Friday, January 13, 2006
the child, part 3, chapter 13 - 'second report'
'Man! Would you look at me?' said Seth. 'I'm so nervous here, my hands are shaking! I ain't been this nervous since... since... Well, I ain't never been nervous.' He glanced up the stairs. 'When you expect 'em to get here?'
'Well,' said Forest, 'first Lucy and Linda report in to Mac. Then Mac reports to Jack and Morgen. Then they report to Joy and Mal. And then the pair of them come to see us.'
'Takes a while,' added James. Since their meeting with the Master that morning, James' face had begun to feel a great deal better. He wasn't quite up to speaking a lot yet though.
'And after we talk with them, then it's...?' And Seth finished his question with a hefty finger pointing downstairs.
'All the way down to the lowest level, yeah,' said Forest.
As James whispered, 'Sh - listen!'
From above their heads came a minor sound - was that a stairway door closing? And more light sounds - feet descending?
'Two pairs of feet, sounds like,' Forest whispered to the others.
'At least,' James agreed.
Seth, also listening, put in, 'That ain't guards. That's someone doing their best to be sneaky. Guards don't hafta be sneaky.'
'Unless it's guards trying to sneak up on us.'
Seth turned to frown towards the boy for a few seconds. And then, 'All right,' the big man conceded, 'I'll give you that one. Might just be the guards after all. I ain't ever known them to go sneaking about, but then I ain't never been outta my cell, planning a jail break neither.' A pause. 'Guess we'll find out mighty quick, eh?'
Three pairs of eyes gazed up the stairs. Two sets of hands made ready to draw swords if need be, while the remaining hands got set to bash some skulls. Just as soon as any guards might come into sight...
The light trip of small feet floated down from the landing just above, along with the soft swish of a skirt. A girlish voice called out softly, 'Forest? James?'
It was Joy.
She sure was living up to her name. As she spotted her friends, her face beamed brighter than the torches along the stairwell wall. And when she caught sight of the big man standing there with her friends, her eyes lit up even more so.
'Is that Logan?' she asked.
Nervousness hit the big guy like a ton of bricks all over again. 'Not no more, little lady,' he said, feeling suddenly like his hands and feet were way too big, and he had nowhere to hide them. 'That is... I mean to say... well, the Master done give me a new name. So now I'm Seth.'
The slip of a girl sparkled merrily at him. 'Oh, how wonderful!' she exclaimed. 'Then you're my new brother. I'm Joy.' And as her small hand was swallowed up in his great paw, she glanced back up the stairs. 'And here's...'
Forest hissed quickly to James, 'There's still more than one set of footsteps coming!'
'Oh, here he is - Malachi,' said Joy, as his feet came into view. 'And also...'
A tall girl, every bit as blushing and nervous as Seth, crowded along behind Malachi, peeking out at them all.
'...this is our new sister Talitha,' Joy finished.
'Hi,' Talitha whispered, just barely in the audible range.
'Hi, good to meet you,' Forest said brusquely, adding, 'Joy, do you realize what you just did? Don't you ever do anything like that again!'
Baffled, Joy asked, 'What did I do?'
'Running ahead of Malachi like that,' said the boy.
'And calling out our names,' added James.
'Yeah, you couldn't know for sure that it was us waiting here for you. Might have been guards.'
'But it was you,' said Joy.
'It might also,' put in Malachi, 'have been Forest and James as decoys, set here by the guards as bait for the trap. You have been leery of traps, you may recall.'
'But,' said Joy. And stopped. And considered.
'I'm sorry,' she admitted. 'You're right, all of you. I could have been running into a trap.'
'Stick closer to Mal from now on, ok?' said Forest.
'Yes, sir,' said Joy meekly.
Seth snorted. '...sir...' he echoed.
And Forest blushed bright red.
Recovering herself, Joy said to Talitha, 'Well, that's Forest. And this is James,' as the man with the bruised face reached out and shook the tall girl's hand in greeting. 'And this is Logan. Oops, sorry. I mean, this is Seth.'
'How you do, ma'am,' big Seth rumbled, doing his best to keep the usual boom in his voice down to a distant thunder. And to Joy, 'Don't worry none about messing up my name. I'm still getting used to it being Seth, too.'
