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Stories from the Verse
Re Verse All
Chapter 31: Hastings 196
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Beam 65
A decision had been made.
Lurt and Nightstalker had returned, and based on their report the leaders had agreed to move forward.
“So what did you report?” Apatukwe asked Nightstalker as they walked.
“I’m not supposed to tell.”
“Come on, you know that Lurt has already told his squad.”
“Just because he breaks the rules doesn’t mean I should. Besides, you’re not in my squad. You’re not even in my team.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Hush back there,” Malacon’s voice came. “We don’t want to be heard.”
“Well, that’s ominous,” Apatukwe opined, but the others remained silent.
It was perhaps about two miles before the train ground to a halt and reformed into a defensible position just inside a larger cavern. As it was forming, Gojo came to position her. “We’re forming three lines,” he whispered. “Hand-to-hand fighters go in front, with missile weapons behind them and spell-casters in the rear. I’m not sure where to put you, but since our squad has no other missile weapons the question is whether you want to stand between Nightstalker and Annseff or in front of them.”
“I’ll stand in front,” Lauren answered. “I can defend them better, and I’d probably start with missiles, depending on what we’re facing.”
Gojo just smiled and did not rise to the bait.
Once they were in place, Tiras walked forward, alone, carrying a lantern.
“Your magnificence,” he 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 of Gojo, Friend of the House of Sheegoka, Friend and Ally of the Djinn and of the Caliph of the East Wind.”
Then looming out of the darkness into the dim light of the lantern there appeared the head and neck of what Lauren supposed had to be a dragon. She thought she should be afraid, but somehow the presence of Malacon and Sheegoka gave her courage.
“So, you’re The Zemar,” the dragon said. “I somehow expected someone more impressive. What do you want, Zemar?”
“We want nothing from you, not a copper of your treasure nor a shed scale from your hide. We seek a path to the kingdom of the drow, and were told that this path would take us there. We ask only to be permitted to continue, or to be directed to a different path if this is not the way.”
“Oh, this is the way, all right. But tell me: why should I not eat your entire troupe?”
“I can think of two reasons.”
“The first is that we would not be an easy meal. Among my companions are Sheegoka Noar Samurai, Gojo Mupar Kensai to the Kau Sin Ke in the Art of Chow En Lai, and Malacon the Shining Legacy. It is not certain that you would survive your attempt to kill us, and it is certain that it would be an expensive meal leaving you severely injured.”
The giant head seemed to nod in appreciation of this. “Your assessment of yourselves might or might not be a bit overblown, or even merely overstated, but you say you are the Zemar, so you might be correct,” it said. “But the second?”
“The orcs who told us that this was the correct path have followed us,” Tiras explained. “There’s a good chance that they are expecting us to fight you, and that the outcome would be that one of us--you or me--would be severely weakened, and the other dead, and they could finish whoever remained and walk away with your treasure. So if you fight me and die, you die in the knowledge that your horded gold will become the property of a score of mere orcs who will claim the glory of having stolen it from you; and if you fight me and I die, I die in the knowledge that the orcs will finish what I started and deprive you of your treasure and claim the glory of having defeated you.”
The head turned and peered at Tiras with one eye, as if assessing whether he was telling the truth and whether his story was credible. It then shook slowly and drew back out of the light.
“You may pass, it said. “Stay to the right wall and away from my treasure, take the first corridor you reach. In about five miles you will come to a forking; the left road will take you toward the drow. Beyond that you are on your own.”
“Thank you, your magnificence. Enjoy your orcs.”
“It is a shame,” it said, “that I will not have the honor of killing you; that will undoubtedly go to the drow.”
“Do not count me out yet. I have reason to believe that the drow will receive me and release me. I may be returning this way in the future, at which time our situations might be different, and one of us might have the honor of defeating the other.”
“I look forward to it,” the dragon concluded.
Tiras bowed and withdrew. In a subdued voice he addressed the group.
“Well, you heard him. Reform, standard double file marching order. If any of you attempts to steal from this dragon today, I will kill you myself and leave your body for him. Let’s go.” Then without waiting for everyone to get in line he began walking, moved around the troops to the right wall, and held up his lantern to look for the passage. Quickly everyone found their place behind him, Lauren helping get the animals and her own cart in line with everything else as they continued their journey.
It occurred to her that she expected to hear screaming in a few minutes.
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 #364: Characters Learn. 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: