The Darkness Between Doors

by Geron Kees

Chapter 9

The shock among the others was apparent. "He flies!" Gilden breathed, the awe in his voice apparent.

"And faster than any Sasparian could ever manage," Erva said, also sounding subdued. The winged man turned to Derry. "I see the wisdom in waiting now."

Derry nodded, although he knew the Sasparian could not see the action through his head bubble. But he didn't want to lower it, because he needed the zoom to see what his grandfather was doing. "He will call us if it is safe to move forward."

Erva retracted his wings, and returned the binoculars to his eyes.

In his view, Derry watched as his grandfather reached the tube station and the bodies lying on the ground. He flew over and past them, and alit just inside the tube station, obviously looking for anyone there. In a moment he returned to the bodies, holstered his weapon, and bent to examine those on the ground. "Narthies, alright. Five of them. Nyf, where would I find a pulse for these guys?"

"In the front of the neck," the artificial intelligence replied. "But I have access to your suit scanners, and it is too late, I'm afraid. These five have suffered electrocution, no doubt from the staves acquired by Crowla's people. Their hearts were stopped. It has been too long now to revive them. I'm sorry."

Derry could see his grandfather's shoulders slump, and the man was quiet a moment. Then he straightened suddenly, again pulled his pistol, and turned back to the station and vanished within. Derry's nerves stood on end during the long moment of silence that followed, and then his grandfather reappeared. "No one inside. Come on forward, guys. I'll keep watch here."

Derry lowered his head bubble and turned to the others. "It's safe to go forward."

Erva immediately squinted at him. "And the Narthies?"

"Dead," Derry said grimly, allowing some of the anger he now felt into his voice. "Electrocuted. It happened too long ago to revive them."

Erva nodded, and pulled his staff close to his body. "Gilden, accompany the group to the station. Safeguard them. I do not want Mike to be there alone."

Gilden barely had time to acknowledge his father before the man's wings swept wide again and beat with a vigor that Derry found amazing; and then the Sasparian was off down the tube at a speed far faster than they could run.

"I suggest we move forward, and at pace," Garmin said, hefting his own staff.

The two Crites launched into a jogging run, and Derry, Cally and Gilden followed. It was an energetic pace, and Derry wondered if he would have been able to maintain it without the additions to his body that Difris had made. As it was, the Crites were breathing only a little more rapidly than normal when they arrived at the station, and Gilden showed no sign of the exertion at all. Derry was pleased to feel strong and capable, his body more than up to the task of the run.

They arrived beside Erva, who had squatted by the bodies to examine them while Mike stood watching the entrance to the station. "They look like they were surprised," Erva mused sadly. "They didn't even have time to draw their swords."

One of the bodies was slightly ahead of the others, and sprawled on its face just inside the vestibule to the station. The rest were arrayed behind the first, and looked like they had simply collapsed to the floor when the life had been removed from them. It was an unpleasant sight, and spoke volumes of a treachery of some sort.

"I know I'm mad now," Mike said, sounding every bit of it. "Someone is going to be in trouble for this, mark my words!"

"I feel as you do," Erva said grimly. "This is murder, plain and simple. Responsibility will be ascertained, and the law will be done."

"Can we move them inside?" Mergrun asked. "It is unsuitable to leave them here like this."

Mike turned towards them. "Yes. Derry? You and Cally come on up here and watch the station. I'll help move the bodies."

Derry and Cally moved forward, drawing their zap guns, and positioned themselves inside the station. This station looked exactly like the one on Inishee's peak, with a large, arched doorway in the back that led into the castle proper. Except the hallway here seemed to be lit, and they could see into it plainly. No one was there.

The tube that went to Crowla's holding had a car in their station end of it, but they could see into it easily enough, and it was also vacant.

Granddad and the others carried the bodies of the Narthies in, two at a time, and laid them carefully on the floor of the station in a row. Derry looked them over briefly, and then found he did not wish to look again. The faces of the aliens were drawn in frozen grimaces, the electrical charge that had played throughout their bodies bunching muscles unmercifully into death masks. It made Derry mad just to think of it, and he found himself waving his zap gun restlessly, as if looking for someone to shoot.

