A Voyage to the Deep, by Andrew Barclay – Part 8

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7


Madness.

Sheer, unadulterated madness.

Samuel Broadbent went hurtling down the stairs, I a step behind. The reports of three dozen guns echoed about us, shot after shot after shot, repeating in staccato rhythms like a child hammering on a snare drum. Halfway down the stairs a bullet tore through the wall beside me and came within an inch of burying itself in my person; I avoided, though I confess, through no special skill of my own. The Savior was with me that day.

The stairs were at a right angle to the warehouse’s great door, which was fortunate indeed. A handful of warehouse laborers, heavily armed and, I think, less surprised at their plight than I might have expected, were hunkered down about the door, taking turns firing around the corner.

The great door stood on the right, and Broadbent went left – he was hunkered down too, but still moving with speed. I did my best to ape his movements, keeping my head as low as I could as I chased after him.

All around us, the gunfire echoed. Boots hammered the slat floor, lanterns and aisles of crates rushed past in my vision. Now I have recollection of Broadbent’s back, disappearing around corners as I struggled to keep up.

Through the warehouse we ran, doing our best not to catch bullets. Behind us, the gunfire continued, and I heard men shouting, though I could not tell the voices of the laborers from the Saints. It mattered not; all that mattered was Broadbent, and the path he trod to safety.

A back door was looming before, Broadbent crashing into it and flinging wide and very nearly off its hinges in passing. I chased after, emerging onto a wooden walkway which skirted the bluff on which the warehouse stood. TO one side, over the edge of the bluff, I could see the seething of the Rue; on the other, a wall of dressed stone, the backside of some cathedral of temple I think. Broadbent was up ahead, disappearing along with the walkway around a corner. I gave chase.

I took the corner at speed and very nearly died there and then of fright as a hand reached out of the darkness to grip my arm in passing. It was Broadbent, wide-eyed, and pressed into the wall of the temple. He pulled me to him and put one finger to his lips – I kept my silence and did my best to press my own self into the wall also.

There was a silence.

A silence.

The gunfire had ceased.

I turned to look at Broadbent, but he was looking the other way, down the length of the temple to the road which ran beside Plymouth’s warehouse. THe wooden walkway terminated there, and nothing moved beyond.

I was on the verge of opening my mouth when I heard, from some fair distance, a man’s voice, hollering. I shut my mouth right up and waited, and was not disappointed – in no more than ten seconds, a half dozen Saints came jogging past, their rifles slung over the shoulders and their white shirts catching the light of the Rue.

We waited. My heart, at least, was hammering, my breath coming fast and shallow. After a time (how long, I cannot know), Broadbent began to edge forth along the edge of the temple wall. I followed him, right up to the end of the thing, past which point we must surely come out onto the road and be in full view of Plymouth’s warehouse, and the Saints.

Broadbent was fumbling in his pockets. His movements were fast and panicky, and I was on the verge of asking him what in the good god damn he was doing when he came up with a small cameo, of the kind one might reasonably expect to find adorning the dress of some fine young lady. Broadbent fiddled with it, popped it open, and revealed a small mirror within. This he carefully, gingerly, pushed around the corner, craning his neck to see the reflection of that which was beyond. From my own angle I could not see what he saw, but my ears worked just fine and I could hear the curse he quietly spat with no trouble. Saints awaited us, around that corner.

“There’s five-” Broadbent began, but then there came a sound, faint, almost lost against the distant din of the Rue.

The sound of hinges creaking.

And then, after a pause, the sound of boots on the walkway behind us.

Broadbent took a deep breath, crossed himself, and brought out the enormous handgun. With it’s barrel he pointed, to an alleyway across from where we then stood.

Speaking quietly, he said to me: “On three, you run, alright? I’ll be right behind you.”

I thought momentarily of protesting, but the tromp of boots was louder now. Louder, louder, until it seemed that the owners of those boots must surely be near at hand indeed.

“Three,” Broadbent said.

“Two.”

One.”

Broadbent whirled, coming out from behind the corner of the temple with his gun held at the ready. He fired – a report so deafeningly loud that it left  my ears ringing. THe whole great gun snapped upward with such force I thought it must surely have broken his wrist. I blinked, gawping, until it dawned on me that Broadbent had already fired twice more and was howling at me to move, run, YOU IMBECILE RUN!

I ran. I did not look around me as I did – in my memory now, there is only the blu of the cobbles beneath my feet and looming, grotesque statues and gunfire. I ran, across the road, into the alleyway, and kept running, aware of boots behind me.

Somehow, then, Broadbent is  in front of me, moving faster than I could have imagined the small man’s legs could carry him. I was falling behind, further behind, with the clomping of boots ringing off the stone around us. Once, a report – so loud in the enclosed space of the alleyway that it sent my whole head to ringing, such that I barely noticed the sparks which skipped off stone above my head.

Then we were going down. The alleyway, as is the wont of many roads in the Deep, failed to obey the edicts of reason for sensible design. It did not empty us out onto another stretch of cobbled road, but rather plunged down into the ground and became a tunnel. I followed Broadbent, and as we went my eyes failed me altogether – gone, suddenly, wa the ruddy light of the Rue, and Broadbent had not his lantern with him. I sprinted in the almost total darkness, only dimly aware of shapes in the darkness which scuttled out of our way as we went.

And then, all at once, we stopped. SOmehow we were stopped, squatting down, with hands on knees, gasping for breath. In a moment there was the striking of a match, and Broadbent’s flushed face very close to mine, floating up out of the darkness. He was saucer-eyed and panting heavily, and shaking his head.

“They…” he began, before gulping again for breath. “They’re gone… they don’t… they don’t want to… follow us down here.”

I panted, hands on my knees. At length I managed to catch enough wind to ask the obvious question.

“Why not?”

Broadbent looked at Broadbent, and was at once a little surprised that i could see him. It was as if the faintest radiance crept in around the edges of my vision, though in turning my head I could make out no such luminance.

“Because,” Broadbent said. “They usually stay out fo the warrens. And,” he said, pausing momentarily to consider his words. “They don’t have to.”

“Why not?”

Broadbent smiled.

“Because they know where you’re going already.”

#

We travelled some time, beneath the city’s streets. I saw little enough, save for rough-quarried passageways. That i saw anything at all was a wonder to me, and in time I asked of Broadbent why it was that we could see.

“You’re learning the dark,” Broadbent said over his shoulder.

“What?”

I could just make out Broadbent’s shoulders rise and slump and a shrug.

“That’s what they call it. ‘Learning the dark’. Few more days you’ll be able to see just fine.”

I asked of him how that was possible, but Broadbent did not know.

“Neither does anyone else, either. Just one of the mysteries,” he said.

We passed huddled figures, pressed into the rough angle between floor and wall, who looked up at us with frightened eyes. We passed skinny waifs in dressed in rags, their left ears cut away beneath the midpoint of their length. We passed rough, ovoid portals, past which I glimpsed in passing great caves and domiciles of what looked to be dozens of people. Slums of a sort, these, what Broadbent had called the Warrens.

Presently we arrived at a section of corridor every bit as nondescript as that which we had been occupying all along, when Broadbent put out a hand to stop me. He had halted just short of a vaguely rectangular opening in one wall – an opening which, I now saw as I looked closer, permitted some little light to pass into the passageway.

Broadbent pressed himself into the wall and drew out something from a pocket: the cameo mirror, from before. Gingerly, he held it  such that he could see around this corner which we had found ourselves at, and after long moments he snapped shut the cameo and beckoned me to follow. I did so, and found myself climbing a short flight of stone stairs so thoroughly ancient and careworn that their centers had been worn down a full half-inch from their edges. At the top, we emerged into the knave of what I shall call a cathedral.

Similar structures I had seen during my time in the Deep, though always at a distance. Heretofore I have called them cathedrals, and will continue to do so, for if there is a better word in the English language for them, I know it not. And anyway, no one now lives who could tell me their proper names.

Gothic and strange was the inside of the cathedral. Almost gothic; I have had occasion to sojourn in Europe, and as a consequence know my way around gothic architecture. Such this was not, but the word is close enough to the truth that it will serve for now, and I suspect that any further descriptors and disclaimers on my part would serve only to muddy the issue: queer, gothic, and alien.

The ceiling soared above us, lost in gloom too deep for even my newly learned eyes to make out. Archways and pillars marched away down a knave. Our little staircase had come up precisely in the center of that knave, adn looking about myself, I spied what appeared to be a great, rough-hewn stone alter, tipped over on its side. I suspect that, at some point in the antediluvian past, that alter had likely sat atop the stairs, adn obscured them. Peculiar, but we had not the time to wonder at such things.

Indeed, Broadbent was already skulking away down the length of the knave, keeping close to the pillars and alcoves that, i assume, he might dodge out of sight should some unwelcome interloper suddenly present himself. None such did, and we arrived at the grand front entry to the cathedral in short order.

The cathedral’s mouth looked out upon a broad plaza, witha  crumbling stone balustrade ringing it. Beyond that balustrade was impenetrable darkness; I took this to mean, firstly, that this temple was in an unpopulous region of the city, and that the plaza was in fact a deck of some kind, overlooking the Mer.

A wide flight of broken stone stairs bore us down from there. The stairs hugged a cliff face, graven with swirling, looping designs unknown to me. We descended.

#

I stayed close behind Broadbent as we took a long, circuitous route through the city. As before, broadbent avoided the settled regions, though more than once we passed nearby to some of them. We did not stop to chat about what we passed, and so I do not know the character of these places; but they unsettled me.

Once, we found ourselves passing a long, high wall, made all of rubble and the remnants of crumbled buildings. The wall was built between buildings and through them, with doors and windows being barricaded with dressed stone. I saw standards, demonstrating a queer design, like a many-pointed star, hanging up alog the wall in places, and I heard rhythmic chanting from beyond – and once, only for a moment, I believe a heard the beginnings of a scream, cut short all at once. I know not who dwells within that wall. I do not believe that I want to know.

Other things and people we passed. I confess my memory fails me now, for it seems to me to be all a blur of stone and shadow and shambling, ruined folk. However it was, we found ourselves again at the Rue.

Creeping quietly, Broadbent led me down passageways, through buildings, over the Rue itself atop one of the stone bridges that spanned it. There I had the occasion to look over the side, and see a Saintly patrol below. THe crowd broke around them as if they were a great stone. The Saints marched with weapons in hand.

We passed from that bridge into another great temple, if temple it was, where I realized we were walking through some indigent’s living room. BOoks and papers I saw there, and other detritus of life. The owner of that place was not in evidence, and we moved on.

In time we came to thw wharves, and here, our luck failed us. We scuttled forth, taking cover behind a stack of crates and peeking over. THe crowd on the wharves was notably diminished from when I had been there last – the reason being, I now saw, were the Saints. Two of their slim, iron-hulled craft were moored, one on each end of the wharves, and small groups of them had taken up posts at every entrance and exit. As I watched, two longshoreman carrying a great crate between them were stopped by the Saints, and after some exchange between them, they allowed the Saints to break open the crate and search within – search for me, I expect.

“Now what?” I hissed in Broadbent’s ear.

“Now…” Broadbent said, trailing off.

“What?” I said again.

Broadbent let out a long sigh and scratched his chin.

“Mr. Barclay,” he said. “I want you to know that what I am about to do will not be done for free. Ordinarily it would be you footing the bill, but seeing as how we’re about to put you on a boat to New York, I suppose I’ll just have to go after Plymouth for it.”

He turned to face me and grinned.

“I’m going to create a distraction. WHen they leave, find FOlsom.”

I looked down the length of the wharves. There were at least two dozen legionnaires on the wharves alone, and who knew how many more aboard the boats.

“How?” I said.

Broadbent drew open his enormous coat, rummaged in what I took to be some concealed pocket, and came up with four sticks of dynamite.

He grinned at me, and was gone.

#

Upon reflection, I suspect that Mr. broadbent got himself up on the roof of one of the ancient, tall buildings which lined the wharf, and from there was he able to lob the dynamite where he willed. The first stick landed square in the middle of the wharf, and exploded with such force that I felt it in my chest, even at my considerable distance from the explosion. I peeked over the top of the crates.

The Saints were scattering, pelting across the wharf toward the boats. They were shouting and waving their weapons, and in what I may rest assured was record time, they were all aboard. The second blast came then, from away further up the wharf. The ships began to weigh anchor.

