Friday, February 24, 2006
the child, part 3, chapter 19 - 'the rescue of walker'
'Walker.' Stephen barely breathed the word. But beside him, Jack winced. Would the guards hear what he'd said?
Yep. Instantly, every man among the guards turned to look their way. Frowning, squinting, puzzled. As if they had heard the sound, but couldn't make out the source of it.
Morgen continued to stand steadfastly between his companions and the guards, blocking the guards' view of Jack and Stephen behind him. But, Jack thought, that didn't make sense; even if the guards couldn't see the two of them, surely they could see Morgen?
They didn't act like they could see Morgen. Squaring his shoulders, the leader of the guards moved forward now cautiously, his head twisting to the side all the better to hear what he could not see. With a wave of his hand, he called forward a few more of the guards, all of them creeping closer, their eyes roving madly to make sense of what they had heard.
'Be ready,' Morgen said softly to his companions behind him. 'And be not afraid.' Strangely, though Jack and Stephen heard him plainly, the guards coming their way gave no sign of hearing Morgen's words at all.
Jack gave a tight nod and stepped up a bit, maneuvering Stephen still more to the rear of their small group. He deeply wished that there was a weapon for their new friend to wield as well - but even if they had a sword for Stephen, he'd never been trained to use one. Would having a weapon he didn't know how to use do Stephen any good against this bunch of tough brutes they were facing?
The guards crept closer, closer still, glancing now and again at each other in confusion. Less than ten feet away now, and they still plainly could not see anyone ahead of them.
'Now,' said Morgen. He stepped forward, swinging his sword. The lead guard had only the breadth of a heartbeat to register the shock on his face as suddenly this huge warrior appeared and attacked him, before his head went spinning from his shoulders to land far down the corridor, near Walker's feet.
For a split second, everyone on both sides stood frozen, stunned. Then Jack gave a blood-curdling yell and charged.
Stephen hung back, watching, as Morgen and Jack waded into the guards. Swords flashed, whips lashed, cudgels whooshed and thudded. Morgen in particular seemed to have a dozen arms as he took out guard after guard. Curiously, every so often he reversed his blade and coshed a guard over the head with the hilt, felling him. But mostly Morgen simply took the guards apart.
Jack, on the other hand, while fighting hard as well, seemed to be very careful not to kill anyone. And while Morgen was cutting a swath through the main body of the guards, Jack was more focused on getting to Walker.
And soon he did. There were only a few guards left now, and two of them were flanking the prisoner. One of those two sprang forward to engage Jack, whip flicking and cracking. It was hard for Jack to close with him, to reach him with his sword at all. Laughing, the guard pressed Jack backwards, the whip dancing like a live thing. It caught Jack on the cheek, drawing blood, and the guard laughed all the more.
Determined, Jack stood his ground as the guard moved closer. The whip now caught at Jack's arm, ripping his sleeve. Jack flinched, but stood fast. Once again the whip lashed out, this time wrapping itself round Jack's sword hand. The guard howled with glee as he pulled back hard, intending to rip the flesh from Jack's bones.
Except that, with a twist of his wrist, Jack had already deftly sliced the whip through. The guard staggered backwards, barely keeping his feet as Jack rushed on him. Using both hands, Jack swung the sword, whacking the guard in the side of the head with the flat of his blade. The guard crumpled and lay still. Breathing hard, Jack now turned towards Walker.
'Not so fast,' rasped the remaining guard, cursing Jack with some choice epithets. 'One step more, and he's dead.' The guard had the hapless Walker by the hair, pulling his head backwards to expose his neck. And this guard, unlike most, was armed with steel. It was a dagger rather than a sword - but it was plenty enough weapon to kill Walker before Jack would be able to stop him.
'Now wait,' said Jack, spreading his arms. 'You don't want to do that.'
The guard barked a laugh at him. 'Don't I? You better believe I wanna kill him. Just watch!'
No! thought Stephen. For the guard pressed harder against Walker's neck, drawing blood. Also crying aloud, 'No!' Jack lunged forward as that first bead of blood appeared.
But Morgen was faster. Suddenly the arm that held the blade to Walker's neck was gone, slashed away at the elbow. And before that limb could hit the floor, the guard's head went flying as well.
And Walker? He collapsed.
