Sunday, September 24, 2006
the child, part 3, chapter 30 - 'the liberation of becki'
The rest was pretty anticlimactic for Stephen. He and Mac returned to their companions to find that the battle was freshly over, and there was little left to be done besides stepping past the unpleasant remnants of the fight, and looking for the outside door to freedom.
The door they found quickly enough. Jack gestured towards it, Stephen unlocked it, and out they all went. Simple as that.
In the blinding sunlight of outdoors they found, just as the Master had promised, Malachi was waiting for them. Mac conferred with him briefly, and then, with a fond farewell and a bid to them of 'Good journey,' Maccabees stepped back through the little door and plunged himself back into the hell-hole.
Swiftly and unseen, the angel now navigated the noxious passage, not even pausing when he reached the spot where the fried demon's body should have been, yet wasn't. On he went, back into the narrow stairway, rushing down to the level where Beatriz lived, where Walker would be waiting. The foul stench of demon wafted all about him as he entered the level. No surprise, that. The guards both human and otherwise all knew that Beatriz was the objective, and they would hardly let her go without a fight.
Nevertheless, thought Mac with grim determination, Beatriz goes free this day.
Maccabees veered towards the unspoken voice, bowing himself before the one who had called him, spreading out his wings to hide his face and his being in humble respect. My Master, said he.
Walker arrived like a thunderstorm some minutes ago, and is hiding near the workroom, seeking some way to reach Beatriz and bring her forth, the Master informed him.
His anger is against me, Mac admitted.
Yes, because I sent you with the others first, and so delayed you from attending him and his work. His anger - this will test him and make his life bitter, until at last he learns to surrender his own notions and plans unto me. Until he chooses to trust me, that I truly do know what is best. How sad, the pain that Walker's pride will yet inflict on others! And a single tear slid down the Master's cheek. He sighed. Then, with a gesture, the Master added, Come. You will show yourself to Walker now.
There were four guards outside the workroom door, and no telling how many more inside. The guards had arrived mere steps ahead of Walker. They had started bellowing at Beatriz as soon as they entered the room; Walker could hear her crying even now. Quickly he had found himself a place to hide while he racked his brains in a frenzy, trying desperately to come up with a plan for her rescue.
He was seething on the inside. That Mac guy! This was all his fault! If he'd just obeyed and come with Walker right away, instead of arguing with him and then going off another way - why, they would have reached Beatriz first and brought her out safely, well before the guards' arrival. But no - Mac had delayed him, and now the poor girl was stuck, and here Walker was stuck too! All alone, and in need of a plan. How would he ever get Beatriz out now?
A hand landed on his shoulder right at that moment, and a voice spoke softly into his ear: 'Be not afraid.' Even so, Walker jumped nearly a foot in the air and snatched for the hilt of his borrowed sword.
'You'll not need that,' the voice continued, the hand now closing over Walker's to prevent him from drawing the weapon.
Eyes wild, Walker spun to look up into the face that went with the voice - and let out a sigh of relief. 'Oh, it's you,' he said to Mac. Then, frowning, he added, 'You sure took your sweet time showing up here, didn't you? In fact, I'm surprised you even bothered to come here at all. After all, what's Beatriz to you?'
Ignoring the man's angry, baiting words, Maccabees asked, 'Are you ready now?'
'Ready for what?'
'To go get Beatriz.'
Walker turned and glanced at the guarded workroom door, then turned back to Mac. 'Well, yeah. But first we need a...'
'Come then,' said Mac, not waiting for Walker to finish with the word plan. He caught Walker's arm and raised him to his feet, then took a step towards the workroom.
Walker shrugged his arm out of Mac's grasp. 'What are you, nuts? How are we supposed to get past those guards at the door? Not to mention the dozen or so more guards inside the room!'
'More like two dozen,' Mac replied serenely.
'Two... How could you know that?'
'Come,' said Maccabees. And when Walker still hung back, Mac simply walked on.
He is nuts, thought Walker. He watched in horror as Mac strolled up to the workroom door, expecting at any moment that the four guards would reach out and nab the fool. Only... they didn't. As Mac drew closer to the guards, the four men began, one by one, to yawn, and then to stretch. To nod, and then - to snore.
