Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 6 part 3.13

Posted by harmony0stars on November 22, 2010

The water ran in rivulets down the sloping passageway. They had only gone a few feet before they were wading through water up to their knees, and still the passage continued its steep descent. Ahead they could see that the water deepened until there was barely a margin between the roof of the tunnel and the surface of the black water. Wisps of mist rose from the water nearest the hole, but enough light rippled through the small space from the other side that the goat-men were reassured of their destination.

“We’ll have to swim a bit,” Silek said, hitching his sack up on his shoulder and looking around. “But I’d rather be on that side than this. The priests stopped chasing me and laughed when I swam through here. Guess they didn’t expect I’d make it out alive.”

No one saw fit to answer him. He set his torch down on a relatively dry shelf of broken stone, his pack beside it, and waded into the water. The goat-men looked at one another, and shoving their light wands into cracks in the wall, followed after Silek Baine. They were surprisingly limber swimmers.

Phoenix really hated water. Immersing himself in it twice in one day really did not appeal to him, even if the first time the water had been so hot, he’d almost felt like his old self. The water filling the passage way was cold as ice around his legs, and it looked oily and disgusting. Just the thought of having it up to his chin made him want to be sick, and the realization that he’d have to take a third bath just to get the black scum which floated on its surface off his skin made him doubly irritable.

“What’s the matter?” Milet asked, the cold water making her teeth chatter as she tread water. Silek had already passed through to the other side, and the goat-men did not spare a glance for the stragglers. She gave Phoenix a scornful look. “Can’t swim?”

“I can swim.” Striding into the water up to his waist, he swam towards the wedge of light with long sure strokes. “I just don’t like it,” he said, pausing to bob near the opening. “There could be anything under the surface.”

“Oh,” she said with sharp bark of humorless laughter as she paddled to catch up to him, “You’re afraid.”

Phoenix gritted his teeth rather than respond. He tried to convince himself that he didn’t care what the girl thought of him, but it still irritated him. She knew very well that he could swim. He’d stood up for her, protected her from the men of Leng, and this was the thanks he got.

At least the other side of the passage was warmer, even if they didn’t have anything with which to dry off. The goat-men stood in a huddle, checking their pouches and weapons. One of them shook like a wet dog and gave a sheepish look to his companions as they scowled and cursed him in their own tongue.

Silek Baine stalked around the chamber, looking high and low. It was square room like an abandoned tomb or antechamber. The light came from the only door. Rows of hideous batrachian statues were evenly spaced around the room’s perimeter with a second tier of smaller, more humanoid statues in regal garb above them. Finally, Silek took hold of a statue, after making certain it was sturdy enough to support his weight, and pulled himself up to the second tier. Wedging himself into a dark crevice beside one of the statues, he was barely visible from the floor.

The leader of the goat-men eyed Selik. “What do you think you’re doing, man of Ilarnek?”

“I signed on to guide you to the temple and out again. If your lady is so important, I doubt she’s going to be kept in the slave pens, which is the only place I‘d have an inkling of finding. So I’ll just wait here until you return.” He sat back in the shadows of the statue where only the most thorough scrutiny would reveal him.

The goat-man half pulled his blade, but Phoenix caught his arm. “He can guard our backs,” he said quietly, nodding towards the door. “If they keep the hall lit, it means they come through here on a fairly regular basis. We can’t afford to make a lot of noise, at least not until we find Glory. Don‘t worry. So long as there are two bags of gems at stake, I don‘t think he‘ll abandon us easily.”

With an irritable sound in his throat, the leader of the men of Leng pulled his arm from Phoenix’s grasp and stalked back to his followers. The goat-men checked the hall before cautiously moving out of the room. As they seemed to know where they were going, or at they least didn’t split up to cover more ground, Phoenix and Milet trailed after them. For a portion of the temple that was so devoid of life, the priests certainly kept enough lamps going.

They passed several intersections before the goat-men paused in their search. Apparently they had no more idea of where to look that Phoenix and Milet did. Motioning their human companions to silence, half the goat-men slipped to the other side of the corridor, and then they waited. Presently, a boy came trudging through the intersection, head down and a stool, barrel and pole strapped to his back. He might not even have looked up if the goat-men on the far side of the intersection hadn’t made a noise to draw his attention. As he looked, wide eyed with surprise, the goat-men behind him covered his mouth with a damp rag and dragged him into their huddle. When they finally drew back, the youth lay on the floor staring up at his captors with glassy eyes.

“Where does your master keep his brides to be?” the leader of the goat-men demanded.

“My master is not married,” the boy slurred.

“Your god then, idiot. Where does he keep the women he intends to keep?” hiss the goat-man.

“Where is the woman they brought in just tonight?” Phoenix specified despite scowls from his companions.

“Ohhhh,” the boy drawled, “They put her up in the priests’ quarters.”

One of the goat-men cursed in the language of Leng, and said, “How will we get to her without being seen?”

His leader hushed him, but the boy responded anyway. “There’s only one guard. All the other priests are in the audience hall to meet with the men of Leng.” Then the boy giggled. “But here you are instead.”

The goat-men dragged him to his feet, and their leader shoved him towards the intersection. “Show us where she is, fool.”

“I have to refill the lamps, or my master will beat me,” the boy replied in a dismayed voice, stumbling towards his discarded tools, but the nearest goat-man grabbed him by the arm and dragged him back to the group.

Their leader dug into a pouch and pulled out a bright red ruby, waving it in front of the boy’s face. As dazed as he was, his eyes followed the jewel with hypnotic fascination. “Surely there are some things worth being beaten over, yeah?”

The boy slowly nodded, raising a wobbly hand to follow the gem in a slightly out of sync fashion that prevented him from actually taking the stone. The goat-man grabbed his hand and slapped the jewel into it, snapping his fingers in the boy‘s face when he continued to stare at the stone. “Take us to the priest’s quarters then,” the goat-man snapped.

to Book 6, part 3, page 14

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