There was no update yesterday. D&D kind of interceded. I'm still virtually up to date though, due to the lengths of some of the chapters. I'm hoping to get ahead for the first time this week. Whee!
As the nobles around him started to shout, Trip found his voice drowned out.
"You must listen! That's not what's important," he cried, a little voice inside him denying it the whole time. "Something terrible is happening! The-"
"That's enough, boy," the High Father shouted. He walked towards Trip, who found himself rooted to the spot with indecision.
"You'll understand, of course, I can't let you leave," the High Father was saying as he walked towards him. "The knowledge you carry in your head is far too important." His stare was icy blue, emotionless. "You'll be taken from here to a secure location. Once there we will… extract the Word from your head, along with any other information you can give us."
Trip looked past the imposing figure towards the Duke, but he seemed catatonic, slumped heavily in his chair. Beginning to back away, Trip found himself bumping against someone who refused to move; her hands grabbed his arms and he heard Anila's voice chiding him.
"Not so fast, book-boy. You're staying here."
"The plant-demons, they-"
Looming over him, unheard by everyone in the chaos surrounding them, High Father Hork's quiet voice carried finality.
"No-one needs to be upset by your fantasies, boy. No-one will hear them."
"They're not fantasies!"
The world consisted of a little bubble of silence which contained the three of them. "That may be the case, boy, but you will never find out. Take him to the-"
An explosion rocked the palace.
The nobles, already loudly debating one issue or another, began to scream; the more sensible among them ran, some in the direction of the noise, others simply leaving. The Duke clambered to his feet and, amid streams of dust falling from the ceiling, staggered towards the High Father.
"My daughter! Find my daughter!" he yelled, then leaned on his throne for support. "I must… must protect my people."
Trip watched his last hope stagger out of the door like a drunkard; another huge explosion, much closer this time, sent bigger chunks of masonry falling from above. Father Hork danced to one side as a particularly large section of plaster and bricks nearly fell on him.
Seizing his chance, Trip lurched forward and down; Anila's hands, already loosened after the initial shock of attack, released him and he bowled into Father Hork's legs. They went down, Trip on top, and with a quick push of his arms he was back up and running.
"Yes, Father," Anila replied, already running.
Trip dashed through the doors and back into the carpeted hallway; seemingly endless doors flashed by on every side until, then a corridor. With a quick look behind him he confirmed his worst fears; Anila was following, closing on him with a powerful athlete's stride.
He turned the corner; more doors, each one potentially leading to a dead-end. The footfalls were coming closer.
A figure opened a door ahead of him and stood in the middle of the corridor.
"In here!" he shouted. Trip looked behind him; she was close, a determined expression on her face.
As if watching in slow motion, Trip saw the door next to her open. Something small and furry shot out, leapt at her face and clung there. She stumbled a couple of steps and fell to the ground, rolling a few times. Trip slowed to a trot as she began to scream and tear at the thing; a hand on his shoulder steered him into the room.
"You come in here now, yes," the man said, pushing him in and closing the door to a slit. There was almost complete darkness in the room and Trip stopped short, suddenly blind. He could hear the man behind him muttering something in a language he didn't recognise and he focused his attention instead on slowing his breathing, taking in deep gulps of the strangely-flavoured air. Some sort of incense was being burned, or hung in the air at least. He looked around; as his eyes adjusted he could see that the only light in the room was being cast by a strange line hanging in the air. He walked slowly around it; viewing the room through it gave a sort of subtly fractured look, as if it was a piece of clear glass, but it had no thickness to speak of. Through the frame he watched the man open the door a fraction more to let the small furry thing in to the room. It padded over to the glowing frame and sat down.
It was a cat.
"Good, good, well done Sabir," the man whispered. Trip frowned; his accent was thick, unlike anything he had ever heard before.
"You go through the gate now, Sabir," he said, and Trip watched in fascination as the cat got up, stretched and leapt into the air towards him. As it passed between the sides of the crack in the middle of the room, there was a tiny flash of light and it simply disappeared.
"What- how did that-" he began, but the man bustled round and tried to grab hold of his hand.
"Not now, young one," he said, "no time for questions. The paralysis will wear off soon and she will be upon us!"
"Go!" the man said, giving him a shove. Pushed off-balance Trip was powerless to stop himself falling forwards towards the fracture. As his flailing arm passed through the space, he felt himself go numb all over for the briefest of instants. Then he completed his fall to the floor, which had now become cold rock.
He rolled over, vomit suddenly welling into his throat and he choked as it spilled onto the floor. There was a thump behind him and he turned to see the man kneeling, likewise gasping his last meal out into a bucket that was apparently just for that purpose.
Trip stared around in surprise; he suddenly realised that they weren't in the palace anymore, or at least any part he had seen; the room they were now in was hewn from solid rock, lit by several lanterns hanging from small hooks driven into the bare rock. There were no doors and, as he slapped at the unyielding walls, claustrophobia quickly began to crowd in on his mind.
The man stood up and straightened his clothing, some sort of purple robe that covered him from head to foot. He coughed and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Sorry kid," he said, "there wasn't time to warn you. Travel sickness."
"What's going on?" Trip said, his voice echoing around the chamber. "There are no doors!"
"This is a nodal chamber, you may have no fear," the man said. He finished by straightening the turban he wore. “My sincere apologies, young man, for the way you have been treated, but we had to be sure we had you."
"Who had me?"
"My name is Ahnia del Firezno. I am a Gargorian."
Everything Trip had ever read about the Gargorian War flashed through his head. The five armies clashing on fertile soil, leaving only desert; an entire nation destroyed in its earliest days as other countries fought on its corpse; the Grand Accord, signed so that such a thing may never happen again.
The man was nodding sadly. "I see you know what your history books tell you," he said. He knelt and began to fiddle with a small metal box as Trip stepped back, pressing himself against the wall. "They were dark times, for all. Believe me when I say we are not the monsters you have made us out to be. We saved you, didn't we?"
"Saved me? I could have gotten away!"
He harrumped, still fiddling with a large dial on the box. "Please. You had another minute, two perhaps, before she caught you. Did you know you were heading straight for a dead end?"
"Well, no," Trip said, then gasped. "The explosions! People are dying, we have to go back!"
Ahnia chuckled, a deep rich sound, and scooped up the cat which was sat next to him. "No-one was hurt. We timed them so that the guards were not nearby, none of the palace residents were there." He shrugged. "There may have been some minor injuries."
"The ceiling came down!"
"Minor injuries. Stand back, please."
Almost immediately, a bright flash and a crackle of electricity formed in the centre of the chamber and, when Trip could see again, two men and a woman were standing in front of him. They passed the bucket around, voiding the contents of their stomachs.
"It is done?" Ahnia asked.
The woman nodded. "There was no-one around, exactly as planned. No casualties. You have the boy?"
In answer, Ahnia pointed behind her. As one, they all turned to look at him. Each of them sported similar clothing to the Gargorian, their skin golden in the flickering lantern light.
"Hello?" Trip said, suddenly incredibly tired. He shivered.
"We need to get him to a place of safety, Leader," the woman said. She turned back to Ahnia. "Now."
The man nodded. "Let us begone from this place, then," he said, and pressed a button on the metal box. A small spark sprang into being in the centre of the chamber, slowly expanding. "Do not worry, young one," Ahnia called over the rising crackling sound. "This is the same process as that which brought us here!"
It was almost impossible for Trip not to give in to panic as the blinding white sphere continued to expand; as it touched the woman and the men, each of them in turn seemed to stretch impossibly long, then vanish. The sphere continued to grow; Trip looked desperately around for somewhere to hide from it, but it came inexorably forward. He closed his eyes and screamed.
The numbness ate at his joints again, then a sudden rush of heat. He retched in sudden darkness, unable to bring anything up as he bent over, his hands on his knees. Someone put an arm around him and lead him away from the group.
Wind whipped around him as the light from the end of the tunnel grew until he stood at the mouth of what he now realised was a cave. Before him stood a desert plateau, waving dunes constantly shifting as the gusts of wind threw the sand into the air. He took a deep breath and nearly choked, feeling the gritty substance squeak between his teeth.
Ahnia came to stand beside him.
"Welcome to Gargoria," he said.