Chronicles of Chiron: Excising Arx | Scene 18

A few moments after Bella the shimmerfly disappears, Cleve spots her at the entrance to the abandoned debt collection building. In addition to the ribbon, she’s particularly visible because a few of her legs are clutching a scrap of off-white paper. “Excellent!” Cleve cheers. She flutters lazily over. “Whatcha got there?” he asks, holding out a hand. Bella pulses her translucent wings a few times and then drops the note. Cleve recognizes the neat architectural handwriting that Mariah uses to label the diagrams in his sketchbook. This paper, though it has a ragged edge, is of the fine quality Cleve has observed there. “Escaping from basement with Arx,” he reads aloud. “Oh, good, they’re in the basement. We’re on the right track—for once.”

Takuto barely takes notice of how the information was gained; he is laser-focused on reaching Arx. Louisa, though, eyes Cleve, once again affirmed in her beliefs about his allegiances. “The Stepdaughters of Chiron are able to train shimmerflies to be a messenger service? Oh! They’re the perfect spies! They can get in and out of anywhere.”

Cleve, who had been considering what kind of treat might be appropriate for the shimmerfly in question, looks over at Louisa in confusion. “Bella?”

“Yeah, that shimmerfly.”

“Uh… I don’t know,” Cleve says. His contact with the Stepdaughters of Chiron has been limited to Dr. Citali, and mainly Mariah’s been interfacing with her. “But she’s a helpful little gal.”

Louisa gives him an understanding nod. He must not be allowed to talk about it with outsiders. “I gotcha. I can keep it on the down low. I didn’t see nothing.”

Takuto doesn’t waste time wondering about shimmerflies, not when Arx is so close. He goes right up to the abandoned building and starts tugging at the boards over the door. The scrap lumber sealing the place up is smoother than wood, a product of local shroom forests. Cleve takes this as a teaching moment, telling Louisa that the same chitinous material was used to make the shack protecting the network node. She strikes him as the sort likely to strike at such an installation herself sometime in the future. Louisa accepts the mentoring appreciatively, impressed with his hands-on leadership and mission focus. Mariah is a talker, but Cleve is a doer, which is more in line with her drive for change.

Louisa takes up a lookout position while Cleve and Takuto wrestle with the boards. They get them loose quickly and then wrench them off in time with the klaxons so that there is no chance of being overheard. The large open space inside is full of dust kicked up by their entrance. The only light is what trickles in through the doorway until Cleve flicks on his flashlight. It’s a classic abandoned building, with most fixtures removed. However, the northeast corner has a desk and an office chair. The dust on the floor is much less pronounced in that area. Cleve wrinkles his nose at a strange odor… animals. Growls come from the southeast corner. When Cleve points his flashlight that way, the wolf beetles caged there howl louder. “What the—?” I’ve led us into a wolf beetle den… again, he groans internally.

Jarring thuds come from the northeast corner, and Cleve even notices the desk jump once. The clinic is just on the other side of the wall there, so that’s likely where Mariah and Arx are trying to get through. Cleve dispatches Louisa and Takuto to help them. Takuto takes off immediately, throwing himself at the desk, but Cleve catches Louisa for a moment before she goes. “Unless… do you have any wolf beetle skills?”

“No, not really. But I’ve heard there are illegal wolf beetle fighting rings. Of course they would hide them in a building like this! There’s no other reason a building would sit abandoned for this long. The real estate is way too valuable to leave unused.”

Cleve waves her off and approaches the kennel himself. Quieting the howling is his first priority, but he fully intends to release them. Now that he’s closer, he sees that the creatures have been roughly treated. Five of them are stuck together in this cage, undernourished and unhappy. He might be willing to eat wolf beetles himself, but that doesn’t mean he can abide them being abused. The wolf beetles are spun up, and they snap at him at first, but he does get them to quiet down. They prowl back and forth in the cage restlessly, watching him warily. Cleve wonders what will happen when he opens the cage. Will they run off? Or attack the nearest human? 

As he kneels there, trying to decide when to let them out, Takuto gives a shout of triumph. He and Louisa have gotten the heavy desk to budge.