Friday, January 14, 2011

417 - Run Ili Run

The drains the boys were in were ancient and lined with brick as opposed to the modern ones built of pour-stone.  No maintenance had been done for dozens, perhaps hundreds of years and the thick strands of fungus growing like stalactites from the ceiling actually gave some dim illumination to supplement the boy’s glowing marbles.  Patches of creeping reddish light and green or dim blue oozed away from them, leaving slow dark tracks on the brick.
Nuninibas stopped and said “Look.  I think this is where we went wrong… it looks like it goes up but doesn’t really it just loops through those ways that get too narrow for us.”
“Okay.  So we go down to go up you think?”  Ili was trying to be brave but it was hard.  Jia was cheeping now… and it wasn’t a happy cheep.  Nuninibas let Flapper go and the lizard soared over to the brick arching over head, hissing at a red glowing patch.  He’d already tried to eat one and gotten a face full of a cloud that made him sneeze.
“Let’s try it… see you can see how many times we went… that slime’s all been worn away… that way… only has a little… maybe frome when we came down?”
“All right.”
Ili couldn’t help it… he put his hand out and grabbed Nuni’s shirt.  “I just need to hang on, all right?”
“Sure, Ili.”  Nuninibas wasn’t hiding how much it helped him, too.  He reached back and when the ledge of the drain dipped and narrowed to where they had to walk single file, they turned sideways and though they didn’t hold hands, they clung to each other’s sleeves in the light of their marbles.
“Hey,” Nuninibas’s voice was lighter suddenly.  “I think I recognize this!”
“Yeah, see? That’s where Jia and Flapper pulled apart that really big spider.”  Its body had been the size of Ili’s one hand and he swallowed hard.  “Yeah… oh here!”
The brick gave way to stone and began to rise.  Jia was cheeping loudly now and in the distance a rumble and a groan and the still air all around them began to move, thicken and push away from them in the direction they were going, a wet, stinking wind from further below.
“Oh, oh.”  Nuni whispered, then his shout echoed, deafening off the closed brick… “The washing!  RUN!  RUN ILI, RUN!”


The supposed rabbit hole was opened up and the grass peeled back.  Inside, the ancient old bags full of sand they had used to cover the small building were half gone.  Apparently the contractor had cheated the Lirens when he had originally buried the building.
The sod had been pulled open… then cut and folded back when the searchers had arrived to my shout, when I’d seen there was a partly blocked up door buried in the hill.  I was covered in dirt, and so was Gannara.  Kyriala had originally sat back but at some point she had gotten in there with the rest of us.  All of our clothes were completely caked in mud and the fine silks ruined. Roar was digging wildly now that he had been given permission and living up to his name. 

Sera Liren sat on a chair on the ruined lawn, her hands clamped so hard around her fan that she'd broken it.  Her eyes were fixed on this and us, but she was not having hysterics or getting in the way... Her only surviving boy was down in this hole somewhere.
The door behind the dirt and then what sandbags had been left, had been bricked in and the top five or six rows of brick had fallen though into the building, either as the mortar had rotted or it had been pushed in. My heart was pounding.  We’d found a button off Nuninibas’s shirt stuck in the edge of that hole so we were fairly sure we’d found where the boys had disappeared to.
All the lights were here now, making the wreckage of the hill under the folly as stark as an earthquake zone, dirt spread almost to the terrace.  I was vibrating with impatience to get in there, but the Sereniteers were checking to see if the air was safe, inside, to see that the building itself was structurally sound so that if it wasn’t… they wouldn’t lose anyone else.
I wanted to shake them and scream… but my little brother is in there already!  I knotted my fingers together and waited.  With a crash that muffled the sound of the washing bell, that signaled the washing of the street, they pushed in the last of the rotten brick and Roar tore his collar out of the watching butler’s hand. 
He went charging into the opening, knocking one Sereniteer on the rubble pile over completely… his barking echoed and boomed weirdly as he vanished into the darkness.
I was third inside, with my mirrored kraumak in hand, others had alcohol lamps behind me. Ky… she was at my elbow as was Gannara on my other side.  “ILIIIIIII!”  “NUNINIBAAAAASSSSS!” Our syllables hissed and shouted at us, distorting and mixing with the roars of the dog… I couldn’t hear anything like an answer.
We stood in the middle of an ancient Arkan bath house, surrounded by statues of men… and rampant bulls and saytrs… the pools were apparently filled by these male fountains.  The paintings were mildewed and completely dark save for a flash of eye here or purplish penis head there.  The statues had gray/green piles of mold in their eyes and nostrils and clusters and clumps of snails on their erect members where the water trickled.
The dog… his barking was at first muffled and suddenly louder as he shot out of one of the drain tunnels, scrambled out of the big pool and hid  behind Ky’s skirts… a groan on his heels and then into the deepest part of that pool, nearly empty right in front of me -- filled from that pipe.  The drain that would be man-height, over the edge, was suddenly full of water, a burst of water from somewhere deep under the streets.

