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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 119, Hastings 41
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 118, Kondor 39
Lauren was not unhappy with the way things were going. Joe was a good tracker, from what she could tell, and when she was unable to levitate to the top of a cave wall, Bob had come through with a grappling hook and rope. She had contributed something to their success already, lighting up the cave with a bit of magic, which she hoped would help convince Joe that there was more to the multiverse than science could explain.
They were now traveling through dense brush on a gradual slope toward rising peaks. She was very glad Joe had convinced her to change into her armor; had she made this trip in her cutoffs her legs would by now have been scratched and whipped to annoyance. Still, with the unaccustomed weight and extra layers of clothes combined with their hasty pace, she was sweating and breathing heavily as they rushed along. The urgency of the situation drove her forward; she would have liked to stop and rest again, but they had to catch up with Speckles and her captors.
The trail rose more steeply. Lauren realized that the sparrow people were very capable climbers; she doubted whether the parakeets could have made this journey, and again wondered how they managed to bring Speckles along this trail. Hopefully having the girl in tow had slowed them down, and the gap was closing.
Before long, the path in front of her was literally in front of her, in front of her face. They were climbing so steeply that she could reach out and touch the path without bending over, had she a free hand. The powerful psionic staff she had brought served as a walking stick, and she used it thus with both hands as she scrambled up. Bob was behind her, and from time to time burst out with the names of his pagan gods, curses, she thought, on her for knocking dirt in his face. But she got her share from Joe, and found that the best thing she could do was keep her mouth closed so as not to taste the clay.
Then the climb ended, and they were faced with a new challenge. There was a crack in the rock, a gap about thirty or forty feet across. Spanning it was a primitive bridge, not much more than two felled tree trunks, lashed together with vines, with some smaller branches tucked in to fill gaps. It looked a simple crossing to Lauren, but she wasn't sure how her companions would manage.
Joe said, "Hold back a moment; let me see if it's safe." He walked up to the bridge, and pressed on the thinner side with one foot. He then put his weight on it more firmly, and stepped off the ground onto the logs. He took another step forward.
The wind rose, blowing his duffel and medical kit wildly. It appeared he would lose his balance from the force, and he quickly stepped back onto the dirt. The wind faded.
As Lauren watched, Joe tried to secure his things. He took hold of the duffel with one hand and the medical kit with the other, and again stepped out onto the bridge. Again the wind rose, tearing at his clothes, buffeting him back, and he was forced back to the dirt. And again the air slowed to a breeze.
A stern look of determination crossed Joe's face, and he marched out onto the logs several steps. Abruptly he was knocked back by a strong wind, lost his footing, and started to fall. He grabbed for the logs and got hold of a vine, but he was slipping. Lauren remembered another time, another place.
"Hang on, Joe," she shouted, and put her mind into it even as she rushed over to him. Although she had twice failed to lift herself in this world, she was able to lift him, to draw him back on to the bridge. The wind was pulling him, and it was difficult to hold him against its force, but he still had the vine, and now had another handhold, and soon was able to get his body fully on the wood. Still pounded by the air, he crawled along the logs back to the edge.
And again, as he reached terra firma, the wind slowed almost to nothing.
"Clearly," he said, "this wind is very erratic. It must be the time of day. Unless we can think of another way to cross, we're going to have to wait."
"Let me try," Lauren offered. "I did a lot of training in balance, and if I can get across I might be able to bring you over with my telekinesis."
"That's what you call that?"
"Yes, that wasn't magic, Joe, that was mental. It's risky sometimes, but I didn't want to lose you."
She turned toward the bridge, and stepped onto it. Joe was heavier than she was, and more heavily burdened, so she wasn't worried about how strong the bridge was. On the other hand, wind that could knock him down might be able to pick her up, and she wasn't eager to fall into the gorge. So she placed herself solidly on the bridge, but didn't go far.
Immediately the wind hit. It knocked her directly back, and she landed on her back on the dirt.
"It's like it knows," she said. "The wind is here to stop us."
"Don't be superstitious," Joe replied. "You know that's stupid."
"Maybe it isn't," Bob said. "Let me try something." And he stepped up to the bridge, took the stick out of his mouth, and spoke in a loud, forceful voice.
"I am Robert Elvis Slade, friend and ally of the djinn and of the Caliph of the West Wind."
The noise of rushing air rose, but Lauren thought she could almost hear words within it. But whatever was said, Joe was louder.
"What kind of nonsense is this?" he was saying.
"Hush," Lauren said. "Give him a chance."
"Prove it?" Bob continued. "I didn't expect to have to prove it here. But at my camp I have the bottle from which I freed his lordship in the dungeons of Corlander. I was companion to Torelle of Corlander and his cousins Omigger and Filp. And I do not take kindly to this breach."
"That's enough," Joe said. "He's gone over the edge."
"No, wait," Lauren said. "If I was letting my faith get in the way of allowing you to try something, you would say it was unfair. Don't let your lack of faith stop him--unless you've got a better idea?"
Joe fell silent. Bob was already talking again.
"I will take it as a misunderstanding then. My companions and I will cross freely, and this will be forgotten." And he walked out across the logs. Lauren thought he looked a bit unsteady on the narrow beams, but he showed no fear or hesitation.
"Come on," she said. "For whatever reason, now seems to be the chance." And she scampered out onto the bridge, catching up with Bob just as he was reaching the other end. They had to wait a moment for Joe, who did not seem so convinced that the wind would wait for him. "Don't worry, Joe," Lauren shouted. "If you fall again, I'll catch you again." At this, perhaps embarrassed that he should be unwilling to go where they led merely for lack of faith in their nonsense, he walked carefully across.
They walked a bit farther along the trail, but everyone was unnerved, tired, and hungry, and soon Kondor called a halt. The trail ahead would be rougher, he said, and they should rest now, briefly, wash the dirt from their mouths, and grab a snack to sustain them. No one objected.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #66: Character Quest. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: