Chapter 20 - Rescue
- Jyre: The Strength to Push Forward - Day 10: 9:50pm
They reminded me of birds on the hunt, diving in towards the sinking manticore, firing off several shots then pulling away sharply, pivoting round and diving down again. I watched them for several seconds, frozen by shock as they continued to prey on the dying beast. Then I remembered why I had come here and instantly began searching for him. He was standing on the dead manticore's back, staring across at us. For a second our eyes met but if he meant to tell me something it was lost to me. Then he spun around on his heels, glanced over his shoulder once and disappeared inside.
I ran forward, the elementals forgotten in my desperation. I had to get to him!
I slipped clear of James's outstretched hand and ran to the edge. Looking down I saw only lava. I ran to the other side, searched the walls in panic. Nothing! I had to get across!! I was about to go tearing back across the ledge again when James caught me by the shoulders and spun me around.
"Jyre, will you listen to me?!"
I lifted my foot, meaning to kick him and break free but he shook me. Hard. I closed my eyes and forced the panic down, swallowed and nodded.
"We need to find a way across. But we're not going to do that by running around in blind panic. Now just stop a minute and think. We need an idea before those elementals finish their little game."
I glanced over my shoulder and discovered that only the manticore's head and shoulders were still above the lava's surface. I let James lead me back into the tunnel as I tried to calm my thoughts enough to think. There had to be a way!
"Answer a few questions for me. Do you remember passing any other passages near the bridge?"
I thought for a second and shook my head, knowing he was only asking to try and get my mind on track. He already knew we hadn't passed anything. I studied the tunnel walls as I waited, seeking out anything that might be of use.
"Do you -?"
"The guards!" James just looked at me in confusion. This time I did kick him, in the shin, just hard enough for the shock to break his grip. Then I ran back to the sharp bend in the tunnel where I had left the second set of guards. I dropped down to my knees and started to search them.
I paused for a second and turned to look at James. "Why are they here? It doesn't make sense! Why guard a dead end tunnel!! I heard the other guard say that... that they were guarding an entrance. But what entrance!!" I didn't want to waste time on more words so I went back to searching. James joined me, frisking the second guard. Then he suddenly drew out a scroll, sank back on his knees and started to read. I froze with my hand inside the first guard's shirt and waited. I could hear my heart thumping against my rib cage and my breath was coming in slow and raged gasps. My tears had dried into sticky lines on my cheeks. James was frowning.
"What's wrong?" I shuffled around so I could see what he was looking at. It was a map.
He pointed to a square in the map's center which was marked with several strange symbols. "That's the temple," he said simply. "And that," he pointed to a pair of parallel lines," is the bridge we can just make out on the other side."
I nodded that I understood.
He sighed. "What doesn't make sense is, according to this map, there are three other bridges, so together they make up the four points of the compass."
I laughed. Or maybe it was a whimper. "But... There's..."
James didn't wait for me to get the words out. He grabbed me by the wrist, hauled me to me feet and led me back to the ledge. He turned his back to me for a second and I searched out the elementals. Four or five of them had stopped attacking the helpless beast now and were just hovering above the lava. In another minute or two the manticore would be gone. If James hadn't been there I would have fled.
"Watch," he commanded, his voice amazingly calm. I glanced over just in time to see him throw a handful of dirt over the side of the ledge.
"What are you..." My question died away when, not more than five feet beneath us, the dirt hit something solid, bounced and lay still, seemingly suspended in mid-air.
"Clever. Very clever," James mumbled under his breath. Then he turned to look me in the eye. It's a magical bridge. And if that map's right, it'll take us right across to the temple."
I glanced down at the bridge, which couldn't have been more than eight inches wide, then back at James. "And the elementals."
James smiled. "I need to mark the bridge so they we don't walk off it and plunge to our deaths." He held up two water arrows he had found on the guard he had searched. "Think you can hold them off?"
I reached out to take them but my sweat-laden palms slipped on the smooth wood. I wiped them on my legs but before the arrows were in my hand I could feel the sweat beading out on my skin. I hesitated, knowing that I would be unable to fire a bow with my hands sweating as they were.
"Here!" James stuffed the arrows into his pack, grabbed hold of the bottom of my top and ripped a long thin strip free. He wrapped it around my uninjured hand to from a thin barrier between my sweat and the arrow. I nodded my thanks, took the arrows and placed one of them in my mouth. The other I put to the string of my bow. Then I swung my legs over the edge of the ledge and let myself slip down to the bridge where James waited for me.
I nodded once. He moved forward, scattering the dirt in front of him to mark out the bridge's path. I forced myself to remain calm as he moved slowly forward, concentrating on my breathing, keeping it nice and slow. At length James was far enough ahead for me to follow safely. I kept one eye on James and one on the elementals as I moved, careful to step only where James had, lest I miss the bridge and fall to my death. I tried not to think of the fact that I could see nothing between me and the bubbling lava below. The one time I let my mind dwell on the fact I was swept by panic, certain that any second the bridge would disappear and we would both end up in the lava below. Hearing James up ahead, quietly talking to me as we went, kept me from losing myself completely. I wrenched my eyes back to the elementals, berating myself for my stupidity.
All that was left of the manticore now was the very top of its head and its large angry eyes. The elementals had circled it and now took it in turns to fire off bolts of flame at the dead beast. It was almost as if they were playing with it, maddened by its invasion of their territory. I swallowed back the lump in my throat as I shuffled forward. There was a loud slurping sound and the manticore finally disappeared. We were only half way across the bridge.
"Uh, James," I whispered as quietly as I could," is there any chance that you could move a little faster?"
I don't know whether he heard me or not, but he did seem to pick up speed. I still felt like a snail.
The elementals began to spread out, each one moving in its own little circle, which got bigger each time it completed a circuit. "They're looking for us!"
"We're almost there," James assured me.
One of the elementals stopped. I knew, despite its lack of features, that it was staring right at me! I increased the tension in the bow string and felt my arm spasm. "We have to get to Daneel!" I told myself, taking a long, deep breath. "We have to get inside the temple."
The elemental suddenly shot straight at me and I almost lost my footing. I could hear it now, a loud, angry burning mass of flames. I couldn't move!
The arrow shot from the bow and hit the elemental dead center. It sizzled, hissed and went out. I let a long sigh and started forward again.
"Give me your hand."
I glanced forward, expecting to see James but instead finding solid rock. I lifted my gaze to find that we had reached the end of the bridge. James was already on the ground above. I was about to reach for his hand when I heard the sound of another elemental behind. I turned to see it moving steadily towards the bridge. I brought the second arrow to bear.
"No! Give me your hand!"
I glanced back at James, uncertain. Then I took a gamble. I threw him my bow, then leapt for the platform's edge. My fingers curled around the edge of the rock and I kicked with my feet, trying to haul myself up. James hands grabbed my wrists and I was moving. I heard the whoosh of a bolt being fired, kicked again and rolled onto the ledge just as the bolt bit into the rock beneath me. Tiny splinters cut into my skin but otherwise I was unhurt.
"Nearly there," James said with a smile as he helped me to my feet. He took the second arrow from my trembling fingers and returned my bow. "Get inside!" He shoved me in the shoulders and I ran.
My legs were jelly beneath me, threatening to collapse with every step I took. My lungs burned, begging for oxygen as I gasped for air. I could feel my heart straining with every beat. I must have stumbled at least three times but James was always there to help me up. The hardest part was scrambling over the dead manticore's bulk. Exhausted as I was, it felt more like a mountain than a tiny hillock but I made it at last, stumbling forward over its smashed head, through the door held open by the rubble, into the entrance hall of the temple. I heard James loose the last arrow, then he was kneeling beside me, frantically searching through his pack.
"What are you doing," I managed to gasp.
