Chapter Four: Trapped
While Jinks told lies of him in Del, Lief was struggling in the grip of a terrifying nightmare. He was trapped in a coffin. He was trying to beat at the coffin walls, but his arms and legs would not move. He was trying to open his eyes, but his eyes were sealed. He was trying to scream, but could not make a sound.
Somewhere, Kree was screeching. But closer, much closer, there were other sounds small slapping, scratching sounds which filled Lief with dread.
Desperately he tried to wake, to free himself from the horror that had engulfed him. But every time he struggled towards consciousness, the dream dragged him down once more.
Then Kree screeched again, and this time the harsh sound was loud loud enough to jolt Lief into true wakefulness.
He forced his sticky eyes open. He saw the tip of a black wing as Kree soared upward again, out of his view. And then, with a pang of pure terror, he realized that the dream had been real.
Or almost real. He was not lying in a coffin. He was upright. But his legs were pressed together and his arms were pinned to his sides. He could not move his head. His nose was filled with the smell of mud. His mouth was choked with it.
At first he did not understand what had happened to him. Then he remembered.
The island, with its rippled shore and strange, cone-shaped rocks. The grub creature leaning forward, huge-eyed. The jet of yellow mist...
His bleary eyes focused on a tall cone standing directly in front of him. Giant grubs were crawling all over the cone, moving busily up and down.
Dimly Lief realized that they were building. They were bringing clay from the ground, mixing the clay with liquid that dribbled from their tube-like mouths and patting the resulting mud onto the sides of the cone.
His gaze moved to the cone's tip and his stomach churned as he glimpsed Barda's head and face, almost covered by a lumpy helmet of thick, dried mud.
One of the grubs was working there. With its stubby front legs it patted and smoothed the sticky clay mess into a gap beside Barda's mouth. It waited for a moment as the mud lightened and hardened with amazing speed. Then it hurried down to the ground again.
Lief fought down panic as he realized that he himself was imprisoned as Barda was. A thick shroud of dried mud encased him from head to toe.
He could still breathe through his nose, and he could still see. But he knew that would not last long. His skin crawled as he heard a scrabbling sound near his ear. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a large-eyed head nod towards him. He felt a horrible wet coolness on his cheek as new mud was pressed into place.
The grub which had been working on Barda's mouth climbed the cone again, crawling over the mass of its fellows, who were adding to a lump of clay near the middle of the cone. Fury's cage, Lief realized.
Small, familiar sounds were coming from beneath the lump. Fury was awake, and raging. The yellow vapor had not affected her. Perhaps it worked only on warm-blooded creatures.
But even a fighting spider cannot live without air for long, Lief thought. Soon Fury will die. Like us.