Jocko smacked his lips and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “We’ve all gotten a boost from this,” he said. “Not just because of the Hesikastor. It’s one in the eye for Hengst.” “Not all,” Rufus said. He looked from Aunt Marita to Shira. Susann! Shira leapt up, stricken. “I’ll be right back.” She made for the entrance. “Shira!” Aunt Marita called after her. But Shira kept going.
“Our control crew is excellent,” the Hesikastor said. “But this ship is somewhat beyond their experience.” “How come?” “Random oscillation, Ordy,” Suk said. “Don’t you ever listen? Be like catching a pancake in a frying pan.” “An invisible pancake,” Prosser said. “An invisible morphing pancake,” Suk said. “Tossed in a race and it’s not even Shrove Tuesday!”
Prosser dragged Ord up the chute and through the open hatch. “Now!” Gunther yelled to someone behind him. The chute telescoped back up, the hatch snicked shut, there came a rumbling whine, then an eerie silence. And Ord passed out.
Gunther wheeled the chair towards the door. “We have to go quite a way. But it’s all on this level and the route I’m taking should be relatively clear… If anything happens, we may have to run for it as the Hesikastor said.” Run? Ord went out last, praying that that would never happen.
“And your mother? What of her? Forgive me if I offend.” Hesta thought for a bit. What to tell? What to withold. There wasn’t much of either! “I believe my mother to be dead.” “Believe?” On the other side of Hesta, Gudric exclaimed. “I—dropped my flask. I’m sorry.”
“Gudric, if you would help the t’tahinay into the saddle?” “Nay!” Hesta said firmly. “You think I don’t know how to mount a thar? Here.” She thrust the lantern at B’hoc Lunan. “You take it, lead the way.” And before they could say a word, she was up and ready to ride. Thus they set off, around the masking panel, and into the tunnel, leaving the cave behind.
A youth stood in the doorway: clothes dark as midnight: leather helmet, surcoat and britches. Boots to the knees. Thick gauntlets, lanyard from which a long knife dangled in a dark brown leather sheath. Wide belt, sword in a thick black scabbard, much worn. Well, let me in, quick! He peered into the youth’s face, caught a glint of tawny eyes. B’hoc Lunan?
“B’hoc Lunan, I cannot fathom all you say. Where was that home? Is that where the people are gathering now?” She looked at him in amusement. “You really do know nothing. Of who you truly are, where you came from. I wonder how you ever got here.” And wonder on, thought Gudric grimly. He certainly wasn’t going to tell.
Hesta winced…. “I don’t know what to say.” …. “Well, whatever it is, be quick. Think what you’d have me do before I’m gone.” … “B’hoc Lunan—please—get me out of here.”
The youth had watched her progress unmoving. As she passed, he caught her eye. Something flashed between them. Too quick to name. One last look back. No one seemed to be aware that she had left, not even Bard. She turned, sped up the ramp away and on until the cellar was out of sight.
Someone knocked on the door. Three soft raps of the knuckles. “Ah.” Bard pushed back his chair and stood, leaning on the tabletop. “We are summoned. Come, we will speak more of this another time.” Another time? Not soon, not later, not tomorrow? As if the matter were of no immediate importance and there was all the time in the world. Utterly rattled now, Gudric followed Bard to the door and out.
He stared at the door, small and thick and firmly shut in stout rock wall. Beyond, a tangle of tunnels running up and down all ways. A haven, he’d thought it, timely escape from the merchant riders. But now it began to look more like a trap.
Hesta stared at him, numb. She’d resolved not to let him shock her. Well, he’d done that, all right. No wonder she had sensed her world dissolving all around her. But she’d not guessed at anything like this. In fact, in this brief space of a sandclock he’d shattered it completely and nothing would ever be the same….
Hesta eyed her curiously. Strange. Reyula called that country the home of bloodthirsty barbarians. This girl looked neither bloodthirsty nor barbaric. More like a harling wishing to be taken in as pet. Hesta had another urge—to seize and shake her! And so she might, after a fashion. I’m hungry. What is there to eat? If the girl was startled at the sudden mindspeech, she hid it well. A meal is prepared for the Hesta. I will fetch it at once. Reminder: there is much use of mindspeech from this point – no way to indicate via sound. In the text, it is denoted via usual offset.
He felt a familiar tingling. The Dark was lifting. In the beginning, when he had first discovered this strange gift, its effect had not lasted long. But as he’d grown proficient in its use, it had lasted well beyond his needs and he’d never had to test its limits. But there was one, it now seemed. Usage told it would return. And if past practice were anything to go by, come mid-morning it should be back full strength. This chapter brings in new element and change of scene. In the book, it is signalled at the first chapter break by a shift from regular roman text to offset, indicating the thoughts and movements of the newcomer. after that, text shifts back to normal, although the actions continue.
“Okay, Pross. Forget Hengst. Forget the idiots out there. Let’s get this thing fixed. Suk, check the old man, make sure he’s okay.” She made a face. “Waste of time, and you know it. He runs under his own steam whatever we do.” “I know. But put on a good show. We don’t want those bozos to know just how expendable we are, now do we?”
Throat on fire, eyes streaming, (Hesta) reached the shaft floor. Uncle Freyde lay in a heap, unmoving. “Uncle Freyde?” Oh may the Quaur have spared him! “T’tahinay.” His voice came in a whisper. “I didn’t … see … Bard.” The heavy-lidded eyes closed. “Uncle Freyde! Uncle Freyde!”
After all this, she remembered thinking. She was fading, something heavy pressed upon her chest. Then, strangest of all, she felt herself being borne up off the ground. Was she dying? Was this how it felt? A face loomed over her. “T’tahinay.” Father.
… as long as no one dies or unless there’s something like a fire…. She shivered. Fire down there would be a horror….The place would be an inferno within minutes. She clenched her hands, released them. Maybe.
(Hesta) gazed up, tempted to try those rungs, to climb the shaft and try its seal. The taper light sputtered, went out. Just as well. It was surely time. She turned to go, resolving to return at the earliest opportunity.