Thursday, 15 March 2012

Two slave-Kings

Barrus let go of Tomaz, but kept him ahead of him, pushing him through the opened gate.  Ahead of him Shay was being supported still by Annejecta, and the second woman was following close behind them.  As Barrus walked past the gate he turned slightly and stared over his shoulder.  Tomaz, looking back to see why Barrus's steps had slowed, saw him.
"What?" he said, sounding barely civil.  "Are there more of you to come?"
"I'm waiting for the gate to close," said Barrus.  "That's usually what happens in these tricky places; all the doors let you in one-way only."
"Where do you spend your time?" said Tomaz.  "The gate's controlled by the lever, it can't close unless someone closes it."
"What lever?"  Barrus looked blankly at Tomaz and then around him.  "I can't see any lever."
"Ah," said Tomaz.  "You're not attuned to Paimon though.  Shay can still see the lever, he could close the gate if you want him to."
"Can you see the lever?
Barrus grunted, obviously not believing Tomaz, but Tomaz refused to be drawn, falling silent and following behind the quiet woman, not looking back at Barrus.  They walked in single file, though Shay still leant a little on Annejecta, along a stone corridor that seemed to turn gently; never quite enough to show a proper corner, but just enough that the gate soon disappeared and it was as though they were walking down an endless tunnel.  Their footsteps echoed, and Tomaz found himself unconsciously trying to keep in step with the others so that there was just one, resounding heavy footstep that they all contributed to.  When he realised what he was doing he stumbled a little, in order to break out of synchrony.
The corridor opened out without any warning, becoming a small atrium with a chimney in the ceiling that stretched up as far as the eye could see, and a grey light glowed at the top.  The walls of the atrium were recessed with shelves, on which were stood thin, leather-bound books with gilt lettering on the spine.  Annejecta checked that Shay could stand up by himself and then started browsing through the shelves, running her fingers down spines and tilting her head to one-side to better read their names.  The other woman looked around them, and then seized Shay's arm.  He looked up, and Tomaz noticed that he looked very pale, his eyes darkly shadowed and more deep-sunken than he remembered.
"What is it?"  Shay's voice rasped like a rough file on metal.  The second woman's hands blurred into motion, and Tomaz stepped backwards, retreating from her and walking into Barrus.
"Ow."  Barrus's tone was flat, letting Tomaz know that he'd stood on Barrus's foot without actually expressing pain.  "What was that for?"
Tomaz realised that the second woman wasn't performing a complicated prestidigitation and relaxed a little.
"I didn't know what she was doing," he said, pointing at her.  "I thought she might be invoking one of the Howling."
"What if she was?"  Barrus sounded bored.
"This would be a bad place to do it," said Tomaz.  "What is she doing?"
"Talking," said Barrus.  "Emma's a mute, she talks to Shay with her hands."
"These books are all indices," said Annejecta, walking back from the shelves.  "I think they're intended to help you find what you're looking for."
"What?" said Shay, talking to Emma.  She pointed behind them all, and Shay looked where she was pointing.
"So have you found what we're looking for?" said Barrus.  "Your hands are empty."
"There's no-one there," said Shay, looking at Emma.  Tomaz carefully avoided turning round and looking where they were talking about.  Emma's hands started dancing in the air again, fingers caressing each other, walking over her palms and wrists.
"I need to find the book here that will tell us where the books we want are," said Annejecta.  "It's like a puzzle box."
"Hah," said Barrus.  "I knew you'd come in useful."  He pushed Tomaz towards Annejecta.
"No," said Shay.  "There's no-one there.  Hey, Anna, Barrus!  Can you see anyone following us?"  Emma punched him on the arm.  "Two people following us?"
"No," said Barrus, looking back.  "Either of you two?"
Both Annejecta and Tomaz shook their heads, Tomaz now walking to the shelves with Annejecta.
"What are you looking for then?" he asked, hoping to forestall any more questions, in case they realised that he could quite easily see the slave Kings Labal and Abalim keeping a discrete distance behind them.

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