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Tide of Darkness, Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven

It looked something like a fat blue crocodile standing up on its hind legs. Its eyes were small and set together at the top of its head, and its leathery skin sparkled in the firelit, glittering as gem-like encrustations reflected the light. It wasn't armed, but with that massive, toothy maw it didn't need to be.

Gwydion tried to shout a warning, but it came out as a grunt. He was able to raise one arm to point, but it quivered and flopped about.

"Settle down," said Brianna, pushing his arm back. "Give it a few minutes; don't panic, leatherhead."

He rolled his eyes towards the creature, desperately trying to warn of the danger.

The creature, for its part, merely halted at the door, staring at them stupidly.

Gwydion tried to speak, but his tongue felt like it was swollen. His words came out as an indistinct mumble. Again he tried to point; it took a herculean effort just to lift his arm, and when he did it trembled wildly.

"Calm down, I said," repeated Brianna, pushing his arm down. "You'll hurt yourself, flailing around like that."

Tap was looking at Gwydion critically. Gwydion cut his eyes towards the door. Again. Again.

Tap turned, and gave a small cry. He reached over and caught Brianna's sleeve. "Uh... we may have a problem, clever lady."

Brianna gave a yelp of surprise when she turned to look. Her dagger flashed out of its sheath, and she took a step backwards.

The creature spoke. "N-need crytals," it said slowly, its absent gaze sweeping the room. "G-got crystals? H-hungry now. H-hungry."

Brianna's shoulders shook with laughter. "Demarax," she said, and sounded relieved. "Bloody harmless demarax. I'll be jumping at my own shadow next." She replaced her dagger in its sheath.

"G-got crystals?" the thing asked again. "N-need 'em. N-need crystals."

"No crystals," said Brianna. "No crystals here. Go away. There's no crystals."

The creature looked around stupidly. "N-no crystals?" it said, sounding disappointed.

Brianna had already turned her back on it. Gwydion was still trembling violently, but he managed to speak. "Wh... what is it?" he managed to ask.

"Demarax," she said. "Stupid harmless animal. Apparently one of these idiots was keeping it for a pet - probably intended to kill it eventually and sell the hide. It's nothing to worry about. Gave me a start though."

She helped him sit up. His nerve endings were still tingling, but sensation was returning.

He almost wished it wasn't. The Icon had been here, in this room. And he had failed to get it. A wave of depression engulfed him. He had failed.

"Get up, clueless," said Brianna, pulling him to his feet. "The more you move the faster control will return. What's wrong with you?"

"The Icon... I failed," Gwydion said bitterly. "It was in my reach, and I failed."

"Walk," said Brianna, dragging him forward. "Don't worry about your stupid Icon; worry about how we're going to get out of here."

Gwydion took a faltering step, then another. His legs felt like rubber, but gradually strength and control returned to him.

The blue lizard-creature - demarax, Brianna had called it - had taken a seat at the table and was still staring mournfully around he room. "C-crystals," it said sadly, looking at him.

Tap had backed away from it earlier, and he still stared suspiciously at it. "What does it want with crystals?" he asked.

"F-food," said the creature. "H-hungry."

"It eats them," said Brianna, letting go her hold on Gwydion's arm and allowing him to walk on his own. "Spell crystals, anyway. Don't worry, it's perfectly harmless."

Tap still eyed it uncertainly.

"C-crystals," the creature repeated mournfully.

"No crystals," said Brianna sternly. "Go away."

"N-no crystals," it said sadly, not moving.

She sighed, then turned back to Gwydion. He had bent to retrieve tylith-senshai. He had full control now, but every muscle ached with a bone-deep tiredness, and he felt bruised all over.

"Good," she said crisply. "You're looking better. Have you finished feeling sorry for yourself?"

He flushed. "I was charged with a sacred task-"

"Fine and well," she said, cutting him off. "Now, if you've finished wallowing in self-pity, let's concentrate on the task of getting out of here. You led us in here, cutter. You can find your sacred 'Icon' after you get us out. It'll wait."

"But my mission-"

"I thought you trusted your 'god', paladin," she said angrily. "I thought you said he'd guide your path. And already you're talking of failure? It sounds like you're giving up too quickly to me."

Gwydion flushed again, this time with shame, and nodded slowly. "I'm sorry," he said. "You're right."

"Never mind whether I'm right or not. We've still got to find our way out of here."

Gwydion stared at the fire. "What about through there?"

She gave him an exasperated look. "Wonderful. A warded portal that isn't even open, which leads to who-knows-where. You've got the key to open it? Do you even know what the key is?"

"No," Gwydion admitted.

"Neither do I. It could be anything. So don't talk to me about portals. What we need is to find a way out of this tower. And in case you've forgotten, the front door doesn't open from the inside."

"S-stupid b-beast," said the demarax, surprising them all when it spoke. "T-told you a th-thousand t-times. O-open the d-door by p-palming the e-emblem. S-stupid, stupid d-demarax. D-don't know wh-why I k-keep you."

Gwydion stared at it. "What?"

But its eyes were as blank and stupid as before. It stared vacantly at the room.

