The roar from the deep
Beware of the dangers
That might seem benign
Remember to always think twice
Cause you may not see what’s coming
Even the meek may have wrath
Behind the kitchen in the circus was a small room, this was the bedroom of the girls who helped in the kitchen. It was small and dark and really not very pleasant but it had the advantage that it was located next door to the oven and therefore it was never cold, even in the worst winters. Therefore, it was far more popular than one would think it was, and it was usually Jalisa’s favorites who got it. There was barely room for two narrow beds and a chair and one had to almost leave the room to get dressed.
The two girls who lived there now were tired, they had gone to bed early because they were not old enough to be out with the others yet, and besides, there had been a lot of work lately. Whaly had decided that they were going to renovate the circus and when she decided that something was to be done it was done. The huge canopy that could be drawn across the arena in bright sunshine was ripped and had to be replaced, the facade was also pretty worn down many places. That’s why many people worked there and needed food and the kitchen had been working hard all day long.
The cobblestone in the entrance was being replaced and there were also changes inside. Thus, there were quite a few who were a bit frustrated with all the noise and all the people who ran around like confused hares. The performances were held as usual and it did its part to make the atmosphere tense, to put it nicely. It was a big mess in many places and that nothing went wrong told just how established the routines were among those who worked and lived there.
The two girls were good friends and they worked mostly with cutting vegetables and such light tasks, their goal was of course to be as good cooks as Jalisa but they knew they had years of training ahead of them before they could say that they even approached her level. Now they lay and slept their sweetest sleep, both had come in late since there had been a lot to do and they were soaked too.
It had been raining for almost two weeks now and it added a lot of stress to the situation. It was the worst rain anyone had seen in a life time and it seemed like there was no end to it. It poured and poured everywhere and the two had been unfortunate enough to be directly under the eaves gutter when it gave in, old and rotten as it was. Thus both had been soaked with water and Jalisa had commanded them to bed after a hot bath.
They had sunk deep into dreamland when one suddenly jumped and rudely awakened. She had heard some strange thing that had been so unusual that it had awakened her. She lay there in a daze and did not know whether she had dreamed it or not? She had almost fallen asleep again when she jumped again, now she heard the sound clearly and she was as white as flour in the face while she pulled at her friend to wake her. She was not happy to be awakened like this but the sound came again, and now there were two girls who were sitting there, almost clinging to each other, totally terrified. Finally they jumped out of bed and raced into the kitchen; they ran to the door to Jalisa’s private room and pounded on it as though there were fire on the loose. Jalisa was asleep and it took a while before she quite flustered and confused opened the door. The sight of the two terrified girls told her that this was serious, they were surely not going to be this scared if it was just a trifle. She joined them running back to the room and exactly a minute later the kitchen’s high mistress ran at full speed along the corridors to awaken Akisha and the other weapons masters.
Akisha and Raigh slept like two bricks, they had been the leading characters in a show that night and since the arena was too large to be shielded from the water from above it had been a rather damp experience that took its toll of all involved. It had been mud instead of sand, and when the show was over it was almost impossible to know people apart. Naragh had been upset over all the mud that ended in his beloved bath and Akisha had rarely seen him so frustrated. Obviously everybody was taken care of as they should be but he was certainly not in a good mood.
It was in itself applicable to almost everyone, no one liked the weather any longer. It had really poured down a bit too long now and the streets flowed with water and debris. The city’s old sewage system could simply not handle all the water.
Akisha was so tired that she fell asleep as soon as she lay down and Raigh barely had enough strength to untangle and braid his hair before he flattened out. When Jalisa began to pound on the door rudely awakening both their instincts were so finely tuned that they were ready for almost anything that was disturbing them. Akisha jumped up in a daze and threw a robe over herself and Raigh jumped out of bed like a rocket and threw the bedspread around him. Akisha looked astonished at Jalisa’s startled face; she had never seen the cook so distracted ever. Jalisa gasped for air. “You must come; something weird is going on in the back room to the kitchen!!”
Raigh looked amazed at the older woman. “What?”
He yawned and seemed a little more tired now that he saw that there was no imminent danger. Jalisa was almost stepping on the spot.
“It’s sounds, awful noises!”
Akisha pulled on a tunic and trousers as she tried to seem awake and alert but her head was as filled with wool it seemed. It was hard to get her mind working properly. “It can’t be that bad?”
Jalisa looked distressed. “Yes it is, my kitchen girls are scared out of their wits, they dare not return until the sounds are clarified.”
Raigh got on a pair of pants without getting obscene. “Is it really that bad?”
Jalisa twisted her hands. “It is horrible; you just have to hear them!”
Akisha pulled on her sword belt and pulled her hair back, fixed it and was pretty ready for anything even though she was still somewhat groggy. “All right!”