He felt a hand on the arm of his suit then, and turned to see Cally gazing at him through a now transparent globe.

"Relax," his boyfriend said, over the private channel. "It's awful, but we can't change it."

"I know," Derry said sadly. "It makes me mad someone did this." Then he squinted at his boyfriend. "How'd you make your head bubble clear?"

"I just thought in my head that I wanted it clear," Cally returned, smiling. "Duh!"

Derry forced the same thought through his own head, and then couldn't help smiling a little when Cally laughed. "See? I can see you just fine now. Mmm!"

"Shh!" Derry said automatically, holding up a hand. "My granddad will hear!"

"No, he won't. My thoughts now are just for you. Remember? The augment knows from your mind who you want to hear you."

"Oh, yeah. I forgot." Derry leaned forward. "I can't believe someone just killed these people. Just...just shot them dead!"

"I can. I remember the way that guy Dith talked. He wanted to kill Erva and his people. These are some bad dudes, Derry."

Derry nodded slowly, feeling a sense of resolve come into him. "Yeah. I get that now. This has been a great adventure. But now...we're seeing how real it can get."

Granddad came over then, his own head bubble also transparent. He smiled at them, and gave Derry's elbow a brief, reassuring squeeze. "Once I saw the transparent thing could be done, I figured it out."

"With my help, of course," Nyf put in. "I have something important to show you."

Granddad nodded inside his head bubble. "What have you got?"

"Ask the others to come over," Nyf returned. "And it's safe to lower your head bubbles for now. I sense others around us on the mountain, but no one is nearby."

They dropped their head protection, and Derry's granddad asked the Crites and the Sasparians to join them.

Nyf continued then. "I have been linked to this station's mind, which is running at the same level as the one back at the transfer station. I have an interesting video record to show you."

Granddad turned and explained what was going to happen to the others, so that they would not be startled when Nyf formed the viewer seemingly out of thin air. "Okay, Nyf. Shoot."

The large circle of the viewer appeared in the air before them, and immediately filled with colors, that quickly resolved into a picture. Their new friends leaned forward, fascination and interest visible on their features.

"Wonderful!" Gilden breathed, smiling.

The view was of one of the tubes, but not the one they had just quit. This one had a tube car in the end of it. Derry looked over at the other transport tube to confirm his suspicion. "It's that tube, over there."

"The tube from Crowla's holding," Gilden confirmed.

The view was of the tube, taken from within the station. A group of people could be seen coming through the tube car - a large group. Crites all, twelve of them Derry finally counted, as they arrived into the station proper. All armed with staves. These twelve Crites wore the mummy-bandage robes of Crowla's holding.

"That's Dith in the lead!" Mergrun exclaimed, a new anger in his voice.

Derry nodded, surprised that even he recognized the Crite leader from their one meeting at Inishee's holding. Dith seemed in charge of this larger group, too. He pulled up one of the other Crites the moment they entered the station, and the two conferred a moment before the second Crite waved at some of the others, and five Crites split off from the larger group and accompanied him deeper into the station. Dith waved a hand impatiently at the remaining five Crites, and the six of them headed across the station and entered the tube leading back the way Derry and his friends had just come.

"And there's our answer," Erva said then. "Dith took five of the Crites and headed for Inishee holding. The other six went into Aginshir holding."

"So we can assume this place has been captured," Garmin offered, sounding worried.

"There is more," Nyf said. "I have some more footage from a later time."

"We're not done yet," Mike told the group. "Something happened later."

There was the briefest of whiteouts in the view floating before them, and then they were viewing the station again. This time, two Crites armed with staves and dressed in Crowla holding's unique raiment paced slowly back and forth before the tube leading back to the transfer station. Then one suddenly paused, tensed, and then leaned his staff towards the tube. The other came to stand beside him, and also leaned his weapon towards the tube. But in a mere moment, both Crites relaxed and drew their staves back to an upright position. A group could be seen approaching then, and quickly defined itself as six Crites, similarly dressed, moving at a run towards them. But these Crites were unarmed.

"Dith, returning after you disarmed them and threw them out of Inishee," Mergrun quickly guessed.

