Hal, and Sky City, Get the Shaft
We made our way back toward the office. Whistledown was waiting for us at the door.
“Good work, gentlemen,” he said.
He led us down the hall and out into the street. The guards at the large door were gone.
“We shall take the fight to the lower levels,” Whistledown continued. “Since you have not been there I will be blunt. The area is dangerous. Our advantage is that it is as dangerous to Chaffington as it is to you. We must take whatever advantage we can get.”
“You shall have a guide to the lower levels,” Whistledown said whilst motioning to a young urchin across the street. “This is Jimmy. Jimmy, I want you to guide these two men.”
Whistledown pressed a coin into Jimmy’s palm.
“Where shall I take them, sir?” Jimmy asked.
Whistledown told him.
Jimmy looked at the coin, and then at us with a nervous glance. “The lowest levels, sir?” he asked with a tremble in his voice.
Whistledown pressed another coin into his hand, “Yes, the lowest levels. Can you do that for me, Jimmy?”
“Yes, sir. I can.”
Whistledown turned toward us and said, “Once again, gentlemen, I wish you good luck.”
And he walked away.
“Follow me, sirs,” Jimmy said.
As we walked, I asked the young lad what he knew of the lower levels.
“I’ve never been there, myself,” Jimmy said.
“Aren’t you our guide?” I asked nervously.
“Oh, I’m not going down there with you, I’m just taking you to the entrance.”
“It’s very dark down there,” Jimmy continued, “or so I’ve heard. Have you got a light?”
I told him I had a lantern with enough oil for about an hour. Hal thought it might be a good idea to lay in some supplies on the way down. We bought five glass flasks of oil (Hal was of the idea that in the direst of circumstances we could make firebombs out of them), and fifty more feet of rope.
We continued our decent.
We finally came to a hole in the floor. Below us, all we could see was darkness.
“Here we are, sirs,” Jimmy piped.
I reached into my bag, pulled out the charred and broken doll I had bought at the market, and handed it to Jimmy. Those with nothing, might, I thought, like something.
Jimmy looked at the doll, politely said, “Thank you,” and tossed it in with the other midden on the ground.
We heard a commotion coming towards us. Then, like a shot in the night, we heard a voice let loose a loud curse.
“Jimmy,” I asked, “how are you at hiding?”
“I’m the very best hider there is!” Jimmy replied proudly.
“Then I suggest you do your best.”
And Jimmy ran for his life.
Hal and I dropped down the hole. We found ourselves in a narrow corridor, stretching out in both directions. We ran toward the sound of approaching feet above us.
We came to an intersection, I ducked my head out, looked both ways to see if the way was clear, and we headed right.
The quality of the boards beneath our feet was questionable, and with daylight coming through the cracks, we made our way as carefully as we could, but with all the haste we could muster. I pulled a rope out of my bag, tied one end around my waist, and tossed the other end to Hal. He looked at me, looked at the rope, rolled his eyes and tied it around his waist.
We came out into an large room, open to the sky along one wall. From behind us we heard the sound of pursuit. Then, a loud, splintering crack and a scream. We dropped down a hole in the middle of the room, landing on the floor below. We were confronted with a choice of hallways and doors. One door, in particular, looked particularly well-crafted and sturdy.
Hal pointed to the another door, little more than a hole in the wall.
I strode up to its side and, without exposing my head, held the lantern in front of the door.
A shriek and a scream.
For some reason, I ran in the door.
There, in front of me, was a swarming five-foot-tall pillar of rats. Behind them was a gaunt Lapin with crazy hair and crazy eyes. In one hand he held a sling, in the other a cage of pink, hairless, baby rats.
I ran between the two and unleashed Five Storms. I punched a hole through the swarm, and aimed a kick at the Lapin.
He backed away and flung the cage at me. The door opened part way, baby rats scampered over me, and I felt poison course through my veins.
Then the swarm turned on me.
I felt gnashing on my skin, and my muscles went taut as disease took hold of me.
Hal ducked through the door, shouting his customary jibes.
I fought the Lapin and the swarm, and started to gain the upper hand. The Lapin made a break for it, but Hal shouted him down before he got far.
It was then that one of Chaffington’s men stepped through the door. He was carrying a rife, and had a look of horror on his face.
Another rifleman came through the door, and I retreated toward Hal.
I turned to him and asked, “Do you want to get out of here.”
He said, “Yes,” and I bolted for a hole in the floor, I dropped down, saw the floor beneath me was rotted out, swung, let go and rolled to solid floor.
Hal wasn’t making that maneuver.
One of the riflemen took a shot at me from the ledge above. I saw the rope fall down over the edge. Hal had obviously untied himself. I made my way through a hole in the wall, coming out in a hallway. Through the floorboards above me, I could see Hal ducking through a doorway shouting more insults.
It was then I heard the cries of children behind me. Half-dead from poison, disease, and gunshot wounds, I was in no position to investigate on my own.
I punched a hole in the wall of the hallway. I jumped at the wall, landing with one foot in the hole, and propelled myself toward the ceiling. I smashed a hole in the ceiling, hooked my leg through and pulled myself to the floor above.
Hal turned to me and shouted in disgust, “I meant through the door.”
Another Lapin, all in black, turned the corner of the hallway.
Hal and I ran.
After running down a corridor and making a turn, Hal and I stopped to catch our breath.
It seemed that, for now, the pursuit had stopped.
We were in an open hallway, with one side open to the sky.
The gloaming was upon us.
I walked to the edge and reached in my satchel. From it, I produced the dactyl whistle I had bought when we were shopping for lantern oil.
I brought it to my lips, took a deep breath, and blew.
A dactyl swooped out of the sky, landing in front of me.
I got on, picked up the reins, and flew away.
I turned my face back and shouted into the wind, “It was good knowing you, Hal Frourbaugh! My work here is done! There are other cities that can use my help!”
Hal responded with an obscene hand gesture.
Hal’s voice interrupted my daydream, “What are you thinking about?”
“Nothing,” I replied, “nothing at all.”
From behind the wall against which we were leaning, I, again, heard the cries of children.
The wall in front of me did not look very sturdy, and I easily punched through it.
Behind that wall was another wall. Much newer, and much more well made. This wall was made from new timber, not the scavenged remains of airships.
I punched the wall. Again. Again. Again. Finally I broke through. Inside was a vast shaft of sturdy wood. It seemed to lead to the ground 150 or 200 feet below. Above we could see a large box ascending on a chain. It seemed that was where the cries had come from. Across the chasm we saw the sturdy door we’d seen on the floor above.
Someone, it seemed, had given Sky City the shaft.