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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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Old Feb 17 2006, 02:13 PM   #2
Brenda
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Default Re: Ghost in the Tunnels (Pern Fanfic)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


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.

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Old Feb 18 2006, 05:23 PM   #3
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The light was almost gone from the sky by the time Sarla reached the bottom of the boulder field, and she was very tired. She could see light coming from all the windows and the big main doors of the Hold, and began making her way toward them. She hoped no one had been hurt in the earth shake. She clung to the wooden dragon Tabby had given her; no one could tell her he wasn’t real now. She was so tired… she blinked in surprise as a dragon landed by the main doors – Graith! She began to run, her weariness forgotten in the relief of getting home.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dralina was sick with worry. No one had seen Sarla all day, and then the earth shake had caused a rockfall in the very tunnel she had been exploring when she saw… whatever it was that she saw. Several men had begun shifting the rocks, but it appeared that the entire tunnel had collapsed. Dralina had sent Sudina’s fire lizard to the Weyr to inform M’rel; she now waited outside for him to arrive, her face haggard. She could just make out Graith’s dark form circling to land.

M’rel was off of his dragon before his wings were furled. “What’s happened?” M’rel demanded. His face was anxious; Graith’s eyes whirled yellow. “Where is she? Is she all right?”

“There was a rock fall in the tunnel she keeps exploring,” Dralina said, her voice trembling. She would have wept, but her eyes were sore from weeping. “We don’t know that she was in there, but no one’s seen her since this morning, and we haven’t found her yet.” M’rel sagged, leaning back against Graith, his face twisted in anguish and fear for his daughter. Suddenly Graith rumbled in surprise, turning his head to stare along the outer wall of the Hold.

“What is it, Graith?” The faceted eyes were whirling faster than ever. She is coming, he said, sounding surprised. M’rel turned to follow the dragon’s gaze, straining to see through the dusk. “What? Who? Who’s coming?”

Sarla is coming!

“Sarla?!” M’rel gasped. Dralina gasped at him. “Sarla?! SARLA!”

“DRALINA! FATHER!” Now they could see the small figure running toward them. M’rel ran to meet Sarla, scooping her up; Dralina caught up with him and hugged her, laughing and crying and scolding all at once.

“Sarla, where have you been? What are you doing out here? I’ve been so worried about you – there was a rockfall in that tunnel you keep going down – ”

“I know, I know!” Sarla interrupted, still gasping for breath. “The tunnel collapsed and I had to go out through the hole in the wall!”

“What hole? What hole?”

“There was a place where the outside wall was fallen. I think it was from that rockfall that other time… you know…” She hurried on in her excitement. “I had to climb down all the boulders! And then walk all the way back here around the outside!”

“You’ll have to show us sometime,” M’rel said, laughing. “I’m just so glad you’re all right! You really had us scared!”

“Gracious, yes!” exclaimed Dralina. “Sarla, you had me scared to death! Oh, I’m so angry with you – but oh, you’re all right!”

Sarla squirmed out of her father’s grasp and threw her arms around Dralina. “I’m so sorry I scared you! But I was scared myself, too!”

Dralina began hurrying her toward the entrance. “Oh, never mind me, let’s get you inside and get you something to eat! Oof, what’s that you’re digging into me?” Sarla held out the dragon as they reached the light. Dralina stopped to get a better look. “Where in the world did you get this?”

Sarla didn’t know what to say. Dralina stared at her, then pulled her into the kitchen and sat her down in front of the fire. “I’ll just be a moment, Sarla… here, have some klah while I go get the stew.” Sarla obediently began sipping the klah… she suddenly felt very sleepy. Dralina returned with the stew, then left to make sure everyone knew that Sarla had been found. Sudina found her with her head down on the table, fast asleep, clinging tightly to a carved wooden dragon.
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Old Mar 24 2006, 04:42 PM   #4
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Sarla awoke slowly, realizing that she had been allowed to sleep in for the second time in less than a sevenday. She was stiff all over. Stretching out in bed, she bumped something hard. Startled, she sat up, searching under the furs to see what it was. Her hand found the wooden dragon, and she gasped, suddenly awake, as she remembered the events of the day before. Tabby was gone – no one else had ever even seen him – but he had found Nirella, he wasn’t lonely or scared anymore. And he had given her, Sarla, his greatest treasure – his mother’s carved dragon. Sarla felt like crying. No one would ever believe what had happened.

She got up and slowly got dressed. She was going to have to face everyone again. Maybe the other children would already be at their lessons and wouldn’t bother her until after she got something to eat. She walked down the hall, still carrying the wooden dragon; she was half afraid it, too, would disappear. No one was in the Dining Hall, so she got herself some klah and bread from the hearth. She wondered how late it was; she could hear the women in the kitchens.

“Sarla! You’re up!”

She jumped, nearly spilling her klah, and turned around. Sudina had looked out of the kitchen and seen her. She stood up as the Headwoman bustled over.

“You’ve had a good sleep! I’m so glad you weren’t hurt in that shake yesterday! Where in the world did you get that?” She had spotted the wooden dragon on the table. “You were holding it so tight we couldn’t get you to let go last night, even after you fell asleep! Did you find it back in those old tunnels?”

Put on the spot, Sarla wasn’t sure whether to tell the truth or make something up, but Sudina’s words helped her. “Yes, I – I found it,” she said hastily. She hoped Sudina wouldn’t be able to tell she was fibbing. After all, she had found it – in the chest that Tabby told her to open. She shivered and drank some more klah. “Where is everyone?”

Sudina laughed. “Don’t you remember, this is a restday! And there’s no Threadfall, so everyone’s outside enjoying the sun. Why don’t you go tell Dralina that you’re up so she knows you’re all right? You really had everyone worried yesterday, with those rockfalls in the tunnels you’re always running off to. How in the world did you end up outside the Hold?”

Sarla quickly explained. “There was a place where the rocks had already fallen and the wall was gone. I was able to climb out that way when the roof fell in.” She shivered again, remembering how scared she had been.

“Well, thank goodness you got out safely! Go on now, I think Dralina took her mending outside.” She gave Sarla a little push toward the main doors and bustled back to the kitchen to tend to the roasts.

Sarla walked slowly through the doors and out into the bright sunshine. It was late in the morning; the shadows were getting short. Dralina was sitting just outside, smiling at the antics of some of the boys playing further out. Some of the other women had brought their handwork outside as well. She walked over to Dralina, quickening her step as her foster mother looked up and saw her coming. Dralina smiled. “Good morning, sleepyhead!” she teased. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m all right. I feel fine,” Sarla said. “Just stiff from climbing down those rocks, I guess...”

Dralina stood and took her hand. “You’ve got some scratches here, too... What’s that?” She grabbed Sarla’s other hand, which held the dragon. “Oh, that! Where in the world did you get that, anyway?”

“I - I found it,” Sarla said uncomfortably, avoiding her foster mother’s eyes. Dralina gave her a sharp look.

“Why don’t we go walk for a bit, Sarla?” Sarla nodded yes. Dralina set her workbasket on her chair, out of the dust, and they walked off together. Once they were out of earshot of anyone, Dralina began to speak, not looking at her. “Are you telling the truth, Sarla?” she asked sternly.

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t pretend. Did you really just find a valuable carving like that in the back tunnels? Tell me the truth, now.”

“I, I did find it. Sort of.”

“Sarla!” Dralina’s voice held a warning.

“You’re not going to believe me.”

Dralina stopped walking and turned to her foster daughter. “Tell me, Sarla.”

Sarla took a deep breath and obeyed. “I was in the back tunnels and Tabby was there - ” Dralina inhaled sharply but said nothing. “He showed me where his room was, before – before the other rockfall. He let me open the chest, and the dragon was inside. He said I could have it!” she said defensively. “Then the ground started shaking, and the rocks were falling, and Tabby was crying, and then suddenly Nirella was there – his foster mother from, from before. And she said I could have the dragon too. And then I went out through the hole in the wall, and when I looked back they were gone.” She started to cry. She had only known Tabby a little, but she missed him already. She was glad that he had found someone, but now he was gone. She had been a part of something special, and it was gone.

Dralina started walking again, stunned at what she had just heard. How to deal with this? It was hard enough dealing with the usual childish troubles, but a ghost? “Well,” she said slowly, “I suppose you can keep the dragon, then.”

Sarla gave a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Dralina... look, doesn’t it look just like Graith?”

Dralina glanced down and forced a smile. “Why, yes, it does.” She sobered up again. “Sarla, after what happened the other day, with the search, and now this – ”

“Oh, please don’t tell anyone!” Sarla pleaded in sudden fright. “It’s bad enough already, I don’t want them to know any more!”

“I won’t tell anyone, I promise,” Dralina assured her. “But I do think you should tell Tristio. He’ll keep quiet about it. I think he deserves to know.”

“All right,” Sarla said, reluctant to tell even the harper what had really happened.

“Let’s go now, Sarla,” Dralina said gently. “It won’t be any easier if you wait, and there’s no one in Tristio’s office right now.” Sarla wanted to protest but couldn’t speak. She allowed Dralina to lead her back to the Hold, and was surprised at how far they had walked.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


An hour later, Tristio and Dralina were trying not to stare too hard as Sarla finished her strange tale. She had told of her first meeting with Tabby, as well as her adventures the day before. Tristio was the first to speak.

“Well,” he began slowly, “it sounds like Tabby, or whatever was left of Tabby, has found his way home.”

“Yes,” Sarla said sadly, “Relly – Nirella came and helped him. He was just doing what she had told him – she had always said not to go anywhere without her, so he just – stayed, I guess.” She shivered again at the thought of being alone in the tunnels for so long, lost and confused, and tried not to wonder what it was like being dead. “Please don’t tell anyone, Tristio – it’ll only make things worse.” She didn’t want people making fun of Tabby. It wasn’t funny.

“Oh, I won’t tell anyone, Sarla,” he said, “but would you mind if I wrote about it to the Masterharper? I would change the names, but it’s such an amazing story, I hate to let it go.”

She thought about that for a moment, then nodded. “All right. Just don’t tell anyone here.”

“About that... Dralina, have you thought about my suggestion yesterday?” he asked gently.

Sarla turned to her foster mother in surprise. What was going on? Dralina cleared her throat. “Sarla,” she said, “how would you feel about going to live in the Weyr?”

Sarla’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “But – you mean – are we moving to the Weyr? When? How?”

“No,” Dralina interrupted. “I would stay here, and you would have a new foster mother at the Weyr. You could see your father every day, and no one would know about – Tabby...” She looked intently at Sarla. “Would you like that?”

Sarla was stunned. Leave the Hold? All of her favorite places rushed through her head – and then she remembered how awful it had been waiting for Tristio to come in for lessons the day before. A few of the children had acted as though they were afraid of her, but most of them had taunted her, bringing her to tears. She had never been very friendly with any of them anyway, and now... She saw that Dralina was holding back tears, and she started to cry herself. “But I’d miss you,” she sobbed. “Why couldn’t you come too?”

Dralina was shaking her head. “My place is heere, Sarla,” she said understandingly. “But you could start over at the Weyr, make new friends. Maybe you could even stand for Impression someday... I really think it’s the best thing for you.” She took a deep breath and grasped Sarla’s hands. “I will let you choose whichever place you want, the Weyr or here. You can always come visit me.” She tried to smile encouragingly.

“Well, Sarla?” Tristio asked gently. “You don’t have to decide now, if you’re not ready. We just wanted you to know, you can leave here if things get too hard for you.” He patted her shoulder. “It’s always hard being different, and what you’ve seen means that the people here are always going to see you as different. That’s why you should consider a new start.”

Sarla’s head was spinning. She didn’t know what to say. “I...” she began, and faltered. “I don’t know.”

“Take your time,” Dralina said. She got up, walked to the door, and opened it; they could all hear people streaming into the Dining Hall. “It’s time for midday meal. You can think about it and let us know what you decide.” She smiled tenderly at Sarla. “I just want you to be happy.” They walked out together and walked toward the serving table.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Sarla sat huddled in one of her favorite tunnels – far away from the rockfall – wondering what to do. She couldn’t imagine living anywhere else; she knew the old tunnels better than anyone. And to leave Dralina... Dralina was stern, but she was like a mother to Sarla, and had been for as long as she could remember. Sarla sighed, wishing she had known her mother, Saranda. She knew that she had gone to work in the Weyr and had fallen in love with M’rel, but after Sarla was born had gotten homesick, and finally moved back to Telgar Hold. M’rel had been equally in love with her, for he had continued to visit her and their daughter. Then Saranda had gotten sick; as she grew weaker, she begged Dralina, who was like a sister to her, to take care of her little girl... and then she had died. Sarla sighed again, almost a sob; Dralina always cried when she told the story to her, and Sarla always made her smile again by hugging her and saying, “And you did take care of me!”

She had not thought about her mother for a long time, she realized, stroking Tabby’s dragon. Oh, if only she could have it both ways – live at the Weyr, and be able to see Dralina every day as well! Her foster mother’s comment about standing for Impression came into her mind, and she began to daydream about Impressing a queen. She wondered how old you had to be to stand for a gold egg, and sighed again at the thought that it would probably be Turns and Turns.

M’rel had taken her to the Weyr several times – never to a Hatching, but once she had been there soon after a Hatching, when the new dragons were still growing. She had watched them playing on the lake shore, with children helping to bathe them. It was pleasant at the Weyr; everyone was nice, especially the Headwoman. What was her name? Nuri... Nurevi, that was it. Nurevi always made Sarla feel special. Nurevi would choose a good foster mother for her... and she would see her father every day... and know one would know about Tabby... she clutched the wooden dragon and began making her way back to the main caverns.

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Old Mar 24 2006, 11:56 PM   #5
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M’rel finished tying Sarla’s bags of belongings to Graith’s back. The wooden dragon was carefully wrapped, buried in the middle of her clothes. He jumped back to the ground and walked over to where Sarla was hugging Dralina as if she would never let go. “Whenever you’re ready, sweetheart,” he said gently, patting her shoulder. Sarla clung to Dralina for another moment, then let go and turned to hug Sudina. Tristio was next; she didn’t hug him, but he put his hand on her shoulder. “Thank you for believing me,” she whispered. He smiled down at her and said, “Good luck, Sarla.” She returned his smile and began walking toward Graith, then suddenly turned around and ran back to Dralina, wrapping her arms around her.

“I love you, Dralina,” she cried, bursting into tears. “Thank you for being my mother.”

Dralina was weeping, too. Dropping to her knees, she hugged Sarla hard and said, “You be good. Be happy. Make me proud.”

“I will, I will!”

“Come back and visit me!”

“I will!”

“I should be able to get you up to the Weyr for the Hatching, Dralina,” M’rel said. Sarla’s face lit up.

“Oh, that would be wonderful! You can come to the Hatching, Dralina!”

Dralina stood up again and managed to smile. “I’d be honored, M’rel. Thank you... well, thank you for being such a good father to her.” She gave Sarla one more hug. “Goodbye now, darling. You should go, it’s getting late.”

“All right... Goodbye, Dralina. Goodbye, Sudina, goodbye Tristio!”

“Goodbye!” “Good luck!”