'Yeah,' the new girl agreed. 'At least for me, Talitha isn't so different from my old name of Talia.'
'Talitha means little girl,' put in Joy.
Talitha blushed again. 'Yeah, that's what the Master told me he was going to make me become. His own little girl.' The scar across her cheek, still visible, seemed to fade in the light of the sweet remembrance of her meeting with the Master.
'This is good news,' James beamed, venturing out into his longest speech since he was captured back in the valley. 'Yesterday, Stephen. Today, Seth and Talitha.'
'And Rose too!' said Joy, bouncing with delight. 'Jack told us. We didn't get to meet her yet, but she used to be Ginger. So we've got over half our people now!'
'Four down, three to go - counting Walker,' said Forest. 'Any word on Beatriz?'
'Yes,' said Malachi, 'but that is the sad news we bear you.' Briefly he related the fearful declaration the woman had made to Maccabees, insisting that she would only trust Walker and no one else.
Forest's eyes darkened. 'That stinks.'
'What about Walker? Anybody found him yet?' Seth asked.
Malachi shook his head. 'No. All the levels below ground, from the ground level where Lucy and Linda are, down to our own level just above you, have now been searched. With no sign of Walker at all.'
'Yeah, and he ain't here neither,' asserted Seth. 'The guards ain't brought anyone new down here for the past three weeks, cause I'da known it if they had.' Then he frowned. 'Aw. That sounded braggy. I didn't mean it that way. Just - he ain't here. They don't bring someone new in here without all of us catching wind of it.' And then he added, 'Sorry.'
'Then we must continue the search,' said Malachi. 'Jack and Stephen, as the Master commanded them, plan to begin tomorrow to search the above-ground levels. Also, as the prisoners on Talitha's level have been taken up to the guards' quarters these past few days, we three plan to follow and search up there.'
'Good,' said James. 'And there's still some levels between this one and the lowest. We can search those.'
'And we haven't gotten Stone's report yet,' put in Forest. 'I'm still hoping he'll have some good news for us from down there. It's not impossible that he might have found Walker today, you know.'
No, not impossible - but in their hearts most of them felt it just wasn't very likely.
They made their farewells then and Joy, Malachi, and Talitha set out to return upstairs. While Forest, James, and Seth began the dark descent into the deepest bowels of this prison.
'I ain't never been down here,' muttered Seth, mostly to himself. 'Heard rumors. Supposed to be ten times worse'n where I was - which ain't easy to believe.'
The darkness swallowed them, somehow robbing the lit torches they passed of any luster. All light was only oily, dim, discouraged. Even if they hadn't been moving as silently as possible, the very atmosphere around them would have stripped from them any desire to be heard or noticed or recognized. By the time they reached the final landing before the absolute depths, it was as if all light and sound and heart were nothing but distant fading memories - if not myths.
They stopped. Forest, with a nod to the others, glided on ahead of them. He crouched down on the stairs and leaned forward to peek round that final corner. Was there...?
'Yep, someone's down there,' he reported softly.
'Stone?' James asked just as softly.
'Someone tall...' said Forest. He pushed forward a bit more, trying to catch sight of the person's face. It was shrouded in shadow...
The tall someone alerted then, turning to peer up the stairs towards where Forest was still crouched. The torchlight fell on only the right half of the someone's face, but that was enough for the boy to tell.
'Yeah, it's Stone.'
They descended, still wary. Stone, also wary, had laid a hand on his sword hilt, only relaxing after he recognized in the torchlight his friends. Quickly they introduced to him his big hulking new brother.
If Seth had thought he was nervous, that was nothing compared to the raw stress they could all read on the half of Stone's face they could see. 'Glad to see you guys,' he said.
'Rough day?' asked Forest.
'You could say that,' Stone replied. 'And to answer the next question I know you're about to ask: No, no sign of Walker. And to answer the next question after that...'
And now Stone turned to face them full-on, so that the dim light for the first time fell across his left cheek.
His left eye.
His black and swollen left eye.
'What happened to you?' erupted all three at once.
Stone's mouth twitched. 'Let's just say that Starr's little buddy from Solitary packs quite a wallop.'
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so far, i like it!