– CHAPTER FOURTEEN –
Somewhere Clara had dropped her junk torch. Maybe she left the torch back inside the closet where she’d dropped it originally when Roos pushed her!
Forward. Move forward. Phantom footsteps raced through Clara’s mind, chasing her, keeping her from wasting time with things like finding her junk torch. Move forward.
She ran. Tink was her only light for guiding. That would do. The Nite’s twinkling firefly light would have to do. Each of Clara’s steps fell and squished in mud. But she did not trip, her boots provided enough traction. Tink’s light illuminated the metal rails. The blue light made the metal tracks gleam as if the tunnels were above ground, open to night, the dark sky filled with stars and a bloated moon shining silver. She ran, placing each foot carefully on the boards that flowed between and underneath the dual rails, each plank sunk in the mud but providing Clara a solid surface.
Perhaps a minute into her run Clara realized she had no idea which way Tink had turned out of the maintenance closet. Left or right? She remembered approaching the closet with Roos, the door up on the platform and on her right side. That meant she and Roos had come from the left.
The tunnel walls on either side of Clara were twins with not a distinguishing mark she could recall from earlier. Clara cursed herself for not marking the way, leaving a trail. At this point, no telling which way she had come or was going. Was she running toward Roos and his surprise party? For all Clara knew Tink and she were heading toward the isolated city island in the middle of the flooded section of Nork, the place where Roos had promised the junk cache lay hidden. Either way presented problems. At one end she would trap herself in the middle of a body of water, no bridge to lead her off. The other way could find herself smacking her forehead against the very threat she was running from.
Her and Roos’ footprints might help her discern the direction. Too bad she was moving at a dead run to keep up—barely—with Tink as the Nite traveled forward at a speed swifter than a shooting star. Several times Clara lost sight of the Nite as they came to a bend in the tunnel. Panic stabbed Clara worse than her shortness of breath when the darkness overtook Tink’s light. Then Clara caught up with Tink in the straightaway and sighed as if a surgeon had drawn out the dagger from her chest.
Conduit and Nite continued down the tunnel. Arms pumping. Knees up. Inhalations growing shorter. A trail of Nite dust wafting always out of arm’s reach, holding back the ever grasping fingers of the gloom.
Forward. Move for—
No! She needed to stop. To stop and think about what waited for her at each end of her choices.
Should she not have come across the hole the ceiling that lead up to the basement she and Roos used to get into the tunnel? If so, the rope dangling down from the hole should have whipped her in the face by now.
I need to stop. I need to stop before I run into trouble or trouble finds me.
Thinking about halting made Clara more aware of her ragged breathing, how much her legs burned with the effort of her run, the exhaustion hit her hard in the chest.
She began to slow the fatigue growing too much for Clara. As she did, Tink shot further ahead. Shadows reached for the tiring conduit.
Tired legs and short breaths pushed to the back of her consciousness, Clara pumped her arms more rapidly, kicked up her knees to her chest, and found an untapped burst of speed she used to pass the streaking blue light.
Having passed Tink and reached another curve in the tunnel, Clara threw up both hands to gesture halt. Her legs buckled, the sudden stop throwing her head forward to between her shaking knees.
After she inhaled two long gulps of air, Clara struggled but managed to raise her head. She kept one hand on her knee to prop herself up.
In front of Clara, Tink blinked anxiously, the urgency of their flight understood; the Nite had not converted to her young woman form, ready to zip away in a fraction of a heartbeat.
Just as Clara opened her mouth to speak—after swallowing a couple more breathes so she could get more than a few words out—voices echoed from the direction she and Tink headed.
“You said it was just the coppertop down here, yeah?” someone said, his masculine tone naturally sore and deep now edged with annoyance. This person did not like being in the tight confines of the tunnels. No telling what he would do to get out, quickly.
“Three times you’ve asked. Three times I’ve told you. She came alone this morning. The old salvager was too hazed to roll out of his shop.”
That voice! She knew that voice. Aloof. Reserved. While this second person wanted to assert his authority, bolster his confidence, he failed at the grappling because he naturally slunk behind the group. Afraid of any error, he kept to the background.
Roos was down here. And he brought at least one friend.
A sharp thwap cut in on to Roos’ explanation.
“Don’t get smart. Smart kids get smarted. Like that. If he asks a fourth time, give him a fourth answer.” A third voice—also male—and third possible problem. His shrill, whiny voice was as edgy and dangerous as the first person’s was.
Someone murmured an apology, probably Roos because it was he who’d given the clipped answer to the first voice’s question. Clara couldn’t catch any of the exact words.
Although the owner of the third voice called Roos a kid, he and his friend sounded no older than Roos.
The incoming group’s footsteps drew closer. The loose gravel under one heavy person’s booted steps seemed to crunch next to Clara’s ear. There were at least two other sets of footstep, maybe more. Lighter. Less noisy. It was hard for Clara to guess the number of incoming troublemakers over the larger man’s lumbering gate. She could use her Field sense to figure out how many people headed her way. Except she had precious little time to take a plunge. She also didn’t want to shove cotton around her other senses and miss some vital detail the Field could not give her. Surrendering to the Field, place her focus solely on her six sense tended to dull her normal five.
Too close. Too near. She needed to act. To decide.
Clara’s head whipped around to the darkness chasing her from her closet prison then back again to the approaching footsteps and voices.
Do I take a chance with the island, back myself in a corner, or do I face my nightmare? She mused over her options while trying to keep her breathing quiet.
Hide, Clara, Tink insisted hastily.
The approaching footsteps ceased. The tunnel went still. Even the air refused to flow. Clara held her breath and set her head on a swivel, using the pause to look for a hiding place.
Clara! You need to hide or run, Tink warned again, the Field rushing by in a hurry.
She shook her head, damp strands swaying in front of her face. Pitching her voice low—whispers carried to sharply, cutting through silence like a hot blade—and spoke to Tink. “I can’t. I don’t have a place to duck into. Running the other direction I’ll just get stuck on the island with no place further to go. They’ll find the closet empty and know where I went because they didn’t pass me on their way.” Her chin sagged to her chest. “Tink… I have nowhere to—”
You have to try. The blips in the Field rang sharply, as if two hands had grabbed her coat’s lapels and shook her. Those fleshy bad people don’t know you’re out of the—
“Go on! Tell us if the tunnel is clear. Do that… thing you coppertops do to tell if anything living is around.” It was the man with the husky voice, his tone pushier than a big stick used to prod a beast lashed to a wagon.
“Be good and we’ll have some fun later,” the whiny voice promised gleefully.
A fourth person in the group moaned, whipped and beaten. A dog staved and left out to the cold and harsh winds while the family feasted beside the house’s blazing hearth.
Immediately Clara’s head shot up, eyes going wide with disbelief. Then something pricked her senses and bounced away, a clapper hitting the inside of a bell and sending out a tone of response. Clara knew the feeling. Her father had showed her how to use the Field to sense the surrounding area, to send out a ping. This was the same sonar-like effect. Only she was being pinged.
Tink flashed with alarm. She too felt the disturbance in the Field.
“Someone is here!” A tiny, sheepish falsetto answered quickly. “He or she is not far. I’m sure! Less than fifty yards ahead. Stopped. Waiting.”
\The footsteps picked up again, this time with the rapidness of urgency.
They’re coming! Clara… do something before they get here… there’s no—
Like she needed the little firefly light to tell her the obvious.
Run then. If she found an opportunity to hide, she would do so and wait for her pursuers to pass before making her way back towards the way out, the hole in the tunnel’s ceiling that led to the basement topside. Clara started to stand but she tripped. How could she have forgotten the steel rails as high as her calves, requiring a jump because an easy hop would still trip her?!Clara threw out her hands to catch herself before her face smacked the ground. Both hands grabbed one of the cool metal rails. The rails. Each was thicker than her an average man’s bicep, she couldn’t even fully grasp the rail. Stout and heavy. The track was able to carry a large, speeding road golem’s girth. It also allowed for the passage of electricity to the old road golems. Electricity that powered the road golems while in route through Nork. The metal rails held and transferred electricity!
Time enough remained for Clara to act.
Tink’s blue light buzzed in Clara’s ear as she drew quickly on the Field within herself—the conduit didn’t even know how many Nites she produced in those short seconds. Before she was finished the conduit could not hold her breath any longer. Her chest rose rapidly with panic. Her heart beat like a drum.
Clara slammed down her hands on either side of the rail and released the power of the Field she’d collected.
Blue pinpricks of light streaked across the metal tracks and toward the oncoming aggressors. The tracks could out not contain the amount of Nites Clara unleashed, though, it had to go somewhere. Energy spilled forth from the metal, leaping and forking to dance along the tunnel’s brick walls as the wave crashed forward.
Less than a heartbeat passed before—
Screams cracked like thunder, echoing high and shrill with surprise pain. And like thunder, the screaming faded as quickly as it came.
The air sizzled with the after burn as bodies thudded to the ground almost in unison.
Clara expected this result. Yesterday she had performed a similar, unexpected feat with her abilities. Yesterday on the road to Rivend she had shoved Nites into a Junker. Nite lightning she called the action. Even knowing the outcome of her action seconds ago, Clara was unmoving. Never had she turned her abilities around to harm a person or bring death. Taping the Field, creating Nites, Waking junk, it all wrought life from the sleeping. Twice now she’d used her conduit powers as never imagined.
A slimy feeling slipped over Clara body. She shuttered.
Go! Go now while their down and you can pass them, Clara!
Tink’s urgings galvanized Clara into movement. Her body sputtered to a start, her limbs protesting, wanting to remain stuck in cold blocks of ice. She shattered the ice with steaming hot determination, kicked up her knees and ran!
Wanna read more? Turn the page to Chapter Fifteen.
© 2015 Clinton D. Harding, All Rights Reserved