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Beneath the Surface

Posted on Sat Mar 9th, 2024 @ 9:33 by Phoebe Hunter & William McAvoy & Liana Zhao

Chapter: Winter's Crest Festival
Location: The Knights' Lair, Avalon Institute
Timeline: Friday, 11th December
2703 words - 5.4 OF Standard Post Measure

"You've certainly made a lot of progress down here since I last visited."

Ordinarily, Liana tried not to sneak up on people. If she was going to eventually announce her presence, she treated any interim observation as an ultimate discretion and sought to blend in so well that she remained unnoticed. From there, stepping out from the shadows became less of a sudden revelation and more a carefully crafted attempt to make it look like she'd just arrived. It didn't always work, of course, mutants were often a suspicious and overly-observant lot, but the point was more that she tried not to be a source of surprise. It was, if nothing else, a surefire way to get a fireball flung at your face.

It wasn't easy to manage in the long and winding catacombs beneath the castle. Thankfully, the clip-clop of her boots had probably given her away, and it wasn't as if the Institute's guardian was an easy man to sneak up on at the best of times. She was pleased, at any rate, that he was the first person she'd encountered down here. She'd been meaning to catch up with him since arriving.

William had been trying to secure more of the entrances to areas that students and teachers without the proper knowledge or experience should not go into when he heard the footsteps. He had suspected Claire but Liana was a close second. “Well someone needs to make sure that the children do not get more in to trouble. Some of them have a knack for sniffing out trouble.” He said putting down the hammer and nails to give her his full attention.

"Leave it to our guardian at arms to keep us safe."

The counsellor's smile was warm, fond even. William presented a fascinating story, his experience almost unfathomable and yet it held a fairytale quality, warts and all, that allowed her to enjoy their conversations once he could be tempted to talk of past experiences. She didn't press very often, it was clearly a delicate subject, but she was nevertheless pleased to see he still had Claire's back. Lifting her eyes to scan their surroundings, Liana took a moment to admire the changes since her previous stay. "I'm told things are quite impressive down here now. Claire seems very proud of it. And of you."

“Someone has to try and keep the students from down here.” He pointed out and listened to her words with a his own smile. “That will be something that you will have to talk to Claire about.” William did not spill secrets and he was not sure if the counsellor was on the list. He did not at all know if Claire was proud of him, she had tolerated him enough for him to stay around after 4 years.

"She and I have already spoken," she reassured the man, realising where his hesitancy stemmed from. "I've already told Cameron I need a full tour of this jet of his." It was enough to set them on level footing, though Liana hadn't wandered down to the catacombs just to spy on the Knights' new lair. People were her priority, and right now, she was unexpectedly killing two birds with the one stone. "How are you, William?" It was always worth an attempt to ask directly, even if she'd stopped holding out hope of an in-depth response.

The man relaxed visibly and shrugged a little bit. He was not past physically getting people out of the space but he did not want to do that to someone he counted as a friend of some sort. The woman came and went but she at the very least tried to engage him in conversation. "I am okay. How about you?" He asked back automatically.

"Excited to be back," Liana offered. As had been the case in the past, she moved gently, aware that even after several years of living amongst people again, the man was more or less used to being alone. "I peeked inside the greenhouses earlier, and your vegetable patch is impressive." Assisting with the gardening had always been more of a way for Liana to spend her downtime than an actual chore, and allowed her to feel connected to the place even with the long stretches in between visits. Some of the rose bushes in the side garden had been planted in the early days of Avalon's restructuring, it was like greeting old friends to see them still in bloom.

"I am trying something other than potatoes this year. We shall see if the greenhouses can cope. My vegetable patch will not be ready till the spring but it has expanded over the last few months." He was not at all sure about the new vegetables that the world had to offer but it was at the very least a learning experience for the man to see what the 20th century had to offer compared to the 14th. He was trying to merge the ideas but sometimes all he wanted at the end of the day was to go back to his cottage and turn off everything electric and just enjoy a book with a fire.

