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Stories from the Verse
Re Verse All
Chapter 4: Hastings 187
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Beam 56
Standing in the darkness, the next thing that occurred to Lauren was that she knew how to create light. She knew several ways to do that, most of them magical, and as she considered it she knew that they had very different effects. That is, she could create anything from a small amount of light emanating from her fingers sufficient to illuminate her reading, to filling a room full of light bright enough to drive back creatures of darkness. The question was how much light should she create in the present circumstance?
Of course, any light that she created would reveal not merely her presence but her position to anything or anyone already here. A small light might go unnoticed, but if it were noticed it would pinpoint her position without providing her sufficient illumination to see if something were coming. A larger light would be completely obvious, not something any sighted creature could easily ignore, but it would also be more revealing for her purposes, showing what was in the immediate area.
Of course, if there was something down here, something that lived down here, light might be irrelevant--to it, that is. Either it could see in this darkness, or it navigated by something other than light. Of course, she could see in the dark as well. She had that cat’s eye, the magic marble Bethany had given her which enabled her to see something like a cat in the darkness. Indeed, she also had developed the ability to shift her senses, to enhance sensitivity of any one sense at the expense of the others.
The problem with these solutions, though, was that they assumed there was light here, but that it was inadequate for her eyes to detect. That was not generally the situation in caves. Rather, here there was no light at all. Nocturnal animals on the surface and shallow burrowing mammals developed eyes that captured and analyzed very small amounts of light; cavefish and other creatures who spent generations in the total darkness underground were blind because there was no light at all. If she wanted to see, she was going to have to create light.
Did she need to see? Could she simply move in the dark? Her scriff sense told her that her luggage was behind her, and she could go directly to it but for unseen obstacles. That, though, was the problem. This was a cavern. Two steps in any direction could be a crevice of unknown depth. She could walk into a wall in which there was an opening a few feet away in some direction if only she could perceive it. She had never learned echo-location, not even what some called blind fighting. Always she used enhanced vision or created light. So it was just a question of how much light she should create.
Suddenly something caught her eye. She barely had to think to know that this meant there was now light, somewhere, and she gave her full attention to it. In the distance, not so much as a mile but farther than a football field, a group of people had entered the cavern. They were traveling by what appeared to be lanterns, walking along what appeared to be a path or trail, and holding loosely to something like a formation, two lines, or more like a single line of partnered couples. It was evident in the dim light that at least some of them were armed, all of them burdened, and they were leading pack animals in the rear. They were not all human, but, she concluded, some of them were. The path they walked appeared to be headed her direction, but her eyes were now attending to one of the two who walked in front. She watched intently as he approached.
It may have been fifteen minutes in this vast empty cavern, and as the light source passed along the path her mind absorbed the stalagmites and columns and other features within the caves, telling her it was an artificial path in a natural cavern. She determined that she was indeed standing in the path they were following, but decided not to step out of it at this point. The travelers were quite close before they recognized her presence, the light of the lanterns reflecting faintly off her relatively dark gold-trimmed scarlet robe. The one she was watching raised a hand and the columns somewhat awkwardly came to a stop--trained, but not military trained, she thought. He then took a few steps forward, and she concluded her study of him.
He was about her five-and-a-half-foot height, and was wearing somewhat loose robes with a bit of an oriental flair. There were two kau sin kes, not unlike her steel one, wrapped around his waist, a bow of some sort over his right shoulder, and a quiver of arrows strapped to the outside of his right leg. A creature sat on his left shoulder which Lauren recognized as a sprite, but considerably smaller than Derek, that is, Morach. His--Lauren decided this was a male--hair was long, but only shoulder length, not nearly so long as her own, and silver; his eyes in the dim light might have been violet. He was slender and muscular, fair-skinned, with an intense and intelligent look about him. What was most distracting about him, though, was that he had wings--large, feathery wings, protruding from his back.
He was about to speak, but Lauren could not contain herself.
“Are you an angel?” she asked.
With a puzzled look, he replied, “I do not know what that is.”
“Oh,” she said. “Probably not, then.”
There was an awkward moment of silence, and then he apparently found what he wanted to say, and began. “I am Tiras Arioch Kittim, Zemar of the House of Tsakataros, Kensai to the Kau Sin Ke in the art of Chow En Lai, Student of the Honored Master Chan Yung Po, friend of the house Gojo, friend of the house Sheegoka, friend and ally of the Djinn and of the Caliph of the East Wind.”
That was obviously a formal introduction. Lauren had heard Bob Slade introduce himself similarly a few times, she thought, and in fact wasn’t Bob a friend and ally of one of the wind rulers of the djinn? Well, she didn’t know enough about djinn politics to know whether it would be a mistake to mention it, and in any case this Tiras was awaiting her reply.
She cleared her throat. “Lauren Elizabeth Meyers Hastings,” she began, “also known as Laurelyn of Wandborough, Mystic of the Western Woods.” She hesitated, not certain whether that was all she should say, but then continued, “And Laurelyn Spellsbreath, student of Merlin.” That, it occurred to her, would have less meaning to them than his introduction had had for her, but it sounded impressive, and she began to understand why Bob so frequently introduced himself with all his titles. It made her sound important, whether or not she was.
When she considered it, though, she was important. After all, God had apparently decided she should come here and meet these people, so He probably had something for her to do here.
Tiras was speaking again.
“So, why are you here?”
She was about to say that she thought she was here to help them, but it abruptly occurred to her that she might be here to help someone else, or to oppose them--she knew nothing about them. Of course, it would not do to say that she was there to be their enemy, but it would be dishonest to say she was there to be their friend. “I,” she stammered, “I don’t actually know, yet. I just arrived. I haven’t even picked up my luggage.” This got a puzzled look, so she tried to rephrase it. “My gear; my equipment; my possessions. They travel with me, but they were a bit of a distance from me when I left where I was, so they undoubtedly arrived some distance,” and she turned and pointed in the direction behind her from which the scriff sense came, “that way.
“On the other hand,” she continued, “you seem to be headed that way, and I have absolutely no clue either where I am or where I could be going, so if you would be so kind as to give me a few minutes to attempt to collect my things, I would be grateful if I could accompany you wherever you are headed.”
“But,” Tiras objected, “you have no idea where we are going.”
“I’m sure you can explain it to me along the way,” she replied. “Meanwhile, I have no other guide to take me somewhere else, so at least until there is another option, it seems that you’re the best choice.”
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #354: Versers Reorienting. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: