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Old Feb 17 2006, 02:13 PM   #2
Brenda
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Location: St. Louis

Default Re: Ghost in the Tunnels (Pern Fanfic)

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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 afternoon 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.”

Sarla didn’t know what to say. She looked around; under a thick layer of dust she could see the rotted remains of rushes in a small bed frame, with a chest at the foot. “Is this your room?”

Tabby looked around and sniffled. “Yes, that’s my bed and my box… Relly’s room was through there, but it’s under the rocks now.” He walked over to the bed. Sarla followed, still looking at the chest. It had the name TABIOLLO carved on the lid. “What’s in here?” she asked.

“My treasures,” he answered shyly. “Do you want to see them?”

“I’d like that…” Sarla hesitated, wondering if Tabby could open the box, then reached down and lifted the lid herself. The contents, only slightly less dusty than the lid, looked like the things she kept in her own little box: a stuffed doll… two thirty-second marks… some shiny pebbles… a piece of hide with the alphabet written on it, and charcoal marks where it had been copied and rubbed off numerous times. Sarla gingerly lifted this and gasped with delight at what lay underneath. She carefully picked up the carved wooden dragon and moved so that the ray of sunlight fell upon it. It was a perfect dragon in flight, with only one cracked wingtip. “It’s beautiful, Tabby! Where did you get it?”

“It was my Mama’s,” he said, beaming. “Her father was a dragonrider!”

“My father is a dragonrider, too!” Sarla suddenly felt a kinship with Tabby. She continued running her fingers over the smooth wood.

They sat in silence for several minutes. Sarla was wondering how Tabby’s mother had felt living in the Hold without a father. She was jolted out of her thoughts by a distant rumbling, and then the floor shook. An earth shake! She jumped up, wildly looking around for the entrance. A chunk of rock bigger than her head fell from the ceiling and smashed right in the tunnel’s entrance. Sarla ran for the collapsed side wall, as the entrance to the tunnel fell in. Tabby was right behind her. “Sara!” he cried, sounding even more scared than she was. “Sara, it’s happening again!”

Sarla stood by the hole in the wall, gasping for breath. The shaking had stopped, but smaller pieces of rock were still falling from the ceiling. Tabby was sobbing in terror. “I want Relly!” he wailed. “Relly, where are you?”

“It’s all right, it’s all right! I’m here, I’m here.” Tabby’s head shot up, and his face was suffused with joy. Sarla jumped as a strange woman stepped from the shadows and came toward them, but Tabby leaped to his feet and ran to her, throwing his arms around her legs. “Relly, Relly, you came back Relly! I was scared, I was scared! Why didn’t you come before? I missed you!”

“Shh, shhh, it’s all right, Tabby,” the woman said, bending down to pick him up. He threw his arms around her neck and clung tightly. “Easy, now, don’t squeeze so hard! I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner. I don’t know why… it didn’t seem like any time had passed, but then I heard you scream… I’m so sorry I didn’t get to you in time!” Her gentle voice was shaking. “I was coming back for you, Tabby, truly I was!”

Tabby burst into tears again. “Relly, Relly, I’m so sorry, it was all my fault!”

She was quick to comfort him. “No, no, love, it was no one’s fault. No one could have predicted there would be a shake, or that the roof of this tunnel would fall in… none of us had time to run.” She appeared to notice Sarla for the first time. “Who is your friend, Tabby?” She sounded startled.

“That’s Sara - ” “Sarla,” she interrupted. He made a face at he and went on. “She was exploring and found my room. Can I give her my dragon?”

“Of course,” Nirella said slowly. “You can’t keep it anyway… would you like that, dear?” she asked Sarla. Sarla nodded, wide-eyed.

“Relly, where were you?” Tabby asked plaintively. “I waited for you, you said not to go anywhere by myself, and then you left. Am I going with you now?”

“Yes, button, we’re going now… you’ve been so good waiting for me. Sarla, will you be able to get out of here?”

Sarla looked back at where she had come in. The entrance was entirely blocked. She walked to the edge of the opening in the wall and looked out onto a hillside. It was steep, but covered with boulders she could step to. “Yes,” she said hesitantly, “I think I can get out this way…”

“You’d best go soon, then, before the light fades,” Nirella said gently. “Tabby, say goodbye.”

Tabby turned toward Sarla without releasing his tight hold on his foster mother. “Goodbye, Sar-la,” he said solemnly, his eyes filled with joy and fear.

“Goodbye, Tabby,” she said. “Thank you for the dragon… I’m so glad you won’t be alone now.” He beamed up at Nirella, who smiled serenely back at him, then at Sarla. “Go on now, dear.”

Sarla reluctantly turned and began making her way over the rocks, clutching the wooden dragon firmly in her hand. She had dropped the glow when the shaking began; Dralina would spank her for losing it, but she didn’t care. She stopped to catch her breath and turned back to wave at her friend, but Tabby and Nirella had vanished.

Last edited by Brenda; Feb 18 2006 at 04:18 PM.
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