They were quite literally falling asleep on their feet! Mac simply walked right through the midst of the standing sleepers and on into the workroom itself. Then, at the door, he turned and looked at Walker, gesturing for the man to follow.
Walker gawped. How on earth? Four men, falling asleep like that? How...?
Mac gestured again, much more insistently. Walker scrambled to his feet and ran to obey this time. He hurried to Mac's side and looked into the workroom, fully expecting to see that all the guards in here were sound asleep as well.
The workers, as usual, were chained to their stations, but precious little work was being done by them this day. Most of them were too busy hanging back as far away as their chains would allow them to go, trying to keep an eye on the twenty or so guards ringing Beatriz, while at the same time trying to avoid looking directly at the guards, in order to pretend they didn't exist. After all, nobody wanted to draw the guards' attention to themselves in any way; bad enough the guards were in the workroom at all, harassing that girl - sure wouldn't want the guards to be coming over here, they were all thinking.
As for the guards, as soon as Mac and Walker appeared in the doorway, one of them cried out, 'There they are!' And a moment later, the circle surrounding Beatriz was bristling with weaponry. Quick as lightning, the senior officer among the guards grabbed Beatriz and laid a knife to her throat. With a mangy grin, he declared, 'Bout time you blokes showed up. Now you get to watch your little sweetie here bleed to death!' And his hand began to move, to draw the blade across her neck.
'Get over there!' said a voice in Walker's ear. It had to be Mac, of course, but when Walker's head automatically swiveled in that direction, he saw to his surprise - no Mac!
Great, he's gone again! flew through Walker's head as he turned and launched himself into the room. Just how he would battle his way through twenty guards to stop Beatriz from being murdered, he didn't know. But if she'd died...
If she died, he thought, there would be a number of people to answer for her death - starting with Mac. And at the same time he thought, if she died, he would see to it that she did not die alone.
He ran forward, somewhat annoyed that the guards outside the workroom were sound asleep, but not these in here who were about to snuff out Beatriz' life. Why was this? He grabbed hold of his sword as he ran, seizing the hilt - yes, even wrenching at the hilt.
Stuck? How could it be stuck? He'd just been able to draw it a few minutes ago - hadn't he? Distracted, he glanced down at his side...
Something twisted under his foot, sending him tumbling. His empty hands came up over his head as he hit the floor rolling. Rolling, rolling...
He struck. Legs all about him were sent vaulting into the air like so many tenpins. Disoriented, Walker shook his head and looked around at the fallen guards, their weapons scattered into all parts of the room. What? Where? He saw whips and cudgels all over the place, and right here by his hand, a sharp knife, its tip tinged with a drop of dark dark red...
He sprang up. Where was Beatriz? Wildly he stared around him, searching...
There! The senior guard, the one who had lost the knife he had nicked her neck with, was now dragging Beatriz across the room, heading for the door - only to be brought up short by the chain that still held her fast to her work station. Swearing gruffly, the guard fumbled for his keys to release her and take her away.
'Let me go!' Beatriz begged, a thin trickle of blood running down her throat. 'Walker! Please, help me!' she pleaded, the tears streaming down her cheeks.
'Aha!' The guard produced his keys. He wrapped one of his arms round Beatriz as he tried to jam the proper key into the lock fastening her chain. She squirmed, pushing against him, knowing instinctively that if he unchained her from her place, it would not go well for her once he had her away from the workroom.
'Cut that out!' the guard growled with an oath, smacking her upside the head. A fresh trickle of blood ran down her temple now, probably from the key itself.
'Leave her be!' Walker ordered. He had given up now on drawing that balky sword - why had Morgen even loaned it to him? - and was ready to take on the guard hand to hand.
'You have no need here to fight any,' said a voice close by Walker's ear. 'Only draw close and touch her chain.'
Walker's head snapped around again, looking to see who could be speaking to him. And, as before, he saw no one near him - particularly he saw nothing of Mac, whose voice that surely was. What he did see as he raked the room with a glance, was all the other guards scrambling to retrieve their weapons as fast as they could. Except that as fast as they could was none too fast at all; they might well have been men wading waist-deep through molasses. What's more, as soon as any one guard was able to pick up a weapon, another guard would cry out that that weapon was his, so that quarrels were breaking out all about Walker in every direction.