"Then I'll look forward to the subsequent banquet." It occurred to Liana then, given her stay was likely to be far more protracted than the last, that she would be in a place this time around to make good with an old promise to cook him Korean-style vegetable soup. The ancient man's tastebuds hadn't quite kept up with the advances from the Orient, she was interested to see what he'd make of it.

Glancing over his shoulder to gaze down the corridor, the counsellor considered her timeframe and reluctantly abandoned the topic to remain on-task. "I was actually trying to find Ms. Hunter. She wasn't anywhere in the handful of places I thought to look above ground, Claire suggested she might be down here."

The man nodded and turned to regather his tools when the woman requested to speak to Phoebe of all people. It was a logical move he realised when he glanced at the woman and the professional look on her face. “I believe she is likely at this time of day to be in the gym if you are not able to find her in the teachers lounge or anything.” She was frequent user of the training areas of the Knights most days.

"Would you mind showing me?" In part, it was an attempt to keep the man engaged whilst also conveying a willingness to keep his company rather than escape it. Primarily, however, Liana was concerned with getting lost underground, not to mention turning up unannounced in a space that was supposed to be very need-to-know.

The man offered a slight bow as he agreed to the request. It was not his usual role in the castle but he could make it work for Liana. He indicated one of the corridors of the catacombs and started walking down it until the old corridors turned into newer ones that had a strange green tinge to them. He could hear noise in the distance that indicated that someone was using the equipment and as he pushed open the door he found the red head running on the treadmill. He was not used to her running on that machine more used to seeing her using the equipment to do something called gymnastics but it must have been too cold for her to go for an actual run.

“There she is. Red hair on the moving floor machine.” He said pointing across the room.

"Thank you." Given that the nature of her visit had included barely enough time for an introduction with the Quantum Knights' leader, Liana hesitated at dismissing the groundsman, disappointed by the lack of opportunity to hear his version of recent events through the eyes of such a unique perspective, but such was the inevitability of things when she insisted on cramming her schedule so tightly. "We'll catch up soon," she promised, reaching out to lightly touch the man's arm before excusing herself to move towards the equipment area.

A couple of seconds passed before she found a hard surface to rap against. "Knock, knock."

Phoebe had heard people in the distance but as the roster was expanding she had not bothered to check on who it was. She glanced to her left and saw someone she had only seen in her visions and leant out and pressed the slowing down button until she got to a stop. “Hello?” She greeted turning to face to the woman.

"I hope I'm not interrupting." Liana lingered, not yet stepping further into the room. "I wasn't really sure how to call ahead." The attempt at light-heartedness was accompanied by a warm smile as the counsellor clasped her hands in front of her and lifted her shoulders in a slight shrug. "It's Phoebe, right? Claire said you'd probably be down here."

"Not at all. I have been expecting you." Phoebe had not been using her ability but Claire had warned her that the woman would be turning up eventually. "Claire warned me that you might want to speak to me about.... stuff." She explained not knowing if Claire had gone into her abilities. It did not feel like something Claire would do but she knew the woman was trusted.

Though she'd had every opportunity, Liana supposed, to inquire about the mutations of the staff she had yet to meet, she had opted not to for no other reason than respect for agency over the choice to disclose. Putting Claire in an awkward position wasn't warranted, not when Liana reasoned that people would tell her whatever they were comfortable with her knowing. For that reason, her assumptions rested mostly on the head mistress being used as a go-between and laughed softly at the slight ridiculousness of it. "I should hope it wasn't framed as a warning or I might worry what she chose to tell you." Stepping in then, Liana offered her hand. "Liana Zhao."

“Claire knows I have my own warning system so she does not worry about that type of thing when it comes to me I hope.” Maybe the woman did but Phoebe wanted to believe that Claire trusted her enough. “Phoebe Hunter.” The redhead introduced herself back taking the offered hand.

"I hope you don't mind me tracking you down," Liana continued, sparing a glance at their surroundings. "I did consider whether approaching you down here was entirely appropriate for a first meeting." The installation and the premise behind it were new additions, and whilst Claire had seen fit to disclose the bare minimum, there had been respect set aside for Phoebe's leadership. It was that precarious balance between awareness and ignorance that had prompted Liana to make the introduction sooner rather than later.

