Poisonroot - Chapter 22

Just broken 30,000 words on NaNoWriMo! Feeling pretty good :D

Music; what do you listen to while you're in the writing groove? I listened to the Bastion soundtrack for the first half of this, the Braid soundtrack for the second half. They've both got good points and bad points; I need something quiet, not too beat-y, interesting but not more interesting than the writing. Nothing with words. That is a definite no-no.

There was an interesting Twitter discussion the other day with Sonia Leong asking what people listened to. I waded in with the Death Note anime soundtrack (not all the tracks, only some of them) but it was interesting to see that I also listen to some of the other things that were mentioned; Shadow of the Colossus, Braid, Bastion, a lot of Final Fantasy, Tron Legacy, all that sort of stuff.

To be honest, I have a 'quiet music' playlist that contains 2.4 hours of tracks selected from loads of different things. They're all quietish, all good 'background music' and, most importantly, all things I like. I use them when I'm teaching too. It's therapy for me and the kids have never heard any of them before.

Anyway! Today's chapter.


The cat scampered off down the corridor. Trip had to run just to keep up; its blank body hid it almost completely in the shadows. Windows flashed past, the view giving nothing away except that it was night. As they navigated through silent corridors, the carpet underfoot changed abruptly to bare wood, then stone. The temperature dropped and Trip found himself huddled into his habit.

Suddenly Sabir stopped at a corner and arched her back, then retreated a couple of steps. Trip padded to a stop next to her and peered round the corner. He bit his lip, recognising the scene from when he had been in the prison himself.

Two guards, both holding steel-tipped spears, were stood outside an archway that lead to the prison; beyond the archway a series of caged doors lined the hall, one or two with bloodstains on them. Something was dripping into a puddle somewhere.

Trip edged forward slightly, then stopped as Sabir placed a cold wet paw on his foot and pressed it down gently. She looked up at him, spread her claws and widened her eyes. The effect was uncannily like someone grinning.

"A'right, John," one of the guards said, his voice echoing round the corner. "Time for dinner."

"Wot? S’only ten," the other one said.

"Been up since five, ain't I? Wife woke me when she got home from mornin' shift."

"Dunno 'ow you do it, mate."

Trip strained to hear, trying to keep his face in shadow as he snuck a look around the corner again. One of the guards was standing in front of the other now, leaning on his spear.

"Yeh, well, soon be changin'," John went on, then snorted something out of his nose and spat. "High Father said e's got plans, Jimmy."

"You an' the boss, you all tight-like then? Ha!" Jimmy leant against the wall. "Pull the other one, 's got bells on its danglers."

"Pfft. You wait. Anyway; Reckon Horace'll be down in a few to replace me, but I ain't waitin'," John said, his voice getting louder. Trip suddenly realised he had begun to walk towards the corner around which they were hiding. He looked around frantically for somewhere to hide, but there was nothing; a small wooden table, two doors which would almost certainly rattle if he tried them, and one was in direct line of sight for the guards… the footsteps came closer. Then the guard walked up to the corner and opened a door. Trip crouched, plainly visible if the guard should choose to look round.

"Night, Jimmy," the guard said. He walked through the door without waiting for the response and it banged shut behind him. Trip's heart skipped a beat as the bang reverberated down the corridor, then let out the breath he didn't even realise he'd been holding. He looked down at the cat.

"Too close," he mouthed. Sabir nodded; Trip narrowed his eyes and was about to ask a question when she moved, trotting into the light.

"Oo's a litte kitty?" he heard the other guard say. "You look a bit nice to be dahn 'ere, kitty." Trip chanced another look down the corridor; Sabir was rubbing herself around the guard's legs. He leant his spear against the wall, then bent to pick up her.

It was over in a heartbeat. As soon as his face came near her, she swiped him across the cheek with one bat of her paw and down he went. Almost before he had finished crumpling up Sabir was worrying at the keys on his belt.

Trip ran up and checked that he was still breathing; Ahnia had spent a little while explaining how Sabir was able to secrete a narcoleptic drug, but to actually see it in action was anothing thing entirely. By the time he'd moved Jimmy the guard's head to one side, Sabir somehow had the key off his belt and was preening herself. For all the world it looked like someone admiring their fingernails.

Trip picked up the keys and ran down the hallway. Several of the cells were empty; turning the corner at the end lead to another hall full of cell doors. A bundle of clothes in one uncurled, the occupant taking a sleepy look before curling back up again. Trip began quietly stage-whispering their names into the cells, slightly frantic with worry.

Finally Trip found them, both asleep in their cell.

