He had been pacing in front of those lion statues for over fifteen minutes, while his companions watched him with growing bored and disinterest. Previously poking around by the side of the stairway, Bandit now watching with his usual feline detachment. It started drizzling in the last minute or so, and he felt Justin was going to ask if they could go back inside any moment now.
“Come on, man…” Sure enough, Justin piped up right on cue. “You’re thinking about this too much…”
“I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m missing something here… There was something this Dr Grady was acting entirely too defensive about, for him to have gone to so much trouble over it.” Then again, now that he thought about it for a moment, that note wasn’t the first time he had seen mention of the lion statues. “Never mind. Maybe you’re right. Let’s go back inside.”
Once inside, Shades led them upstairs, to a classroom he had seen on a previous visit. Though the thought crossed his mind to check that bathroom stall in the basement, he doubted the scribbling of a few names they were already familiar with would shed any new light on this conundrum. That, and he was afraid of what he knew he would— or rather, wouldn’t— find in there.
As it was, it still messed with his mind going back to that room and looking at the chalkboard. As if he needed any further evidence at this point, yet it was still hard not to think that someone was going around “resetting” things behind them. Such as, say, a chalkboard he very distinctly remembered erasing and rewriting a couple days ago.
I will not play around on the front steps…
Just as he had originally found it. The original message itself, though, he now saw in a new light, potentially the clue they were looking for. And he had actually erased it the last time.
“As I thought,” Shades muttered, “there is something important about those steps. Could just be me, but it seems like Grady’s just a little too protective of that place, even though it’s not part of the Institute’s turf…”
“Maybe it’s because of all the money Camcron invested in it,” Donaldson suggested. “The more funding the school collected, the more the smug little weasel acted like he owned the place. Come to think of it, one of the first things they did, even while they were still working on the Camcron Building, was remodeled the front steps of the Academy. They were real’ secretive about it, too— put up these mesh fences around it while they were working on it…”
He trailed off, seeing the expression on Shades’ face.
“What is it?” Max asked, hoping his friend had a new plan to try.
“Maybe it’s not the lions,” Shades mused, “but the stairs themselves… Let’s go back out and take another look.”
And so they trooped back down the stairs and out onto the steps in spite of the rain. He had already examined them to see if a key, or anything of note, may have been placed in the crack, but the artfully sculpted stonework was smooth and completely devoid of grooves or slots. Now Shades went every step in search of cracks or slots, or even a loose brick for a dead drop, but the masonry was indeed very new, and free of any apparent defects. Just like the lion statues.
Back to Square One.
“Imagination is the mind’s eye… Knowledge is to the mind as light is to the eye…” Max read from the plaques. “It almost sounds like a riddle.”
“Yeah, it kinda sounds like one…” Now that Shades thought about it, it sounded like something from one of his old video games.
“Perhaps, but those creeds were well established since the Order of St Lucy first founded this school,” Donaldson informed them, “I’ve gone to this school since I was a boy, and I can tell you for a fact that there’s nothing…”
“What do you mean?” Justin asked, leaning against one of the lions, “And what does that have to do with—”
Justin instantly jumped back, reflexes sharpened by so many close calls, as the lion statue rotated on slightly on its base, turning toward the steps.
“Now why didn’t I think of that?” Shades laughed. Since both plaques mentioned eyes, “Justin, keep turning that statue.” As he positioned himself at the other. “I think you just solved the puzzle.”
Sure enough, both statues rotated quite easily on their bases, locking into place once they faced eye-to-eye. A section of the side of the staircase swung inward with a whisper-quiet grinding sound. Revealing a hidden portion of the Academy building’s architecture.
Donaldson looked on in silent amazement at the secret entrance that had been sitting right under his nose.
“I’ve been thinking along the wrong lines…” Shades realized aloud. “Guess I just never thought anyone would build something like this in real life…”
Bandit simply regarded them with a look that seemed to say, Took ya long enough.
Same side of the stairs his feline friend was sniffing around earlier, Max now noticed.
“I know the old ways never really took root here,” Donaldson pondered, “but I never thought the Order was prone to go this far back in their homeland… Or was this something Camcron built here?”
“Maybe a little of both?” The thought popped into Justin’s mind, though he didn’t dwell on the history lesson for long.
They entered the secret door single file, Donaldson leading the way, unable to resist seeing this place he had walked on all this time without even knowing. Inside was a short stairway that ran parallel to the exterior steps above, leading to a secret room. As they descended into the gloom, they brought out their lights.
At the bottom of the dusty stairway was a small room. Once he was down there, Shades spotted a string dangling from the ceiling, pulling it to activate a bare lightbulb. Illuminating a cramped, cluttered study. On the desk were some papers and a ring of keys that Shades quickly recognized as being of the magnetically coded variety.
Taking one of the papers, he read: “Something about Camcron’s New Cali headquarters… Let’s see: …requesting more TH-49 temporal flux converters diverted from Project Pythagoras, and sent to Project Metronome in Dusty Heights, Mesa District, and the groundwork for starting Project Empty Set. There’s also a hand-written note at the bottom that says: Your cooperation is expected, Dr Grady. According to the updated time-tables, Dr Pelkey is still working on back-engineering the stasis units in a more affordable process, so there is still a limited supply. In the meantime, we installed the TerTech subspace communications relays, as per your request, so we would appreciate it if you answered our calls more often… Sounds like Adnan’s fell victim to Camcron’s internal politics, as well as Pythagoras.”
“What’s that one about?” Justin asked about the second note.
“Mr Geist,” he read, not liking the sound of the name any more than the first time he heard it, “Use these keys to get into research lab. Once activated, Project Pythagoras need not be shut down, for the sake of the experiment, but it can be paused for short intervals using the keys in the main chamber. Remember to turn them in the correct order. Signed, Kay.”
“So these are the keys to the Camcron Building?” Donaldson commented, for they looked very much like the ones Grady carried.
What was the Science Department up to at this school? Shades shuddered, wondering who would see fit to use an entire realm of people as lab rats.
“We got the keys,” Justin said, turning back toward the stairs, “now let’s move.”