After a while they all stood in the small room that suddenly was filled with people, Jalisa had to wait outside because she was a big lady. Akisha and Raigh stood there and listened and heard nothing and began to believe that the two girls had had a serious nightmare. It was pretty quiet there and Jalisa looked a little embarrassed, when they all heard a strange sound that slowly increased in strength. It was like a deep sigh of some sort, and it made the hairs stand up on the back of everyone. Then came a long-drawn plaintive sound that sounded like something that really suffered.
Akisha looked wide-eyed at her mate who stared back with equally huge eyes, what in the Gods names was this? There was a chasm deep groan, a sound that really got the room to vibrate, then came a bellowing moaning that really hurt their ears and ended in a dying gurgling noise that got the two to leave the room in a hurry. There were several horrible noises that made them wish that they could cram something in their ears. Akisha shook her head in confusion, she had never heard anything like that before, and those sounds were really strange. Raigh stood there and looked just as astonished as her and Jalisa was really pale. She looked as if she would rather have been anywhere else than there. Akisha coughed. “You must give the girls a new place to sleep for now; we must get to the bottom of this somehow.”
Raigh put his arms over his chest in his usual thoughtful manner. «How do we do it? If there is a ghost behind this that gets tricky.”
Akisha grimaced, there were ghosts in the circus, and anything else was unthinkable because of the history of the place . Presumably there was a whole army of dead souls there but they had never caused real problems before, only for a poor servant girl a few years ago who was a psychic.
Akisha shrugged. “We’ll wake the others; it may be that they can think more clearly than we do now.”
Raigh grinned slightly skewed. “And they are certainly going to be happy to be awakened at this time of the night, it’s just noise, shouldn’t we wait until tomorrow? It is hardly dangerous!”
Akisha squirmed, she felt no danger there, it was true and she was tired. A little more sleep could certainly be good for her and Raigh too. If she got to sleep at all after hearing something that horrible!
Raigh made the decision for her. ”We’ll sleep and in the morning we see if we can find out anything about this.”
There came a strange snorting sound in response to what he said and Akisha almost jumped. “Well, it’s probably the most sensible thing to do right now, but close off the room here and do not let anyone in ok?”
Jalisa just nodded eagerly and it was obvious that the cook did not like the idea of having a mystery this close to her beloved kitchen. Akisha and Raigh went back to bed, both were slightly shaken by the experience and Akisha was lying on his arm thinking. The sounds had been strange and very different too so they could be made by something living? Or was it the wailing of lost souls? The idea was macabre but she had to take it into account, it was absolutely not impossible. She could only hope that this was a phenomenon that was repeated and still there in the morning too and not just at night.
She finally fell asleep and slept until Raigh shook her awake well after sunrise. He seemed ready and eager and she knew this trait in him, the almost childlike joy of a challenge. It was one of the things about him that was most charming. They got their clothes on and walked down to the dining room where there was unusual activity, since a part of the kitchen was closed there were many who were curious and they stood there almost tap dancing with eagerness. Now and then one could hear distant strange noises through the walls and Akisha nodded to herself, a little tired. The phenomenon was not lost during the night, she had almost hoped so.
Hawk and Elywen stood there and so did Frostbird and Khir too, Jalisa had probably told everything to them and they stood there and seemed eager but also concerned. While Akisha and Raigh greeted them good morning Rheynek and Enez came sauntering too. They did not know about it yet and Rheynek got pretty wild eyed as they told about the incident. ”We need to hear this!”
He opened the door and immediately everybody heard it all much louder and better. There were some strange howling and burping noises followed by something that almost reminded them of a certain type of body sounds originating at the opposite end of the body.
Frostbird shook slightly with withheld laughter. ”Well, if it’s a demon or a ghost it has problems with its stomach, maybe that’s why it makes such a noise?”
Akisha had to draw a smile of the elf’s humorous words. “I feel nothing supernatural here, what about the rest of you?”
There suddenly came a strange shrill rattle that ended in a hissing gasp everyone in the dining room heard. Many there were staring with doubt and trepidation in their eyes. Someone apparently thought about the lab Jirhg had in the basement, the little alchemist could probably cook together something which made such sounds, before it eventually exploded.
Elywen closed her eyes and concentrated, she sought out with her amplified senses and Frostbird did the same. The two stood silently for a while before they opened their eyes again, both slightly confused. “We do not feel anything like that here either; there is nothing the goddess reacts to.”
Rheynek shrugged, he looked doubtful. “Something must be done, we cannot have such noises here, it will affect the psyche of everybody, that’s enough to turn anyone mad.”
Enez had kept her mouth shut, she looked into the room with narrowed eyes and then she entered. Nothing happened though Rheynek held his breath for a moment, he was always anxious when her sometimes outrageous courage led her into situations he immediately found threatening or dangerous. She looked at the walls and the single beds, frowned. The gasping gurgling noise sounded again and several of those who were eating in the hall dropped their food with a look of distaste. It certainly ruined their appetite.
She jumped up on the bed against the wall away from the oven and placed her hands on the brick wall, ran her hands over it. All held their breath, Enez had no particularly traditional training but she was street smart and had learned more than one would think to have been a street child. She stood there a long time with her hands against the wall, eyes closed, listening only.
There was another lengthy burping and moaning and she smiled and waved at Rheynek.
“Here, feel the wall right here!”
Rheynek obeyed reluctantly, and the others stood in the door and tried to look into the room all of them at once, the door got completely filled with curious faces. He ran his hands over the whitewashed wall, it was smooth and cold and solid but suddenly there came a new sound and it made wall vibrate almost imperceptibly. Enez looked triumphantly at him. “You felt that too?”
He nodded briefly. “Yes, but what is it?”
Enez grinned in triumph. “I think I know what it is, when I lived in the city of the thieves one of the officials there who had an old palace. It had added water pipes in the walls but they were old and rusty and when they got clogged it sounded like this.”
Rheynek looked astonished, and the others looked at each other with similar mines. “Water pipes? Are there water pipes in the walls here? And why such ugly noises?”
Enez shrugged. “I do not know, but someone has to know something about the building here, even if it is ancient and has been rebuilt many times? “
Akisha broke into the conversation; she was the manager there and had to cut through.
“Whaly should know if anyone knows the buildings that well but I doubt it really, I’ve never heard of such a thing. Why would there be water pipes in the walls?”
Elywen smiled quickly. «It’s like a little luxury, many people like it and it used to be common before.”
Raigh stood and toddled. “I’ll go and ask Whaly, she is in her office I think.”
Akisha just nodded, there came a new howl like one from the abyss of hell itself and it was hard to imagine that such a thing could come from natural causes.
A while later, the circus leader stood there and looked frightened, she pulled the graying braids and tried to think as hard as she could.
“There was a man who knew a lot of the prehistory here but he was ancient when I bought the place. He cannot be alive now but I think he had a son.”
Akisha sighed. “It’s not certain that the knowledge had been kept then but it could be, you know his name?”
Whaly scratched her neck. “Sibert, The last name I do not know anything about.”
Raigh closed his eyes in despair, the city was immense and many also lived nearby. To find a person who had a father named thus could be worse than finding a needle in a haystack. Akisha smiled quickly. “Dern, he knows the city, I think that if he has heard of anyone by that name he remembers it, that I can guarantee. The man has a memory like an elephant.”
Frostbird made a wry smile. “But the sounds are not dangerous, it should be below our dignity to take care of something like this, we should fight evil and monsters and such, not go on a quest to find the old pipes!”
As she spoke came a new series of noises that sounded like someone with severe respiratory problems and diarrhea.
“That there is evil, don’t you dare question it. I cannot eat here while I hear something like that, I do not want to. It sounds like a giant’s toilet if you ask me!!”
Khir’s voice was rather toxic and Frostbird gave him a quick hug. “Dear Khir, of course we will solve this, at least to save Jalisa from becoming a nervous wreck.”
Akisha clapped her hands to get attention. “Right, then you and Khir go down to Dern and ask him. We should get to work sooner rather than later!”
Frostbird just seemed keen but Khir shook himself, he did not seem to think that going out in this weather was all that funny.
After a short while the two elves headed for the small tavern, both covered with some big coats they had borrowed from Dheg and they had probably been horse rugs if one should interpret the smell. The two hurried through mud and water and it was a shame to say it smelled good for now the sewers were quite over filled and almost everything ended in the street.
Khir held one flap of his tunic over his nose and coughed but Frostbird just grinned at him. She was much more familiar with the smells of the city than him, a child of nature as he was.
They slid into the alley in front of the tavern and Khan who stood in the door almost jumped when he saw them.
Frostbird grinned at him. “It’s only us Khan! “
The big man nodded and smiled wryly as he pushed open the door. Inside it was warm, it smelled heavenly as usual and Dern ran around among the customers while the maids almost ran their skirts off in the chaos. Now with the storm there was very good sales and Dern was probably the only one in town who were happy that it rained so much. There were people sitting almost everywhere and even on the edge of the fireplace a person had settled down even if it had to uncomfortably hot.
Dern lit up when he saw the two and clapped his hands as he ran between the tables. It looked a bit comical since he was tall and ungainly and looked a bit crazy. “Dear friends, how can I help you today?”
Khir wiped his feet on the door mat, excessively carefully and snorted as he did it and Frostbird just smiled and clenched the tavern owner’s hand. “Akisha wanted us to inquire about a person who lived in the city before, if you can remember him? There was a man named Sibert and he has a son, Whaly thought he knew a lot about how the circus was actually built in its time? We have some, uh, building technical difficulties.”
Dern sat down at the counter and apparently thought very hard, Frostbird was almost expecting to see smoke drifting out of the ears of the man.
After a bit he looked up with narrowed eyes. “I remember Sibert yes, a real curmudgeon of a guy, he lived in the quarter down to the docks I think and died long before any of you came to this town, even before it actually burned. His son is perhaps worse but I do not know him.”
He scratched himself behind the ear so the dandruff sprinkled indiscreetly down upon his collar. “I think his name is Liam and he became a carpenter I think, if I’m not wrong he works at the shipyard in the harbor, that’s where most of the jobs are for the time being but I’m not sure and I do not know how he is as a person.”
Frostbird just nodded relieved. “It will be enough. Then we just try to find him, when we have the name and profession we have something to go on.”
She gave the good innkeeper a hug and he blushed and looked almost like an ungainly boy for a moment. Khir shuddered visibly. “Down to the docks now?”
Frostbird kissed him on the cheek. “Down to the docks but worry not, we can wash ourselves when we are home again.”
It took half an hour and then the two now soaked and frozen elves stood in the yard and spoke with the manager there, a kind man who gave a helping hand gladly when he saw who it was who asked for help. Liam had actually worked there until the fall of the last year. Then he got a falling log onto a leg and broke it so badly that it had to be amputated, after that he moved out of town and settled on a small farm three miles north of the city. His sons and his wife ran the farm and he himself started with wood carving. Made it well too. Frostbird thanked profusely for the help and gave the man a whole gold Dhabt for the details. The man bowed almost to the ground as he ushered them out of the working station.
Khir looked stated on Frostbird when they were out on the streets again. “Do we have to go out of town? Must we?”
Frostbird smiled a little stressed. “We have too yes but we’ll go back to the circus first, wash and warm ourselves and get Dheg to prepare our horses. It should not take long if we ride.”
Khir only swore in Elvish and pulled at his braid in anger and frustration.
They took the report to Akisha who were glad that they had found this much information, she made sure that they got a bath, hot food and good catering and a rest before having to leave again.
Enez and Rheynek would join and Frostbird was just glad since it was a lot more fun to travel with several others. When they finally got off it was late in the day and it was pouring down as if all of heaven’s drainage pipes had opened. It squirted from roofs and drains and the horses plodded discouraged with mud far above their hooves. It was nevertheless quite easy to find the place where Liam stayed, it was in fact evident that he had made a name for himself and there were other travelers who willingly explained the way to the wood carver. Rheynek believed that it should be worth the trip if they could stop the sounds for within the last few hours they had become so loud that the glasses danced on the tables in the cafeteria.
Liam turned out to live in a relatively well-timbered house with a large barn and it was clear that the residents were quite wealthy after all. An elderly woman stood and dried up some tablecloths that may have been washed as they rode into the yard and she straightened up and looked a little surprised at the riders with the large and valuable horses. It was not common that finer people found their way there.
Enez spoke since she was a human and a little less scary than the other three; she hurriedly explained their errand and the lady turned out to be Liam’s wife. She felt sure that he remembered what his father had told him, and they were literally shooed inside by an eager wife who said it would be good for her husband with a little challenge.
Liam was a man who had certainly been great and powerful before the accident, he was powerful still but a lot of his muscles were probably replaced with fat. He sat in an artfully designed chair with wheels on the legs and it was obvious that it was he himself who had shaped it. Enez was in some doubt regarding his personality since his father was a curmudgeon, but the fear was unnecessary. Liam woodcarver proved to be an incredibly cheerful guy after all. When he found out what they wanted, he went almost into a spin with excitement. Surely he remembered what his father had told him about the circus, and he actually had some old drawings of the place too.
Enez had to actually get him to calm down a little so it would not go all too quickly, she asked specific questions and then it got a little easier to understand what was meant. The main thing that he told was that those who first built the circus were going to collect rainwater. At that time there had been a problem with drought and it was common to have cisterns in cellars in the more wealthy and established households.
In the circus they had decided to make a huge one, indeed enormous, but these plans were not feasible since the ground was too hard. Therefore, it was only half as large as they had wanted but it was more than enough. The water should come to the cistern via a pipe system leading down from the roof and the gutters there and there should be several doors that gave access to the cistern.
Rheynek and Frostbird looked puzzled at each other, where could the cistern be now? It was basements under much of the circus, actually several floors and it meant that it had to be in one of the places where it were no known rooms or places that had got lost during the many renovations. There were many such places in the circus since it was rebuilt many times.
The pipes should have been pretty tough but made of wood and were probably decayed a long time ago. Liam drew a quick sketch of what he remembered, it was far from certain that it was correct but it was at least what his father had told him about.
The four thanked profusely for the help and since he was such an accomplished woodcarver they did not exclude the possibility that he could be hired by the circus to make miscellaneous work. They paid well for the information and since it was now evening they rode pretty hard back to the circus. There were few people on the roads this late in the evening so it was safe to let the horses have free reins and just let them run off their surplus energy.
Yet it was late before they returned and all were tired after the day. They were happy for the information they had found but they still had mixed emotions as they went down to the cafeteria. Actually this was not the kind of work they should be doing at all but on the other hand, it had to be done and it was exciting too.
The sounds were just getting worse and worse and there were almost no people there. Most had gone to Dern since there was no nasty noises and such there. Jirhg was warming himself by the fire with Naragh, the two endured such and Raigh and Akisha also waited anxiously for an answer to the mystery.
Both arose when the travelers crashed down the stairs and ran into the cafeteria, Enez looked as if she really enjoyed herself by being able to bring news. When all was told and sketches submitted they were sitting there scratching their heads. Where in god’s names could this cistern be? Could it be that it had been converted into a regular room?
Akisha believed that it was likely, but Raigh believed the opposite. Presumably it was still there somewhere, probably in the part of the circus that apparently had no basement. It was an area that lay between Naragh’s bathrooms and the ward and storage rooms where they stored props for performances. No one had bothered to check what might be there since there were no doors of any sort headed in there, at least not from the other basement floors. They had simply assumed that the ground there was too hard to dig out a basement in that area or maybe it was rocks there or something.
Raigh grinned a little mischievously. “I think that we guys can take a walk in the morning and see if we can figure out this mystery!”
Akisha nodded slightly doubtful. “Look at the blueprints, it must mean that there are plenty of pipes and such in all the walls here, and also the floors, the kitchen’s pretty far away from the infirmary?”
Frostbird almost hit her head into Khir’s as she leaned forward to see. “You will see that this place is as full of holes as a cheese! “
Khir had to grin and Akisha cut an ugly grimace. “That may explain why it’s so often mice and rats in rooms where it usually should not be any rodents”
Raigh banged his fist on the table. “We decide thus, tomorrow we meet here and those who want to can go around and see if we can find an entrance to that part of the basement. They must have had a door right?”
Akisha sighed and supported her head in her hands, when Raigh had that glint in his eyes ten horses could not get him away from what he was thinking.
“It’s been bricked over I think, there’s plenty of rooms here we found again after city fire? I will not be surprised if there are plenty of hidden space down there.”
Frostbird giggled and grabbed a big mug of hot drink Jalisa were carrying on, she was cold and it came in handy now. Khir had a similar placed in front of him and soon the conversation was rather loose and cheerful and was about completely different things than the eerie moaning and gurgling sounds.
Next morning Raigh was up early, Akisha did not bother to be part of this; she assumed that the men would do well on their own without having ladies with them so she took the opportunity to sleep a little longer.
In the cafeteria several had showed up to Raigh’s delight. In fact, all the men in the group considered it so exciting that they would be joining in.
Khir sat gnawing on some meat and Rheynek had pulled on old dirty overalls and looked rather odd considering that he usually looked very flawless. Hawk stood and tried to look unaffected but there was also an expression on his face that betrayed excitement. This was like being small boys exploring again and then Wilbwyn and Arnulf emerged, they were greeted with welcoming cheers. Two pairs of eyes extra could come in handy as Raigh said.
The men were sitting there for a while and discussed how to take care of the issue, the beer flowed and the atmosphere was very high since this was something they looked forward to. It was no danger involved this time, it was simply exciting to see what they found, and if they managed to free the circus from the noise that was now bothering anyone it would be great indeed. Even Dheg had complained since the horses got nervous of all the unfamiliar sounds.
Eventually, they had decided that they should divide into two groups to check the area floor by floor from each end. If anyone did see anything they should the gather everybody so no one missed something. Arnulf Raigh and Hawk took one way, then Rheynek Khir and Wilbwyn went the other. They expected to find this cistern quickly.
Wilbwyn had been in the circus almost half a generation, he believed therefore that he should lead his group and the other two did not protest at all.
He went to the bathroom and Naragh’s sick ward with confidence and they began to examine the walls at ground level. It seemed that some of them had been changed since the circus was built but Rheynek knew that masonry often looked old when exposed to moisture and heat as it often was there. They were therefore very careful and hammered gently on the walls in several places to look for hidden doors.
There was little to find more than a few echoes that might be pipes in the walls, Khir began to draw them up so they got a map of them and Wilbwyn led them down into the first basement floor.
There were stock for Naragh’s bathrooms and a laundry and stuff. There was a low ceiling and Rheynek interrupted the others quite often with various outburst of pain when he hit his head on the ceiling and some of the pipes that carried water from the bathroom.
They found nothing out of the ordinary and Wilbwyn started to get frustrated, it was a pretty big department that could hide the cistern, there were many yards of unknown territory and he was actually a little anxious to see what could be there.
The second group had started from the other end; they were down in the basement and knocked on the walls there. There was a pantry and storage for root vegetables and such and the dry slightly moldy smell caused them to sneeze and cough. The wall in the direction of the bathroom was solid, it was not even an echo in it and none of the other smaller rooms seemed to have a kind of opening either. It was annoying. Raigh decided that they should go down a floor, and then they came down to the seemingly maze-like section that spanned the entire circus except exactly where they suspected the cistern to be hidden.
