Tattoo Book 6 part 3.12
Posted by harmony0stars on November 19, 2010
Silek reached into a hole inside the tunnel and removed a sack full of torches. He offered one to Phoenix and lit it, using it to light his own before slinging the sack over his shoulder. The men of Leng had their own source of illumination, and if Silek Baine had thought to slight them by not offering them torches, he was sorely disappointed. Each of the goat-men withdrew a glass orb from a pouch at his waist and filling this from the river, emptied a small envelope of powder into it. A dim light began to radiate from the orbs almost immediately, and this only intensified as they attached a wand to the orb and shook the contents vigorously.
“Handy, those torches waiting for you,” the leader of the goat-men said slyly. “If this be a trap, you’ll find a dagger between your ribs before any of my men fall.”
Silek Baine gave him a haughty glare. “You have your business, and I have mine. A man must make a living however he can in this world. Besides, it’s a fool who expects luck to find him twice in this pesthole of a city. I’ve hidden torches throughout the sewers, though I’ve not gone into the catacombs under the temple since I escaped them these ten years past.”
“You should go back to the city where it‘s safe,” Phoenix said to Milet, attempting to steer her back to the entrance.
“The girl will stay,” the leader of the goat-men said coldly. “She could tell anyone what we intend here.”
“She’ll be underfoot and no good in a fight,” Phoenix argued. Ignoring the fact that he‘d thought the child was a boy, he knew Glory would blame him if something happened to her.
The goat-man put his hand on the hilt of his sword. “I can slit her throat right here if you think that will save us effort later.”
“I’m fine,” the urchin said, cringing and ducking behind Phoenix. “I’ve killed sewer rats for food before.”
“It’s not the rats you have to worry about,” Silek said, adjusting the knife in his belt, “but the things under the temple.”
“Ghouls?” she asked.
“Ghouls would be dinner for the toad-god’s offspring,” spat the leader of the goat-men, turning his back on the girl and nodding to his men. Phoenix looked at his torch and suddenly wished he was not so human in the Dreamlands.
Water ran freely in the sewers, fed by the same springs which helped kept the River Ai flowing from the Hills of Implan towards the Cerenarian Sea. In some places, the stinking fluids ran as high as their calves. Phoenix did not offer to piggyback Milet a second time. One withering look of contempt was enough for him. If she didn’t mind the stinking gunk, far be it for him to offend her by offering to save her from it. Anyway… carrying her would have put him at a disadvantage if they came under attack from anything larger than someone’s night soil.
The tunnels were labyrinthine and cramped. Sometimes the roof was so low, another few inches and they would have been crawling through the filth. The style of the tunnels also changed as they moved, probably representing the growth of the city itself. Aside from deposits of stone which the creators of the sewer system had more often detoured around than through, the tunnels nearest the river were dug from the raw earth. It was only as they neared the center of the city that there was any sign that the sewer system had ever followed some kind of plan. Phoenix doubted there was anyone in Ilarnek who knew the extent of the tunnels, and it comforted him to know that Silek Baine was the closest thing to an expert in the entire city.
For the most part, the company moved in silence, having no use for small talk, but every so often Silek Baine would merrily point out a side passage marked by a simple arrow that would lead up to some part of the city. He did this, he said while patting the pouch of rubies, because soon he and his family would leave Ilarnek forever, and there was no one besides his current companions to appreciate the years he had spent learning the ins and outs of the place.
It was evident when they reached the outskirts of the catacombs. A series of massive stone arches marked the entrance, unknown symbols inscribed from bottom to top. There was no sign of even the smallest vermin. Almost as soon as they’d penetrated a yard into the sewer, they’d come upon the first of many rats. Now, as they walked through the catacombs, there was little sign of anything but water and slime, the downward trending corridors becoming more damp the deeper they went. Water and other less identifiable liquids oozed from stones which might very well have been the first structures placed in the foundations of the city. Unlike the rest of the haphazard tunnels, the catacombs had been laid out with a clear purpose. Even millennia later, the walls were still solid, even if the water which leaked from between them deepened with every step. Strange plants grew in the dark world under the temple, vaguely luminous but seeming to be attracted to the light the invaders carried. Or maybe it was their body heat. Milet yelped as a tendril of something mossy and fern-like wrapped itself around her ankle. She pulled away easily but stayed well away from the walls after that.
No one spoke and the miasmal air seemed to press closer the deeper they went. Large squares of mortar appeared along the walls, a broken panel finally revealing an ancient crypt long since emptied of everything but the trappings of wealth. Even Silek Baine was too unnerved to gather up the glittering rings and baubles of the long dead lord set as if on display for would be thieves. A ghoul would take the shiny bits along with the meat and bones if only to lure future prey. What inhuman monster would take everything but the metal? There was nothing but dust and jewels in the hole, and they glittered as if they had only just been cleaned. Silek Baine paused now as they wandered through the catacombs, glancing down side tunnels and pausing as if listening.
“Have we lost our way?” the leader of the goat-men asked, his hand resting on his belt very near to his sword.
Silek turned to glare at him, ignoring the veiled threat. “It’s been a decade since I came this way, and I did not even have a light then. Permit me to find my way at my own pace.” Without another word, strode down the long corridor, nodding at each passage as if counting, while dragging his hand along the wall. Without another word, he turned and disappeared down one of the tunnels.
He reappeared just as they reached the passage, relief written across his face. “This is the one. Follow me.”
to Book 6, part 3, page 13