Liberty Corps Captain Maros didn’t hear anyone else in the antique shop’s wreckage. He’d been too occupied by the bookshelf that collapsed when Lieutenant Goes had slid into it. By the time he heard the presence behind him, it was too late.
Maros wheeled around and came face to face with the barrel of a gun. Two guns.
The Sheriff and her deputy had been waiting for them.
“Captain Maros and associate, you are under arrest.” Sheriff Webster approached him. How had he missed the police? Their drenched ponchos dripped water with every step. “Raise your hands and step forward, slowly.”
“Hello, Sheriff.” Maros had failed. He’d worked two years since he’d learned that the Liberty Corps upper brass had begun searching for the Dreamside Road. Now, all of that work was for nothing. He was caught, all because he’d spoken too freely. Who would think a county sheriff would lurk in a burned building, in total darkened silence, in the middle of the night? He’d underestimated local law enforcement.
If it were the deputy alone, well, deputies could vanish in times of chaos. Sheriff Webster could not disappear without full and proper answers. Even if Maros could bring his own weapons to bear, could outfight her… No, that wasn’t an option.
“May I ask what we are being charged with?” Maros did not let rage enter his voice, the pure blistering rage, so angry he felt physically warmer.
No, that wasn’t his anger. Out of the corner of his eye, Maros saw Goes advancing, hands about a foot apart, palms upward. The room got hotter still. Sweat beaded on Maros’s body, beneath his heavy breastplate and uniform. The room felt ready to burst afire, once again.
“Arson, robbery, conspiracy to commit further robbery.” Webster didn’t waver, didn’t flinch. “Hands up, Captain. Hands up, Liberty Corps member.” Her deputy gestured to Lieutenant Goes. The closer Goes approached, the hotter the air became.
Goes’s eyes were distant, his mind focused on belief and will. He was about to summon iron.
“That’s a strong accusation.” Maros raised both hands, flesh and prosthetic. He waved them up in a wide arc, so his right robotic digits passed in front of Goes’s face. They had options. Carnage wasn’t one of them. “And a clear misunderstanding, but we will accept arrest until such time that we can challenge your actions legally.”
Goes did not speak, but his concentration broke. He spun and met Maros’s gaze. The young captain did not know how to communicate his inner thoughts with this man he’d met only days before. Did Goes trust him?
Maros had no time to worry. He unbuckled his gun belt and let his pistol and sheathed sword slide down to the floor. After brief hesitation, Goes did the same. The deputy advanced and retrieved their fallen weaponry.
“Turn around and place your hands on your head.” Webster’s gun was still aimed at Maros, aimed at his unarmored face.
“Of course.” Maros did as she asked, as did Goes. The deputy cuffed Goes, then re-drew his own pistol, covering the Sheriff until she’d cuffed Maros.
Webster got a grip on his upper arm. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say…”
Maros tested his bound hands. He felt the pressure, the strength his prosthetic could force against the cuffs. He could break free, would break free, but not yet.
* * *
Enoa sat on the Aesir’s couch, half-asleep. The soreness in her body had only intensified. Mental weariness had joined it, the kind of fatigue that only happens after immense physical labor or days without sleep. She couldn’t remember ever feeling this tired. It spared her from grief, her mind too addled to form full thoughts.
“I found the way under the shop but we have to hurry.” Orson ran into the Aesir, still dripping wet. During his tumble down the hill, water had crept through even under his coat and armor, and he shook himself like a soaked dog.
“What?” Enoa jumped, adrenaline immediately spreading through her body.
“I think I found the entrance to the passageway. I think it’s hidden in your family mausoleum.” Orson stuck a thumb over his shoulder. “But the Liberty Corps plans to excavate and find it. They figured it out, Maros did. Man Bun. I actually heard him sneaking around. We’ve gotta go.”
“That’s not possible.” Enoa shook her head, hoping the dizziness would subside. “It’s solid rock. Can the trove be in the mausoleum?”
