The Country WisdomEpisode 3
The adventures continue, the danger rises…
Cedric Neumann & Laureline Brun
It had been 21 blue moons since my boss made me an associate, I had closed several deals and despite a few losing negotiations, I had accumulated a respectable pile of alters. Higher than my family had ever seen! As I sipped a dice of nectar pucerin, I dreamed of my brother and his purin, this fortune would make him jealous; my mother in her prudence would be frightened and I imagined my father on his cart, proud as a peacock. I missed them and I liked to imagine myself finding them and recounting my successes to them.
A joyful Simiar entered through the curtain. His fins colored at the sight of the chalice. He started a lecture. I answered aggressively and the tone rose.
This was not the first time he had caught me like this and it irritated me. I didn’t understand his reprimands when I was doing so well! Besides, I was his partner now; he should have announced himself before entering my office.
The tone went up a notch and the storm roared for a minute. After another minute of silence that seemed to last forever, he finally said, “Since you’re so experienced, why don’t you find and sell atoriums?” Still irritated, I spontaneously answered “Well, okay”.
Two hours later, alone, I regretted these words but I was still angry with Simiar. I also knew that I could not go back. Most of the sticis do not look back and my master, under his airs of stud, was a barracuda as stubborn as a sperm whale. I had to succeed in this challenge.
Three weeks later, I was deep in molasses. I had managed to get my hands on an atorium, but I had spent all my hard-earned money on it, and I could only think of one place where I could make money from it. This place was dangerous and known to be full of people with a particular attraction to violence. I didn’t want to go there alone.
I twirled the nectar die between my fingers. “…beautiful copper highlights…” I said, “…the skin of sailors…” I sighed, “Linbay!” I finally cried! The Sticis who had noticed me during my clever intervention was an asset up my sleeve, the last one, to be precise. So I went to the dockers’ headquarters without informing Simiar.
Once in front of the door, I swallowed slowly: I think I had the jitters. Well no, I can admit it: I was really scared. I had almost nothing to offer and I was basing everything on a few words exchanged during an improbable negotiation.
As I was wondering more, a gruff-looking man appeared in the doorway. He/she seemed to analyze every feature of my face, well I think, because it is always difficult to know what faceted eyes are looking at. He/she opened the door and invited me to enter with a sonorous clatter commonly used by his/her species to nod.
Three corridors later, we had arrived. I was there. I had only a few meters away from me the boss of this place, and in scales, flesh and bones this time!
“Hello Mauve, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit? A deal to offer me?”, asked me the sticis. I tried as well as I could not seem impressed by the aura that my interlocutor gave off. She was opulent and corpulent, she was beautiful.
“Yes and no. It is well for a deal that I am here, but not with you. I come to request your help for an escort.
– Ah, a dangerous job…
– My master has in his possession a quality atorium, which he wants me to sell at a good price. Since it serves as a light source, I intend to do business with underground dwellers.”
– The underground is not my field…”
I continued. Her remarks came quickly, and after each one, my merchant experience told me that she was only trying to weigh down the net and prepare for her negotiation.
“-I have in mind in particular Fléyas from the human quarter of the third ring, and Migolia, the cohors merchant from the first ring. But you know how dangerous these places can be, and I have no warriors to ensure my safety.
– That is why I have come to ask you to lend me some of your men, so that they can protect me during this visit.
– My men…”
An aquatic silence filled the room. I could not stand it any longer and finally broke the strange ambiance.
“It is obvious that in exchange, I will give you a share of the profits that I will make. I caught my breath and looked up at my interlocutor, my stomach in knots. Linbay saw my discomfort and burst out laughing.
– You did the right thing, I like it when the tide brings something unexpected to the shore and I was committed to helping you. I’m OK if it’s a 60/40 split. 60 for the dockers and 40 for you.
– Yes. If you’re here, Linbay says, it’s because you need me. A cerbion doesn’t cost much, so I guess you’re out of money. A risky place, outside my territory and no option for you means a big reward for the dockers. Right? Consider this a lesson in bargaining because I like you. Normally I would have refused.”
Half dejected, half pleased, I remembered a saying of Simiar’s: “Sometimes a bad deal is better than no deal at all,” and I admired Linbay’s commercial acumen.
Okay,” I said.
– Perfect!” smiled Linbay. Jack, go ahead,” she said to one of the men at the back of the room.
The large guy approached me looked at me with some curiosity; he seemed eager to get a closer look at who his boss’s little protégée was. Beneath the appearance of an old warrior bent on drink, I could see a strange sparkle in his eyes as he looked at Linbay. Not love, far from it in my opinion, but a certain admiration. The famous Sticis was putting me under the protection of a faithful and devoted henchman. This reassured me a little and boosted my esteem, which had been damaged by this one-sided negotiation.
The details were arranged within the hour. I certainly could have handled the negotiation better, but Jack at my side and the relief of having convinced Linbay prevailed. I had succeeded, that was the main thing for me! Now all I had to do was wait until the next day to execute the second part of the deal and sell the light atorium.
The rest of the day passed in a fraction of a second, and soon the Linbay guards were knocking on Simiar’s door for me. There were four of them, three men and one woman, and they looked very uncomfortable. I noticed that Jack had not changed his pants and that a sword was hanging from his belt. A rusty breastplate also protected his torso. This made his build all the more impressive. This made me surprisingly cheerful: now I just had to go. I had crazy luck that these guys were on my side!
