The Adventure of the Underground Crypt
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is. To write this I'm using a Writer's Choice prompt from Paranormal25—Catacombs. During a rewatch of episode #5, I had to wonder what on earth a crypt and ossuary were doing under the library. And hence, the plot of this mystery was sparked. The other twist here was loosely inspired by a movie I overheard being watched. This is post-series, Ahiru is human, and she and Autor have become close friends.
Even without Drosselmeyer, Kinkan Town still boasted many strange and unusual things. The oak tree's roots were, of course, still under the museum lawn. Stories had come to life, turning against their creators and wreaking complete havoc at every turn. Paranormal beings had been seen around town now and then, some frequenting certain locales. One of the students at the prestigious, private Kinkan Academy had been killed in a carriage accident and later had been brought back to life due to a legend in the cemetery concerning the revival of one worthy soul every hundred years.
That student had devoted himself to research, both before and after his tragic demise. Now that he was again among the living, he had turned his attention to studying the bizarre events that had made the town internationally known as a hotspot of the supernatural. Only Domino City, far away from Kinkan, seemed to have a reputation that rivaled the German town.
One of Kinkan's mysteries involved the complex subterranean tunnel system that seemed to run largely throughout the entire town's boundaries. No one knew how the tunnels had got there or what they had been used for, though some suspected that they had been similar to the mines now colloquially and famously called the catacombs of Paris.
Some of the pathways were lesser known than others, particularly ones under some private estates. Others, while known about, were rarely traveled. Perhaps that was a good thing; one never knew what beings might have laid claim to the tunnels during their long years of inactivity. And when the dead desired possession of something without disturbance, they would do whatever it took to keep their solitude.
Autor sighed to himself as he tapped the end of his quill on the sheet of paper. Even after having been here for hours, he had accomplished nothing of particular value. Absolutely no one knew anything about the secret passageways underneath the academy's library. None of the books he had been poring over mentioned even one sentence about them. He had brought his paper to take notes, but it was still blank.
I know how Fakir must have felt when he discovered all the torn-up books when he was researching, he thought to himself.
It frustrated him that a place he frequented so often held secrets that even he could not discover. He knew everything else about the library, including what kinds of books could be found in each of the stone back rooms. But the tunnels continued to taunt him as the one area he could not identify.
At least he had to be grateful that giggling students looking for a cheap scare did not often try to go down there. Some had searched for the room that held the trapdoor, but either he or Batson or a librarian had intervened before they had found it. The academy's staff did not want any of the students going down there. It was too easy to become lost, they said. Anyway, it could be falling apart and someone would end up plummeting to his or her death.
Autor was not afraid. He had explored some of the other tunnels before and knew how to be cautious. But he had not as yet been able to conduct a thorough exploration of the maze under the library. All he knew was that one of the many pathways led into a crypt, and its presence was more perplexing than the tunnels themselves.
He stood in annoyance, gathering his materials and heading for the back rooms. It was a slow day at the library, but nevertheless he did not want to be caught climbing into the trapdoor. There was no harm in merely going to examine it, however.
Whatever its secrets were, they had started to spread to the room that held it. It felt unnaturally cold in that particular room, moreso than in any of the other back rooms. Autor had already investigated the room for a draft and found nothing. And it was doubtful that it was the chill from the tunnels coming up through the concealed door; he had been in the room before and had not felt anything odd. For there to be such a cold feeling now, was it an indication of paranormal activity? And if so, why was the spirit choosing to manifest itself after all this time?
He walked down the halls, keeping his footsteps as quiet as possible. It was this oddity more than anything else that prompted his extra interest in the passageways. He did not take kindly to the idea of his beloved library unwillingly harboring phantoms.
But he blinked in surprise when he pushed the correct room's door open and found it already had a living occupant.
"Hmph. I didn't think you were into research anymore," he said with a smirk as he stepped inside.
Fakir grunted. He was standing under the window, a thick book in hand. "Only if I need to be," he said.
