Author Topic: Chapter 17  (Read 4289 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 17
« on: April 08, 2022, 12:00:39 AM »
Chapter 17

The Enclave was still dark by the time they got back, but a few glimmers of approaching sunlight filtered down on the courtyard from the east. To Arico’s surprise, Durhu was right there waiting for them. The Hauld wants to see you, Arico, right now. He looked excitedly at the two of them. Alzhi is already back, and he’s waiting down there too. Durhu finally got a good look at Sabra in the torchlight and his eyes widened. What in the Many happened to-

I’ll explain later, Arico signed quickly, cutting him off. He still felt nauseous over what he’d seen back there. Shaking his head, he tried to focus. Whatever was going on here was more important than a breakdown of discipline by the giant.

Putting it out of his head for the moment, Arico pulled his father to the side behind one of the brick walls near the threads. “Did the Hauld say what this was all about?”

Durhu paused. It’s hard to explain. The Hauld wanted to tell you in person. Come on.

That didn’t sound good. Arico reached out and hesitantly took the crate from Sabra. “You go on ahead and get that shoulder looked at, Sabra. I’ll finish this up on my own.”

Sabra wiped some more blood from his face and shrugged. “Sabra could use a shower anyway.”

Arico waited until he had sauntered off before turning back to Durhu. “All right, let’s go.”

As usual the guards put up their pikes as he and Durhu passed; they’d all seen him come and go many times. Durhu led him to the Hauld’s side chambers, just off the main audience room. Arico could see the Hauld inside pacing back and forth in front of Alzhi. As they entered, he stopped and gave Arico a quick smile. “Ah, lad, there ye are. There’s some news ye should hear fer yerself.”

Alzhi stepped forward with an uncharacteristic look of excitement on his face. “We may have a way to give each and every stra’tchi patch their own permanent supply of the Waters! They’d have no more need for navigators to cart water in for them.”

A kind of empty silence filled the room.

At first Arico didn’t really understand what had been said. He recycled the words through his head several times before grasping the fullness of it. “A permanent supply. In a stra’tchi patch? How is that even possible?”

It’s called a well. Jaas just told me about it, Durhu explained quickly. It’s a kind of hole dug straight down. From what Jaas said if you dig down deep enough, the hole starts to fill with the Waters! There are thousands of them in the Outside, one or two in virtually every city! Durhu pointed over at a small roll of parchment flattened out on the Hauld’s desk.

It was a picture of the layers in the ground itself. It had the buildings and flagstones on top, and then the soil beneath it. The old Vasiri sewer system was below that, followed by more soil and eventually the solid city foundations. Beneath the stone foundations was a line that ran exactly parallel to the surface. Durhu extended the line with his finger, running it right to the Waters themselves as if the Waters flowed beneath the ground as well as on top of it. If we can dig down past the city foundation, we should be able to find the Waters there!

Arico felt a little lost as he tried to catch up with all the new information. He’d never heard of anything even remotely like that. Sometimes trickles of rain from the Outside would flow through the threads, but the only reliable drinking supply any of them had ever known was the Waters themselves. But he trusted Jaas, and she certainly had no reason to lie about something like this. “If that’s true, if there really are these wells out there, how could we not know about them?”

It’s the Rejoining, Durhu explained excitedly. Jaas thinks the Ritual is about more than just snatching up every navigator child, or keeping family lines apart. She thinks they used it to control what we knew. That’s why none of us have ever heard of these things before!

Arico shook his head. “That’s a little hard to believe. Besides, the dwarves have never had a Ritual of Rejoining. Sir, have you ever heard of anything like these ‘wells’?”

“Nay lad,” the Hauld admitted, “but then, me great-grandfather was only fifteen when tha Sustained wiped out all tha Elders, an’ he was one o’ the oldes’ left alive! Maybe they knew abou’ these ‘wells’, an’ tha’s why they were killed.” He grunted. “Or one o’ tha reasons, anyway.”

There was a momentary quiet as they all thought about it. There were no wells in the original city, Durhu eventually explained, looking like it just occurred to him. They had the Waters, and from what Jaas said the old emperors sealed the city’s foundation magically, to keep anyone from tunneling in. The Council must have known that.

“Because they controlled where the kids went, they could have manipulated things so that anyone who knew what a well was would end up dead,” Alzhi agreed. “It makes sense that they wouldn’t want people knowing about them. After all this time, it’s possible even the Sustained themselves don’t know what a well is!”

“But that happened centuries ago! If it’s true, then the Council has been messing with what we know, right from the very beginning.” Arico took a breath of realization. “Who knows what other things they’ve just erased from our history!”

The Hauld stroked his beard thoughtfully. “There’s no way o’ knowin’ fer sure. I’ve called fer diggin’ tools, though. We need ta tes’ this theory o’ hers, as soon as we can.”

Arico smiled slowly as he gave it more thought. After the Council was defeated, the Hauld had planned to start digging canals so that the Waters would flow into more patches. It would be an enormous undertaking: years of effort at least, by thousands of people. The Hauld had hoped that with enough work, more than half the city would be on the Waters, but it was obvious they’d never be able to bring the Waters to all the patches.

This news, however… “Sir, if this is true, these wells could change everything. It’ll take a while to tunnel down that far, but I agree. It’s worth checking at least.”

Alzhi gave a start. “Sir! I have an idea about that.”


Sabra grunted with discomfort as the dwarf jammed sharp metal tongs into his shoulder. The bullet had hit one of the bones up there and shattered, which meant the healer had to dig the pieces out before bandaging it. This wasn’t fun at all. Gritting his teeth, Sabra closed his eyes and tried to focus on the lullabies he’d heard as a baby. Of course he only played them in his head (the last thing he wanted was for the dwarves to think of him as soft), but they were comforting.

The healer had seemed surprised that Sabra’s bones hadn’t broken in turn. Apparently being shot often broke arms and legs. Sabra had only shrugged. He’d never been shot before last night, but it was mostly the same as being stabbed. When she finally got the last bit of metal, the healer needed to tie two lengths of bandage together to get them all the way around Sabra’s arm. Despite that, the improvised dressing seemed to do the job just fine.

Sabra turned down the pain-deadening herbs offered him, barely remembered to thank the dwarf for her help, and loped away from the rest of the dwarven buildings. Crickets chirped from somewhere off to the left, and the stars were out by now. Sabra looked up and tried to find the Winged Messenger up there.

Every night back in the Deathwatch patch, Sabra had spent hours staring up at the stars. At least when it hadn’t been overcast for months on end. He’d even named some of the brightest stars himself, though those names didn’t match up to what most people called them.

Sabra thought back over the little raid in Sevvas patch. Little man had been shocked. He wasn’t used to fighting and killing at all, which was a shame. Sabra doubted that little man would ever have the stomach to just crush an enemy like that.

Not that he’d even be able to, without a big heavy rock or something. No, little man was a gentle soul. A talker and a thinker. At least he had friends like the dwarves and Alzhi, who were doers. And Sabra too, now that he thought about it.

Sabra had meant what he’d said back there: all Sustained really did deserve death. They served bad men, which meant that they were bad themselves. And stupid too, for serving anyone in the first place. He really hoped that little man and the dwarves would be able to bring them down. Patchwork had its fill of stupid and bad people already.

Off in the night he heard his dwarven watchdog finally step away, probably to relieve himself. They’d kept him under close watch every day since he’d first come to the Enclave. He didn’t blame them, really. At least they’d kept their watchers at a respectful distance. They probably thought he didn’t know he was being watched. Dwarves were like humans in at least one way: they also thought they were smarter than Sabra.

As soon as the guard left, Sabra began quietly piling up brush and dirt in a shape roughly matching his own. When his guard got back, hopefully he’d think Sabra was still there and had gone to sleep. It should be good enough, if the dwarves continued to keep their respectful distance.

No one here, except possibly the pretty lady, knew that he could read and write. Any other time, Sabra would just steal a scrap of parchment, write a note on it, and leave it for his navigator friends, but this news they would want to hear in person. By the time he reached the redline, an arm was already reaching out of the threads for him. If his luck held, Sabra would be able to sneak back in the same way he was leaving.


The sun was rising, past the shuttered windows. The light burned orange through his eyelids, and M’abor squinted as he woke up. He rolled over in bed, trying to get his eyes out of the relentless light. Who had opened the window, anyway?

For a moment, M’abor tried to remember where he was. No sha’haln memories had visited him during the night, thankfully, but his surroundings were still a little unfamiliar. Then he heard the light whistle of a teapot from the other room, and smiled.

Wrapping his embroidered robe tightly against the cold, he got up unsteadily, and then made his way into the kitchen. There, standing next to a cooking fire was his angel. Her hair was a mess, probably even worse than his, but D’tor still looked as radiant as she had the day they’d first met. “Good morning,” he said slyly, wrapping his arms around her waist and kissing her neck.

“Morning? It’s almost midday! I’ve been up since before dawn.” She said in return, turning around to face him. “I thought you’d sleep the whole day away.”

“Well, I did have a big night. And a few drinks on top of that,” he admitted. A concerning thought hit him. “That didn’t affect anything between us last night, did it?”

“You were fine,” D’tor assured him, putting a finger on his lips to shut him up. “A bit sappy, actually, but still very charming.”

The teakettle was whistling up a storm by now. M’abor grabbed a heavy cloth and moved it off the fireplace. “Yes, I’m sure that’s what every man likes to hear,” he said dryly as he retrieved some of the tea leaves and poured a mug for each of them.

D’tor’s place wasn’t much to look at. Like any stra’tchi, she had only the basics, and being a dwarf made her even poorer than most. But she somehow always made it look like a home instead of some misbegotten shack in the middle of nowhere. He’d brought the tea with him, of course. Just a little something to brighten her day.

Still, she would thrive if she relocated somewhere else with him. Taking a deep breath, he braced himself. “You know, Atani Grover has just put his house in Borrgas patch up for sale. It’s got two stories and it’s out of the way, not far from the Waters. It has a large garden, too. It’d be perfect for us.”

D’tor sighed dramatically as she set down the cutting board. “And here we go again.” As she started chopping whatever strange vegetables she planned on including in breakfast, she spoke over her shoulder. “I’ve told you a thousand times, M’abor. I’m not one of the damsels from your plays. I don’t need to be rescued!”

He raised his hands placatingly. “I know. I’m not saying you do. It’s just… you don’t know what life is like, when you live so close to the Waters. It’s like a different world, and I want to share that world with you!”

“I’m not some potted plant you can just put on a windowsill either, you know,” she protested. “I have a life here. I know it doesn’t look like much to you, but I can’t just putter around in a garden and hope to be happy. Even if I am with you.”

“I know, I know. Just hear me out. I actually have a plan this time. I’m not just throwing out suggestions like I did before.”

“Go ahead,” she said evenly.

Not the most receptive of audiences, but he’d faced tougher crowds. “Remember when I told you my friend Wyren was with child? She’s only a few months away now, and when she gives birth, things will change in the troupe.”

D’tor gave him a glance that was at least partially curious. “What things?”

“Well, Cynnik and I were discussing expanding the series of plays. Who We Are has done great so far, but we both think that we should start a new series based on some of the same characters. A series that would appeal to a younger audience, and to more women.”

“I can’t argue with that,” D’tor admitted, still chopping away with her back to him, “but what does it have to do with me?”

M’abor sat forward in excitement, his tea forgotten. “Once Wyren has her baby, we introduce a new character to the plays. Her little girl, say… ten years old. I will continue to play Cynnik’s dark voice, of course, but now his daughter will have a dark voice as well. You would be perfect for it!”

D’tor turned around incredulously. “Me? I’m no actor.”

He waved a hand. “Of course you are. You’ve helped me with my lines countless times, and I’ve seen how you evoke the characters you play. You’re a natural! You might have some problems with stage fright at first,” he considered briefly. “Aquun knows I did. But you’ll get over it, and then you’ll be a star! Just like me!”

She added the vegetables to the stew over the fire and began stirring, apparently mulling it over. M’abor suddenly wondered how close to noon it really was. It was difficult to tell time without a clock. He should still have some time, but Cynnik would be waiting for him inside the threads at noon.

Cynnik was the only one who knew about M’abor and D’tor. He obligingly brought M’abor here a few times a week, and picked him up just as regularly. M’abor still didn’t entirely know why he was taking such a risk. Just the rumor of one of his troupe members shacking up with a stra’tchi could be damaging to the Vagabonds, but a dwarven stra’tchi? That could be catastrophic! Even with their rebellious, confrontational reputation. Whatever the reason, M’abor had decided not to question his friend, and just to be thankful.


D’tor’s voice rattled around in his brain, the word bouncing from ear to ear. “What? Why not?”

She took both his hands, an earnest expression in her eyes. “I’m sorry, M’abor. But I can’t do what you do. I won’t.”

“I’m not asking you to make up your mind right now,” he explained hastily. “Even if Cynnik decides to go ahead with the new plays, they won’t start for at least four months. Take your time. Think about it.”

“I have,” she said sadly, but with a smile all the same. “You and I are the same in many ways. We were both born to human parents. We’re both outcasts: me from the stra’tchi and you from the Sustained. We’re both resourceful, and independent, and fun! But when it comes to acting, we’re very different people.”

She tightened her grip slightly. “I love that you want to give me a better life. Even if you’re wrong. I love that you care enough to take me away from all this. Even if it is my home. You’re an actor. It’s what you’ve been for a very long time now, and it’s who you are. No pun intended. I have to admit, it does sound exciting. Travelling with you and the troupe. Entertaining all over the city. Taking a bow with you at the end of each act. I’ve never even seen one of your plays, and I’m still curious as to what it’s like. But I don’t want to be part of that!”

M’abor slumped in his chair. “Why not?”

“Because it’s all a lie!” She stood suddenly, and started pacing back and forth. “I don’t mean the acting. I get that. You present a story to the crowd, and they love you for it. But you’re the lie, don’t you see? Every time you get up on that stage, and pretend to be the voice in Cynnik’s head, you put an image in the minds of everyone watching! You—the only dwarven actor in the city—are what’s evil in every man’s mind! You’re the voice telling him to take what he wants, regardless of the cost! You’re the part of him that’s hateful, and remorseless, and selfish!”

She closed her eyes tightly, as if with a headache. “Every time you do one of those plays, you tell everyone in the crowd that dwarves are evil. It doesn’t matter that they cheer and clap, or that they pretend you’re one of them after the play is over. It doesn’t matter that you have money, and a comfortable place to live. Even if you only want to share that wealth, and give me a comfortable place to live too!”

D’tor squeezed his hands again. “You may be able to live like that. And I can’t tell you how to live your life, but I can’t live that life myself. I’m sorry.”

M’abor felt like the air had gone from the room. He’d expected resistance to the idea. Hesitation, maybe, perhaps even shyness. But to hear that he was the problem? He hadn’t seen that coming. “Are you… telling me we can’t be together?” He asked with that same shortness of breath.

“No!” She looked back up at him fiercely. “Oh, no, no no. I love having you here. I love being part of your life, even if it’s only from the sidelines. I don’t want to lose what we have any more than you do. Just because I can’t do what you do… please, don’t let that change things between us, any more than it has to!”

At least she wasn’t ending it. M’abor took a deep breath, and tried to collect his thoughts. One thing was certain. No matter how much he wanted to give her the world, he couldn’t risk losing her over it. No. Never again.


Two dwarven guards stood watch from above as Alzhi and Arico worked back to back. The Hauld was up there too somewhere, making arrangements should any of this prove to be true. Arico had to admit he was excited. There were so many new opportunities it could open up! Alzhi’s idea had been top-notch as well. Why dig with shovels and picks when you could simply thread the dirt as you went down?

Both he and Alzhi had one hand extended into the nearby threads, and were sweeping their other hands on the ground in wide circles. Because they weren’t concentrating on actually sending the dirt and rocks to any specific place, all the earth just ended up being threaded. That was just fine, though. It wasn’t in the way anymore and that’s what mattered. No doubt because of their digging, tiny bits of dust were raining down on people all over the city—far too small to be even noticeable.

The tricky part was threading the dirt under their feet. Every once in a while, both of them had to hop from the high ground to the lower ground, and then level out where they’d been standing before continuing with the rest of the hole.

Arico had dug a few holes back on the farm in Tellek patch, but he doubted anyone had ever even tried something like this before. The Sustained certainly had no reason to dig this close to the threads, and if they wanted to dig any further away, if they needed to dig out more dwellings most likely, they’d have to use more conventional methods.

The work was relaxing in some ways, and it gave Arico some time to think. As he rolled over the encounter in his mind, he realized he was less and less appalled at what Sabra had done back at the Spire. It was true that Sabra hadn’t needed to kill the guard in that particularly brutal way, but he had just been shot. And to be fair, he’d never received any formal combat training. Still, the look in Sabra’s eyes had been chilling. It was as if he’d just broken open a melon in his hands instead of a man’s head.

Abruptly, Arico realized they were pushing through more than just dirt and stones. They had reached the foundation of the city itself, put there by the builders of the city in the ancient past. There were several deep mines in the city, all of them in Sustained territory, but they all spread outwards far more than they went downwards. The two of them had already dug deeper than the deepest mine he’d seen.

That brought up another concern. “Uh, Alzhi, I’m going to start digging a ramp back up. Unless you want whoever comes down here to be stuck.”

“You… might want to see this first, actually.” Alzhi had just gone past the foundation into the soil beneath. He was staring down at the dirt and rock, his hand falling to his side.

The ground under his feet was definitely wet. The Waters seemed to be seeping in from the edges of the threads. As they watched, it pooled at their feet and slowly started to rise. Jaas had been right!

Grinning, Arico slapped Alzhi on the back. “Still think she’s nothing but dead weight?”

Alzhi gave him a wry look. “You can just shut up. Sir.” He started waving at the dwarves above them, inviting them to come down and see.

The Hauld made his way down with the help of one of the dwarven navigators, and they were ankle-deep by the time he did. As they watched, the Waters slowly rose past the foundation and finally came to a stop about two spans above it.

All of them just stood there, waist-deep, reveling in the sensation. Before long the Hauld was actually treading Waters, but not very successfully in his armor. Arico hurriedly threaded some stairs for him to stand on. It seemed the water had stopped rising at shoulder-depth. Well, shoulder-depth for a human, anyway.

“From what Jaas told us if we lower a bucket down here and fill it up, the Waters will rise back to this point every time,” Alzhi said slowly, still giving one of his rare smiles. “Unlike standing pools, we don’t need to worry about the Waters being tainted, either, unless some animal falls into the well and dies.”

“We should still boil it before we drink it though, just to be sure,” Arico said cautiously. Boiling had been a useful preventative measure in the past, because it purged anything in the Waters that could harm the drinker. “Not that I don’t believe her, but this could be the first time anyone has ever dug a well in the city. We don’t know what to expect.”

The Hauld reached up and a pair of his guards lifted him out of the Waters. In his excitement he’d apparently forgotten to remove his mail, which was still dripping. Arico and Alzhi shared an amused glance as he made a truly heroic effort to maintain his dignity.

“Good work, lads. This’ll be big fer our plans, an’ at tha Laentana itself.”

“Yes sir,” Arico looked up thoughtfully. “With your permission, I’ll see to adding it to our message.” The world spun around him suddenly, and he almost slipped underwater before Alzhi caught him.

“Nay, lad. Ye need ta res’. Ye’ve had a long day, an’ tomorrow’ll be even longer.” The Hauld took hold of him from the other side. For once, Arico didn’t want to argue the point. In addition to that dizzy spell, he was pretty wiped out. Saluting, he reached into the threads and went home to get some sleep.
« Last Edit: April 08, 2022, 02:31:12 AM by Daen »