Stephen went running for Walker's side, dodging amongst the bodies strewn throughout the hallway, slipping on - well, what his feet were slipping on, he really didn't want to think of just then. Jack had already reached Walker and had an arm under him, supporting him, by the time Stephen got there as well.
'Walker! Walker! Are you all right?' Stephen asked.
'Here,' said Morgen. He pressed a cloth into Stephen's hand, and he in turn pressed it to the wound on Walker's neck.
'Walker?' said Jack.
The man was dazed - understandably. But he was blinking. And breathing. His head was lolling, and Stephen used his free hand to steady it.
Then Walker's eyes focused on his face. 'Rob?' he whispered.
Stephen burst out grinning. 'Yeah! I mean, no. No, I'm Stephen now.'
'Ste... You got a new name? Then you met...'
'The Master, yes.'
'And he said for me to give you this,' added Jack. As Walker turned his eyes towards him, Jack held up the key that the Master had given him to restore to his son Walker. Briefly, Jack related the story of their search for him, the story of turning the fortress upside-down, all for the sake of finding Walker and setting him free.
And when Jack was done speaking, Walker only stared at him for a long moment. Then, receiving the key into his palm, he whispered, 'Thank you.'
Stephen had been holding that cloth firmly against Walker's neck all this time. Now, cautiously, he peeked under it to see how bad the damage was. 'Whew,' he said. 'Man, I thought that guy had really punctured you. But he just barely cut you. And it's hardly bleeding anymore.'
Gingerly, Walker lifted a hand to touch the wound. His other hand came up as well.
Oh yeah. Chains. Swiftly, Jack took back the key and used it to set Walker free from the heavy shackles. 'Let's get you up,' he added.
Walker wasn't the steadiest on his feet as they helped him to stand. The livid bruises they could see on his face spoke of many more bruises they couldn't see under his clothes. Still, now that the chains were gone, he seemed a good bit less dazed.
'We should go,' said Morgen.
'You need to know something first,' said Walker. 'I...' His eyes flickered. 'I tried to hold out. I really did. But...' And again his eyes flickered, till he could no longer meet anyone's gaze. 'I gave you up this morning. I told them everything.'
A ragged sob. 'I've betrayed you all!'
The very thing Stephen had feared, back when he was still Rob. Hearing Walker say it now, though...
'I wouldn't have lasted as long as you did,' he assured Walker. 'We all forgive you. We all understand.'
'And we all need to leave immediately,' said Morgen.
'Right,' said Jack. 'Just let me find something to clean my sword.' He glanced about. Did a double-take. Glanced about again. 'Uh - where did all the bodies go?'
It was a good question. The few that had been knocked unconscious were still sprawled about. But all those Morgen had killed; where were they? Only that last one, the one that had been threatening Walker with the dagger - here was his body in three pieces.
Oy! Even as Jack watched, the severed forearm inched over to the stump it had been cut from and joined itself back on to the elbow. And then the headless body rolled over, pawing the floor till it found its head. Picking that up, the body jammed the head back into its proper place. Then, turning to leer once more at the three companions, the reanimated guard abruptly vanished.
'What was that?' cried Stephen.
'That was what most of your captors are,' replied Morgen. 'A demon.'
'Demons!' Jack stared at him in comprehension now. 'I wondered why you were so ready to just kill them.'
'As you can see, I have killed no one.'
'Yeah. I see now. But how do you tell the difference?'
'When you look them in the eye, and see with the Master's sight, you will know,' said Morgen. 'But come, they will be sounding the alarm already. And as Walker says, they know where each of our teams will be, and the prisoner each team came to rescue.'
Again Walker hung his head.
'Then let's get out of here,' said Jack. 'Morgen, will you go warn the others, while we get Walker out?'
Morgen nodded. 'At once.' He turned and started for the stairs ahead of them.
Then paused. Swiftly unbuckling his sword belt, Morgen turned back and called, 'Walker. Here.' And he threw the belt to him.
For a moment it spun in the air there, belt and scabbard and sword in the scabbard. For a moment Walker stood looking up at it in wonder. And then he put up his hand and caught it. He stared at it in his hands, stunned to be holding such a weapon once more. Then he looked up at Morgen. 'But now you're unarmed,' he protested.
Morgen shrugged it off. 'Use it well,' said he. And then he vanished down the stairs.
'C'mon,' added Jack. And the three of them followed.
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