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Root: Part III, Chapter 10
Separated in a disorienting maze of beaded curtains, Hasta’s crew attempt to get away from Lamm and Kray. But the daemons have brought along a hostage.
For more on this project, please see “This Year a Serial Takes Root.”
The two daemons blocked the only open route between the wall and the beads. Hasta tried flipping them with both hands, but they were already whirling their open palms. Her fingers slammed an invisible wall.
“Into the beads!” she shouted, shaking the pain out of her hands. “Raj, everyone! Now!”
The short daemon charged Hasta. She tried to remote-grab him with her clenched fist, but couldn’t seem to get a grip. The tall daemon had somehow slipped out of sight. As the others plunged into the beads, Hasta tried halting the short one with her open hand. It didn’t work. He was almost upon her.
Hasta darted into the beads.
“You’re murderers and you must surrender!” said the daemon.
“We’re not murderers!” Hasta shouted, batting curtains out of her face.
“You’ve helped to murder this world!” The daemon sounded angry in a way she hadn’t heard before. “It writhes even now in its death throes.”
Over the maddening rattle, Hasta shouted, “We’re trying to save this world, you idiot! You ought to be helping us!”
A sagging string of beads pulled taut as Hasta stepped on the end of it. It snapped as she ran into it. Falling, beads cascading around her, she grabbed onto another curtain. She managed to pull that one down too, letting out an “Oof!” as her knees hit the concrete floor.
“Hasta?” called Juan. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine!” she said, shouting down Ivan and her father as well. “Just, everyone shut up and don’t move! We’re safer under cover in here.”
The rattling clamor slowly subsided.
“You have nowhere to run,” the short daemon called out. She could hear his footsteps click at the perimeter of the room. “And when you speak of saving the world, little girl? You speak blasphemy. You and the Babich boy translated me twenty-seven miles. The damage that act alone has wrought on the fabric of the world is irreparable.”
A second rumbling voice spoke quietly, unintelligibly.
“Kray, shut your bleeding trap!” screeched the short daemon.
Down on her hands and knees, Hasta tried desperately to work out some way to escape. Nothing was coming to her.
“Listen, you monsters,” Hasta’s father said. “My daughter has been chosen for this task by Lord Vishnu himself. You would do well to—”
An explosion of beads cut him off. The din as they pelted the floor and scattered in all directions was deafening.
“You are irrelevant to this discussion, old man!” snapped the daemon. “You will hold your tongue.”
Hundreds of beads rolled around Hasta’s feet. She couldn’t tell whether or not they’d come from the direction of her father’s voice. “Daddy!” she cried. She flattened herself to the concrete, trying to see beneath the fringe of beads. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, little flower!” her father replied. She thought she could make out the bottoms of his snow boots about thirty feet from her in the flickering light. “And this man is extremely rude.”
Another shower of beads cascaded to the floor, this time closer to Hasta. As they rolled and bounced against her, she saw another pair of shoes sneaking outward through the thicket. Ivan, advancing under cover of the noise?
Hasta belly-crawled that same direction. She tried not to agitate the curtains, but the floor was treacherous with beads. If she had to run or even walk, she might fall and break her neck.
“I will take down these hangings piece by piece,” the daemon said. “You’ll soon have no place to hide.”
“Do you have nothing better to do than pick on little children?” Hasta’s father said.
The daemon grunted and more beads showered to the floor. Her father was drawing the daemon’s fire, giving Ivan and her a chance to move. Fifteen feet from open space, Hasta pulled herself forward, sped by the layer of beads.
“I warn you,” said the daemon, “should you elude us again, a far more fearsome partnership will take up the pursuit. And when they apprehend you, you’ll beg to be released into our more kindly hands.”
Hasta made it to within three feet of open space before the rattling died down again. She rolled onto her back, waiting.
“Is this because you’re jealous of tall people?” said Hasta’s father, who never spoke a cutting word to any living soul. “Tired of living life as such a shrimp?”
When the next cascade began, Hasta slid into the open on her back, propelled by beads. She aimed both middle fingers at the little daemon, who was fifteen feet away. He was looking the other way, to where Juan had just broken from cover.
Juan. Not Ivan.
“Gaaaahhhh!” cried a strangled female voice.
Beyond Juan stood the taller daemon, one arm crooked around a girl’s throat, his other hand cupped to the side of her head. She was tugging at his arm to keep from choking.
The girl was Kylie.
“I would rather not describe what will happen to this human if the rest of you don’t gather in front of me now,” rumbled the daemon. His eyes glowed a hellish green. “The only mercy will be that she won’t remember what happened to her.”
Juan looked from one daemon to the other while Kylie wept. Hasta pushed herself quietly to her feet, trembling with rage.
“Hasta!” shouted her father, stumbling clumsily from the beads near Juan. He stopped short when he realized the captive was not her. The shorter daemon shoved her father toward his partner.
Hasta very carefully drew her arm over her head in the cloaking gesture she’d seen Mr. Sunshine use. It was a faint hope, but her only hope.
“That command is proprietary,” said the taller daemon. “Now move over here.”
The shorter daemon looked around. “Where’s the fourth?” he snarled. “The boy, the boy!”
The taller daemon gurgled suddenly and began convulsing. His arms flapped wildly. Kylie, wheezing and coughing, ran to Juan and ducked behind him.
“Kray!” exclaimed the smaller daemon.
His partner let out a sound somewhere between a gasp and sigh. His head lolled back and he slumped to the ground.
Behind him, stepping back to avoid the fall, stood blue-faced Frida Sandstrom.
The short daemon snarled and ran full-tilt toward her.
“Look out!” Hasta shouted.
But Frida pointed a cell phone at him, closing her eyes and turning her head away as it bucked in her hand. The daemon fell flat on his face, arms and legs twitching.
“Um, Ivan?” Frida said, looking around as if she were lost. Black eyeliner streaked her cheeks, and her blue makeup had rubbed away in patches. “I hope it’s okay that I changed my mind.” √
To be continued…