THE AIR WAS STALE AND DAMP, and rocks jutted into Raven’s tied hands under his back. His head pounded from the landing, whenever that was, and everything was sore from running and yelling and fighting the spider-net thing. He was afraid to open his eyes. He could hear men talking nearby, and he wasn’t sure he wanted them to know he was awake.
Sudden hoarse laughter from the men made him jolt, and his eyes flicked open just in time to see their boots approaching. The rock above him made it impossible to see the rest of them without sticking his head out first, and Raven wasn’t eager to get his head knocked in again. A pair of boots stopped inches from his nose, and the voice belonging to them high above asked the other pair of boots what to do about this one.
“Check him over an’ set him to work with the others.”
One boot reached out and hit Raven’s knee. “Out,” said the boot. Raven trembled in the rocky bunk bed-style crevice, but he didn’t move. The boot kicked harder. “Out!” it said again. Raven wriggled carefully out into the open, trying without success to avoid scraping his tied hands on the ground. As he moved out, the boots grew legs, then a torso, then shoulders and arms and a soldier’s head. It felt to Raven that all his little army toys had grown to full size, like he used to always want, and decided to get their revenge on him for all the times he’d buried them in the dirt or tossed them in the sink.
“Get up,” the soldier said again. He nudged Raven’s legs, and Raven pulled them back, trying to push himself to a sitting position and then up, but his feet slipped on the damp floor. The Guard grumbled, reached down, and yanked Raven up by the arm and started dragging him down the corridor.
Raven tripped once or twice from the roots sprawling up from the cracks at the base of the walls. He smelled the wet dirt and saw water drip from gnarled things creeping down from the ceiling. There were wooden beams supporting the roof, shaped around the main tunnel in squares, and on each side of the tunnel floor a track for something ran each way. Shortly, he knew what that something was: a metal cart, with shiny rocks piled above the edge, raced around a corner, dropping some of its contents by Raven. He paused to look at the rocks’ strangely colored sheen, but the soldier yanked his arm again, and they passed the rocks without further inspection.
All at once Raven found himself seated on a metal chair in an office-type room. The walls were finished with cut rocks, and the door was solid wood. The soldier locked it shut and announced their presence.
“Senator, this is the boy as you requested. Shall I release him, sir?”
“Of course, Chief Locknut. We don’t want our guest to be uncomfortable, now do we?”
The Chief-man cut Raven’s hands free and stood at attention by the locked door as the red, leather chair swiveled around. It revealed a man in a striking green suit, glittering faintly like jewels. His hands were clasped together in front of his chin, and one ankle was set across the other leg’s knee. The Senator’s eyes were a bright, strange, grayish-hazel color, and they stared intently at Raven.
“What’s your name, boy?” he asked.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“Excellent. You’re a bright boy. You have a lot of friends, yes?”
“Wha-what do you w-want with me?”
The Senator’s eyes narrowed.
“What do you know about a girl named…Emmaline O’Meern?”
Raven’s sharp intake made the Senator grin, not a friendly grin, not even a sarcastic one, but one so horrid and full of large, white teeth that Raven couldn’t help but shudder. It made him think back to the pictures of the all-extinct sharks they showed at school.
“Ahh,” started the Senator, rising from his seat, “I see that you are, at least, acquainted with Miss O’Meern, am I correct? Now, Raven,” he continued without waiting for an answer, “I’m looking for Miss O’Meern, and I need your help.”
“Ah, Raven,” he laughed, walking slowly around Raven’s chair, “you really must learn not to ask questions.” The Senator’s spindly fingers drummed on the back of his chair, and Raven could tell there was far more to it than impatience.
“Now,” the man hissed, “this is how you are going to help me. You see,” he whispered, coming to a well-practiced halt before Raven, his black cloak billowing out, “I would like very much to meet Miss O’Meern, but for some strange reason I am unable to find her.”
“M-maybe she doesn’t want to be found,” Raven suggested. He knew that if he had had the choice, he most certainly wouldn’t want to meet this Senator guy if he didn’t have to.
A resounding smack across his cheek stunned him into silence. The Senator knelt before Raven and locked eyes with him. “You do not interrupt me. You do not tell me things unless I ask for them. Is that clear?” he growled softly. Raven nodded.
The Senator’s face forced another gruesome smile. “Good,” he replied, turning his back. “So, this is how it is going to work: since I have been unable to find her myself, I now have given her reason to come find me.”
The Senator seemed to forget his own rules about questions as he paced around to stand behind Raven, grinning that terrible smirk. He gripped the ends of the chair, relishing in some fantasy of his devious plans. A moment later, he bent down and whispered the answer in Raven’s ear.
“I’ve got you.”
Raven shrank from the poisonous voice. “Take him away,” the Senator ordered, and the Chief-man at the door grabbed Raven by the arm. He dragged himself, trying to stay away from the door, screaming, “No! You can’t do it! You can’t take Emma! I won’t let you!”
The Senator sneered at him from his desk.
“We’ll see about that.”
Chief Locknut dug his nails into Raven’s shoulders and shoved him down the tunnel.
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