He never answered. Just took out a couple of mines and ran back to the door. I was too tired to lift my head and watch. Then he was beside me again, with a broadhead out and readied. "Shield your eyes," was all he said. I heard the arrow sing. Then there was a tremendous bang, the ground shock beneath and bits of dead manticore went flying everywhere. The light from the elementals was just beginning to fill the entrance when the door slammed shut behind us. I stared at it in disbelief.
"I couldn't let them follow us," was all James said.
Everything was still now, and quiet. My ears were ringing. I rubbed my sore eyes.
I pushed myself back up on to my feet and brushed the dust from the exploding manticore from my clothes; pretty dumb, considering the mess I was already in, but it helped settle my nerves. I followed James through the vaulted opening just beyond the doors. My eyes took a few seconds to adjust to the fresh light coming from somewhere inside the room. When they finally did, I wanted to scream.
Daneel wasn't there! I swallowed hard, staring at the shred of cloak that lay just a few inches in front of my feet. A sense of dread washed over me, easily shifting the terror that had gripped me for so long. I knew the instant I saw the tiny scrap of fabric that something terrible had happened. Daneel...
James was talking to me. He might have been trying to explain something. Or maybe he was just offering comfort. I couldn't really say. His voice washed over me in much the same way as the dread. The words were nothing more than a jumble of meaningless sounds that grated painfully in my ears. I edged further into the room, stumbled over something hard and fell to my knees. I searched behind me without truly thinking. My fingers clenched around something small and brittle. I placed it between my knees.
I felt as though I had been staring at the odd lump for hours yet somehow I didn't even know what it was. It was hard, small and somehow twisty but I seemed incapable of forming those simple observations into a single coherent thought. I reached out and touched it. It seemed softer now. And smoother. Not that I thought much of that at the time. Then my fingers seemed to form a will of their own and they gathered up that tiny scrap of material that had once been his. It had that same softness that had enveloped me during the night when I had slept in his tower. And his smell still lingered in the tiny gaps between the weaves. I tucked it inside my belt and let out a long sigh. "Daneel..."
- James: Gathering Wits - Day 10: 10:00pm
Well I had survived that after all. I didn't know weather to thank Dan for the wonderful adventure, or sock him for getting us all almost killed. I would probably do neither. Jyre and I went on ahead, into the main chamber of the temple. Just as it should have been, there was a lava pool in the center, with the gateway suspended above it. At the side of the pool nearest the door was the platform on which you stood before summoning the gate, or jumping through it. The gateway lead, of course, to The Maw of Chaos, the home-realm of the Trickster and his kin. The Faery Queen needed to be there to perform the ritual. "Jyre," I said. "This gateway will take us to another realm. It's a very strange place, so I must warn you to be extra careful when we are there."
I didn't notice if she heard or not, for I was suddenly interested in something that did not seem right about this room. When I had first seen the stone vines that covered the walls and littered the floors, I thought that it was simply a feature of the room. I also figured immediately that, since Dan was not here, he had gone on ahead, hoping that we would go home. However when I noticed that his hat was on the far corner of the room, and a large bundle of the stone vines was nearby, I put two and two together and realized the grim truth of the matter.
- Nightfall: Delirium - Day 10: 10:00pm
Blindness, vertigo, pain. The world swirled about me, only to be consumed in mist. Patterns of black and red swirled about, getting darker and lighter, and then darker still.
I heard voices. Distant shallow sounds, vaguely human, yet speaking in perfect common tongue. "We thank you for your sacrifices. You honor us with your deeds. Our realm you leave now, and enter the realm of magic, chaos, and evil. We thank you, once more." I began to make out the silhouettes of seven robbed figures fading gently in and out of view...
I awoke to the sensation of the stone vines being pulled away from me, and the sound of two familiar voices. Instinctually, I pushed against them, aiding whatever it was that was getting me free. My vision was hazy, but I could begin to make out a few words.
"... he all right?"
"I'm not ... most likely... seems... we shall soon..."
I inhaled deeply, but the dust-filled air stung my lungs. I coughed violently, rolling onto my side, kicking the last stone vines free from my legs. A young female voice cried out in concern. The elderly man seemed to comfort her. I felt dizzy. I wasn't even sure where I was. It was very dark.
- Jyre: Reunited At Last - Day 10: 10:05pm
The world snapped back into focus when I spoke. I was kneeling just inside a room that was lit by the glowing lava that filled a square pool in the room's center. There was some sort of glowing yellow ball hanging above it in midair. I dismissed them both as unimportant, more interested in what had happened to Daneel than in this rubble-strewn room. The very nature of the lumps of rock that were scattered around the room confused me. They looked more like plants than rocks. Had someone once sculpted a garden down here? I shrugged the question away. What this place had been didn't matter anymore, not until I found Daneel, anyway. My eyes moved onwards, taking in more of the room. I spotted James, sword drawn, hacking away at a bundle of the petrified vines. The sight gave me pause. "What are you doing?"
He glanced up at me, his face seeming to say "Didn't I just tell you that?" I shrugged sheepishly, realizing he probably had. "Daneel is encased in this rock. I'm getting him out!"
I saw his hair first, tinted red from the glow from the lava. I edged closer, trying to get a look at his face, hoping to find some trace of life. James glanced over at me, a grim smile on his lips, then put the sword away and began to tug on the vines. "James, is he... is he all right?"
"I'm not sure. He most likely is not badly hurt. He seems to be breathing. We shall soon see how 'alright' he is."
The exasperation in James' voice told me how dumb that question had been. But there was reassurance in his words as well. I felt some of the tension seep from my limbs as James worked on getting the last of the vines free. Then Daneel's legs spasmed, as though he had meant to kick himself free. I must have said something because James muttered that it was all right. Then Daneel was free and all I could do was stare at him.
- Nightfall: Revival - Day 10: 10:10pm
Slowly my eyes came into focus, and my vision cleared up. I found myself curled into a fetal position, lying in a heap of broken vines, only several feet from the lava pit. I was not alone. James and Jyre where here. I was still too exhausted to acknowledge that I was cognitive yet. I just lay there, resting, the first rest I'd had in so very long.
I could hear the fear in Jyre's voice. She was afraid; afraid for me. Why had she come? What debt did I yet owe her that she felt the need to come after me? Or was it the other way around? That she felt she needed to repay me? She had come to rescue me. I could understand why James had come, but why her? Could she be attracted to me? I perished the thought.
I felt the need to cough yet again, but stopped it. Slowly, I pushed myself out of the ball I was in and sat up. The stone vines beneath me cracked and crunched as I moved. Jyre gasped.
- Jyre: Not Belonging - Day 10: 10:10pm
He was lying on his side, his knees tucked up against his chest, his arms locked tightly around his knees and his head tucked forward. I had never seen him like that before. He had always been so strong and untouchable before. He was someone to look up to and respect. Someone to turn to when I needed his help. But in those few seconds during which he lay there it felt more like I was the strong one and he was nothing more than a helpless child, curled up tight to shut out the horror that was life. The tinniest of smiles pulled at the corner of my lip. I wanted nothing more right then than to pick him up and comfort him. My body refused to move. "He looks so vulnerable..." My eyes flicked to James for a second before settling back on Daneel. "So cute," I added under my breath.
I backed away when he started to stir, suddenly uncertain about my role here. It didn't feel right, my having seen him like that. I felt awkward and shy, almost as though we were about to meet for the first time. And perhaps we were. After all, what did I really know about him, apart from the fact that he worked as some sort of protector for the city's thieves? And then there was need for me to explain my presence here. What was I supposed to say?! That I had been scared? That I had been worried he was in danger? And then he would ask me why. He would probably just laugh at me if I told him the truth. If I even knew the truth! I found myself backed into the wall and slid down it into a sitting position.
I shuddered as I watched him drink the vial of healing potion, knowing just how vile those things could taste. It seemed to help though for he suddenly seemed much more alert than he had been. He offered James a smile and muttered what looked like a "thank you." Then they both glanced over at me for second. There was no smile on Daneel's lips now. No kind of thanks offered for my help. He just looked at me, face blank, eyes seeming to say "what now?" He didn't even nod to acknowledge he had seen me. He just turned back to James and started talking.
- Nightfall: Old Friends - Day 10: 10:15pm
I quaffed the healing potion in one gulp. This was no time to be stubborn about such things. The liquid did the trick, and I could feel my strength returning quickly. One of many undocumented features of a healing potion is that one bottle is worth about three hours of sleep, even though they also made you slightly drowsy. "Thank you, James," I said, mustering a smile as I nodded to him.
He gave a smile in return and then glanced over at Jyre, who was sitting in a dark shadow on the far side of the room. I didn't have the energy to deal with her at the moment.
"James, we must press on."
"Indeed we must," he said, "but not before I brief you further."
I pushed myself up, and stood. I stretched my cramped muscles before I responded. "Briefed, yes, as to why you felt the need to come?"
"Indeed. I fear that you lack the means to deal with this being," he said very matter-of-factly. "You have, just now, in fact, demonstrated that you would have been killed if not for us."
I considered the statement. He was so very right, of course. When I set out, did I even really have a plan to fight her? The Woodsie Lord was never assaulted directly, so there was no way of telling how powerful it was in combat. I was sure, for some reason, that the Faery Queen was not as powerful as he, and I knew I would find some way to destroy her, but I figured the details would be made clear at the right time. Indeed, I had been a bit rash. James cut my contemplation short.
"Here," he said as he stood, and handed me an odd-looking arrow. "This is what will kill her." I examined it. The shaft of the arrow was made from iron, rather than wood, and the broadhead was made of a material I had never seen before, at least as an arrowhead. It looked as if it was cold-forged, which I found even more odd.
"This is the weapon your spoke of before?" I said, vaguely remembering.
I turned it over in my hands again. "Care to explain it again? I'm afraid I was not as focused as I should have been that night."
He proceeded to explain to me that it was a cold-forged arrow, made from a rock that fell from the sky. He explained his theories about man-made magic, and his beliefs that this single arrow could kill a god, or goddess, of chaos.
"I see," I said simply, "then I shall use it as you have described." He nodded to me. Now I finally had a clear plan of action, one that may actually work. I looked over at Jyre once more, and then to James. "If we send her back, she will die. If we tell her to wait here, she will die. If we ask her to come along, she may die, but she may live. I see no other choice." James nodded in agreement. "Truthfully, my friend, I'm beat. Insect-beasts and stone monsters I can deal with, but young girls are the most terrible creature of all." We both shared a quiet laugh at the irony. "Please talk to her. Last time we spoke, she tried to kill me. You have spent quite a bit of time with her, so it seems that she reacts a bit better to you than to me."
James opened his mouth to speak, but then just nodded, and then walked over to her. At the moment, I had another urgent matter to attend to: my sword.
Soon I found it. Its hilt was sticking half-way out of the lava. Evidently, the mass of stone vines that encased it was not as lucky as the one that held me, and it fell into the lava. The sword, being highly magical, was resistant to melting, so there it was. I crouched by the ledge, before the pool, contemplating if I could get it back somehow. Perhaps it was fitting. This sword was wielded by many great heroes, heroes far greater than I could ever hope to be. The fact that it would share the fate of another great sword, cast into a pool of lava at the core of a volcano, was somehow satisfying. If this was indeed the end of it, then it could not have chosen a better way to go. Unlike the other, which was destroyed, this one shall remain here for some time, years, perhaps centuries, or forever. My only regret was that I only got to wield it once. I hoped that I was worthy. After that, I made a quiet detour to scoop up my tattered hat and put it back on my head where it belonged.
- Jyre: Opening Old Wounds - Day 10: 10:20pm
My eyes dropped to my hands, which lay open in my lap, palms up. I felt tears prick at my eyes as I tried to understand his casual dismissal. Was he really that angry with me for coming? Had my disobeying him really been so bad? I sniffed and wiped the back of one hand across my eyes. It came back wet with tears. I looked up at him once more, trying to make out what they were saying but their voices were too low. I don't know whether he sensed my gaze on him or not but he suddenly looked over at me. I caught his next words perfectly "...talk to her..."
