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Old Feb 5 2006, 07:46 PM   #1
Brenda
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Default Ghost in the Tunnels (Pern Fanfic)

Ghost in the Tunnels is a work in progress - I think I know where it's going from here - I hate to start these things with an idea that just stops because I didn't think it through! Some of my other ideas I'm working on are rewriting some scenes from Pern, with a different outcome, and those are rather intimidating... This is just a fun Pern story that doesn't need to be in a particular Pass!

Please post feedback in this thread.

More to come...


Sarla stepped cautiously down the hallway, her hand on the cover of the glowbasket. If Dralina caught her sneaking off with a perfectly good glow she’d raise welts; she couldn’t abide waste. Sarla sighed; she tried hard to please her foster mother, but she hated sitting still and sewing. Who wanted to make quilts when there was a maze of unused tunnels in the back of the Hold? She had so little free time, between lessons and chores, but she always tried to get done early so she could go exploring. Today was going well; Harper Tristio had let the children out early so he could talk to the runner who had come in with a message. She would have nearly two hours before anyone would start looking for her.

Sarla smiled as she turned the corner, and opened up the glow; she was out of sight now. She walked quickly past the two tunnels she had thoroughly explored, and turned down the next one. It was not much longer than the first tunnel had been; the second one had been long, with many chambers to explore. This one looked like it was blocked by a rock fall. Sarla grimaced; she hated to have to turn back before she’d seen anything new. She kept walking. Maybe she could get past the rocks. She tried shifting a few, but that only made more rocks slide down the pile. She climbed up on one of the larger ones to try to see over the top, but there wasn’t any gap she could squeeze through. She sat down, pouting a little; she had been looking forward to this trip, but it wasn’t working out!

As she set the glowbasket down on the rock next to her, the shifting light chased away all the shadows except one. Sarla looked again, startled: it wasn’t a shadow, it was an opening in the wall! She scrambled down to investigate. The opening led to a tunnel longer than the light from the glow could reach. Sarla grinned in anticipation.

The tunnel wasn’t quite tall enough to stand up in, which was strange; she had been able to walk easily through all the others she had explored. Why would they not have finished the tunnel, she wondered as she crawled on her hands and knees, shoving the glow ahead of her. Her patience was finally rewarded: the tunnel widened out into a small chamber, not much bigger than her sleeping room. She held out the glow as she knelt in the entrance.

“Hello.”

Sarla gasped and tried to scramble to her feet. Her head cracked into the stone ceiling of the tunnel, and she collapsed.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


“Sarla?” Dralina knocked on the door of her foster daughter’s sleeping room. No one answered. “Sarla, are you in there? Are you ready to leave? The dragonrider will be here any minute. You don’t want to disappoint your father!” She knocked again. “Sarla! Answer me!” There was no response. Dralina sighed and opened the door. “Sarla – !” She blinked in surprise; there was no one in the room. She stood there a moment, thinking, and her eyes lit upon the empty glow rack above the bed. “Not again!”


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Sarla couldn’t think where she was. She opened her eyes to a dim, flickering light. Her head hurt. “Oh!” She sat upright. She was still in the back room; the light came from the glow, which had partially spilled onto the floor when she dropped it. She hurriedly began scooping it back into the basket, heedless of the bits that clung to her hands and spilled onto her tunic, when a noise behind her made her jump and spill it again. Annoyed, she turned around to berate whoever had startled her, then gasped in surprise.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. Are you all right?” The little boy looked anxiously up at her. “You were asleep for a long time.”

Sarla was staring at him. She had never seen this boy in her life, and she knew everyone in the Hold. “I – I’m all right, I think,” she said slowly. “I’m Sarla. Who are you?”

“My name is Tabiollo, but everyone calls me Tabby,” he said shyly. “I’m five. I’ve never seen you before. Are you here to visit?”

“No…” Sarla couldn’t stop staring. The boy’s clothes looked strange somehow… it was hard to see them in the dim light from the spilled glow. She started gathering up the spillage again, sneaking looks at him. “I’m nine, and I’ve lived here since I was three. I’ve never seen you either. Who is your mother?”

The boy’s face seemed to crumple up. “I don’t have a mother. She got sick, and then she went away.”