After a good fifteen minutes of alleys and several descending stairs, our little gang finally arrived at the passage I wanted to take to go down into the depths of the city. Needless to say, we didn’t utter a sound the whole way, we weren’t there for that.
We took a rope ladder to go down about thirty meters. It was only the second time in my life that I used such a means of descent, and I must admit that I was not comfortable. Not that I am afraid of heights, on the contrary! I had climbed many times the trees of the village, and I had often fallen from them… But this heap of ropes and wobbly planks, leading to more and more opaque darkness, did not reassure me. Three of the guards had fun taunting each other. They referred to some foremast, I guess guys who spend their lives climbing boats, barrels and unloading nets are used to shrouds. Anyway, they were not at all impressed by a rope ladder and were laughing. Only Jack seemed to be serious and did not take his eyes off me.
This access to the underground was rustic, like the neighborhood we had just left. In the richer areas, elevator systems, stairs or platforms allow for much easier and more comfortable travel. Most of them were paid and de facto inaccessible for someone completely penniless.
After this physical ordeal, I finally put my foot down and looked around at my new surroundings. The landscape was similar to the one above the city, but darker. We could see much less well, but some veins of energy, torches and sometimes a luminous atorium and some rays of light illuminated the place unevenly. We were not yet at the bottom of the city, but I could already imagine the deep darkness of the lower levels. Places where the sunlight would probably never penetrate.
Apart from the scenery, the atmosphere was quite different from what I was used to. The smell was heavy. The air currents varied and the shadows were intimidating. I was not reassured.
We started walking, making our way through the tunnels toward the merchant quarters of the first ring. The same one I had walked through on my first day in Altenor, many years ago now. As we made our way through these unfamiliar places, we observed different scenes: busy streets, filled with all kinds of species, tunnel entrances dug by the insect-men, stores, construction sites, etc. It reminded me of my first times in Altenor. I was discovering the underground city.
As I walked towards Migolia’s home, a passageway that seemed to be abandoned caught my eye. Curious, I couldn’t help but look into the entrance. A hoarse voice came from behind me: one of my men had just spoken to me for the first time since the beginning of the expedition.
“It’s an abandoned gallery, there are more of them in the depths than you can imagine. That’s why we only meet cohors here, it’s their specialty, he explained. A little like the sticis holes in the fleet. You have to be careful with these passages, there are lots of shady guys and thieves who use them.
As I was about to thank the docker for his precious information, a guttural voice reached my ears: it came from the gallery. A shiver ran down my spine as I turned my head toward the origin of the sound.
“Tcatcatca, are you calling us thieves? Tcatcatca.” Questioned the voice, mocking and cackling. The cohors came out of the shadows, followed by a few of his ilk, obviously ready for a fight.
You see, here, I told you there was movement outside,” he commented, addressing another member of the group. The vibrations speak to me. Tcatcitcatci.”
They all chuckled, as more of the cohors came out of the passageway in turn. I felt my men tense up: the situation was about to get out of hand.
“What do we have here?” began the one who seemed to be the leader of the gang, while approaching me. “A small group of dockworkers? escorting a kid? into the depths. I didn’t know the longshoremen had gone into the pimping business,” he sneered as he extended his hand toward my cheek.
But just as his chitin was about to touch my skin, Jack violently grabbed the tarsomere that the cohors was bringing to my face and twisted it. The chitin didn’t break, but the torsion exerted on the joint made the joint shudder and the cohors withdrew his arm.
“Don’t touch me, you bastard! You and your buddies are going to get out of our way and everything is going to be fine, got it?
I took the opportunity to pull myself together and put my hand on the dagger hidden in the fabric of my skirt. I had to regain control of the situation at all costs. Linbay’s henchmen and the cohors were sizing each other up defiantly, ready to jump at each other’s throats at a moment’s notice.
“- STOP! I shouldn’t have come to observe your gallery, I didn’t mean to offend or threaten you. We will leave. It’s better for both parties and it will spare us an unnecessary confrontation. I doubt that you want to come into conflict with the dockers, and I mean no harm to the cohors of the deep.”
A silence greeted my words, as the leader of our opponents considered my proposal.
“- Get out of here. Tcatcatca. But don’t you dare come snooping around our place again. TCA!”
I breathed a quiet sigh of relief and turned my back on the gallery dwellers when suddenly I was thrown brutally to the ground! My breath was taken away. A hateful minion was standing over me and bringing his dagger to my throat. But that was without counting on Jack. He grabbed the cohors by a chitin growth and threw him like a piece of wood. The wall of the gallery stopped its flight with a dull crack. I was stunned by the appearance of my savior: his harness glowed with a thousand lights, it illuminated the whole surrounding area and seemed to contain a power beyond comprehension. The insect crushed against the wall did not move, the other cohors recoiled at the sight of this new Jack. They picked up their comrade and disappeared.
The rest of the trip was smooth and quiet.
I was sore, probably with a cracked rib and several bruises on my back and the back of my head.
That didn’t stop me from selling the atorium to Migolia and getting a very good price. I was going to be able to strut my stuff in front of Simiar. But I didn’t care about that, my mind was now obsessed with this object full of magic that I had seen on Jack.
Probably a very particular atorium, I had to have one, at all cost!