There it was easy to get lost and the men lit torches since there were no lights down there. No one used to go down there if they didn’t have to, and the rooms were only used to store such things they rarely had use for.
Hawk used his exceptional sense of direction well, they soon discovered that the area against where they suspected that the cistern lay was only walls, there were no doors or rooms that led towards it and Raigh thought it was a sure sign. In order to retain this much water the walls had to be thick as on a dam. Now it was just the problem of finding the entrance.
They went and knocked on the walls and searched forward. The dust lay an inch thick and Raigh knew well that it was hidden rooms in many places in the circus; he had even helped to find a pair.
It was Raigh who first found a track, in an end wall of a corridor there was a strange deviating pattern in the brick wall a bit up the wall and the other two came running when it became clear that the stones did move. It was a sort of sliding doors that were maybe a meter high and rather narrow. Raigh looked at the narrow opening that looked dark and anything but inviting. “A crawl space, I thought so”.
He turned to Rheynek
“Run and find the others, they must be told of this!”
After a while, they were gathered together all six of them and with boyish enthusiasm they lit several torches and pushed the door completely open. It was only possible to crawl into it one at a time and Raigh crawled first. He soon regretted it for a more spider web infested place one would search a long time to find, it smelled bad and the dust was uncomfortable to touch. The crawl way was long and went obliquely upwards, it probably twisted around too but it was difficult to determine in the dark.
The ceiling was too low for anyone to keep a straight back or anything and Raigh swore as he pushed forward through the dust. It took time, it was impossible to turn around and they had to move forward, Raigh could breathe but those who came behind him had to cover their faces with cloth and other things they had because of the fetid dust.
Abruptly they came to an ending just around a bend and the air was different, there was still a low ceiling but Raigh stared out over a vast room that was square in shape. It was dark and dusty and there were also remains of cockroaches and rats that were just small elevations in the dust. He shuddered and crawled forward as the others came through the opening and out, it was clear that this was the top of the cistern.
The others made big eyes, Wilbwyn cleared his throat with a cough. “Damn, it’s a giant!”
Raigh nodded. “I dare not think about how much water it can hold, strange that it was taken out of use.”
Rheynek pointed to a hatch in the floor. “There; I think it is an inspection hatch, should we take a look?”
Arnulf nodded eagerly and they crawled toward the hatch. They were all great men so it was uncomfortable for them but their zeal led them to forget the discomfort and their soon to pieces worn trouser knees.
The hatch was of the kind that one just lifts up, it fit neatly into a recess in the roof of the cistern and Hawk and Raigh leaned forward and took hold of the old rusty steel ring that was the handle. They used all their strength and the lid slid open quite slowly. A cloud of dust and air flew out of the hole with a quite indescribable stench. They all drew back and looked in disbelief at each other. “What in name of the Gods?”
Rheynek had a strange expression on his face as if he recognized the smell; it was almost as if he knew it. Khir crept closer and peered cautiously over the edge and down into the cistern. The opening was only half a foot wide so there was only one who could look at a time. “It is almost full? How is that possible?”
Raigh coughed. “There must have been a little water seeping down into it all the time from the gutters, then the pipes worked after all.”
Wilbwyn growled. “All the rain in the past weeks must have opened the supply pipes again, I can’t understand otherwise.”
Khir grimaced.” What a stink, it smells of rotten water here. I think I will see if there is more than just water down there.”
He leaned slightly forward with the torch and looked down. “It looks like old pea soup down there, totally green and slimy and it even bubbles!”
Rheynek got a horrified expression on his face, he threw himself forward but since everyone was on their knees, it was difficult to get around. Khir sat there with the torch over the hole and in slow motion they all saw how flying sparks from the fire slowly slid down through the hole. Rheynek roared. “No, put away the torch!”
All looked at him and Khir dropped the torch in sheer horror and confusion, it tumbled down through the hole and Rheynek’s eyes got huge when he saw it.
Hawk also reacted, his response was lightning quick and he grabbed the massive stone hatch and threw it into the hole with a roar and an effort that was amazing even for him. “Everybody down!”
All obeyed by pure instinct even though they did not understand anything but they suddenly understood why. There sounded a boom, an explosion that made the ground beneath them tremble and shake as in a major earthquake. It rained plaster and bricks from the roof and Rheynek shouted to the others. “Back to the hallway, quickly! There was gas down there!”
It thundered from the walls, the terrible pressure of the explosion forced the lid out of the hole and a flood of smelly slimy green water erupted as a massive beam before it hit the ceiling and spread. In seconds they were all sprayed with something that was too disgusting to be described. The stench made them want to vomit and made them breathlessness as they desperately crawled their way through the thick stinking mud the dust now was transformed into. There was almost no air to breathe anymore.
If the explosion was noted down in the basement it was felt even more in the rest of the circus, everything abruptly slammed as from the worst earthquake and the whole building shook ominously. Awful belches sounded from the walls and those who stood outside the building suddenly saw something quite unreal. From the roofs stood huge fountains of slimy dirty water, they reached up to the sky and rained down and the amount was incredible
Within a few seconds the whole circus was soaked in the nasty mixture and in places walls ruptured from the pressure and high pressure floods of stale water poured out and soiled everything that was nearby.
Akisha had sat down eating breakfast when it happened, she almost screamed in shock of the thunder she heard and was instantly getting afraid thinking about her beloved’s safety just like the other women there. Elda feared for Arnulf and nearly ran down to the basement but Ali grabbed her and held her back. The stench that suddenly spread made everybody gasp for breath and grab something they could cover their mouth and nose with.
Elywen looked at Akisha, she appeared to be very confused. “What in the Goddess name?”
Akisha could only shake her head in disbelief and horror; people had begun to run around in the wildest chaos they had experienced there for a long time. Many places large pools of fetid water gathered and in the stables the horses had gotten wind of the incident and their panic was total. Screams from frightened horses and people mixed with the bubbling fountains and the gurgling sounds died slowly as the pressure was gone. Frostbird looked wide-eyed at the green goo covered wooden arena and seating.
“I think they found the cistern!”
Akisha was gasping for breath. “No kidding! If they did this on purpose I am going to....”
Whaly came running and the elderly lady was ghastly pale, she knew not what had happened and Elywen tried to calm her down. There were shouts and screams everywhere and yet the walls and ceilings trembled.
Akisha tried to collect her thoughts and do something constructive when the door opened and the men emerged from the basement, the sight made everybody there almost fall on their butts in shock. Each was covered by a layer of slimy green goo mixed with century-old dust and spider’s webs and other residues that had been gathered up down there.
They looked like something from a nightmare, like a group of ancient wraiths awakened by unholy magic. It was almost impossible to distinguish them from each other and the stench got those who were there to turn around and run out instead of searching shelter in there.
Only the relatives stayed and Akisha stared in disbelief upon her mate. Each of the men could have frightened the life out of anything the way they appeared, thick mud was running of them and they gasped for breath since they had made new speed records in crawling as they hurried out of the crawl space.
Raigh tried to wipe the worst out of his eyes with one of Jalisa’s small tablecloths, the lady stood there stunned by the sight and had looks been able to kill Raigh would have been in a serious predicament.
He cleared his throat and had to cough in order not to choke on his own smell. “Ah, we found the cistern but had a little ... accident!”
Khir pushed forward, the shorter elf looked grotesque and Frostbird recoiled when he took a step towards her “I lost my torch into the cistern, and it turned out to be gas down there! “
Akisha took a deep breath and Raigh brazed himself. The blue of her eyes shot lightning and she literally bared her teeth like an angry dog. “Gas? Gas! I’ll give you gas, I will ... You almost destroyed the entire building are you aware of that? It’s raining shit here, everywhere!”
She cried so her voice got hoarse and the six men almost ducked down, they had never seen their leader this furious. “How in god’s name do we manage to get rid of the stench, and all the goo? What?! Answer me!”
Raigh opened his mouth but had nothing to say so he just shut it again, he looked startled. They had all been terrified and they saw that this was serious. Raigh had been scared the whole circus would collapse since the building was ancient even though it was partially rebuilt after the fire. His greatest fear was that something would happen to Akisha and now he stood there and was suddenly afraid again but in a different way. Now it was his loved one’s anger he feared. Khir tried to smile disarmingly; he looked a bit like a slightly contrite gnome where he stood. “Uhm, would it help if I apologize?”
Akisha opened her mouth to shout something to him, but was interrupted by a roar even worse, one that’s got everyone to turn their heads in disbelief and shock. One of the doors in the back of the room had gone up with a bang and in came a figure that could hardly be described. It was Naragh, the old doctor and healer was standing there in his once white robe and trembled with anger.
The reason was not hard to see and smell, he was totally covered in green slime and the stench in the room suddenly reached intolerable levels. Elywen grabbed a bowl and vomited and Frostbird took to her feet with her tunic pressed against her nose, she did not care that she ran with a virtually naked torso since the fabric got pulled up around her neck .
There was another roar out of the abyss from the usually so gentle and thoughtful man, his arms were dripping with sticky slime and his long gray hair was covered with slimy goo. Everyone just stared in disbelief at his appearance; he threw handfuls of green slime at his surroundings. “My bathroom is defiled! Destroyed! What in the names of all unholy Gods has happened?”
He almost screamed and Akisha was suddenly afraid that he would get a heart attack or something. He spun around himself in an attempt to get hold of the back of the tunic where big tough drafts with slimy green algae had caught. “All I have is covered by this ... this awful ... dirt!”
His voice cracked and Khir looked as if he wished the ground could swallow him whole there and then.
