On a Darkling Plain

On a Darkling Plain by Unknown Author

Book: On a Darkling Plain by Unknown Author Read Free Book Online
Authors: Unknown Author
Tags: Richard Lee Byers
windows, he raised one and looked down.
    Below him was an expanse of grimy, weathered stone wall riddled with cracks and pockmarks, decorated with gargoyles and other bits of decorative carving, and transected by the occasional narrow ledge. Along the bottom ran a narrow side street, where bits of windblown trash scudded along the broken pavement. More of the homeless were huddled in the shadows, but Elliott didn’t see anyone who looked like a sentry; not that that meant much, peering from such a distance. Even his vision had its limits.
    He was willing to bet his life that he could climb down the outside of the building. He was, after all, more agile than any human, and his enhanced perception gave him an exquisite sense of balance. Rosalita possessed the same abilities, though to a lesser degree. He gave her a smile. “Not afraid of heights, are you?” he asked.
    She stared at him. “You’re kidding, right?”
    “I’m afraid not. It’s our best option.”
    “Can we just go a little ways and then climb back through another window?”
    “We could,” Elliott said, “but then we'd still be stuck inside the building, and I suspect that by now there are people watching the exits. I’d rather climb all the way to the ground if you think you can make it.”
    “All right,” she said, returning her pistol to the holster on her belt, “I can do it if I have to.”
    “Good girl.” He put away his own gun, discarded his topcoat, suit coat and vest, and tied the rope securing the Fouquet to the back of his belt. The painting bumped against his butt and legs whenever he moved. “Have you ever done any climbing?” he asked.
    She shook her head.
    “Take your time,” he said, “and think before you move. Test your handholds before you trust your weight to them, Don’t hug the wall and don’t look down. I’m going to go out first and stay right underneath you, so I’ll be there to help if you get into trouble. You close the window when you get outside. Are you ready?”
    “As ready as I’m going to get,” she said.
    He eased himself out into the darkness. The cold wind gusted, riffling his hair and clothing, batting at the painting dangling from his waist. Quickly but methodically testing the hand- and toeholds afforded by the cavities in the eroding stone, he descended ten feet to a gargoyle with the fangs of a sabertooth tiger and the curling horns of a ram. He peered up at Rosalita’s pretty, heart-shaped face. “Come on,” he said.
    The younger Kindred lowered herself from the window and pulled it shut, hanging from the sill for a moment. Then she started down. Almost at once, stone cracked. She yelped and began to drop. Elliott stretched out his arm to catch her, but she grabbed a handhold and arrested her fall. Bits of rock clattered down the wall to smash on the sidewalk below.
    “I thought I put my hands exactly where you did,” Rosalita said, a tremor in her voice.
    “You have to test the stone for yourself,” Elliott said. “But that’s all right, no harm done. Climb on down.”
    For a moment she didn’t move. He was afraid that she was too rattled to continue, but then she resumed her descent. Releasing the wall, balancing as confidently as a tightrope walker, he backed a step away from the side of the building on the gargoyle’s narrow granite spine, making room for his companion to alight.
    When she did, he asked, “Are you all right?”
    “I think so,” she said. “Let’s keep moving. I don’t want just to hang here in midair and think about what comes next.”
    He studied her aura. It was tinged with the orange of fear, but not ablaze with it. He didn’t think that she was in any danger of panicking. Satisfied, he said, “All right,” and lowered himself from the stone monster. Hanging by one hand, he grabbed a jagged crack in the wall with the other, then continued his descent. Rosalita followed him.
    To his relief she didn’t slip again, though occasionally she couldn’t

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