Ice gripped at my heart as I realized it was happening again. Just as it had when my dad had left when I was little, or when I had wandered the streets for years afterwards, or in the Lady's guard. Just as it had always happened. I knew what he was thinking. She's just a dumb little kid. She won't understand. Just more baggage to drag around. I don't know why I had ever thought he could be different, why I had I ever been stupid enough to think he could actually care! He'd just shut me up in that tower of his because he couldn't be bothered with a dumb kid! Just like my dad. He'd never really cared about me either. Why else would he have left us that morning without a word, knowing my mum was sick? What other reason could there have been for him to walk off to work that day acting as though everything was fine and never come back? The answer was simple. He hated me. Just like everyone else hated me!
I looked up, the tinniest flicker of hope in my heart. It was only James. I sighed and stared down at my hands. I could hear him speaking to me but I never listened to the words. I didn't want James, I wanted Daneel! Daneel who was on the other side of the room, searching for something, not even acknowledging my existence. I slowly stood up and walked away from them both, kicking out at a bit of vine-turned-rock. Why had I ever been so stupid as to go chasing after him! Why hadn't I listened to Els? Els had cared. After all, he was the only one who had actually bothered to look for me, instead of just seeing the dumb kid that my appearance suggested. If I had bothered to listen to him none of us would ever have gotten into this mess, Els would still be alive and I would still have someone I could call a friend! Now Els was the only reason I had for going on. And once I had my revenge? I sighed again and went to Daneel, not saying a word.
His eyes seemed to focus suddenly and he looked down at me, then behind me. I glanced over my shoulder to find James had joined us. I waited in silence, expecting him to say something to James, only it was to me he spoke.
"Jyre, thank you for coming for me."
I swallowed back the lump that formed in my throat, surprised by how tired he sounded. He had spoken softly with just a touch of sadness in his words. I wanted so much to believe what he had said, but what had believing ever got me in the past? Nothing but more pain. Still...
I reached out uncertainly, slid my arms around his waist and wept.
- Nightfall: Thank You - Day 10: 10:25pm
I broke myself from my quite moments of rest and contemplation to realize that James and Jyre were by my side. James looked extremely solemn, and Jyre's eyes were drying. I felt the need to speak to her.
"Jyre, thank you for coming for me."
She looked at her feet. James sighed. Suddenly she came forward and put her arms around me, clinging, pressing her face to my chest, crying. James could not help but smile as he saw the dire peril I was in. Thanks, James, you're a great help. I carefully put my arm to her back, totally at a loss for things to say to her. Maybe I didn't need to say anything to her.
"James, to the Maw then," I said quietly. He nodded. To get through the portal, one needed to stand at the platform in front of it, and leap over the lava, into the heart of the swirling rift. It is fabled that if you did not believe in the portal, you would plunge to your death. It's a good thing I believed, but did Jyre? I knew what I must do.
I spoke to Jyre. "Jyre, we need to go through that portal. It's very dangerous, so I'm going to carry you through, to make sure you make it okay. All right?"
She looked at me with her soft eyes, which were red, perhaps from the dust, perhaps from her tears. She nodded slowly. I looked to James.
"You can make the jump just fine, I hope."
"I should hope so. I'm not that out of shape!"
I shot him a quick smile and then gently lifted Jyre off her feet. She clung to me tightly. My magic armor was still working, so it adjusted itself to grant me more strength to lighten the load.
"I'll go in first, of course. Be sure to follow close behind, James."
"Indeed!" he said.
I turned towards the portal. It hovered above the pool, swirling peacefully and steadily. Streaks of yellow and orange swam about the reddish tempest. I leapt in.
- Chapter 19 - Donning Our True Skins / Chapter 21 - Holy War
Correspondence of Thieves copyright, 2000, Steve Tremblay, Lytha, James Sterrett, Alexandria Thomson, and Daniel Todd.