Thursday, 24 January 2019

Thirteen: The First Duty

"How is she?" Yasi asked.
"Exhausted." Vincent said quietly.
"Shock. Her brain got overloaded this afternoon, decided to shut down until she could process what she's been through." Yasi said from experience. "It was a good idea to bring her back to your place. It's better not to leave her alone."
Vincent nodded, his expression haggard. "I just can't stop thinking that if I'd listened to her six months ago…"
"Yeah." Yasi sighed. "There's blame to go around, and very little of it to her." Yasi looked him up and down. "If you don't mind my saying so, you seem to be taking it well."
Vincent shrugged. "Last time I was in mortal danger, they beat me within an inch of my life. Today was more like that scene in all the James Bond movies where you meet the supervillain."
Yasi gave a mirthless chuckle. "Guess so."
Vincent collapsed down on the couch, and she perched on the armrest to join him. "Yasi…" He croaked. "I kept a record. You told me to burn it all, and I kept a copy for myself. I'm so sorry. I gave him everything."
"If you hadn't given it to him, all three of us would be dead right now." Yasi said. "He only let me live because… I don't know."
"Because he wanted to do it himself." Vincent said absently. "If he'd given the order to kill you, it would have been someone else that took you down. He wants the straight up fight. He wants a Duel. You should have heard him. He knows all your names, has his attacks all planned out."
Yasi glanced over at him. "Tell me everything you know."
Vincent rubbed his eyes and told her everything as quickly as he could. Including Vandark's ideas on how to take down the three leaders of the Underside, one by one, including her.
Yasi looked incredibly frustrated. "Who is telling him all this stuff?"
"He didn't say." Vincent drawled. "It won't be long now, you know?"
Yasi nodded. "The entrance list was the last thing he needed."
"He won't wait too long now. The longer he waits the more ready you'll be."
Yasi jumped up. "I have to go." She said shortly.
Vincent was already reaching for his jacket. "I'm going with you. I don't know what good I can do down there, but I'm going with you."
Yasi paused, halfway to the door, and looked back at him, biting her lip.
Vincent felt something break inside him, just from the soft, sad look in her eyes. "You don't want me to come." He realized. "Yasi, I screwed up, no mistake… I have to make it up to you somehow…" The words sounded hollow, even to him, and he deflated.
"Vincent…" Yasi whispered. "You're right. I don't want you to come, but not because I think you'll flake out."
"Really." Vincent deadpanned. "So there's a long list of reasons?"
Yasi winced. "Ah. Should have thought that through."
"If you had any brains, me flaking out would be the smart reason." Vincent admitted. "There's a war coming, and so far I've shown a pretty unbroken trend toward being a coward… even when my own life and Connie's was at stake, to say nothing of the fact that I basically gave the bad guys the front door."
Yasi sighed. "You want to talk about this? Fine. Let's talk about this." Yasi moved back to the couch and sat on the arm-rest, in a cross-legged meditation pose. "Last time we spoke…"
Vincent winced. "I feel bad about that."
"Everything you said was true." Yasi pointed out.
"I called you a killer."
Yasi was silent a moment, still in her position on the armrest. "I never told you how I became the Captain of the Shinobi, did I?"
"Rumor is that it had something to do with the Riverfolk." Vincent said softly.
"Keeper and Archivist were running the place, and I've spent my entire life fighting the 'little princess' role that everyone assumed I'd have. The Shinobi seemed the best way to do it." Yasi explained. "Seven years ago, the Riverfolk got organized. They tried to flood part of the lowest levels, take it over. I was still a kid really. But I was driven, and I was good. The Captain led us down to the River to fight them back. The Riverfolk were always a problem, but never really a threat. Mostly they just popped up here and there to try and scavenge. Usually they scared a few people. A guard on the lower Markets was all it took to keep them at bay. This time they were ready. They swarmed over us when we came in; flooded out a chamber to cut us off, and then came up from the water like sharks with legs." She had closed her eyes, reliving it. "And they took the Captain first."
"How did you survive?"
