to tell. I have been practicing with the black diamonds, learning a little patience and the beauties of introspection. Judy is wonderful, as ever, though sometimes she looks...ashamed, when we are together? Just for a moment. I worry I am failing her somehow. She claims to be content when I ask and enjoys our dates, yet..." Leroy let out a deep woof of a sigh, golden eyes clouded, "...I envy my sisters, good Nick. With the One Power they have a bond with all things, they can see thoughts at a glance and wash away cares as easily as they extinguish the wicked. I will never have that power, but there is a virtue in our fumblings. Our mistakes teach us better than endless victory ever can. To forgive faults and errors, even evil when there is repentance."

 

Adjusting his grip on the sloshing buckets, Leroy looked curiously around at the underground hallways. "Such a strange place, it looks like some sort of underground fortress, yet empty and silent as a robbéd tomb. Good Basil did say it was a secret, though I cannot fathom how, or why. Over a decade of dozens, perhaps over a hundred students at times, many with the power to step through space or fall through walls or with eyes to pierce the shadows. Knowing the existence and use of this place could avert mischief by demystifying the unknown and forbidden. And such a lovely spot for an ambush!" The last he said with a sigh and a smile, almost exactly how he had looked while talking about Judy.

 

His voice was one of the only sounds in the tunnel besides the footfalls of the two boys and one of the most pleasant. The others were a dry rustling and shifting behind the walls and somewhere in the ceiling, the ever-present hiss of the lights that, up close, looked distinctly unlike anything humans had ever made, harsh and blue. The metal seemed to throb underfoot, pulsing to some distant heartbeat. The security cameras that stared and followed were almost comforting, reminders that someone else was at least watching over them.

 

As they took their last left, the Dragon Prince of Earth-2 scanned their surroundings. "Now, to go 'back'. Should we walk backwards?"

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The company felt pleasant enough. Like many of his classmates, Leroy stood out as an acquaintance but not one with which Nick had much interaction. Most of his impression was first impression during the move-in. Which was, to say, something of outlier. This stood as a good opportunity to get to know the fellow better. As such Nick's smile remained warm.

 

Once the walk got his blood moving, he seemed to wake a bit more and developed a spring in his step. His enhanced hearing focused on Leroy initially, and he glanced up at the prince from time-to-time. He nodded sympathetically at his relationship troubles, but his head slowly turned to focus on him at the mention of his family. One Power? That earned Leroy a curious look, and earnestly displayed how little Nick knew about his classmate. Yet under all that bravado, he sensed something deeper. Maybe some wisdom?

 

The shift in topic did not brighten his mood further. Unconsciously casting his senses outward, the small teen seemed suddenly ill-at-ease. Leroy's comments obviously contributed, and he made valid points of why this place should be public knowledge. The last point, though, earned him another inquisitive look.

 

Kinda happy about potential ambush sites are ya?

 

Now Nick had the creeps. The fingers of his free hand starting tapping his thumb rhythmically, and he resorted to gripping the mop handles to steady himself.  He still twisted his hands around the handles. By the time they stopped walking, Nick spent most of his time glancing around apprehensively at the floors, ceilings, walls, cameras, even the light fixtures. The pulse bothered him the most. Made him feel like he was inside a metal beast. Or a Tool video.

 

What is that?

 

Still Leroy's question lingered in the air. Nick shrugged and took the opportunity to survey the area more thoroughly. He cast open his electromagnetic senses especially, listening for the ambient waves put off by electronics. Mostly to get a better feel about the weird place. Secondly, to perhaps pick up telltale spectra of sunlight. As in early-dawn light slipping in through an exit.

 

Nothing would make him happier than finding the exit passages, mopping, and getting the heck out.

Edited by Dariusprime

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