“Sudina?”

“Yes, Dralina?” The headwoman of Telgar Hold, Sudina was always busy, but she was easy to talk to. She turned around to face Dralina, who looked both irritated and worried.

“Sudina, I can’t find Sarla. I think she’s gone off into the back tunnels again; the glow was missing from her room.”
Sudina sighed. “Dralina, Tristio let the children out early today. She’s entitled to some free time. She always comes back in time to do her chores, doesn’t she?”

“Yes, but it’s been nearly two hours since anyone saw her. She’s supposed to go to the Weyr today to visit her father; she wouldn’t forget that!”

“She probably lost track of time back there… no one knows where she went?”

“No one saw her leave…” Dralina hesitated. “Sudina, could you send your fire lizards to look for her? She likes them…”

“Yes, she’s been a big help with them. Maybe they’ll be able to sense where she is.” Sudina concentrated for a moment, then looked up to see her fire lizards zip through the doorway. They knew to stay out of the kitchen unless invited. She held out her hands; bronze Tooli settled on her right shoulder, and blue Frinzie on her left forearm. They chirped inquiringly at her, and she smiled. “All right, fellows, I have a job for you!” They chittered excitedly, anticipating the treats she always gave them when they performed a task correctly. Sudina knew they were smarter than most of the people in the Hold were aware of. She pictured Sarla in her mind and heard the fire lizards acknowledge the image; they liked Sarla. She gave them treats too. “Find Sarla! Show me where she is!” They chittered at her and went between.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Sarla immediately felt more sympathetic. She had heard that one of the cotholds had had a lot of people die of fever recently. “It’s all right, Ta – Tabby,” she said comfortingly. “My mother died when I was a baby. My father is still alive, but he’s a dragonrider… he couldn’t take care of me so he sent me here. I don’t see him very much… Oh!”

“What’s wrong?” Tabby said in alarm. “What is it, Sarla?”

“Oh, I can’t believe I forgot… I was supposed to visit my father today! I must be late by now… I’ve got to go!” Sarla jumped to her feet, careful not to spill the glow for a third time.

“Oh! What’s that?” Tabby exclaimed as the two fire lizards flew in through the tunnel. They hovered around Sarla’s head, scolding, then noticed Tabby. Squeaking in surprise, they winked out of sight. “Oh!”

“They’re Sudina’s fire lizards… she must have sent them to find me. I’ve got to go, Tabby – you’d better come with me. You shouldn’t be back here all by yourself. You could get hurt in a rockslide or something…”

“I think I did.”

“What do you mean? Are you hurt?” Sarla raised the glow, trying to get a better look, but the light didn’t seem to help.

“No…” He seemed uncertain. “It was a long time ago.”

“Sarla!” They both jumped as they heard the voice calling down the tunnel.

“That’s my foster mother, Dralina. I need to go now. Come on, Tabby.” She turned to start the crawl back through the narrow tunnel, but couldn’t hear him following. She sighed in exasperation. “Are you coming or not?” She turned back around to glare at him and almost dropped the glow again. There was no one else in the room.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Sarla crawled out of the tunnel to find her foster mother towering over her.

“Sarla! Where have you been? Your father will be here any minute! It would serve you right if he leaves you here for making him wait. You should have been ready by now. What were you doing in there?”

“I was exploring, and I lost track of time!” Sarla said, trying to defend herself. “I’m sorry I’m late. I was talking to the new boy.”

“Come on! You need a bath with all that dust on you.” Dralina paused. “What new boy?”

“He said his name is Tabby. It’s short for something else… he’s only five, and he was out exploring!”

Dralina was still hustling Sarla along, but gave her a strange look. “Sarla, there haven’t been any new children in weeks. I never heard of one named Tabby. Was he at lessons today?”

“No… I never saw him before.” Sarla stumbled, moaning.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“My head hurts…”

Concerned, Dralina bent over to examine Sarla’s head. “Goodness! What did you do?”

“I hit my head on the ceiling of that tunnel. Tabby startled me.”

Dralina pressed her lips together. “Come on. I’ll put some numbweed on that bruise.” They had reached the living area. “You go take the fastest bath in your life while I get the numbweed. I’ve laid out some clean clothes for you. I’ll be back in five minutes.”

Five minutes later, Dralina was applying numbweed while Sarla struggled with the ties on the front of her new dress. “I hope Tabby’s all ri – ouch! all right,” Sarla said. “Oh! There must be another tunnel out through that room. He must have gone out that way.”

“Come on! You don’t keep a dragonrider waiting. Even if he is your father. Sarla, there aren’t any boys named Tabby. What did you say his name is?”

“I think he said it was Tabollo or something like that,” Sarla said, hurrying to keep up.

“Well, there isn’t anyone by that name here in the main hold. Just how hard did you hit your head?”

Sarla flushed. “I was asleep for a few minutes, but I didn’t dream him! He was there!”

“Sarla, no one was there. You’re just making things up because you forgot to get ready in time!”

“No, I – ”

“Quiet!” They had reached the door to the courtyard where M’rel and brown Graith were waiting; Sudina was offering him a mug of klah and laughing at something he had said. Tooli and Frinzie had curled up between Graith’s wings. “Now, mind your manners!” They walked across the courtyard.

“Sarla! There you are! Good day to you, Dralina,” M’rel said, bowing to his daughter’s foster mother.

“Good day, M’rel,” Dralina replied. “I’m so sorry we’ve kept you waiting – Sarla went off exploring in the tunnels again.”

“No harm done! Did you find anything down there?” he asked Sarla.

“No, but I met a new boy – ”

“Sarla, there isn’t a new boy!”

“But he was there! I saw him!”

“No one was there. I’m sorry, M’rel, but I don’t like her making up stories as an excuse for being late!”

“Are you sure she’s making it up?”

“I’m not! It’s true!”

“She must be making it up. She says she talked to a five-turn-old boy named Tabby, and there’s no one by that name living in the Hold. I just don’t understand why she keeps going on about it!”

Sarla was in tears. “But I’m not making it up! He was there! He talked to me! He said his mother is dead, and he’d never seen fire lizards before! Why won’t you believe me?”

She is telling the truth, Graith said to M’rel.
How do you know? M’rel was surprised that Graith was getting involved in the conversation; he would sometimes talk to Sarla but he didn’t like arguments.
The fire lizards were there. They show two people in the room.

“Dralina, hold up,” M’rel said. Dralina, who was still scolding Sarla, looked up in surprise. “What?”

“I think she may be telling the truth. Graith says the fire lizards saw two people in the back room – Sarla and someone they didn’t know.”

“Oh!” Sudina was surprised. “Is that what they were trying to tell me? I knew they were upset but I couldn’t figure out why.”

She is telling the truth, Graith said again, this time so that everyone could hear. Sarla ran over to him, wiping her eyes. “Oh, thank you, Graith! Thank you for believing me!” She threw her arms around as much of the dragon’s great neck as she could reach. M’rel smothered a chuckle; Graith never knew what to think when she did something like that.

You spoke the truth. Graith sounded surprised at the reaction he had caused. Dralina’s face was pale. “But that means – ”

“It means you have a frightened little boy hiding somewhere in the hold,” M’rel said pointedly.

“The poor thing!” exclaimed Sudina. “We’ll have to search the hold. Maybe my fire lizards can find him.”

“Oh, let me help!” Sarla said eagerly. “I know a lot of the old tunnels – ”

“No! Absolutely not,” Dralina said firmly. “You’ve had enough tunnels for one day, and you were late besides.”

“But I hit my head! It wasn’t my fault! And Tabby – ”

“Come on, Sarla,” M’rel said gently. “The harper will have a map of the tunnels. We were supposed to spend the day together, remember? I don’t know when I’ll be able to do this again.”

“All right,” Sarla said reluctantly. She climbed nimbly up Graith’s foreleg and waited for her father to join her. Grabbing the riding straps, she gasped with delight as the big brown launched into the air. “Where are we going?” she asked in eager anticipation.

“Well, I have a little surprise for you, Sarla. Count to three and here we go!”
Sarla caught her breath as they went between. She loved riding on Graith but she hated the freezing-cold nothingness that was between.
They emerged into a startling heat, over a white beach and sparkling blue-green water. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “It’s so beautiful! Where are we?”

M’rel chuckled. “We’re in the Southern Continent,” he called back as Graith circled to land. “I thought you’d like to go someplace warm for a change.”

No sooner had they landed than Sarla had scrambled down and was running towards the water’s edge. She picked up a shell and started to reach for one under the water, but then remembered that she was wearing her best dress. She trudged back to her father carrying the dry shell.

“What’s the matter, sweetheart?”

“I can’t go in the water in my good dress.”

M’rel grinned secretively. “Why don’t you see what’s in here while I go and
pick us some fruit?” He handed her the leather pack that had been fascened to the riding harness and strolled off down the beach. Sarla tore open the pack. Inside were several thick towels, a large flask of fresh water, and a simple linen shift that she could wear in the water! Looking to make sure her father was really out of sight, Sarla slipped out of the heavy dress and into the light shift. She even remembered to fold her dress neatly on top of her shoes before racing back down to the water. Loud splashing soon followed.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Both moons were rising as Graith landed gently in the dark courtyard of Telgar Hold.

“Come on, Sarla, time to get down.” Sarla woke up enough to slide down into her father’s arms.

“Well, pet, did you enjoy your day?” An afternoon of swimming had been followed by a big dinner at Telgar Weyr.

“Oh, yes!” She was awake now. “Will you really let me come to the next Hatching?” she asked, awed at the thought.

“I’ll make an extra trip just for you!” M’rel assured her. They walked together to the Hold door, where Sudina stood waiting. “Good night, Sarla.”

“Good night, Father.”

“Good night, M’rel.”

“Good night, Sudina. You’d better get her to bed – she all but fell asleep on a flying dragon!”

“I did not,” Sarla said sleepily. Sudina winked at M’rel.

“I’ll get her to bed, now you get off to yours!”

“Good night, Graith!” Sarla called after the dragon as he took off.

Good night, came the response as the pair went between.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sarla was finishing her morning meal the next day when she finally remembered Tabby. Ashamed at herself for having forgotten him, she went off at once to find Sudina. In her hurry she did not notice that several people were looking at her strangely.

She found the Headwoman in the back of the kitchen, already supervising the preparation of the midday meal. “Sudina?” Sarla said hesitantly. Sudina turned around, startled.

“Oh, Sarla! I didn’t see you come in.”

“Sudina, is the search over already? Did you find Tabby?”

Sudina’s expression changed to one of sad concern. “Yes, Sarla, the search is over,” she said slowly.

“Oh! Did you find him? Is he all right?” She broke off, wondering at the look on Sudina’s face.

“Go find Tristio,” Sudina said finally. “He can tell you better than I can. Go on now, I’m busy.”

Bewildered at the woman’s abrupt change of mood, Sarla wandered off in search of the hold Harper. She had begun to notice some of the strange looks she was receiving, and she was feeling increasingly uneasy.

She found the harper in his small office adjoining the Records room. His face was troubled as he regarded her.

“Harper Tristio?” she said hesitantly. “Sudina told me to talk to you… did you find Tabby?”

“Yes… I believe I have. Before I tell you about that, could you try to remember everything he told you about himself?”

“But why?” Sarla was confused. “If you’ve found him – ”

“I need to be certain I have the right boy, though,” he said patiently. “Everything you remember, please.”

Sarla concentrated. “He said he was five, and his name was Tabby, only that was short for something else – Tabollo, I think it was.” She paused a moment, remembering. “He said he didn’t have a mother – she got sick.” She frowned. “I think he said he’d been in a rock fall but he wasn’t hurt that I could see. Then I remembered that I was supposed to meet my father – M’rel – and I left. Tabby wouldn’t come with me but when I looked back he wasn’t in the room. I don’t remember there being another tunnel but there must have been.” She looked up at the harper. “That’s all I remember. Is that enough?”

“Yes, Sarla, it’s enough,” Tristio said so soberly that she stared at him.

“What’s the matter? Is Tabby all right?”

“Let me explain, Sarla.” Tristio took a deep breath. “Yesterday Sudina came and told me there was a search going on in the Hold, that they were looking for a little boy named Tabby that you had seen back in the tunnels. She wanted me to look through the Records to see if I could find a map of those back tunnels. I also found a Record that described a series of rock falls after an earth shake about eighty Turns ago; everyone was moved out and that section of tunnels was abandoned, because many people were injured – and several people were killed.” He leaned forward and took a Record from the table between them. “Sarla, would you read the names of the people who were killed in those rock falls?”

She reached out and took the faded hide, wondering. Skimming down past the description of the fallen tunnels, she began to read the list of names. “Pantira, age seventy-three; Nirella, age thirty-nine; Allore, age fourteen; Tabiollo, age – five – ” She stared at the words. “Tabiollo… that’s what he said his name was, Tabiollo. But not the same one – ”

“I believe it is the same one, Sarla,” Tristio said gently. “The entire Hold was searched. Sudina’s fire lizards flew through the smallest of tunnels – and they can see very well in the dark. They found no one.”

“But he was there! He talked to me!”

“Yes, but no one else has seen him. There is no explanation for that, and the fact remains: you met a boy named Tabiollo who is five and was in a rock fall. Eighty Turns ago a five-Turn-old boy named Tabiollo was in a rock fall.”

“But I don’t understand!” Sarla was almost in tears. “He couldn’t be there unless he was alive, could he?”

“I don’t know.” Tristio sighed. “We don’t know what happens when a person dies. Their personality, their feelings – everything that made them a person – leaves, but we don’t know where. Maybe it goes between, like the dragons do – ”

“Oh, no, not between!” Sarla interrupted. “It’s so cold and empty!”

“Well, wherever they go, it is logical to believe that they do go somewhere. Maybe Tabiollo got lost down there in the tunnels. I don’t know. I do know that there is no living boy in this Hold who fits your description – and a long-dead one who does.”

Sarla stared at him, unable to speak. How could he say such things? Surely Tabby – but it was not just the harper’s word, but a Record written before she was born. She knew they couldn’t both be wrong, but she could not understand how they could be right. She placed the Record carefully back on the table and asked, “May I go now?”

“Yes, that was all.”

Tristio watched as she left the room, moving as if in a dream; he knew she must be in shock. He was in some shock as well, but managed to keep the look off of his face that had been on the faces of those in the Dining Hall that morning.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Tristio was busy copying some faded music scores when Dralina knocked on his open door.

“Tristio, do you know where Sarla went? No one’s seen her since the childrens’ lessons this morning.” She hesitated. “You talked to her about – yesterday?”

His face looked tired. “Yes, I explained it to her – what little I understand. She went off looking so lost.” He sighed. “I could hear the children jeering at her as she left, but she ran off before I could stop them. Children always seem to want to persecute what they don’t understand – and this is something that none of us understands.”

Dralina echoed his sigh. “Well, she’s been hiding for hours now! I should have expected that the other children would be making fun of her after all the fuss yesterday. It’s not just the children who are acting up, either.”

Tristio stood up and began pacing with frustration. “If only I had found that Record before the entire Hold was turned out to search!”

“Well, we had a dragon’s word that there was a boy,” Dralina pointed out ironically. “We just assumed the boy was alive.”

“But he wasn’t, and everyone in the main Hold knows about it now.”

“What am I going to do with her? She barely showed herself before; she’ll be hiding all the time now.”

“I agree. It will be a long time before this is forgotten, and Sarla is a very sensitive child. She has a hard time with any kind of teasing, and as you said, it’s not just the children looking at her strangely… Dralina, have you considered sending her to the Weyr?”

Dralina caught her breath. “You think that’s the only way?”

“It may come to that,” Tristio said earnestly. “You said yourself she’s been reduced to hiding all the time – no child deserves that.
“I think she’d do well at the Weyr. The women in the Lower Caverns are always willing to take in another child, as long as they’re well-behaved, and Sarla is.”

“She’s very good about doing her chores, but then she runs off…”

“She’s old enough she wouldn’t be too much trouble, and it would be a fresh start. No one would know about – all that’s happened – except M’rel. And having a father in the Weyr would be reason enough for us to send her there, now that she’s a little older.”

Dralina looked stricken. “I hate to do that… Saranda, Sarla’s mother, was like a sister to me. I promised her I’d always take care of her… Can’t it wait? Can’t we wait a few days, and see?”

“Of course,” Tristio said gently, "but you must consider what is best for Sarla.
“I will send a message for the Weyr harper to pass on to Nurevi, the Headwoman; she’ll know who might want a fosterling and she’s very discreet. It will be at least a sevenday before I get a reply, and maybe things will have gotten better by then.” They were both silent for a moment, aware that he didn’t believe that.

“I suppose you’re right,” Dralina said at last.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Sarla stumbled down the familiar tunnel, heedless of the rough walls. She shook angry tears from her eyes; she wasn’t going to cry. She was going to run away; she was going to join a trader caravan or go live in the Igen Caverns, or take a boat down to the Southern Continent and live in a jungle so thick that not even Graith could find her. She was…

She was in a tunnel she didn’t recognize.

She raised the glow, looking all around, and tried to remember which tunnel she had taken at the main fork. She must have gone past the one with the rock fall, and run down the next one. She retraced her steps until she could see the fork again, then continued more cautiously down the tunnel. It curved gradually to the right, then straightened out again. Sarla felt a slight breeze on her face before the small pool of light from the glow revealed that the tunnel opened out into a larger passageway. She hesitated, then turned left, toward the source of the fresh air.

Sarla walked along the passage, ignoring the tunnels that branched out from either side. Suddenly she was aware that it was no longer completely dark. She walked faster, and turned a corner to see another rock fall. The side wall had collapsed across the tunnel floor, leaving a gaping hole through which a few rays of fading sunlight were shining. Sarla went over to the side of the tunnel furthest away from the rock fall, hoping that she would be able to get past this one.

“Sara?”

Startled, she whirled around before she recognized the voice. Her face went pale. “Tabby.”

“I hoped you would come back,” he said shyly. “It’s so lonely back here.”
Sarla continued to stare at him. As he made his way toward her, one of the rays of sunlight fell across his shoulder; she gasped silently as she realized that she could see through his arm to the boulder behind him. There was no doubt now that what Tristio had suggested was true: Tabby was the boy who had been killed in the rock fall eighty Turns before, but he was still there in the tunnel.

“Tabby,” she said hesitatingly, “why - why are you still back here?”

He looked surprised. “Where else would I go?”

She tried to think of what to ask him. “You said, when I was here before, that you had been in a rock fall. Do – do you remember that?”

He nodded. “It was a long time ago,” he said solemnly. “It was really loud. I was late getting out of bed, and then I was running down the hall to get to breakfast on time, and then it was really loud and the rocks fell down.” He started crying. “They were all over me, and I hurt all over, and then I couldn’t breathe, and I heard people yelling, and then all of a sudden it didn’t hurt anymore.”

“Oh, don’t cry!” Forgetting her uneasiness, Sarla went over to him and sat down next to him.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” he sobbed.

“It’s all right, I’m sorry I made you cry. Please don’t cry, Tabby!”

“No, no, it’s not you, it, it, it was Relly, I made Relly get hurt!”

“Who’s Relly?” she asked, startled.

“Relly was my mother after Mama died, but she was already at breakfast, and she came back to get me, and then the rocks all fell!” He burst into tears all over again.

“Relly, Relly,” Sarla muttered, trying to remember the names Tristio had shown her. “Oh! Was Relly’s name Nirella?”

“She let me call her Relly!” Tabby sobbed. “She didn’t let anyone else call her Relly. She said I was special. And I made her get hurt!”

Sarla realized that Tabby seemed to think that he had been responsible for the rock fall. “But it wasn’t your fault, Tabby,” she said gently. “It wasn’t your fault the rocks fell down.”

Tabby just shook his head and kept crying. Sarla suddenly thought of something else. “Tabby, is – is Nirella here too? Has she been here since the rocks fell?”

He sniffed and shook his head. “Relly left, and so did Auntie Tiri and ’Llore. But I didn’t know where to go, and Relly always said not to go anywhere I didn’t know without her. But she left.”

Last edited by Cheryl; Feb 17 2006 at 05:31 PM. Reason: edited to add feedback link
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