“It can’t be solid, and it can’t be there.” Orson opened an empty metal locker built beside the door, a small compartment Enoa hadn’t noticed. “At the mausoleum, the compass pointed back to your shop. In your shop, the compass spun around – the energy was everywhere.” He removed his soaked coat and hung it inside. “How are you feeling?”
“Exhausted.” She stood, with effort.
“Do you have the key to the mausoleum or know where we can get it?” Orson stared at her. She couldn’t figure out his expression. “If you’re not well enough, you can wait in here, but I need to get moving.”
“I’ll manage.” She walked to her backpack and rummaged through the pockets, looking for her key ring. “My keys don’t walk around on their own, but there are a lot of them. I’ve never opened the mausoleum on my own. The cemetery caretaker has his own keys, but if I have them too, they’re here.” Enoa’s keys jingled. The ring was loaded with many keys, at least a dozen. “I don’t know half of them. I use color-coded tape for the ones I have to use.”
Orson saw the keys and sagged.
“Alright.” He took a deep breath. “We’ll figure this thing out. You rest up. I need to clean and pack all the dishes. I already lost one set of china having to fly away without locking up.” He walked to the sink and found both of the soup bowls cleaned.
“I already washed up a little.” Enoa took her seat again. “It was a good distraction.”
“Thanks!” Orson quickly set about storing the remaining soup in the fridge, finishing the cleaning, and putting his belongings away. He relocked the cabinets. He’d done this many times before, that was clear, but he also moved at a desperate pace. Was he that concerned about the Liberty Corps or was he that excited to get to the treasure?
“I don’t want to get your hopes up,” he said. “But I might have some really good news. I think a large portion of your things survived.”
“What?!” Adrenaline and unexpected hope brought her back to full wakefulness. “Was the fire put out in time? What did you see there?”
“Nothing. The place was emptied out. I think the Liberty Corps took it all, stole everything before it could burn. The building was an empty shell, what I saw of it, anyway. They have no idea what they’re looking for, but that means there might be a chance to get it back.”
* * *
The rain slowed to a drizzle and transitioned into a soft snowfall that muffled the empty town. Nimauk lay in still darkness.
The power cut out as Sheriff Webster was unlocking the town offices. The emergency lights, lit overnight in the building’s foyer, went dark. She saw the reflections of streetlights and the other sparse illumination from nearby buildings wink out, as well.
Even with the festival in full swing, most of the guests and locals had quieted down by then, almost three in the morning. The festival was set to begin again in only six hours.
It was becoming clearer and clearer that the festival would likely not resume. Webster locked the office building’s door in its open position and returned to her truck.
“Can we process them properly with just emergency power?” Deputy Nesta stood, waiting for her. He looked back into the office’s dark foyer.
“It shouldn’t be a problem.” Webster rubbed her hands together. They were sticky. She thought some of the paint on the antique shop’s stair railing had bubbled and melted, liquefied. Her hands had been annoyingly sticky ever since she’d touched it, through the arrest and the return to the offices.
But that had to wait. Webster wanted answers. She wanted to know the truth of what was happening in her town. She wanted to discover the mystery of the train derailment and the Liberty Corps. She needed to learn how it was all connected. But first, she needed Maros and his man locked up. Everything else had to wait until after that happened.
Maros and his associate did not speak as Webster and Nesta guided the two militiamen from the truck and into the town offices. They also hadn’t spoken on the journey down the hill from the burned out antique shop. All the better. If they wanted to go the legal route, after everything that had gone on, Webster was more than happy to wait for questioning until she had the home field advantage.
They still photographed the arrested men, got their fingerprints, formally charged them, placed them in the Sheriff’s Department holding cells. They followed tradition, followed the law, even in the half light, the emergency light.
“I wonder what knocked out the power.” Nesta sat in the AV room, the place that connected to the camera feeds of the holding cells and other town offices. “I didn’t hear any thunder.”
“There was no thunder.” Webster rubbed her hands together, still unconsciously annoyed by her sticky fingers. “We’ll need to wake some town officials, the council definitely. The Liberty Corps is doing something now. I don’t think we can trust them. We can’t wait until the morning.” Nesta nodded. “Are you alright holding down the fort? I need to wash my hands.”
“Of course.” Nesta looked back to the many monitors.
Webster thanked him and walked to the ladies’ room. The bathroom had only one working light, a small emergency wall unit, casting an odd green glow through the room.
Webster turned on the hot water. She couldn’t wait to get her hands clean of the paint.
Nothing left the faucet but air, a sharp, ominous whistle.
The water was off too.
* * *
Orson landed the Aesir on the cemetery side of the farthest gate from town. He’d flown dark, seeing only through his mask. He drove along the one lane path. It was paved, but poorly. The Aesir bounced as it progressed deeper into the graveyard. Orson parked right beside the Cloud mausoleum.
“Now let’s hope no one saw us.” Orson stood. He retrieved his jacket and sword.
Enoa fiddled with her keys. Which one was it? She knew it had to be an older key, one of the long keys from the turn of the 20th century, the big cylindrical pipes. Her adrenaline was finally strong enough to overcome her exhaustion.
She drew her flashlight from her backpack. Orson handed her a tiny green umbrella, but she didn’t need it. The snow that danced from the sky fell in gentle silence.
Orson didn’t light his mask’s lights. Enoa kept her flashlight dark. They advanced on the mausoleum in darkness. They listened, searching for the sounds of Liberty Corps men, on the other side of the hill, further destroying Enoa’s home.
They heard nothing and soon arrived at the mausoleum’s door, sealed and locked shut.
Enoa tried one of the oldest keys, made of tarnished brass. She poked blindly in the dark, until Orson lit his mask lights. She tried the key properly. It didn’t fit.
Then she tried the next one and the next and the next.
None of the antique keys fit. She looked through her other keys, her front door, her truck, her office. There were only two modern keys she didn’t know by heart. What would they do if neither of these worked?
But one did. A modern key fit. It turned. The door opened onto darkness, more darkness, a shadow somehow deeper than the nighttime of the outer world.
Enoa lit her flashlight, and they stepped into her ancestors’ resting place.
The stone interior appeared empty, a spare room. The remains of the dead were enclosed in the walls, permanently, leaving the traditional place of meditation and rest open, available for mourners and for family.
Orson ignored all of this. He advanced to the far side of the room, where a carved slab stood against the wall. It had deep etchings on it, folk images, arcane stories about the family, local legends.
Orson seemed to know what he was looking for. He slid his hand along the slab, scanning it for cracks or alcoves or openings.
“Oh yeah, here it is.” He slipped his hand into a space behind the stone. “I found it. Do you want to do the honors or should I?”
“There’s a little button back here. It’ll release a mechanism, move this stone picture thing, and reveal the tunnel back to your shop.” He pulled his hand free. “Do you want to open it?”
Enoa advanced until she stood level with Orson. She raised her hand. He guided her wrist to the stone, until she felt the small opening, until she put her fingertips inside, until she felt the small round metal bulge on the stone.
“Are you sure it’s safe?” She imagined the opening slamming shut, crushing her fingers.
“I recognize the design.” Orson nodded, making the mask’s light bounce around the room. “But if you’re uncomfortable, I’ll gladly do it.”
Enoa pressed the button.
A grinding sound boomed out of the floor beneath their feet. Enoa pulled her hand back. She stepped away from the stone.
The entire wall slid back. A long gap appeared in the sides. Then the wall slid away, disappearing out of sight on the left. The whole stone wall slide sideways like it was an automatic door at a supermarket.
In its place, a tunnel waited for them. This tunnel was nothing like the mausoleum. It had tile walls and floor and was lit by fluorescent lights, set into the ceiling. These lights switched on, just as the slab moved out of the way, winking on in the darkness. Enoa wondered if it had its own energy source or if the secret tunnel was powered by her own home’s electricity.
“Cool, right?” Orson didn’t hesitate. He walked forward into the tunnel.
Enoa followed him.