It was indeed Dith and his men. The lead Crite looked angry, and waved his hands in agitation before the armed Crites, obviously filling them in on events at Inishee. Those two looked alarmed, and cast worried-looking glances back the way that Dith and his party had come. Then one of the armed Crites made a gesture of agreement, and turned and headed at a run towards the archway that lead deeper into Aginshir holding. Dith waved at his five men, and the group hurried across the station and entered the car at the end of the tube leading to Crowla's holding. The remaining Crite hefted his staff, and resumed pacing back and forth before the tube from the transfer station.

"Dith headed back to Crowla to report, "Erva suggested. "One of the guards here went into the holding to pass on the news to the four there. And one was left to guard the tube from the transfer station."

"But he's not here now," Gilden stated. "Is there more to see?"

"Yes," Nyf said. "Observe. This is not very long after Dith returned."

"This is a little later," Mike told the others.

Again the view briefly whited out; and then they were looking at the lone guard again. He was standing before the tube he had been guarding, his staff leaned into its opening. Another group was approaching through the tube.

"The Narthies!" Cally said, sounding shocked. "Oh, no!"

The six Narthies approached the Crite slowly, and one moved slightly ahead of the others to confront the guard. They obviously talked a bit, and Derry could tell by the way the other Narthies carefully moved their hands to the pommels of their swords that they didn't like what they were hearing. The Crite was obviously being belligerent, and denying the Narthies passage. He kept waving his staff at them insistently, while the leader of the Narthies seemed unwilling to have it.

Then came the fateful moment. The lead Narthie took another step closer to the Crite, and raised his hands. At the same moment, the Narthie directly behind him charged forward, blocked somewhat from the view of the Crite by his leader's body. But not blocked from view enough.

The staff discharged in a blinding flash, and the Narthie leader was struck. The Narthie behind the leader, already crouched in his run, ducked in instinct, and fingers of the main bolt leapfrogged him and struck the four other Narthies behind. Even as that happened, the charging Narthie hit his leader from behind and propelled him straight into the Crite guard. The bolt of lightning cut off in an instant, and the electrocuted Narthie leader and the Crite crashed to the ground.

The Crite immediately struggled to get the heavy body off of him, and had not lost his grip on the staff. The last Narthie took a step towards the staff, realized then he could not get it before the Crite was free, and then turned and ran into the station. But instead of heading for the archway into Aginshir holding, he bore left, reached the wall there, and pushed hard on an apparently blank section of it. A panel immediately opened outward, revealing daylight, and the Narthie disappeared through the doorway. It immediately closed behind him.

The Crite guard got to his feet then. Two of the Narthies were still moving on the floor, and in a moment that Derry knew he would never forget, the Crite guard unleashed another bolt at them, causing their bodies and the bodies of the other Narthies to constrict as their muscles contracted and their bodies seized up. And then the Crite guard turned and raced for the same wall panel the last Narthie had disappeared through, pushed it open, and was gone.

No one said anything for a moment after the image faded away. But everyone again turned to look at the Narthie bodies nearby.

Mergrun finally made a small, harsh, angry sound. "I...I...cannot believe this was done by one of my own kind!! That was a deliberate act of murder!"

Garmin's voice sounded unusually harsh, too. "This one will be punished, I promise!"

Mike nodded. "I agree." He turned and pointed to the apparently blank wall the Narthie and his Crite pursuer had vanished through. "Where does that go?"

"It's a maintenance and emergency egress," Garmin said. " All tube stations have them."

Mike blinked at that revelation. "It's not marked. How will people find it in an emergency?"

Garmin looked surprised. "Why...everyone knows they are there. Why should it be marked?"

Mike gave a little laugh at that, and nodded. He turned to Erva. "I think we should follow."

"Yes. The last Narthie is in extreme danger."

Mike nodded. "Let's go."

"Do we leave a guard here?" Cally asked.

"No. We stick together. Come on."

They crossed to the wall panel, and Mike pushed against it. It opened easily outward. They emerged onto a wide landing, where a staircase led down quite some distance to the ground below. There was no one in sight.

"Nyf?" Mike asked. "Can you sense that staff?"

"Yes. Proceed to the ground and go straight out from the base of the stairs. I will direct you from there."

Mike nodded, and turned to the group. "Let's go."

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