And in the middle of the water… a couple of boys, choking, washed into the bottom of the pool, coughing and clinging until the water spread out no more than waist deep mixing with the greenish scum at that end. Ili had Nuni under the chin until they realize they could put their feet down.
I leapt straight down into the filty water and grabbed both of them.  “Ilesias, Nuninibas, oh my Great God!” I dragged them to the shallow end of the pool out of the spewed-out water. They both clung to me and I found myself with Ili on one arm, Nuni on the other, Jia clamped tight to my head and Nuni’s lizard thing hissing wildly as a steam kettle in my one ear.
I didn’t care. I sat down and started to laugh, and cry… all at the same time.  “You… You.. boys…”
“It wasn’t our FAULT,” Ili shouted in my ear and I shook my head.  “I don’t care I don’t care whose fault it is.  You are safe!”
“Serin Aan..” That was Nuni trying to be all grown up even while he clung tight to me and then lunged to cling to his big sister as she arrived in a slither of jewelry and sodden lace, mud-caked skirts and all.  “It was my fault. I dared Ili to—“  Ili interrupted him.  “—no I squirmed in first! It’s MY fault…”
I had both my arms wrapped around his solid seven year old warmth and  the off balance heaviness upon my own head of his favourite pet and I did not care.  The wild echoes in these ancient baths, and the slashes of light flaring here and there over almost human features or almost bovine ones, gave the whole thing an air of complete unreality.
The boys were both soaked through and I was as well from having jumped into the drain water… which was dropping as we sat in the bottom of the pool, and the street above us… or at least above these drains… was finished being flushed clean.
“Nuni found the way back,” Ili was saying and Nuni was saying… “He grabbed me when the water came up so high… too high for me to stand…”
“You saved each other.” I said, and Ky gathered her little brother to her and rocked back and forth in the filthy bottom of these old baths.  “You saved each other. A very good thing for brother’s in adventure to do.” 

Ky, her gloves wrapped around her brother’s head and shoulders, looked at me over his shoulder and smiled as if I have given her the Sunburst prize, as if I had had anything to do with saving her brother.  I smiled back and clambered to my feet as best I could with Ili and JiaKlem hanging on to me.  I must look a fright, covered in mud and domestic octopus.
“Serina.  I had no idea your establishment was so exciting.”  She twinkled back at me.  Anything was possible now that the boys were found safe… had saved each other…
“An odd, hidden mystery of the house solved, Serin,” she said quietly.  “These must have been the manor baths when baths were popular a hundred years ago.”
“Heya, Minis!” Ili said… “There’s malas of drains down there.  We couldn’t explore all of them.”
“And you are not allowed to explore any more of them!” I snapped.  “I’m going to beat your behind till it glows red and blue like a fire!”
“Yeah, big brother… I don’ wanna but you should.”
That stopped me cold.  I wouldn’t lay a hand on him, of course, but I should cease threatening such violence.
“Let’s get you boys out of this hole and cleaned up…”  Roar came roaring out of the flickering lights at that moment and bowled into us, all hair and muck and stinking dog and green slime, knocking us all down, insisting on licking every face he could reach.