The Dark Tower

 Stephen King

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"You were watching them," said a soft, laughing voice. Then it lilted a bit of cradle nonsense Roland would have remembered well from his own early childhood: "'Penny, posy, Jack's a-nosy!
Do ya say so? Yes I do-so! He's my sneaky, peeky, darling bah-bo!"
Did you like what you saw before you fell asleep? Did you watch them move on with the rest of the failing world?"
Perhaps ten hours had passed since Nigel the domestic robot had performed his last duty. Mordred, who in fact had fallen deeply asleep, turned his head toward the voice of the stranger with no residual fuzzy-headedness or surprise. He saw a man in bluejeans and a hooded parka standing on the gray tiles of the Control Center. His gunna-nothing more than a beat-up duffelbag-lay at his feet. His cheeks were flushed, his face handsome, his eyes burning hot. In his hand was an automatic pistol, and as he looked into the dark eye of its muzzle,
Mordred Deschain for the second time realized that even gods could die once their divinity had been diluted with human blood. But he wasn't afraid. Not of this one. He did look back into the monitors that showed Nigel's apartment, and confirmed that the newcomer was right: it was empty.
The smiling stranger, who seemed to have sprung from the very floor, raised the hand not holding the gun to the hood of his parka and turned a bit of it outward. Mordred saw a flash of metal. Some kind of woven wire coated the inside of the hood.
"I call it my 'thinking-cap,'" said the stranger. "I can't hear your thoughts, which is a drawback, but you can't get into my head, which is a-"
(which is a definite advantage, wouldn't you say)
"-which is a definite advantage, wouldn't you say?"
There were two patches on the jacket. One read U.S. ARMY and showed a bird-the eagle-bird, not the hoo-hoo bird. The other patch was a name: RANDALL FLAGG. Mordred discovered
(also with no surprise) that he could read easily.
"Because, if you're anything like your father-the redone, that is-then your mental powers may exceed mere communication."
The man in the parka tittered. He didn't want Mordred to know he was afraid. Perhaps he'd convinced himself he wasn't afraid, that he'd come here of his own free will. Maybe he had. It didn't matter to Mordred one way or the other. Nor did the man's plans, which jumbled and ran in his head like hot soup. Did the man really believe the "thinking-cap" had closed off his thoughts? Mordred looked closer, pried deeper, and saw the answer was yes. Very convenient.
"In any case, I believe a bit of protection to be very prudent.
Prudence is always the wisest course; how else did I survive the fall of Farson and the death of Gilead? I wouldn't want you to get in my head and walk me off a high building, now would I?
Although why would you? You need me or someone, now that yon bucket of bolts has gone silent and you just a bah-bo who can't tie his own clout across the crack of his shitty ass!"
The stranger-who was really no stranger at all-laughed.
Mordred sat in the chair and watched him. On the side of the child's cheek was a pink weal, for he'd gone to sleep with his small hand against the side of his small face.
The newcomer said, "I think we can communicate very well if I talk and you nod for yes or shake your head for no.
Knock on your chair if you don't understand. Simple enough!
Do you agree?"
Mordred nodded. The newcomer found the steady blue glare of those eyes unsettling-tres unsettling-but tried not to show it. He wondered again if coming here had been the right thing to do, but he had tracked Mia's course ever since she had kindled, and why, if not for this? It was a dangerous game, agreed, but now there were only two creatures who could unlock the door at the foot of the Tower before the Tower fell which it would, and soon, because the writer had only days left to live in his world, and the final Books of the Tower-three of them-remained unwritten. In the last one that was written in that key world, Roland's ka-tet had banished sai Randy Flagg from a dream-palace on an interstate highway, a palace that had looked to Eddie, Susannah, and Jake like the Castle of Oz the Great and Terrible (Oz the Green King, may it do ya fine). They had, in fact, almost killed that bad old bumhug Walter o' Dim, thereby providing what some would no doubt call a happy ending. But beyond page 676 of Wizard and Glass not a word about Roland and the Dark Tower had Stephen King written, and Walter considered this the real happy ending. The people of Calla Bryn Sturgis, the roont children, Mia and Mia's baby: all those things were still sleeping inchoate in the writer's subconscious, creatures without breath pent behind an unfound door. And now Walter judged it was too late to set them free.
Damnably quick though King had been throughout his career-a genuinely talented writer who'd turned himself into a shoddy (but rich) quick-sketch artist, a rhymeless Algernon Swinburne, do it please ya-he couldn't get through even the first hundred pages of the remaining tale in the time he had left, not if he wrote day and night.
Too late.
There had been a day of choice, as Walter well knew: he had been at he Casse Roi Russe, and had seen it in the glass ball the Old Red Thing still possessed (although by now it no doubt lay forgotten in some castle corner). By the summer of 1997, King had clearly known the story of the Wolves, the twins, and the flying plates called Orizas. But to the writer, all that had seemed like too much work. He had chosen a book of loosely interlocked stories called Hearts in Atlantis instead, and even now, in his home on Turtleback Lane (where he had never seen so much as a single walk-in), the writer was frittering away the last of his time writing about peace and love and Vietnam. It was true that one character in what would be King's last book had a part to play in the Dark Tower's history as it might be, but that fellow-an old man with talented brains-would never get a chance to speak lines that really mattered. Lovely.
In the only world that really mattered, the true world where time never turns back and there are no second chances (tell ya true), it was June 12th of 1999. The writer's time had shrunk to less than two hundred hours.
Walter o' Dim knew he didn't have quite that long to reach the Dark Tower, because time (like the metabolism of certain spiders) ran faster and hotter on this side of things. Say five days.
Five and a half at the outside. He had that long to reach the Tower with Mordred Deschain's birthmarked, amputated foot in his gunna... to open the door at the bottom and mount those murmuring stairs... to bypass the trapped Red King...
If he could find a vehicle... or the right door...
Was it too late to become the God of All?
Perhaps not. In any case, what harm in trying?
Walter o' Dim had wandered long, and under a hundred names, but the Tower had always been his goal. Like Roland, he wanted to climb it and see what lived at the top. If anything did.
He had belonged to none of the cliques and cults and faiths and factions that had arisen in the confused years since the Tower began to totter, although he wore their siguls when it suited him. His service to the Crimson King was a late thing, as was his service to John Farson, the Good Man who'd brought down Gilead, the last bastion of civilization, in a tide of blood and murder. Walter had done his own share of murder in those years, living a long and only quasi-mortal life. He had witnessed the end of what he had then believed to be Roland's last ka-tet at Jericho Hill. Witnessed it? That was a little overmodest, by all the gods and fishes! Under the name of Rudin Filaro, he had fought with his face painted blue, had screamed and charged with the rest of the stinking barbarians, and had brought down Cuthbert Allgood himself, with an arrow through the eye. Yet through all that he'd kept his gaze on the Tower. Perhaps that was why the damned gunslinger-as the sun went down on that day's work, Roland of Gilead had been the last of them-had been able to escape, having buried himself in a cart filled with the dead and then creeping out of the slaughterpile at sundown, just before the whole works had been set alight.
He had seen Roland years earlier, in Mejis, and had just missed his grip on him there, too (although he put that mostly down to Eldred Jonas, he of the quavery voice and the long gray hair, and Jonas had paid). The King had told him then that they weren't done with Roland, that the gunslinger would begin the end of matters and ultimately cause the tumble of that which he wished to save. Walter hadn't begun to believe that until the Mohaine Desert, where he had looked around one day and discovered a certain gunslinger on his backtrail, one who had grown old over the course of falling years, and hadn't completely believed it until the reappearance of Mia, who fulfilled an old and grave prophecy by giving birth to the Crimson King's son. Certainly the Old Red Thing was of no more use to him, but even in his imprisonment and insanity, he-it-was dangerous.
Still, until he'd had Roland to complete him-to make him greater than his own destiny, perhaps-Walter o' Dim had been little more than a wanderer left over from the old days, a mercenary with a vague ambition to penetrate the Tower before it was brought down. Was that not what had brought him to the Crimson King in the first place? Yes. And it wasn't his fault that the great scuttering spider-king had run mad.
Never mind. Here was his son with the same mark on his heel-Walter could see it at this very moment-and everything balanced. Of course he'd need to be careful. The thing in the chair looked helpless, perhaps even thought it was helpless, but it wouldn't do to underestimate it just because it looked like a baby.
Walter slipped the gun into his pocket (for the moment; only for the moment) and held his hands out, empty and palms up. Then he closed one of them into a fist, which he raised to his forehead. Slowly, never taking his eyes from Mordred, wary lest he should change (Walter had seen that change, and what had happened to the little beast's mother), the newcomer dropped to one knee.
"Hile, Mordred Deschain, son of Roland of Gilead that was and of the Crimson King whose name was once spoken from End-World to Out-World; hile you son of two fathers, both of them descended from Arthur Eld, first king to rise after the Prim receded, and Guardian of the Dark Tower."
For a moment nothing happened. In the Control Center there was only silence and the lingering smell of Nigel's fried circuits.
Then the baby lifted its chubby fists, opened them, and raised his hands: Rise, bondsman, and come to me.
"It's best you not 'think strong,' in any case," the newcomer said, stepping closer. "They knew you were here, and Roland is almighty Christing clever; trig-delah is he. He caught up with me once, you know, and I thought I was done. I truly did." From his gunna the man who sometimes called himself Flagg (on another level of the Tower, he had brought an entire world to ruin under that name) had taken peanut butter and crackers.
He'd asked permission of his new dinh, and the baby (although bitterly hungry himself) had nodded regally. Now Walter sat cross-legged on the floor, eating rapidly, secure in his thinkingcap, unaware there was an intruder inside and all that he knew was being ransacked. He was safe until that ransacking was done, but afterward-
Mordred raised one chubby baby-hand in the air and swooped it gracefully down in the shape of a question mark.
"How did I escape?" Walter asked. "Why, I did what any true cozener would do in such circumstances-told him the truth!
Showed him the Tower, at least several levels of it. It stunned him, right and proper, and while he was open in such fashion,
I took a leaf from his own book and hypnotized him. We were in one of the fistulas of time which sometimes swirl out from the Tower, and the world moved on all around us as we had our palaver in that bony place, aye! I brought more bones-human ones-and while he slept I dressed em in what was left of my own clothes. I could have killed him then, but what of the Tower if I had, eh? What of you, for that matter? You never would have come to be. It's fair to say, Mordred, that by allowing Roland to live and draw his three, I saved your life before your life was even kindled, so I did. I stole away to the seashore-felt in need of a little vacation, hee! When Roland got there, he went one way, toward the three doors. I'd gone the other, Mordred my dear, and here I am!"
He laughed through a mouthful of crackers and sprayed crumbs on his chin and shirt. Mordred smiled, but he was revolted. This was what he was supposed to work with, this? A cracker-gobbling, crumb-spewing fool who was too full of his own past exploits to sense his present danger, or to know his defenses had been breached? By all the gods, he deserved to die!
But before that could happen, there were two more things he needed. One was to know where Roland and his friends had gone. The other was to be fed. This fool would serve both purposes.
And what made it easy? Why, that Walter had also grown old-old and lethally sure of himself-and too vain to realize it.
"You may wonder why I'm here, and not about your father's business," Walter said. "Do you?"
Mordred didn't, but he nodded, just the same. His stomach rumbled.
"In truth, I am about his business," Walter said, and gave his most charming smile (spoiled somewhat by the peanut butter on his teeth). He had once probably known that any statement beginning with the words In truth is almost always a lie.
No more. Too old to know. Too vain to know. Too stupid to remember. But he was wary, all the same. He could feel the child's force. In his head? Rummaging around in his head?
Surely not. The thing trapped in the baby's body was powerful, but surely not that powerful.
Walter leaned forward earnestly, clasping his knees.
"Your Red Father is... indisposed. As a result of having lived so close to the Tower for so long, and having thought upon it so deeply, I have no doubt. It's down to you to finish what he began. I've come to help you in that work."
Mordred nodded, as if pleased. He was pleased. But ah, he was also so hungry.
"You may have wondered how I reached you in this supposedly secure chamber," Walter said. "In truth I helped build this place, in what Roland would call the long-ago."
That phrase again, as obvious as a wink.
He had put the gun in the left pocket of his parka. Now, from the right, he withdrew a gadget the size of a cigarettepack, pulled out a silver antenna, and pushed a button. A section of the gray tiles withdrew silently, revealing a flight of stairs.
Mordred nodded. Walter-or Randall Flagg, if that was what he was currently calling himself-had indeed come out of the floor. A neat trick, but of course he had once served Roland's father Steven as Gilead's court magician, hadn't he? Under the name of Marten. A man of many faces and many neat tricks was Walter o' Dim, but never as clever as he seemed to think. Not by half. For Mordred now had the final thing he had been looking for, which was the way Roland and his friends had gotten out of here. There was no need to pluck it from its hiding place in Walter's mind, after all. He only needed to follow the fool's backtrail.
First, however...
Walter's smile had faded a little. "Did'ee say something, sire? For I thought I heard the sound of your voice, far back in my mind."
The baby shook his head. And who is more believable than a baby? Are their faces not the very definition of guilelessness and innocence?
"I'd take you with me and go after them, if you'd come," Walter said. "What a team we'd make! They've gone to the devar-toi in Thunderclap, to release the Breakers. I've already promised to meet your father-your White Father-and his katet should they dare go on, and that's a promise I intend to keep. For, hear me well, Mordred, the gunslinger Roland Deschain has stood against me at every turn, and I'll bear it no more. No more! Do you hear?" His voice was rising in fury.
Mordred nodded innocently, widening his pretty baby's eyes in what might have been taken for fear, fascination, or both.
Certainly Walter o' Dim seemed to preen beneath his regard, and really, the only question now was when to take him-immediately or later? Mordred was very hungry, but thought he would hold off at least a bit longer. There was something oddly compelling about watching this fool stitching the last few inches of his fate with such earnestness.
Once again Mordred drew the shape of a question mark in the air.
Any last vestige of a smile faded from Walter's face. "What do I truly want? Is that what you're asking for?"
Mordred nodded yes.
"'Tisn't the Dark Tower at all, if you want the truth; it's Roland who stays on my mind and in my heart. I want him dead." Walter spoke with flat and unsmiling finality. "For the long and dusty leagues he's chased me; for all the trouble he's caused me; and for the Red King, as well-the tmeKing, ye do ken; for his presumption in refusing to give over his quest no matter what obstacles were placed in his path; most of all for the death of his mother, whom I once loved." And, in an undertone:
"Or at least coveted. In either case, it was he who killed her. No matter what part I or Rhea of the Coos may have played in that matter, it was the boy himself who stopped her breath with his damned guns, slow head, and quick hands.
"As for the end of the universe... I say let it come as it will, in ice, fire, or darkness. What did the universe ever do for me that I should mind its welfare? All I know is that Roland of Gilead has lived too long and I want that son of a bitch in the ground. And those he's drawn, too."
For the third and last time, Mordred drew the shape of a question in the air.
"There's only a single working door from here to the devartoi, young master. It's the one the Wolves use... or used; I think they've made their last run, so I do. Roland and his friends have gone through it, but that's all right, there's plenty to occupy em right where they come out-they might find the reception a bit hot! Mayhap we can take care of em while they've got the Breakers and the remaining Children of Roderick and the true guards o' die watch to worry about. Would you like that?"
The infant nodded an affirmative with no hesitation. He then put his fingers to his mouth and chewed at them.
"Yes," Walter said. His grin shone out. "Hungry, of course you are. But I'm sure we can do better than rats and halfgrown billy-bumblers when it comes to dinner. Don't you?"
Mordred nodded again. He was sure they could, too.
"Will I play the good da' and carry you?" Walter asked.
"That way you don't have to change to your spider-self. Ugh!
Not a shape 'tis easy to love, or even like, I must say."
Mordred was holding up his arms.
"Won't shit on me, will you?" Walter asked casually, halting halfway across the floor. His hand slid into his pocket, and Mordred realized with a touch of alarm that the sly bastard had been hiding something from him, just the same: he knew the so-called "thinking-cap" wasn't working. Now he meant to use the gun after all.
In fact, Mordred gave Walter o' Dim far too much credit, but isn't that a trait of the young, perhaps even a survival skill? To a wide-eyed lad, the tacky tricks of the world's most ham-fisted prestidigitator look like miracles. Walter did not actually realize what was happening until very late in the game, but he was a wily old survivor, tell ya true, and when understanding came, it came entire.
There's a phrase, the elephant in the living room, which purports to describe what it's like to live with a drug addict, an alcoholic, an abuser. People outside such relationships will sometimes ask, "How could you let such a business go on for so many years? Didn't you see the elephant in the living mam?" And it's so hard for anyone living in a more normal situation to understand the answer that comes closest to the truth: "I'm sorry, but it was there when I moved in. I didn't know it was an elephant; I thought it was part of the furniture." There comes an for some folks-the lucky ones-when they suddenly recognize the difference. And that moment came for Walter. It came too late, but not by much.
Y'tvon't shit on me, will you-that was the question he asked, but between the word shit and the phrase on me, he suddenly realized there was an intruder in his house... and it had been there all along. Not a baby, either; this was a gangling, slopeheaded adolescent with pockmarked skin and dully curious eyes. It was perhaps the best, truest visualization Walter could have made for Mordred Deschain as he at that moment existed: a teenage housebreaker, probably high on some aerosol cleaning product.
And he had been there all the time! God, how could he not have known? The housebreaker hadn't even been hiding! He had been right out in the open, standing there against the wall, gape-mouthed and taking it all in.
His plans for bringing Mordred with him-of using him to end Roland's life (if the guards at the devar-toi couldn't do it first, that was), then killing the litde bastard and taking his valuable left foot-collapsed in an instant. In the next one a new plan arose, and it was simplicity itself. Mustn't let him see that I know. One shot, that's all I can risk, and only because I must risk it.
Then I run. If he's dead, fine. If not, perhaps he'll starve before-
Then Walter realized his hand had stopped. Four fingers had closed around the butt of the gun in the jacket pocket, but they were now frozen. One was very near the trigger, but he couldn't move that, either. It might as well have been buried in cement. And now Walter clearly saw the shining wire for the first time. It emerged from the toothless pink-gummed mouth of the baby sitting in the chair, crossed the room, glittering beneath the lights, and then encircled him at chest-level, binding his arms to his sides. He understood the wire wasn't really there... but at the same time, it was.
He couldn't move.
Mordred didn't see the shining wire, perhaps because he'd never read Watership Down. He'd had the chance to explore Susannah's mind, however, and what he saw now was remarkably like Susannah's Dogan. Only instead of switches saying things sj like CHAP and EMOTIONAL TEMP, he saw ones that controlled f Walter's ambulation (this one he quickly turned to OFF), cogitation, and motivation. It was certainly a more complex setup than the one in the young bumbler's head-there he'd found nothing but a few simple nodes, like granny knots-but still not difficult to operate.
The only problem was that he was a baby.
A damned baby stuck in a chair.
If he really meant to change this delicatessen on legs into cold-cuts, he'd have to move quickly.
Walter o' Dim was not too old to be gullible, he understood that now-he'd underestimated the little monster, relying too much on what it looked like and not enough on his own knowledge of what it was-but he was at least beyond the young man's trap of total panic.
If he means to do anything besides sit in that chair and look at me, he'll have to change. When he does, his control may slip. That'll be my chance. It's not much, but it's the only one I have left.
At that moment he saw a brilliant red light run down the baby's skin from crown to toes. In the wake of it, the chubbypink bah-bo's body began to darken and swell, the spider's legs bursting out through his sides. At the same instant, the shining wire coming out of the baby's mouth disappeared and Walter felt the suffocating band which had been holding him in place disappear.
No time to risk even a single shot, not now. Run. Run from him... from it. That's all you can do. You never should have come here in the first place. You let your hatred of the gunslinger blind you, but it still may not be too la-
He turned to the trapdoor even as this thought raced through his mind, and was about to put his foot on the first step when the shining wire re-established itself, this time not looping around his arms and chest but around his throat, like a garrote.
Gagging and choking and spewing spit, eyes bulging from their sockets, Walter turned jerkily around. The loop around his throat loosened the barest bit. At the same time he felt something very like an invisible hand skim up his brow and push the hood back from his head. He'd always gone dressed in such fashion, when he could; in certain provinces to the south even of Garlan he had been known as Walter Hodji, the latter word meaning both dim and hood. But this particular lid (borrowed from a certain deserted house in the town of French Landing, Wisconsin) had done him no good at all, had it?