"Blue lizard spoke," offered Tap helpfully.

"What did it say?" asked Gwydion.

Brianna shook her head. "Demarax are as dumb as rocks, but they've got perfect memories. Probably it was repeating something it heard before."

Gwydion squatted down in front of it. "What did you say?" he asked, a little more loudly. "About opening the door. What did you say?"

It stared at him stupidly. "C-crystals?" it asked hopefully.

Gwydion shook his head. "No. No crystals. Door. How do we open the door?"

The creature gave him a sad look. "N-no crystals," it said.

"Give it up," said Brianna, disgusted. "They're dumb as stumps, I told you."

"Blue lizard said to palm emblem to open door," said Tap. "Find emblem; open door."

"But what emblem?" asked Gwydion. "I don't remember one. Do you?"

"I don't particularily remember looking for one either," said Brianna. "Maybe we should go back and have a look."

"But what about the portal?" asked Gwydion, nodding to the fireplace.

"What about it?" said Brianna. "It's locked and warded. We can't use it anyway. You think those bloods might come back through it? Don't be a leatherhead; they won't take the chance. But they might send some fiends back through to finish us off - which is all the better reason to leave here, right now."

"Don't worry cutter," said Tap. "Sigil is the City of Doors. Always another portal."

* * *

Tylith-senshai's blade no longer glowed with light and no matter how Gwydion tried to will it to light, it would not glow.

It wasn't a problem though; there was a small oil lantern hanging from a peg on the wall beneath the balcoy-overhang, and Brianna snatched it up.

There was a second doorway set into the wall beneath the overhang; the red-skinned man must have emerged from it. Within was a small bedchamber with a few strewn clothes, a bed, and a small writing desk.

Tap darted in, quickly shuffling through the drawers at the desk, then moving to the clothes on the bed.

"Tap," said Gwydion, surprised, about to ask what the boy was about.

Tap held up a small pouch, grinning. He gave it a shake and there was a clinking sound. "Jink!" he said.

"Good thinking, Tap," said Brianna. "I'll check the bodies of the minders."

"Taking money from the dead?" asked Gwydion. "Isn't that a little-"

"Stow it, paladin," she said, already headed for the body of the bald man, which lay crumpled at the bottom of the stairs. She bent to rifle through his pockets. "They don't need it anymore, and we do. Ah!" She lifted a small leather pouch and undid the drawstring. "Coppers," she said, peering in with a frown. "But better than nothing. Besides, paladin, if you're as hot for that 'Icon' of yours as you claim, maybe you should be looking for some clue as to where they've taken it. Might be a letter left behind, or something."

Tap had emerged from the small bedchamber. "Nothing else there," he announced, and headed past Brianna for the top of the stairs.

Gwydion considered that a moment, then headed into the small room himself. There was a writing desk but there was nothing on it. He checked the drawers quickly, then rifled through the rumpled sheets on the bed. Last he checked the clothing. In the left pocket of a pair of breeches was a small piece of paper, crumpled and folded.

He unfolded it carefully, holding it up to the light. There was writing, but the letters were alien to him.

"Paladin!" Brianna called from the door. "Hurry up in there! Tap's looked through the other rooms."

Quickly he refolded the little brown paper, slipping it into his own pocket. Just to be certain he checked under the bed, but there was nothing there.

A moment later and he was out in the hall again. Brianna pushed the lantern at him. "Let's go," she said.

* * *

They had little difficulty retracing their steps, though with the brighter yellow glare of the lantern lighting the way everything looked slightly different.

The demarax followed them as they went, much to Brianna's irritation, plodding slowly along behind them.

Several times she stopped and whirled on it, telling it in no uncertain terms that it was not welcome to come with them.

"Stay!" she said. "We don't want you! Go away!"

But each time the thing only blinked stupidly, stood where it was, shifting its feet uncertainly, and waited until they moved again before following.

"Leave off, Brianna," Gwydion said at last. "It's not doing any good. Besides, the poor thing will starve if we leave it here. We might as well let it out. And it could help us find this 'emblem' thing too."

She grumbled, but said nothing more, and the creature plodded along behind them, following them all the way back to the domed chamber.

Gwydion raised the lantern high, scanning the walls. They were smooth and white; completely blank. "I don't see any emblem," he said.

"Look closer," said Brianna, "it could be small."

Gwydion brought the lantern close to the wall, slowly walking the length of the room, looking high and low as he went. After one slow circuit of the room he'd found nothing.

He took a step back raised the lantern higher still. "Maybe it's up there somewhere, near the ceiling."

Brianna shook her head. "No, they'd have to be able to reach it, just like us. Maybe it's back in the hall somewhere."

Gwydion turned to the demarax. "Emblem," he said. "Where's the emblem? To open the door. Where's the emblem?"

It blinked. "C-crystals?" it asked.

He shook his head. "Emblem," he repeated, slowly and clearly. "Emblem."

It stared at him.

"Forget it, cutter," said Brianna. "You're not going to get anything from it. Let's check the hall."

Tap pointed at the floor. "Emblem?" he asked.

Gwydion looked. There, stretched out across the floor, was the inlaid geometrical design he had noted earlier. "That?" he asked.

Brianna looked doubtful. "It's too large," she said. "And on the floor besides. Who ever heard of such a thing? And what part of it are you supposed to palm?"

Tap said nothing. He just bent down where he stood and placed his palm on the symbol.

There was a whirring sound, and suddenly the iron door opened, just a crack.

Gwydion stared at it ruefully. "I guess that was it."

Brianna shot him a look, daring him to say more, and he held his tongue. She caught hold of its edge, hauling it open.

"Well?" she asked, looking back at them. "Are you just going to stand there all day?"

* * *

The rain had lessened somewhat, but it was still coming down, and the small band was drenched by the time that had returned to the inn. It was late afternoon and darkening toward twilight. Either because of the rain or the hour, the streets they traveled were mostly abandoned.

The demarax still followed them, plodding its way through the rain a few yards behind, but managing to keep up nonetheless.

After it had followed them for a few blocks, Brianna whirled on it.

"Go away!" she said sternly. "We don't want you! Go away! Stay! Stay here!"

It blinked stupidly. "C-crystals?"

"No crystals, you stupid beast! Go away! Go away!" She drew herself up, shaking her fist under its snout, and it backed off a few steps. "Go away!" she said again.

It only backed a few steps, giving them all a mournful and reproachful look. "C-crystals," it said sadly.

Brianna turned away from it. "Come on," she said brusquely to the others. "Maybe I got through to it. And don't look at me like that, paladin. It's not some pet we're taking home with us. Do you have any idea spell crystals cost? No, it's not coming with us; you can just forget it."

Gwydion held up his palms. "I didn't say anything," he protested.

"You didn't have to, cutter," she said. "I saw it in your eyes. Well, just you consider this: you don't know a damn thing about taking care of demarax, and neither do I. It can bloody well take care of itself. The last thing I need is some idiot lizard underfoot. It's lucky enough we don't kill it and sell the hide - which is what we should do, if we had a lick of common sense. At least that way we'd get some jink from it. Stay!"

The demarax had taken a step forward, but it shrank back at her command.

"Come on, cutter," she said. "I want out of this sodding rain."

They left the demarax standing there in the rain. Gwydion looked back but it didn't follow. It just stared after them sadly.

* * *

The rest the journey back to the inn passed in sullen silence. The rain dampened everyoe's mood, and Gwydion couldn't help thinking about how close he'd come to getting the Icon. He replayed the events in the ruined tower over and over. If only he'd acted more quickly. If he'd simply charged in, he could have snatched it. He replayed the battle as well. If he'd ducked left instead of right. If he'd taken out the red-skinned man before the second knight of glass. If only...

Brianna halted suddenly in front of him, staring at the street ahead, and, preoccupied as he was, he nearly plowed into her.

"What is it?" he asked, concerned. "What's wrong?"

She didn't answer, only continued to peer through the hazy curtain of rain, and for a moment he feared she might be lost. Then he saw the dark outline of the inn, maybe twenty yards off.

Tap tugged his sleeve. "Trouble, cutter," he said, low.

"When was there not?" murmured Brianna.

"What is it?" he asked again. He squinted in the direction she was staring. A dark form huddled next to the wall of the inn; a man, indistinct in the rain, in a brown cloak with the hood pulled well forward. He stood in a half-slouch, back against the wall, so motionless that Gwydion had not noticed him at first. The man's side was visible to them; from this angle, Gwydion doubted that he could see them. "The cloaked man?"

"I know him," said Brianna. "One of Bran's men." She turned and found him peering over her shoulder. "Get back, leatherhead, before you get us spotted!" she said, pushing him back and around the corner.

"Who's Bran?" he asked, allowing himself to be hustled backwards.

"Never mind," said Brianna. "He'll be working with... with the people who were hunting you in Ribcage. I told you they'd follow us to Sigil. Well, it looks like they found us."

"So quickly?" asked Gwydion, surprised. "We've only been here one night. I would have thought it would take them longer to track us down."

Brianna pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Ordinarily, yes. Someone must have betrayed us. The innkeeper, maybe..." She shook her head. "Doesn't matter. We can't go back now."

"But our belongings, our clothing-" said Gwydion.

"Pike our belongings!" snarled Brianna. "We'll just have to get new ones. Nothing in there worth dying for."

"It's only one man," said Gwydion.

"Think, cutter," she answered. "He's posted as a lookout, on the watch for us. There'll be more inside. We walk in there and we won't walk out again. Besides, you're in no condition for a battle. It's sodding lucky I spotted him before he saw us."

"Where now?" asked Tap. "Can't go back to inn."

Brianna was silent for a moment. "Broken Trust," she said after a moment.

Tap nodded. "Wise choice."

Gwydion was perplexed. "What?"

"It's a... tavern, of sorts," said Brianna. "And a brothel. And worse. It's over on the bad side of the city. We should be safe there until we have a chance to plan our next move; they'll never think of looking for a paladin there."

"This way," said Tap, darting back down the street. "Tap knows the way, oh yes. Knows the way very well."

Brianna had started moving even before she finished her explanation, and Gwydion had to hurry to keep up.