Post by Edward Cheever on Nov 12, 2009 10:38:55 GMT -6
Hey everybody! I'm currently working on a Young Adult fantasy Novel for National Novel Writing Month called "Jaine." Which, as some of you might recall, used to be a short-story. Well, trust me when I say it isn't short anymore.
In this thread, I'm going to be posting the new and un-edited chapters of my Novel as I write them for NaNoWriMo. Feel free to comment and give creative feedback! I am going to have to edit this whole thing again, after all.
Post by Edward Cheever on Nov 14, 2009 19:54:55 GMT -6
Chapter 7 Ghund
“No way.” Robert said resolutely. They stood still outside the pathway to the city. It hadn’t taken them long to get there, but they had reached another impasse. He looked again at the crack in the wall that led inside. It really was a crack, barely wide enough to fit him sideways, even if it was more than twice his height. “I am not going in there.” His body trembled as Jaine fought to keep it moving, but though she was still in charge, she wasn’t as used to controlling it as he was. We must, as you should be very aware. “I thought we had this claustrophobia talk before.” I understand. I feel sympathetic, truly. But you must struggle through this. “Sympathy. Ha!” It is genuine. “You know what? I’m also genuinely not going in there.” I had seen you as an annoyance. I have thought of you as stubborn, and hopelessly distracted, but I am surprised to find you to be a coward. “You think that kind of insult works on me?” Jaine didn’t say anything. “Yeah, well, it doesn’t.” All was quiet. He could barely hear the soft chirps from the forest behind. Robert stared at the crack. The tiny, tiny crack. It was impossible. Surely. He shook his head. They had to, though. He wasn’t going to live with Jaine in the back of his head. He just wasn’t. Gritting his body’s teeth, he let go of the rest. What changed your mind? Jaine asked surprised as she regained full control. “We’ve got to do this, I suppose.” I am glad you agree. We should be off, Jaine said as she positioned them into the passage. Robert said nothing as he tried to close his mind to what was happening. Thinking of other things he tried to imagine himself in a wide-open field. It didn’t help much. They squeezed farther and farther into the crack. It seemed to Robert that it went on forever. The rock to either side scraped his chest, arms and back. He noticed Jaine becoming fidgety. This is a lot smaller than I remembered this passageway being. She said in discomfort. “What? Feeling the claustrophobia now, are we?” he said with a panicky edge. No. No. It’s not that. Jaine paused for a moment. It isn’t. “Sure.” It is not. “Whatever you say.” Be quiet please. “I’m not the one yammering about how this itty bitty crack in the wall is too small.” You were a second ago. “And you were even sooner than that.” Despite all of Roberts efforts at mentally stalling the feeling of the walls closing in around him, he was starting to loose his control. “I could start complaining again if you’d like. I’ve got loads of it right now.” Please refrain from it. “Same to you. It’s not like I was…” Be quiet. Jaine interjected. “How do you secret agent people handle this stuff anyway?” Like I said, this crack is smaller than normal. “Uh huh.” It is to me. I used to be one-third this size, if you would remember. “Yes, well.” Quiet. “Okay, sure. Seriously shutting up now.” I will believe it when I hear it. “Well, actually you wouldn’t hear it, would you?” Jaine groaned. Finally, with a stumble, they tumbled out of the crack into an alcove that led into a long dark tunnel. The tunnel was just tall enough that Robert’s hair nearly brushed the ceiling, and it was three paces wide. They were located at a strange turn in the alley, where the tunnel came toward Robert and Jaine from the left, but when it reached their alcove it bent away from them and headed off to their right. All along the tunnel little blue lights twinkled in straight lines running into the distance, giving the entire area a soft, dim light. It was just bright enough for Robert to make everything out. “So is this the spy tunnel or something?” It is not a spy tunnel. “Does this lead to a secret base or something?” You are acting strange. Of course there is no secret base. Why do I sense that you are making fun of me? “No reason, I’ve just watched way too many movies.” You will have to explain these movies to me later. “Is that spy talk for ‘shut up?’” It is not ‘spy talk,’ but yes, I do mean ‘shut up.’ Jaine left the alcove and headed down the left path. How many times are you going to tell me to shut up before you get too tired of it to say anything anymore? Jaine was silent. Okay, I’ll be serious. Sorry, It’s just that since we’re done with the whole forest of doom, thing, I’m feeling a lot better about all this. It is called the “Forest of Daom,” and just because we are not still there does not mean this is suddenly going to be easy. Well no, I figured as much. I do understand what you mean though, Jaine said, as she felt at one of the small wounds in their back. Robert could sense her remembering the claw that had made it. The feeling was still strong in his mind as well. It feel good to be back in Ghund. I’ve got a question. What tunnel is this, then? I mean if it’s not a secret tunnel, then why don’t you hide the crack back there better? We are in a very vacant part of the city. When we round a few more corners we will be amongst the first of the old warehouse district, and nothing of use is truly kept back here anymore. Furthermore, even if people did live here, they would be unlikely to go out into the forest, for obvious reasons. Besides, Jaine said as she looked back the way they had come. What does that look like to you? At first Robert thought they were looking down a different tunnel altogether, but that was impossible. As he stared at it closer he realized that he could barely make out the darker shadow that marked the entrance to the alcove. Did you guys build it like that on purpose? He asked. No. For whatever reason it is naturally former so as to be hard to spot until you are very close. All things combined, this is as good of a secret exit as any we could make for ourselves. Robert had to agree. So what’s the plan? He asked, turning back to their task. We must do our best to move undetected from here to the Imperial Palace. The Murk is likely after the King, and we must reach him before the beast does. Unfortunately we are on the very edge of the city, and the Palace is in the center. We will have to somehow make it past the patrols without being spotted. If Robert could whistle, he would. This is going to be hard. Indeed. Are you sure the Murk is after the King? I mean, aren’t there easier targets? Perhaps. Killing one of the high lords would be harmful as well, especially in the body of a royal agent. But Murks don’t exactly follow Ghundian politics. They likely only now about the king, and all of the rest of us are nothing to them. From what Robert could tell from Jaine’s tone, she was scandalized that the Murks wouldn’t recognize their social status. This made no sense to him at all. Of course it wouldn’t make sense to you. Jaine said patiently. You’re just a surface peasant correct? I would be surprised if you understood it at all. Robert’s eyebrows drew down and he scowled mentally, his body following suit. I could just as easily say that you’ve been stuck in a backward society all your life and you don’t know why equality is a better system for society. Jaine didn’t seem to pay attention. Robert suppressed his growing anger. Now was not the time. How are we supposed to sneak to the Palace anyway? He asked. Won’t there be lots of people to see us? I mean, this is a city right? It is night, now. She replied. Robert was incredulous. I don’t understand, he said. How on earth could you possibly know that? I just… do. What, is it some sort of internal clock type thing? Perhaps, though I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “Clock type thing.” Never mind. They finally rounded the last corner as they came to a stop. In the dim glow of the Sern crystals, Robert could just make out strange patches in the walls of the tunnel that were a different color and texture from the surrounding stone. When Jaine led them closer, he realized they were large tarps of some sort of material stretched on rods across the openings of plain caves. Jaine pulled one covering aside and Robert could make out indistinct box shapes stacked on top of each other reaching to the ceiling, which was much higher than the small cave mouth they stood in. You said you don’t know what they keep down here, right? Robert asked curiously. Yes, Jaine replied. And we do not have time to find out, so put your curiosity out of your mind. Reaching up she began to unclasp the tarp from the rod and slowly lower it to the floor. With each clasp undone, a great cloud of dust burst upward and slam the in the face. Jaine continued to struggle through it until Robert suggested using their shirt as a makeshift mask, so Jaine slid Robert’s face down into the top of his shirt till the collar was above the nose and kept working. What do we need this thing for, anyway? Robert asked. Jaine picked the cloth up and swung it around them. Using the clasps she formed an imitation of a cloak or robe. This will help us hide from wandering eyes. Oh yes, Robert though sarcastically. Without it the royal guards would be yelling out ‘assassin!’ or something, but as long as we have it on they’ll be non the wiser about a mysterious tall black thing walking around. Jaine gave him a flat mental stare. I do not appreciate your tone, Robert. At least this will distort our form and outline. Standing still, it will be harder for the guards to spot us. “Whatever you say. You’re the secret agent, here.” Jaine pointedly ignored him as she turned and strode off down the tunnel.
The tunnels they passed through stayed the same for a long time. The rock walls continued occasionally broken by the opening to ancient warehouses, their entrances covered with the strange tarp material. They curved in a winding pattern, occasionally branching off into other dark alleyways that would then snake off into the distance. The small lights pressed into the sides, just above Robert’s waist, were each tiny glowing crystals which gave just enough light for them to find their way without stubbing a toe or walking into a wall. It all served to make an eerie atmosphere that Robert found to be very uncomfortable. Eventually the Warehouse entrances became more and more symmetrical. Instead of the vaguely cave-like entrances, these were perfectly square, carved into hard lines. Some had large wooden fronts and doors instead of tarps, and they felt less and less abandoned. When the surfaces around the entrances began to show carvings and writing, Robert knew they had passed into a different district. “Where are we now?” We’re in the modern storehouse district. “So we just left the not-so-modern district, then? Do you think we’ll run into anybody?” It is unlikely. The warehouses down here are used, but they are not used for anything outside of valuables and materials. Some of the stores in the trade district keep their larger wares down here as well, but in general it isn’t a place where thieves would go to find something to steal. The guards won’t send more than one or two patrols down here. “Well that’s good to…” Robert was cut off by the sudden clomping sound of booted feet echoing down the tunnel. Jaine swore and said, We must have the worst of luck. Turning she sped in the other direction. We will have to find another path. “Can’t we just hide in one of these warehouses?” Jaine stopped long enough to put a hand out and shake the handle to one of the doors before sprinting off. “Oh.” Yes. Oh. “Well the ones with tarps over them can’t be locked, right?” True, but we’ve been in the modern district for some time. Most of the storerooms down here will have doors with locks. They ran for some time before coming across another tunnel to their right. Jaine leaned down to read some inscription on the wall. To his surprised Robert found he could read it too, or at least understand it. This truly is the worst of luck. Jaine thought with a frown. This tunnel will only lead us further away from the center of the city. “We could keep looking for another one.” We don’t have time. “Well what else can we do?” Robert sensed a glimmer as Jaine suddenly had an idea. Jaine went into the mouth of the tunnel and whirled around, pressing their back against the wall. “We’re going to attack him?” Robert asked incredulously. “It that smart? I mean, he’s probably got a spear or a sword or something, right? I know they’re smaller and all, but they can still hurt. It’d be like being attacked by a guy with a knife.” We’ll take him by surprise. “Will it be enough?” It will have to be. I know how to handle myself. “But do you know how to handle me? It’s my bod you’re throwing into harms way, here.” Quiet. Robert obeyed as he heard the boots coming closer. He gave a little start when the nearing guard started to whistle a tune. Shortly the guard started singing in a quiet voice. It was too soft for Robert or Jaine to make out the words, but it sounded merry, and Robert suddenly felt sorry for him. He suddenly popped into view around the corner. He was a Jern, wearing the familiar green and whit uniform with a tall green and a white feathery quill stuck in the brim. His long pole arm was leaned back over his shoulder in a casual manner. His song cut off with a yelp, and his eyes popped wide at the sight of them, a massive shadowy figure coming out of the darkness. He struggled to bring his weapon forward, but he wasn’t fast enough, as Jaine slammed Robert’s fist into the small man’s stomach and followed it up with a sharp rap to the back of the man’s head. The Jern slumped to the ground. “You didn’t kill him, right?” Robert asked nervously. No, he should be unconscious for a while though, and he likely won’t remember exactly what he saw. Why do you ask? “I just… It would have been a bad thing to kill him is all.” Sometimes lethal force is necessary. “Maybe, but let’s make sure it doesn’t come to that, alright?” You are a softhearted man, Robert. Jaine said curiously. I would have thought life would have taught you that one must do what one must to survive by now. “I do what I must,” Robert said stubbornly. “But what I must do doesn’t cover killing.” Jaine grimaced. I do not relish the idea of harming anyone, particularly my countrymen, any more than you Robert. But if it comes down to such an act, I will not have you stopping me. Robert didn’t say anything. They drug the guard’s limp form back into the side tunnel and continued down the way the guard had come.
Some time later the storehouses faded away and in their place were worn doors that came only as high as Robert’s waist, with small windows interspersed between them. Curious Robert asked Jaine about them. They are dwellings. She replied. We are entering the Raikon District. “Why’s it called ‘Raikon?’” I do not know, you would have to ask a city historian. “Well, what is it?” It is the southernmost housing district for the peasantry. “You mean these are the slums?” Slums? “Ghettoes. You know, really crappy places to live. Where all the poor people stay.” I suppose so. She said. It is true that these are… unpleasant places to make a home. “Unpleasant doesn’t cover it.” Would you please keep your commentary to your self? For now, at least? Robert sensed an uneasiness, or apprehension, in Jaine’s words, so he dropped it. Something about this place was hurtful to her. We are almost to the first Raikon housing cluster. A few minutes after she spoke they emerged into a tall, open cavern. After the long cramped tunnels, the vast height of the cavern was shocking. The walls of the cavern were shaped like a “V”, with what appeared to be giant steps leading up the sides, sixteen steps on each side. The top of each step was line with Sern crystals, giving the entire cavern a soft blue tint. At the highest step, the wall rose smoothly till it met the ceiling, which arched to what must have been fifty feet or more in the middle. At the bottom of the cavern was a wide road that led between the steps. Large stalactites hung ominously above, and periodically one would reach down and connect to a step, or the floor, creating supporting pillars all across the cavern. The cavern itself slowly wound back and forth, like the tunnels before it, and rose and fell over small hills and valleys. Jaine looked around carefully and then slipped around the corner and heaved them up over the first, waist high step. It was then that Robert first took notice of the windows and doors in the sides of the steps, leading into the distance. “They’re houses?” He asked. Yes, Jaine said as She pulled them up and over the second step. They carved homes out of the rocky slopes of the cavern walls, and then flattened the space above them to create pathways for the dwellings further up the slope. This particular cloister is the largest in the Raikon district. It holds well over three thousand homes. “Three thousand?” Robert asked incredulously. “How big is this place?” Ghund has over two hundred thousand citizens. Robert’s eyes popped. Jaine placed a hand over their eyes and rubbed them. Stop doing that. “That’s huge!” How large are your cities? “Well… now that I think about it, there are some that are bigger.” How much bigger? “Well, I know of a bunch that have over a million.” It was Jaine’s turn for popping eyes. I didn’t know there could possibly be that many people living on the surface. She breathed. “Yeah, well I didn’t know there could be anybody living underground.” They climbed up one more stair, and cautiously began walking toward the end of the cavern. They stuck close to the wall of the fourth stair, passing by darkened windows and locked doors on their way. The line of sern crystals that marked the corner of the stair the stood on served as a guide leading them on their way. You say that you do not understand how we could live underground, but what I wish to know is how your people manage to live on the surface. When I first passed through your lands I had been terrified that I would fall into the sky. The ceiling was an eternity away, and what of the horrible light? I could barely see for having to hold my eyes closed. “Well, first off, there isn’t a ceiling. You could just keep going up and up and up until you reached space. And I don’t know what you mean about the lighting. Did you look straight at the sun or something? I mean there’s a lot of light up there, sure, but down here you can barely see anything. Why don’t you guys put up some more of those crystal lights or something. Then people might actually be able to see better.” We keep the lights dim because it would hurt the eyes of the Moles otherwise, and it is not nearly so hard to see as all that. But what do you mean when you say ‘space?’ I do not believe I understand you. “Well, space is… well it’s space. I don’t know. It’s big, endless. It’s a vacuum.” You might as well be speaking another language for all the sense you are making. “Here, I’ll think of it, and you’ll just see my thoughts, alright? That’s probably easiest.” Jaine frowned in distaste. “Oh, come on. You’re already stuck in my head, how is looking at my memories going to do anything worse?” Very well. She said. Robert concentrated. In his mind he pictured the space shuttle hurling out of the atmosphere. Planets swirled around the sun, and asteroids and comets flew by. He imagined the weightlessness, and the lack of air. He thought of the extreme heat and cold, the radiation, and the moon. He thought of its endless expanses. It’s everlasting dark depths. Stop it. Jaine commanded. I will not have you lying to me. Robert blinked in confusion. “I’m not lying.” Don’t be a fool, Robert. He started to get angry. “It’s true. That was space.” You’re being superstitious. It doesn’t suit you. “Superstitious?” Robert said incredulously. “It’s scientific fact!” Jaine ignored him. She wouldn’t put up with what she saw as Robert’s nonsense. “You’re being ridiculous Jaine.” You are being ridiculous. I do not believe in children’s fables, and I would have thought you would have moved past such stories as well. Robert felt a hint of emotion from her, and it came to him. “You just don’t like the idea of it, do you?” He asked. “You’re afraid of it aren’t you?” Jaine said nothing. “It’s impossible to talk to you about anything. If I tell you something you don’t like, and you don’t believe it…” Quiet. Jaine interrupted. “Look, you can’t just go around telling people to shut up when…” No, be quiet I think I heard something. Robert immediately hushed, and started paying attention to his sense again. In the distance he heard the stomping of boots. “There’s more than one this time isn’t there?” He asked. Yes. “Where are they at?” Up ahead. You see that pillar? Directly ahead of them on the top of the step they were traveling was one of the stalactites that had grown downward until in met a stalagmite coming up. “Yeah?” They’re on the other side of that. Jaine ran forward. They won’t be for long though. “What’s the plan? Do we knock them out again?” There are too many. From what we heard there are at least two of them, probably three, and I do not want to take that chance. “What are we doing running toward them then?” Watch. Jaine sped up, and then when she was just about to the pillar she turned slightly and leaped down onto the stair below them, slowing down just enough to soften the impact of running straight into another stalagmite. She peered around the edge of the rock and ducked back just as the soldiers made their way around the pillar than ran to the ceiling. Keeping the stalagmite, which was only a little larger than they were, between her and the soldiers, she slowly crept around its rocky girth. After a few moments she was on the far side of the pillar, and the guards were already walking away from them in the opposite direction from where Jaine and Robert had come. You see? She said. “Yes. Very nice.” It will be easy enough to remain unspotted in these cloisters, and in the city itself. There are plenty of places to hide. The tunnels are far more dangerous. She walked past the pillar that the guards had come from and swung themselves up behind it and kept on going, once more on the third step. Were you serious when you thought of this… ‘space?’ You truly believe in it? “Of course I do.” Jaine remained silent for a moment, then spoke, I cannot make myself believe in such a thing. It sounds ridiculous. But perhaps I have been hard on you for believing in it. Perhaps it is not your fault, but a fault of your race. I have known many Jern who have been taught from the cradle that a great fiery beast lives below the world. They cannot help what they have been taught. “Oh, why thank you great and wise madam,” Robert replied sarcastically. “Why I am just so pleased that you understand quite how dense and backwards us surface folk are. Could you pat me on the head too? It would just make me feel oh so nice.” I am trying to be understanding. “You can disagree with me all you want, but don’t patronize me just because you think I believe a lie.” Jaine gave a frustrated snort and picked up the pace, moving into a trot. Robert could sense that Jaine wasn’t going to talk right now, and that was fine with him, so he concentrated on the motions of his muscles, and stretched out to let himself feel them. He didn’t try to take back control. Jaine was doing a good enough job at keeping them alive so far. He let their motions overtake his mind. They ran to the far side of the cavern and into another tunnel in silence.
The tunnels seemed to stretch on endlessly. Long curving and undulating pathways of rock, lined with glowing blue stars like the runways at airports in the night. They would curve around one another, and more than once they took paths that would spiral downward leading underneath the tunnel they were just in. Along the way they passed numerous lines of homes, most with blackened windows, as their owners had turned in for the night. They also passed more cavernous cloisters, and Robert had begun comparing their sizes. They never ran across another cloister nearly as large as the first one they had entered. Jaine was right that it was the largest in this district. He judged them by the number of steps. He still called them steps, though really they were just layers of dwellings. There were cloisters with eight steps, most with only five or six and a bare few that were only three or four. The largest one they had passed by had eleven steps. The tunnels began to grow larger and in some cases long stretches of tunnel would be carved to mimic the bottom two steps of a cloister, with one stretch on the bottom with a pathway built on their roofs so that another layer of dwellings could exist beyond them. It wasn’t long before the dwellings themselves grew larger, with smoother rock faces, and even bits of carving and decoration. We’re heading into the Jegul district. Jaine said after rounding another tunnel. “It’s not a poor district, huh?” Robert asked as they passed by a doorway with a fully carved arch over the door with false pillars on either side for support. No, it is the middle class mostly. Merchants and other businessmen live here. “Is it just me or are the doorways getting wider and farther apart?” They are. “Why?” To accommodate the moles’ wider girth. “So most of the middle-class are moles, then?” All of them are moles. “Why aren’t there any Jern in the middle-class?” They are serfs, it is their station in society. Robert sighed and rolled their eyes. Aside from taking back control of the eyes in a huff, Jaine said nothing. She still didn’t want to talk. Robert contented himself with watching their surroundings. They soon passed a cloister with seven steps. The steps themselves were not as rough as they were in the early cloisters, and had a finer definition and a clearer edge. The homes themselves showed signs of extensive decoration, with patterned carvings covering much of their fronts and… “Are those mice?” Robert asked in surprise. Tied to stakes outside of some of the homes with small chains, small mice nuzzled into the corners, looking for extra bits of scraps. They are a popular pet for the middle class. She replied. “But they’re mice!” What do your people keep as pets? “Well there are cats and… well, and there are dogs.” Robert reluctantly brought up an image of a Doberman. Jaine froze. What was that again? Robert thought of the Doberman again. You have those on the surface too? She said uneasily. I would have been more cautious if I had known. “What, you have Dobermans down here?” Robert asked. He didn’t like them either, for a very good reason, but the tension he sensed from Jaine seemed different. How big are they? She asked. “I don’t know… twenty-five inches maybe? Twenty-six? A couple inches taller than the middle of my thigh?” Jaine relaxed. So they aren’t so big then. But what happened to the other two heads? Robert was about to ask what she meant when boots rung out up ahead and they were forced to quickly double back and take a different route. That route was quickly abandoned, however, when yet another set of guards came walking from that direction as well. They kept backtracking, but it seemed at every turn they were met by the sound of more boots following. Finally they were pushed back to a junction of four points, three leading further into the city, and the one from which they had originally come. All of the three they had to take had as of yet unseen guards heading their way. This is horrible timing, Jaine thought while clenching their teeth. They must be exchanging the guard. “We’ll have to keep going back.” If they’re changing he guard, then one patrol will likely be sent down that tunnel, she said while thinking of the entrance leading away from the city. We would just keep being pushed back, and back. We are almost to the city proper, she said as her eyes slid around the room. I will not give that creature any more time than it already has had. Robert would have thrown his hands up in frustration had he any control over them. “Then what are we supposed to do?” I am thinking, She said as she began pacing. “Think faster. Why don’t you break out some sort of secret agent move or something?” You are under some serious misapprehensions about what we agents can do. “Come on. You don’t have to have a special power or anything, but you have to know something about hiding in plain sight or something, right? I’m not expecting smoke and lasers, here. Anything.” Hiding in plain sight? She thought. That just might work. “What just might work.” Just hold on, Robert. If this goes wrong, I will need your full co-operation so that we can merge, alright? “If what goes wrong? I’d be a lot more helpful if I was let in on your thinking process.” Jaine quickly undid the clasps holding the tarp around them and spread it out to its full size. She bent down and drug it through the heavy, rocky dust and dirt that covered the floor, then stood up again and inspected the dirt covered side. The coloring of the sheet was a closer match with the stone now, and the dim light made it necessary for a close inspection to tell a difference. “Camouflage.” Robert breathed. Backing up against one of the walls of the junction room, Jaine took one corner in each hand and spread it as wide as Robert’s arms would go, pressing it and themselves as tight against the rock as they could. “You think this will work?” Robert asked nervously. I hope so. She replied. If not, I’m going to need your legs to help me run. They settled in to wait, breathing slowly and softly. They both hoped that the tarp’s smooth surface would be broken up by Robert’s body, which it was pressed against. They also hoped the guards wouldn’t recognize the shape of the ‘rock wall’ to be the shape of a body. Soon the heavy sounds of boots entered the room, coming from the various tunnels. The guards hailed one another, apparently not noticing the suspiciously colored and shaped wall off to one side. After switching duties, a mole officer spoke, “Keep your eyes open, men.” He said. “We’ve received word from the Royal Corps. that there’s some sort of monster sneaking around down here.” “A monster, sir?” one of the Jern replied. “Yes. Some sort of giant, I’ve been told. Personally it sounds like rubbish. One of those Royals has been snitching the wormish liquor, I imagine. But when the Royals say hop, the toadies hop, am I right boys?” “Right, ho! Sir!” They replied. “So be off you then. I expect the lot of you to report back in by lightening.” “Yes, sir!” Robert and Jaine couldn’t believe their luck as the guards switched places and marched out, all in different directions away from the junction. Jaine let several more moments slide by before slumping to the ground. The tarp collapsed around them and Jaine leaned their head against the wall. They sat in relieved silence for a minute. “I am glad our rouse succeeded.” Jaine said aloud, breaking the silence. “Me too.” Robert replied. We likely would have died, had we been exposed. She thought. They sat in silence a few moments more. Then with resolve they stood up, turned to the tunnels, and strode deeper into the city. “Let’s go get your body back.” Robert said with determination.
The heart of the city was starkly different from everything that had come before. Robert had seen the tunnels and cloisters with the eyes of a budding architect. He could see how and why they were laid out as they were. They took advantage of natural tunnels and splits in the rock. The builders and construction workers had carved out room in the spaces already provided, and created a few of their own such as some of the smaller tunnels and alleys. The cloisters were great splits in the rock that had already existed, but had been carved into great steps, which were then hollowed out for homes. They all spread out in a natural fan, taking advantage of the terrain provided through the rocky earth. But the heart of the city defied natural terrain. Buildings covered the surfaces of a vast chamber’s walls, with stairways that crisscrossed up and down between them like fire escapes. Huge hand-made towers, like smaller versions of skyscrapers, filled the chamber, some seeming to grow right next to each other, or grow into one another. Spanning the distance in the air between the towers were bridges of all shapes and sizes. The floor between the towers was covered with wide roads, the size of a two lane highway from the surface, parks with strange multicolored plants and sculptures, and in the middle of it all, winding between the great statuesque towers, was a small river that glistened and bubbled. From every direction came the familiar blue light from what seemed a vast multitude of stars covering the ceiling and lining the walkways and roads throughout the city. Even with the numerous lights the city was very dim and shadows lined the towers, walkways and roads. All of it spoke of years of construction and careful building and planning. Underneath the structures and roads, Robert though he could make out what the cavern might have looked like before the city. It would have been covered in great stone mounds and pillars stretching to the ceiling, with countless stalagmites, where smaller buildings now stood, and stalactites lining the walls where now the faces of stores and businesses were lined. The flowing river wasn’t the only sign of movement though. Robert could see a large number of guards and patrols marching about the bases of the towers and milling in the parks. Still, Robert had expected to see a great many more people. “Where is everybody?” What do you mean? They’re indoors. “Well, this is a city isn’t it? Where’s the night life?” How odd. Do the people on the surface ever sleep? She asked. “Well, yeah we sleep, but there’s always somebody up and about at night. There is always a party or something that people want to go to.” The lords and the royal family will occasionally hold formal parties at night, I suppose, though I doubt that is quite what you mean. Commoners, however, are held to strict curfews. “Whoa, curfews?” Yes. “For an entire city?” Yes. “That’s crazy.” To you perhaps. I can’t personally imagine a world in which everyone is up at all hours of the night. That is, a you put it, ‘crazy.’ “Whatever. So how are we going to get to the palace? And where exactly is it anyway?” Robert eyed the tops of the towers. “Up there?” Jaine rolled their eyes. Of course not. The top floors are regulated to the lower classes. The lords live and do business on the ground floors. “That’s strange.” How so? It is undignified to walk so far. It is much better for serfs to serve on higher floors. “Oh, I get it. So the mighty moles can’t stand a little exercise, huh?” I do not approve of your disrespectful tone, Robert. “Oh, don’t get too angry with Robert, mistress. Shall I walk up a flight of stairs for you?” There is a peculiar irony in that statement. She said dryly. “What? What is it?” The Palace is not here, we still have to go further into the city. “How much further?” Not too far. But we cannot travel by the roadways. She looked out across the city again, focusing on the guards that speckled the area. We will have to climb up and travel on the wall. “Why is the wall safe?” They don’t patrol the wall. “Why not?” The upper-middle class lives on the walls, and the lords live in the towers with their families. The lords are far more important to protect. “Why do you people even have guards? Is there really that much crime?” Peasants have been known to rob from their betters. “Their ‘betters?’” You have a problem with my choice of words? “Yeah, I do.” You can tell me why after we retrieve my body, she said as they slunk out of the tunnel and over to the nearest staircase. Tiptoeing up the too-small steps, they quickly climbed their way upward. The way was treacherous, as there simply wasn’t much room to stand. The staircase had been built for people one third their size. Once they were high enough that Jaine felt they wouldn’t be seen too easily, she turned to the side of the staircase and slipped one foot around, reaching for a foothold. "You had better not slip,” Robert said. I won’t. “Do you do this sort of thing often?” No. “Then how can I be sure?” You can’t be. Did not we talk about your continuously wagging tongue back when we first entered the city? Jaine said as their foot finally found ground. “Oh, yeah.” Indeed. I need to concentrate. “Okay. I’ll be quiet.” You will? “I will.” Good, because you are about to give me a headache, which would also be your headache, and I fear pain would only make you complain louder, thus compounding our problem. “No need to be so touchy.” Robert muttered as they slipped around the edge of the staircase. Their foot had found solid ground in the window of one of the dwellings. Jaine quickly placed their other foot higher onto the lip of the roof and pulled the first foot out. They cautiously and slowly made their way around the cavern, using thin balconies as footholds, and roofs as hand holds, occasionally resorting to windows when nothing else was available. Miraculously the guards below never looked up, and if they did they couldn’t make them out against the mass of rock. Once, their face had passed by the open window of a home to find a sleepy mole blinking blearily out at them. Jaine reared one hand back, preparing to smack him before he could give a cry, but the mole blinked a couple of times, turned and wandered back into a back room, muttering about his bad eyesight. They were more careful to avoid windows from then on. The trip was slow and arduous. Their muscles began to fatigue, and their grip slackened. Occasional slips nearly plummeted them to the stone floor below. A misplaced foot knocked a small sculpture from its roost on the edge of a balcony, and they froze for some time in hopes that the shattering statue wouldn’t draw attention. No guards were nearby, and they managed to move on without upsetting any more breakable objects. By the time they reached the far end Robert’s arms were quivering and shaking with weariness, and his fingers ached. They slipped down the winding staircase at the far end, watching for patrols, and managed to reach the floor and go around the corner without incident. They had turned into a grand hallway, rather than a tunnel, with tall arches spaced out evenly along the path. They ducked behind one of the archways and slumped to the ground for a brief rest. “That wasn’t so bad.” Robert thought wearily. I must admit, I am rather shocked by how lax the guards are. “Can you believe nobody heard that thing breaking?” It was quite unsettling. Once we have completed this quest of ours, I must inform the King as to the state of security in the city. “Going to make it so that five foot tall surface dwellers can’t sneak in, huh?” Among other things. “See, that’s not fair. What if I want to visit?” Send a note. If you are coming for a visit, then do it properly. “Too much trouble. I’d much rather climb along the cavern walls in the dead of night with my life on the line.” You simply must become accustomed to accomplishing things in a difficult manner, then. “I don’t like doing things the hard way.” Too bad. “I think you’ve sunk to my vocabulary level again.” Jaine pushed off the ground, and using the archway as support, stood up. All the more reason to finish this in a timely manner then. “Sure thing.” Robert said as they dashed around the next archway. Darting around the arches after checking for passing patrols, they made their way stealthily from hiding spot to hiding spot. Nearing a turn in the hallway, they froze at the sound of nearing footfalls. They turned away from the hallway and pressed themselves into the corner where the arch met the wall, using their improvised cloak to blend in as much as possible. The patrol passed, and they turned their head to catch a glimpse out of the corner of their eye. Three Jern soldiers followed two moles in large green coats with large quilled hats as they disappeared past the next archway. Scurrying quietly, they darted around the bend in the hallway and were met by the sight of the innermost city. The chamber was vast, tall and carved into a nearly perfect circle. Huge sprawling mansions of stone seemed to spill from the walls, all extending inward. Huge domes and towers stood in the center of their semi-circles, next to, or connected to the cavern wall. Surrounding them were ever decreasing layers of roofs and verandas which eventually melted into gardens at the bottom level, which narrowed into grand roads that led straight into the center of the room. As grand as the rest of the room was, it was the structure in the center that held their attention. The very center was one massive tower stretching from the floor to the ceiling, Surrounding the central tower were multitudes of smaller towers that grew smaller the farther apart they grew. At the point where each mansion road met the tower was a set of arches that grew progressively larger farther in until they merged with the central structure. The entire palace had to have been as large around as a skyscraper. “How could one family, royal or not, need a palace so big?” Robert asked, dumbfounded. The Imperial palace is not just the home o the royal family, it is the seat of the entirety of Ghundian government. There are many grand halls, auditoriums and council rooms spread throughout the higher floors where the lords meet. The highest levels house the royal attendants and servants. This is the heart of civilization. “Well, it’s pretty impressive, yeah, but you make it sound like you mean all civilization.” Jaine raised an eyebrow. “You really think that?” He sighed. “You need to get out more. Well, if that’s the palace what are all these mansions then?” They are the abodes of the high lords. “Wait, didn’t you already say once that the lords lived in the bottom of those other towers a while back?” Those were the minor lords. “Minor how?” They do not have the influence or power of the others. “That’s not what I mean. Why are they minor.” It is their lot. “You really don’t like to think too much about this whole social structure thingy do you?” Is there any point to it? Jaine asked as they slipped around the side of the wall toward the nearest mansion. “Well, freedom. Equality. That sort of thing.” When you finally have something worth saying which explains anything you say, notify me. They settled alongside the mansion’s outermost wall and slid around on the way to the road leading into the palace. “It’s not really even worth trying with you.” Robert sighed. “Now how are we going to get to the palace anyway? There is absolutely no cover from here to there.” It is a risk we must take. “Wait, we’re just going to walk out there? Seriously?” If we remain confident, and act as though we belong, there is a possibility the guards of the high lords will not challenge us. If they do not recognize our size, and if they feel we aren’t threatening them by heading away from the mansion they guard, they may take us for an agent on a late night mission for the royal family. “How good is this ‘possibility?’” We shall see. “I hate when you say things like that.” Before they reached the front gate they ducked into the gardens that surrounded the entrance. Staying low to the ground they snuck from bush to bush and hedge to hedge until they were far from the Mansion’s gate, and nearly to the road. Taking a deep breath, they stood up, confidently stepped, and out strode off down the road toward the Imperial palace. Robert’s ears strained as they searched for the sound of alarms being raised, and squads being deployed, but all was calm. After several moments of traveling they let themselves relax slightly. “But what are we going to do about the palace guard?” Robert asked. Much the same, only we should be able to pass easier. “Easier? How is getting past the palace guard easier?” They expect agents. We pass in and out often. There is