Daylight, from high ceiling windows, beamed over our heads as I followed Leinard down the long strip of white corridor.
An eerie quiet trailed our syncopated footsteps on the stone floor.
Leinard stopped to face me.
"Famine. Did you know, Gat Shiem's buildings were made from elemental resistant materials? Even the strongest elemental spell shouldn't make the moonstone spark." He frowned.
"No." I shook my head. "Contrary to what you say, I saw the demon fire. I wished I hadn't."
"Demon fire, hmm," he said as he thoughtfully rubbed at this chin.
From the pensive tone of his words, I could tell that he wasn't accusing me of lying. But his voice betrayed his concern on the matter nonetheless.
We resumed our silent walk down the corridor, towards a set of double doors and a T-Junction.
I was stopped, again, at the start of the junction.
"Was there a man named Melchizedek there? He would've been an elderly man with a papery voice and a front gap tooth," Leinard asked.
"Melchizedek? Oh, you mean Shuso." I guessed who he would be referring to, considering Shuso was the only monk at that place who had a front gap tooth. "You know of the old man?"
Leinard nodded. "Melchizedek was my teacher at one stage of my life, before he left for his calling to Gat Shiem."
I was unsure on how to respond to that piece of information. Fortunately, our conversation was disrupted by a couple of boys running out of the double doors.
They were the two boys wearing glasses whom I had encountered earlier. It was the first time I noticed the thick-framed-glasses guy was a lot taller and stockier than the other man who was as skinny as myself.
"Colonel. Thank goodness we found you." The skinny boy with round glasses panted.
Both boys straightened up to perform a stiff gesture with their hands. I recalled, from Bulldog's newspaper books, that this gesture was called a salute.
"Dem grunt soldiers greet dem seniors dis way, so everyone knows who boss on field." Memories of his kind explanations stirred a tear to my eye.
No. I had no right to cry when I hadn't been able to do anything. It was clear that I was in something of a military zone, so I had to keep my wits about me. For my brothers, I had to be strong, smart and alive.
"Report." Leinard ordered.
The round-glasses boy explained about the troubles their platoon was facing with an area of the infirmary and a layer of Hell's Labyrinth called the Fourth Tier.
Any non-field personnel, civilians and company magis (masters of magic) were being escorted to a safe area called the Surface.
From further conversations between Leinard and the boys, I gather that the Infirmary and Hell's Labyrinth existed beneath the Second District.
"Captain ordered us to find you and accompany you back to the Green Room," the round-glasses boy stated.
Leinard acknowledged the boy's words with a nod and prompted for them to lead the way. We didn't move far when the ground beneath us quaked and cracked apart. He grabbed my hand and held it tight as he pulled me along with his plight.
The four of us stumbled our way down one end of the corridor.
We were within reach of an exit when a group of tree-men in black suits entered our view and blocked the way. Their arms intended to knock us down.
"Shit! Skrit! Not now. Don't need this now!" The thick-framed-glasses boy curse.
He removed a steel weapon from the holster strapped to his right thigh and positioned it in his hand. Aiming the weapon's skinny barrel at a skrit's chest, his index finger pressed back on the weapon's loop trigger. Jarring sounds exploded from the weapon, which sent an object flying towards its intended target.
The skrit shrieked with pain as it fell backwards upon impact of the object's entry to its chest. It combusted and became a pile of free-falling ash.
I glanced at the other boy and saw he held the same weapon in his hands.
Both boys fired off rapid rounds at the skrit. The atmosphere became noisy, cloudy and heated with the pong of iron fillings going up my nose.
Leinard positioned me behind him. He unsheathed his longsword that shimmered with a blue light.
"Stay behind me. When I tell you to run, go in the opposite direction. Don't look back," he coolly whispered.
I gripped his hand tight for affirmation and braced myself for impact.
We lost our footing as the ground crumbled underneath us.
The four of us fell into a hole of black darkness.