Part 5: There's No Place Like Home
The light from the fireglass in the wall is dimming. So is the light from my dagger.
"Oh, what now?" I grunt, alarmed.
"It's midnight." Eric whispers. He's terrified. "The Shadows are free to roam."
Great. I was starting to enjoy not dealing with weird scat. I'm glad the seam of fireglass continues for a while. I'm less pleased that we've gone back to the sludgy part of the sewers. My poor nose. The corridor heads away down into the bleakness. Yay. This section has turned into a twisty little maze. It's all coming back. Right, left--and the corridor dead-ends at a building. Wooden frame, long, and on stilts, the sort you see everywhere near the docks in Calisapas.
Except we're about a thousand miles from the docks of Calisapas. We're in Miir. In a sewer. Underground. I stare dumbly at it.
“Eric? What do you make of this?”
He's stopped, too. I look back at him--he's more confused than I am. Not surprised--wood is a luxury in Miir. Most houses here are stone. So what is a Calisapan longhouse doing wedged into a sewer? I turn...and the tunnel is gone, replaced by more houses.
This must be the Shadows at work. I know we're still underground, but to all appearances we've wandered onto a street in my home city. I wonder if I should be worried that they seem to be getting creative in their efforts to screw with me. This place looks almost like—no.
"You know, this is strange and unnerving." I say to Eric, as nonchalantly as I can. "Why don't we turn back and get out of here?" He nods, though he's more fascinated by the architecture than he is attentive. At least he's not asking awkward questions. Maybe we can...
...and there it is. A large building squats in front of us. On the sign: "Lord Padrig's Home for Foundling Children." Dragon take it all. It's the home I've tried to avoid, ever since the last time I set eyes on it at the tender age of fourteen. Did a good job of that, till now.
"What's wrong, Gaven? Why have we stopped?" Eric still has his blade out. He's not looking at things in wonder anymore.
I don't have anything to fear from this place. It's just a building. It's not like Jacky Nimblewright is going to jump out at me.
"What is this place, Gaven?" Eric asks. There are too many answers to that question.
"I grew up here." I mutter. "Let's leave."
"It's a test. The Shadows are showing us this for a reason, Gaven." Eric says. "We should not turn away from lessons, no matter how painful."
I glare at him. "Yes! Let's relive the more painful and soulcrushing years of my life! It'll be fun!" I snap. "Dragon take that. We go another way."
"What are you running from, Gaven? What are you afraid to face?" Eric asks. I punch him hard in the face. He collapses.
"You know what? SCREW you, Eric! Y-you don't know me! You know NOTHING about this! And really, what right do you have to pry!? You want to know what lesson this place has? We lean that life sucks and people are bastards! And you could have learned that anywhere! And YOU! You keep being evasive about whatever this 'debt' to the Shadows is. What gives you the right to pry!?" I'm ranting. I never rant. I stalk off. He doesn't get up...I think he's still shocked. I need to be away from here. I need out of this mockery.
I've let the memory of Jack Nimblewright get to me. I shouldn't. This is just a trick, like the magic maze from last night. It's not real.
"Does the weight of your memories drag you down?" I hear. I also hear a clinking silver chain, and smell rose perfume. No. Not...
"Naros. I'm guessing this is your handiwork, then? It seems your style." I grumble. I try not to look at the pale nobleman. "I didn't call you."
"Am I not free to come and go where I wish?" he asks. I don't know. I didn't think so. I still don't know what sort of powers he wields. "You needn't worry about me. I am not your tormentor tonight. I'm merely here to inspect my investment. Ensure you don't renege our deal."
"Yeah, maybe you weren't watching earlier." I scoff. "I thought I made my intentions quite clear with the bullyboys." Scat. He's smirking.
"Those guards were not there to collect the debt your companion owes to us. They're after mere coin. He owes us far more." I hate his smirk.
"Yeah. What is this debt, anyway? He hasn't been very forthcoming about that. You Miirians are a tight-lipped bunch." I grunt. I hate him.
"No, I don't suppose he would have been, would he?" Naros says. "And I can't really blame him, since you are the cause of his problems."
"Care to explain that?" I say.
"It's simple, really. I told you once before--the Shadows despise being stolen from."
Great. Because Eric decided to try to help me, the Shadows have apparently turned their rage on him. Nice guilt trip. "Go away, Naros."
"Let me remind you what's at stake. You can alleviate your suffering tremendously if you let The Shadows collect their due." He says. "Just stand aside when the time comes. That's all you have to do. Stand aside." He's swallowed by the darkness. "Stand...aside."
He's gone now, but his voice still echoes in my head. This is all my fault. It's a heavy burden to bear. I hear footsteps. Eric's coming. He turns the corner, past the row of coastal houses. "Gaven?" he says. There's blood on his lip from where I hit him. "Are you here?"
"Yeah. I'm here." I say. I stand up off the stoop, dust myself off, and wander towards him. "Look, I'm sorry that I punched you."
He shrugs. "You were right. I should not have sought to force you to face this test against your will." He looks at me. Boil and damn his soulful face.
I sigh. "Yeah. Look, it's just that I grew up at that foundling home. It wasn't a bad place, actually, until Jacky Nimblewright took over. I was about nine then. He came in when the previous headmaster kicked it. The old guy, Finch, was as close to a father as I've ever had. But Jack was a real piece of work. He pocketed the money the city gave the home for our care, made us virtual slaves to line his pocket. He trained some of us to go put picking pockets or pulling second-story jobs and took the take. And heaven help us if we held out on him. I ran away as soon as I thought I could make it on my own. I haven't seen that place in a dozen years--was hoping for a few decades more."
"Well, it's naught but timber and pitch." Eric says. "There's no one here to harm us now."
Oh really? The Shadows haven't gone anywhere. But we need to get moving, and I suspect that The Shadows won't let us get around this. We head up the steps of the foundling home. I take a deep breath, then open the doors. We step through. The halls are empty. It's just as I remember it. We reach the back door. And just like that, we're back in the sewer tunnels. The buildings are gone as if they'd never been there. Probably never were.
There IS something new, however. The sound of boots. The Bullyboys seem to have tracked us down. Time to get moving. We start to run.