a special passage built into the side of the palace specifically for our use. If we give the proper sign when we turn off to the side right… now, just within sight of the guardhouse she stopped, waved their hand in the air in a strange manner and turned off to the left. We should be able to near the palace walls easily. “What if they notice our size?” They won’t. I stopped a good deal farther out than normal, so that we would appear the proper size from a distance. They will believe their eyes are playing tricks on them when the road seems smaller than normal. “Oh, please. Incompetent guards I accept, but they would have to have really bad eyesight not to notice that.” Exactly. The royal family only accepts mole guardians for their palace. In this light, from that distance, they will likely blame any inconstancies on their poor eyesight. “And Jerns serve these people?” Of course, she answered, somewhat confused by the question. Why do you ask? “No reason.” Robert said rolling his eyes. As the palace grew closer, Robert began studying the architecture of the place. From what he could see over the wall, the levels of the palace were quite tall, with enough space for Robert to stretch up and barely touch the ceiling, and with columns twisted and shaped not unlike licorice candies, standing from the floor to the ceiling. Between the pillars, archways stretched across in every direction. Balconies lined the sides of the tower three levels up, and many of them held decorative statues, sculptures and strange subterranean plants. While many of the basic structures were familiar, they were tweaked in a myriad of small ways that made the overall effect one of an alien design entirely. Robert was fascinated. Jaine leaped at the top of the wall, but came just a hair shot of grabbing the top of the wall. I would appreciate your assistance, Robert. “What? You want to merge again? I thought we had enough of the creepy melding of minds.” We must hurry. Word has likely already been sent to the door keeper that we’re arriving. We must get inside before they realize we will not make an appearance there tonight. It only has to last as long as it takes to get inside. “Simple. Straightforward. Very good. You should try explaining yourself more often, you have a knack for it.” Hurry, Robert. “Hurrying,” Robert said as he concentrated on his body’s senses. With a much more sudden snap than they had expected, they were one. “That was surprisingly easy.” They thought. Stepping backward a few feet they took it at a running leap, easily clearing the wall with most of their arms. They grabbed on before they could slip away and pulled themselves up. They quickly leaped to the other side of the wall, only seven feet thick or so, and leaped off the edge, grabbing the lip on the way down, and then letting themselves fall into a small courtyard. After peering around cautiously, they ran in a crouch around the edge, dropped to the floor and rolled to one of the nearby pillars. They got up into a crouch again and slowly rose as they peeked around the pillar. Much of the roof was structured like the inside of a dome, with arches and numerous pillars spread out in long lines for support. Every surface, from the walls to the pillars, arches and ceilings were covered in thick carvings. They became excited as they realized why the architecture was familiar. Another part of them wondered why they were excited. Born in that confusion, a ripple spread between their mentalities and they wrenched back apart, and for a moment they saw double. You are actually enjoying this? Jaine asked, rubbing their eyes. “I enjoy studying architecture, that’s all.” A little too much, I think. And what in all of Miria is ‘Byzantine?’ “Oh, you caught that when we were all mixed up, huh?” Jaine nodded. “Well, yeah, the architecture is Byzantine. Or at least it’s very much like it. More like it’s what the Byzantines might have built like if they built underground.” They peeked around the corner once more. “Of course I also see lots of elements of Gothic in the archways, the pillars are like an inverted form of Solomonic, and the carvings themselves seem more Chinese, of all things.” I told you we are the heart of civilization, did I not? “Oh, please. The styles are similar but totally different. How do you know you didn’t steal your style from us?” The royalty is too noble for such an act. “Wow. So this is brainwashing, huh?” ‘Brainwashing?’ Never mind. You truly do become absorbed in the art of building structures, don’t you? “Yeah, I do.” He said as they slipped from pillar to pillar. “I’ve always loved that kind of thing. I would build models when I was a kid. I loved buildings especially, but I would put together any kind of model my mother brought home. I had loads of boats and airplanes, and I never even wanted to go sailing or flying. I just wanted to build.” He suddenly caught an image from Jaine, which she tried to snatch back, but it was too late. “Where’d you get that memory of that airplane model?” He asked. “It was the first I ever made.” I am afraid I do not know. “Are you lying?” He asked incredulously. I swear by my life and the throne! “Then where’d it come from?” It must have come from you. “I didn’t give it to you.” Well, I will not pretend to know how it came to me. Robert snorted. “We’ll have to discuss this later.” The further they entered the palace the darker it became. The outside walls had been peppered with the tiny Sern lights, but now they were spaced further and further apart, with some domed rooms having only a small cluster at the very top to light the whole area. “Why is it getting so dark in here?” The Royal Family wished it. Jaine replied. Much more light and their eyes would have been discomforted. “I am so incredibly tired of fumbling about in the dark.” You are hardly alone in that. “But you live down here. You should be used to this.” Perhaps, but I’m not in my own body, if you will recall. You are not the only one who must make do with your pathetic night vision. “They work just fine on the surface.” Robert grumbled. “And what’s with you all of a sudden?” Quite. She thought back. “Back to that again, are we?” Do you not hear? Robert listened. Somewhere above them, a group of people were milling about. “What’s that?” He asked. It sounds like it is coming from the fifth chamber. She said warily. The King must be holding an emergency audience. It will be difficult to contact him without the guards attacking first. “What’s the emergency, do you think?” He asked. Jaine gasped, suddenly they had abandoned their careful pace and were hurtling along through the palace, and up ramps, luckily avoiding the various rich decorations throughout the palace. “What?” Robert asked, eyes popping. “What is it?” What greater emergency then if the King has been assassinated? Jaine asked, as they began to pant. “No.” Robert replied, shocked. “They would have killed your body, wouldn’t they?” Forget my body! The King is far more important! “Just move.” Jaine didn’t respond. They quickly sprinted up another wide ramp and came alongside the wall to the fifth chamber. Finally slowing down to a crawl, they inched themselves up toward the doorway. They paused just out of sight of the guards standing on either side. Voices spilled out so that they could barely hear what the people inside were saying. They knelt to the floor. “…followed me into the tunnels, my King,” said a voice that was distantly familiar to Robert. Jaine froze. “I warned every patrol I could find, but I fear the beast is cunning. I have intelligence that suggests the Murks have sent one of their own in the body of this giant, Great One.” “I think they’re talking about us.” Robert said in surprise. Jaine lay in shocked silence. “But what is the purpose of their madness?” An elderly voice, which Jaine recognized as the king, asked. “Surely they cannot think that so strange a creature could arrive at my very door unseen!” “I’m afraid the beast is just so crafty, your Majesty.” “Nonsense.” The king said. “You have done well to report this beast, and it shall be dealt with, but I do not see the situation as dire as all that. The Murks have ever thought to attack our person, and none of their previous methods have worked.” “There is a chance the beast is after something more sinister, oh King.” “More so, you say?” The King asked flabbergasted. “What could they possibly do that would be more sinister to this city than an assault on my life?” “That is what I intend to discover, your Majesty. Just give me a small contingent of soldiers, and I will hunt the beast down for you, and delve his secrets. I shall only need a small amount of materials…” With a sharp burst of anger and frustration, Jaine leapt up and charged toward the audience chamber “What are you doing?” Robert cried in alarm. “You’re going to kill us! At the entrance to the chamber the guard’s jaws dropped at the sight of Robert’s furious red face high above them, storming their way. Before they could react, and lower their weapons, she shoved them aside, not paying attention to how much force she added. The guards slammed into the stone walls on either side of the room and slumped to the ground unconscious. “No, your Majesty!” Jaine bellowed. “There is the Murk agent!” She pointed at her body. “Seize the creature before it gets away!” The room was deathly still. The faces of the Moles surrounding the room were painted with complete surprise. Eight guards, six moles and two Jern, were frozen in place. Aids, servants and attendants all stared up at him, but the King and the Murk drew their eyes. The Murk wore a comical bug-eyed expression, but the King gaped at them in utter terror. The Murk was the first to recover and grabbed the spear from one of the King’s bodyguards. Holding it aloft in front of itself, with the point aimed for Robert’s heart, it cried, “Protect the King! The beast has infiltrated the Palace! For the King!” The creature’s bellowing awakened the other guards and they all lowered their lances in unison. “For the King!” they cried. The Murk charged them, followed by eight screaming guardians. “No! you don’t understand!” Jaine cried. “What are you doing!” Robert yelled at her. “We have to get out of here!” “Your Majesty, please!” she cried. With a growl, Robert yanked control of their legs away from Jaine, turned, and bolted. Almost immediately their right side smacked into a pillar that had been obscured in the darkness. Groaning in pain Robert yelled at her, “Come on! They don’t believe us, we’re going to die if we stay here!” Taking back loose control of the legs, Jaine tried to think, But… “No time! Get us out of here, or we die, and the Murk does whatever it wants.” That thought sobered her up a bit and she concentrated on their direction. All around them in the darkness cries of alarm were spreading, and soldier’s and guard’s boots rang out from all sides. They slammed into one group coming up a ramp and they barreled downward. Jern and Moles went sprawling, as they stumbled past them. They ran over several more groups on their way to the edge of the palace, near where one of the mansion roads met the palace’s ascending archways. They were still a couple levels too high to safely jump to the ground. “What do we do know?” Jaine reached out, grabbed a hand-hold and swung them off of the balcony and onto the tallest of the archways over the Mansion Road. I’m going to need your help with this, she said. And it would be best if we stayed merged until we get out of here. I am afraid our chances are not high even without it. “Yeah, sure. Anything to get out of this alive.” It should be just abut morning by now. The City Gates should be open, but once the alarms reach them they will be closed. I fear we would not survive if we tried to escape the way we came, and the Gates are far closer. “Yes, yes. Let’s go.” Robert said impatiently. Seconds later Robert-Jaine leapt from the first archway to the next tallest, leading away from the Palace. This was followed by another leap to the next arch, to the next arch and the next. Finally, they dropped down onto the Mansion Road, and turning, sped toward a large, arched tunnel, which had been to the far right of their original entrance. As they ran, the gates under the arches behind them opened to reveal a mass of the Royal Guard bearing down after them, and to each side, the High Lords’ guards began pouring out of the Mansions and cutting across to block their path. “That won’t work.” They thought smugly as they dashed past the two enclosing columns. Cries of anger followed them as they disappeared into the tall, arched tunnel leading back out into the city. The High Lords’ personal armies fell in alongside the Royal guard as they chased after them.
Post by Edward Cheever on Nov 17, 2009 0:09:51 GMT -6
I think I should note that the italicized distinction, which lets the reader know when the person in control of Robert's body is thinking, is not present in any of the non-edited NaNoWriMo chapters, unlike the first 6 chapters and a little of the 7th. This was only done to save time, and will be changed by the time the novel is done. Sorry if it makes it harder to distinguish what's being said!
Chapter 8 The Monster’s Roar
Robert-Jaine fumed as they flew through the tunnels. The creature had beaten them there and it had driven them out. It was enough to send them into a rage. But more even than that, questions burned in the back of their mind. Why had the creature not attacked the King? Was it waiting for an opportune time? From Jaine’s perspective, it had always seemed like a suicide attack. This was not an unknown tactic used by the Murks. Far to the north, on the far side of the city, stood a giant gate that led into a tunnel, which traveled all the way to a sewer. Wars had been fought with the Murks over that tunnel. As they fled south, they were surprised at how smoothly they moved, and how natural it felt. Near the end of the tunnel, where it opened up into another vast chamber filled with towers and lined with dwellings, they ran into another troupe of soldiers. The way the soldiers advanced without hesitation indicated that they had already been alerted, and they didn’t shake when lowering their weapons to face them. With a shout, Robert-Jaine leapt over the guards, much higher than Robert could have ever jumped alone, and soared past the astonished sentries. They landed running, and were quickly sprinting between and around the sloped terrain and structures that were. Everything around them was lit with a light far brighter than when they had first arrived, making it easy to dash around strange bumps and dips in the landscape. Their physicality wasn’t the only thing that melded smoothly. Memories, thoughts, and plans were all open. They knew without thinking that the room was brighter because the Lightening had occurred. Everywhere around the chamber, formerly covered Sern lights had been uncovered. Morning had come. They looked around as they moved, becoming absorbed in the architecture of the city as they were able to truly see it for the first time. Beyond that, they knew the layout, the roads and alleys, the sections and neighborhoods, and how it all worked together. The mole citizens, all up and ready for the start of the new day, gaped or ran in terror at their approach. Scattering in all directions, they hid in the safety of their homes. One mole who hadn’t yet seen them hurtling toward him was viciously beating a Jern serf. Immediately a word came to their minds from somewhere inside of Roberts memories and they said it aloud with a snarl, “Slavery.” Some part of Jaine’s memories protested that the Mole was in his right, but that was quickly washed away in their rage at the Mole. As they neared the Mole finally realized what was bearing down on him and squealed in surprise. They kicked one foot out as they passed and knocked the Mole out of the way. A part of them felt guilty at harming a mole, but for the moment it was a small part. The many patrols, tired after a long night’s vigilance, reacted slowly to Robert-Jaine’s oncoming, and even when they did react it was usually to scramble in the other direction. The few that advanced came forward hesitantly, and they were easily brushed past. Coming into view around the towers, they could just make out the sight of the exit they needed, and just running inside was a messenger. Lowering their head they picked up their feet even higher, increasing their stride. If they could just catch him, they could reach the gates before they were told to close. With their faster pace they zoomed across the chamber far faster than a human could normally go. They knew that they were putting a strain on Robert’s body, but Robert had been physically fit, and though tired, could just handle the extra effort. It wasn’t long before they too turned into the tunnel. After several moments of running in the passageway’s slow curve, it straightened out to see the exit, which led into another Cloister. They didn’t need their brief glance around at the far more luxurious and well-carved dwellings to know they were in the Ligyun district, the home of the upper middle class who couldn’t quite afford residence in the heart of the city. The steps that defined the Cloister were taller with the homes spaced farther apart to add interior room. The roads on top of each step were paved with nicely fitted stones, and Sern lights on standing poles lined the walkways. Moles were milling about, busily scuttling in many different directions, some down tunnels that opened directly between the great steps. But they only had eyes for the messenger. The small Jern was only halfway across the cavern when he looked back, saw them, and with a terrified squeak pumped his legs faster, desperately trying to get away. His efforts were useless. Zooming up behind the poor Jern, they reached out and smacked him on the head. The Jern tumbled head over heals and sprawled onto the ground. Not slowing down, Robert-Jaine kept running, though in the back of their minds they hoped that they hadn’t seriously injured the man. Leaving the cloister behind they continued down the long and winding tunnel. Small tunnel branches came and went on both sides forming a complicated maze, but following the knowledge in their combined head they kept running down the path. More than once they barreled through a small patrol, scattering the scared soldiers on their way. They carried on this way for a long time. They knew where the City Gates were, but there were many guards there as well, and surprise or not, if the guards there recovered quickly enough they wouldn’t be likely to escape alive. Worriedly running over possibilities in their head, they ran on in silence for several minutes. A sudden idea formed in their head as they neared the tunnel exit. A grin spread across their face. They burst out into the cavern before the gates, and all around them, guards turned in shocked surprise. The cave was large, though not as large as the enormous Cloisters or the caverns that housed the minor lords’ towers. It was simple with little embellishment, and on both sides long barracks were built to house the gate guards. Throughout the middle were unloading zones, where the serfs of the city lord’s brought in harvests of food, Sern lights, and other resources. The surprise in the soldiers’ faces was already dying down, and some were lifting weapons. Taking a deep breath while still running, Robert-Jaine pooled their combined rage, frustration and sheer adrenaline rush and channeled it into one massive blast of sound from the depths of their throat in a roaring scream that echoed in the chamber. Soldiers all around winced or covered their ears, and those that had picked up weapons quickly dropped them. By the time they had adjusted to the second shock of such a horrific sound coming from the invader, it was too late and Robert-Jaine passed unharmed though the massive gates to the city of Ghund. They ran down the paved road leading out of the city, which swiftly turned into a pathway marked only by well-worn stone. Still sprinting, they past a number of shocked groups of serfs leaving to gather produce in the far reaches of Miria. After finally coming to an abandoned stretch of the path, just over a slight ridge, they slowed to a halt and bent over panting. Feeling it was time to end the merge, they concentrated. Nothing happened. Frowning, Robert-Jaine focused harder, looking deep within to find the disharmonies and paradoxes of feelings and memories that defined each part of them. Finally, with a sick, stretching feeling, they split apart. Their vision shook and when everything cleared they realized they had fallen hard to the ground. “What was that?” Robert asked aloud. “It’s never been that hard to split back up, has it? Oh, hey! I’m back in control of my body!” He stretched his legs and thought better of it when they shouted back at him in pain. “I don’t know,” Jaine replied. “I have never been stuck inside the head of another before.” You ‘don’t’ know? Jaine groaned, “Do not. I do not know.” Hey, now that your using contractions, maybe you could spice up other bits of your hoity-toity language too. I think I really need to introduce you to the word ‘cool.’ “This is not good,” Jaine thought. Aw, come on, I think you’ll really find the word ‘cool’ cool. Once you get used to it, anyway. Then we’ll move on to ‘awesome. “No, that is not it.” We can skip the word ‘like’ though. You don’t want to sound like a valley girl. “Robert! She shouted mentally. Now is not the time!” Beneath their feet the stone vibrated. Eyes widening in horror, Robert turned back to look up the ridge they had come over just as the pursuing Royal Guards appeared. Ranks upon ranks of armored moles and Jern ran next to each other, the moles wearing some kind of glove with wicked claws that extended off of their spade-like hands, and the Jern carrying long spears. The Murk stood at their head, eyes blazing in victorious passion. Raising Jaine’s arms high, it cried out in exaltation at the sight of them and, picking up speed, they charged. Robert stumbled to his feet and ran harder than he had ever run before. Pumping tired muscles left them far slower than they had been in their escape. The charging Jern sounded like an avalanche coming down on top of them, and above it all they could hear the wild cries of the Murk. What do we do now, Jaine? Robert asked, panicking. “Just run, I am thinking.” We should merge again. “No.” We have to, they’re going to kill us if they catch up. “We are not running as fast as we were, but we still have the advantage of your long legs. Keep running. I will think of something.” Robert gritted his teeth as they ran, the dull pounding ache grew a sharp edge. These legs aren’t going to stay an advantage for long. Why don’t you want to merge? It’s unpleasant, but it would keep us alive “What would happen if we could not separate again? I will not let that happen.” We may have to risk it. Robert said, glancing over his shoulder at the oncoming horde. “Look out to the right.” Robert looked out as far as the light from the crystals lining the road could shine. Instead of hard rock surfaces, the stone of the road faded away and was replaced by… Mud? Robert asked incredulously. “These fields are used to breed food for the Moles.” ’Breed?’ No, you can tell me later. What did you want me to see? “Just this, that we are parallel with the food fields.” And this is helpful because…? “These fields grow food for moles, but they are primarily used to grow food for serfs. We may be able to disappear into it.” What? How are we supposed to hide from that, He said risking a glance over his shoulder at the waves of metal glinting in the light. Do you grow corn down here or something? “No, but it is similar. It grows from the ceiling instead of the ground, and it is looser with no hard stalk, to speak of.” Wait, you know what corn is? Jaine fell eerily silent. “I did not know what corn was. I do not know how I know about it now.” Robert shook his head. It’s strange, but we can’t stop to think about that now. “No. We cannot.” It wasn’t much longer before Robert was panting and heaving for breath. Physical fitness is all well and good, but the human body can only go so far. His feet started slacking, his stride lessened, and he nearly bent double for every step. The only reason they weren’t overrun was that the same tiredness afflicted their pursuers. Strapped in armor and carrying heavy weapons had slowed them down considerably. The Murk too was showing signs of fatigue, even as it cried out encouragement to the soldiers behind it. Coming nearer just off to their right, tall trees stood, their roots planted firmly in the dark soil, their branches stretching up ward and out in all directions like massive palm fronds, all just barely exposed by the lights illuminating the road. They formed a dark orchard stretching into the distance where Robert could no longer see them in the faint glow. Trees? “Yes, trees. They’re called Yotley-Ren for their fruit. Why are you so surprised?” I didn’t know stuff like that grew down here. “Well, I doubt they are all that much like your surface trees, in reality. They only look like them. Quickly, run into the grove.” Robert swerved and began wearily threading between the large round trunks. This is nice and all, but it won’t really stop them. What happened to that corn stuff you were talking about? “It is still farther on ahead. We must reach there first, and the groves may give us an edge.” This stuff will slow us down as much as it does them. “But we will be harder to see. That is a significant advantage.” This had better work. I’m dying on my feet. “No doubt it is preferable to dying under their blades.” True enough. They rapidly stumbled on, the darkening trees above standing over them like ominous sentinels, watchers in the gloom. Almost as if to spite the antagonizing darkness, a sweet smell drifted all around them. Robert would have almost said they smelled like mangos, but there was something in it that smelled too much like apple as well. What’s that smell? Robert asked “It is their fruit.” It smells… Robert was cut off as a spear flew past them, missing them by less than a foot. They both cried out in surprise. Another flashed past their legs, sliding just next to the material of Robert’s jeans. Eyes widening, they dropped the chatter and Robert picked up his legs again and ran. From just behind them Jern and mole soldiers emerged from the near total darkness, spears and claws glistening. Robert dodged another spear and the powerful swipe of a Mole’s gauntleted paw, but just as he dodged around the trunk of another tree, a spear grazed across his back, drawing blood. Robert winced, as they raced through the winding Yotley-Ren orchard. He put one hand up behind him to feel how bad it was. It had cut clean through the shirt and a short ways into the flesh. It wasn’t deep, but he could tell it was already growing very bloody. They would have to treat it soon. They suddenly burst from the wooded field, an Robert cried and threw up his hands as they ran straight into a wall… and kept on going. Tripping to the ground, Robert looked up and around. Long rows of waving stalks, more like long blades of grass, dangled from the cave’s high roof. The tips hung just over a foot above the ground. He put out one hand and ran it through them. They felt a lot like wheat, with firm, but very flexible stalks. Tiny grain seeds came loose in his hand as he ran his fingers all along their length. “There.” Jaine said. “They won’t be able to follow us so easily in here. But we must go farther in. If we are still heading in the right direction, I think I can get us out of this in one piece.” A little too late for that, Robert said thinking about his wounded back. “’One piece’ is a relative term.” Jaine said as they slowly rose amongst the waves of grain. You could have fooled me, Robert replied as they hobbled off down one of the many rows. So what is this stuff? “Haret grain,” She replied. Haret grain… so what do you use it for? Bread, I bet. “Indeed. Among other things.” You sure they can’t follow us in here? “I never implied that they would be unable to follow, only that it would make it harder for them. They are likely in the fields now.” Robert gritted his teeth and picked up the pace. Why didn’t you say so? “We are tired, Robert. I am tired. The change in location gave us a chance to catch our breath.” We can’t stop, Jaine, He said in frustration. The minute we stop, they put a skewer through us. Jaine frowned, “We truly are safer, now. Why do you worry so much.” Robert scowled and rubbed his fingers near his wound again. “It is because of the wound? I have suffered worse in my training. It is nothing.” Nothing? Nothing!? They almost put a spear through me! “But they did not.” Yeah, well they would have. “Have you never been wounded before?” This is different. “What about the beast in the forest? We came close to death then.” I’m telling you, this is different! The monster? That’s like, I don’t know, a tree falling on you, you know? It’s just nature, it happens. This… The wound seemed to pulse, this is… they’re trying to murder us, Jaine. Murder us! Jaine sneered. “Pull yourself together, Robert. You are acting like a child.” But I am a kid! I’m not even seventeen yet! And I’m about to be killed down here! “You’re… a child?” Jaine said in shock. Well, Robert said, suddenly regretting his words. I’m a teenager, not a child. “A child.” Robert’s eyebrows drew down. I’ve been living by myself, you know. That should be adult enough. “I had thought, with your size, that surely you were an adult.” Should I have thought you a four year old because of how small you were? He said dryly. “This is… unsettling.” The rustling of leaves behind them told them they weren’t alone. You’ll have time to be ‘unsettled’ later, Robert said, bursting into a sprint. Right now we’ve got to get out of here. The long grasses flew by in a blur. Occasionally they would duck through the rows, with Robert slapping aside the leaf-like stalks that brushed at his face. They could here the sound of boots now, tromping up the aisles, their weapons slashing through the harvest. How close is your way out, Jaine? “I am not sure, but we do not want to come upon it too swiftly.” Why not? “You do not have to know. Keep moving.” This is kinda important, Jaine. “I will warn you. You will have to trust me. I know what I am about.” Something was odd in her tone, but it took Robert a minute to place it. It was condescension. No, you are going to tell me now. This kind of thing could get us killed. I want to know where we are headed. “You will calm down, Robert. I will not say no again.” That’s because you’re going to say yes. Jaine ignored him. Anger welled up within him. Fine, then I’ll just have to find out myself. Jaine threw up a mental wall, just as he dove toward her memories. Furiously he dug at the mental block. It surprised him that he could sense there was something to dig at this time. Before he couldn’t even realize Jaine was hiding her thoughts from him. Slowly cracks seemed to form in the block, and with a sudden burst it fell to pieces. Triumphant, he quickly grabbed the memories Jaine had tried to keep from him. He could see in them the memory of a cliff face. The cliff face was steep and sheer. And the very top of it bordered the fields they were running through. Robert shook his head. How many cliffs are there, down here? See? If I didn’t know this I might have run us right over the edge. Jaine seethed. He was stunned by the waves of emotions coming from her. Pain. Shame. Debasement. Surely that couldn’t have all come from what he did? “You are worse than a child,” She spat. “You are a brute. A monster!” What? I knew you wouldn’t be happy about it but this… “You beat me down, and then stood over me gloating while you took what you wanted. You violated my mind!” What? Wait, I didn’t mean anything like… “You… there are no words for how much you sicken me.” It was Robert’s turn to feel hurt. I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean… Jaine launched at him. Robert found himself struggling desperately to one more keep control over his body. His legs froze immediately, and his arms spasmed. His head whipped back and forth, with eyes shut tight and a snarl painting his face. As his upper body thrashed, he slowly tipped forward, and landed on his face with a hard smack. Old, dead Haret plants broke the fall. I… I said… I was sorry! Robert thought desperately. “That does not… matter. You… you are… you are pathetic. I will do this… without you.” You would… just leave me… alone… in the back of… of my own head? You would just… ignore me like that? “Yes!” She screamed at him. Robert felt his own fury now, another flame alongside Jaine’s in his mind. Noticing something for the first time, he almost lost control. The flames were different, but they were coming from the same source. He brushed the thought aside. The sensation that thousands of pins and needles were jabbing into him raced up and down his body. His teeth gnashed, making sharp clicking noises. As they struggled, the body groaned and moaned. The legs kicked fitfully at the dead plants. His back arched and then he suddenly slung forward, doubling himself up. Jaine took control over both of his fists, and soon blows were raining in on all sides. Groaning, Robert pulled his legs up into the fetal position to protect his stomach. Blood trickled out of the corner of his mouth. “Stop it!” He screamed at her. She roared wordlessly and continued her assault. “Stop it! What do you think you’re doing? You’re going to get us killed like this. And that’s even if you don’t do it yourself!” She kept beating themselves. Gritting his teeth he struggled to take back control of his arms. “What if the soldiers find us?” She hesitated. “I didn’t mean to do what I did!” He thought. “If I’d have known you’d have taken it like this I’d never have done it, I swear!” She growled, but the swinging fists slowed. He could still feel her anger though, and it hadn’t subsided one bit. “We have to get out of here alive,” he said desperately. “Or we’ll never stop that Murk thing.” She finally relented. Letting go of his body she retreated into the back of his head. If she had eyes of her own at the moment, Robert knew she would have been weeping. He didn’t know what he had done, not really. And, to be honest he got the feeling she wasn’t entirely sure of it either. He shouldn’t have gone into her memories like that though. He did feel sorry for it. All of it. Eve the bits he didn’t understand, whatever that was. Slowly opening one eye, with a bruise already wanting to form underneath it, he looked around cautiously. They were laying directly under one of the rows of grain. The row was just wide enough to cover him from just a little over shoulder to shoulder, and the leaves hung down close enough that their tips lay scrunched up upon him, and lying against his face. A rustling noise from farther up the strip made him