Yasi opened her eyes, and met his gaze. "We were in a chamber below the waterline. Air pressure kept the raised water out, the only exit was a ladder leading into the River… we were all feeling it in our eardrums, the air was getting thick, water lapping at the edge of the room, five of us crammed together. Our lanterns went out, and we were in the dark, starting to freak out. I crouched by the edge and stayed there for over half an hour, and the instant I felt the water shift, I dove in, feet first; and I landed on two Riverfolk that were looking to thin us out. I dragged them deep as I could stand it and rolled them over twice until they didn't know which way was up. They were easy pickings, and I stole their lenses."
"So you could see in the dark." Vincent said from experience.
"And Underwater." Yasi agreed. "The water does things to your depth perception. I grabbed one of their spear guns, took a deep breath, and went alone underwater through to the other side. I honestly thought I was going to die trying, but… I made it, and managed to drain the tunnel. My people escaped, and the Riverfolk were suddenly the ones cut off from the River. We hacked and slashed our way through to the Market. Their leader was there picking trophies off our Captain's body when he saw us. He moved first, I moved faster. I took the Captain's sword and sliced the Riverfolk leader in half." Yasi held the blade like a trophy. "Keeper and Archivist were stunned when we came back victorious. They thought we were dead. So when they had to pick a new Captain…"
"It fell to you." Vincent agreed.
"I am a killer, Vincent." She said simply. "I get to say that because I have taken lives. If you had pulled the trigger six months ago, you would be a killer too. This does not make me evil and you a saint. It means only that I have done something that you have not. A number of police officers, soldiers, and more than a few others can say the same."
Vincent nodded. "I know." He said in a small voice. "Doesn't mean I have to like that about you."
"No, you don't. And frankly, I'm okay with that. It's not like it's a hobby for me." She said seriously. "But what comes next, means I have to fight. Vandark is invading my home, and I'm Chief of the Guard." Yasi said, holding the blade before her like a talisman, close enough to brush her lips across the flat of the steel. "It will be the most vicious scrape I've been in for seven years. It'll be rough. And if you're not watching… you'll still like me when this is over."
"Yasi?" Vincent said finally. "Do you remember the other thing I said to you the night Berlin Below went under?"
"You said a lot of things."
"You know what I mean."
Yasi met his eyes evenly. "You said I could always come here if it went bad."
"I meant it." Vincent said. "I love the place too, and I want to see it safe, but when it happens… you don't exactly sound optimistic. So if there's a chance… I want to go sneak into movies, and I want to go back to the Met and I want to walk through walls…"
"Like it used to be?" Yasi guessed. "Like it was three years ago?"
Vincent looked down. "Does it sound as corny to you as it does to me?"
"Yeah. But right now, I'd give anything to have it be three years ago again." She admitted. "Vincent, whatever you do... Don't come back. I don't know if you have a way in after all this, but… Don't come looking. If you don't hear from me, it means I'm dead." Yasi said. "It's gonna be bad."
"How bad?"
"Not as bad as it'll be when I tell Keeper who gave him a list of all the entrances to the Labyrinth." Yasi gave Vincent a pitying look.
Vincent almost chuckled, despite himself. "Maybe she won't be as mad as you think."
"Never, EVER, trust an Upsider." Keeper raged. "I swear: I am gonna have that tattooed to the inside of my eyelids!"
"Screaming doesn't help." Yasi said, colder and harder than she had ever been. "Finding the Entrances to the Labyrinth was the last piece Vandark needed. He has an army, he knows where to send it. Vincent made it clear that Vandark has been planning this and reviewing his opponents for a long time."
"Are we ready?"
"No." Yasi said simply. "The Elite Guard was our best chance, and they bailed. There is no more help coming."
"There's got to be a way." Keeper hissed.
Yasi met her mother's eyes with fire and steel. "A way to win a straight up fight? No. A way to drag out the fight to the point where we can outlast them? Maybe. But you won't like it."
"That's a given. What's the plan?"
"First, we start telling people." Yasi said.
Yasi's jaw was set. "Everyone."
The Triumvirate held court in their Throne Room, with most of the higher ranking Lostkind in attendance. More of them than the room had ever held, packed in tightly. Keeper was the mediator between everyone, her opinion worth gold to them on any matter. She had told them the facts of what was coming, and they were terrified.
"What's the tactical situation now?" A voice called from the back.
Keeper indicated Yasi, who took up the question. "At the moment, we don't know a whole lot about what they've got on their side, but we know they have us outnumbered. On our side we have fortifications, and time to make them stronger. The civilians and the secrecy of the Lostkind are the top priority. The maze will slow them down and bottleneck them, wherever they come in. Closest to the surface are the Borrowers and the Watchers. They have places and caches just inside the Labyrinth. We can seal off that section, slow them down some more. After that is the upper level including the Throne Room and the Whisper Gallery, and after that the Markets and the Evergreen. Then Twelfth Level."
"And below that, the River." Someone shouted. "Does this have something to do with the Riverfolk attacking the Steps six months ago?"
Keeper looked at Yasi, Yasi glanced at Archivist, Archivist glared at Keeper.
"Yes." Keeper said simply
A silent roar went around the room. Incredible electricity filled the air. The Lostkind packed into the room all knew the Riverfolk. Vandark was a name, the Throwbacks were a forgotten minority, The Riverfolk were their Boogeymen.
"So what are we doing?"
"I'll field that one." Yasi rose to her feet. Her face was without expression, her voice hard and powerful. "First: I am ordering that all business above the Whisper Gallery is to be shut down immediately."
A low rumble went around the room at that.
"For how long?" Yasi couldn't tell who was saying it, but from his clothing, he was a Borrower.
She responded with iron. "For as long as it takes."
Another rumble went around the room. This was unprecedented. The Borrowers and Marketmen did their trade above the Twelfth Level, including the food brought in from the surface. The longer they were shut down, the more likely that the Underside would starve.
"Second!" Yasi roared over them, and they quieted. "I am ordering that we collapse the entrances to the second tier. Everything below the Labyrinth, except for one route, which will be under constant Shinobi guard."
This time the reaction was much stronger. Even Keeper and Archivist were staring blankly at the ninja, not believing a word she said.
"I know that doing this will paralyze the Underside." Yasi said without remorse. "Which is why all members of the Underside that have food or drink supplies are hereby required to turn them over. They're our only stores. The attack could come any minute. I would like to do this differently, but this is coming at us like a train, and we don't know when it will. This is the fastest way I know to fortify our home against invasion."
It was a cool, clinical deconstruction. But it made the Lostkind afraid. They weren't used to being afraid.
Archivist nodded and stood, moving to stand with Yasi. "We live our lives by Three Rules. Be Invisible. Be Daring. Be Beautiful. I'm looking around this room and I see fear. It's understandable. Rule Number One is of no use to us; our cloak of secrecy has been ripped away. But this is not a fight that can be won by following Rule Number One. Today we must look to Rule Number Two. Be Daring."
Archivist scanned the Lostkind. He saw them taking notice. The fear was still there, but they were listening.
So he kept going. "We do daring things often. Anyone who's ever been to the surface has done a daring thing. I know, because I personally supervised it. Ability to follow those Three Rules is the benchmark; required learning by all Lostkind. I know, because I taught it to most of you. You do the daring thing. You have to, just to be here."
It was working. The Lostkind were chuckling, standing straighter.
Keeper rose and came to stand next to Yasi and Archivist. "We've lost people this week. They walked right out the front door. We didn't lose them to Vandark. We lost them to fear. Our enemy is a master at playing on our fears. Fear of losing what we have, fear of change… Even our fear of the Riverfolk. Every single one of us has overcome fear. We have to. Most of you don't remember my first time here. I was overwhelmed with the truth of this place; of what it meant. I overcame it." Keeper scanned the room and pointed to Kamy. "Kamy! What about you, sweetie? You're one of the youngest here. You were born in the Underside. But time was, you wanted to go Above, at the age of four. At four years old you wanted to go out there; alone if you had to. New York is the most intimidating city in the world, especially if you've never seen the sky, but there you were, trying to feel your way through the Labyrinth alone."
"We will face this coming danger the same way we face everything else." Archivist boomed. "Be daring and beautiful, and always conquer fear. We are the Lostkind. We are not afraid!"
People from the surface would have cheered, would have roared in agreement, but the Lostkind were a different breed. One that knew Silence to be Golden. But fear had been banished, replaced with energy.
"Let's get to work!" Yasi barked.
