Subject: The corridors were even more of a nightmare than usual. [The Nursery]
Posted on: 2022-05-26 18:00:15 UTC

Once Derik had thought of his son, he couldn't stop thinking about him. He had to reach the Nursery, and so that was just where he couldn't get, nohow—and even Samwise Gamgee's Elvish rope wouldn't have helped if he'd had it. One false turn even led him to a bog of sorts, seemingly comprised of every wet sock that had ever gone missing from the wash and a bare, broken brass bedstead sticking up incongruously from the middle. Derik thought he could see people shoveling squelching heaps of socks away on the opposite shore, but he didn't stand there long enough to be sure.

A short time later, he nearly despaired when there was a flicker, as of a guttering torch, and he was plunged into darkness. Fortunately not total darkness: after a few moments, he could make out a faint luminescence ahead of him. The corridor that had just been open was now a wall of rock with moisture trickling down its face, and something on it glowed. It was a cold comfort. A quick turn showed that the passage behind him was similarly blocked, leaving him in a segment of hallway no more than two dragonlengths from end to end. The Generic Surface walls joined seamlessly with the natural stone. He tried the doors leading off the hall, feeling his way along, but of course they were locked, and he'd left his hammer behind.

Luckily, it wasn't long before there was a second flicker, better light returned (though not so good as before), and the corridor sprang open again. Good enough. Derik wasted no time running onward, and the experience left him so shaken and baffled about what had just happened that he stopped thinking about his destination long enough to get there.

There was no one in the Nursery's reception area when he entered. "Hello?" he called, fear that he wouldn't get an answer making him hesitant. But that was insane. Of course no one would answer if they couldn't hear him! Next time, he put all his Harper training behind it and let off a bellow that rang in his own ears: "AHOY THE NURSERY!"

And someone came. A harried-looking woman marched from a door to the right, glaring at him. "Don't shout!" she hissed. "Things are bad enough without—"

Another time, Derik might have been more sympathetic to the position she was in. As it was, he grabbed her by the shoulders and gave her a shake. "Where's my son?"

The next thing he knew, he was doubled up in agony, clinging to the woman to keep from collapsing. Since she had just kneed him solidly in the voonerables and wasn't feeling at all sorry about it, she shoved him off, too.

After a moment spent writhing on the floor and deciding whether or not he was going to throw up, Derik checked to see if she was still there. She stood over him with her arms folded expectantly.

Derik sighed. "I think, perhaps, we might have got off on the wrong foot?"

"Oh? You think?"

"Urg," said Derik by way of agreement. He rolled carefully to his knees and gingerly got back to his feet from there. He didn't ask for help, and none was offered. He sighed again and wiped his tears off his face. "I'm Derik. I'm here for my son, Gadrik. Can you please—please—take me to him?"

The woman let him hang for a moment before she sighed, too, and let her arms fall. She passed a hand over her eyes. "Gadrik... I think... yes, I think so. Come with me." She started toward the door at the back of reception. "Christine, by the way. Sorry I kneed you so hard, but you shouldn't grab people."

Derik had a purely instinctive start at her name, but scolded himself against reading anything into it. "I know," he said. "I'm sorry, too. It's just..."

"I know. Believe me, I know."

A short hallway opened onto the Nursery common area, an enormous space with the back half devoted to wildly imaginative playground equipment, not currently in use. Christine turned left and took him to a corner of the front half of the room, where a number of children were seated at tables or on a couch in front of a screen where some cartoon was playing, overseen by a tall bean plant in a blazer with elbow patches. They barely seemed to fill just one corner of this place.

Derik stopped short of the scene. A lump formed in his throat. "Is this all of them?"

Christine turned back and looked at him with sympathy for the first time. "Apart from a couple of babies I was just checking on. Benjamin is still doing room checks, but... And it's just the three of us left: Me, Ben, and the Prof."

"Oh, shells." Derik couldn't let himself think about it any further. He shook his head and gave a sniff before crossing the rest of the way to the pitiful group. "Gadrik?" he called softly, casting about desperately for a certain curly-haired head. "Gadrik?"

And at a low table covered with coloring paper and crayons, one child looked up with the most beautiful blue eyes in the world. "Dada?"

Derik dropped to his knees, not entirely of his own volition. "Gaddie!"

Gadrik beamed and ran to his father's waiting arms. Derik clutched him tight, kissed his hair, and tried not to cry too noisily.

Gadrik was quickly over it. This was very weird behavior for the father who mostly tended to keep himself at a cautious arm's length. The boy squirmed until he was let loose. "Dada! Don't 'queeze me!"

"Sorry, Gaddie." Derik kept one hand on his shoulder and cupped his cheek with the other. His face was shaped like Gall's. He had her eyes. The resemblance smote his heart. He couldn't stop crying. "Sorry," he said again, and laughed at the absurd inadequacy of himself.

Quite reasonably alarmed, Gadrik pulled all the way away. "Stoppit. I want Mama."

Derik knew this moment would come, and he was completely unprepared for it. In the midst of a struggle to keep from completely losing his grip, all he could do was gape like a fish and shake his head.

Rescue of a sort came in the form of a fair little girl with straight, dark hair and gray eyes: Alwaen, Ithalond and Mithiriel's daughter. She took Gadrik's hand and looked at Derik with more understanding than any seven-year-old had a right to do. "She's not coming, is she, Agent Derik? And my nana and ada—they can't come either, can they?"

Unsure what he should say, Derik looked around for guidance from Christine or Professor Beans, but Christine was gone and the Plant just shrugged its vines at him.

I've been here since all this started, said Beans, just trying to keep everyone calm while the others sort things out.

"Well," said Derik, feeling he had better say something quickly. That didn't go anywhere, so he tried again. "Well... not right now. Something has happened, and it seems like a lot of people have gone away. But—" He tried very hard to inject a note of positivity into his voice. "But I'm here, and I will look after you until we get them back. Both of you. And we will get them back. I promise." And he smiled, knowing he would either make that promise come true or die trying.

OKAY SO that was a lot. It kinda morphed under me as I was writing, but here we are! All ready for C&E to come in! {X D

Some notes on references in the first part:

  1. Dialogue between Sam and Frodo on the way to Mordor, before they meet Gollum: "What a fix!" said Sam. "[Mordor]'s the one place in all the lands we've ever heard of that we don't want to se any closer; and that's the one place we're trying to get to! And that's just where we can't get, nohow. We've come the wrong way altogether, seemingly. We can't get down; and if we did get down, we'd find all that green land a nasty bog, I'll warrant. Phew! Can you smell it?"

  2. "Bedstead Men" by Flanders & Swann.

  3. Janitorial Division Shift Twentieth, probably, doing the shoveling.

  4. The bit of corridor Derik gets trapped in when the power goes off, deactivating the portal network that links HQ together, is deep underground in the 1959 film adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth, which features bioluminescent algae.

And that's it, I'm not writing any more posts that need footnotes. Jeez!

Also, I think how elf aging works is that they physically mature at about the same rate as humans, and generally have better senses/faculties than a human child of a similar age, but they aren't considered adults in the sense of needing to take up responsibilities and whatnot for very much longer. But I'm not sure. So we'll just see how this goes. {X D


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