Grimm Tidings

Chapter 34

It was maddening. So maddening that Baltrog thought his mind might explode with rage. Ten years of planning, ten years of waiting, ten years of deferred gratification, and it was all coming apart. Falling apart because Grimestoke hurt his little hand. Falling apart because some dirty dwarf and a feral half-elf had decided to meddle in his business. Well, it was going to end now. Right now.

He threw an animation spell at the corpse of Grimestoke and at Kerimos. That was just a distraction. Let them fight the undead for a minute then he would unleash all of his powers on the two. He would fry their brains in their heads. He would crush their bodies and eat their souls. Anger always made his magic stronger and now he was so angry he felt as powerful as a god. He would shatter them with a blast of necromantic magic fuelled by his towering rage.

There. The foolish dwarf was encumbered with the gnome. And the half-elf was looking for something to strike Kerimos. Their attention was diverted. Perfect.

He drew on his anger, channeling his white rage into that part of him that stored his magic potential. He felt that potential soar, fill like a giant urn with a waterfall of poison, poison he would unleash on the two fools below.

He raised his hands and began an incantation. He didn’t bother to choose one. He didn’t bother to specify the nature of the magic blast he would hurl. He let his instincts rule him. Whatever magic came out of him would be awesome and utterly deadly. He felt his mind in tune with the power that thrilled through his body. He felt like a mighty sword about to cleave a hapless victim.


Baltrog froze.

The voice came again. “Edwin!”

Baltrog shook his head. His anger was suddenly tainted by confusion. He knew that voice.

“Here!” The voice was coming from behind him. He turned slowly and saw a woman of middle years dressed in something torn. She was sopping wet. Her face looked oddly familiar in the green light of the lighthouse tank, but he could not place her. His anger, the potential for magic destruction, was slipping even as he wasted time looking at her. But there was something about her that compelled him. He couldn’t turn away.

“It’s me,” the woman said. “Tinder.”

Baltrog paused. “My name is not Edwin,” he said in a shaky voice. Then, louder, “I am the Lord Baltrog. I don’t know you.”

“I knew you as Edwin,” said Tinder. “The first boy I ever kissed.”

Something clicked inside Baltrog’s mind. He realized it was the magic potential that he had summoned. It had shut down, closed like a trapdoor. And this woman had her foot on the door, holding it shut. He would have to move her. But he was confused. She was saying such strange things.

“Nonsense,” he said uncertainly. “You are deluded. Now scurry along while I deal with this dwarf.”

“I held you the day your father died,” said the woman.

Baltrog felt another shift in his mind. Some sort of knowledge was trying to make its presence known, as though it were a living thing pushing up into his consciousness, like a dream that brightened rather than faded on waking. He shook his head to stop it.

“I am the Lord Baltrog. I’m busy,” he said.

“We used to do magic together,” said the woman, “when we were children.”

“I . . .” began Baltrog, but then he had to physically rub his forehead. Those thoughts, those dreams, whatever they were, were flooding into his mind, confusing him. He saw them now as images of an alley in Seatorn, of small floating lights, a mouse biting a hand, a dead fly buzzing, a moonlight row to an island – this island – and a kiss with a girl named . . . Tinder.

He looked at the woman. Her lined faced meant nothing to him, but her eyes. In the green light they looked just like . . .

“You remember, don’t you?” asked Tinder.

“No,” he said, uncertainly, “not at all.”

“You do.” She took a step closer.

“No. I don’t.” Baltrog’s voice was firmer. He did know her. He did remember her. It was all coming back, those events that he had burned out of his memory. The confusion was gone. Which was good, because now he could simply lie.

“You kissed me on this island,” the woman said.

Baltrog sighed theatrically. “You are a deluded, sad woman in a hideous dress. I knew Edwin. He used to make jokes about you. Ungentlemanly jokes. I killed him many years ago. Now get back to your tavern or brothel and leave me alone before I break your neck like a twig.”

The woman looks as though she had been slapped. She took a step back, drew back her shoulders, and said, “You’re lying. I could always tell. Goodbye Edwin.”

She stepped through the balcony door and started down the stairs.

Baltrog looked around the balcony. No gnome. No dwarf. No girls from the past. Finally alone.

He looked over the railing. There were the dwarf and the half-elf, looking up at him like stunned sheep. There was that ridiculous slave with his arms in the air. The woman would probably join them in a minute and make a fourth. A whole flock of stupid sheep. The zombies had been dispatched somehow, but that did not matter. It was time to clean house.

Baltrog drew a deep breath, composing himself. His anger had been replaced by an icy calmness. Not as powerful as the anger, to be sure, but more dignified and probably just as effective.

“My friends,” he called out in a resonant voice, “I guess you’re wondering why I’ve called you all here today.” He paused to survey the sheep. “It’s to join me in a celebration. A celebration of the extinction of Seatorn and a vindication of my father. Oh, there have been a few bumps on the road to this glorious night, but I assure you things are about to become very interesting, very interesting indeed. I’ve been distracted from my necromancy to the point that I fear the undead of Seatorn are now, well, just plain dead, but that does not signify. You see, like all military commanders, I have a alternative plan. Another strategy, just in case the first did not work out. It is not as emotionally compelling as the first, I will admit. I did so relish the image of Seatorn turned into a herd of undead , but what it lacks in élan it more than makes up with in simple efficiency.”

He paused again. He could see the dwarf fingering his axe. The half-elf was practically quivering with frustration at the lack of her bow.

“So let me share my little plan with you,” he said. “Two rivers flow into the ground just east of Seatorn. They pour into the great cisterns under the city that provide it with its wonderful drinking water and fountains. My father was one of the architects of those cisterns. A marvel of construction. An engineering miracle. But did the city care? Did they thank him every time the pump delivered their drinking water or the fountain splashed in the square? They did not. And now they’ll pay. For you see, my father, genius that he was, built a device into the cisterns. A keystone. If it were dislodged, the cisterns would collapse, bringing the city with them. I’m the only one who knows about it for he told me the day before he was arrested. And I’m about to pull that little stone. Pull it right out and watch the city fall into the pits beneath it.”

He waved at the city. “Oh, you may watch if you like.”

Never in his life had Elros Uthadar been so happy for his job in the cisterns of Seatorn. Yes, he had the worst job in the city’s water works – cleaning the waste sluice – but cleaning filth was better than being above ground when shambling dead things overran the city. No sir, he would take the sewers for a week before going outside for an hour this night. The things he had seen, peering up through sewer grates! The blood that had poured down on his head! It was unbelievable.

Old Seatorn Hawkright , bless his memory, had done him a favor all those years ago when he brought him into the cisterns and offered him a job. Elros remembered how frightened he had been, at first, to be under the city, to hear the roar of the two rivers pouring through the culverts into the cisterns. And those cisterns! The size of them! They were like vast lakes with shores of hewn stone. But Hawkright had shown Elros the ropes, befriended him, treated him like a son, and he had never looked back. Life under the city suited him, he discovered. It was hard work, but rewarding. There were no crowds, no clutter.

It was like living in a secret cave. It must be how dwarves felt about their homes, thought Elros, idly scratched at the tattoo on his forearm. He had awoken with that one night after drinking too much a couple of years ago to find it there. Strange, but kinda pretty. An eye with waves behind it. Oh well. Back to work. Even if the city was going crazy the cisterns and sewers had to be kept clean.

What to do first? Oh yes, pull a special stone out of the arch above the engineer’s platform. Shouldn’t take more than a minute, then he could get back to the sewer lines.

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