(Based on something that actually exists at my old school.)
The Tunnels (1/?)
The Tunnels were built back during the height of the Cold War. They wound beneath a good portion of campus and the football field. Most of the entrances had been blocked off, due to “safety concerns”. The majority of students assumed that meant the Tunnels were not kept up and in danger of collapse.
But Cor had iron in both ears (to keep the whispers from overwhelming), and on her fingers (to keep her writing her own), and a small stud through her tongue (to allow her to speak the truth). Going into journalism, she always knew how perilous it could be. She simply assumed it would get bad once she went overseas to war zones, not while she worked on her major. (Nothing can prepare you for Them trying to distort your stories.)
She considered Them to be the greatest of contradictions. They had to live in truths, lies were against Their very nature, and They reveled in forcing humans to live by the same, and yet They hated that requirement of Their existence. They would twist and turn words, use them like weapons or spiderwebs, keep them just this side of truth while being utter falsehoods, everything the wrong way round. And the journalism majors… well, They would prefer the “speakers of truth” told it from a bent perspective.
That was not to say that Cor, or any of those who shared her major, were able to write completely unbiased. But Cor tried.
(It was why she had picked her second name. Cordelia, daughter of King Lear. When the king had been intent on dividing his kingdom, he had asked his daughters to prove who loved him best. Her sisters had flattered and lied and exaggerated, while Cordelia had spoken only the simple truth: “I love your majesty according to my bond; nor more nor less… You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I return those duties back as are right fit, obey you, love you, and most honor you.” If Cor had remembered the consequences of that, instead of merely taking pride in the princess’ honesty, perhaps things would have been different. Then again, perhaps not.)
And the Tunnels were fascinating.
The truth (because it is important) is that she did not plan to go. (You may not know exactly what there is Underhill, but you can guess. The quiet stories about the chemistry department stealing back a professor give everyone who hears them goosebumps. You do not go Underhill without a clear purpose, or at all if possible.)
It was another member of the department. A freshman (Isn’t it always?) who had heard enough about the Tunnels to be curious, but not to be cautious. He was 18 years of age, and he went by the name Youngest. (The last kid in his family, he explained once. What Cor would find out later was that that also made him the fifth son of a fifth son, stretching back five generations. If she’d known then, she would have refused to go. He may have been born for quests and breaking curses, but she wasn’t.)
He had been trying to study up on the history of the Tunnels and found the records in the campus library archives lacking. The Tunnels had been mentioned in the university paper when they were being voted on, and when they announced the construction start date. There were no blueprints and no financial records. There were no minutes from the council meeting that decided to go forward with the building plans. There was no list of provisions to be kept in the tunnels, nor even a list of where to enter them.
And Youngest wouldn’t accept that. Cor wasn’t the first to try to talk him out of his obsession. (It didn’t help that he was a low-key conspiracy theorist. And not in a useful, fairy tales and old stories way. No, he was all about secret government bunkers and drugs in the water supply and money being stolen from institutions like Elsewhere U for illegal testing facilities.) He refused to listen. He started asking indelicate questions of the librarians and the campus administration, and he apparently had enough luck on his side to keep him from asking just the wrong person.
In the end, the big break came from a boy he was dating, a theatre major. Prior had been drunk, the two had gone back to Youngest’s room for the night, planning to fall into bed after a party and sleep off the booze. Youngest had brought it up, and Prior muttered something about an entrance in one of the costume closets at the main theatre on campus. When he woke up the next morning and realized what he’d said, he tried to take it back, to convince Youngest that he had been drunk and didn’t know what he was saying.
Youngest didn’t listen.
Youngest grabbed his phone for video and audio, and a pen and notepad in case something happened to his phone, and a flashlight and a bottle of water. He kissed Prior, was effusive in his thanks, and then walked away.
Prior panicked and called Cor.
And Cor, she was so damn tempted to let the stupid, oblivious moron just go. Unfortunately, her conscience was apparently stronger than her sense of self preservation.
She caught Youngest as he was putting aside a pair of bolt cutters he’d grabbed from a props room, and yanking off the old iron padlock holding the small door shut. He pushed open the entrance as she grabbed his arm to yank him back, and in a rush they were both somewhere new.
Cor quickly stood and checked her fanny pack. (It looked stupid. Cor didn’t care.) Creamer cups and seeds and campus-made oat bars soaked and crystalized in honey were held in a plastic ziplock baggie. Her little velvet drawbag of possibilities was net to it. Cor had collected the bits and bobs while scouring thrift shops and yard sales for unused baby shoes and abandoned love letters and half-finished quilts. (She cut them into small pieces, recognizing potential power, and kept them close.) Packets of salt and ground vervain tucked in another pocket. Then she shook her leg and heard the little jingle of her anklet. (It was silver, with four tiny shards of crystal, and it had been a gift to Cor’s great great great grandmother from her sister. It was a promise, a last resort, a nuclear button. Cor didn’t want to use it, because she knew the consequence. But if there was no other way…)
Then she took in the tunnel. It was dark before and dark behind, roughly hewn, strange shaped rocks pressed into dirt made up the surface, with two torches lit and glowing brightly on the wall to either side of them. If there had been a door, it wasn’t there anymore.
And when Youngest finally pulled himself upright, staring around in disbelief, Cor gave up being nice and smacked him on the back of the head. “Why do freshmen never listen?”
Mention of the chemistry department revolt is borrowed from “Feathers” by runwildwithme on tumblr. It was just too good a noodle incident to pass up on referencing. ((Additionally, I don’t have a tumblr, but if anyone wants to follow this story for updates, I’m planning to post it on ao3. Author name is TornThorn.))
I love Cor (And if you want to send me a link to the A03 story I’ll post it!)
One note - the Chemistry Department revolt actually comes from this earlier ask from dragon-saint! It gives a bit more detail, although still not much.