Autor set the paper and ink in an empty spot on the shelf. "So what prompts your interest today?" he asked.
Fakir shut the book. "I had a feeling Ahiru's friends might try to bring her here," he said. "I know you know about the rumors going around the school."
"That the room is cold and must be haunted by a ghost?" Autor said, clearly unimpressed by the tale. Not that long ago, it had been his ghost supposedly haunting the library. Even though actually it had not been.
Autor, however, kept those thoughts to himself. It was still a sore spot for Fakir.
Fakir nodded. "I know what's really in this room," he said, "and I don't want those girls finding the trapdoor. Ahiru already knows it's here, but her friends don't." And one wrong step could be a disaster; beyond the opening was a drop to a series of stairs. Hitting either the landing or falling down the steps would likely cause serious injury to whoever was unfortunate enough to discover it. And he could imagine Ahiru accidentally taking a tumble if one of her curious friends stumbled on the door.
"Strange you should mention it," Autor said. "I was actually here to investigate it myself." He gave Fakir a wicked smirk. "You're welcome to come, if you want."
"No thanks." Fakir crossed his arms. "I won't cover for you if you get discovered," he said.
"What makes you think I'd ask you to?" Autor said, stepping closer to the stone tile that he knew held the entrance belowground. "I don't need your help, Fakir."
"I'm sure you don't want me telling the librarian I saw you go down there if she asks," Fakir said. He pushed himself away from the wall, walking over to the other boy.
"I'd rather you didn't," Autor admitted. He smirked again. "But you might get in trouble too, for not stopping me. So it could be in your best interest as well to keep quiet."
"What's so important down there anyway?" Fakir said, annoyance tingeing his voice.
Autor sobered. "That's what I would like to know," he said. "Something strange has been happening of late. And now that it's spreading into the library itself, I'm determined to find out what it is. The staff won't do anything; they think it's children's fairy tales. But you and I know better, don't we, Fakir? We know that fairy tales can come true."
Fakir let out a big sigh. "I guess if there really is something wrong, it will involve me and probably Ahiru sooner or later," he said. "Just like everything else that goes wrong in this town."
Autor pushed up his glasses. "Does that mean you want to investigate after all?" he said.
"No," Fakir said. "It means that since it will probably happen eventually, I might as well get it over with right now." He stepped nearer to the tile, but then stiffened. "What the . . ."
Autor followed his gaze. Gray wisps of smoke were seeping through the hidden door's edges, curling around their legs. He froze, chilled to the bone from the eerie touch.
"What dark force is this?" he gasped.
"You don't have any idea?" Fakir shot back.
"Unfortunately no!" Autor said.
In the next moment the trapdoor flipped open, spinning wildly before settling in a yawning position. Autor could only stare in shocked horror as Fakir was dragged through the hole. There was no other word for it; though he could see nothing but the smoke, something had hold of Fakir's ankle. The other boy cried out as he fell, clawing at thin air. Autor grabbed for him, but not in time. Fakir hit the stone below with a horrifying series of thumps and crashes. Then abruptly all was silent.
"Fakir!" Autor yelled, staring through the opening. Fakir was sprawled lifeless at the bottom of the steep staircase. The mysterious gray mist uncurled from his ankle, evaporating into the air. The same substance dissipated from Autor's legs, leaving him swaying for balance. He reached out, catching the nearby shelf to keep from taking a spill himself.
And suddenly it seemed that the whole student body was upon the scene.
"What are you doing?" exclaimed one outraged girl as she came to the doorway. "What's that hole in the floor? And what was that horrible, bone-chilling scream?"
Two others ran in, horrified as they peered through the trapdoor. "It's the wonderful Fakir!" they said in unison. "He's laying in a dreadful place!"
The rest of the voices burst out at once.
"Did he fall?"
"Is he hurt?"
"He . . . he couldn't be dead . . ."
One girl looked faint at the mere suggestion. Two others clasped their hands in despair and a third began to cry.