"Victor?" Trip murmured, "Lauren?". There was no response; Lauren, still in the trousers and shirt she wore on the Belle, was curled up on the simple straw pallet, Victor, similarly attired, was propped up against the wall. Almost as soon as Trip put the key in the lock of their cell, though, Victor was up and moving, staggering slightly as sleeping sat up took its toll on his body. He roused Lauren, keeping a careful finger on his lips.

Trip swung the door open. It squealed terribly on its hinges and all three froze for a moment, but no sound of running footsteps came towards them. As Lauren moved past Trip, she hugged him tightly; Victor placed a silent hand on his shoulder and squeezed once.

"Come on," Trip whispered, "Sabir's knocked the guard out. Let's go." He motioned back the way he had come.

"My sword," Victor mouthed, miming pulling a sword. He started to walk in the opposite direction towards a large cupboard. Trip looked around frantically.

"Victor," he hissed, "the nerve agent in Sabir's claws wasn't designed to last a long time and repeated doses could kill the guard!"

"I'm gettin' my sword," Victor growled back, and pulled the cupboard open. It was packed full of various types of weaponry, all of which fell out onto the floor. The noise of a dozen assorted blades hitting the stone floor at once combined horribly with the wails of two of the more vocal prisoners and suddenly there were more important things to worry about.

"Now look what you've done!" snapped Trip. Victor looked down, stooped and picked up his sword.

"Got my sword," he muttered, coming back.

"Now can we go?" Lauren said, staring from the boy to the man. Trip sighed and turned, walking towards the door.

Sabir was still sat there, her tail whisking back and forth as the sounds of tramping feet and raised voices came from behind the door John the guard had gone through. Trip turned right instead and lead them at a run towards a set of spiral stairs.

"How did you get here, Trip?" Lauren asked. "And where have you been, anyway?"

"Gargoria," Trip said, then put his hands up to ward off her expression of horror. "It's a long story, and one that can wait until we're out of the city, yes?"

"We need t'get out of the palace," Victor said, puffing slightly as they jogged along the corridors. "I know a place we c'n go after that."

Trip nodded. "Whatever. We need to get out; Sabir will find her own way out."

"Who is Sabir?"

"She's a cat. Look, let's go, we can-" he said, then the door ahead of them banged open and a dozen guards spilled out into the hallway. "Turn around!"

"Din't you plan fer this, boy?" Victor said, sword out in front of him. Trip turned just in time to see another handful of guards boil out of the stairwell. He turned and started looking frantically around; all the corridors seemed ot look the same, but there was something familiar about this one. They were being backed against a wall opposite a door; Lauren had grabbed a vase from a nearby table and was getting ready to throw it while Victor dropped into a fighting stance. The first guards prepared to launch themselves in.

The door opposite opened wide, revealing Lady Emmeline. "Get in, quick!" she shouted. Victor looked at Lauren, then they both made a leap for the door, Victor not far behind them. Emmeline slammed it shut and quickly shoved a chair against it. She hitched up her nightshirt and took them over to the fireplace.

"That won't hold them long. Look: Grandfather had the place honeycombed with these when he ruled." She pulled one of the ornate candelabra on the right of the fireplace and it clicked; a small section of wall swung inwards, dark and foreboding. The lock of the door was rattled, then someone banged on it. Emmeline gave the lantern to Victor.

"This passage goes to the kitchens. Most people don't know about them. Go. Go now!"

Victor nodded briefly and went in, ducking low to avoid the ceiling. Lauren followed, hard on his heels; Trip looked at Emmeline's face, seeing his own worry mirrored there. On impulse, he hugged her tightly. She smelt of soap and flowers, warm and soft.

"Be safe, Trip; help my father's country. Help us all."

He stepped away from her reluctantly. She looked older, suddenly, more mature. The weeping girl from earlier had burned away in the moment and he nodded, not trusting himself to say anything back to her in case he broke the fragile atmosphere of strength. He turned and ducked through the passage.

Before he had walked three paces he heard the secret door slam shut behind him, and the only light came from the lantern bobbing ahead of him in the tunnel. An almighty crash from the other side of the wall signified the end of Emmeline's chamber door.

"Where are they?"

"The window," she replied, "They came in and jumped out!"

"From the second floor?"

"Well, they were desperate!"

Movement. Then: "The window is closed."

"I… closed it. It's draughty. And I'd thank you, Captain, to remember to whom you are talking. I am the daughter of the Duke, and- hey, get your hands off me!"

Trip froze, half in fear and half from indecision. Before he could think of what to do, Emmeline's protests grew fainter as she was dragged away. Trip gritted his teeth and plunged into the semi-darkness after Victor and Lauren.