Chapter Seventeen

Chapter 17

The way forward was dark, dirty, wet, and smelled pretty bad.

The way back wasn’t any better.

“What’s this again?”

“The Cloaca Maxima.  Oldest sewer known.”

“It stinks.”

“It IS a sewer.”

From behind them, a voice cut through the stench.  “Night, Incognito, knock it off.”

They trudged on in silence.

Night stopped.  Her loose hair fell around her face in ebon sheaves.  “What’s that smell?”

“I’m betting that’s our mark.”

The same voice, again.  “The walls have ears, you know.”

“They apparently have assholes, too.”

Incognito was loosening the blade from his back.  There was a mass of fallen rock in front of them, and beyond was a central pool, a junction for multiple pathways.   His heavy red hair was bound in a topknot, and he was loosening his tunic and slipping his right arm from it.  Underneath it glittered micromail across his chest and down to the heavy, weighted gloves on his hands.  His breath was a white cloud, steam in the cold air of the tunnels.  “Are you done poking fun, or should I use the bow too?”

Night was already moving.  Her armguards in place, she was hunting through the boxes for a Firefly.  The bow was strapped to her back, ready to spring to full tension at a touch.  She found a Firefly, and a second, and grabbed them both.  She unslung the bow and pressed the catch that opened it to full size, its five-foot spread nearly as tall as she.  For this shot, she set the bottom bout on the ground, nocked the pair of Fireflys, and aimed for the ceiling.

“Ready?”

“I’m not getting any younger.”

“Or any prettier.”

From behind, the voice. “Silence the target.  Now.”

The bolts flew from the bow.  They struck six feet apart, one skewing as it left the bow to hit too close to them.  Swift as wind, a new arrow appeared in its place, the bow came up in full draw as a thundering sound filled the tunnels.   Dust drifted down, as the Fireflys painted the scene with phosphorous.   Incognito was already moving.   Ahead the water roiled as something massive broke the surface.

“Spirit above, it stinks!”

“Toxic, too.  Don’t get in that water!”

The next arrow sang free.  It struck a loose stone in the ceiling, knocking it into the water.   It started to bubble.   Incognito was right-this water was bad news.   The Harvest creature had surfaced.
In front of them was a massive toad, easily the size of a storage shed.  As it focused its eyes, it began to foam behind its tympanic membranes.  Incognito was already in motion, blade trailing, rounding the side of the pit.  “Night, distraction!”

Night grabbed the first trick arrow that came to her hand.  As it sailed from the string, the voice behind was already shouting a warning to Incognito-

“Flashbang!”

Incognito covered his face with his blade.  The tunnel was broad daylight for a split second, and even through the volcanic glass of his blade, it hurt.  The toad squealed in pain, its eyes seared by the light.
Incognito was already capitolizing.  Even as the light died his blade bit into the poison gland of the toad, laying it bare and burning the blade.  Ignoring his dissolving sword, he touched off on the back (his boots were smoking now too)  and laid open the other.  His sword was a burning wreck.  Smoke hissed from the damaged blade.

“Night, cover!”

“I can’t see!”

“Shoot at the sound of my voice!”

She did so.  She nocked an arrow, pulled it and fired.  Irian, crouched on the toad’s back, leapt straight up.  The toad reared, and the arrow caught it in the throat.   As it coughed, bright red blood mingling with the poison of the pool, Incognito brought the stump of his blade down straight into the brain of the creature.  It pitched forward, nearly spilling him into the mire, and he leapt back onto solid ground.

“Well done, you two.”  The voice again.  Its owner stepped forward this time, a broad smile on his dark face.  Sticks stared at the two cadets.  “Next time, don’t grab wildly.  There are arrows in there that would have killed him.”

“Well, all I’m really out is some boots and a sword.”

“Yes, but we have to walk back out of here.”

Night was laughing in the corner.  “You have to walk all the way back barefoot…”

Sticks smiled.  “Yes, and since you blinded yourself, he’ll have to hold your hand the entire way to guide you.”

“What are you punishing me for?  We killed it, didn’t we?”

“Call it a ‘learning experience.’”

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Published in: on April 27, 2009 at 3:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

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