Friday, November 17, 2017

Gathering Strays

Somber conjured a light and said quietly, "Don't attack," before he stepped out of the doorway and into the hall.

He'd been listening to the sounds of the approaching group: soft footsteps and quiet whispers, the rustle of fabric, the occasional soft thunk as something shifted in a pack. Now they stopped, blinking nervously in the dim light. "You have to go back," he told them. "They're waiting up ahead."

The man in the lead was older, respectable, and scared out of his mind. Something about the whiteness around his eyes and the way he held himself told Somber that he was only barely hanging on to control. "We have to get out before..." His voice was a little too loud for a whisper, and the woman beside him elbowed him sharply. "Listen to the young man, Rabius," she said, and Somber decided that she was probably the man's wife.

"There's a warehouse two block over," Somber continued quietly. "It's still safe. We're gathering people there." He paused, but Rabius had settled back and looked less inclined to break and run. "We can get there, but we can't use the stairs."

"How...?" The woman shook her head. "Lead the way."

Somber motioned past them, and they stepped to the side of the hall to let him pass. One or two reached out to touch his robes, which would have bothered him under more normal circumstance. Now, he didn't mind.

He led them back up the corridor, noting again the broken doors on either side. Some looked in on empty rooms, but others showed shattered furniture and other wreckage. At least one held a pair of dead bodies, fresh enough that they hadn't yet begun to stink. Somber checked the doorways until he found the one he wanted, then turned left into it. There were a few concerned whispers, but he thought the group was still following him.

It wasn't an especially large group: four adults, two children, and an infant who was carried by the youngest of the three women.

He crossed to the door on the far side, stepped through it into an untouched dining area, and continued to the window beyond. It was still open, the glass pane in it wooden frame raised to let in the night's breezes. Looking down, he saw Maija standing below, waved, and then held up seven fingers. She waved back.

"Here," he said.

"Here?" asked Rabius, sounding as if he were starting to choke. "You expect us to--"

The oldest of the three women elbowed him again. "He expects you to stay quiet, and not bring those things down on us." Her voice was a whisper, but it was vehement.
Somber nodded, and she stepped up beside him. "I am Vara," she said.

"I'm called Somber."

She glanced at him. "That's a terrible thing to name a child."

Somber shrugged. "That's Maija, down there."

"Ah," said Vara, and turned back to the others. "There's a peacekeeper down there, and she has a sword."

Rabius straightened, while the two women behind him exchanged a glance. One of the children tugged on the sleeve of his robe. "How do we get down?" she asked.

Somber knelt down. He was taller than anyone in this group by at least a full head, and it didn't seem fair to make the child crane her neck. "I'm going to put a word on you," he said softly, "and you're going to drift down like a feather, slowly."

"Oh," she said. "What about Pulous?" She touched her jacket, and Somber suddenly found himself eye to eye with something that might have been a snake except that it had legs, and might have been a lizard except that it had four legs on either side of its long, slender body.

"Just hold onto him," Somber answered quietly. "I'll make sure the word covers him, too." He studied her a moment longer, then asked: "Are you two going first?"

"Yes," she said firmly.

"Good," he said. "Step up onto the windowsill, and let's get started."

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