I think I may have come to the end of the path, he thought as he saw the spider strutting toward him on its seven legs, a bloated, lively thing (livelier than the baby, aye, and four thousand times as ugly) with a freakish blob of human head peering over the hairy curve of its back. On its belly, Walter could see the red mark that had been on the baby's heel. Now it had an hourglass shape, like the one that marks the female black widow, and he understood that was the mark he'd have wanted; killing the baby and amputating its foot likely would have done him no good at all. It seemed he had been wrong all down the line.
The spider reared up on its four back legs. The three in front pawed at Walter's jeans, making a low and ghastly scratching sound. The thing's eyes bulged up at him with that dull intruder's curiosity which he had already imagined too well.
Oh yes, I'm afraid it's the end of the path for you. Huge in his head. Booming like words from a loudspeaker. But you intended the same forme, didn't you?
No! At least not immediately-
But you did! "Don't kid a kidder," as Susannah would say. So now I do the one you call my White Father a small favor. You may not have been his greatest enemy, Walter Padick (as you were called when you set out, all in the long-ago), but you were his oldest, I grant. And now I take you out of his road.
Walter did not realize he had held onto some dim hope of escape even with the loathsome thing before him, reared up, the eyes staring at him with dull avidity while the mouth drooled, until he heard for the first time in a thousand years the name a boy from a farm in Delain had once answered to: Walter Padick. Walter, son of Sam the Miller in the Eastar'd Barony.
He who had run away at thirteen, had been raped in the ass by another wanderer a year later and yet had somehow withstood the temptation to go crawling back home. Instead he had moved on toward his destiny.
Walter Padick.
At die sound of that voice, the man who had sometimes called himself Marten, Richard Fannin, Rudin Filaro, and Randall Flagg (among a great many odiers), gave over all hope except for die hope of dying well.
I be a-hungry, Mordred be a-hungry, spoke the relentless voice in the middle of Walter's head, a voice that came to him along the shining wire of the litde king's will. But I'd eat proper, beginning with the appetizer.Your eyes, I think. Give them to me.
Walter struggled mightily, but without so much as a moment's success. The wire was too strong. He saw his hands rise and hover in front of his face. He saw his fingers bend into hooks. They pushed up his eyelids like windowshades, then dug the orbs out from die top. He could hear the sounds they made as they tore loose of die tendons which turned them and the optic nerves which relayed dieir marvelous messages. The sound diat marked die end of sight was low and wet. Bright red dashes of light filled his head, and then darkness rushed in forever. In Walter's case, forever wouldn't last long, but if time is subjective
(and most of us know that it is), then it was far too long.
Give them to me, I say! No more dilly-dallying! I'm ahungry!
Walter o' Dim-now Walter o' Dark-turned his hands over and dropped his eyeballs. They trailed filaments as they fell, making them look a litde like tadpoles. The spider snatched one out of the air. The other plopped to the tile where die surprisingly limber claw at the end of one leg picked it up and tucked it into the spider's mouth. Mordred popped it like a grape but did not swallow; rather he let die delicious slime trickle down his throat. Lovely.
Tongue next, please.
Walter wrapped an obedient hand around it and pulled, but succeeded in ripping it only partly loose. In the end it was too slippery. He would have wept with agony and frustration if the bleeding sockets where his eyes had been could have manufactured tears.
He reached for it again, but die spider was too greedy to wait.
Bend down! Poke your tongue out like you would at your honey's cunny. Quick, for your father's sake! Mordred's a-hungry!
Walter, still all too aware of what was happening to him, struggled against this fresh horror with no more success than against the last. He bent over with his hands on his thighs and his bleeding tongue stuck crookedly out between his lips, wavering wearily as the hemorrhaging muscles at the back of his mouth tried to support it. Once more he heard the scrabbling sounds as Mordred's front legs scratched at the legs of his denim pants. The spider's hairy maw closed over Walter's tongue, sucked it like a lollipop for one or two blissful seconds, and then tore it free with a single powerful wrench. Walter-now speechless as well as eyeless-uttered a swollen scream of pain and fell over, clutching at his distorted face, rolling back and forth on the tiles.
Mordred bit down on the tongue in his moudi. It burst into a bliss of blood that temporarily wiped away all thought. Walter had rolled onto his side and was feeling blindly for the trapdoor, something inside still screaming that he should not give up but keep trying to escape the monster that was eating him alive.
With the taste of blood in his mouth, all interest in foreplay departed Mordred. He was reduced to his central core, which was mostly appetite. He pounced upon Randall Flagg, Walter o' Dim, Walter Padick that was. There were more screams, but only a few. And then Roland's old enemy was no more.
The man had been quasi-immortal (a phrase at least as foolish as "most unique") and made a legendary meal. After gorging on so much, Mordred's first urge-strong but not quite insurmountable-was to vomit. He controlled it, as he did his second one, which was even stronger: to change back to his baby-self and sleep.
If he was to find the door of which Walter had spoken, the best time to do so was right now, and in a shape which would make it possible to hurry along at a good speed: the shape of the spider. So, passing the desiccated corpse without a glance,
Mordred scarpered nimbly through the trapdoor and down the stairs and into a corridor below. This passage smelled strongly of alkali and seemed to have been cut out of the desert bedrock.
All of Walter's knowledge-at least fifteen hundred years of it-bellowed in his brain.
The dark man's backtrail eventually led to an elevator shaft.
When a brisuy claw pressed on the UP button produced nothing but a tired humming from far above and a smell like frying shoeleather from behind the control panel, Mordred climbed the car's inner wall, pushed up the maintenance hatch with a slender leg, and squeezed through. That he had to squeeze did not surprise him; he was bigger now.
He climbed the cable
(itsy bitsy spider went up the waterspout)
until he came to the door where, his senses told him, Walter had entered the elevator and then sent it on its last ride. Twenty minutes later (and still jazzing on all that wonderful blood; gallons of the stuff, it had seemed), he came to a place where Walter's trail divided. This might have posed him, child that he still very much was, but here the scent and the sense of the others joined Walter's track and Mordred went that way, now following Roland and his ka-tet rather than the magician's backtrail. Waiter must have followed them for awhile and then turned around to find Mordred. To find his fate.
Twenty minutes later the little fellow came to a door marked with no word but a sigul he could read well enough:
The question was whether to open it now or to wait. Childish eagerness clamored for the former, growing prudence for the latter. He had been well-fed and had no need of more nourishment, especially if he changed back to his hume-self for awhile.
Also, Roland and his friends might still be on the far side of this door. Suppose they were, and drew their weapons at the sight of him? They were infernally fast, and he could be killed by gunfire.
He could wait; felt no deep need beyond the eagerness of the child that wants everything and wants it now. Certainly he didn't suffer the bright intensity of Walter's hate. His own feelings were more complex, tinctured by sadness and loneliness and-yes, he'd do better to admit it-love. Mordred felt he wanted to enjoy this melancholy for awhile. There would be food aplenty on the other side of this door, he was sure of it, so he'd eat. And grow. And watch. He would watch his father, and his sister-mother, and his ka-brothers, Eddie and Jake. He'd watch them camp at night, and light their fires, and form their circle around it. He'd watch from his place that was outside. Perhaps they would feel him and look uneasily into the dark, wondering what was out there.
He approached the door, reared up before it, and pawed at it questioningly. Too bad, really, there wasn't a peephole. And it probably would be safe to go through now. What had Walter said? That Roland's ka-tet meant to release the Breakers, whatever they might be (it had been in Walter's mind, but Mordred hadn't bothered looking for it).
There's plenty to occupy em right where they come out-they might find the reception a trifle hot!
Had Roland and his children perhaps been killed on the other side? Ambushed? Mordred believed he would have known had that happened. Would have felt it in his mind like a Beamquake.
In any case he would wait awhile before creeping through the door with the cloud-and-lightning sigul on it. And when he was through? Why, he'd find them. And overhear their palaver.
And watch them, both awake and asleep. Most of all, he would watch the one Walter had called his White Father. His only real father now, if Walter had been right about the Crimson King's having gone insane.
And for the present?
Now, for a little while, I may sleep.
The spider ran up the wall of this room, which was full of great hanging objects, and spun a web. But it was the baby-naked, and now looking fully a year old-that slept in it, head down and high above any predators that might come hunting.