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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 43: Slade 60
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 42: Brown 68
The bars at the end of the hall told Slade they had found the dungeon. He moved toward them, scanning with his flashlight in search of some sort of lock or latch.
"That's as fine a trap as you could want," Filp said from behind him. "Hey, where're you going?"
Turning back, he saw it. It was a gate; but it was also very like a portcullis. Wheels on opposite walls rolled in the chains which passed through pulleys on the ceiling, raising the bars along a hinge on the top edge. If you were closed in, it would be very difficult to push your way out.
"I'll bet those make a racket," Slade said. "I could try to dismantle the hinge, but doubt I could do so more quietly, and certainly not quicker. Besides, if the gate is damaged, they'll know someone was here."
Filp eyed it carefully. "Yeah, well, there's nothing for it then. We'll have to open it and hope everyone is too far away and too deep asleep to hear it. Grab that crank, will you?" And so saying, the thief took hold of the handle of the wheel on his side.
Slade flashed the light at his, deciding which way it should turn, then pointed it over at Filp's so he could see his own a bit more clearly.
"Ready?" Slade asked; then without another word the two began raising the gates. The clanking of chain and ratchet echoed against the stone, in comparison to the hollow silence of a moment before a deafening cacophony. No one came in answer to its call. Slade again examined the ratchet, looking for some way to block it so that no one would be able to shut them in; but nothing short of welding it in place came to mind, and he knew he was going to have to close it when he returned.
"All right," he said as the silence again enveloped them, "let's go."
The next obstacle came upon them quite abruptly, almost too abruptly. About forty feet beyond the gate the floor ended. The flashlight revealed another floor, ten feet below.
"That's a pretty problem," Filp said. "I suspect we'll be using the rope for this?"
Again, Slade flashed the light around them. His eye caught the answer. "I think not," he said. "After all, the guards and inquisitors have to get in and out, so this drop is just part of the prison. That ladder will get us in, and out, without any trouble. Here, hold the light."
The thief took hold of the light with some trepidation. He had never carried a magic lamp containing lightning before. Slade assured him it was safe, and moved the ladder over the edge and down. "Give me the light; I'll go first."
Filp complied, then sniffed at the air.
"There's a fresh breeze in here; that means open windows somewhere above. Keep the noise down and be careful with that light; someone might notice."
Right, Slade thought; but better not to speak, if the echoes of their voices could find their way to the world above. He went down the ladder. Reaching the bottom, he shined the light around quickly to see what was there, then rattled the ladder to signal Filp. The thief apparently understood, as he was down in a moment.
Slade took hold of the ladder and stretched it on the floor. "At least," he said, "if they realize we're in here, they won't be able to take the ladder from us; and maybe they won't be able to come after us so quickly."
"Where do we go from here?" Filp asked, and again the light panned the room. Three dark halls broke the fitted stone walls.
"May the Norns guide my steps," Slade said.
"There you go praying again," Filp said.
"It got us here," Slade said.
"I thought you were going to say it worked," Filp answered.
Slade ignored that, and again shone the light on each path. Something about the middle one appealed to him. "Let's try this way," he said.
"Why?" Filp asked.
"Does it matter? We don't know which one to take. We could stand here all night staring at them. Or we could pick one and see if it might be right."
As Slade walked toward the corridor, he heard Filp behind him. "Don't mean to put a damper on all this success," he said, "but, how do we figure out which one is Phasius? After all, there's probably a good number of real criminals in here, any one of which would claim to be the person we're supposed to rescue if it would get him out of here."
Slade hadn't thought of that; but then, he hadn't thought of most things on this venture until he faced them. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
"Don't look now, but I think that's the toll both ahead."
Slade smiled, then thought, then grew serious. "A very wise and brave friend of mine once said that her god always gave her what she needed when she needed it. She wasn't talking about this; she was talking about having the courage to do something absolutely insane."
"What, like rescue a priest from the well-built dungeons of the well-guarded castle of a potent monarch?"
Slade's smile returned as he remembered Lauren diving from the cliff at a pteranodon. "No, much crazier. But I think that the lesson will hold. The Caliph wouldn't have sent us on this quest if he didn't think we would be able to figure out the right guy."
"Caliph?" came a voice from behind a door. "Majdi sent you?"
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #174: Versers Achieve. 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: