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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 125, Hastings 43
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Previous chapter: Chapter 124, Slade 42
Lauren stumbled toward the light of the campfire. A familiar voice greeted her.
"I've been expecting you."
It was Bob Slade.
She walked over to the door of the nest, and collapsed on the edge.
"Your stuff was still here," Bob continued. "I figured if you'd bought it, the stuff would be gone."
"What about," she asked, "Joe?"
"Well, my guess is he's in another world. Anyway, that scriff sense only picked up one direction, moving, so if he wasn't with you, I don't feel him out there."
"What happened to him? And where is everybody else?"
"One thing at a time. Joe and I split up. He was going to hold back the army, I was going to rescue the girl. I think we both succeeded; anyway, there was no army waiting when I got back with the girl, but no Joe either. There were a lot of bird and lizard bodies there, too, so they paid for it."
"And Speckles?" Lauren asked.
"She's fine. A bit shaken up by the whole thing, but I got her back here all right. I think she wanted to wait for you, but I couldn't explain to her how I knew you were still alive."
"Wait for me? Where did she go?"
"They all went. They started walking along the lake, headed downstream. Took all their food with them, and a few of those pots you taught them to make."
"Of course. The journey. They migrate. I should have realized."
"I gather you took care of the flying thing."
"Yes. It won't fly again."
"Well, welcome home. I've got a bit of soup left over--and must thank you for the use of your pots."
Lauren laughed. "Not at all. I'm glad they were useful. Can you cook?"
"Not worth a darn. But I watched you, and I ate this stuff and kept it down, so it must not be too bad." Bob served her a cup of soup. She sipped it.
"Oh," she said, "it's certainly bad enough. Let's agree that I'll do the cooking this winter."
Slade smiled. "I was hoping you'd say that. You're soaking wet, and it's not summer anymore, so you'd better get changed. I gather you washed yourself at the river when you crossed."
"Yes, I was really filthy, not to mention cuts and scrapes that were long overdue for attention. And thirsty. Remind me next time I go on one of these quests to take enough food and drink along in case I don't get back right away."
"It took you some time, most of a week."
"Yes, I apparently fell into a valley on the other side of those peaks, and had to collect a lot of equipment dropped over several miles. The disintegrator rod broke, but maybe I'll be able to fix it. So I was quite turned around. Even with the scriff sense it wasn't easy keeping my bearings and finding a way over the mountains. In Philadelphia I could fly, call a cab whenever I wanted it, and sometimes travel through hyperspace. Here it seems walking is the best choice, with crawling a close second."
"I'd have come after you, but I figured you were trying to find your way by scriff sense, and if I moved it would only confuse things."
"Probably right. Anyway, there would have been no sense to both of us being out there."
"Well, should we plan to winter here, or would you like to chase after your bird friends? They've got about four days head start."
"I don't even want to think about that question tonight. I'm going to get dressed for bed, and I'm going to sleep, and if I don't wake up tomorrow so much the better."
"Give a shout when you're decent," Bob said. "I'd like to get some rest myself."
Lauren stripped off her wet clothes and changed into her sweat suit. She then went back out to drape everything over whatever she could find so it could dry in the morning sun. "I'm done," she said, and went back inside, crawling into her sleeping bag.
Bob came in a moment later. He had pulled his bedroll over to the side, where Joe used to sleep, leaving the middle open.
"You know," he said, "I fought a dozen sparrows, one of them a wizard, and killed a snake as large as a sea serpent. And I think I should brag about that--it's a religious thing, warriors of Odin brag about their victories. But I watched you dive off that cliff at that dinosaur, or whatever it was, and I keep telling myself I'm brave, I'm courageous, I'm a great warrior. But I don't think I would have done that. I don't think I'd have had the courage to do that."
"Bob," Lauren said, "God gives us what we need when we need it. If you'd asked me two weeks ago whether I'd jump from a ledge to a flying monster to save my friends, I'd have said no, not in this world, because I have no safety net, no levitation, no way to save myself if I miss. And if you asked me tonight whether I'll do that next time, I can't say that I will. What matters isn't whether you would do what someone else did. It only matters that you will do what needs to be done when your turn comes."
Bob was quiet for several minutes.
"Thanks," he said. "Good night."
She thought maybe she said good night, but she couldn't be certain of anything, as the darkness seeped inside and she knew nothing.
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 #69: Novel Conclusion. 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: