A Story by ColdSpiral

She glances at the mark on her wrist, then back up at the door. The glyph carved there matches the one he’s given her – a triangle within a hexagon; this is the right place. The glyph flares brightly when she touches it and she hears a latch snap into place; a light push is enough to send the door gliding around on its hinge. Morwenna scowls – she has been hoping this job would be harder; her brand-new roll of locksmith’s picks staying unused in her pack – and with a brief glance over her shoulder she slips into the doorway, leaving the annoying spray of light rain outside.
She loosens the knife on her belt, and the one strapped to her thigh; her employer has told her there’ll be no complications, still she sees no harm in being cautious. Though she cannot imagine him doing this himself; the esteemed Matthias Loom, Alchemist; leaving his workshop and – heavens forbid – actually getting his own hands dirty; there is yet a nagging concern that it is all going too easily. The tunnel burrows deep into the rock, a snaking corridor through the earth. The walls are stone, cut square but rough and unpolished, and they give the occasional scuff of her footsteps a hollow echo.
An alcove is revealed in the cold, crisp light of her lantern – as she nears, Morwenna can see a huddled shape that, she is certain, is snoring; a soft grumble that slices the merest edge off the silence. A step closer, and she can see the figure easier – the guardian of this passage is a small chimpanzee, which appears to be wearing a rough hessian cassock and a skullcap made of wood, both of which give the creature a monastic appearance. Its lips flutter as it wheezes in slumber, and Morwenna slips past, the alcove quickly disappearing into the darkness behind her lamplight.
She wonders if she should have taken the rusty iron loop of keys from his belt, but the Alchemist had told her she wouldn’t need them, and with the new lockpicks she was desperate to try out, it simply hadn’t been worth the risk. Loom had warned her about the chimp. His name is ‘Abbot’ and is, according to the Alchemist, apparently not one to be trifled with. She does not hear the sound of the chimp sliding out of his alcove, his feet padding softly in the dust as he follows the glittering light.

The passage becomes a stairwell as Morwenna steps through an archway. She looks down at the stairs spiralling into the void; the gaping pit on her left causing her no concern – for one who has scaled the outer walls of the Sky Temple, hanging as it does in the air miles above Lower Acheron, mere heights suddenly become trivial. There is an icy breeze that drifts up to her from the darkness, and Morwenna is glad of the outsize Watchman’s Jacket she has thrown over her tight black Guild regulars. She’s started wearing it lately for irony’s sake; and, of course, because Gatho the Ancient had started ogling her at the Guildhall. There are rumours that the old letch had drawn up the skimpy uniforms himself at the first charter, nearly three hundred years earlier. As she continues down the stairs, she glides easily into a familiar, furious cycle of thought. It’s alright for the men, she rages, with their baggy trousers, rollnecks, vests, cloaks hoods and masks – usually all at the same time – yet Gatho’s regulations declare that female thieves wear a few meagre leather straps that even the most avant-garde of River Lane strumpets would consider tasteless.

With her thoughts thus occupied, Morwenna reaches the bottom of the stairwell faster than she expected. Looking up, she can see three tiers fading into the blackness before her lantern’s feeble reach gives out. The stairwell’s base is a round chamber, archways lining the walls all around her. She hesitates, thinking of the warren of tunnels, of the riches that may well surround her in this deep place, but she remembers the Alchemist’s urgency and her professionalism takes over. She can always come back, anyway.
From a pocket of her jacket, Morwenna produces a strange device – a small disc, the same size as the pocket-watches that can be so easily lifted from the unwary at Palace Market.  Like a pocket watch, it is encased in gold, but the face shows no sort of time she is familiar with. In the middle of its glass bubble – where the hands would meet, were there any – is a shallow gold dish that protrudes from the glass. Morwenna holds the watch flat on one hand and presses the lever on the side with her other. Though Matthias had demonstrated its use when presenting it to her, still she jumps when a small blue flame leaps from the dish, flitting and dancing in the air around her.
After a few hesitant circuits of the room, the flame pauses in its dance, jittering under one of the archways waiting for her. As she enters the passage, Morwenna checks it warily for traps and snares. The flamebody bounces along beside her for a few moments, and then fades away, back to its own realm. This passage is lined with statues, dour-faced creatures only vaguely human, carved in extravagantly flowing robes. Morwenna is a little relieved to see that they hold relics, not weapons; she’s been trapped with animate statues before. The chill is numbing and she tries to cover her ears in her upturned collar – it helps, a little.
She finally hears the sound her highly-strung nerves have been waiting for; before she can even think, reflexes have spun her around, knife outstretched confidently. Instinct has even chosen not to crack the vial on the sheath that would have soaked the blade with poison – the volatile mixture would be frozen even at this temperature. At the end of the passage stands a hunched figure – Abbot. He leans on a wooden staff almost twice his height, but it is the primed crank-gun in his other hand that has her attention. For now, its six shining barrels are pointed loosely at the floor, but even so she doesn’t like her chances of dodging in such a confined space, were the chimp to aim it at her. Slowly, sh lowers her knife, not sheathing it; the blade dangles lightly at her side.
‘Guild?’ Abbot asks, and Morwenna nods. ‘Then you should know where the Blackcoats take those found trespassing in sacred places.’ Her throat tightens – of course she knows. Everybody in Acheron Greater knows where the ‘coats take their prey.
‘Tell me,’ he continues, ‘why I don’t have to send you to Gibbet. Of course, if you are here to donate, offerings are always acceptable, though no amount of gold will ever redeem a wicked soul.’ The chimp lifts the wooden bowl from his head and holds it out questioningly in a third, leathery hand, and Morwenna notices the fourth resting on his other shoulder, the arm tucked against his back. She had mistaken the hands for shoulder pads, but she understands the situation now; Abbot is one of them, from the City Above.
Morwenna curses under her breath as she takes Matthias’ bartering chip out of her pocket. She’d planned on keeping it, if the chimp-thing hadn’t woken.
‘I am only on an errand,’ she says. ‘I offer you this, guardian, but I must see the Frostflower.’ Abbot glances at the offering as she places it into his bowl; he tries to look disinterested but can’t resist lifting it, still in bowl, closer to his beady eyes for another look. A small disc of stone, perhaps two inches across, wrapped around its edge with a thin gold band. On both sides, the stone is carved into a face; a bestial visage with curling horns and tusks. No doubt an artefact dug out of the City Above; the levitating ruins of Higher Acheron.
Abbot’s eyes have widened – they are almost as big as the disc he stares at. He nods; the fourth hand glides off his shoulder, reaching down to the bowl and smoothly palming the disc like a coin as he offers her a toothy smile. Thew bowl is returned, inverted, to its place upon his head.
‘Well, pilgrim, best not waste time, eh? You’ll find the Frostflower a little further down this passage.’ The chimpanzee’s mood has changed dramatically in response to the strange coin, and Morwenna quietly acknowledges the Alchemist’s cunning; the donation was not merely a random trinket dispensed unthinkingly; rather a calculated gesture intended to give Abbot some tie to his home. Just what he is doing so far beneath the ruins, Morwenna cannot guess, but neither does she feel entirely comfortable in asking.
Abbot waddles past her, further down the passage, and Morwenna resigns herself to living with only the Alchemist’s far-from-modest reward. At the end of the passage is a heavy oak door, inlaid with metal scrollwork cunningly placed to bolster its strength. He takes the ring of keys and extends one – Morwenna notices its severely complex cut – slowly toward the keyhole. At the last moment, though, he turns abruptly, inserting it into an unnoticeable crack in the wall.
‘All about timing,’ he says, hardly to Morwenna; ‘we get some sorts down here, you know, that try to pick those locks.’ He shakes his head slowly, absently. This bit is certainly directed to her.
‘Makes an awful mess.’

© 2008 ColdSpiral

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Posted 13 Years Ago

Its nice to read some light hearted fantasy of this quality. Great work. I look forward to reading the next chapter!

Posted 15 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

The clunky hyphenated sentence in the first paragraph could probably be made into two sentences, might improve their flow. Likewise the semicolons in paragraph two, bit hard to find my way around the sentence without reading it twice.

I like this. It introduces a lot of elements that tickle the imagination. Aside from a few places it flows quite nicely, and I found it really easy to picture what was going on, great descriptions as always.

Posted 15 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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3 Reviews
Added on February 5, 2008



Bendigo, Australia

I write... sometimes. Occasionally, I'll finish something. You may even get to read it. That's about all I need to say, so... more..

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