A Harvest of Broken Stars

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Chapter 4: Sewer

Gilmir spewed out the foul water and drew in a ragged breath. He remembered falling and landing in water. No, not water, but the barely liquid sludge of the sewer.

‘This is the second time I save your life within a quartermark, Stick Elf,’ the halfling said.

The short saviour stood over him with a less-than-impressed expression on his face. Gilmir’s body convulsed again, trying to eject more of the sewage. It was remarkable how much strength his weakened body mustered from the reflex, far beyond his voluntary command. He considered answering the annoying creature looking down at him, but had no retort. His back lay against the rough stones of a narrow ledge running by the sewer canal. Above, the trapdoor through which they had descended was closed. The air was cool and damp. The stench of human waste filled his nostrils.

‘We need to move,’ the halfling said, looking up. ‘The guards will come searching any moment now.’

Gilmir stretched out his arm. Noting that the halfling had said ‘we’. He studied the little fellow. His hands were slender with nimble fingers. His body appeared strong, lean and lacking the round belly so typical for the food-loving people. Despite his young face, he had a confident demeanour. Indicative of experience beyond his years. Based on the way he had opened the cell door, he was probably a thief. By choice or necessity, Gilmir knew not. And that meant he did not know why the halfling had helped him, either. Another worry. He could, however, see that the thief had not been in prison for very long. The halfling took Gilmir’s hand and dragged him to his feet with ease.

‘What’s your name?’ Gilmir asked, studying the short figure in front of him with new interest.

‘Fox,’ said the halfling.

Gilmir raised his eyebrows.

Fox shrugged, turned and stalked down the passage. Gilmir coughed, spat and went after him, steadying himself with one hand on the moist wall. In the sparse light, the halfling moved slow, allowing Gilmir to keep up.

Two hundred careful steps later, the tunnel came to a stop. The sewer seemed to continue straight down. There was no apparent way out. Fox stood on the ledge, looking down where the foul water fell away.

‘I guess we have to follow the sewer,’ the thief said and threw a glance at Gilmir as he caught up.

Gilmir sat down and put his back against the slimy, fungus-covered wall. After a moment staring down the plunging sewer, he said, ’Drowning in human waste is quickly rising to the top of my list of the worst ways to die.’

He shook his head and lifted his gaze to the halfling. ‘Listen, I cannot come up with a single reason why you should come back to warn me if you discern that the swim is more likely to kill me than get me out of here. But, if you would … I cannot express how much I would rather just die here on this ledge. Of starvation. Or the stench …’

Some emotion flickered in Fox’s eyes. Compassion? Pity? Gilmir could not bear it.

‘But, hey! Come to think of it, a halfling saving an elf three times in a quarter of an hour has to be some kind of record!’ Gilmir tried to smile. It felt like a grimace.

Fox glanced from Gilmir to the sewer and back again. ‘I suspect these tunnels will be the death of you and me both.’

Without another word, he pinched his nose and jumped feet first into the water.

Gilmir closed his eyes and rested his head on the wall. He hoped the halfling made it out. Dying in the dungeon of this corrupted city was something he would not wish for his worst enemy. Whatever the little halfling was, he certainly was not that. A draft prickled against Gilmir’s neck. He shivered. He was wet and cold. His mind formed dark thoughts, and his mood kept spiralling downward.

A splash sounded, and Gilmir forced his eyelids open. Fox came to the surface. He shook his wet hair from his eyes and spat. Locking gaze with Gilmir, he said, ‘It’s too far. You would not make it, elf. I’m sorry.’

Then, he was gone once more, leaving Gilmir alone.

To die.

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