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       Embremere, p.1

           William Kenney
 
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Embremere
 

   

   

   

  Embremere

   

   

  by

   

  William Kenney

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

  Copyright 2012

  William Kenney

   

   

   

   

   

   

  Also by William Kenney:

  In the Shadow of the Black Sun series

  (All ages epic fantasy)

  Book 1: A Dream of Storms

  Book 2: Shards of S’Darin

  Others

  Undergrowth, a horror novella

   

   

   

  Blog:

  AuthorWilliamKenney.blogspot.com

  Email:

  [email protected]

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

  CHAPTER ONE

   

   

   

   

  The circular stone was pulled away as Grivvin struggled against the guards. A hole, roughly twice the width of his shoulders was revealed, the sound of the churning water crashing below easily heard. The ferocious storm had not relented for six days, battering the city of Embremere and costing the fishermen many days work. The rain beat so hard against the cathedral windows on this night, that he fully expected them to shatter from the force.

  "Can you stop the storm now, Wychan? You'd better give us a display of your abilities or you'll be feeding the bottom dwellers," growled the guard known as Thax. Like most of the royal soldiers, he kept his head shaved, giving him a most sinister appearance.

  "It doesn't work like that, I told you!" Grivvin explained as he tried to back away from the gaping hole to no avail.

  "You are a Wychan, fool! Of course it works like that. Your father was a Wychan and his father before him. Since your dear sisters are away, you are the last of the bloodline. Now, stop this bloody storm!"

  "My father's power didn't reach its full strength until he was nearly forty years old. I'm only seventeen and there's no one left to teach me! How can you expect me to bend the weather to my will at my age?"

  Footfalls echoed throughout the room as another figure joined them. Grivvin could not see the man, despite twisting in the guards grip.

  "You have the books. Can you stop this storm or not, Wychan?" said the commanding voice. Grivvin recognized it, the voice of Kelt, Prince of Embremere, he of jet-black hair and soul.

  "Your grace....I-"

  "Can you stop it?"

  "No, your grace, but I-"

  "I have heard enough! Throw him in!" Prince Kelt ordered and walked off into another chamber. "I've had enough of his disobedience. Wychan, eh? The word seems to mean incompetence."

  "Wait, wait! You can't do this!"

  The Prince chuckled, his voice barely audible. "I can do anything I want, boy."

  With a shove, Grivvin dropped through the hole. He had enough sense to inhale deeply just before the turbulent waves took him in. The force of the water was unbelievable and struggle as he might, it tossed him about like a ragdoll. And it was cold, his muscles tightening in response as the current pulled him along violently and at an alarming speed. His body spun several revolutions, causing him to lose all sense of direction. With the darkness of night, he could not be sure which way was up.

  Suddenly, something wrapped around his waist, entangling him, preventing him from swimming for the surface. His lungs were near to bursting as he fought against the thing, hands pulling at its thick, cold length. He knew that soon his body would surrender, the air in his lungs no longer enough to sustain his life, and on reflex, he would gasp for air. Upon inhaling the water, he would drown. It was inevitable. Something slithered beneath his arm and tugged hard, trying to pull him away to some deep and hidden lair. The pressure in his head was now unbearable and he felt his consciousness slipping away as he rose in the water. Something had pulled him free of the thing, but it mattered not. His air was gone. He had nearly reached his lungs capacity and would die here, floating in the Lake Embremere. He felt his head break the surface, moonlight filling his eyes as he opened them in shock. He gasped painfully for air, spitting out lake water, the constriction of his chest excruciating.

  “Stop flailing about! You’ll drown us both!” someone called out next to him, she that had pulled him from the creature’s grasp. She had slipped her arm over his chest and was pulling him along on his back. He did his best to stop struggling and allow the panic to fade. He would not die this day.

  She pulled him roughly out of the water and dropped him upon the hard wooden planking. He spit and gagged for several moments, then rolled to his back to look at her. He had heard stories of this place, The Under, and had hoped to never visit. The refuse of Embremere ended up here, the criminals and outcasts, the poor and the ill. It was essentially a city under the city, constructed within, and connected, to the massive beams that held Embremere far above the surface of the lake. Years ago the first outcasts had begun its creation, and now it was a dark maze of hobbled-together buildings and floating platforms.

  She had turned away from him and was digging through her knapsack frantically. From where he lie, he could see that she was very fair of skin, as he imagined most of the Underdwellers were, hidden from the light of the sun. The color of her hair, being a shocking shade of pink, stood out starkly in the dim light as did the assortment of jewelry that she wore. There appeared to be five black lines tattooed around her left arm and other markings along her neck.

  “Damn. This thing always gets tangled,” she muttered to herself.

  He coughed and she turned toward him.

  “Just be grateful that you were cast out during such a storm, my friend,” she called out over the storm, never really meeting his eyes. “Here, there are those that keep watch over the holes, waiting to steal anything you have or to kill you for sport. Besides, the predators below the surface now know exactly where to expect an easy catch. With weather such as this, even they are hidden away. Good thing this didn't happen to you in the dead of winter. Hitting the ice from such a height...”

  She held in her hands a bundle of thin rope bunched into knots. On one end, there was tied a bright yellow float, roughly the size of a man’s head. This she handed to him. Her wrists were decorated with colorful bracelets fashioned from shells and other aquatic objects. She also wore many necklaces, the foremost being a small fossil, the bones of a tiny fish.

  “Hold this while I untangle this mess,” she said, her fingers working feverishly to accomplish the difficult task.

  “What are you doing?” Grivvin asked, clearing his throat.

  “Shhh. I’m trying to concentrate.”

  She quickly had the knots unraveled, the rope wrapped in a neat coil and slung over her shoulder. She took the float from his hands and finally met his gaze.

  “Don’t go anywhere. It’s not safe here for you, not with those clothes. You look far too wealthy to be one of us. Too…soft. Just stay here. I’ll be right back.”

  She jumped off of the wooden platform and swam off in the direction that they had come, dragging the float behind her. She was lost to him quickly, concealed by darkness and the spray coming off of the crashing waves. He noticed that in the distance there were tiny green lights dotting the Under, illuminating the buildings with a ghostly glow. Fear began to grip him, the feeling of loneliness creeping into him at the realization of his situation.

  Cast o
ut and for no good reason.

  The royal family asked for things that were impossible and when he could not provide them, he had outlived his usefulness. He had assumed wrongly that his position was safe. After all, he was the last Wychan in Embremere. They needed him.

  Apparently not.

  They knew that the charms he had set would eventually wear off, didn’t they? They had put their security at risk by banishing him, the fools. There were other far more trivial charms, but those upon the gates and doors were of significant importance. Intruders could never penetrate the castle without uttering the exact words. Once the charms had faded, brute force could be used to enter the keep.

  That was no longer his problem. No, he had a fresh set of problems to contend with. How did one such as he survive in the Under? In the distance, he could just make out the shadowy shapes of buildings, some swaying with the movement of the waves, others standing solid against them. The small yellow rectangles of light among them gave evidence of the people sheltered inside. Perhaps four stories above, he could see the underside of the platform that supported the city, stretching as far as could be seen, an impenetrable ceiling, the filthy sky of the Under. Torrents of rainwater fell through from above, the small waterfalls resembling shimmering curtains scattered about in the darkness. At the top of each massive support beam was a nest of metal wire, razor-sharp, a deterrent to those that would attempt to climb to the platform.

  The girl's head suddenly emerged from the water near his feet and she quickly pulled herself back on to the floating pier. She reached into a pack at her waist and retrieved a pair of black goggles, which she slipped over her head. She once again faced out, her eyes scanning the water to the west and stopped with a smile.

  "Safe and sound," she said and pulled the goggles off with one quick motion.

  Grivvin stared at her, puzzled. She turned to him, seeing the confused expression on his face.

  "What?" she asked.

  "Where did you-" Grivvin started.

  "Back to where I rescued you. Quite a mystery you've discovered, I'd say."

  "Back there? You could've been killed! That thing had me and was pulling me down. What kind of creature was that? Whiteshard Serpent? Squid?"

  She simply stared at him for some time, amazed at his ignorance. She shook her head in disbelief.

  "I placed a target near that chain. There's something important down there and I'm coming back for it."

  "Chain?"

  "The chain, yes. It was wrapped around you. You would have drowned if I hadn't freed you from it," she said in a tone dripping with sarcasm. "Whiteshard Serpent," she said with a chuckle.

  His face flushed with embarrassment and he attempted to immediately change the subject.

  "Uh, what do you mean you placed a target on it? What are those spectacles that you were using?"

  "You really don't know?" she asked, her forehead wrinkling as she studied his face. He just shook his head.

  "Do they teach you anything up there?"

  She attempted to straighten her hair, running her fingers through the tangled pink mess, all the while studying him. He noticed a small six-pointed star tattooed near her left eye and several metal studs piercing her ears.

  "We have to get you inside. You're going to get killed out here. Follow me," she said as she headed down the swaying platform taking a very narrow alley in between two buildings. The structures here seemed to have been fashioned from whatever the builders could find. Each building was constructed from many different materials, some bits of wood, some sheets of metal, a tarp tied down here and a wall made of shipping crates there. And every surface had been painted with bright and colorful murals, some of which had been defaced at a later date with obscene graffiti.

  As he walked behind her, he noticed the short swords at her side, the knife on her thigh. She had many layers of thin clothing and he could imagine that she concealed many items within. Underneath it all, it appeared that she wore a body suit of black eel skin, slightly reflective and tight. She was quite attractive to him and he fought to distract his mind and think of other things. It wouldn't be right, a Wychan of his age with impure thoughts.

  "Wait here," she called out and disappeared into a black doorway to their right. A decaying sign hung above the door read, 'Traders and Traitors'.

  She suddenly rejoined him and shoved a bundle of cloth at him.

  "Put that on. We've got to make you look like one of us. You stand out like a pearl in a pile of s-"

  "It stinks!" Grivvin remarked as he opened it, revealing a light brown and wrinkled jacket that reeked of dead fish and ale. It was decorated with shells all about the shoulders and the sleeves were pierced by numerous fishhooks.

  "Oh, I'm sorry, your majesty. All of the jackets that smelled like water roses were sold out. Look, I am trying to keep you alive. Why? I have no idea. Against my good judgment, I jumped in and saved your sorry arse. Now, put the thing on, so we can make it home in one piece."

  He slipped the soiled jacket on, his eyes watering at the stench and fought the urge to vomit.

  She smiled.

  "Nice. It suits you."

  He scowled at her as she headed down the alley once more.

   

   

   

   

   

  The rhythmic and steady pattern of water beat down upon the tin roof back at the girl’s place, her small residence built directly under one of Embremere’s many rain outlets. The place was essentially two rooms, with the addition of a storage closet along one side and lit with the same pale, green globes as the city. He examined one of them closely, finding a species of eel coiled within the round glass container. It was this creature that produced the light that illuminated the room. A small cot had been placed along the opposite wall, an old wooden crate in the corner. Onto this she threw her various packs and swords, then began to strip off the outer layers of her clothing. Grivvin turned his face to the side, unsure of how far she would undress. She removed all but the bodysuit and combed through her hair as she stared into a broken piece of mirror affixed to one of the wall supports.

  The skin-tight suit accentuated her curves and he could see the muscles of her back and arms through the material as she made herself more presentable. Evidently satisfied, she turned to him, wrinkling her nose.

  “You’re right, that thing stinks. Give it to me.”

  He gladly removed the jacket and threw it to her. She opened the door to the other room and tossed the garment into a makeshift bathtub fashioned from a section of a small fishing craft. There was a long rope that ran through a pulley system overhead and hung nearly to the floor. She yanked on it and suddenly water began to pour from the ceiling above and fill the tub. She grabbed a dish from a shelf containing peach-colored powder and tossed a pinch in with the jacket. The room was immediately filled with a sweet and fruity smell as the substance began to bubble upon dissolving in the water. She let go of the rope, which stopped the flow of water from above and picked up an oar that had been leaning against the wall. She used it to push the jacket underwater and stir it a bit to let the powder do its work.

  “That should take care of it. We’ll let that thing soak for awhile,” she said and shut the door. She threw herself upon the cot and exhaled loudly, her eyes closed. She opened one eye and stared at him, still standing in the middle of the room.

  “Well, sit down. Grab a crate.”

  “What are we doing?” Grivvin asked as he sat.

  “I’m working on a plan,” she said, her eyes still tightly shut. “I know the waters around here. That chain is something new. I’m guessing that this crazy storm has stirred something along the bottom and I want to know what it is. You realize that even the chain alone is worth some serious coin, don’t you? In the Under, there is no such thing as garbage. We don’t throw away anything. Nearly everything can be used for something and metal is very sought after.”

  “So, how are you going to find it?” he
asked.

  “I told you. I placed a marker on it,” she started, then stood up and walked to the other crate, digging through her pack. She pulled out the goggles and walked over to him.

  “Here, put these on. I’ll show you.”

  He hesitantly slipped the band over his head and adjusted the lenses over his eyes. He looked left, then right.

  “What is supposed to happen?” he asked.

  She pointed behind him.

  “Turn and look in that direction.”

  He slowly spun to his right, facing the wall. As he did his vision changed in color to a yellowish hue. He glanced once more to the left, his eyes saw normally once more. Back toward the wall and everything glowed again.

  “Wow.”

  “The lenses are made from enchanted crystal and tuned to the tracker. When you’re looking in the direction of the thing that you’ve marked, the crystals change color. Nice, huh?”

  “Absolutely. The goggles will always lead you directly to it. These are great,” he said.

  “And expensive,” she responded.

  “How much did they cost you?”

  “Oh, I didn’t say I bought them,” she said with a mischievous smile.

  “Heh, heh. I see.”

  “In this place, you do what you have to, to survive…especially if you’re a woman,” she explained as she took the goggles from him.

  “Yes, I can see that,” he said, returning her smile. “So, you plan to return to the chain and steal it somehow?”

  “My gut tells me that there is something important at the end of that chain. Call it a hunch or a woman’s intuition, there is something of value there, I know it.”

  “How do you plan to get to the lake bottom? It’s too far down. You could never hold your breath that long,” Grivvin reasoned.

  “You’re right. That’s where I’m stuck. The only ones that can dive that far are the Cuda. No one else has the equipment for such things.”

  They both became quiet, lost in thought for a moment, staring at the floor.

  “Are you hungry?” she asked. “I’ve got some fruits and vegetables, a loaf of bread…” She reached to the floor and grabbed a loop of rope and pulled up. A trap door swung open, revealing a large storage area below the floor. In a net, she had many types of edibles and began to rummage through the contents. She stood up suddenly and held out her hand.

  “Here, do you like avocados? This one’s just right, not too soft.” She grabbed the knife from her pack and handed it to him. As he reached out to take it, she drew back with a gasp.

  “Your hand. Oh my- let me see that. Hold out your hand again.” He did as she asked and she saw it once more, the elaborate symbol branded into the flesh of his palm. It was largely a triangular glyph, with many small runes surrounding it.

  “Wychan. You’re a Wychan!”

  She backed away, bringing her hand to her mouth.

  “I thought they were all dead. If the Cudas find out…you have to keep that hidden. Don’t ever show that to anyone and don’t tell anyone what you are. I’ve got some gloves in here somewhere…” She began rummaging through her supplies and finally produced a pair of men’s gloves, blue and covered with the scales of a fish. She helped Grivvin pull them on and suddenly her eyes lit up.

  “Wait! With your magic, you can help me with that chain! That shouldn’t be a problem for one such as you. Hold on, why did they cast you out? A Wychan? You must be pretty important in the Over, right? What happened?”

  “The power is not what it once was. Every generation, the magic has faded and our numbers have dwindled. There are no elders remaining, no one to teach the ways of the order. I’ve been on my own for several years now. I have all of the books…but I am lost.”

  “This infernal storm put an end to me, to be honest. It has cost the royal family dearly and it shows no signs of stopping. They ordered me to use my powers, end it.” He paused for a moment.

  “I couldn’t,” he finally admitted.

  “But you can help with the chain, right?” she asked.

  He shook his head.

  “My powers are weak. I know many of the charms, have them memorized, but I can’t fully connect to the Spiral.”

  “Spiral? Oh, right, right. I’ve heard of it. There’s some limitless mass of energy floating about that you Wychans draw your powers from, right?” she asked.

  “Exactly. Those of the blood can feel its presence and pass through the veil that surrounds it. Once you’re through the veil, you take what you need from the Spiral or at least, that’s the theory. I’ve never managed it myself.”

  She frowned.

  “So, you just need to learn how to pass through the veil and reach the Spiral." She thought for a moment. "Look, I will look after you, help you survive and you help me with that chain, agreed? I know someone that might be able to help you with this Spiral business. I should take you to see Mucker. He’s the smartest man in the Under.”

  “No offense, but I doubt if this Mucker fellow will know-“

  “You would be surprised. Wait, what’s your name anyway, Mr. Wychan?” she asked.

  “Grivvin and yours?”

  “I’m Lyrica. Nice to meet you, Grivvin,” she said with a broad smile and extended her hand to shake his.

  “Lyrica, eh?”

  “Yes, my father was a songwriter in his day. Hence, the name.”

  “I like it,” Grivvin said with a nod. She smiled at him with a tilt of her head.

  “Me, too.”

   

   

   

   

   

  When morning came, the storm's rage had calmed somewhat, yet still it pitched the floating piers of the Under to and fro. All was still cast in grey, but the light of day, albeit slight, rendered the city much clearer to Grivvin's eyes as he followed Lyrica's path. He marveled at the multi-leveled structure of the Under, most of the buildings floating, but some attached at differing heights to the great alder beams that supported Embremere above. By the look of it, much of the refuse from above had been gathered and re-used in the construction of this city.

  For the first time, Grivvin got a look at some of the other residents that lived here, the populace now going about their daily business. To his eyes, they were all very wild-looking, tattoos and bright feathers in their hair. Their clothing was put together much the same as the city, with remnants and collected pieces sewn together to create something useful. The mixture of patterns and colors was shocking to the eyes at first, but he soon grew accustomed to it.

  "Do you have any coin?" she called over her shoulder.

  "Just a few silvers, that's all. I didn't know I'd need it," he answered. She spun and faced him.

  "Silvers?" she whispered. "Are you kidding me?"

  He reached into his pocket and produced five gleaming coins bearing the mark of the sailfin, Embremere's adopted symbol. She quickly closed his fingers around them and stared at him intensely.

  "You can’t just hold them out for everyone to see, fool! In this place, that is a lot of coin. Put them away. Someone's going to gut you like a gator."

  As they exited the narrow alleyway, the loud sound of a crowd suddenly reaching them, Lyrica grabbed his hand in hers. They abruptly stepped into a wide-open area filled with vendors hawking their wares from stalls set in concentric circles. Each stall bore a colorful cloth awning, the name of the establishment embellished upon it. People moved about, many carrying large straw baskets filled with goods.

  She pulled him along, directly through the center of the market, weaving her way in between the groups of customers. Grivvin was hit by a wave of strange and exotic smells, reaching him from the many stalls that sold food. His stomach rumbled in response, having had little sustenance since his banishment the night before.

  They drew to a halt in front of a large stall, its wooden face painted in red, with sword, shield and axe inscribed upon it. Scrawled in black, read the words, ‘Things to kill with’. Sitti
ng behind the stall on a high stool was a wiry young man with an untrustworthy grin.

  “Lyrica…hey, princess,” he said slowly and rather distastefully, licking his lips. He wore a skin-tight skullcap, dark grey in color with white triangles painted at the temples. His flesh was nearly white, like the underbelly of a fish and his shirtless torso nearly glowed amongst all of the colorful decorations. Like many others in attendance, his body was covered with markings, skulls and banners, tattooed gills at his ribs. Behind him were several racks of weapons, swords and knives mostly, but also clubs, axes and spears. There were two iron shields affixed to the two rickety supports that held his awning aloft.

  “Waterwolf,” she said with a sideways glance. “I need something.”

  Waterwolf grinned from ear to ear. “I knew you’d come around. But, who’s this guy? He your new shacker? I don’t like uninvited guests.”

  She leaned in closer.

  “I need a boat.”

  “Well, why are you askin’ me? Boch is the boat man. Go ask him,” he said, pointing across the marketplace.

  “Not that kind of boat, Waterwolf.”

  He raised a thin eyebrow.

  “You know where I can commission one, yes?” Lyrica asked.

  “Of course. Waterwolf can get you anything. They don’t call me the Under Wonder for nothing, ya know.”

  “They don’t call you that. I won’t mention what they do call you,” she stated. He stiffened and leaned closer to her.

  “What’s in it for me, princess?”

  “Three coins.”

  “Make it five,” he countered.

  “Fine. Five coins when you deliver.”

  “You know, this is a big risk I’m taking, Lyrica. Wherever you’re going with that boat, it better be important. The Cudas see ya, you and your friend are dead. No one uses the boats in their waters without their permission and I’ll need a deposit as well, in case you run off with the boat.”

  “Fine,” she said. “How soon?”

  “Oh, I can have it by tonight. Meet me in the Grokkmyr District, behind Drowned Souls. You’ll have your boat.” He then shot Grivvin a threatening and envious look.

  “Waterwolf, if you don’t show up, I’ll come looking for you,” said Lyrica and he met her eyes.

  “I wouldn’t do that, princess. I remember what happened last time…or should I say my face remembers.”

  “Good.”

  She turned away then and led Grivvin away from the stall. Her attitude became more relaxed as they stepped into the gathered throng and headed toward that which was creating the delicious scents in the air. Soon, they stood among the food stalls, smoke rising into the air and gathering under Embremere’s platform above.

  “I’m starving,” Grivvin said, holding a hand to his stomach.

  “Well, you can’t pay with the coins you have. It would bring too much attention. Let me take care of it,” she offered. “What would you like?”

  "Right now, it all smells good," Grivvin mumbled. He peered over the shoulders of those standing in front of him and saw many types of fish on the grill, vegetable dishes, even water snake.

  "Ghost trout is one of my favorites and Melynia makes it the best. You should try some," Lyrica said and upon receiving a nod from Grivvin, she moved ahead and soon placed her order. In minutes, she had returned, a sizzling plate in her hands. She motioned with her head for him to follow and led him to a cluster of tables near the water.

  "Grivvin, try not to stand out so much. Try to look like you fit in. You're sitting too stiff. Relax your body. If I were one of the Cuda, I'd pick you out from leagues away as an outsider."

  He shot her an angry look while stuffing his mouth with trout.

  "You don't like the way I sit? Let me explain something to you. Serving the royal family requires a certain...flair. Manner of dress and yes, even posture is important in holding that job. It might take me a bit to come down to your standards," he said.

  "No offense," Lyrica explained. "It's just that...well, down here, you're a bit of a tad."

  "A what?"

  "A tad. You know, tadpole? New and inexperienced."

  He rolled his eyes.

  "I'll do my best to slouch."

   

   

   

   

   

  They spent the remainder of the day mostly outdoors, with Lyrica showing him the sights and instructing him on the ways of the Under. Around midday, she brought him to a rather dangerous part of her neighborhood and changed his silver into something more easily spent. Now, instead of six silvers, he had nearly fifty new coins apparently fashioned from beautiful nacre.

  Strangely enough, for a city that consisted of the trash from Embremere, the people were generally a happy and pleasant sort. Most were poor and existed on little, but their smiles were some of the widest that Grivvin had ever seen. Their laughter was contagious as well and soon he had joined in with them, his spirits lifted by the life of the place.

  Darkness came quickly in The Under, for unless you dwelled on the outer perimeter, the light of the falling sun was blocked by the city itself and by the mass of Embremere. The rain had mostly stopped, only a steady mist in the air, but the wind blew hard and the water still undulated as if giant serpents wrestled beneath the surface. Lyrica had led him to the docks, wherein many small craft were moored. She produced a key, unlocked a gate and they climbed into her small boat. As she sat, she threw him an oar.

  "Lend me a hand, will ya?"

  Honestly, he had never rowed a boat in his life, but he would not mention that to her lest he be referred to as a tad once again. He simply followed her lead as he sat behind her, pushing them through the water.

  "So, we can't take this boat to see this Mucker you spoke of?" he asked.

  "No, it's much too far. It'd take us a week to reach him in this thing. No, Waterwolf will bring us what we need. He can be quite the snail, but I've known him since I was a little girl. We've been through some rough times together, he and I."

  Ahead, Grivvin noticed bright lights of many colors coming from a large building supported by stilts and surrounded by numerous watercraft. As they drew closer, he could see the words 'Drowned Souls' painted in yellow across the entire back wall of the place. Voices in conversation could be heard as they approached, coming from those gathered just outside.

  "This is the place," Lyrica announced as they began to slow. "It's a popular place, a tavern. My father performed here...when he was still alive. He was well known in these parts. His old friends still look out for me." She lowered her head, searching under the pier. In the darkness below the platform, she saw a brief flicker of light and then another.

  "There," she said and pulled hard on her left oar, spinning them to face it. The boat quickly slid between the supports and was engulfed in the blackness of the space below. A few short oar strokes later and they slowed, bumping into one of the stilts and coming to rest.

  "Waterwolf?"

  "Yeah, it's me," a voice called out and the orange flicker of flame bathed his face in light. "Come on, hop in."

  They moved themselves and their belongings into his boat, their weight rocking it back and forth.

  "Lyrica, you know the deal. I want the boat back in one piece, yeah? That means, don't get caught by the Cuda, don't bring attention to yourself."

  "Of course," she responded as she situated her pack upon the floor. "And here is your coin as promised."

  She counted out five of the nacreous coins and dropped them into his palm as he grinned.

  "I think I'll go right upstairs and spend me some of this."

  "Yes, I thought you might," she replied with a shake of her head.

  Hopping into her boat, he grabbed the oars and started to pull away.

  "Be careful, princess. I don't know what you're after, but I've seen that look in your eyes before."

  She waved him off as he passed out of sight.

  "All right, let's get o
ut of here. Grab the oars and head back the way we came," she said. It was nearly impossible to see under the pier, but they soon came back out into the open, the bright lights of Drowned Souls nearly blinding them. They moved through the water and passed the crowd, some of them singing along with the music inside. Soon, the sound and light faded and they glided smoothly down the open waterways.

  Grivvin looked around their present craft with a frown. Why was this boat any better than the previous? In size, it was bigger, but they rowed just the same. He exhaled in confusion.

  "All right, drop your oars," Lyrica called out and motioned him to the back. He joined her as she unlocked a long wooden box built into the floor. From this box, she pulled out what seemed to be a rudder of sorts, but at its end was a crystal globe about the size of his fist. She lifted the rudder and slung it over the back of the craft, fastening it into a cradle with rusty bolts. She then let it fall, the crystal sinking below the surface of the water.

  "Dybinlore Eurad Eergydyo," she whispered.

  His eyebrows raised in surprise as he sat next to her. "That's a Wychan ch-"

  The boat suddenly lurched forward, nearly pitching him to the floor and began to gain speed.

  "Yyn araph, Yyn araph..." she called out softly and the boat slowed slightly, becoming more easily controlled.

  "Those are Wychan charms you're using, Lyrica! How do you- That's not possible. You're not Wychan."

  "The magic's not coming from me, Grivvin. It's the crystal," she explained. He moved to the back of the boat, leaning out and staring at the white glow beneath the vessel’s wake. The power from the crystal was pushing them forward and Lyrica’s hand on the rudder changed the direction of their course.

  “How did this happen?” he asked. “The Wychan are forbidden from sharing their magic in this way. In all of the textbooks, it is the first rule.”

  “There was a Wychan who lived among us for a short time, exiled just as you were,” she explained as he once again sat down, facing her. “He gave to us the magical items that we possess, the goggles, these boats, just a few small things to make our lives easier. It is said that when he lived in the Over, he was made to assist in the creation of the fence that surrounds us so that we can never escape this place. He told us that he regretted doing so. He was a good man. I met him once in Dockreven, where he gave a speech at the assembly hall there. The Cuda saw him as a dangerous man. He could control the Under because so many believed in him. They put an end to that.”

  “What happened? They killed him?” Grivvin asked.

  “No one’s really sure. They took him away and he was never seen again. Kindin Lo’Rynin. The people miss him.”

  Grivvin nearly fell from his seat.

  “Kindin Lo’Rynin? He was my father!”

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

 
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