Ian held onto his sister for dear life, not caring in the slightest about keeping up his aloof act as stones and debris rained down around them. Natalie was screaming, more out of shock and fear than pain (he hoped) as the Kabra siblings huddled behind one of the trees rimming the church graveyard.
The pair of them had been staking out the perimeter of the church, watching as Irina and Alistair had arrived and gone in, and then as the Holts had sneaked around the area. Natalie kept twitching beside her brother, eagerly waiting for the first sign of Amy and Dan so that they could swoop in and steal the clue right from under their noses as they'd planned. Ian was ashamed to admit that he had barely paid Hamilton and his father any mind as they had skulked around the church, as he too was awaiting the Cahills' appearance.
Natalie was unaffected as the minutes ticked past, but Ian grew more and more uneasy as the time when Amy and Dan should have come up the hill came and went. He knew that something was wrong, but with Natalie at his elbow there was no way he could try to contact anyone to see what had happened. The elder Kabra had just been figuring out how he could slip away from his sister when the explosion had rocked the church, sending both Lucians sprawling.
The bomb couldn't have been particularly powerful, judging by the relatively weak force of the initial explosion, but either the Holts were cleverer than he gave them credit for or they just got lucky because ground zero appeared to be right in the structural heart of the old building. Down came Humpty Dumpty, and Ian was sure in that moment that all the Ekats' tools and all the Ekats' brains could never put it back together again.
And he wasn't just talking about the church.
Ian chanced raising his head once he felt reassured enough that the heaviest debris had already fallen. It was hard to see anything through the smoke, flames, and dust, but Ian thought he could just make out a single shadowy figure staggering away from the wreckage.
Forget following the original timeline. The worst of the stones may have come down already, but flames were still spreading quickly. Ian staggered to his feet, one arm still tightly wrapped around his sister, turned on his heels, and ran as fast as he could from the scene.
He could only pray that the others were all right.
Ian leaned against the wall in his coffee shop booth, glancing around subtly with every sip of his cheap, disgusting coffee. His jitters had nothing to do with the caffeine, and everything to do with the adrenaline that was still coursing through his veins.
He had managed to get himself and Natalie back to their hotel, and the moment Natalie had collapsed in bed to sleep off the shock of the day's events, Ian was gone. The Lucian had sneaked down to the laundry rooms (if his cousins had seen him, they would never let him hear the end of it) and out one of the side doors of the hotel, stealing a nondescript hoodie as he went to blend in with the crowd. His phone weighed heavily in his pocket, and Ian resisted the urge to check it for the millionth time to re-read his coded Madrigal message. He was sure that he had the place right, but where was -
Ian nearly jumped out of his skin as someone cleared their throat right in front of him.
The Kabra's head shot up, only for him to relax as he recognized Erasmus sitting across from him (how had he not seen/heard him sit down?).
"It's dangerous, meeting in person like this," Erasmus said in an undertone, casually looking around the shop for any potential eavesdroppers. Seeing none, he returned his attention to Ian, who was almost glaring at him in his impatience.
"Amy and Dan are fine." The words knocked Ian back in his seat in sheer relief as he released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "They were with Nellie, Jonah, and Broderick in the Catacombs when the bomb went off, well out of harm's way."
Ian nodded, letting this sink in, noting Nellie and Jonah's names as well with equal levels of relief. "What about the ones who were inside - Alistair, Irina?" Ian pressed. Erasmus's face darkened slightly.
"We don't know. Neither one of their bodies were found in the wreckage, but that wasn't the kind of explosion that anyone could walk away from unscathed."
Ian's mind flashed back to the shadowy figure he'd seen leaving the scene earlier, but before he speak up Erasmus was talking again.
"We're trying to find them, especially Alistair, but unfortunately they're not our biggest concern at the moment." The ominous note in the older man's voice caught Ian's attention and held it fast. The relief he had felt only moments ago was already fading to dread at what he was about to hear.
Erasmus leaned forward slightly, lowering his voice even further. "The only reason Amy and Dan weren't in the church when it blew was because someone blocked the trapdoor connecting the graveyard to the Catacombs," he said. Ian opened his mouth, but Erasmus cut him off again. "It wasn't me, or Fiske, and everyone else was off playing their own roles. We don't know who locked them down there, and we don't know if it was to protect them from the bomb or to trap them underground. But as you know, this never happened in original time and that means whoever did this could be a huge danger to not only us, but the entire timeline itself."
The dread turned to ice in Ian's gut. His Lucian training kicked in and kept his face neutral, but his mind was racing.
"So what does that mean for us?" he asked as calmly as he could. Erasmus's face was solemn as he slid a package across the table to Ian, who pocketed it without a second glance.
"It means that Fiske and I won't be able to be around much at all," he said. "We have to track whoever it is down, as well as figure out which Vesper came back with us and whether they're possibly the same person. The best we can do for those of you in the Clue Hunt is run as a medium for secret communications, but even those will have to be few and far between."
Ian nodded in understanding, even if he inwardly wanted to stamp his feet and scream in frustration. "So basically, we're going to have to run through this Hunt as separate and ignorant as we did the first time, with the added bonus of having to pretend to try and kill each other at every turn?" he stated with a slight bite to his tone. Erasmus leaned back, his expression unchanged.
"Yes. I'm sorry. Delete my message - Fiske and I will try to be in touch as soon as we can," he said, rising to his feet. And with that, the older man walked out of the coffee shop and disappeared.
Ian sat there for a few more minutes, gripping his now-cold cup a little too tightly. Eventually, he let out a long drawn out sigh, never appearing more like a regular, average teenager than he did in that moment, and stood up. Leaving the half-full cup on the table, Ian followed Erasmus's path out the door, fingering the vial-shaped package in his pocket as he went.