"Better than me being asleep or teaching. This is slightly more private." Phoebe indicated the benches nearby and moved to sit down. "So I feel like this is not just an introduction." Maybe the woman was wrong but it just did not feel like run-of-the-mill hello.

The observation earned a soft huff of laughter from Liana as she moved to sit at the other end of the bench. "I would call it a mixture," she replied, "I certainly would like to make myself known to all staff before the dust has settled. But you're right, in a sense." The brunette turned her gaze to wandering again. "Your endeavours down here add a dynamic that wasn't present the last time I was at Avalon. Claire chose to divulge the existence of the Knights but left any explanation vague enough that I would say her intention was that I ask my questions elsewhere. If I know her, there was some hope that I would choose to get involved." Liana sighed and looked back at Phoebe with a wry smile. "I would argue that I already am, at least from the point of view that I now have a responsibility towards you all to navigate discretion. So this is me, letting you know that I know, and then asking you what you want us to do about that."

Phoebe raised an eyebrow and shrugged. “There is nothing to be done about it now is there ,Claire has let you know and I know that you know. So I feel like it is all pretty out in the open with people who need to know in an emergency. But is it something you want to get involved in?”

It wasn't the warmest welcome Liana had ever received but it was also far from the worst. Out of deference for the perception of guarded wariness, she adjusted her tone and stance and tried a slightly more pragmatic phrasing. "Directly, no. My mutation does not have application in the field that warrants its risks, often. Jonathan has a far grasp of directed pyromancy in that regard. Not that I'm unwilling to help in a pinch," Liana added, "But combat doesn't really play to my strengths. I believe Claire's hope is that I remain with the students during your deployment." She tried smiling again. "Which probably makes me more of a liaison than a team member."

The red head nodded. That was a good thing as playing to strengths instead of egos was something that she preferred. “Well then what is the first thing you would like to liaise on then?”

The very faintest of smiles became Liana's best attempt to remained receptive without taking over. "Well, it's probably fair to say that Claire has been very brief in her description of what your intention is with all of this." The counsellor's gaze wandered. "I think she felt that it was more your place than hers to elaborate. This is a training facility of some sort?"

"I am not entirely sure as she brought me in after she created it all. But yes this is a training facility for anyone who feels they have something to offer what we have dubbed the Knights and assist with the troubling times that we are heading into." Phoebe commented rubbing her forehead at the mention of future things.

"Would it be too much to ask to be shown around?" Whilst familiarity would undoubtedly be a useful thing, Liana couldn't argue that this request was partially driven by curiosity.

“Not at all but do you mind a rain check until tomorrow?” Phoebe wondered thinking that she was going to be late for something important.

"Of course, whenever suits." Liana dipped her head, an acknowledgement that turning up unannounced did not come with an expectation of immediacy. She made note of it, however, thinking it likely that the other woman preferred prior warning in most things. From what Liana understood of Phoebe's powers, she could somewhat understand that compulsion.

"I will come and find you." The woman promised as she started to gather up items to take back to her rooms. It gave her time to think through what she wanted to show and talk to Claire properly.

"I look forward to it." A parting glance around the space saw Liana accept that further curiosity would have to wait and, turning back towards the direction of the exit, she paused, looked in the opposite direction and then quietly came to the conclusion that navigating underground, especially through converted catacombs, was not going to be an addition to her superpowers any time soon. "And now, do I confess to being slightly disoriented or try my luck at not wandering around in circles for hours?" Her nose wrinkled at the choice. "As long as it's not an imposition, I think I might wait for an escort just this once."

“Come on I’ll get you back I have time before I head out so it is not a bother.” Phoebe said genuinely smiling at the woman and indicated the correct door to get back out into the corridors. It was one of the reasons why they had made it slightly harder to get where they were but it did no good if an adult who knew about it all got lost.


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