freeze, and he could feel Jaine listening intently in the back of his head. Shortly, boots appeared in his vision, and they were coming up alongside both of the aisles to either side of the row they lay under. Robert lay perfectly still. “Did you hear it?” asked one voice, to Robert’s left. “Wul, course ah did! Sounded lahk a Berg Boar, thrashin bout. And somtin very well tore ta place ta bits din’ ih?” The voice’s wide flat boots, which had to belong to a mole, kicked at the scattered old Haret plants to Robert’s right. Robert recognized the accent, though not the voice. “What under all Miria is a Berg Boar?” The first voice asked. “Nahstiest baest there evar wahs!” Said the mole. A third voice chimed in to Robert’s right, “It’s just a creature what lives in the Backwater and what eats up all the worm stock. When it can get its snout it, that is.” “Raht rotten thieves they ah! Ruin ta whole crahp, they do. Mah famly back home wark s’hard ta get ih awl, an then ta beasts come roun and ruin ih awl!” The first voice laughed, “I don’t think I understood the half of that. How hard is it, exactly, to talk around all that mud in your mouth?” The mole spluttered in frustration, “Ah won have nah stinkin Jern ta talk ta me lahk tha!” The boots turned toward the first voice as if the mole was about to attack through the row. Robert tensed and his muscles screamed in protest in time with the searing wound across his back. He hadn’t had a chance to unknot any of them yet. Running for it would be a disaster. “Quiet!” A fourth voice boomed out. Another pair of boots appeared, coming up on the first voice’s side of the row. “Last time I checked, the duty of finding and killing monsters, bent on attacking the King, no less, didn’t require all of your talking and nattering at one another.” “Yes, sir.” They replied. “Now move it soldiers. The beast is making a swift march toward the cliff-face. If it doesn’t kill itself there, it will turn further into the fields, and we have to be prepared for that eventuality. Follow the rows east, you should find a commanding officer there who will give you knew stations.” “There’s been a change of plan, sir?” Asked the third voice. “Royal Agent Horousahnd has apparently been given command of the hunt for the creature, soldier. Apparently she protected the King personally. She is spearheading the search within the perimeter being set.” “Gor bless er soul! Protectn ta good King.” “Yes, her efforts are truly commendable, but that is neither here nor there. Get moving, soldier! Move!” “Yes, sir! Right away, sir!” Four sets of boots tromped off into the darkness down the rows. This is getting really bad, Jaine. Robert moaned. Really, really bad. Jaine remained silent, but he thought he felt a hint of sullen agreement. He didn’t think she’d be up for talking any time soon. Stretching his arms and legs he quickly got to work at removing the knots and cramps. It took him several minutes, but soon enough he turned over onto his stomach and surveyed the surroundings. Being hidden under the wavy stalks had given him an idea. Settling in his mind on the general direction, he crossed his arms over his chest, put his legs tightly together and rolled to his left as fast as he could. They emerged from the rank of Haret plants, spun across the pathway in between, and settled again under the next row over. Settling once more on his stomach he took another look around. No one was nearby, so he repeated the process, rolling again to the next file over. Again and again he rolled from one line of Haret to the next. Judging they needed to go further west, Robert crawled on his belly up one of the rows, staying hidden from the occasional passing searchers all the way, and then, when they’d gone far enough west, he again rolled from rank to rank. He could feel Jaine watching him in the back of his head, and he might have imagined it, but he felt almost as if he could sense a sort of grudging approval of his sneaking methods. He wished she would talk again, but he knew she would just ignore him out of spite, so he made do with his faint impressions of her, hoping she would come back around. He hated being ignored. It surprised him, after having lived alone now for some time, but he was remembering just how much that loneliness had hurt the first few months. They continued on like this for some time, by now in complete darkness. The occasional soldiers that would pass by had long since pulled out sern light lanterns to light their way, and it provided an excellent warning whenever they passed. Robert used the touch and feel of the hanging crops to guide him. Eventually light poured in underneath the hanging plants, growing brighter as they neared. With a sinking feeling Robert slowed and stopped under the last hanging row that fully hid them. They had reached the edge of the crops, and the next few rows grew progressively sparse and wilted, hanging down much higher above Robert’s head than the others. After the last of the crop rows disappeared, it was still another ten feet or so before the edge of the cliff. They were not alone. Soldiers were posted all along the edge, bunched into small groups, each with one member carrying a large sern lantern hanging from the top of a spear, rigged to hang the lights. Coming toward them down the line was the Murk, strutting about proudly, but with a frustrated scowl on its face. Surrounding it were three mole officers, each with bright green and white uniforms and the strange hats with feathery quills stuck in them. Two had pointed noses, and one had the multiple feelers that hung down limply to look like some strange pink mustache. These officers also wore golden bands that encircled their upper arms, and the two with pointed faces wore medallions. None were wearing the massive bladed gauntlets the regulars wore. “Have you found them yet?” the murk demanded. “No, madam.” One officer said regretfully. “With so many of the men set for perimeter duty, we have far fewer to search the fields. If only you would let all of the men close in, now that the perimeter is set, we could root the beast out shortly.” “It is too risky.” The murk said dismissively. I will not allow him to escape. He is a threat that must be dealt with before he is given a chance to cause more harm.” “But Madam,” said another officer. “If only you would give us leave to…” “The king himself put me in charge.” She glared at them all. “would you obey me, and your king?” “No Madam,” protested the third, “But we are to advise and assist you, and our experience tells us…” “Your experience is worthless with this creature.” The officer recoiled as if is face had been flapped. The murk was not making many friends amongst the military. “I know the true motives and habits of this creature better than anyone else. The beast is coming, and it is coming here. It will not swing back around and out through the fields. The perimeter is only a failsafe. It will come here, to these cliffs.” The officer spluttered, “With all due respect, madam, how could you possibly know the beast so well, and what beast wouldn’t avoid these cliffs? The very idea is madness!” The murk turned toward the mole officer with a dangerous glint in her eye. “Madness? This is what must be done! Would you betray your King?” “The king knows of our allegiance.” The third mole declared. “We have served him well and faithfully in multiple wars with the Murks past the outer gates. Our loyalty is not in question.” “You would question me?” The murk sneered. “Who saved your King this very night?” “Did you mean to say ‘your King’ or ‘our king?’” The mole asked contemptuously. “Enough, General Gerban.” Said one of the moles with the pointed faces. “We show our loyalty through obedience, not through words.” The officer with the mustache-like nose wilted slightly. “Indeed, General Dermus.” “Now, madam Horousahnd, what then is your plan, if the beast does not come where you say it will.” “It will come, general.” “Surely you have an alternate plan?” “The perimeter is the alternate plan.” The small group was nearly directly in between Robert and the edge of the cliff. “What if it turns into a siege then?” “A siege?” “Yes. What if the beast remains too difficult to find, and he stays hidden out there?” Robert suddenly felt Jaine tensing in the back of his head. “Do you know what you are going to do?” She asked. Robert decided to skip the sarcastic remark he was formulating. “Not really.” “Let me take control of your body.” She demanded. “What? Why should I let you?” “I know what to do here. You didn’t tear that part from me.” Robert sighed. She wasn’t going to forgive him so easily. “Fine. But I want it back when your plan is done.” “Very well.” Robert let go of his body, and Jaine quickly picked the control back up. They were getting very good at that. Robert hung in the back of his mind helplessly and watched to see what Jaine would do. He hoped she would see him letting her use his body so easily as a peace offering of sorts. He could feel Jaine tensing all around him. The Murk was just coming between them and the edge as the Murk was still speaking, “Perhaps collapsing the perimeter is not a completely useless plan. If it were constricted for every hour the creature is not found…” Jaine leapt out of their hiding spot at a full rush and slammed into the Murk, grabbing at it and dragging it with them toward the edge. The Murk yelped in surprise and beat back at Robert’s body. The stunned Mole officers reacted even slower, but soon rushed their way. Jaine neared the edge of the cliff and leapt off. Just as they were leaping, the Murk slipped out of the shirt that Jaine had latched on to. They both fell, Jaine screaming and swearing in frustration, Robert crying out in terror. “What have you done!?” He cried. “You’ve killed us!” He could see the stone ground below rushing up to meet them in his mind’s eye. Jaine, still seething angrily, smoothly transitioned to a diving position, and they slipped with a light splash into a dark watery world. As they plunged into the depths he suddenly felt control of his body returned to him. Floating back up towards the top of the water, he waved his arms around in relief, and then started swimming for he surface. It was too dark to see the underwater world around him, but high above them a line of shimmering, skittering dots made a line across the sky. It was the lip of the cliff they had jumped from. And they had almost taken the Murk with them. The whole nightmare had almost been over. I’m sorry, Jaine, He thought. I should have trusted you more. This was your plan wasn’t it? She remained silent. He let her. It was too soon to talk about anything anyway. Hey surface from the cold pool, or lake, Robert couldn’t tell in the darkness how big it was. High above them the Murk roared in frustration, screaming and cursing. The creature really was a monstrosity. You almost had that thing. Robert said. “Yes. But I failed again.” She said sullenly and then sunk back into silence. Tossing hand over hand and kicking his feet, Robert swam alongside the cliffs, looking for the shore.
I have a profound fondness for completely surpassing other's expectations of me.