M’rel put his arm around his daughter and walked with her over to Graith. Sarla scrambled up the dragon’s leg; M’rel stepped quickly up, and strapped them both into the harness. With a whoosh and a shriek of delight from Sarla, the big brown was airborne. He circled the Hold, spiraling up to gain height, and giving her one last look; she waved at the three down below, and then they were between.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


They emerged over Telgar Weyr. Sarla could see several dragons in the lake, and many more sunning on ledges. Graith landed in the Bowl, near the entrance to the Kitchen cavern, where Nurevi was waiting. She was smiling as M’rel untied Sarla’s bags and helped her down; he gave her a little push toward the Headwoman. “Well, here she is, Nurevi!” he said, beaming down at Sarla. Suddenly shy, Sarla couldn’t speak.

“Welcome to the Weyr, Sarla! I hope you’ll be happy here,” Nurevi said. She was so pleasant and comfortable that Sarla felt easier almost at once. “Come on then,” the Headwoman continued, “right through here. I’ve got someone waiting to meet you.” They made their way into the cavern, where a woman was sitting by the hearth. “Here she is! This is Sarla. Sarla, this is Faldera,” Nurevi said. “She’s going to be your foster mother here.”

Faldera was smiling as Sarla came up to her, and she smiled tentatively too. “Hello, Sarla,” Faldera said. “I’m so glad you’ve come. I always wanted a daughter.”

“Hello,” Sarla said softly.

“Hey, Faldera, where should I put these?” M’rel hefted the two bags. “Or do you want to take them?”

“Well, let’s see,” Faldera said. “Sarla, do you think you can carry those?”

“Yes,” Sarla said a little louder, almost indignantly. “I carried them all the way outside before!”

“Well then, you can carry them to your room and start putting your things away. Maltia!” A girl about Sarla’s age ran over.

“Yes, Faldera?”

“Can you show Sarla where her room is? I need to talk to M’rel for a moment.”

“All right.”

“Go on then, Sarla. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Sarla followed Maltia into a side passage. “You’re room is right next to mine,” the other girl said brightly. “We can go to meals together, if you like.”

“I’d like that!” Sarla said happily. Maltia had slowed down a little so that she could keep up with the bags; they weren’t too heavy, but they were awkward to carry.

“Here, let me take one those,” Maltia said. Sarla willingly handed the smaller one over. Maltia looked at her curiously, and lowered her voice. “Is it true that you got caught in a rock fall during the earth shake?” she asked in awe.

Sarla looked at her in surprise. “Yes,” she said warily. “How did you know?”

“Oh, I was there in the Dining Cavern when the fire lizard came with the message for M’rel. The poor thing was half-crazy – it took forever for it to calm down enough to get the capsule off! I was close enough to hear M’rel say that his daughter was missing and may have been caught in a rock fall, and then he rushed out of the Hall. He didn’t come back until after I was in bed.” She paused and looked at Sarla. “What happened? What was it like?”

Sarla told her about the rock fall and her climb down the boulder field. Maltia’s eyes grew wide when she described the tunnel ceiling falling down. “Oh my goodness!” she gasped. “I’m glad you weren’t in that part of the tunnel!”

“So am I!” Sarla said, shivering at the memory of the rocks crashing down.

“Why were you back there, anyway?” Maltia asked curiously.

“Well...” Sarla wasn’t sure how much to tell her new friend. “I was exploring. I like exploring in the old tunnels, the ones in the back of the Hold, that no one uses. It’s so exciting – you never know what you’ll find – ”

“And there’s something new around every corner!”

Sarla stopped short and stared at Maltia, who gave her a conspiratorial grin. “Come on, let’s drop your things off and then I’ll show you some of my favorite tunnels. I’m always exploring them. Just you wait – there’s a tiny little passage that goes around behind the Hatching Ground...”

Sarla couldn’t contain herself and laughed joyfully. Everything would be all right. She had a new foster mother, and a new friend – and there were tunnels to explore!






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