Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 56 of 69

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After a long time Daine stirred, and Numair quickly relaxed his arms so she could move. Sure enough, she woke up by gasping in a deep breath and wrenched her eyes open, pushing him away with shaking hands. 
“It’s me, Daine,” Numair said, his voice quiet as he stroked her hair. “You’re safe. He’s gone. He’s not coming back.”

“He..?” she croaked, and then winced and raised a hand to her head. She pulled a face and drew her hand away from the bruise ruefully. “He’s not?”

“They’re attacking Alanna tomorrow.” Numair felt her shudder, and nodded his understanding. “I know. But at least he won’t...”

“That’s not important.” She shook her head dismissively and tried to pull herself more upright, wincing. “We should warn her. We should have told Karenna, or...”

“Or Ronan?” He finished, and noticed the surprise in her smile of agreement. “He’s the one who told me, magelet.”

“But he won’t warn them. And he doesn’t know about Karenna.” Daine chewed her lip in thought for a moment, and then looked up at him with a questioning expression. “Wait, why are you still here? I gave you the key, you dolt!”

“Thank you, it was a very pretty present.” He said dryly, and tapped her nose. “I thought it might be best if I was here when they brought you back, otherwise it would be detrimentally obvious who stole it.”

“Detri-what?” She laughed and then shrugged. “I guess I agree. I agree with all the words I understood, anyway! Shall we go, then?”

“You sound like we’re heading to Hazelle’s kitchens for breakfast.” Numair teased, and then his voice took on a serious tone. “We should wait. We don’t know if there’s a way out of here, anyway. I’m inclined to conclude that there isn’t, since our charming cell mates are still here. And you’re badly hurt, sweet.”

“But you said the Tortallans are tunnelling.” She pointedly ignored the last part of his sentence. “You said. And they’re being sneaky, so the prisoners might not have noticed if there is a way out. They can’t even think, half of them. And the other half are too scared to even try to escape. If there’s a way out then we can warn Alanna, and...”

“Can you even walk?” He interrupted her, his voice barbed. Daine coloured and didn’t meet his eyes, but nodded. She pushed herself out of his lap, obviously making a great effort not to let any pain show on her face as she moved around and rested her back against the pillar, her breaths hitching in her chest as she looked at Numair defiantly. He shrugged and fished the key out of his sleeve where he’d hidden it, just in case he was searched.

When he slipped it into his manacle and turned it he felt the odd shiver of the gift, as the magic in the locks was dispelled. And then he unclasped the link, standing up carefully. Then he met her eyes, and said, very carefully, “I’m sorry.”

Daine’s defiant expression wavered when she realised that he was being completely serious. “No,” She said, her voice completely flat. “Don’t you dare.”

He pocketed the key and forced himself to meet her eyes, seeing the fury kindling in them. “I’m sorry, but you have to stay here.”

“What?!” It was less a word than a shriek. It echoed shrilly off the cave walls. Daine yanked at her chain so violently the metal crashed against the pillar. She struggled painfully to her feet and threw herself forward, the chain stopping her from reaching the mage. “Gods damn it, Numair, let me go!”

Numair took a step backwards, feeling his heart twist. “I can’t, sweetheart.” His voice was too soft to break through her fury, but the grim note of determination in it made Daine stare up at him in stunned betrayal.

“I can’t believe you,” She cried, and laughed hysterically as she wrapped a bruised hand around her manacle and dragged at it. “I...can’t...”

“You need to rest, Daine.” He watched her fight, seeing the way she flinched away from her own body whenever it hurt. When she kicked ineffectually at the pillar he had to say something else, just to stop her frantic movements. “You’re hurt, sweetheart. Badly. You can’t pretend you’re not. That healer said you need to sleep.”

“What does he know?” She demanded, panting. “I’m fine. Just give me the key, Numair. I’m the one who stole it, for the hag’s sake! And I’ve been here before. You need me. You let me go right now, or I swear I’ll... I’ll...”

“You’ll what? Yell at me?” He demanded. “All I’m doing is exploring, Daine. I’ll be back soon. I have to find out if this is the same cave I found with Rain. You wouldn’t even know what to look for! So... so just stop it. You’re making it worse, Daine. Stop it!”

“No.” She scowled stubbornly at him. “It’s not fair. I just want to feel like I’m free for a few lousy hours, that’s all.”

He stared at her, and then seemed to relent. He sighed and held out a hand. “I don’t want to do this.” He told her quietly, “Give me your hand.”

She held out her manacled wrist defiantly, and he took the key out of his pocket with an oddly hesitant look. Because of the way the dim light glinted off the metal, Daine didn’t see the soft glow of his gift until he had touched her wrist, and by then it was too late. She cursed as she felt the dull leeching magic seeping through her veins and dragged her hand away, staring at him in disbelief as she reeled back against the pillar.

“I hate you.” She whispered, the words slurred as she fought off the sleeping spell. He caught her as she collapsed, and planted an apologetic kiss on her forehead as her eyes fluttered shut.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured, “I’m so sorry, sweetling.”

He took off his cloak and folded it around her carefully, knowing that lying alone on the cold damp stone would be freezing, and headed away towards the distant honeycomb of tunnels without looking back. He refused to feel guilty, even if his stomach felt like he’d just drunk sour wine.

He’d noticed that the other prisoners seemed to gravitate towards the leftwards tunnel. It could be because it was further away from the door, but he didn’t think so. Their voices didn’t echo back from that tunnel the same way they did when they were in the others. He reasoned, logically, that the tunnel must therefore go further back. He walked over to it cautiously, slipping in the shallow puddles on the floor until his hand caught the edge of the wall, and he could steady himself.

The tunnel met a fork, and he took the left turn, carefully counting his steps to try to work out how far he’d gone. Then there was another fork, and again he went left. He had to step carefully on the damp floor, especially when the path started sloping downwards, deeper underground.

I wish I had some string, He thought when he came across a third fork in the path. This is like a labyrinth, not a cave!

Still, he’d only tripped a few more hundred meters in the darkness before he stepped on a stone that was as smooth as ice, and his feet shot from under him. He crashed to the ground painfully, swearing under his breath as he reclaimed his feet and tried to work out which way he’d been walking. A low chuckle made him freeze, and he looked up into eyes that gleamed white in the darkness.

“Good evening,” he said cautiously, finding the stone wall again with his left hand. The chuckling stopped, and the eyes vanished as the dark figure bowed mockingly.

“Are you lost?” The ‘s’ seemed to hiss forever, but Numair realised the eerie voice was made by the shining walls, and not by the man in front of him. He swallowed, willing himself to stop being afraid. 
I probably look just as monstrous, he thought, and stood up straighter.

“There’s a cave that looks like... like diamonds. Like jewels.” He said. “A cave you can see but not get to.”

“Yesssss.” The man hissed another laugh. “You were there before. You ran. You were scared.”

Numair gulped and gripped the wall with his nails, trying to stop his voice from trembling. The eyes... he thought, but his voice was steady when he said, “That was you?”

“I wanted to see you again. I waited. You didn’t come back. And then you did. For me. To see me. Does that mean you’re not scared anymore?” The voice took on a happy note, and a grin of yellowed teeth appeared in the gloom.

“I didn’t come to see you. I was locked here.”

“I wanted to speak when you were at the pillar.” The voice ignored him. “But you were with a... a...” it made a sound more like a retch than anything else, and spat on the ground. “Horrible things. They smell of death. Disgusting creatures.”

“Women?” The mage backed away slowly, trying to put as much distance between himself and the madman as he could without making it look like he was running away. “Women smell like death?”
“Eventually,” the man said, and laughed shrilly. It echoed in the icy corridor, and Numair shuddered.

“Do you know where the cave is?” He asked, pressing his hands over his ears as he backed away. The man gurgled and danced around him, ridiculously sure-footed on the slippery floor.

“Find it, little frightened mouse, and you shall have cakes for tea.” He sang, splashing through a deeper puddle and giggling at the shower of frozen droplets which covered them both.

“Mabuz!” The voice was stern, and the yellow-eyed man cringed back from it like a scolded child. “You’ve been warned!”

Mabuz flicked his eyes up towards Numair for a moment, and then grinned and darted away deeper into the darkness. His eerie laughter echoed after him. Numair breathed out raggedly and leaned against the wall, looking up to see the man who had ordered Mabuz away.

“Thank you,” he said. The man smiled. Unlike Mabuz, he didn’t keep to the pools of darkness, and in the dim light Numair could just make out a crinkled smile, and a strangely well-groomed bearded face. The old man held out a hand and the mage shook it.

“Greetings.” The bearded man said in a strong voice. “I see you’ve been acquainting yourself with the cave people.”

“Cave people.” Numair echoed weakly, and smiled. “Yes, I suppose they are. I’m looking for a certain cave, though, sir. Perhaps you might know where it is?”

The man’s eyes narrowed, and he shrugged with an odd showman’s grace. His voice, Numair realised, was refined and articulate. “I do apologise, but I don’t think I can recall the specific geography of this area. I merely followed you to bring you a message. I tend not to venture into the domain of our subterranean friends, you see. It doesn’t help ones’ sanity.”

“Great.” Numair smiled wanly and stuck his hands in his pockets, his voice wry as he looked after Mabuz. “So I have to choose between groping around in the dark, or speaking to a madman?”

“It’s an and, not an or.” The cultured man corrected him, and smiled gently at Numair’s expression. “You see? It used to work so well on the surface, before they caught me. The guards are similarly deceived. One simply cannot comprehend the notion of a well spoken gentleman being somewhat deficient in scruples to a murderous extent.”

“What?” Numair was starting to wonder if this was how Daine felt whenever he used big words. He made a mental note to apologise to her for being this confusing, and then he worked it out. “You’re saying you’re mad?”

“So are you, my dear.” The man smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “Or you would not be here, would you? We take some pride in our mental incapacities here, as you shall find out. But at present, you should be made aware of a few flaws in your exploring methodology.”

Numair folded his arms and looked the man straight in the eye. “Really? Enlighten me.”

The cultured man inspected a nail and sighed when he detected a chip in it. “Fundamentally it is a sound plan, but you failed to consider the unpredictable factors in your approach. Perhaps this was understandable, since I understand that your decision to render the young lady unconscious was made in some haste, and rather upsetting for all parties involved.”

“Daine?” He asked, and the man shrugged at the unfamiliar name. Numair looked back down the tunnel, his heart skipping a beat. “Why, what...?”

“Must I really clarify? How disappointing. Well then, let us review your idiocy.” He paused, looking up with an eyebrow raised, and then sighed and said, very slowly and deliberately: “You left the wolf cub... alone and unconscious ... in the middle of a cave... full of madmen.”

Numair opened his mouth to reply, and then darted off back down the tunnel without another word.

“Your gratitude is noted!” The man shouted after him, and then sighed and rubbed at the nail fretfully. His steps were ponderous as he trailed after the mage.

Numair’s breath rasped in his throat as he ran, but he barely noticed the icy air tearing into his lungs. He slipped on the floor more times than he could count, and each time he came across a turning he crashed into the far wall before turning right.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! He cursed himself, over and over, with every footstep. The cave was too dark for him to see the larger cell at its opening, but he saw the strange lines of yellow light that outlined the barred door, and then he could make out the iron pillar. Around its base, seething and writing in the darkness, he could make out the moving silhouettes of people.

“Stop it!” He cried out, skidding closer on aching feet. “Leave her alone!”

“Help us!” Another voice screamed back, and he crashed into the crowd just as he realised they were fighting each other. They had no weapons, but the group of men and women were clawing at each other with ragged nails, biting and ripping at each others’ hair and clothes and screaming in gibbering nonsense words. Numair tried to catch his breath, and then he saw one of the shadows leaning over Daine.

Without stopping to think he threw himself forward and ripped the man backwards. The man fell heavily against the stone and darker shadows pooled out around his head as he twitched. Then another pair of hands gripped Numair’s shoulders, and the mage found himself in the middle of the scrum, fighting for his life.

For a thousand heartbeats there was nothing except the writhing mass of bodies, the kick of bare, frozen feet and the sharp lacerating pain of nails on flesh. Then there was a high, ululating sound, and half the fighters seemed to melt away into the darkness. Their laughter, wild and shrill, echoed back as they vanished.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” A hand crashed into the side of Numair’s head, and because he hadn’t been expecting it he reeled sideways. The woman who had struck him stared at him, her eyes furious as she raised her hand, and he shook his head mutely.

“Now, Pebbles.” Another woman’s voice said reprovingly. “He came back, di’nt he?”

“I told you we should have spoken to them.” Pebbles muttered, scratching her head irritably. “But no, you said they’d be taken away soon, and then this happens...”

“My wolf baby’s hurt.” Another voice said, low and cracked with age. The younger women stopped arguing to look respectfully down, and the woman who had spoken looked up from Daine to glare accusingly at Numair. “Did you do this, idiot man?”

“Of course I didn’t!” Numair caught his breath and looked back at her levelly, seeing the iron in her blue eyes. “It was Orsille.”

A few people in the crowd hissed loudly, and made signs against evil with their hands. The old woman sniffed and looked back, pressing a gnarled hand to the girl’s head. “But you put her to sleep, eh?”

“She’s sick.” He tried not to make his voice sound defensive, but he heard the mocking sounds the people around him made and looked around at the crowd. “No, really. She’s pregnant. The healer said she’d lose the baby if she didn’t rest.”

“She’d’ve lost it if the cave folk had dragged her away with them.” Pebbles’ voice was scathing.

“She’s chained to the pillar,” the calming woman pointed out. Pebbles folded her arms and cocked her head to one side, her voice incredulous.

“Did I say they’d want all of her? They wouldn’t care if they left a hand behind, is all I’m sayin’.”

“Snack for the journey.” Someone else muttered, and there were a few dark sniggers in the crowd. The old woman glared around at no-one and everyone, and the sniggering subsided.

“What do we think, children?” She asked, her ancient voice holding authority. “What’s the story here?”

“I say he’s an idiot.” Pebbles declared, and unfolded her arms. “But he came back, and he fought, which is fair impressive, I suppose.”

“He encountered our friend Mabuz in the caves.” The voice was familiar, and Numair turned to see the old man from the tunnels trudging up to the group. “He was somewhat delayed before I could communicate your message.”

“Mabuz?” The old woman tilted her head to one side. “When did he come out of hiding?”

Numair listened to their conversation in fascination, slowly realising that these people had made their own community here in the damp and the darkness. Some of them must have been here for years, like the old man and woman, both of whom seemed to be respected by the younger people. They waited in respectful silence and spoke more carefully when they knew the elders were listening.

The cave people, from the way the prisoners spoke about them, seemed to be another species. They were the ones who had gone mad in the darkness, and who hid away in the caves like animals. These prisoners – ten or twenty adults, ranging from youths to the old woman - had fought them away without a thought for their own safety. Numair felt so grateful that he barely cared that they all thought he was an idiot. After all, he reasoned, they were right. He had been stupid.

“Huh?” He asked, realising he’d been asked a question. Pebbles rolled her eyes, and pointed at Daine.

“I said, idiot man: how do you know our wolf cub?”

“They... I was sick when they captured me, and they made her nurse me.” He babbled, and then started to tell the whole story when they stared at him incredulously. They soon started asking questions, and the tale took a lot longer to tell than it really needed, but when Numair reluctantly recounted how she’d been treated by Orsille they hissed between their teeth and gathered around the sleeping girl, cuddling up to her sympathetically.

“Poor little wolfling.” The calming woman said, patting Daine’s bare foot. Numair crouched down next to them, choosing his words carefully.

“How do you know her? Is it from when she was locked up here before?”

“She couldn’t speak, then.” The old woman said briskly. “But we heard what she’d done to earn her chains.”

“The guards were quite outspoken.” The old man nodded. “They had much to recount, and wanted us to quail in terror from the woeful fate that she surely would bring to us.”

“Yeah, and they wanted us to be scared.” Pebbles grinned at the old man’s expression. She was a handsome middle-aged woman, not pretty, but with well defined cheekbones and bright, charismatic eyes. “Doesn’t really work on us, does it?” there was a clamour of answering jeers as the other prisoners answered her, and she looked up at Numair with a challenge in her eyes. “They lock us up with the cave people and expect us to be scared of a little girl? What idiots.”

“They don’t know what it’s like down here.” The old woman’s voice was reproving. “They think it’s just a prison cell. They don’t know how far back the tunnels go, nor what lurks within.”

“They just know it’s full of crazy people!” Pebbles crowed a laugh, which was echoed by the other prisoners. The old woman hid a smile and looked around.

“Well then, did we make a decision?”

“I say we help them.” Pebbles waited for the others to nod before she continued, “We all know the wolf cub, after all, and if she’s keeping company with that moron then she’ll need all the help we can give her.”

“I concur.” The old man ran his fingers through his beard, eyes thoughtful. “We must ascertain whether this man’s story is true, of course, but I am inclined to believe him.”

“Nah, it’s pure horseshit.” Pebbles waved a hand dismissively. “There’s no way anyone would attack the keep. And if there were really high and mighty nobles and knights running around with bird-brain, do you really think the officials would lock him up here? They’re not that dumb!”

“I’ve never heard you say anything good about the officials before.” The calming woman’s voice was barbed, and Pebbles glared at her before spitting on the floor. “Well, I believe him. I wasn’t here when yon wolf cub was last here, but I believe his story. Let’s help them. I say yes.”

“I think it’s decided,” The old woman smiled peacefully and held out her hand to Numair. When he stared at her blankly she sighed, and the assembled prisoners giggled mockingly. “The key, if you please!” She said deliberately. He flushed and handed it over.

“Why is your only insult for anyone that they’re stupid?” He asked Pebbles. The woman smiled thinly.

“What else do we have to do down here, but talk and think and tell stories? We can’t see, there’s nothing to grow or carve or sew or craft. If you do nothing you go mad, like the cave people. So we craft our minds, instead. To be stupid is to be insane.”

A couple of people leaned down and picked up Daine as soon as the old woman had unchained the manacle. Her arm swung limply at her side as they turned and started walking without another word to Numair. He blinked after them, confused beyond words at the easy way they had decided to help. There was something strange about them, in their dark laughter and mocking eyes, but compared to the cave people they seemed almost friendly.

Still, he thought, They’re all locked up here for murder. 

Like us, then.
 Another voice in his mind retorted, and he realised that even when Daine was asleep he could tell what she would say. He grinned suddenly, wry humour eclipsing his seething thoughts, and followed the prisoners into the depths of the labyrinth.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 56 of 69

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