Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Opening the gate

"Come on, Shay!" shouted Barrus.  His voice echoed wildly around them, bouncing off the hard stone walls until it sounded like there was a crowd of deep-voiced people shouting at Shay.  Shay stayed leaning against the way, his face pale and his chest heaving.  "Shay!  Open the gate!"  Annejecta went to the gate and tried to fit her arm between the bars but found they were too close together.  She pushed her fingers through anyway, trying to reach Shay though he was stood a couple of metres behind the gate.
"What's wrong with him," said Barrus, turning to Tomaz and grabbing him.  The material of Tomaz's shirt bunched up in Barrus's hand, and Tomaz found himself dragged forward and off his feet again.  "Why's he not doing anything?"
"I said there were risks," Tomaz found it hard to talk with the shirt tight around his neck, and his voice came out whispery and raspy.  "Paimon has his price, just like any of the Howling."
"What price?"  Barrus's voice was soft suddenly, but the intensity of his stare seemed to have doubled as Tomaz spoke.
"I don't know," said Tomaz.  "It will be something that Paimon thinks he can pay," Tomaz lifted an arm and pointed at Shay, who was trying to push himself upright off the wall, "and it... it will be something... that... Paimon... wants."  His last few words were gasped out as he ran out of air.  He struggled to breath in, but Barrus was holding him so as to force him to breath very shallowly.
"Put him down, Barrus," said Annejecta, not looking away from Shay.  Her voice sounded hollow somehow as it bounced along the passage that Shay was stood in.  "Shay's recovering."  Barrus lowered Tomaz to the ground, where he gasped like a fish out of water, sucking air into burning lungs, but didn't let go of him.
"Shay?" he said.
"Yes," said Shay, blinking a lot.  He was swaying a little, but he was standing on his own again.  "Yes, I'm here."
"There's a lever, Shay," said Annejecta.  "You need to pull it, it'll open the gate."
"Where?"  Shay looked around him, and Annejecta thought she could make out a thin sheen of sweat covering his face.  "Oh, it's here."  He reached out to the wall, and to Annejecta's dismay she could see that there was nothing there but solid rock.  Then Shay seemed to grasp something she couldn't see, and leaned on it, pushing it down, and for a couple of seconds there was a silvery-grey lever in his hands sticking out of a long, metallic slot in the rock.  The gate slid quickly aside, forcing her to pull her fingers out of the bars fast.  She wasn't quite fast enough, and bruised her left ring finger as the bars pulled it sideways, but at the back of her mind she was aware that she could have had her fingers ripped off and she'd had a narrow escape.  Then she was running forward and grabbing Shay, tipping his head back so that she could look into his eyes.
"The gate is open," said Tomaz, looking at Barrus.  "You can find your books now."
"You're coming with me," said Barrus lifting Tomaz back off his feet again.  "This place is tricky.  I don't know when I might need a hostage."
"Against books?"  Tomaz realised that he probably shouldn't have sounded sarcastic even as he spoke, but Barrus didn't seem bothered by it.
"I've just seen a man walk though a gate without getting cut to shreds," he said.  "That's pretty tricky, and sets a bad precedent to my mind.  So you're going to come with me and tell me all about these little tricks."
"Doesn't that defeat the point of your visit?" said Tomaz.
"If you wanted me to know what books you were after, you could just have paid me to go and get them for you."
"I don't care if you know what books we want," said Barrus.  "Though I don't know what they are either, so you'll be lucky if you can get me to tell you.  I'm just not paying for some little bloke to go and pick a couple of books off a shelf and bring them back to me."
"It's not quite that easy," said Tomaz.  "As you can see."
"Seems easier to me, if you can walk though walls."
Tomaz had to agree with that.

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