Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel; Chapter 9, Slade 3

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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 9:  Slade 3
Table of Contents
Previous chapter:  Chapter 8, Hastings 3

"I'll take point," said Torelle.  "But I want Slade right behind me, and Omigger with the torch close behind him so I can see."

"What, you want me in the back?"  Filp did not seem enthused by the arrangement.  "I'd be glad to carry the torch if I can be in the middle."

Omigger disagreed.  "You have the best chance of any of us to escape unseen.  If you are holding the torch, you lose that."

"You also have the best hearing," Torelle added.  "If something is coming from behind, it will be your ears that save us."

"I still don't like it," objected the thief, but by this time Torelle had stepped into the opening.  Slade took a deep breath, and released it almost as a sigh, and then followed into the gloom.

The torch which had been a wonderful light when Slade carried it out now seemed to be more a source of shadows.  At first Slade thought the power was running down, but then he realized that he was coming from bright daylight instead of hours by flashlight in dark tunnels.  Besides, the shadows which stretched ahead of them were his and Torelle's, because the torch was behind them.  He had always carried it in front of him, so it lit the path without interference.

He also wondered at how the passage looked.  It looked familiar, in that he had seen miles and miles of this same corridor perhaps a month ago; yet it looked unfamiliar, in that he didn't recognize any features which suggested he had seen this particular place before.  It then occurred to him that it might be because he had never walked this direction before.  Anything he might recognize he saw coming the other way.  He glanced behind him to see if that was any help, but the torch shone in his face, and he could barely see Filp behind Omigger, or the diminishing light of the entrance beyond them.

But Torelle led with confidence.  He ignored a number of doors and passed several side passages with little more than a glance.  He took a left and a right and another right, and then stopped.

"This is where I need your help," he said.

Slade felt his eyes blink several times; it was a wasted gesture in the darkness, but his amazement and confusion forced him to it.  "How do you know I was ever here?"

"You came from somewhere deep underground; we know this from your story.  You would have chosen larger passages where you could, as they were more likely to lead somewhere.  I have been through parts of this place before, and know some of these corridors.  I either know that they do not lead down, or see that they are not important.  So you must have come through one of these halls to reach the entrance."

Slade didn't realize the fighter was capable of such reasoning.  "Um...O.K.  Let me take a look.  Tell you what.  Omigger, let me have that torch a moment, and I'll give it a good once over and see what I think."  Taking the torch, he walked a short distance down one passage, turned around and walked back.  Then he did the same for the other two halls.  Torelle was right.  He had been here.  He recalled coming down the first hallway and looking at the paths.  Even now he wasn't certain what had led him to chose the right path--he would credit the Norns, to whom he had prayed.  But this was the way.

The journey continued in this vein until Omigger announced that it was evening.  They had taken their first flight of stairs, and now chose a room.  Filp opened the door, and after he and Torelle had carefully checked the walls and floor he locked it again.  Even so, Slade suggested that one of them should keep awake in case some creature appeared.  None did that night.

The days that followed were tense and tiring.  They were marked by the kind of excitement which comes from surprises and anticipation.  But they were not much to tell.  The foursome met the occasional vicious creature, but these were rarely a match for Torelle's skill.  A few times they took a wrong turn and lost up to a few hours, but Slade would gradually realize that he had not come that way.  Deeper they traveled into the earth, and closer to their objective.  But Slade began to realize that the tales of that part of his adventure would be about as exciting as a description of the movements of the car on a roller coaster.  The experience could not be conveyed by words.

Slade had lost track of the days and stairways, and was moving into places further back in his memory when suddenly he stopped, and led his companions down a small side tunnel to a three foot square vertical shaft.

"So that's a chimney," Filp said.  "Can't we just use the stairs?"

"Not far from here the ceiling has collapsed and the passage is completely blocked.  There is a stairway beyond that, but I gave up trying to dig through from the other side when I was trying to get out.  I found this, and was able to scramble up through it, so as far as I know it's the best way down."

"This must have been built to allow airflow into the lower levels," Omigger said.

"Oh, so I crawled out through a ventilation shaft?"

Torelle replied, "Do you know something about construction techniques, Slade?"

"No, just watched a lot of movies."

Perhaps because they had gotten used to not understanding what he was saying, none of them asked him what a movie was.