The Underside became a hive of activity. For the first time since the original construction of the Secret City, the entire Lostkind population was working toward the same task.
The Shinobi were gearing up, expecting war to come any second. The lower levels were abandoned, everyone not working on collapsing the tunnels were quick to lend a hand; moving the families, the stores, all of it, out of harms way. The River was dragged by razor nets, and those that knew what to do quickly made more of them, as quickly as they could.
There was a sense of things ending, of the last days of their home. Dorcan was on guard, and he could see it in every work team that went past. The Borrowers were carrying their heavy loads in, but for the first time, none of them were going out again. The Fixmen were actually taking steps to sabotage the place. The Lostkind were closing down the thoroughfares and the walkways. Asking them to destroy something of the Underside was worse than asking them to sign over their children, but the New York Ninja demanded, and they obeyed.
Spotlights were set up over the River, casting bright lights down against the still waters, just in case anyone tried to come through the back door during the battle. The Watchers were all retreating underground, their position on the surface suddenly too dangerous.
Dorcan had suggested that at least some of the Watchers stay up above to warn them when it was time, but Yasi had overruled him. She had declared that the Pneumatic Tubes to the surface would be shut down too. Any method to carry things, even small things, around the Underside unchecked was too dangerous now. There was no point putting all their effort into a defensive line if Vandark could courier a grenade straight down to them. The Captain had sent one last message through the messaging tubes, and taken an axe to the vacuum; shutting it down herself. Even if Vandark could take the messaging centre, he'd never repair it in time to use as a weapon against them.
The kids were working too, the Gremlins had emerged for the first time, working openly with the adults; carrying tools, taking messages... They were helping out as best they could, and they looked terrified.
Dorcan noticed Kamy looking at the cave wall drawings. There was a new one that Dorcan hadn't seen before. It showed the dome of the Twelfth Level on fire.
"Kamy?" Dorcan called her over quietly. "What's wrong?"
"They say we can't win." Kamy said. "They say the Riverfolk can eat your soul."
"I doubt it. They keep their mouths covered all the time. But you know what we've got? We've got Yasi." Dorcan said softly. "The River's Worst Nightmare. The New York Ninja. You've never seen her cut loose, Kamy; but I have. She makes Riverfolk tremble, and she has for seven years. Let them come. They can't eat her soul. I honestly don't think she has one. A cold heart, and a cold blade."
Kamy looked over to Yasi, with a hint of a smile on her face. "Oh. That's good, right?"
Dorcan grinned and handed her the shovel. "Today, it is."
"Dorcan!" Yasi shouted. "Where you at?"
Dorcan went over to her. "We've evacuated everyone between the Labyrinth and the Whisper Gallery, we've set all the charges. All that's left is…"
"That's my job." Yasi interrupted. "It's my crazy plan."
Dorcan nodded. "Give the order, Captain."
Yasi felt every eye on her. "Bring it down!" She commanded, her voice rolling off the walls, coming alive in a way that only the Lostkind could do. "Bring it down!"
In a burst of fireworks, made louder and grander by the enclosed space, the ornate stonework exploded, controlled charges ripping through the archways, the columns, the statues... All up and down the entrances, the tunnels, the pathways in and out... All of it came caving in, like a waterfall of stone and marble.
Yasi glanced at her parents. Keeper had a tear in her eye. The entrance, as with the rest of the Underside, was made to be a work of beauty... and Yasi had just destroyed it without hesitation. The first time in seven years that mass violence had come to this place, and the first time in it's history that part of it was destroyed openly… and it was not by the hand of an Invader, but its own Chief of the Guard.
"That just leaves the one." Dorcan said quietly. "All we can do now, is wait."
Yasi nodded, her gaze on the rubble. There was only one entrance left to the Underside, only one way through to the Labyrinth, and it was surrounded by armed guards. "I feel like I just killed the Underside myself."
"You have. Without access to the surface… we're paralyzed, cut off, starving…" Dorcan said honestly. "We win this thing, we make it better. We lose…"
"We lose it won't matter." Yasi dismissed that. "So. You're still with me on this, right?"
"Always." Dorcan nodded.
Yasi let out a slow breath, and turned her gaze to the ceiling, as though she could see the city above... and the Invaders that made their preparations. "Your move."


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