Autor glared at them all in annoyance. What an inconvenient time for Fakir's fanclub to appear.
"I'm going to find out," he said, preparing to start down the stairs.
To his astonishment, one of the girls grabbed his arm. "Don't you dare!" she said. "You pushed him, didn't you?"
A hushed silence fell over the group, as though the thought had not occurred to any of them. But then they burst out again, certain that they'd found the answer.
"He did! He pushed the wonderful Fakir!"
"I've seen them together. I know they don't like each other; they don't get along."
"Maybe he's jealous because he loves Ahiru too!"
In spite of himself Autor was stunned. Even though he had long been both ignored and tormented, he had never been accused of harming another person. He pulled his arm away, giving the girl a black look.
"I most certainly did not push him," he said. He did not even consider the other remarks worthy of a response. Definitely not now, at any rate.
With that he climbed into the opening and lowered himself down, dropping to his feet in the dank passageway. He went down the stairs immediately, sickened as he drew closer to Fakir. The other boy was crumpled on his side at the end, his right hand limply hanging on the last stair.
Could his spill have possibly been worse? Autor thought to himself as he knelt next to his friend.
Above him the girls were still exclaiming in alarm and horror.
"The wonderful Fakir wouldn't have fallen!" said one. "And that music student was standing there looking so incriminating. He did it!"
"He certainly did!" said a second.
"I'm going to get the librarian right now," a third declared. "The wonderful Fakir needs help."
"I hope his attacker is suspended for a month!"
"Suspended? He should be expelled! He should be sent to one of those delinquent camps!"
Autor gritted his teeth, trying to block out their voices. "Fakir," he said, gripping the other boy's shoulder. "Fakir, can you hear me?"
There was no response. Autor stiffened, his blood going cold. Fakir wouldn't . . . he couldn't have been killed in the fall . . . could he?
Of course, it was possible. Autor bent down, desperate for some sign of life. But his shoulders slumped in relief. Fakir was breathing.
He reached out, carefully running his hands over Fakir's neck and back as he searched for broken bones. Nothing felt out of place, so hopefully Fakir would be able to be moved.
Above him, an authoritative voice boomed over the students'. "What happened here?" the head librarian asked.
"The wonderful Fakir was pushed!" one girl wailed. "That music student did it, the one who's always here."
"Autor? Nonsense." The woman walked to the edge of the trapdoor and looked down. "Autor, what happened?" she called. "Why is this door open?"
Autor looked up, grateful that not everyone believed he was a villain. The librarian liked him, though at times she was annoyed when she felt he overstepped his bounds as a student and tried to behave as one of the full-time staff.
"I didn't hurt him," he said, racking his mind for words of explanation that were mostly true. "We . . . we thought we saw smoke through the door and we went to see what was wrong. But then he fell." He would certainly not be believed if he told in detail what had actually happened. And when he got over the shock, outrage and indignation would be his most prominent emotions. He would have to come back and investigate on his own and learn why the phantom had pulled Fakir down to a possible death.
"Of course he did," the librarian said, even as the girls cried out in protest. "How is he?"
"He's unconscious," Autor said. "I don't think anything's broken, but he must have struck his head."
"I'll send for help right away," she assured him. "Meanwhile, you stay with him, Autor. Treat him for shock."
Autor was already shrugging off his jacket. "I'll do what I can," he said. He was too nervous to try moving Fakir himself in order to slip the blazer underneath him; what if he was wrong and the damage would be made more severe if he did? His hands shook.
"Why is he going to stay with Fakir?" a girl burst out. "He'll make sure Fakir is hurt worse! He'll probably kill . . ."
"Enough!" the woman boomed. "I don't want to hear any more of these unfounded accusations. Autor has never tried to hurt anyone. You should be ashamed of yourselves." And she walked past in determination.
Autor looked down at Fakir as he laid the blazer over him. Maybe it is my fault indirectly, he thought bitterly. You wouldn't have fallen if not for me.
But I didn't know, he protested. I would never intentionally harm you. You know that, don't you, Fakir?
He flinched as the girls continued to whisper loudly among themselves about his certain guilt. In spite of himself, his confidence had been shaken. He felt betrayed.
Don't you, Fakir?
He rested a hand against the other boy's forehead as he tried to ascertain whether Fakir had a fever. The answers he longed for were not forthcoming. Fakir looked pained, but there was no indication of whether he accused Autor for his fall or not. Autor did not really think Fakir would, yet after this slap in the face part of him doubted.
But no, Fakir would likely blame himself and say he had not been careful enough. Still, who could have predicted an attack like this?
Don't think you've discouraged me, whoever you are, he vowed in silence. I'll find out who you are and why you did this. I don't take kindly to phantoms who harm the people I care about.
Again he surveyed Fakir's lifeless form. The other boy looked pale. How badly was he hurt? He had not responded to Autor's attempts to call to him or to revive him. He really should have regained consciousness right away if nothing serious was wrong.
"Whatever you do, Fakir, for Heaven's sake don't die," Autor muttered under his breath.
His eyes flickered with fear.
Ahiru groaned, slumping over the barre in exhaustion. It had been a long day as it was, and then her mind had wandered enough that she had been given the assignment of staying after class to practice the day's techniques. By now she felt ready to go collapse in bed for a nice nap.
She gave a start at her friends' voices. "What is it?" she mumbled. Both Lilie and Piké sounded agitated, but at the moment she was too worn-out to care. Knowing Lilie, she was just distressed over some tragedy she had wanted to see not coming to pass. But then again, for Piké to be worried too, maybe there really was something wrong.
"Oh Ahiru, you're wanted in the front office!" Lilie exclaimed. "That music student was called in too!"
Ahiru shot upright in shock. "What? Why?" she gasped.
"There was an incident!" Lilie said. "They're saying he pushed the wonderful Fakir through a trapdoor!"
The color drained from Ahiru's face. "He wouldn't!" she said. "There has to be a mistake or something! And what happened to Fakir? Is he hurt bad?" This was too much to process all at once.
"He's unconscious!" Lilie said. "He's being examined by the school nurse right now, and they've called his father and sent for a doctor!"
"Autor is saying Fakir fell, but it sounds suspicious to some of the students," Piké frowned. "No one actually saw what happened, but the wonderful Fakir is so agile it's hard to believe he would have made such a mistake."
Ahiru's mind was spinning. Fakir was hurt and Autor was being blamed for it? She ran past the other girls, tearing for the door. She would not even stop to change out of her leotard and tights right now; she was too worried and horrified.
"Oh yes, you should hurry right now, Ahiru!" Lilie called after her. "Your music student may get suspended for this. Maybe even worse, if Fakir doesn't survive! Who would have thought he had it in him to be a delinquent?"
Piké frowned at her. "You're not helping," she said.
"No way!" Lilie said with wide eyes.
Ahiru barely heard either of them.
Autor was sitting stiffly in a chair when Ahiru opened the door of the front office. Though he was trying to appear composed, he seemed slightly pale as he looked over and then stood to greet her.
"Autor, what happened?" Ahiru cried.
"Fakir fell," Autor said. "They're not sure yet how serious it is." There was a slight catch to his voice.
The headmaster cleared his throat. "Mr. Autor was telling me his side of the story," he said. "Some of the students are saying he pushed Mr. Fakir, but there is no proof of this."
Ahiru glared at him. "Of course Autor didn't push Fakir!" she said.
"I'm inclined to agree, Miss Ahiru," said the headmaster. "Mr. Autor has always been an honest, good student and has never caused any trouble. Though this story about seeing smoke coming from under the trapdoor seems odd, I must admit." He quirked an eyebrow, looking back to Autor.
Ahiru blinked in confusion, looking to him as well. Autor looked slightly frustrated, but then recovered.
"There have been other reports of strange things in that room," he said. "When we saw the smoke, we weren't sure if it was a prank out of hand. So we thought we should investigate."
"And when you lifted the trapdoor, Fakir fell," the headmaster said.
"Yes," Autor said. "It was a misstep. Anyone could have an accident."
"True, though it still seems odd for an accident." The headmaster clasped his hands on the desk. "The other possibility is that someone in the tunnel reached and pulled Fakir in."
Autor started. "I didn't see anyone," he said. "And I doubt anyone could reach high enough to take hold of him. There's a drop before you gain the stairs."
"That is a point," said the headmaster. "However, none of the girls say they saw smoke when they arrived on the scene."
"It had dissipated by then," Autor said. "I don't understand it myself."
Ahiru tilted her head. Somehow she had the feeling Autor was not telling everything. But why would he hold back? Was there something in the rest of the story that he did not think the headmaster should hear?
I hope he'll tell me when we're alone, she thought. He'd better not be holding back because of me!
Still, she doubted that was true. Autor did not always tell her things concerning himself, but he had always been very forthright about anything that involved Fakir.
Aloud she said, "Um, excuse me, but why was I called in?"
The headmaster looked to her. "Both of these boys are your friends, aren't they, Miss Ahiru?" he said.
"Well, yeah," Ahiru said, shifting anxiously.
"I thought you should know about Mr. Fakir's misfortune," the headmaster said. "And I wanted to get your opinion on Mr. Autor's story."
From Autor's steely expression, he had known that was the plan. What the headmaster did not say out loud was that he had hoped Ahiru's initial reaction to the news would help him more fully determine Autor's innocence in the matter.
"Autor would never push Fakir!" Ahiru snapped. "I already said that."
"Arguments happen," the headmaster said. "I remember an incident from some time back, when Mr. Fakir was said to have pushed another student out the window. . . ."
"That didn't happen, either," Ahiru exclaimed. "It was a big misunderstanding! Mytho was . . ." But she trailed off, looking down. She did not know how to explain what had happened then. And it was probably better not to get into it, anyway.
The man sighed. "Very well," he said. "There's certainly not enough evidence to hold Mr. Autor. You're both free to go."
Autor gave a curt nod and looked to Ahiru. "We should find out if they know anything about Fakir's condition," he said.
Ahiru nodded in return. "Come on!" she said, hurrying to the door and pulling it open.
Autor walked out with her, merely pushing up his glasses in an indifferent manner as the eavesdropping girls on either side of the door stared at them.
"Isn't Ahiru best friends with the wonderful Fakir?" came the whispers from the crowd. "Why is she still with Autor?"
"Maybe she's so sweet that she believed his story about the wonderful Fakir falling."
"Or what if it was a plot and they were both in on it?"
"A scandal! A true scandal!"
Normally Autor was a calm person, but his patience was being pushed and stretched. Hearing them attempting to implicate Ahiru in what had not even been a case of mal-intent in the first place was the final nail in the coffin.
"Be quiet!" he snapped.
The students recoiled, silencing themselves in surprise. But a moment later they were whispering again.
"He doesn't like what we're saying about him."
"Maybe it's what we said about Ahiru he doesn't like."
"There really is a scandal!"
Ahiru clenched her fists. They were just looking for something sensational, she told herself as she and Autor walked past. They did not mean any real harm. But it still stung, to be accused of planning something so horrible to happen to someone she cared about so dearly.
"They're vultures," Autor muttered, steering Ahiru past the oogling eyes as quickly as possible.
Ahiru stared at the floor, a heartfelt prayer for Fakir's well-being running through her mind.
"By the way," Autor whispered in her ear when they were around the corner and safely away from prying students, "Fakir was pulled through the trapdoor."
Ahiru's eyes went wide. "What?" she gasped.
"I couldn't tell the headmaster. And you can't tell anyone, either. What pulled him in was a spirit."
Ahiru turned to stare at him. "There really are . . ." He shushed her and she went red, lowering her voice. "Ghosts in the library?" she whispered.
"There are now," Autor said. "And I won't rest until I learn why."