Chapter 19

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Amates 21, 1277. Underground, unarmed, in the middle of nowhere, with only one light. Things have been worse…

 
 
     I wanted to run out the door, but that would have been a mistake. Instead, I eased through the doorway and looked around.
 
     The light from my Sun Orb gave me a better look at my situation. The direction I came from was a jumble of broken rust-tan brick, earth, and stones. I already knew that, but it felt good to check in case I missed something in the dark before.
 
     What I didn’t know about was the other side of the hallway.
 
     Instead of an ancient, perfectly set, brick wall was empty air. The wall I remembered on the other side of the hallway ended ten paces to my right, toward the collapsed section. Had I used my ‘hand on the wall’ trick on that side, I would have run out of wall. Worse, I would have fallen off the platform.
 
     I shuddered.
 
     The sound of a saw chewing on rope echoed in the air. There was also a giggle and the light skitter of claws on stone. A lot of claws. I had no good way to conceal the light from my Sun Orb, so instead I kept still. The faint noise wasn’t from down the hallway, it was from above me. I frowned. That didn’t make any sense.
 
     This entire complex was right up against the surface. At least, that’s what I thought. Was the first hallway I ran through sloped down? I couldn’t remember. It was a little hard to think. I was starting to get tired, hungry, and thirsty.
 
     “Just keep moving,” I whispered to myself. “Keep. Moving.”
 
     I crept farther down the hallway, or platform balcony, as fast as I dared. The balcony eventually spilled out into an open courtyard made of multi-colored stone tiles spread out in a mosaic pattern at my feet. They glinted through the dust under the light of my orb.
 
     The small tiles were a sea of color, from light blue to green, and more. They had been set into a careful design, like a painting. The tiny, colorful tiles were set together into flowing circles and curves. It made me think of a river running through a meadow.
 
     Other than behind me, there weren’t any walls around the courtyard; just blackness. Empty air. This was a platform suspended over a pit.
 
     It was an exciting, but uncomfortable thought. I eased forward and inspected the rest of the courtyard.
 
     A set of stone stairs led from the tiled courtyard to the top of a building. The building looked too wide to be the workshop I ransacked earlier. That suggested this platform had more than one building. That felt important, but I was too focused on escaping to think it through.
 
     Opposite the stairs at the far end of the courtyard was a small, waist-high column no thicker than my arm. There were six levers at the base and something round at the top. It looked no larger than my fist in the gloom.
 
     The urge to go study those levers, and that small pillar, yanked at me. But so did the stairs; they could be a way out.
 
     I chose the stairs.
 
     There would be time to study this place later with a full crew at my back, provided the ruin hadn’t collapsed by then. Not to mention that sawing sound on the rope? The claws and those giggles? My nerves were done with that.
 
     Near the top of the staircase, I heard the sawing and other sounds again; this time much more clearly. I crouched down before I eased my way onto the last step. Careful to keep my Sun Orb low so the light wouldn’t give me away, I peered onto the roof. I couldn’t see much, but what I could see was plenty.
 
     The roof was large enough for four buildings the size of the workshop I found. It was more long than square, and holes dotted the surface where parts had fallen in from age. Above me was the actual cavern ‘ceiling’. That confirmed my suspicions. The hallway I took after I fell into this place had to have sloped down. I just didn’t notice it at the time.
 
     All of that was interesting, but two things in particular caught my attention. First was the impressive rigging that held the platform up, and second? The small mob of miniature dragon-like figures busy to cut it all down.
 
     Kobolds.
 
     My best guess? They wanted to take the ruin apart to use the pieces for something else. Kobolds did that with anything they got their paws on. They had done a good bit of damage, but there was a lot of rope left to cut before they sent this platform crashing into the pit.
 
     Destructive kobolds were the last thing I needed, but I could cope with that. A clutch-clan of kobolds would have some path back to the surface. Kobolds built their warrens in tunnels or caves, but lived a lot of their life above ground. They would also have something to eat and drink if I managed to negotiate with them.
 
     I had dealt with kobolds before. It was back in Ishnanor when the trade ships came up from the Belari river region. Belari has dozens of kobold clans in their water-towns. Each extended family, or clutch-clan, has their own unique markings. I memorized a few of them.
 
     This lot didn’t have any of those tattoos, but it didn’t mean they might not be reasonable. I stood up and cleared my dry throat. After I stepped onto the roof, I lifted a hand at them.
 
     “Buzet’el”.
 
     I wasn’t that fluent in Belari-scal, but at least I knew how to say ‘hello’. For kobolds, it translated more to ‘you eaten yet?’, since they always seemed to be hungry. At least, it was a friendly greeting.
 
     Kobolds at the rigging stopped sawing at the tarred ropes. The ones on the roof dropped their conversation and spun around to face me. For three uncomfortable seconds, no one moved.
 
     Then, the kobolds on the roof drew knives before they ran right for me.
 
     “Aile Shavat! I was just saying ‘hello’!”
 
     I turned on my heel and bolted down the stairs, heart pounding. A pack of six kobolds raced after me. Once I reached the courtyard, I looked around for some place to hide. There wasn’t anything. I could have run for the workshop, but I didn’t want to get trapped inside. Also, I didn’t know if that door would hold up against being attacked.
 
     Claws skittered on the stairs behind me. I clenched my jaw and spun around.
 
     They had claws and knives. Me? I had a Sun Orb and my little boot knife. Those weren’t great odds, but I refuse to lie down and die. I drew my boot knife before I swung the Sun Orb around by its chain in a circle at my side. It may not last long, but it would work as a temporary flail before the glass shattered.
 
     The kobold pack scrambled down into the courtyard and spread out around me in a semi-circle. One of them let out a small, manic giggle.
 
     Frustration, fear, and a lot of pent-up anger from the past day boiled over.
 
     “You want a fight?” I yelled. “Come on, then!”
 
     The mob hissed or shrieked before they ran at me all at once, knives at the ready.
 
     “Ah’sa’kee!
 
     That yell stopped all six in their tracks. It caught me off guard, too. I may not speak much Belari-scal, but that was one phrase I knew from a half-dozen dock and bar brawls. It was as close to a ‘kobold battle cry’ as any of the Belari clans got. Loose translation? It meant ‘go to it’.
 
     It also didn’t come from any kobolds around me.
 
     The yell came from the buildings. Another pack of kobolds, three times larger than the bunch surrounding me, swarmed into the courtyard. They raced out of the hallway-balcony opposite the one I first came from. This new group brandished everything from knives and bows to pots and pans.
 
     They were a different clutch-clan just going by their tattoos. My six would-be attackers turned their back to me, shrieked a reply I didn’t understand, then charged the newcomers with murder in their little reptilian eyes.
 
     I glanced between the two groups as I realized what was going on here. This wasn’t a bunch of kobolds ripping apart a ruin for raw materials. It was one clutch-clan trying to kill off another one.
 
     This was a clan war, and I was right in the middle. I shook my head and sighed. There was only one thing I could think to do.
 
     “Ah’sa’kee!” I screamed, then charged the nearest kobold that wanted to kill me a second ago.
 
     The fight was on.

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