Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Winding Road: Fire and Ice

by Frank Gori

Bellany knew enough to almost prefer the dragon to the sewers. Music Guild contractors referred to taking a sewer escape route as Plan D, the D being for desperate. Below the streets of Hub was a realm, it was a place where men and women were twisted and misshapen by magic, where the vermin cooperated and seemed too intelligent, and where dead men walked and spoke retaining the semblance of life. It was home to a mad king with potent magic.

There was an arrangement between the guild and the Sewer King, but he always exacted his own semitone and it was notoriously the one a guild rogue held most dear. Bellany was unaccustomed to fear. Yet today she was afraid, prices are more dear when you have something to lose.

Mel shouted orders, and he picked a direction but it was little better than running blind in the dark. He had the wisdom to advise everyone to be careful where they step and to harm no creatures in the sewer. At least he knew enough to advise that; trespass was an opportunity for the sewer king. Harm any creature and you went from being an opportunity to being a source of meat for his minions. 

The guild file on the Sewer King was extensive and frightening. He could petrify organic matter with a touch and he had a potent batch of necromantic spells at his disposal. The man was mad and tended to gibber, but most importantly he was extremely territorial. All objects and creatures that dwelled in the sewers were under his protection, harming them was harming him and he took a pound of flesh for every ounce of harm.

Eventually the raging sound of the dragon became distant and the 80 or so survivors found themselves at the bank of a wide underground river. The water was clean, the sewers themselves were cleaner than most of the lower rung Workman neighborhoods. The Sewer King was Mage Guild and the sewers were perhaps the one true contribution they had made to the city. Bellany had never taken “plan d” and was somewhat surprised.

It wasn’t long before the Sewer King’s undead boatmen came. Through the eyes of his mongrelmen spies or the vermin that skittered around the sewers, the king knew of their presence and had taken an interest. “Don’t deal with death, Mal,” Laz managed to mutter before losing himself once more into the delusions of deep despair.

The first Gondola landed on shore and its zombie pilot extended his hand in a greeting about six hundred years out of date, Mal moved forward. He pricked his palm and bled two drops of blood for the boatman; it was an archaic gesture of Mariean courtesy. It was an oath to negotiate and pay the Sewer King, or forfeit one’s lifeblood.  A gesture that he was dealing in good faith.

Given the number of passengers and the importance of several members of this particular party, Bellany anticipated that the price would be a steep one. The cold logic of her Elvish ancestry appraised the situation quickly and concluded a sacrifice was going to be required.

Feelings that were not her own, feelings that burned like fire, threatened to break the mask of stoicism Bellany had maintained her entire professional career. Fear and rage blossomed at the prospect that she might be the price the Sewer King demanded, for Jax would pay dearly for her return. With effort she compartmentalized those feelings to deal with later. It cost her.

Bellany’s thoughts turned to the belt pouch holding the herbs that could solve her problems. Another riot of emotions rallied against her. It was to be expected, the life inside her was filled with Jax’s fire and it very fiercely wanted to live. Still, Bellany could chew the herbs, or brew them into a foul tea and her Jax problems would become more manageable. He’d simply try to kill her, as opposed to capturing her and having her returned to him.

The threat of Jax wasn’t the real temptation though. Ballany didn’t like that her emotional control was slipping. Between the hormones of pregnancy and the sheer turbulence of the magical life growing inside her, Bellany was worried about surviving this pregnancy with her sanity intact.

The passions of the life inside her and the inferno of Jax’s love would consume Bellany if she allowed it. The music Jax made was often described as primal, passionate, and frenzied. Those that knew Jax privately knew that his music was restrained. Being alone in a room with Jax was like standing on a beach in a hurricane. His emotions were palpable and threatened to overcome all but the most stalwart.

 The life inside Ballany’s womb was barely more than a month old and its emotions were potent. The child inside was going to be a powerful sorcerer, she already felt its magic, she already knew she would not take the contents of the herb pouch. It meant her life in Hub was over, she’d have to run and run far. The guild reached far.

A single tear welled in the corner of Bellany’s eye, Mal was the only one that saw it and he nodded sagely as though he could possibly understand. The boat ride was over and an armed escort waited on the other side. 

The mongrelmen guardsmen would take them to the Sewer King’s court. If he demanded Bellany as a price she’d slay him, consequences be dammed. The cold logic of the kiss and the fire inside her finally agreed on something.