Friday, December 23, 2005
the child, part 3, chapter 10 - 'talia'
Joy all but flew back up the stairs to their level, butterflies in her stomach at the prospect of meeting with Talia. 'You know which room?' she asked Malachi - and not for the first time, either.
He smiled and nodded.
Almost time! The butterflies were at least the size of hummingbirds now. 'Oh!' Joy said suddenly as they neared the door to their level, 'did you notice how many of our groups are hiding out in broom closets?'
'Including us, yes. It is the quickest place to hide. Almost every level has one.'
'But not the lowest level, down where Stone and Starr are.'
'True,' said Mal.
'But then,' she added, 'why would they need brooms down there? All that sludge on the floor.'
'True,' Malachi repeated, his hand now on the handle to open the stairway door.
'Maybe a mop closet...' Joy mused.
'Joy,' said Mal suddenly, sternly. 'Is this conversation going somewhere?'
She blushed. 'Umm... no, I guess not.'
'Are you attempting an imitation of Jack?'
Deeper blush. 'No, I... guess I'm just nervous.'
'Understandable. But there's no need to be nervous. You spoke with Talia earlier. She was receptive, and wants to meet with us.'
His hand was still waiting to open the door. 'Unless?'
'Oh, Malachi, you don't suppose this could be a trap, do you?'
'Why should it be?'
'I don't know. I just... The thought just came to me.'
'Well. We shall find out shortly. Won't we?'
Joy gulped and then gave a tiny laugh. 'Yeah, I guess we will! Let's go.'
Mal held up his other hand, listened briefly at the door, then nodded and opened it. The familiar corridors stretched out before them, one leading straight ahead of them, the other leading off to the right.
'This way,' whispered Mal. And he made his way quietly off to the right, pausing at each corner to check for guards. At the fourth corridor, they turned and went swiftly to a door almost to the end, on the left. Stopping, Malachi gestured at the door.
Hmm? Oh! The key! Feeling a bit silly for not having it already in hand, Joy quickly hunted through her knapsack and found it. Licking her lips nervously, she fed the key into the lock and turned it.
The door opened, just like it ought to. The room inside was dark - utterly dark, with only a hint of light spilling in the doorway from the torches out in the corridor.
Dark. And still? Was no one in here?
No. There was breathing; Joy heard it now. She glanced at Malachi, and then they both stepped in and pushed the door shut behind them. If this was a trap, they were about to find out. 'Talia?'
'Talia? Are you here? It's me - Joy. You said we should come...?'
'J-joy?' The voice was soft and husky. There was a shifting sound, as of someone sitting up in a bed. And then came the lighting of a candle.
And there she was. Talia was blinking up at the two of them, her eyes red and bleary, and her face all wet and splotchy.
She had been crying.
Joy flew across the room. 'Talia! What's wrong? Why were you crying?'
'Oh, you're here! You're here! I thought you weren't coming. I thought you'd forgotten about me. I waited and waited, and, and... well, I guess I finally cried myself to sleep.' She looked so morose, the poor girl - and maybe a bit sheepish as well.
'Oh, I'm so sorry!' cried Joy. 'I'm sorry we're so late.'
'We needed to meet with our companions,' Mal added. 'We did not intend to be this long.'
'Companions? There are more of you?'
'Yes,' said Joy, thinking that if this in fact was a trap, they were about to put more than just their own necks into the noose. 'Walker went all through the dungeons looking for people who wanted out.' An inward cringe, as she realizing that the word 'all' wasn't exactly the truth there.
'I'd never seen anyone without chains till I met Walker,' said Talia. 'And now you as well. No chains, and - those are swords, right?'
Joy's hand fell automatically to her hilt.
'What do you need swords for?' Talia asked.
'To protect you when we lead you out of here,' Mal replied.
'Out sounds good to me,' said Talia. 'I am so...' Fresh tears sprang up in her still-swollen eyes. 'So completely tired of being here! So tired of the guards leering and pawing and all that.' She sighed. 'It's just not fun anymore.'
Joy blinked. Fun anymore? She shot a puzzled glance at Malachi.
'It was fun before, then?' said he.
'Oh, yeah! Used to be - man! They used to fight over me and everything.'
'The guards?' said Joy.
'Well, sure. And then they'd let the guys come and we'd, you know, pair off and party and all.' Talia grinned nostalgically. 'Really cute guys, some of them. Like Jimmie...'
The grin was short-lived. 'You know, it was so exciting at first. All the attention. But then the guys started getting mean. Or bored. Or boring. And it wasn't long before they just didn't much treat me nice.' A snort. 'You know, there were times when I felt like I might as well have just been a thing. Something to show off, something to brag about. Didn't any of them care that I was Talia? Me? A person?' She stared off into the darkness beyond the candlelight. 'What did they care? I could have been Danni or, or Brenda, or anyone. I could have been a body without a face. What did they care, as long as they got what they wanted?'
Her face grew hard then. 'So I started making sure they didn't get what they wanted. And those stinking,' and Joy's eyes popped at the word Talia used then to describe the guys, 'they just got meaner! Especially the guards. And Jimmie...' Her scowl deepened as she paused and fingered the scar across her face. 'Jimmie did this. But he figured it out pretty quick - and so did the rest, most of them - that there wasn't no messing with Talia anymore.' A glitter of satisfaction flashed into her eyes. 'Yeah, especially Jimmie!'
Joy just stood there, stunned, listening to her new friend's story. She'd always thought the part of the dungeons where she'd grown up was nasty...!
'And then Walker showed up,' Talia went on. 'No chains on his arms, that sword at his side. And he treated me like a lady.' A real smile then, showing Talia's real beauty. 'He said if I wanted out, he'd make sure someone came for me.' Even brighter smile. 'And here you are! So,' she drew up her knees under the covers and leaned her chin on them. 'When do we go?'
'As soon as possible,' Joy replied.
While Malachi added, 'First - what do you know about the Master?'
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