Author Topic: Chapter 48  (Read 1505 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 48
« on: April 11, 2022, 11:40:43 PM »
Chapter 48

“Let me get this straight,” Arico said in a voice of disbelief. “You’re one of Jaas’ mysterious allies; the ones who helped us with Pratun. And you’re also a navigator?”

Jaas leaned forward. They were throwing a lot of information at him at once, but he had to listen! The stakes were too high for him to delay, if Velya’s information was correct. Sabra was there too, staying uncharacteristically quiet. Arico gave him an evaluative glance as well. They had fought together more than once now—side by side. Jaas hoped that would make Arico more likely to listen.

“That’s correct,” Velya said quickly. “We call ourselves Thornes. But I don’t have time to explain everything. We have to get moving if we’re going to stop Ta’anu.”

Arico didn’t budge, though. Instead he looked up at his giant friend. “And you, Sabra? You’ve been working with these ‘thornes’ since the start? Is that why you joined us—so you can spy on us for her?” He glanced in Velya’s direction as he spoke, but despite his accusations, his voice wasn’t angry. Jaas doubted she would have been as calm in his shoes.

Sabra grimaced, contorting his face even further than usual. He placed a massive hand on Velya’s shoulder. “Sabra did what was best. Not just for his sister, but for little man and pretty lady too. Thornes can help little man’s movement! If little man gives them a chance.”

From his expression, Arico wasn’t buying it, but he nodded anyway. He looked back to Velya. “If all this is true, then why would you want to stop one of your own people? From what you said, you helped him steal this poison in the first place.”

Velya’s face reddened slightly. “I didn’t know he was stealing it! Boska said they were sending it to the far side of the city. To be destroyed in the threads or at least dumped into the sea.”

He gave Jaas a sidelong glance. “Do you believe this?”

“I do,” she answered firmly. “The Thornes would never reveal themselves unless the situation was dire, and if they really were working for the Council they could have betrayed us at any time. Instead, they’ve helped us while staying in the shadows.”

“Very well,” he said finally, apparently having made up his mind. “Velya, you said Ta’anu wanted revenge against the Council for what they did to Tellek patch. Which patch does he plan on poisoning? Is he going straight for Sevvas patch?”

She shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know! I think I know where he’s keeping the poison, but I have no idea what he plans on doing with it! Either way it doesn’t matter—if a single Sustained citizen dies from nethrit poisoning at the hands of a stra’tchi, especially if it’s a Boss doing the poisoning, it’ll mean massive retaliation. They’ll start a full-scale Tumult against the stra’tchi, the dwarves, and your movement as well! Not even the Council will be able to stop them, and that’s assuming they’d even want to!”

Arico’s face tightened, and Jaas suddenly realized that he probably knew this just as well as anyone else. After all, he’d been studying the Sustained Council most of his adult life, and he’d most certainly discussed their actions and reactions with the Hauld. “All right,” he said curtly. “Take us to the poison. At the very least we’ll need to destroy it, but it’ll have to be just the four of us. Any of our other human friends who can fight are out of contact right now, and if anyone sees a dwarf in a Sustained patch, it could cause the very slaughter we’re trying to avoid!”

Jaas nodded grimly, and gripped her small matchlock. She wasn’t sure she was ready for this—after all, who knew what might happen over there? However her trepidation didn’t matter right now. Thousands of lives could be at stake here, and she didn’t have the luxury of self-doubt.

Arico led them down the nearest tunnel out of the Hauld’s keep towards the threads. Apparently he wasn’t ready to share his newfound abilities with the Thornes just yet. Jaas couldn’t blame him, but word would get out sooner or later. He’d have to admit what he could do eventually.

Still, it wasn’t all bad news. When they reached the edge, Arico trustingly put his hand in Velya’s, and reached out to Jaas. He was willing to go wherever she took him, even knowing that it might be a trap. Somehow, Jaas doubted the Hauld would approve.

They arrived in an old run-down building that seemed familiar, though. It took Jaas a few moments to recognize it. They were in Krellik patch… at almost the very same spot she’d arrived in the city! Outside, the river made its way slowly south into the city. She could even see the edge of the grate underneath the city’s northern wall. Arico had come here several times to pick up mail for her from the Outside, but she’d never been back here herself.

Arico and Sabra took up positions on either side of the door, and Velya moved up next to him. “He should be up there,” she explained in an undertone, pointing to the wooden tower Jaas had seen just after her arrival.

Jaas could see a figure up there, silhouetted against the sunlight. She covered her eyes against the glare. “I thought that tower was empty. Arico, didn’t you say the Sustained stopped using it a long time ago?”

“He’s keeping the poison in there, I’m sure of it,” Velya responded darkly, before Arico could speak. “I just wish I knew who he was planning on killing with it!”

Now that she was listening for it, Jaas could hear the faint sloshing of liquid up there. She could make out a few more people now. There were two—no, three—of them in sight, though there might be more on the wall or the other side of the tower.

It made perfect sense to her. No one went up there anymore, and virtually no one visited this patch either. Arico had told her of a small encampment near where she’d been captured—a kind of resort for some of the Sustained to relax in, but it was well out of sight from the wall. This Ta’anu was apparently counting on no one coming this far north, or paying much attention if they did.

“They’re building something too,” Arico said quietly, and pointed a little lower towards the framework holding the tower up. “It looks like some kind of ramp. Or maybe… a funnel?”

“Aquun have mercy!” Velya said, her face going white. “I was wrong. He’s not going after one Sustained patch. He’s going after all of them!”

It took a second, but Jaas finally saw what she meant. The funnel was right over the river itself. When it was completed, all they’d have to do is break a hole in the tower, and the poison would flow down it into the river. Contaminating the Sustained’s water supply.

“You think he’s going to dump it in the Waters?” Jaas asked, wide-eyed.

“If Sabra was a vengeance-driven madman, that would be Sabra’s plan,” the giant growled angrily, but Arico raised a hand to him.

“I knew Ta’anu, back in Tellek patch. He’s friends with Durhu. He always seemed confident and self-important, but I never thought he could do something like this!”

Jaas shook her head. “You said he hates the Council, but this will kill more than just them! How many thousands of people will die because of this?”

“It’s worse than that.” Arico put in slowly, the gears obviously turning in his head. “When they find out the Waters aren’t safe to drink anymore, any Sustained who are still alive will have no choice to but take the Waters from anywhere they can find. They’ll hit the dwarves and the stra’tchi patches to take their Waters. They won’t just let the Council invade other patches, they’ll demand it! And if the poison sinks to the bottom of the Waters, they could be undrinkable for weeks.” He sucked in a sharp breath. “We could be talking about the end of the city itself, here. But… this doesn’t make sense. Ta’anu wouldn’t survive any more than anyone else.”

“He’s probably been stockpiling his own supply away somewhere safe.” Velya still sounded overwhelmed. “For his own people, and anyone else he wants to spare.”

“Exactly what we should be doing,” Arico growled. He turned quickly to face threads and beckoned. In response, a hand extended out of the threads. “Otrul, get back to the Enclave and tell the Hauld that the Waters are about to be contaminated. Tell him he has to store as much as he can, as quickly as he can! We’ll try to stop this before it starts, but if we fail… at least your people might stand a chance.”

The hand made a thumbs-up and then vanished. Jaas got over her surprise quickly. Of course Arico had arranged for the dwarves to follow them, and they were able to read lips as well. Arico might be trusting Velya right now, but he wasn’t stupid.

“You three wait here,” he said, turning back to the threads. “I’m gonna get a better view.”


Arico’s heart thudded against his chest as if trying to burst free. His breathing was quick and ragged, despite the relative safety of the threads. From here he could look down on the wall, and what he saw was truly impressive. The pressure tower was full to the brim with green liquid. There was enough poison here to fill up Tellek’s old reservoir and overflow it.

Arico remembered when he and Durhu had first moved to Tellek patch. He remembered sneaking up to the reservoir on the edge of his village and looking into it from above, seeing more of the Waters inside than he’d ever thought existed! This was the very same sensation, only with a sick feeling underneath it.

He was used to high stakes—he was trying to overthrow the entire city’s government, after all—but nothing like this. Over eighty thousand people might die here if he should fail! And despite being wealthy and apparently murderous, Ta’anu wasn’t stupid either. He’d removed the tower’s ladder already, and the tower itself was far enough away from the walls that trying to jump to it would be risky. Even showing up on the walls would be an invitation to get shot.

From what Velya had told him, Ta’anu liked to coat his ammunition with poison as well. The nonlethal kind, thankfully, but waking up to a city without drinkable Waters might actually be worse than just dying from a crossbow bolt.

While he was debating his next move, Arico noticed something strange about the funnel itself. It wasn’t just pointed to the Waters, but right to where the Waters met the threads themselves. With a sinking feeling in his gut, Arico realized why. Ta’anu wanted to make sure that every part of the Waters was contaminated. That way the Sustained couldn’t just grab what they needed from upstream. None of it would be safe to drink. Ta’anu had really thought this… genocide of his through.

With a flash of inspiration, Arico looked back at the tower itself. It hadn’t occurred to him before, but he didn’t really need to find a way up there after all. With his new abilities, all he had to do was thread a few of the tower’s supports and the whole thing would come crashing down! Arico wouldn’t need to worry about being crushed under it, either—he could simply vanish as soon as it started to come down.

No, that wouldn’t work. If the tower collapsed the poison would splash everywhere, and most of it would end up flowing right back in the Waters anyway. To make sure it was all disposed of safely, he’d have to climb up there himself. Which meant they’d have to take care of Ta’anu and his people first. With a breath of disappointment, Arico headed back to the others.

“Any cracks in poison-man’s armor?” Sabra asked from the doorway, as soon as he got back.

Arico shook his head. “He’s got three people with him, and they’ve got the area locked up tight. They’re all carrying crossbows, and they’ve got the walls and threads in easy sight. What I don’t understand is why they’re waiting. The funnel is done—they could dump the poison at any time. What’s the hold-up?”

“It’s the Aquunsaya,” Velya said after a moment. “He’s waiting for the celebration to start.”

“He’s trying to maximize the damage,” Jaas realized aloud. “He’s trying to kill as many of them as he can while they’re all in the Waters together!”

“Well, that gives us a little time, at least,” Arico said encouragingly. “The Aquunsaya doesn’t start for at least another half hour. We still have a chance to stop this, but we’re going to need a distraction if we want to get close to that tower.” He looked to Velya. “Think you can keep him occupied?”

“It shouldn’t be a problem,” she said confidently. “I’ve known him since he was a child. I’ll keep him talking for as long as you need. Though, he does have a certain respect for you, Jaas,” she added thoughtfully. “It might be better if you came with me. If things go wrong, I’ll navigate you out of there.”

Jaas nodded slowly, and then shrugged. “It’s not like I’m much of a climber. If things go wrong, I’m not going anywhere.” She pulled her gun from her pack and started loading it. “There are just too many lives at stake.”

Arico stared at her for a moment, and then smiled. “Well said. Sabra, if we can get underneath the tower, I’ll need you to give me a boost up to the supports. From there, I’ll climb up underneath the poison and start threading it. Hopefully by the time he catches on, it’ll all be gone.”

“How?” Velya demanded. “The tower is at least ten spans from the edge of the threads! Even if Sabra was a navigator, even he couldn’t reach that far!”

“I… have my ways,” Arico said hesitantly. “Thanks to Jaas, actually. Trust me, I can do this. I’ll send the poison to the far side of the city. Some of it will make it out through the threads because it’s a liquid, but whatever does will just end up in the sea.”

“That’s just what Ta’anu and Boska said they were doing with it,” Velya said, her voice thick with anger, mostly eclipsing her puzzlement over Arico’s abilities. “Let’s make sure it actually happens this time.” She handed him a pair of thick leather gloves from her pack. “You’ll need those. I wouldn’t touch this stuff with bare skin if I were you.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Arico said as he hung them on his belt. They were heavy work gloves—no good for climbing. He’d have to put them on once he was already up there. “Let’s get this done.”

It only took Velya and Jaas a few moments to navigate from the abandoned structure to the top of the walls, within clear sight of the tower. “Ta’anu!” Velya called out loudly. “I’m here to talk!”

The first few moments were the most crucial. The moment she spoke, Arico and Sabra began running as quietly as they could towards the base of the tower. With Ta’anu’s men looking the other way, they got underneath it in less than ten seconds and then stayed as still as possible. There was no sign they’d been spotted. Yet.

“You shouldn’t be here, Velya,” a harsh voice responded from far above. “You won’t want to see this.”

Arico nodded to Sabra, who cupped his massive hands under his foot and began lifting him up. The tower was old, but sturdy and well built. Unfortunately, that meant the only place Arico could grab on was at least twenty-five spans off the ground. Even with Sabra underneath, it was still out of reach. Arico looked down again, and pointed up. He then began counting down from three on his fingers.

Sabra nodded, and as soon as Arico reached zero he heaved upwards, pushing Arico into the air. Almost as if he was an Ona ball, Arico grabbed ahold of the scaffolding just as he stopped going up, and then was left hanging there in midair. So far so good.

“Shaana told me where you’d gone,” Velya spoke again from the wall, “but she couldn’t tell me why. What could you possibly hope to gain from this? A city-wide extermination?”

“Not extermination,” Ta’anu said hotly. “Transformation! Once the Waters have been tainted, the Council’s grip on the stra’tchi will be broken! Everyone will be in the same situation, and every patch will have to dig a well to survive! We have you to thank for that, Harbinger!” He added, clearly talking to Jaas. “If you hadn’t told us about wells in the first place, we never could have done this!”

Arico swung his leg over the strut, and heaved himself up on top of it. The ramp was only a dozen or so spans above, and climbing from here should be easy. Staying unseen would be the tricky part. From below, Sabra was keeping his massive bulk as still as possible.

“What about the people downstream?” Velya continued. "They’ll die before they find out the Waters have been poisoned! Thousands of people, Ta’anu! Women and children celebrating the Aquunsaya! What about them?”

Ta’anu’s voice flattened. “An appropriate retribution. They destroyed Tellek patch. Now they’ll lose people too.”

“They’re innocent! They did nothing to you!”

“NO!” He shouted back at her. “There are no innocent Sustained, Velya! They’re propping up a system that’s committed mass murder! They could have stopped the Council from poisoning Tellek patch—from poisoning my mother! They could have forced the Council to find another way, but they didn’t. No, they’re all just as guilty as those they serve. And now they’re going to pay for it.”

There was a pause, and Arico stood still on the wooden strut. Apparently even Velya had been shocked by that outburst.

“You’re a family man, Ta’anu,” Jaas’ voice said gently, into the silence. “Velya told me about your wife and son. That’s why you’re doing this, isn’t it? Not for the stra’tchi everywhere, not even for vengeance on those who killed your mother. You’re doing this for your son! So that he’ll never know the pain that you felt when you heard about Tellek patch. So that he’ll never be taken away from you!”

“Think about what this will mean for him, though!” She continued intensely, and Arico kept climbing. He was just underneath the platform they were all standing on. He could even see some of them through the cracks between the wooden planks. “Even if you succeed, and the Sustained are all destroyed! When he learns just how many people you killed to keep him safe? When he’s old enough to understand, what will he do? How will he look at you then? Could he ever respect you, or love you, knowing what you’ve done?”

“At least he’ll be alive,” Ta’anu retorted. “Do you know how many other children haven’t been so lucky?” One of the struts under Arico’s foot gave a loud squeak.

Arico winced. Almost unwillingly, he looked up and saw Ta’anu looking back down at him through a crack in the landing. “Very clever, Harbinger,” he growled, and lifted his crossbow. “Fire!”

There several thwip noises as crossbows fired, and a bang as Jaas joined in. Ta’anu’s men were firing at the wall. The crack in the platform wasn’t wide enough to fire through, but Arico leaned back to get out of Ta’anu’s sight anyway. “A little help up here, please!”

Grinning, Sabra gave a guttural roar and slammed his full weight into one of the tower’s legs. The impact was impressive, even on a structure this heavy, and Arico had to hold on tight to keep from being thrown off. Above him, he could hear several of Ta’anu’s men lose their footing and fall on the walkway.

This was his chance. Heaving himself up on the walkway, he grabbed one of the men still holding onto the rail and held him up as a human shield. One of the guards was down, and one of the others had already reloaded and was aiming his crossbow in Arico’s direction. Ta’anu was using the tower to shield him from further fire as he reloaded as well.

With a grunt, Arico shoved his ‘hostage’ forward into the line of fire, and one of Velya’s shots took him in the arm. She was using the same sedative they were; he collapsed almost immediately. As part of the same movement, Arico charged the last guard and tackled him to the walkway as well. The impact stunned him briefly, and Arico struck him on the side of the head above the ear, knocking him out as well.

He rose to see Ta’anu standing to face him. He was holding one of the sledgehammers they’d apparently used to construct the funnel on the side of the tower. They were both out of sight from the wall. Down below, Sabra roared again, but Arico quickly shouted down at him. “No, Sabra! Another hit might bring the tower down!” Mercifully, Sabra halted in time. He growled up at Arico, and then stepped back out of the line of sight.

Ta’anu was staring at him, hammer at the ready, and Arico was unarmed. Velya had told him that Ta’anu was a skilled fighter. Arico just hoped he could be better.

With a yell, Ta’anu swung, but not at Arico. His hammer slammed into the tower itself, at its base right above the walkway. The swing pushed him off balance though, just enough to be seen from the wall again, and a third shot from Velya took him down.

Arico ran over to the where the hammer had hit, but it was too late. Cracks from the blow had already started to spread, and green liquid had started dripping out. There was no time to think—Arico closed his eyes and called the threads to him. He had only a few moments to find the right place. By the time he found it and looked back out, the drips had already become a spray. He reached out and started threading as soon as the wooden surface shattered.

Threading dirt in the ground was one thing. A relatively simple thing in the grand scale. Transporting this liquid as fast as it was coming at him was something else entirely. But he had to—there was no other choice.

“Sabra!” he yelled down below. “Get to the other side the Waters, now! If I fail, this’ll spray all over you!”

There was a yell of acknowledgement from below, and Sabra’s massive form rushed at the Waters and made a running jump. He didn’t make it even a quarter of the way across, but it was still farther than any human could have jumped. With a lot of splashing, he began swimming the rest of the way. It was good he’d had some experience in the Waters from his time in the Enclave, or he would never have been able to swim.

Dimly, Arico was aware of Jaas yelling to him as well. “Velya, get her out of here! Get her across the Waters while you still can!”

The cracks widened and spread out, with more and more of the wooden surface breaking away, and Arico gritted his teeth trying to keep up with it all. By now there must have been a full storm of putrid liquid on the other side of the city, he reflected grimly to himself.

Then, almost anticlimactically, it was suddenly over. The stream and torrent of foulness had ended, and now only a few drops were left spilling down onto the flagstones below them. The tower had been mostly gutted on one side, and Arico grabbed one of the rails as the walkway itself swayed slightly. He released the threads in the process.

At about the same time, he realized he wasn’t alone anymore. There were several dozen people down there, looking up at him from the south. Sustained people by their clothing. They were just staring, at him and at what was left of the tower. They must have been at the Retreat, heard the shots from Jaas’ gun, and come here to see what was going on. Velya was on the other side of the Waters too, with Jaas and Sabra. At least they looked unharmed.

With a kind of dead feeling inside, Arico raised his hands. He just hadn’t had any time to put the gloves on. Dark green stains coated both of them—the inevitable result of transporting a liquid through the threads. He looked down at Velya, still holding his hands up. “How long do I have?” He called out. They were already tingling, from what he could feel.

Velya grimaced, and lowered her gaze briefly. “It’s… already on your skin. It’ll be a minute or so before it gets into your blood, and then it can’t be stopped.”

“How long?” He repeated in the sudden quiet. A stark contrast to the roaring liquid of just a few moments ago.

She sighed, audible even across the Waters. “A few hours at most. I’m sorry, Arico.”

Arico suddenly felt very aware of his body; of his hands. He should have felt angry—he knew. Death took everyone in the end: the Shemra made sure of that. Still, he wasn’t angry. He just felt numb.

“Get them back to… where we came from,” he told her carefully, aware of their audience. “I’ll see you soon. And tell my healer friend what happened. She’ll know what to bring.”

Velya hesitated, but Jaas nodded in return. “We’re on it, Arico.” She pulled both of them towards the nearest redline, and Velya reluctantly took them into the threads.

Taking a deep breath, Arico called on the threads one more time. There was still a chance for him to survive. There was almost always another option, he’d found. Most people just didn’t think to look for them all, or have the stomach to make them happen. Smiling down at the crowd, he jumped off the tower and vanished in midair.

Two hands hit the ground in his place.
« Last Edit: April 12, 2022, 01:28:18 AM by Daen »