Akisha swallowed quickly, trying to keep calm. “How bad is it?”
Naragh breathed deeply several times, he grabbed her and dragged her along the corridor. The others followed, mostly to make sure that nothing wrong happened to her. Naragh was obviously beside himself with rage and it was not hard to see why. As they approached the bathroom the stench was so strong that it was like meeting a brick wall. Akisha pulled the edge of the blouse over her nose but it did not help.
What made the smell so bad was that there were many smells that were mixed into it; many of Naragh’s flasks with perfume had been shattered in the explosion. They rounded the door and Akisha had to stifle a loud gasp, the place was unrecognizable. There was an almost inch thick layer of slimy green algae over everything, absolutely everything. It was as if someone had painted the room with the nasty goo. It dripped and ran from the roof, there flowed thick layers in the pools and the source of it all turned out to be the small pool of cold water they used to soak herbs. It was only half a meter in diameter and shaped like a small bowl sunk into the floor, typically the servants used to switch the water in it with a ladle and a large bucket.
Now the bottom was gone, completely blown out and a gaping hole was left. There had probably been an opening from the bathroom down to the cistern once upon a time, it was really just to expect since the bathroom both then and now certainly needed a lot of water. It had been walled up and forgotten completely but the explosion had opened the hole again and since the bathroom was so close to the cistern most of the more solid stuff had gone right up there. Akisha forced herself to breathe, the smell was downright indescribable.
Naragh swore hoarsely, she had barely heard him swearing ever. It was almost shocking in itself. “How, by the Goddess, will I get this place clean again, answer me that?”
Akisha shook her head to clear her mind. It was quite clear what had happened down there, there had been several thousand liters of old water in the cistern, with algae and plants and everything in it and this had stood there and rotted and fermented for several decades, perhaps nearly a hundred years. Then the rains came and opened the old pipes again, there was more water in the cistern than before and as the water level increased the air pressure opened up several old pipes again, hence the strange sounds. There were fluctuations in the water because of the incoming water, gas was released, and then ...
She swallowed and looked around. “Naragh, the bathroom is the first priority. Believe me. The first room to be cleared is the bathroom! “
The old man just stood there with his arms crossed and fire in his eyes and the look on his face told that he did not think much of their chances to get his beloved bath clean again.
The others were equally appalled at the condition of the room, the gaping faces were really comical but Akisha did not see anything funny in it. It would be a terrible job to get everything clean again. Outside it was no problem if the rain persisted, it would wash away all that had landed on the roofs and in the arena but the stands were covered and had to be scrubbed and everything inside? They would have had to cancel all performances for a couple of weeks just to have enough people to clean up! Whaly was pulling at her braids in despair and it was Akisha who had to organize everything, she sent word that all cleaning ladies and maids who needed some extra work should come to the circus. She got the place’s own servants organized into teams that shifted and took the job room by room, and she got some of the apprentices and gladiators to collect all objects that could be washed and get them into a storage room until further notice. What could not be washed had to be burned anyway, and it would be quite a campfire.
The six men who were responsible for the incident began work immediately. Rather crestfallen they had to shove and scrape the goo from the ceiling and floors in the bathroom. Luckily there was a drain from the room to the sewers so they could flush it down through there but it was nevertheless quite a task.
Raigh had to sleep in a storage room that night, it was the first time since he and Akisha found each other again that he slept without her. It was a cold and restless night and not one he wanted to repeat.
The same was true for the other guys too; their women would not have anything to do with them until they had washed away the stink. The worst was removed by placing themselves outside under the gutter for a rather cold shower but the smell still stayed long afterward.
Fortunately, the clean-up went fine and after a week all was washed and circus back to normal in that respect. Even the bathroom was back to its old glory and all stood in line to get their usual treatment from Naragh. He had long been angry but calmed down again and forgave even Khir who involuntarily had created the disaster. The men had done such a great job that he had to commend them a little but the opening down to the cistern was bricked shut again and this time solid.
Akisha made the decision that the cistern should be completely shut. They found the pipes and filled them with concrete from the top and some valiant servant’s placed out hoses and emptied the cistern completely. At some point it might be useful again but until that day it should be left empty. They would not risk more such cases. Whaly wrote a diary about everything that happened there in the circus and for many years later she referred to the incident as “the big stink.” The name was well chosen for it still happened that they got a whiff of the stale smell in certain places when it was hot, even though it was well washed.
However the six men would never get away from this incident, this time it was they who had caused a problem, and the women did not forget so easily. There was usually enough to just mention it for the guys to flinch and Akisha believed that it was not so bad that it was not good for anything. They had at least got something to jack down the men with when they got too cocky, and they had confirmed that it was indeed a bit of a voice even in the meek Naragh. The roar he had made had matched almost everything else they had heard in their lives and the old doctor got a lot more respect for the incident. The explosion he had caused had not been that much weaker than the gas explosion itself so henceforth no one tried to bug him anymore.
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