Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chapter Nineteen

The three companions grumbled as they were escorted to the chamber where they were to be house for their stay. The door clanged heavily after they entered, followed by the audible clack of a stout lock. Their meeting had been dramatically interrupted, and they were hustled away without another word.

Staring at the locked door, Brayden sat down on the bed, sinking into the down pallet. The enfolding softness of the thick mattress seemed lost on him as he scratched his stubble covered chin.

“Hmm, what can this rogue want?” he thought aloud.

“Power,” Sethyr hissed in response.

“I agree, but to what end?”

“It could be plain cussedness,” Vijhan added.

Brayden and Sethyr turned toward the Canid wearing looks of surprise.

“What in the blazes do you mean?” Brayden asked.

“Well, sometimes a lion will horde a kill, even if it has already eaten its fill. It just wants to keep the meat from the other lions. It’s just simple contrariness.”

“I see his point,” Sethyr agreed. “Maquin knows that his rival wants us. Perhaps he doesn’t care why…just that he can deny his enemy something they want. I think that Vijhan understands you Humans better than I do.”

“I didn’t say I understood them…I just recognize a hunter when I see one. Something in his eyes says we are just meat to him.”

“Be that as it may be, we have little choice but to accept his hospitality…for now,” Brayden said.

“Aye, that is true. But, we should be ready to escape if we get the chance.” Vijhan added.

“Where can we run from him?” Sethyr asked. “It seems that we have two choices…Maquin or this other criminal. At least Maquin seems to have some manners.”

Brayden and Vijhan stared at Sethyr. The mage’s normal reticence seemed to be absent.

“What are you two gawking for?”

Brayden smiled, “oh, nothing. It’s just that you normally aren’t so…trusting.”

“I never said I trusted the rogue, but as long as he minds his manners, perhaps he can be of use to us.”

The three watched each other for a moment, Sethyr meeting Brayden and Vijhan’s gazes with a cold, reptilian stare. Unspoken agreement passed between the companions and the tension drained from the small room.

“If we stay here with Maquin we will be drawn into any conflict on his side. I suppose at this point we do not have much choice in the matter.” Sethyr said.

Brayden nodded. “I agree, but we must remain vigilant. I he is truly a villain then we must break with him, no matter the cost.”

Vijhan responded with a quick nod while Sethyr rolled her eyes.

“Now that our consciences have been slaked, why don’t we try to do the same for our hunger,” Sethyr said.

Brayden nodded, and emptiness suddenly pinching his belly. He and the others had been so engrossed with their flight to find Maquin’s sanctuary; hunger had slipped away, forgotten.

Vijhan licked his chops, eyeing his companions self consciously as the though of food made him begin salivating.

Once again it struck Brayden how close his friend was to his animal nature. The common wisdom held that the Canids remained a young race, emerging from the wilds of the north only a few centuries before. Some rumored their creation dated to the wars of magic fought in the lost northern empire at nearly the same time.

If true, Brayden pitied the Canids, orphans left to fend for themselves with the passing of their sorcerous parentage. He suspected that this only served to strengthen their reliance on the pack. Now, Vijhan did not even have that. He and Sethyr were all that the Canid had left.

Sighing, Sethyr buckled her pack closed and tossed it under the bed.

“Now that we have settled that argument, I believe that I’d like to see if our hosts can provide me with a warm bath and the food we discussed,” Sethyr said.


Nothing but Sethyr's eyes and nostrils peeked above the steaming bathwater. She floated just under the surface, arms and legs splayed at her sides absorbing the pleasant heat of the bath. While drawing the bath a plump servitor had asked Sethyr if she would like some aromatic oils added to the water, but the mage politely declined. The water was enough to sooth her scales.

Weeks in the wilderness did nothing for the condition of her normally lustrous skin. Sethyr almost imagined the flecks of grime falling away as she slowly undulated her body, letting the water work its way between her scales. She imagined hearing the dry scales drinking in the welcome moisture of the bath. Sethyr’s people believed that they had come from water and rarely strayed far from it. Her adventurous ways, however, often precluded such luxuries. When the opportunity afforded itself, Sethyr used the embrace of the water to support her physical form and free her mind, letting her thoughts nibble around the edges of any problems currently vexing her. At the moment her ruminations landed squarely on Maquin, their eager host.

A low, thrum reverberated through the bathwater, tickling Sethyr’s tympanic membranes. Her let her eyes crack open in irritation at the disturbance. A second thrum quickly followed the first. A third followed, but stronger as dust wafted from the stone roof.

“Danger,” the feral part of Sethyr’s brain screamed, prodding her survival instincts into responding. The ghosts of her ancestors seemed to whisper in her ear; unconsciously sending her head under water, blurring her vision for a moment as nictitating membranes slid into place over her eyes, slowing her heartbeat to conserve the air in her lungs.

The bathwater carried the thrumming even more intensely than the air above, nearly deafening Sethyr. Yet it also carried the sound of running feet and muffled screams. The sharp clang of an alarm bell soon followed. The cacophony assaulted her ears, driving her back above the water.

“Sethyr!” A voice shouted from beyond the door. An insistent rapping followed.

She recognized Brayden’s earthy brogue. “Let us in, ye damned lizard.”

Rising gracefully from the tub and padding to the door, Sethyr slid back the bolt. Pushed from the other side, the door swung open, giving her barely enough time to avoid a collision with a nimble hop.

Brayden rushed into the chamber, his pack and Sethyr’s hanging from his shoulder. As he spun to locate his companion, his foot slid in a puddle left from the mage’s exit from the bath. With an oath of consternation, the paladin went down in a heap.

Vijhan, close on Brayden’s heels, had to leap over him. This, the Canid achieved easily, but a bit too powerfully. His leap took him over the fallen paladin, but also over the lip of the tub. Vijhan landed in the steaming water with a splash.

Surfacing with a choked growl, Vijhan sprayed water everywhere in the small room. With an adroit hop, the Canid left the tub, immediately dropping to one knee next to Brayden.

“Sir, are you well?” he asked.

Brayden grimaced, holding his right ankle. “I’ll be fine…if I don’t have to run anywhere.”

Emerging from behind the door, Sethyr hissed a laugh. “My comrades to the rescue. How wonderfully courageous, but I’m afraid that running may be required sooner than later.”

“Yes,” Vijhan added, “the mage is right. I can hear evil voices in the tunnels.”

Brayden looked at Vijhan with his eyebrow crooked quizzically. “Evil voices? What do you mean.”

“Harsh and evil, and I have heard them before.” A low growl slipped from Vijhan’s throat. “The Jurouk have come.”

“Blazes!” Brayden cursed. “We must flee.”

“Flee? I never thought I’d see the mighty Brayden flee from anything.” Sethyr eyed the paladin suspiciously.

“We have no time for this. The Jurouk are savage beyond nightmare. I’ll be damned if I let them capture me.”

Sethyr retrieved her red robes a nearby table, dressing quickly. “My old master once said that if I ever saw a lion running in terror I should try to keep up. I’d rather not face these Jurouk.”

Vijhan nodded, his normally lank hair bristling, flinging even more water around the room.

Sethyr and Vijhan helped Brayden to his feet, brushing dust from his surcoat.

Vijhan peered out the door and his companions gathered their belongings.

“We must go quickly. They have not reached this far.”

Sethyr and Brayden followed as Vijhan crept into the corridor. Sniffing the air and perking his ears, the Canid searched for signs of approaching Jurouk.

“It is clear, for now, but I hear faint screams from above.”

Brayden shook his head, “If they are above, we have no choice but to go down…wherever that may lead.”