What on earth was going on here?
'Walker, quickly! See to Beatriz,' came the voice a third time.
Beatriz, right. Nothing slowed Walker down as he hurried to her rescue - though perhaps his own perception of the passing of time greatly slowed. Long heartbeats seemed to go past as he crossed those few feet toward the guard holding her captive. Touch her chain, Walker thought, remembering what the voice had told him. How doing that might do Beatriz the least bit of good was beyond him, but never mind all that - just get to her.
Walker could see the earnest desperation on her face as he came closer. He could see as well the blazing hatred on the enemy's face. He saw the man's fist come up, drawing back, making ready to fly into the side of Walker's head as soon as he would reach Beatriz.
All right, he's going to punch me, thought Walker, not letting that turn him aside. Touch the chain. Why touch the chain? What was that going to do?
Walker's fingers stretched out. He braced himself for the blow from the guard that would come at any moment. He heard Beatriz calling, 'Watch out, Walker!'
Yes, he knew he was about to get a fist in the side of his head, he thought crossly. She didn't need to warn him about that. He took the final step that would bring him to her, and felt the cold iron of her chain under his outstretched fingertips. And then...
His foot landed on something that rolled. Suddenly he was falling. His hand convulsed automatically onto the chain to break that fall, and now Beatriz was falling as well. He heard her screaming, screaming. Something he barely noticed swished past him, over the top of his head.
Walker crashed to the floor, with Beatriz on top of him. 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry,' he mumbled to her, realizing now what she had been trying to warn him of - not the fist to the head, but the obstacle underfoot.
There was a third crash as one more body hit the floor. Walker looked. It was the senior guard, completely unconscious.
Huh? 'What happened to him?' Walker blurted.
'When he tried to hit you, you and Beatriz both fell below his swing, so that he wound up punching himself in his own jaw,' said a voice above them. 'Which, apparently, was made of glass.' Hands were reaching down to help the girl up, and then Walker as well. Hands that belonged to...
'Mac!' Walker scowled at him deeply. 'It's about time you showed up - again! Where did you go? You left me hanging out to dry here!'
The look Mac gave him in return was totally unreadable. He only replied, 'The guards will shortly come out of this lethargy, and it would be best for us to be out of here by then.' He took Beatriz by the hand on his left side, then held out his right to Walker. 'Time to go.'
Glowering, Walker refused the hand. 'You got a lot of explaining to do, mister!' he growled. 'Come on!' Taking instead Beatriz' other hand, Walker leapt over the knocked-out guard and the three ran from the room.
'This way,' said Maccabees, starting off to the right.
'Why?' Walker balked. 'Why should I listen to you?'
'It is well for you and for her that you listened to me in the workroom just now,' Mac replied.
'Listened to you! Where were you? You were nowhere in sight!'
'Precisely.' Smiling at Beatriz, Mac said again, 'This way.'
A moment's hesitation, and then she followed him, leaving Walker no choice but to follow as well. Mac led them away from the workroom and down one of the corridors of cells, then swiftly unlocked a random door and pushed them both through. The door clicked shut behind them.
Walker, furious, barely able to keep his voice low, turned on Mac. 'What was all that about? You abandoned me to rescue her all by myself, and didn't pop up again till it was all over! Why should I ever, ever trust you about anything again? I should...'
But his voice sputtered to a halt. He had caught sight of Beatriz standing off to one side, cringing because of Walker's anger, rubbing at her wrists as she glanced back and forth between her two rescuers. Rubbing at her wrists...
Walker stared. 'Wai... wai... wait a minute! How did that happen?'
Maccabees turned to look at the young woman, then turned back to Walker. 'How did what happen?'
Walker pointed. 'Her wrists! The chains are gone! She was wearing them when I fell, because I pulled her down by the chains. And then you picked her up again, and... And I don't remember anyone ever taking her chains off. What happened to them?'
'That is an excellent question, my son,' answered yet another voice. 'But first, let me introduce you to your new sister. Her name,' and the room lit up with a lovely glow, 'is Becki.'
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