Half Shaman, 28
|Courtyard Black Pit in the Yellow City|
Links to Previous Chapters:
Chapters 1-5 Chapters 6-9 Chapters 10-14 Chapters 15-19 [These links send you to the archives for January to April. Read from the bottom up.]
20: Girl Questions 21: The Village Square 22: AZ, Ship to Shaman 23: The Silver Storm
24: The Leadership Challenge? 25: The Street Camp 26: The Unlooked-for Amulet
27: The Food Supply
28: Into the Warren
While Puma okays the six that will come with me into the warren, I get the kinks out of my muscles. Bend over with straight legs. Bounce on my heels … two three four. Shake out my legs, arms. Hold onto Mongoose while I stretch my back-of-leg muscles. Left side right side.
When I look up a circle has formed. Two from Ibis’s group. The man of Bear’s group is Dingo. Red-tail on my right, Mongoose on the left. I frown. “Mongoose would’ve gone no matter what, so we need another male from our group. And why are you here, Red-tail?”
“Puma is my stand-in. We thought it better.” She stares pointedly at Dingo.
“Your chief told us to send someone we can’t miss,” Bear says.
I look over Bear’s group. “I’m meant to think you wouldn’t want to miss anyone else? Wonder how that feels to the rest?”
“Like I’ll change groups at the earliest opportunity,” says a man. “Bear and Dingo, they’ll be a group of two before long.”
“Remember what I hold of yours,” Bear says.
Oops. Opened a can of worms there. I glance toward Puma. Lithe and Limber flank him. Could be some re-arrangements while I’m away. I face into the little circle. “I am quite impulsive myself. But for this we all have to pack impulsive away.”
A few people murmur. Red-tail nods. “A fair warning.”
“Many of the houses in this city had the equivalent of black cells for their garbage disposal. When the population abandoned the city there was never any clean-up and these units will be very very hungry.”
Dingo has a question. Or rather a statement. “So if you tell us what to look out for, we’ll know.”
A disapproving murmur runs round the circle.
“Good question,” Crow says from outside the circle. “Or rather, it’s good getting this sort of comment, to prepare us for when we teach our groups without losing anyone.”
“You heard Bear,” Dingo says. “I’m the only one un-missable in Bear’s group. Let’s get on with it so we can get to the shuttle.”
He’s breathtakingly arrogant. I’m really really happy Mongoose and I are to be partnered.
“It’s not so easy for me to tell what the average garbage disposal unit looks like. It contains a dark sort of soil that will eat anything though stones are safe to stand on if you inadvertently step in some. The houses this far from the centre of the city belonged to poorer people who might have shared a unit amongst several houses. That means it’ll be in an alley or a courtyard.”
“Walk forward.” I walked at the extreme right. Mongoose beside me. Dingo is at the extreme left. I stop at the first junction to the right. “Walk in a curve so we’re all lined up in front of the opening of this, what I call a ‘road’.”
I think ahead, shudder slightly. With Dingo in the group, the primary danger is to Mongoose. “As you can see, only five people abreast fit in a road. Two will need to walk behind.” Mongoose leaves my side and nips in behind me. He lays his hand on my shoulder to let me know he is there. “We’ll walk on till the next junction.”
It isn’t far. “Walk the quarter circle again. This is a ‘street’ where only four people fit abreast.”
I hear sibilant whispers as Mongoose organises people behind me. “We’ll do it again. Please don’t wander into any openings. Look but don’t leap.” Red-tail organises at the side.
“Now we are in a three-people wide ‘lane’. Just a few steps further is an ‘alley’ that allows two people to walk side by side, or two people passing each other in opposite directions. Alleys are between houses and may lead to courtyards. Here’s a single person doorway. Through it is a house.” I point and gesture.
“In this case with two rooms. The floors are of hardened clay. There may have been a stair in one corner leading to a roof.”
“So where is the black pit?” asks someone.
A metre-square section, slightly higher than the rest of the broken walls, rises above the top of the walls near the junction. It looks remarkably like a ventilation tower. I clutch Mongoose’s hand sweatily when he rests his hand on my hip. “There’s the lane we need.”
“Don’t push, anyone,” Red-tail says. “I promise you’ll not leave without seeing but don’t want to see even one of you eaten. Trust me.”
“And you’ve seen that with your own eyes, Red-tail?” Dingo asks.
“Happens I have. Not pretty.”
Wonder when Red-tail saw that? We enter the alley, two abreast. Shuffle along it. The thing is in the courtyard at the end. The houses hereabouts are all small.
We come around the corner and see it, at the far end. I release my breath in relief, it looks difficult to push anyone into it. A boxy shape made of the same bricks as everything else, with an arched opening like a mouth, at about waist level.
Good height to prevent children falling in, I’m thinking when someone rushes someone else past me, pushing them by the back of the neck and waist. It’s the woman from Bear’s group being rushed. She squawks. Guess who is rushing her?
Mongoose swears and slides in front of me. He backs me against the nearest wall. Dingo bundles the woman into the mouth of the structure. Her fear make the woman’s screams high and wheezy. As Red-tail and the two from Ibis’s group jump Dingo, he releases her.
Red-tail bends into the box, hauls out the poor woman.
Mongoose and I see Dingo’s intention toward Red-tail at the same time. We rush to help the other two contain the maniac. “Jeb, bandanna!”
We truss Dingo tight enough that probably he won’t be able to walk. “Bastard,” says Ibis’s partner.
Which is putting it mildly. What possesses Dingo?
We brush every grain of the black creep from the victim and hiding her from Dingo’s mad eyes, get her undressed to shake out her clothes.
Red-tail unties the bandanna around Dingo’s ankles. Hauls him onto his feet. Ropes him to her so there cannot be any getting away.
“Why should I walk for you?” he says.
“Because I’ll whip you where it hurts if you don’t.” She lashes the rope-end. “If you walk in front of me, it’s only your damned backside getting stung.”
“The ship is going to know about this,” Dingo says. “It’ll control you people.”
“Yeah right,” Man of the Forest says. “Like it’s going to control us but not you?”
Mongoose and Ibis’s partner support the crying woman. Ibis and I walk at the end.
Coming out into the street, we meet Jackal. “Heard a kerfuffle. We should just toss him in one, see how he likes it.”