Their little trip was finished much sooner than Luca had anticipated.
What he’d thought would’ve taken the better part of the afternoon was over and done within the hour. A commendable feat, especially when you considered the number and variety of defences surrounding their camp, though he personally felt that a handful of the rangers’ traps were a bit too close to be of any use as an alarm.
Furthermore, there were some additional deterrents that Luca felt wouldn’t be out of place should their simpler defences fail, but the former general held his tongue. It wasn’t his place to tell either of the foresters how to do their task. Even if he had spoken up, Luca hadn’t the slightest idea how to begin setting up what he envisioned. It might be a surprise to the… less informed, but campsite fortifications were primarily handled by the enlisted ranks and not the COs. The last time Luca tried to set up a trap had probably been… just over a decade ago? With special emphasis on the word ‘tried’.
Still, the elf and the greyskin had been impressively efficient with their work. There may have been a time where Luca would have offered one of them employment, but he had reason to suspect that the offer would be for naught. Neither of the pair seemed especially fit for military duty and though Luca may be willing to stomach the greyskin’s company, he doubted that any of his Alafaelian comrades would be just as amenable. Offering Yondrin a job was akin to housing a lamb amongst hunting hounds.
They arrived in the camp just as the sun began to wane, and Luca bid the pair of trappers farewell before walking over to the well. A source of drinking—not to mention cleaning—water was always welcome on an expedition.
Presuming it was drinkable. The hired arm stared blankly at the raised bucket before him, then glanced towards Marietta. Perhaps the half-elf would know more about that.
Luca’s lips thinned. Despite his lengthy tenure as one of Alafael’s generals, he’d never quite managed to get the knack of reading people to the extent of his fellow commanders. Maps and reports had been more his forte. Sure, he knew how to observe people, but translating their tics and whatnot was beyond him.
But even he didn’t need it in writing to see that something about this well bothered the half-elf. Her reaction upon spotting the weather-worn watering hole had been a break from the sombre ranger that had been at the head of their group. Had she noticed something off about it? Or was there something else? Regardless, the half elf hadn’t said anything about it, but why? What was she hiding?
Maybe she was waiting until the group had properly gathered or for an opportune moment to address everyone, but it was better to get it over and done with. Before the sun set.
He turned in Marietta‘s direction and had barely taken a step forward when his axe shaft struck the well’s bucket, knocking it off the stone ledge with a dull thunk.
Luca blinked, the surge of curiosity fading. He stared at his axe, at the armor-clad hand clamped on its shaft in a death grip. The ex-soldier blinked again and willed himself to relax.
The hand loosened and the weapon sagged in his grip.
He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply through his nose. Maybe now wasn’t the time to address his companion‘s nerves—not while his own were clearly on edge.
Granted, it had been a long day marching. He was probably just tired, though a mere day of marching wouldn’t have been enough to wear him down back in Alafael. Maybe age was catching up to him.
Luca looked towards the half-elf once more, then turned back to the well and started to draw the bucket back up. Drinkable or not, he doubted his axe was going to complain.
“I don’t get it,” the voice on the line sighed. “Computers really aren’t my forte. Could you go over it again? One more time?”
“It would be my pleasure, Mr. Palmers,” Luca replied, glancing at his watch. “But I’m afraid that I have another client waiting on me. It will have to wait until our meeting tomorrow.”
There was a grunt, followed by a blip as the connection cut off. Typical Palmers, pleasant as always.
Luca leant back in his chair, spectacles riding up as he pinched the bridge of his nose. It had been a long and arduous morning, only made worse by the persistent throbbing in the fore of his skull. And yet, the second half of the working day loomed ahead, promising to be just as thrilling as the first.
It had all started when he’d gotten to the subway this morning, only to realise that he’d left his travel pass on the counter at home. After purchasing a day pass, he’d walked on to the platform, only to be greeted by a slew of express cancellations. About an hour or so later, he’d finally arrived at his desk, only to open his briefcase and he’d left both his breakfast and lunch in the refrigerator at home. That left him with two options, if he was still alive, come lunchtime: either starve... or eat out.
And as though to rub it in, the ‘fast acting’ painkillers he’d taken had done nothing for his pounding head.
His phone chirped as a timed notification popped onto its display, reminding him to hydrate.
Luca obliged and sipped from his flask, contemplating the trade-off between hunger pains and an overpriced toastie. Neither seemed particularly appealing, but he probably wouldn’t survive the afternoon without some sustenance. He locked his notebook and then pulled his jacket on as he made for the lifts.
It was still early, so there shouldn’t have been anyone at the elevators. Except one other; a man from the marketing team by the name of... what was it? Calders? His brow knitted in concentration, just as the man in question glanced up from his datapad at the sound of oxfords on ceramic.
“Ah, Mr. Forsythe. Good afternoon,” he greeted, with a slightly hesitant smile. “Or, well, morning, actually. Just for a few more minutes, but…”
Luca nodded as he trailed off. He remembered Calders now. A somewhat anxious fellow that occasionally came by to his colleagues for technical support. Pleasant, but a bit on the slow side, considering the solution was usually ‘have you tried turning it on and off again?’.
He was saved from the effort of replying, as the lift doors dinged and slid open. Both men got in and Calder’s hit the button for the ground floor. The doors rattled shut and Luca’s notably empty stomach lurched as the lift shot downwards.
Click. Click. Click.
None of the men said anything, the silence broken only by the whir of the elevator and the obnoxiously loud clicking of Calder’s virtual keyboard.
Click click clickclickclick click click.
Luca clenched his jaw, his headache unaided by the accompaniment of his colleague’s erratic keystrokes. Of course the man had his haptics on. If he’d known that he was going to be tortured on the way to the cafeteria, he’d have rather stayed at his desk and suffered.
This toastie had better be worth it.
Click click click clickclickclickclickcli—.
He snuck a glance at the glowing screen, curious what could possibly require such fervent datapad abuse, when Calders cursed and smacked the device in disgust.
As though on cue, the clamour of a loud gong crashed through Luca’s ears, smashing through Luca’s headache, bringing a sense of icy relief in its wake. He stumbled back into the lift’s handrail as the sound reverberated through his jaw and ricocheted off the walls in his skull, like a squash ball in an industrial washer.
The ringing sensation dulled to a low hum, fading as Luca willed away the spots clouding his vision. He closed his eyes and inhaled, taking a moment to bask in his newfound relief and clarity, before opening them… only for the lift to stay dark.
Luca frowned. He reached up to his hololenses to turn them on, only to find his fingers grasping empty space.
Drat. Second best alternative, then. Phone.
He pulled the little rectangle out and it lit up at his touch, winking at him in the darkness, showing him four out of five bars of reception. So that was something at least. Now, for Calders. Luca activated the torch and aimed it downwards.
“You alright, Calders?” Luca inquired, offering his hand to the groaning heap.
“Never better,” he huffed, as he took it. “Thanks. What happened?”
“Just as clueless as you are,“ he responded, before shining the light around the floor until he spotted his glasses.
He bent to retrieve them and was rewarded with the squall of a siren from somewhere below them, stabbing at his eardrums. Luca grimaced. Just what the doctor ordered.
“T-That… certainly doesn’t sound like the fire alarm,” Calders stuttered. “Any idea what that means?”
It meant that they were in the wrong place. Being stuck in an elevator several stories up in the middle of a power outage and an emergency was probably not in the evacuation plan. The contractor grimaced and rolled his shoulders. Looks like lunch was going to have to wait. He wedged his hands between the elevator doors and pried them apart, then shone his light through the narrow gap he’d created.
Something silver winked at him from the other side. Luca smiled. At least one thing had gone right today.
“How is your cardio, Calders? Been jogging or to the gym recently?” Luca queried as he pulled the doors further apart, revealing a second set of shutters behind them.
“Uh, no, not recently. Why do… Ah,” Calders fell silent, as the implication dawned on him. With a mutter, he grabbed a door and helped Luca widen the gap.
The two men stepped out from the elevator and onto the floor beyond, which was nearly as dark and empty as the chamber they’d escaped from. A dim sign hung before them, informing them that they were on the 34th floor, its pulsing arrow indicating the direction of the nearest stairwell.
“Might not be a bad idea to start,” Luca grinned. He undid his tie and strode over to the stairwell door, pulling it open and gesturing. “After you.”