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SUMMARY: The first adventure of the thief Malric in the City of Sulsut. Read Episode II - A Secret Shrine only in my book "The Cemetery of Hearts"!
North of the run-down slums which lined the street known as The Beggars' Handshake, there is a boulevard of temples and shrines known as Tin-Ka Tah, or "Walk to Stars" in the ancient tongue.
On this boulevard there is a squat, black temple of the Dharin Ki, an elusive sect who walk the streets of Sulsut in grim crimson cloaks, never revealing their features to the light. There bodies move strangely beneath the folds of their clothing, and there steps are unusually long. In Sulsut, these worshippers and their temple are avoided and disliked by the human residents of the city.
And in this temple, under the composite shades of darkness, stalks a thief named Malric.
* * * * * *
Guild-brother Dirk was dying. His body twitched and rocked violently in the flickering torchlight, sick with poison.
Malric and Guild-brother Galron worked feverishly at Dirk's belt, cutting loose the small pouches of gems which had been pried from the ornaments of the Dharin Ki temple. The murderer lay beside its victim, the black exoskeleton in the region of its thorax crushed and
oozing green blood. Its fly-like, multi-faceted eyes stared into an apocalypse which it would never witness.
Finally the worshipper's venom ran its course, and Dirk was still.
Malric wished that the combat had never taken place. He wished that Dirk was still alive. He wished that he was roaming the streets of Sulsut, thieving freely as opposed to trapped in this
Most all, he wished that the worshipper had not thrown off its cloak before attacking Dirk. The six, many-jointed appendages and the weeping antennae of the creature were the product of
strong sorcery indeed.
After removing the items from Dirk's belt, Malric removed a ring with an odd signet from Dirk's hand.
Galron watched him curiously as he did this.
"I find this signet interesting," Malric said.
"A minor pilfering of Dirk's, nothing more," Galron replied in a disinterested tone.
"Perhaps," Malric replied, stowing the object into his pouch.
"I think that it is best that we leave this accursed place," hissed Galron, his beady green eyes madly searching the passageway.
Their pace was cautious. It was as if the two of them moved within a cloud of silence, so accomplished were they at their craft. Tapestries hung over the doorways of the chambers which were adjacent to the corridor, undulating with the incense-laden draft, each hiding a potential
adversary. Jade idols with ruby eyes stared back at them from niches in the wall. They did not stop to pry the gems loose.
Malric stepped forward and froze. The floor beneath his left foot sunk just slightly with his weight, and now attempted to push the foot upwards with spring tension. Malric placed his other foot on the tile to hold it down. He motioned for Galron to step back, and then he sprang
forward onto his stomach. He felt a rush of air pass by his head, and watched as a huge blade roll overhead and disappear into a slot in the wall.
" By the gods of Erahorn, brother, that was close!" whispered Malric.
"Watch the center tile," Malric warned. Malric withdrew his blade, Sliver, from its sheath, expecting danger ahead.
The two thieves crept up a narrow spiralling staircase, into a corridor which was lined with heavy wooden doors and paved with eastern furs and weaves. They were still several levels beneath the ground.
Malric stepped forward into nothingness. For an agonizing moment he swayed on the lip of the pit, watching the carpet which had covered it fall into the darkness below.
Then he was pushed from behind.
Plunging head first, Malric attempted to roll his body so that he would land on his hands,but he did not complete the revolution and struck the hard stone with his back.
Through the haze of his pain, Malric could see the square of light above him, and Galron's bearded, scornful face peering over the side.
Malric could not study the bitter picture for long. Slithering through the bones and old blades which covered the floor of the pit came a much older servant of the temple, a long segmented body with countless legs which clicked over the debris as it advanced. Its hungry red eyes and slick mandibles were visible in the near darkness.
Malric sat up and fished among the garbage for Sliver, which had been knocked from his hand upon impact. The beast was almost upon him.
"By Erahorn, Galron shall pay for this," Malric promised the dead around him. He removed a rusty short sword from the pile.
The centipede reared up its forebody to strike. Malric dodged its mandibles, and thrust at the creature. The hard plates which covered the creature's underbelly deflected the blow.
The creature whipped its long body around Malric's legs, and toppled him as he was rising.
There was an immense pain in Malric's ankle, and he shrieked. One of the centipede's hook-like mandibles had found purchase, and the other was greedily trying to take hold.
Malric's arm was shaking as he raised the blade. Using both hands, he guided the tip into a groove between the creature's head and the segment before it. He then threw all of his weight forward and down, and there was a sickening crunch as the centipede's head tore free from the rest of the body and the sword pierced the soft mush of its brain.
Finally the heavy animal chain around Malric's legs was still, and Malric heaved the carcass from him. Reaching down, he placed a hand on either side of the creature's dismembered head and worked the mandible out of his ankle, tossing the eggshell skull against the wall.
The stench of the creature's body was suffocating. Malric looked up with fire in his eyes, but Galron was gone. Malric removed climbing spikes from his belt and steadied himself against the wall before beginning his ascent. He felt faint, and he vomited into the rubbish as he dug for Sliver. He finally found the dagger, and wasted no time in mounting the wall. The creature's venom was already making his head swim.
* * * * * * *
Malric shinnied out of the window of a squat, black temple. He did not even try to break his fall to the ground. He was barely cognizant of the sensation of falling at all, or the fact that he was lying face down in the dirt.
After several minutes of difficult breathing, Malric unsteadily rose, still living a vivid dream of battle with phantom ships and luminous skeletal warriors.
Waving his imaginary saber and issuing meek battle cries, Malric staggered into the Gardens behind the boulevard known as Tin-Ka Tah.
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|Reviewed by Ronald Hull
|In spite of the misuse of their and there, this episode is well-written and gives enough information for one to use one's imagination to fill in the scene. Unlike fantasy movies that pay great attention to the visual impact of the fantasy world displayed, leaving the reader's imagination untouched except trying to anticipate the next twist of plot.
Along with unsightly characters that have their origins in the insect world, we have humanoids of different persuasions that are locked in continual conflict for supremacy, or at least in this case, the ability to steal as much as possible from the unsuspecting temple.
While I find the first episode intriguingly like a Indiana Jones scenario, I am not inclined to go on to episode to see what happens. On the other hand, fantasy followers would probably jump at the chance to follow this story thread to its final conclusion of hero takes all.