Chapter Twenty-Four: Standoff


Proust continued, clearly pleased with himself. “You may not realize it, but this is a sacred place; the birthplace of Myscreth’s power. I’ve spent much time here trying to learn its secrets, and in the process, have found several routes into this cave.”

“What do you want Proust?” shouted Counselor Anklin.

“And here I thought that you were a student of history, Anklin. Aren’t you even the least bit excited about where we are?”

When Counselor Anklin didn’t respond, Proust went on with what sounded like a sigh.

“Very well, have it your way.” Proust’s tone turned menacing. “Up to now, your interference has been a minor nuisance, but the kidnapping of Counselors Darnia and Nornol has crossed the line. I demand that you return them to me immediately.”

“And what will you give in return?” responded Counselor Anklin.

“I’ve already given you your lives as I could have easily killed all of you. And still you ask for more?” After a slight pause, he continued. “Alright Anklin, I can be magnanimous. I will give you my promise of protection, but in return, you and your Earth friends must leave Myscreth forever.”

“Don’t trust him Counselor …” cried Claridee, but her cry was cut short by a sudden scream. The screaming stopped abruptly and was replaced by sharp sobs of pain.

“Claridee!” yelled Mason.

“Don’t worry Trainee Mason,” taunted Proust. “I won’t let her actually hit the ground, though the stresses placed on a body by repeated falls can be quite painful.”

Hearing Proust threaten Claridee was too much for Mason. He began to get up, but was quickly pulled back by Counselor Anklin

“Foolish actions won’t help Claridee,” he scolded.

Mason closed his eyes, overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness. “I can’t just stand by and watch.”

Counselor Anklin gave him an understanding look. “Unfortunately, sometimes that’s all we can do. If we’re to beat Proust we have to think clearly and not act on our emotions.”

Mason knew he was right. If only he could only see Claridee, he’d be able to get her down.

Suddenly he had an idea. If Proust couldn’t see Claridee, he wouldn’t be able to hurt her. Looking around the cave, he pointed over at the generators.

“Maybe a little darkness would help,” he suggested to the Counselors.

Counselor Janice nodded. “I think I can arrange that.” She concentrated on the generators and suddenly the cave was plunged into darkness.

“Very clever,” called Proust out of the darkness, “But not clever enough. Counselor Thurold!”

At the same instant, a light appeared at the back of the cave. It grew steadily brighter until the entire cave was illuminated.

“I’m still waiting for your answer,” shouted Proust angrily. “And it’s Claridee who will suffer for your delay.”

Screams once again filled the cave immediately followed by panicked sobbing. Mason felt like he was going to be sick.

“You’ve lost Anklin,” declared Proust, “Why must Claridee suffer because of your refusal to see the truth?”

“Don’t worry about me,” Claridee called out weakly. “Just stop …”

Her words were cut off and replaced by painful shrieks that echoed throughout the cave.

Mason looked helplessly at the two Counselor’s. “We have to help her.”

Counselor Anklin sadly shook his head. “We may have no choice but to accept Proust’s terms.”

“We can’t …” began Counselor Janice before Claridee’s screams once again filled their ears.

“I’m losing patience,” cried Proust.

Mason desperately surveyed the area in front of them to see if there was any way he could get to Claridee. Then he saw Claridee’s backpack. He could only hope her light was still inside.

He gestured towards the backpack. “I need a distraction so I can get Claridee’s backpack to her.”

Counselor Janice nodded knowingly while Counselor Anklin glanced over at the crates on the ceiling and chuckled darkly, clearly trying to keep his own emotions in check. “I knew these would come in handy.”

He stared at the ceiling and concentrated on the crates hovering there. Abruptly, they started raining down on the ground below, the sound of cracking wood and crashing metal resounding throughout the cave. At the same instant, Mason concentrated on the backpack and it darted up towards the ceiling. As it started moving he called out. “Claridee! Light!”

As the crates were crashing to the floor Proust called out. “You’re showing your desperation now, Anklin. I shall easily replace everything that you’ve damaged. However, I’m afraid that Clar …”

“I don’t think so!” Claridee cried angrily as the rear of the cave was enveloped in a blinding light.

Screams of surprise erupted from Proust and Thurold. Counselor Anklin soon called out. “That’s enough, Claridee.” She turned off the light and before the Counselors could stop him, Mason ran into the cave and stared up at her. He concentrated and she floated downward into his arms. Overcome with relief, he hugged and kissed her. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“I am now,” she replied, looking into his eyes.

The two Counselors sprinted towards the back of the cave. “There’ll be time enough for that later,” cried Counselor Janice, glancing at them as she passed.

He put Claridee down sheepishly and quickly followed. As much as he wanted to stay with her, he knew his priority had to be aiding the two Counselors. When he reached the back of the cave, he was surprised to see Thurold cringing on the ground with Counselor Anklin grasping him by the shoulder.

“Where’s Proust?” he demanded.

“I don’t know,” Thurold whimpered.

Remembering the elevator shaft he’d noticed earlier, Mason rushed over to it and started climbing down. “Proust must have gone down this way! I’m going after him!”

“Wait!” cried Counselor Anklin, but Mason pretended not to hear.

Reaching the bottom, he stepped through the broken elevator doors and listened for any sign of Proust, but heard nothing. He turned on his light and scanned his surroundings. It looked like one of the corridors in Bendroff, except that it was littered with debris and sections of collapsed ceiling. Only one direction seemed passable, so he headed that way.

Every few steps he stopped to listen, but heard nothing. He knew Proust wouldn’t be blinded much longer, so had to find him quickly. Hearing the sound of footsteps behind him, he turned off his light and ducked behind a section of fallen ceiling. Seeing a beam of light on the floor he prepared to attack whoever was following him.

As the footsteps grew closer, he heard a low whisper calling out “Mason!” and recognized Counselor Anklin’s voice.

“Here!” he softly called back, stepping out from his hiding place.

He hurried over and pressed his lips close to Mason’s ear and angrily chided. “What’d I say about taking on Proust alone?”

Mason lowered his head. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, “but there’s no telling how much longer Proust will be blinded.”

He patted Mason’s arm. “Luckily, no harm was done.” In a determined voice he continued. “Now, let’s go get him together.”

The two continued on, listening as they went, but still didn’t see or hear any sign of Proust. At last they reached a section of the corridor which overlooked a deep chasm. Mason shined his light down, but couldn’t see the bottom.

He whispered to Counselor Anklin. “I don’t think Proust could have gotten this far without being able to see.”

Proust’s voice cut through the darkness. “Wrong again, Trainee Mason.” His voice echoing all around them.

Mason and Counselor Anklin immediately turned off their lights and hid themselves behind some debris.

Proust continued boastfully. “I told you that I’d spent a great deal of time exploring this place and can easily find my way around, even blinded.”

With all the echoes, Mason had no idea where the voice was coming from.

“I’m close to discovering the secrets of this place and soon shall be able to bestow the ability to manipulate scientific laws upon anyone,” asserted Proust.

“You’re mad!” cried Counselor Anklin. “That’s what led to the destruction of our world in the first place.”

“No Anklin, it will be the salvation of our world. Our ancestors weren’t yet ready for that power, but now we are. We’ll learn from their mistakes and turn Myscreth into the paradise it was meant to be. The true sons and daughters of Myscreth will take their rightful place as rulers of their world. And it won’t stop with Myscreth; no, our dominion will extend to other worlds as well, starting with Earth.”

“Earth will never bow to you!” cried Mason.

“Those who don’t obey will be destroyed,” responded Proust in a low, steely voice. “I do wish you’d reconsider Anklin; your knowledge of Earth could be useful to me.”

When he didn’t respond, Proust continued in an ominous tone. “I take it by your silence that you won’t accept my offer. That’s unfortunate. Well, I think it’s been long enough.”

Suddenly, a beam of light shot out from the other end of the corridor, illuminating the area around Mason and Counselor Anklin’s hiding place. They were startled by a groaning from above as the ceiling started to buckle.

“He’s trying to bring down the ceiling on top of us!” cried Counselor Anklin.

“Let’s get out of here.” shouted Mason, starting to get up.

“No,” Counselor Anklin replied, grabbing his arm roughly. “We can’t risk being in the open. You need to counter his attack. I’ll try to distract him.”

Counselor Anklin put his hands to his mouth and bellowed. “Proust!” His voice reverberated off the walls. “If you kill us, you’ll never locate Darnia and Nornol.”

“Oh, you needn’t worry about that, Anklin,” responded Proust in a harsh tone. “I’m sure Claridee, after the proper,” he paused and continued menacingly, “Let’s call it, persuasion, will tell me all I need to know.”

Mason balled his fists in anger, but knew what had to be done. He stared up at the ceiling, which was now noticeably deformed, and started concentrating. He visualized it in his mind, then brought up the equation for gravitational acceleration. He tried to merge them, but something was holding them apart.

“Proust’s fighting me,” he cried.

“You can beat him,” urged Counselor Anklin. “Concentrate harder.”

Loud pops and creaks could now be heard and Mason knew they didn’t have much time. Proust’s threat against Claridee and the terror of being buried alive drove him to focus all his strength on merging the two images. There was the vague sense of kneeling on hard stone, but his concentration blocked out everything else around him. He had no idea how long he remained this way, but suddenly whatever was separating the two images in his mind collapsed and they merged.

Mason was suddenly submerged in a murky euphoria, numb to everything around him. Part of him never wanted it to end, but it soon dissipated. He thought he heard an angry cry from Proust, but couldn’t be sure as sounds of rumbling and cracking stone drowned it out. Looking up, he saw the cause of the noise: the ceiling had snapped back like a giant spring, destabilizing the area around them. The walls shook, and the edge of the corridor started crumbling into the chasm. Sections of ceiling fell near Proust’s location, and it was clear that the entire area was in danger of collapse.

“Proust!” called Counselor Anklin, still crouched behind the debris. “We’ve got to get out of here, now!”

Even as more of the corridor between them and Proust fell away he didn’t answer. Counselor Anklin tried again, this time pleading with him. “Please Proust; if you want to live, come with us!”

“No!” cried Proust. “I will not abandon the birthplace of Myscreth’s power until I possess its secrets!”

Small pieces of rubble began pelting Mason. He looked over to see that Counselor Anklin was now covered in dust.

“Don’t be a fool, Proust!” Counselor Anklin continued, desperation evident in his voice. “It’s not worth your life.”

There was no reply, as a portion of the ceiling fell, extinguishing Proust’s light, plunging them into total darkness. Mason and Counselor Anklin immediately turned on their lanterns, scanning the rubble from their hiding place.

“Proust!” screamed Counselor Anklin. “Answer me. Proust, we want to help you!”

There was no answer.

Mason shined his light over where Proust’s light had been and began coughing from the dust. “I don’t see any sign of him.”

“We have to try and get to him,” exclaimed Counselor Anklin, beginning to stand up.

“It’s too late!” called Mason as the section of corridor in front of them collapsed. “We have to get out of here, now!”

Counselor Anklin hesitated, shining his light where Proust had been. He stared helplessly before letting out a deep sigh. “You’re right. Let’s go.”

They started running back towards the cave, the corridor floor behind them disintegrating at an alarming rate. Reaching the ladder, they clambered up. Emerging in the cave, Counselor Anklin shouted. “Claridee, Janice, get out of here now!”

Claridee and Counselor Janice started running towards the entrance, followed closely by Counselor Anklin and Mason. Behind them the back wall of the cave started to crumble and they had to dodge chunks of stone which rained down from the ceiling. After crawling out the cave’s entrance, Mason saw Counselor Anklin pointing towards the west side of the valley.

“That way, behind those rocks,” he called. Claridee and Counselor Janice were already on their way by the time Counselor Anklin had helped Mason to his feet. The two men took off after them, barely reaching the safety of the rocks before the cave collapsed completely, belching forth a stream of dust and rock.

The four of them coughed as dust filled their lungs. As he caught his breath, Mason looked around and exclaimed. “We forgot Thurold.”

Counselor Anklin patted him on the shoulder, emitting a small cloud of dust.

“No need to worry. I opened a doorway and sent him to join Nornol, Klarth, and the guards before coming after you.”

Mason gave an embarrassed laugh. “I should’ve realized you’d do that.”

He looked at what remained of the cave and turned back to Counselor Anklin, who seemed preoccupied.

“What are you thinking about?”

Counselor Anklin spoke slowly, and Mason could see that he was struggling. “How much I wish Counselor Halrous was here to tell me ‘I told you so’ about Antlorn. Just to see the smile on his face and hear his laugh would be worth being wrong.” He wiped at his eyes before continuing. “However, there’ll be time for that later.” His demeanor changed abruptly. “I can’t help but think that you have something on your mind as well.”

Mason paused, almost hesitant to ask. “Do you think Proust got out?”

Counselor Anklin was quiet as he considered the question.

“I don’t see how he could have, but if he knew that complex as well as he claimed …” stopping as if he had to reconsider his answer.

“Yes?” asked Mason impatiently.

Counselor Anklin finally shrugged his shoulders and answered. “I honestly don’t know, but I’ve learned never to doubt what Proust is capable of.”

A note from parkertallan

Thanks for reading. Hope everyone's enjoying the story.

About the author


Bio: An engineer who enjoys writing something other than technical reports. Writing lets me share all the ideas floating around my mind. I hope my writing jump starts your imagination as so many books have done for me.

If you enjoy physics, check out for some fun stories which explain various physics topics.

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