(Note: This is not official version and may be removed in the near future. This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter. I have preserved the rough form for posterity — or something like that. This novel has since been rewritten.)
“Marked?” Pea said, showing remarkable control of his voice.
“Assuming this is true, this is a horrendously negative turn of events. Marked…by Luthien. We have to presume that Luthien is reading his future too. Which means that Luthien must know this creature.”
“No,” James said. “I don’t think Luthien knew him, probably never even heard of him. Most likely anyway.”
“The laws of magic…”
“I know the laws.” In fact, he did know the laws, most of them at least. He had read them in the etiquette book. They were more general understandings that laws. Nobody had set down the rules of how magic worked. It had always been there. In a strange way, James thought of magic scientists casting out theories, digging up evidence, and doing experiments to prove some point. “Magic cannot be used on the unknown.”
“Which is precisely why Luthien must know this man.”
James didn’t argue because he couldn’t. He didn’t truly know enough about magic or Luthien, only what he had read, and he had learned already that books didn’t always have the answers.
Pea split away from him and sat down on the opposite end of the table. James gave Bourlinch food and water and dug up the etiquette book from his things. He flipped it open and began reading through the new entries.
A hundred pages slid by before James realized that night was falling thick outside. The room had been lit by candles and lamps at some point during his reading, and he assumed it was Pea’s doing. Concern came over him. Triska and the others weren’t back yet and the street outside was strangely silent. Bourlinch lay with his mouth gaping open, drool dribbling from his mouth; Pea slept against the back of a chair, head tucked low and little murmurs and snores escaping his lips.
James stood up. He wished for a moment that there was a window in Bourlinch’s shop, but for some reason no one had ever built one. It was like being in a giant box with only one exit, or like being in the belly of a ship in a locked room with only one porthole to look through. He imagined the road as the ocean, empty and blank, and calm.
He went to the door and opened it. Outside the night air was cool and a soft breeze blew, lifting the loose strands of his hair. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. The air smelled sweet and unpolluted. A faint scent of pine was there too. He took a few more steps outside. The horses shifted uneasily as if afraid or bothered at his appearance. The three Blaersteeds only looked at him.
He gravitated towards Mirdur’eth and gently stroked the steeds’ nose and mane. Mirdur’eth showed no fear, only the intelligence of a beast who could think underneath deep, brown eyes. James smiled faintly and laid his head against the steeds’ nose. He sniffed the fur. He would have cringed long ago in Woodton at the scent of a horse, hay, and horse droppings, but tonight he could only feel calm with it. For a moment he felt like he was out of body, being whisked away to some other world, somewhere happier and without the darkness he had experience. He imagined home without the Council. He imagined his life with Laura and his parents and how one day he and Laura would go to the same college and grow up together as best friends. A broad smiled graced his face now as he thought about this. He saw himself for a moment on a stage accepting a degree and being cheered for by family and friends.
Then he came back to reality, dropping from the fantasy world he had created in his mind. He leaned back and looked Mirdur’eth in the eyes again. The steed understood somehow. He knew far too well how smart the Blaersteeds were. His gazed drifted down the long thoroughfare. All the shops were closed up; faint, glimmering lights shined in a few. Many homes lines the streets farther down and the crisscrossing network of alleys created numerous dark places where anyone still wandering the streets that traveled there would be considered suspicious.
He put his hand on Mirdur’eth’s nose, rubbed gently. Then his mind suddenly became numb. His crippled left hand came up and touched his forehead, but for some reason he couldn’t recall moving it. Then everything went blank and his eyes closed. Dark encircled him and then a flash of light, a flicker of something, and he was in the strange room again, transparent wall and all. Luthien was there, eyeing him with malice.
The vision cleared suddenly and all he could see was the horrid, frightening look on Luthien’s face. He shivered and realized he had been tapped again. He wondered why. Why does he keep looking, he thought. He should know my future already. It can’t change if he already knows it. Why does he keep at it?
He couldn’t answer the question; he had no theories. A small dribble of sweat rolled down his forehead, to his cheek, and fell to the earth. Mirdur’eth grumbled and neighed gently. Then a strong hand gripped his shoulder and he found himself being yanked out of the dark, away from the street, and into Bourlinch’s home. The door slammed violently, knocking some things from the walls.
The arm tossed him to the ground and he looked up into the raging face of Darl.
“What the hell are you doing?” Darl said, raising his hand. “No, don’t speak. You know better than to be out. I don’t want to hear your excuses either!”
“Sorry,” James said distantly, lying. He wanted to say something else, but bit his tongue.
Pea woke with a start from the commotion and so did Bourlinch, both making a disturbingly wet gurgling noise as they broke away from slumber and nearly choked on drool.
“Pea,” Darl said in reprimand, “I have much higher expectations of you.”
“What happened?” Pea said, clearly disoriented.
“He was out.”
“Outside you idiot. Wake up!”
“Darl calm down,” Triska said.
“I won’t calm down. Not now, and not ever. He’s jeopardizing this entire operation. He’s going to get us all caught and killed and I damn well will not calm down and take it. We’re risking our lives to save his pathetic friend.”
“Don’t!” James had had enough. He raised his hand and felt magic coursing through his veins. “Don’t you ever talk about her like that again!” He wanted so desperately to fling Darl into the wall, to show Darl how strong he had become, to put real fear into the old man. But he didn’t. Instead he lowered his arm and let the magic roll back. “Go home if you don’t want to help me anymore. I don’t care. I’m tired of being treated like this. I’m tired of seeing the way you all look at me. It’s like the first time when you all learned what I was. I can’t take it. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask to have my best friend brought here or for Luthien to destroy your lives or mine. I want to save my friend. That’s all. And if you all share the same sentiments as Darl, then leave! I don’t care. Not anymore. I’ll die if I have to. I will. But I will save Laura.”
“You’re a fool,” Darl said, turning on his heel and storming to the other side of the room.
“Then go, Darl! Go off and do whatever it is you want. You didn’t have to come…” He let his voice trail off, realizing that he was yelling too loud and with too much emotion. His entire body shook with it.
Triska watched him with a worried expression; Pea and Iliad too.
“What? You all can go if you want. If all you can see now is the fear of the power I control. Power I didn’t ask for. Power I never would have asked for. If all you can see is how difficult this journey is or how I’ve ruined your lives. Then go. You all have looked down upon me since that day in the Fire Rim. Don’t pretend you haven’t. I’ve seen it!”
Darl stepped rapidly across the room. James didn’t see it until it was too late and the old mans’ hand crashed against his face. He winced and stumbled back.
“You should be grateful for what we’ve done for you! How dare you show such disrespect!”
James caught himself against Bourlinch’s chair, stopped it from toppling over, and stood upright. He rubbed his knuckle over his lip. He was bleeding. Bourlinch mumbled something.
Something came over James. He couldn’t explain it; he lost control. He took two huge steps forward, pulled magic upward, imagined and shot it at Darl. The force crossed the room in a matter of seconds in a slightly visible distortion and then blew out in a series of sparks as Triska and Pea slipped into the middle of it all. Before he could do anything, magic gripped him—Triska’s magic—and drug him into the air, his arms and legs stuck. He saw Darl suspended too. Iliad got out of the way in a hurry.
“That is enough!” Triska said with a bite that stung James. “From either of you. Is that understood?” She looked from James to Darl, neither made any motion. “We didn’t come all this way and go through all we’ve gone through just to bicker.”
“I’m not leaving you James,” Pea said, turning just slightly. “I made a promise to you that I would help you find your friend. We have a deal, remember? Darl made a promise too. He swore to Ammond he would keep you safe.”
“I made the same promise to Lord Falth,” Triska said.”
“And so did I,” Iliad said.
“We’re not leaving you. Not now. Not ever.” Pea curled his lip slightly, a near smile. “You’re stuck with us.”
“Fear won’t cloud that.” Triska sighed. “It will hurt friendship. I’m not afraid of your power, James, I’m afraid of what would happen if Luthien could capture you.”
“He has enough power as it is,” Pea said. “If he could control you there would be no way to defeat him, not by a long shot. He could destroy everything I have come to love about this world. And he would destroy everything else too. That’s what tyrants do. They mold things into their vision.”
The magic in the room let up and James found his toes touching the floor. Then the magic slipped away and he could stand on his own. Triska dropped her hand; Darl grumbled.
“I think you owe James and apology Darl,” Triska said. “A truthful one.”
Darl grumbled again.
James didn’t feel much like apologizing for anything. Anger welled up in him. This had all been coming for a while, he could feel it as if it had come at the right moment. As much as Triska and Pea were trying to defuse the situation, he wasn’t sure that Darl would ever let up. Both of them were angry beyond reasoning.
“I’m sorry Darl,” James said half through clenched teeth. “I didn’t mean to drag you into this. I didn’t come here expecting this. I didn’t expect,” he raised his left hand and exposed the scars to everyone, “that all this would happen either. How was I supposed to know the power I could control? There’s no magic on my world. Probably never really was. It’s not written in a book. Not any book I know of.”
James was surprised at himself. The words had come out of him before he could stop it. His face frowned in apology. Deep down he was sorry. He hated that he had tried to use magic on Darl. The betrayal of that loomed within him, deep and unending. He couldn’t let it go that he had truly intended to hurt Darl. It wasn’t like him. Maybe all this violence is getting to me, he thought. His mind wandered to the destruction of Arlin City, to the undead Masters, to Nara’karesh, and Ti’nagal. He thought of all that violence and all the dead out there, those who had died not necessarily because of him but because of a madman bent on hunting him down and destroying everything that was good in the world, only to create something twisted.
The look on Darl’s face proved to James exactly what he was feeling. Darl didn’t trust him. In some ways Darl never had, not really, and James had always seen it. Darl was a cautious old man, angry, bitter at the world and at life. But he could see the last glimmers of what had made Darl such a good ally dwindling away in the old man’s eyes. James kicked himself inside for what he had done.
Then Darl’s brow uncurled and softened, as much as such a thing was possible for the old man.
Darl said out of the blue, “I apologize as well.”
The old man turned and walked to the opposite end of the room and began rummaging through his things.
Triska, Pea, and Iliad all sighed with relief. James dropped into one of the chairs and put his face in his hands. He wanted to cry, but couldn’t, that emotion lost to him now. He had cried so much already and it seemed to him that he would never be able to again. Nothing seemed to dig into him like it had before. He had grown, even he could see that. So much of what he had once been—a geeky boy oblivious to what was going on in the world—had changed into this hard version of himself.
“Everything is well James,” Pea said.
“Darl doesn’t apologize often,” Triska said.
“I’m sorry. I am. I just wanted to save my friend.”
“Yes, yes.” Pea waved his little hand in dismissal. “I already told you once how admirable your actions were. You were brave to come here for your friend. Few people would ever have done that.”
Iliad stepped forward and crossed his arms. “We’re all brave, you see, for going on this journey in the first place. The odds are horribly against us, yet we prevail.”
“We have to succeed,” James said. “If I fail this whole journey will be for nothing.”
“Not for nothing. Everything has a reason. We’ll find your friend.” Pea walked over to him and laid a hand on his knee.
“Oh, yes, I think we’ll find your friend alright,” Iliad said. “This little tiff seems to have derailed the urgency of our return, and a lot of the tension.”
“What is it?” James’ face perked up.
“We’ve narrowed it down to two towers.”
It was late by the time everyone was brought to the table and Iliad began to explain everything. Darl was grumpy, per usual, but James was glad to see that the tension had somewhat been relieved between everyone. He had been so close to storming out of the building to find Laura on his own. As it was, Iliad sat at the head of the table with a crudely drawn map on a piece of wrinkly parchment in the center. A series of circles and squares along with little squiggly black lines made up the map, defining the features of roads, buildings, and the sixteen towers in the inner city. Iliad passed his hand over the map, using his finger to point out different things, and a small quill dipped in dark ink to make marks.
“There are two towers where she is likely in,” Iliad said. “First is this northern tower on the far end.” He drew a wide circle around another circle at the edge of the map.
“I saw some added activity there. Some trays were brought there at some point before night. I didn’t see what was in it, but the guards took it in and returned empty handed,” Darl said.
“Right. The other is this southern tower, which I believe holds at least three prisoners, or guests, or something else.” He circled another circle on the edge of the map. “This proves to be beneficial for us because both towers are right next to each other and easily navigable. We can split up there and search tonight.”
“Tonight?” James said. “Wait, how are we going to get into the inner city? Aren’t the gates closed?”
“There’s a series of sewer canals that go under the wall. We’ll navigate those to the far side of the city if possible. With three magic users, me, and Darl, I think we’ll be able to take care of the guards without stirring up unnecessary trouble.”
“Wait. Wait. We’re going to go into a bunch of canals without any idea where they open up to? That’s…”
“Crazy,” Pea said. “You know, this journey is becoming rather predictable. It’s either insane or crazy, or both. Sort of odd I think.”
“Well, yes, but moving on. We have several hours before the sun comes up to move through and find an exit that is suitable.”
Darl coughed. “Most major cities have multiple openings to the canal systems that run beneath them. They have to for easier access when maintenance is needed. So, theoretically there should be a central opening here,” he pointed in the center of the map with a quill and drew a small mark, “and four more here, here, here, and here.” He drew four more marks at the four different corners of the drawing. “Now, there may be more openings depending on how this city was built. It’s old, before Luthien’s time, but not nearly as old as Arlin City was. So, likely the tunnels will be fenced off, perhaps barred. We’ll have to take those off if we plan to keep moving through in a timely manner.”
“That’s where the magic comes in use,” Iliad said, grinning at Pea and Triska.
“James, I don’t want you using your magic for this,” Triska said. “Right now it’s too uncontrolled. You might wake up the whole neighborhood.”
“And the one next to it,” Pea said humorously.
“Let Pea and I handle it.”
“Okay,” Iliad continued, “now, once we get to the opposite side where these towers are we need to stick to the shadows. Split up here.” Iliad pointed and left a small dot. “I think Pea, Darl, and James should go to the southern tower. There were four guards, two on the perimeter and two guarding the door. Two with spears, two with swords. You should be able to pick the patrol off one by one in the shadows near the wall. Stay out of sight of the guards walking the parapet. It’ll be a little difficult getting the guards at the door, but you should be fine with Pea there. He’ll know a bit about keeping them quiet.”
Iliad quickly switched gears and turned to Triska. “You and I will take the north tower. There were three guards there. Two on perimeter, one at the door. The perimeter guards should be relatively tired by the time we get up there. That applies to all of them really. I expect we’ll be there a few hours before sunrise. That means most of the guards will be exhausted from the overnight watch.” Iliad turned back to the front of the table. “Any questions?”
“Yes, actually,” Pea said, “What happens if we cannot make it to the towers at the times you’re hoping for? What if we’re lost down in those sewers for hours like James is suggesting?”
“Then we turn back.”
“Oh,” Pea leaned back in his chair, “great, that sounds lovely. Waste five hours wondering around in the dark disgusting musk of feces and other undesirable items of discomfort and then turn back with our tails firmly tucked between our legs. Yes, nobody will notice the smell. Not at all.”
Iliad glared at Pea. James snickered at the sarcasm.
Then a muffled voice sounded from behind. James turned to face Bourlinch and grinned wide.
“I almost forgot,” James said. “I think he knows of a way into the inner city.” He indicated Bourlinch. “He spoke to me of such a place. Maybe he knows the way through the tunnels.”
“We can’t trust him,” Darl said.
“We might be able to,” Pea said. “He’s been marked.”
“So he says.” Darl slammed his hands on the table. “Can you prove his words are true? Can you?”
“No.” The little man’s eyes narrowed. “But Triska can. She can read his mind.”
James noticed his mouth was gaping open. He closed it. Disbelief welled in him. He recalled the last conversation that he and Pea had had on the subject, about how Pea wouldn’t ask Triska to go into Bourlinch’s mind again.
“And I thought you were the perfect semblance of manners.” Darl leaned back in his chair.
“Triska,” Pea said, pleading, “Consider it. Find out if he’s being true. Maybe he’s telling the truth, and has been all along.”
“He says he’s seen visions of Luthien,” James said. “Like mine. Maybe he’s being read by Luthien too.”
“And if he is, we cannot stay much longer anyway. We have to go. Because Luthien will know what we’re planning and he’ll be coming here.”
“This is…” Darl started.
“Hush,” Triska said, her voice sharp and controlled. She stared down at the table and said, “If I do this, none of you can ever ask me to do what I have done or to look into someone’s mind unless it is in life or death.”
“Agreed,” Pea said.
Darl grunted acceptance; James smiled lightly.
Then Triska stood and walked over the Bourlinch. James could see her reluctance to make eye contact with the Daemonkind. Even Bourlinch seemed to flinch and move back in the chair, even though there was no place for the man to go—the ropes were still tight over his body.
“Are you pain?” Bourlinch said, his voice stuttering.
Triska shook her head, looked away, and then back. Tears were in here eyes. “No,” she said. “No more pain. Not from me.”
Then Triska closed her eyes. The same familiar movements cascaded over her visage. She flinched and raised her hand to Bourlinch’s forehead. Bourlinch was stationary, unmoving at all like a mannequin. They stayed that way for several minutes, and then Triska leapt back and rammed her open hand over her mouth to stifle the scream that erupted from her vocal chords. Her eyes were wide. She toppled to the ground.
James stood quickly and tried to help her up. The others only looked at Bourlinch, fixated on the twisted looking man. Triska couldn’t stand. When she tried her body crumbled beneath her. Goosebumps covered the entirety of her skin, from head to toe. Shivers and shakes erupted through her at random and beads of sweat formed on her face.
James tried whatever he could to comfort her, to help her, but as he watched her fall apart beneath him he had the feeling that nothing he could do would help her.
“What did you see?” he said, calm and collected. He hoped that his voice would sooth her, even if only a little.
She didn’t speak for a minute. Her pupils grew and shrank rapidly. Then she finally looked up into his eyes. The features of her face, once charming and motherly, fell away to grim terror.
“He’s coming,” she said. “He’s coming for us all.”
Then her face drooped further, her eyes closed, and she fell into a heap in his arms. He could only turn to the others helplessly.
* * *
It was some hours before Triska woke again, still lying on the floor, still in James’ arms. His legs were asleep, but he made no motion to move. All he could do was think of the words she had said, the last words before she slipped into unconsciousness.
“Triska,” he said in a low tone.
She looked up at him, her eyes half-closed. “He knows everything.”
“What do you mean he knows everything?” Darl said.
She looked at the others and then back at James. “Bourlinch is being truthful. He’s marked. Luthien has been watching him. Reading his future. To get at you.” Her eyes bore into James.
“How can you tell?” he said.
“There are signatures left behind when someone invades a mind, no matter the method. I can feel him there. I can feel the hatred and insanity. He leaves that mark on you too, James. He’s met Bourlinch before. Someplace. I don’t know where.”
“When did he start reading this one’s future.” Darl stood up.
Triska eyed the old man. “The day before we arrived.”
A hint of fear bubbled in James’ stomach. “You can see that.”
“We have to go. Now. How long would it take to warn the people here?”
Iliad spoke next. “That depends. Worst case scenario, if he was in Nor’sigal when he started reading Bourlinch. Four or five days. Not many birds pass over the Fire Rim, only specially trained birds. It would be a risk though. No guarantee the message would ever get here.”
“They could know already then?”
Iliad nodded. “It’s possible. They won’t be expecting us to go into the inner city the way I’m suggesting.”
“There’s more,” Triska said, interjecting. “Bourlinch knows the way into the city through the sewer system. It’s buried in his memory though. He remembers knowing, but at the same time he doesn’t.”
“What do you mean?” James said.
Triska stood up on her own and rubbed her forehead. “Sometimes you have memories of things, but you can’t remember them specifically until something knocks it loose. He remembers the way, but he needs to see the tunnels to know.”
“Out of the question,” Darl jumped in.
“He’s trustworthy,” Triska said, though with little confidence.
James could hear the lie behind her words, except it wasn’t a full lie. Part of it was true. He could tell that she wasn’t convinced in his trust of Bourlinch, not entirely.
“Alright, we bring him with us then,” Iliad said, crossing his arms.
Darl slumped back into his chair and turned to Bourlinch. “Know this, if you betray us I will kill you.”
“Yes, well I’m sure threats will make him much more inclined to help us,” Pea said bitterly.
“Are you sure he’s trustworthy,” Darl said to Triska.
“Yes,” Triska said,
There it is again, James thought. She’s not sure. She’s lying to the others. But why?
Triska stood up and brushed herself off. James got up a moment later, Bourlinch firmly planted in his peripheral vision.
“Cut him loose then,” Iliad said.
Darl produced a small knife and walked to where Bourlinch sat tied to the chair. Bourlinch flinched nervously, gray tinged skin quivering, then Darl cut the rope and flung it onto the floor with a scowl and sat down once more in his chair.
James gestured for Bourlinch to come to the table. He gently patted the Daemonkind on the back, a gesture to move forward. Bourlinch walked to the table, hands folded by his chest and a skittish motion in his eyes.
James couldn’t help but feel satisfied. He had made the others release Bourlinch, even trust the twisted man. At least somewhat, except for Darl. He knew Darl trusted nobody, not really and not in any true fashion. Thoughts came to mind about what they would have to do now. Iliad started off by explaining the mission to Bourlinch; Bourlinch seemed interested, but it was hard to tell. The Daemonkind always had a strange glassy appearance in his eyes.
Then Bourlinch nodded in understanding.
“Then it’s a go,” Iliad said, slipping away to bring out his bow and arrow and a knife.
James quickly went to his things. He strapped his sword to his side, scabbard and all. Darl did the same. Pea and Triska stood by watching, having nothing of their own to prepare.
James pulled his sword from the sheath. He examined the blade. It looked clean, fresh, as if it had never been used before. And it had that strange sheen to it, an ethereal sparkle he couldn’t quite explain, yet had seen before. He watched the edge of the blade light up, then he flicked his index finger against the metal and listened to it sing. It was a perfect pitch. He recognized the C note, the tone so good that an orchestra could tune to it. Then he sheathed his sword and walked back to the table.
“Bourlinch will come with Triska and I,” Iliad said.
Darl grunted at this.
“Yes, we all know your discomfort, but could you please be silent about it,” Pea said.
“I don’t trust him.” Darl glared at James and then at Bourlinch. James looked blankly back. He didn’t want to start another argument.
“Of course not.”
“Alright, then let’s move. Stay in the shadows. Remember that.”
Then Iliad led them outside. James stayed in the middle of the group, trying his best to stay as much out of sight as possible. He didn’t want to be found, not by Luthien and certainly not by any of Luthien’s men.
They took the thoroughfare west towards the inner city, then Iliad slipped into the shadows of a long alley that took them south for several blocks. When they came out again they were in a thin road where the moonlight cascaded over one side and the other was a wall of dark. They took to the dark side and glided along. Bourlinch forced them to slow down as they went, unable to keep up with their quicker movements.
Iliad took them through another alley, across a wider road, and then stopped suddenly at the edge of a corner. Voices range out from the other side; Iliad peered around.
James nodded his understanding with the others.
They quickly backtracked down the road and slipped into another alley, only to come out into a road where two pubs were lit up like bright yellow stars in the middle of a blackened sky. Nobody stood outside; the street was utterly empty, devoid of any life. Voices spilled from the pubs, raucous laughter and incomprehensible banter. Iliad motioned for them to follow his lead and then took to walking down the street nonchalantly.
James did his best to make it seem like he was taking a stroll with family or friends. It was an odd feeling, but it didn’t last. As soon as they passed the pubs, where two windows exposed the joyous parade of men in drunken stupors, they were running again, fast and smoothly. The road ended in a T and some distance down they could hear the yells of the men that had caused them to divert in the first place. Then they were across into another alley and then into an open courtyard.
The courtyard was unkempt. Weeds and grass overran everything. A single fountain, dry as a bone, sat in the middle. It was a white stone monument of a child holding his little hands to the sky, a butterfly sitting on his palms. The rock had been badly beaten in areas—a foot was missing, and noticeable chunks of rock had been chipped away. The courtyard—fitted for a small group of people at most—led backwards into an open hallway covered from wall to wall with a ceiling of green vines. Trickles of white-blue moonlight filtered in through the cracks, casting lines and circles along the stone pathway. At the end was a wrought iron gate fitted with tall spikes at the top covered in the green vines. Iliad pushed it open slowly. The hinged creaked loud and the sound echoed down the open hallway. Then Iliad shoved it and it tore away from the vines, raining down leaves and dead plant matter. They passed through into another road, this one in particular covered in strange green trees that grew haphazardly along the edges, their branches and limbs winding over the road to wrap around each other to create a canopy of twisted wood.
Iliad took them down this road, pausing only for a second to make sure they were behind him. A few houses were dispersed between the trees. James looked as he moved. Behind, just barely visible, where small rays of moonlight struck stone, was the wall to the inner city. The houses were nestled against it and great emerald green vines with small pink flowers ran in and out of the cracks. Above, just barely audible, he could hear the sound of a guardsman clinking in full armor.
The tunnel of trees ended abruptly where the thoroughfare met up with the main gates to the inner city. They were closed and barred. Strips of metal and bolts supported the frame. No designs were on the wood.
Iliad slipped away from the wall, making sure to keep them all out of site. James followed into the maze of trees. No houses were here, but he could see some distance down along the side of the wall the homes they had passed. Along the wall, a few hundred feet from the gates, was a u-shaped structure near the ground. It dropped suddenly into a tunnel and a foul smell erupted from it. He knew immediately that this was the sewage line. A series of metal bars, crisscrossed and held together by a welded series of flat bolts, covered the entrance. A small pool of water sat in the front of the bars. He couldn’t see the color of the water, but he knew that it wasn’t clear. Far from it.
Pea and Darl slid into the tunnel next to the bars. James sensed magic as Pea began working on the bolts. Darl took out a knife and slowly forced it between the spaces where the bars met. Inch by inch the bars parted. Pea stifled a cough and then suddenly the bars lurched out with a bang. Darl caught himself against the side.
All stood still. James didn’t dare move or whisper. He looked at Triska and Iliad with a bit of fear in his eyes. Then Iliad sighed. No other sounds came, no call to arms, and certainly no warning of any sort. The gates to the inner city remained closed and no patrols were issued.
Pea and Darl were the first to step inside. Pea indicated his disgust to James; James wanted to make a face, but decided to smile instead. Then they were all in the tunnel. Pea lit one of his torches, but only slightly so it provided enough light to see by. Iliad brought Bourlinch to the front.
“Alright, lead away,” Iliad said.
Bourlinch nodded and started to walk, slowly at first, and then more swiftly.
James trudged through the murky water. The stench wasn’t nearly as bad as he had expected. A slight current took the water down a side passage some distance into the tunnel, and with it went much of the worst offenders of his senses. Somewhere else fresh water flowed in. He could hear the trickle as it poured from the ceiling in the dark.
They came to a wide octagon where three different tunnels led in opposite directions—north, south, and west. Bourlinch paused, rubbed his crooked nose, and sped off west. The rest followed.
By the faint light of Pea’s torch, James examined the walls of the tunnel. They were old, beaten and grimy. Stains where condensation had formed and slid down in a gooey mess covered the walls at eye level. At the ground level a few rats scurried away along lips of stone. He coughed as something new struck his nose. Then it passed. He prayed to be out of this mess soon.
Bourlinch led them into another octagon of tunnels and then they were moving south. At a t-section they moved east, and at another they went south again. James assumed that Iliad hadn’t known the extent of the maze of tunnels beneath the inner city. How could he, he thought. He could only guess that they had been under the city for twenty minutes by the time Bourlinch stopped dead in his tracks at a room where three paths diverged northwest, north, and northeast.
“What is it?” Pea said.
“I remember not,” Bourlinch said.
“What do you mean you don’t remember?” Darl said.
Bourlinch turned and looked at the others wide-eyed. “I remember not. Not here. Not this place. It’s been long. Long since I was here.”
“Well that’s perfect.”