Part 8: Gallows Pole
"So, who are you, then?" I say, turning to look at the speaker. He's about my height, thin, wiry, shaggy hair, not shaved recently. Looks like he's had a time of it himself. He's got bandages and bruises all over, like me. it's almost like looking in a mirror.
"What were you praying for? Safety?" he shoots at me. "Then run now. Questions later, when we've shaken the Watch. Deal?"
We move through the Bastion. He leads me to a grate. From the smell, this one leads to the waste sewers, not the nice clean water supply.
"Oh, not this again." I mutter, but between the guards and the sewers I'll take getting filthy. We slip down into the darkness, then wait. The guards apparently don't think to check the grate. I hear them stomp by. We wait a few minutes more. The smell is incredible. Don't gag.
“Alright," my companion mutters after a few more minutes, "time to go."
"No. Time for questions, I think. Who are you and why help me?"
He sighs. "Right. Should have known. OK, here's the deal. I'm here because of your prayer to the Saints, because they can't help you now."
That's alarming. "Why not?"
"Because you're an Exile. Exiles are marked by the Shadows, and even the Saints can't aid them directly."
"So my coin last night was wasted then?"
"Not entirely. They can guide your path away from danger, or keep you from catching ill. Or have you there when someone they ARE able to help needs it."
I feel used. "So the Saints used me to protect Eric? Only to utterly fail him?"
My guide looks my way. I get the impression he's glaring at me. "What you said last night was right, you know. About death and redemption. If I had thought that way...never mind. What matters is, you were right, and you tried your best. What happened after? Not your fault."
Doesn't feel that way. "Right. I notice you still haven't answered either question yet."
There's that glare again. "I'm getting to that. I'm here because you sacrificed your light to them. They cannot ignore such a prayer, Shadows or not. And they owed you for last night. So they found a loophole. You've been marked for The Shadows, so they sent one who has your survival in their best interests."
“Oh fuck.” I back away from him, slipping a little. "Oh fuck no. You-you keep away from me! Keep away!" Panicking...not good...must calm down... I can't. The memory of those silent figures with no candles gathered like vultures on the balcony of the cirque is too fresh...too vivid...
"You know, I just said that your survival is in my best interests." He sighs. "Look. I'm not your enemy here. I'm on your side."
I'm not listening. I'm running. The Shadows are the hangmen of the gallows of my Exile, and I'm not trusting one to slack his rope for me. I run for a bit, trying not to slip in the sludge covering the walkways or fall into the sewage running beside me. It's hard with no light. My hand is burning, so I start unwrapping it.
Ah. There. That's better. Now the flames licking my fingers can light my way. Now if only the walls weren't bleeding. Slow sores of sludge ooze like leprosy along the tunnel. The rotting bowels of Miir glisten.
"There you are." the shadow-man says from ahead of me. He got here quick. He walks into my light. He has no eyes, only holes leaking blood.
"I know who you are." I giggle. "You're the ghost of the last Exile, come to lead me to my doom. Well, I won't share your fate! Back, demon!” I wave my burning hand at him, but he doesn't seem impressed.
"Wow. That dreamlily has gotten its hooks deep in you, hasn't it? “ the shadow man sighs. “So you've heard the story of the Exile who was found dead after using his peepers for inkwells. Not surprised. It's a legend, after all. Here's the thing, though. It's older than people think, gone through a dozen tellers over the centuries, twisted into a morality tale. And after all this time, I'm rather sick of it. I want to help you, Gaven. I want to see you survive, because then the story will change. If you manage to survive this week, then people will tell the story of the Exile who survived. I want to be that story. So I'm here to help you. And I'll knock you out and stash you somewhere unpleasant but secure if I have to. Do you understand me?"
"You're crying blood. You might want to look into that." I say, holding my burning hand between us like a shield of pain. I start giggling.
"Look, Gaven. We need to get moving. I can lead you somewhere where you'll be safe, but we must be there before midnight. Understand?"
I lower my hand. "Fine. But if you kill me, I'll be very annoyed." I can see the walls changing color, from stone gray to powder blue. "Ok, so you don't want to be the story of the eyeless Exile, right? Does that mean The Shadows are living stories?"
"Something like that." My guide says as we move. "It's more like the forms we can take are determined by the tales told about us."
"Then what are you, really?"
"I was a man once. Just like you. I was offered a deal, though--become a legend and live forever." He sighs. "There are different types of legends. Most are not pleasant tales of heroism. Many are cautionary tales. I'm a victim for eternity."
Now I don't feel so bad about spitting in Naros's face, if this is the sort of thing he was actually offering me that first night.
We lapse into silence for the rest of our trek. Until my guide stops us. "We're here. Just up that grate is a place you can spend the night. You'll be safe from direct actions of the Shadows, so long as you stay within the grounds. They can still send things after you, though.”
I pull the grate open, and step out into the night air. It's a courtyard, with a nice garden. Some night guards notice me. They shout. Oh, fuck! I turn back to the grate...but he's already closed it.
"You bastard!" I scream. "You lied to me!"
"I said you'd be safe, not that you'd enjoy the stay!" Comes the reply. The guards grab me. I try to struggle out of their grip. Fuck. FUCK! A figure dressed in white approaches. He grins widely.
"Well! What a pleasant surprise! I'm so glad you found your way back to us, Gaven."
It's Jereth. I'm back in Lair Dythanus.