But it was soon apparent that this was not so easy a route with backpacks.  Even with the stout length of rope Filp had brought, getting the four of them to the bottom with their gear took some time and effort.  They had to first determine the order in which everyone and everything would be sent down, feeling for the first time the fact that they had but the one torch between them.  It was finally agreed that Torelle would go down first, and then the torch lowered to him while the others made due with such light sources as they had.  Everyone's equipment would be sent down, and then Omigger and Filp would be able to let Slade down.  Filp would bring the rope with him so they would have it if they needed it.  He said that if Slade could make that climb, it should be easy for him, so they would have no trouble getting back.  As Omigger lowered the torch to Torelle, Slade drew out his flashlight.  Although he could wish it brighter, the batteries had recovered some and it was adequate for their needs.

It was also another mystery for his companions.

"This?" he said in answer to their obvious confusion.  "Well, it's called a flashlight.  I guess the best way to explain it," he paused, uncertain exactly what was the best way to explain it.  "It's a machine.  Someone--and it wasn't me--captured a tiny bit of lightning inside, and when I flip the switch it lets the light out through the front."  They were still amazed at this, but with Torelle now calling from the bottom of the shaft they had to lower the packs and then the people, and by the time everyone was down Slade had put it away to save power.

They camped at the bottom of the shaft, shared a cold meal, and when Omigger said it was the next day they continued as they had for days before.

The fights they had usually amounted to Torelle announcing the approach of something, and drawing his sword.  Then the others would see it closing on them, and just before it arrived the fighter would move forward, intercepting it and dealing a severe wound.  Most beasts would try to retreat, and usually he would strike again, and announce dinner.  Once in a while he fought something bolder, or quicker, or tougher, and the fight would last several minutes and sometimes require that Omigger apply salves and bandages to Torelle's wounds.  But the fighter was to Slade's mind an excellent example of the skill and courage to which he, as a warrior of Odin, aspired.

However, Slade did get a chance to reach for those aspirations.  Hearing Torelle say, "Something is coming," he and the others stopped, as if it were rest period.  Then he heard, "I'm going to need some help on this one," and saw at least a half dozen bristling masses of fur and teeth on legs, a pack of something somewhere between large rats and German Shepherd dogs.  Slade hardly thought at all.  But when Torelle added, "Get ready for a fight," he remembered his mace, and took it firmly in his hand.

The lead dog (the best word Slade had for them) leapt at Torelle, but never reached him.  The fighter engaged another, holding it at bay, but the rest rushed past.  Slade's mace struck the floor, sending a shock up his arm as the creature avoided the blow.  It lunged and sank teeth into his leggings, and held on apparently unaware that it had not harmed him.  The light shifted as the torch fell to the floor.  He beat the side of the now stationary animal once, then struck its back, then finally smashed its skull--a maneuver of which he was very proud, pleased that he did not injure his leg.  He could smell the now familiar stench of burnt hair and seared flesh, and looked for the source.  Three dog-rats had the dissected look typical of Torelle's victims.  Omigger was blowing ash off his fingers as he bent to recover the torch from beside the charred remains of another.  One beast was still alive and kicking, thrashing violently in fact, suspended in the air by a thin cord looped around its throat.

Filp, holding the ends of the cord, said, "I'll be right with you," then gave an extra yank, and with a quick release dropped the corpse to the ground.  "A little more warning next time would be nice," he said.

"You were fine," Omigger answered.  "Stop complaining."

Slade shifted the match to the other side of his mouth, and after a moment to rest and stow weapons, they continued.

They later refilled their water from a small stream which poured down one wall and leaked out through cracks in the floor.  He grew less and less certain of the path.

Then one day he stopped.  Torelle took only a few extra steps before realizing that the others were not following him.

"Omigger," Slade said, "cover that torch with something for a moment."

The wizard did as requested, and the foursome stood in the darkness for a moment, their eyes trying to adjust to collect what was not there.  Then Torelle spoke.

"I see it."

And in a moment they all saw it:  a distant glow somewhere down the corridors.  Omigger uncovered the torch, and they doubled their pace, eager to discover whether this was the light from the same room from which their torch had been carried.  It was; and within five minutes, they were standing, blinking from the brightness, in a lit room filled with lamps, chalices, mugs, plates, brick-a-brack, and above all else, bottles.

"So, how do we figure out which one holds the djinni?" Slade asked.

Without answering, Omigger raised his arms, began to sing a low chant in strange words, and started moving around the room with an almost dance-like shuffle step.  He began moving toward a counter on the side wall.

Abruptly, a creature appeared between the wizard and the counter.  It was shaped somewhat like a man, but it was perhaps nine feet tall and its body appeared to be made largely of flame and smoke.  Another appeared behind it and to one side.

"Please someone tell me that this was supposed to happen," begged Slade; but the way Filp was inching toward the door told him it was not.

Next chapter:  Chapter 10:  Kondor 4
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There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with the first six chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #20:  Becoming Novel.  Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.

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