18. Fainting, and Other Spells

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Everyone's back in this one sort of plaza, and once I run in (with Pierre in hand) it seems like all of their eyes are now on us.  I'd stopped caring once I'd taken down all of the drones and just ran down the rest of the corridor, even though it seemed endless, and come out at a place the exact same shade of grey, connecting to many other corridors.  This place seemed more like a castle than anything- but not the good kind.  It was an evil lair, no matter how you sliced it.

There was a sort of ambient murmur before we came in, but now it's turned awkwardly silent.  "Where did you go?" Juniper asks first, eyeing me worriedly.  Her new partner stands beside her, glancing casually like he usually does.  

"Nowhere," I manage.  "We just caught up."  Pierre doesn't say anything.

"Wait a sec!" somebody whose voice I don't recognise calls out from the back of the crowd.  "Marianne's back!  She ain't dead after all!"

All of a sudden a cheer swoops across the room from all of the thieves, even the ones I don't know by name, and they all come towards me at once offering hugs, handshakes, gushes.  I'm forced to just stand there in confusion as Pierre almost drowns in the mob, until they've calmed down enough.

"You thought I was dead?" I ask.

"When we were all captured, we realised you weren't in the cell with us," Kirsten speaks up from the middle of the cluster, and I realise that her eyes are kind of red and puffy, "so we thought you'd been killed.  Then we got let out, all of us, and they heard all that screaming..." She gestures towards Juniper and the hook-handed boy, whose expressions don't change, "and Juniper said it sounded just like yours.  We thought we'd lost you."

I don't bother telling her she nearly did anyway, because she looks upset enough.  Pierre shifts on his feet behind me, his face guilt-ridden.

"But in any case," Aran takes over, from the front, serenely composed as always, "we're glad you're safe, Marianne."  His face is calm, unlike the thieves around him, but I can sort of detect a tinge of other emotion, the one displayed when we were by my father earlier.  I smile at him, and it eases away.

"However!  There's something we need to do before anything else." Juniper's new partner interrupts the chatter that begins to arise among the thieves once Aran finishes talking, and almost immediately silence falls- maybe it was the hook-hand that did it.  "There's a path we need to check.  I feel some more people may have entered the same portal you tried to earlier."

"People?" Alec asks, his electric-blue hair like a beacon in the crowd.  "Like who?"

"I don't know," the hook-handed boy replies, "only Sergeant Lucille would be able to tell, so we must get there before she does.  They're probably allies.  Gawain gives most of his underlings handheld warp devices, so an enemy would have no need for the portal."  Another murmur arises, mostly an excited one.  "From here, the pathway we're looking for should be through the southern exit.  We need to make haste."

The thieves all begin filing into the southward archway, leaving the clearing and its strange high ceiling for yet another blackened void into god-knows-where.  I just manage to catch the end-tail of the crowd with Juniper and the new boy, and Aran who's stayed back to speak to him.  Pierre is hesitant, but he follows too, albeit lagging a few steps behind me.  I look back at him, but he doesn't seem troubled- just deep in thought.  Instead I manage to catch Juniper.

"Juniper," I say, "I haven't had a chance to talk to you, have I?"

"No," she replies, and her sudden monosyllabic manner begins to make me kind of nervous.

"There's a lot you've missed," I tell her.  "Most of it wasn't nice."  She makes a non-commital humming sound in response.  "I mean, well- I discovered the truth behind Marion!  You probably already figured it out, but she wasn't me.  You see, Gawain, when I was young, he invented this kind of synthetic soul thing, which was her, and he intended to make me into some kind of living weapon- oh, did you know he's my uncle?  Actually, you're not going to believe this, but guess who else I'm related to-"

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