Monday, August 22, 2005

Antaria: Whispers

Tanala pulled her cloak more closely about her shoulders. Lorendheim was covered in mists, dropping the general temperature and chilling her to the bone.

That was not to say that the city was asleep, though. Citizens prowled the streets, calling out a single name by the light of burning torches. The Galenic knights, or at least those few who were willing to set aside their duties in the name of the common people, walked alongside them. All in all, it was a night fit for neither man, nor beast, nor idle necromancer.

The image tore through her mind again, and this time she slumped against the alley wall with the force of the thought. She brought one hand to her mouth and waited for the nausea to pass.

She caught a glimpse of coarse, slimy stone walls and the sound of rushing water before the vision passed. The sewers, she thought. If there was any place where anyone could get lost, much less a child, it was the sewers underneath the city streets.

The problem, of course was that Lorendheim was literally... well, awash in sewers. Tanala most definitely did not have time to walk their entire length and breadth.

A fat old innkeeper accompanied by a young Galenic initiate walked down the street past her hidden form, both calling the child's name. Perhaps this wasn't such a big deal, after all. Tanala guessed that there were thirty or so people who were searching for the missing boy now, and if that were the case, then they hardly needed her anyway.

If the boy really were in the sewers, however, then that would be the last place they would search. Tanala wouldn't have given two coppers for the child's chances of survival by then.

She moved from her spot, staying close to the shadows formed by Lorendheim's crowded buildings. It was not quite a wise move, but then, there were few wise moves in her situation.


She emerged from one of the larger streets onto the city square, leaning against the walls and gasping for air at the force of her most recent clairvoyance.

Fortunately for her, the square was empty at the moment. She gazed upon the broad avenue covered in flagstones; On a normal day it would be covered with merchants' stalls, fruit sellers and itinerant peddlers. It was past midnight, however, and all that remained to mark their passing was the chill wind and the dust of a thousand soles.

She expected the square to hold at least one or two Galenic patrols, but all that she could see at the moment was a hobbled old figure resting by the marbled fountain at the center of the site. Sona the Leper was a common sight in this area of the city, and she gave him a welcome wave.

"Hello, Sona," she said to the old man, who was swathed in gray-white wrappings as a consequence of his unfortunate condition.

"Greetings, Tanala Stillborn," the leper said. "What brings your kind to Lorendheim at night?"

"There's a missing child somewhere," Tanala said. "The visions tell me that he's in the sewers, somewhere underneath us."

"That's not good," Sona said, touching the fevered skin on his face. "Few outlets or entrances here. Nobles want to keep the smell away from the merchants."

"There are grates, right? I just want to have a look."

Sona cackled. "Suit yourself," he said.

It was only on her fifth sewer grate, however, that Tanala finally found what she was looking for. The missing child slumped against the wall of a long, slimy, waterlogged tunnel. She wondered how he had gotten there.

The child was not moving, but he did not register when Tanala used her magic to sense the dead. The boy was unconscious, but at least he was still breathing.

Sona peered into the grate as well. "So you've found him," the old man whispered.

"We've still got to get him out," Tanala said.

"How? The grate's barely big enough for you to stick your arm through."

"There's something down in the water," Tanala told him. "It's old, but it'll serve our purposes."

Sona nodded. "Do what you will," he said. "The Galenics might be nearby, but we can divert them if it comes to that."

Tanala nodded, and then closed her eyes.

After a few minutes, there was a slight stirring in the sewer water near the boy. The murky liquid began to churn with increased agitation. Then a single skeletal hand emerged, reached for the slate-tiled floor of the sewer passageway, and pulled its owner up.

The corpse was old, although the moist air of the sewers had delayed its decomposition significantly. Bits of flesh still clung to the long-dead body, and what remained of its leather clothes hung in tatters from its bony limbs.

"A peddler," Sona sniffed. "Probably dumped down there after he died. People can be so unhygenic sometimes."

The skeletal corpse gently picked up the unconscious boy, and then turned in Tanala's direction for further instructions.

"How're you going to get it out of there?" Sona asked, curious.

"We're in Lorendheim Square," Tanala said. "I'll just ask it to find us, and hope it knows its way out of the sewers." The corpse seemed to agree with this, and slunk into the shadows with its passenger in tow.

"Go ahead and search for it," Sona said, stepping back from the sewer grate. "If you run into any trouble, though, then I'll be right here to lend you a hand."


Tanala rounded the corner, and saw something shift in one of the larger storm drains.

The young necromancer crouched beside the sewer opening. It was a little small, but it was probably large enough to fit a young child. The undead corpse waited patiently underneath it, still cradling the boy in its arms.

The only thing she didn't like was the fact that the storm drain was located on one of the major avenues of the city. Most of the surroundings were illuminated by storefront lanterns and street lights - perfect marching grounds for the evening patrols. To make things more dangerous for her, there were more than a few lighted torches guiding various people in their search. She could even see a few from where she was standing.

She reached one hand into the drain, towards the animated corpse. "Over here," she whispered, trying to get its attention.

Meekly, the undead figure hoisted the boy's body into her hands. She caught the folds of the child's sodden clothing, wrinkled her nose at the smell, and then pulled him onto the cobblestones. Thankfully, he was still breathing.

Tanala turned back to the corpse. It still watched her from where it stood underneath the sewer opening, and its eyeless visage was more than a little unnerving. "Thank you," she said, and it collapsed back into a pile of bones and withered flesh.

She knelt over the child once again, checking his breath and the rhythmic beating of his heart. Satisfied that he was going to survive, she figured that she only had one thing left to do.

"Over here!" she called towards one of the torches in the distance. "The boy is over here!"

The lights began coming closer. Tanala wiped a lock of the boy's hair from his eyes, and then ran back in the direction of the city square. It wouldn't do for her to be around when the searchers finally arrived; They would probably thank her at first, but then they would probably start asking her questions. Tanala didn't like the idea of answering questions, especially when they involved the city sewers and the raising of dead bodies.

With a final look at the child's sleeping form, Tanala Stillborn crossed back into the silence of the night.

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