Friday, March 10, 2006

 

the child, part 3, chapter 21 - 'run!'


In the deep darkness, in the curtained-off corner of a small cell carpeted with mire, there she had prayed and prayed. And there, eventually, her head had drooped and her whispered words had swirled to a stop in sleep.

Dreamless sleep. What awareness she had while unconscious was a vague uneasiness, a nibbling sense of something going wrong.

And then a hand touched her side. And a voice called to her: 'Starr.'

Like swimming up out of a great abyss it was, that waking up. And the light round about her was puzzling. She distinctly remembered blowing out the candle; in fact, the bit of stub was there in her hand. So where was all this light coming from?

'Starr. Rise up. It is time to go.'

Blink. And blink again. And at last things began to come into focus. The curtain Stone had nailed up with the two forks was now gone. And standing there before her...

'Maccabees?'

It was him, wasn't it? But not his usual self. She saw now that he was the source of the light, standing there all wings and eyes and faces.

Blink. Focus. Strain to think. 'Go...?'

One of his hands reached down to take hers. 'Yes. Out. Walker is rescued, but not before the guards beat out of him all that he knew. And now the guards are spreading throughout the fortress hunting for us. We must go.'

Her thoughts might as well have been wading through mud, so slowly was she processing what he just said. The only thing that stood out to her at first was...

'Walker's rescued? Did Stone find him?'

'No. Jack did, far upstairs.'

Oh. Thinking some more. Go. Yes. 'Stone! He's out there somewhere, still looking for someone to rescue.' And then she remembered something very important. 'Oh. And I can't walk.'

'You cannot?' Maccabees' hand tightened on hers, drawing her suddenly upright and standing. 'Are you sure about that?'

Stunned, she looked down to see that already she was putting her weight on her injured foot, the foot that had consistently collapsed under her for most of a day now. 'Oh,' she said. 'Well. Maybe I'm not so sure about that after all.'

'You will need to hurry,' Maccabees counseled as he plucked up her pack and helped her shrug it on. 'Waste no time. Go first towards the stairs.'

'But Stone! I need to find him first,' she objected.

Maccabees glanced at the door and obviously beyond it as well. 'He will be along directly,' said the angel. 'Waste no time worrying nor wondering about him. Go quickly. Run.' The door opened itself for them, and he escorted her out of the cell, then pointed up the corridor. 'Now. And Starr...'

'Yes?'

'Forget not why you came here.'

And on that bewildering note, before she could ask or say anything more, her angelic friend simply vanished.

~~~~~~~

Stone plunged through the corridors of the deep dungeon, slipping in the mire, running for his life ahead of Butch and all his crew. Two thoughts coursed through his head as he ran. One was, how would he escape this enraged mob at his heels? And the other thought was, what about Starr? It was more important than ever that he get her out of this dungeon entirely. She was not safe as long as she was down here - though at least as long as she lay hidden in the cell they had taken over, she was relatively safe.

In his headlong dash from the danger behind him, Stone suddenly realized he was passing the fourth corridor. Automatically his eyes shifted to pick out the door up that way, the one Starr was concealed behind.

Except... Stone's heart almost failed him, and his feet slipped badly in the mire, as he saw a figure running up that corridor. Only a momentary glimpse did he catch before the figure disappeared round the far corner. But there was no mistaking the long hair trailing from the figure's head, nor the long skirts flying round its form.

Starr, running? But how? And why had she broken cover? Who or what could she be running from?

On impulse Stone turned to follow her, to catch her up and protect her. The slick flooring made the sudden turn all but impossible, so that he nearly went sprawling. Mire spattered from his heels as he scrambled to regain both his lost traction and lost momentum. Ah, but now he was up and running again, his mind screaming out Starr's name.

Whump!

And now he was down, measuring his length in the mire. What? He struggled to rise and couldn't. Something was wrapped round his legs; a weight pinned him to the floor.

'Got him, Butch!' crowed a high thin voice. And Stone knew that voice. It was Elliot, one of Butch's toadies. The something wrapped round his legs were Elliot's skinny arms. Desperately, Stone heaved himself up anyway, fighting to throw Elliot off, straining to be free again, to be off and running once more. And all he could think was, Run, Starr! Run!

~~~~~~~

She ran. Her focus was all ahead of her, so that she never saw what was going on behind her, down the fourth corridor. She turned the corner, then passed the other corridors, running for the stairs. Stone would be waiting there for her, wouldn't he? Wasn't that what Maccabees had told her?

But, no, Stone wasn't waiting at the stairway door. Her steps faltered. What? But then - what had Maccabees said? That Stone would, um, um... 'be along directly.' What did that mean?

And the other thing Maccabees had said that made no sense to her: 'Forget not why you came here.' What was that supposed to mean?

Ohhh... What indeed!

Abruptly she whipped away from the stairs and down that one lonely corridor nearby, fumbling for the key she knew she would need. Finding it, she ran for the only door in the dim corridor. Reached the door. Jammed the key into the lock. Then turned it. Wrenching open that miserable door, she leaned against it, panting, and gasped out, 'Come on if you're coming.'

A movement in the deep dark within. 'Huh? Oh, it's you. What are you doing back? What the' curse 'are you talking ab...'

'We have to go, and we have to go now. Now is the time to decide. Are you coming, or aren't you?'

'I... I...'

Starr turned. The sound of some great commotion was heading this way. The guards? Who knew?

'Well, I'm going,' she said. She took hold of the door to Solitary, about to shove it shut again.

'No, wait! I'm coming, I'm coming.' The prisoner lurched to his feet, hesitated, snatched something up off the floor, then stumbled out. Starr pushed the door shut behind him, and the click of the latch as the door automatically locked itself back sounded so very, very final. No going back now. With a groan and a curse, the prisoner mumbled to himself, 'Oh, I've done it now.'

'C'mon,' said Starr, grabbing his hand. Or at least, she tried to. But something was in his hand, something hard and small. The something he had snatched up from the floor.

'What's that?' she asked.

'Nothing. Never mind.' He quickly transferred the thing to his other hand, feeling pretty silly about the whole thing. Why had he even bothered to pick up Mitch's stupid candle anyway? And why didn't he just go ahead and drop it now?

But he didn't drop it. And as Starr grabbed his other hand and took off running for the stairs, he only clutched the candle all the tighter.

What, Starr wondered, was she leading him into though? What was that noise growing ahead of them? She had no idea what they would find once they reached the end of this short passageway. The best case, the one she hoped for, was to find Stone alone - but why he would be making so much noise, she hadn't a clue. The worst case - ugh, there were an awful lot of worst cases! The horrendous possibilities ambushed her mind like an enemy army. Ruthlessly forcing the worries away, she began to pray as they ran on. She didn't know what awaited them - but the Master surely did. And, oh, Master - Beloved! - she needed to know what to do!

Already they were almost to the end of the corridor. Only one idea had popped into her head for them to do, so...

'We're going to make a break for it,' she said. 'Don't stop running.'

'Are you nuts?' her companion replied. He could hear the commotion ahead of them just as clearly as she could. And he had a better idea of what it could mean. 'Just barge in on whatever that is?'

'Element of surprise,' she answered. If they would just run and keep running, they might be able to plow right through whatever was out there and reach the stairs and be gone before... well, before whoever or whatever was out there could have time to react.

No, it didn't sound like a great plan, or even a practical one. But it was all she had. 'C'mon!'

Ducking her head, she ran even faster, dragging him along behind her. And now they burst out of the passage and into the last corridor leading to the stairs, only to be confronted by...

Nothing.

~~~~~~~

Nothing? So great was Starr's puzzlement, that she stopped running abruptly, not even thinking that she was forgetting to follow the plan. Nothing?

'Ow! Hey, warn a guy!' the prisoner complained as he ran straight into her.

Nothing - but then where was all that noise coming from?

Oh!

For now, from the fourth corridor, there stumbled out a figure. In the dim light it barely looked like a man. Or maybe it looked like a grotesque caricature of a man - hunchbacked, with something large trailing off its left leg and dragging along behind it as the figure lurched along.

'Starr,' it croaked. 'Starr. Run!'

It... it knew her name? Terror started to close round her heart.

And then, with the suddenness of a flash of lightning, she saw. The hunch on the figure's back was a small man or a boy riding on his shoulders, arms locked round the figure's neck in a chokehold. And the thing dragging off the figure's leg - that was a second man or boy, trying to trip the figure up as he staggered closer, closer.

Starr's eyes went wide as she recognized who this was. 'Stone!'

'Run, Starr!' he said again, waving his arms. His face was turning a ghastly color, and he was barely upright anymore. And now it dawned on Starr that, whoever these two people were that were hanging off Stone, the one on his back was indeed trying to choke him.

'Run...' Stone gasped out once more. He was so obviously nearing the end of his strength now. And if he should fall - what would happen to him then?

Starr's hand dropped to her sword's hilt.

A curse word popped into the air close to her ear. 'Man, don't you ever listen? The guy is telling you to run, not fight!' The prisoner scowled at her. 'So run, idiot.'

'But, but Stone needs help!' she replied.

'What he needs... Ok, fine, I'll help him, and you run.' Turning about, the prisoner juggled that bit of candle he'd been carrying, then abruptly fired it with all his might. 'Back off, Weezer!' he yelled as he made the throw.

The candle flew true, smacking the guy on Stone's back square in the head, sending him tumbling to the floor. Sucking in air gratefully, Stone now was able to jerk his leg loose from Elliot's grip.

'Run, Stone!' cried Starr.

'Yeah, Mitch - Stone - whoever you are - run! And you!' the prisoner added, turning back to face Starr. 'You're still here! You shoulda been running for the stairs alrea... uh oh.'

Uh oh? Now it was the prisoner's eyes that had gone wide, as he stared fixedly at something beyond Starr's head. A deep chill settled into her heart as she turned around to face whatever it was behind her...

Oh my. Things had just become a whole lot worse.

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