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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 108: Brown 88
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Moving through the halls proved easier than Derek had hoped. Rarely did he see anyone, and they were usually in a hurry, usually looking at whatever they had in their hands, usually rather distracted and inattentive. Once he dashed behind a lamp on the wall, using its light to hide his own. Otherwise, it wasn't until he reached the main room itself that he met any challenge. There was a ceremonial guard on the entrance, and the doors were closed.
Keeping his bow ready, he settled on the support of a lampstand along the wall, waiting, watching, and thinking. He needed to get through that door. The ruler of this city was beyond it. The guards were not likely to let him through.
He remembered that Lauren had been able to walk into the central computer control room on Terranova Habitat without anyone being aware of her presence--this despite her outrageous bright red robe over plastic armor. Somehow she had blocked any recognition that she was there from the minds of the people she passed. Derek wished he had stayed with her long enough that he could have learned that. He supposed that he might be able to find a way to do it now, but it was terribly risky to rely on successfully doing something he had never done. No, at this moment he was going to rely on the skills he had, not those he wished he could learn.
A noise called his attention to the hall. A cart was rolling toward him, pushed by a man who must be a cook or waiter, as there was food stacked on top. The idea of sneaking in on the bottom of the food cart seemed so cliché; yet it also presented itself at such an opportune moment that he could hardly resist it. The question was whether he could get under the cart without someone noticing. It would be tricky, but he thought he could manage it.
As the cart passed, Derek dropped quietly from his perch and caught himself an inch or two above the floor, using a power shift to slip behind the waiter. Once behind him, he came up next to his legs and under the cart, rising to move just under the upper surface. His glow lit the underside of the table, but in the daylight it provided little illumination below him. The difficult part was maintaining a speed that matched the slow-moving cart. He was not at all certain for how long he could do it, but if the cart didn't pause before the doors opened, he could fly through.
The cart did not hesitate; the doors parted, and he passed through into the main room. At this point it stopped. It was time to move. Derek flew out from under the cart, and up toward the ceiling.
"Sprite!" Someone shouted, and raised a gun at him. Without hesitation he fired an arrow into the man's chest. The missile did its job, as the attacker dropped over, but the alarm had been sounded, and armed men were running around trying to get a clean shot at him. Desperately he tried to keep track of them all, to sting those who were dangerous before they could get him. He missed one, but managed to avoid the single ball fired from that weapon. Three more went down under the power of his potion. He was weaving and dodging, rising and spinning, cutting around the architecture and vanishing against the light of windows, as they scrambled after him as if he were the prize in a greased pig contest. They were closing in on him; he would not be able to stop them all. He had to reach the ruler, before they silenced him forever. How could he do it?
His eyes found the chair, the small throne on which the leader sat. There he was, with the headpiece that signaled his office, in plain sight. He had to contact him. He reached out with his mind, taking a chance that the telepathy would work. I must be allowed to speak with you, or there will be a war.
"Stop," the man said, rising from his chair. "The sprite will speak with me."
The room fell into a stunned silence. Derek caught his breath. He thought it best to show good faith, and so placed the arrow in his hand back in his quiver, and stowed the bow.
"Sire," he said, and realized that his tiny voice could hardly be heard in this huge room.
"It speaks," someone said in astonishment, and the room was atwitter with surprised voices all talking about him.
"It only mimics," one said. "They aren't human, and are too small to have sufficient intelligence to speak."
"I had a bird who could talk," said another. "It never made much sense, but it always called me by my name." The twitter rose to a din, and any hope Derek had of being heard above it was drowned long before it approached cacophony.
"Silence," the leader said, in a very loud voice, and the din receded.
"Tell me," he said, looking at Derek, "why you have come? Who are you?"
"Sire," he repeated, "I am called Theian Toreinu Morach, and I have come from the sprites. For thousands of years, we have lived in these woods. Sprites have never killed sprites, or elves, or gnomes, or humans."
A murmur passed through the crowd when he mentioned elves and gnomes; apparently the humans were rather oblivious to the peoples with whom they shared this world. Derek waited for it to settle, and continued.
"Yet your people have begun to kill us, coming into our forests with your guns and shooting us for no reason but that we live in these woods and are different from you. We find this unacceptable, and insist that you stop it.
"So far we have not killed a human. We have used our knowledge to put your people to sleep, and have taken and destroyed their weapons. We will continue to do this for as long as it is an adequate response. However, if these attacks do not stop, there will be war between sprites and men, and it will be necessary for sprites to do what we have never done in our entire recorded history. We will have to kill you. That we can so easily put you to sleep should warn you that we can as easily kill you. That I, one sprite alone, and not much more than a boy, can get so far as this room should make it clear that armies of sprites could bring down your cities. Perhaps you could kill us all; but it would cost you far more lives than you want to spend, and what would you gain? Do you gain the forests which we are willing to share? Do you gain our homes which are little more than holes in trees, too small for any use to you? Do you take our women or enslave our children, and what value do we have to you? In the name of The King, I implore you: do not do this."
While he was speaking, Derek had landed on the back of a chair; he was balancing himself with his wings as he spoke. In this large room, he was still thirty yards from the leader, with people all around.
"You speak well, Theian Toreinu Morach," the leader said. "Your words are wise. We have mistreated your people in our ignorance. I decree this day," he said more loudly, "that the hunting, trapping, or other killing of sprites shall be a criminal offense. Let it be published throughout our realms, that no man may be ignorant of the law."
Those present responded, like the congregation in some church service, "The law has been decreed."
"Thank you, Theian Toreinu Morach. Please take your people my apologies for this offense we have caused; there is no way we can make right the wrong that was done, but to promise it will not be done again."
"Thank you, sire. May sprites and humans enjoy peace and share the world The King has given us."
Not sure what else to do or say, Derek rose from the back of the chair and flew toward the door. The crowd parted, still apparently awed by the fact that sprites could talk. One of those he had drugged snored loudly, and the murmur again began to rise through the crowd.
Suddenly the entrance doors swung open, and an older man in what appeared to be work clothes swept in, brandishing a blunderbuss. "There it is," he said, in a voice just loud enough to suggest the man was hard of hearing. "Don't worry, majesty, I'll get it."
The voices in the room rose in confusion, but the man was intent on Derek. Not certain what to do, he went up toward the windows. He tried to find a path to safety, to reach one of his arrows, to make an escape. Below him now he saw people moving all directions, some trying to stop the shooter, some trying to get out of the way, all tripping over each other and colliding into furniture. The voice of the leader struggled in vain to be heard above the others.
There was a booming explosion, and several large pellets connected with Derek's small body. He felt life ebbing away.
Dad, he sent from his mind, the humans will have peace; but it might take a while. I won't be coming home.
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 #202: Verser Confrontations. 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: