© Catch Tilly, 2019
In Meldin's great city, the sewer's are paved and maintained ...
‘You can go out this way.’ Elouise lifts her head up to touch a flower made from lizard’s-eye. There’s an almost inaudible chime and the panel surrounding it slides open. Inside is a tunnel, about half the size of death, it’s walls patterned with coloured tiles and it’s floor the same cinnamon and sand cobblestones as the street above us.
Her shoulders and wings move in a shrug. ‘It’s the sword-side sewer,’ she says. ‘It comes out on Ibbot street.’
‘This is a sewer?’ The tunnel smells of cinnamon and cloves with a hint of darkflower and the decorations wouldn’t be out of place in a palace. ‘It doesn’t look like any cesspit I’ve ever seen.’
Elouise raises ridged eyebrows. ‘It’s a Middle Yaramite sewer,’ she says and over her wolf-song voice I can hear the affected middle city vowels. ‘Not a lower Yarum cesspool.’
‘Obviously not.’ I follow her into the tunnel as the door closes behind us. It’s as clean as it looks and lit with the glowing plants I’d seen in Quislayn cellars interspersed with Vaelen lightstones. ‘Who maintains it?’
‘Fences guild.’ She nods her head towards an adjoining corridor where a group of well-dressed women are carrying what look like shopping bags. ‘It’s much safer than the streets.’
One of the women has pulled a flashing line of starstones out of a netted bag and I can hear mutters of ‘had to clean out the upper rooms’, ‘terrible times we live in’ and ‘you’ll never move that with the Vaelen’s at council’ as Elouise takes me across the junction towards Lower Yarum.
‘We go down here.’ She scampers head-first down a ladder, gold and silver gilt shining in the artificial light, and along a collection of tiled corridors. The sand and cinnamon cobblestones are replaced by ancient tiles, curving around us in what must be an old waterway. Or an ancient transport system, for I saw circles like that under Vaelen, in the tunnels Dad and I crept through when we snuck into the castle.
No shopping ladies now as the sewer moves closer to the Council buildings. We’re under the herald’s quarters and even a fence from Middle Yaramite won’t risk a herald’s Truth Read.
I’m not so keen on it myself.
‘Where are we going? I’m running to keep up with Elouise and I n early bowl her over as she blinks and turns back into a girl.
‘Clypotin exit’s closest to Quislayn,’ she starts to say, when her wolf-song voice is drowned in sound.
'What’s that?’ Both of us speak together, heads twisting towards a shift in the air, loud and heavy. And when I reach out to a wall I expect to find it shaking.
‘It’s not physical.’ Like me Elouise is stumbling on tiles that aren’t moving. ‘It’s ...
‘Dangerous.’ She’s dressed as a girl now and I grab her hand. ‘We need to get out before we’re trapped.’
‘It’s not collapsing.’ But she lets me pull her towards the stairs, a painted mosaic of leaves, with roses picked out in pink and yellow stones. ‘How do you-’
‘Know we have to get out?’ I’ve reached the bottom of the stairwell, my hand resting on a copper and gold rail. ‘It stinks of death.’ I start up the stairs, using the rail as my guide while the cinnamon and night-flower incense is smothered with the lavender smoke. Lavender and roses: the scent of death. ‘What do you see?’
‘I don’t know.’ There’s a blink and it’s a dragon beside me. ‘Purple and black and something I’ve never seen before. Sort of orange and silver.’ She’s running with me as we reach ground level, a widened corridor of rust and sand cobblestones with ladders leading up to the street. ‘I thought you liked the smell of death.’
‘So did I.’ It’s hard to see through the smoke. ‘Do you know which way to go?’
Elouise’s head twists around and her eyes are orange. ‘No,’ she says. ‘It’s too big.’
‘I’ll take a look.’ I pull in a breath and turn sword-side to where the smoke is thickest. It’s pouring down the ladder making me cough like the old man I met in death as I climb towards the street. ‘Can you hear anything?’
I’m lifting the man-hole cover when it occurs to us both. A black dragon can hear a grain of sand move in the desert and a silver-black’s hearing is better.
‘Nothing?’ I’m lowering the cover.
‘Nothing.’ She’s half way down the ladder and I slide down after her. ‘No street noises at all. It’s like they’re…’
‘Dead.’ Smoke scented with lavender and roses that only I can see. ‘How big?’ I say. ‘How wide are the colours?
‘Three circles,’ she says. ‘Maybe four.’ There’s a gold ring around her eyes. ‘It’s hard to tell. But they can’t all be dead. Can they?’
My shoulders are too stiff to shrug and I shake my head. ‘I don’t know, Elouise.’ The air shifts again and I grab the ladder for support. ‘It’s starting again.’
This time it’s Elouise who grabs me. Jaws circling my wrist as she pulls. Her wolf-song mind-speak sharp with panic. ‘We have to get away.’
‘Where?’ I’m running beside her, because it’s that or lose my hand. ‘Elouise, we need to know where.’
‘Away.’ She’s pulling me back to the stairs. ‘We can hide down here.’
‘No.’ I reach round to the delicate scales behind her ears. ‘Listen to me, Elouise. The sewers are going to collapse.’
‘Collapse?’ Her jaw drops open and I extract my bleeding wrist. ‘They never collapse. They survived the great flood and Thorin’s invasion and the…’
‘They won’t survive this.’
More to come in Shadowalker.