I waited, my heart pounding, listening to the blood in my ears. When I peeked again, the far ship was already moving away from the wharf, and the nearer was sure to follow soon. I waited. And then:

“There!”

The shout came from behind me. I whirled – and saw a half dozen saints, standing not thirty feet from me.

Their leader, I saw, was young William.

I looked at him, and he at me.

I ran.

#

Shots echoed around me, bullets skipping off the stone of the wharves all around with short-lived showers of sparks. I sprinted, the exertion tearing at my chest. Panicked, I looked around as I ran – and saw her. Emory, standing still as stone at anchor, her gangplank still down. I made for her.

Down the wharf I went, up the gangplank, going so fast I very nearly hurled myself off her side and into the silent water below. Sailors looked at me goggle-eyed from where they were hunkered down amid the rigging. I stopped, panting, pointing behind me.

“They’re coming!” was all I could think to shout.

A big man, shaven headed, fully twice as broad as two of me side by side, rose to his feet and began coming toward me, fire in his eyes. I supposed then that he knew not who I was, or from whence I had come, and so I rummaged desperately in pockets for Plymouth’s note.

The man was coming closer, and the Saints were just behind.

Where was it? Where was the note? My passage, the edict that would assure my survival, where was it?

Behind me, there were sounds. THe sounds of boots on gangplanks. THe big sailor looked past me, his expression changing a might as he did. I whirled, and saw William, just as he planted his second foot on Emory’s deck.

William looked at me, and then at the sailor. I heard the metallic click as William drew back the hammer of his gun.

“We are the light that shines in darkness,” William intoned, to the sailor. “Release this man to us. Now.”

The sailor looked at William, and then at me. Then, he looked back at William. He sneered.

“Get off my boat,” he said.

“We-” William began again.

“Saints can bloody rot,” the big sailor said again, louder. “You aren’t welcome here.”

“I-” William said, but he big sailor was already moving. He moved with greater speed than I would have credited such a man with possessing, and before any of the Saints had the chance to bring their long guns to bear, he was barreling into them, fists flying.

I stood well out of the way as other sailors joined the big man in throwing the Saints off the boat and into the water. When they finished, as they did in short order, the big sailor extricated himself from the mass of sailors and advanced on me. I set to rummaging in pockets again, in a desperate terror of being next.

“Weigh anchor!” the big man yelled. Two sailors scurried off to do just that. To me, the big man said:

“I’m Folsom, and I captain this ship. I’ve not a care for the Saints, but I’ve not a care for you either. What’s happening?”

There! Deep in my trouser pocket, crunched down into a ball, was the note. I drew it out, held the ball of paper up for the sailor to see.

He looked at it, and then at me, confused.

Frantically, I set about unwrapping the ball until it resembled, more or less, the note as it had originally been given to me, and thrust it at Folsom. He took it, read it, and nodded.

“Suppose that explains that,” he said, returning the note to it’s former shape as a ball and tossing it carelessly. To the ship at large, he hollered:

“We’re underway! Get us gone!”

The sailors, bless them, obliged.

#

We were pursued.

William, I suppose, on having wrested himself from the sea, likely made his way to the second Saintly ship in the wharves. We had a good head of steam, but it was not enough. The Saintly ship followed us, gaining slowly.

Folsom stood aft, and not knowing what else to do, I stood with him. I could just make out the pursuing Saintly cruiser, illuminated faintly by the light from the city.

“What did you do?” Folsom said.

“WHat?” I said.

Folsom jerked a mammoth chin in the direction of the Saintly pursuers.

“They were all over the city, looking for you. All over Brighton, anyway. What did you do?”

I licked my lips. I do not know what the great man expected of me, but the truth of the thing seemed so small and stupid that I was rather embarrassed to let it out into the air.

“I-” I began. “I intend to write a damaging article about them.”

“Damaging?” Folsom said.

“To their reputations.”

Folsom looked aft, to the Saints. At length, he spoke again.

“Good,” he said, and spat over the side.

At that moment, the Saintly ship sent up a flare – must have been launched from a mortar, so high did it go. For a few, brief moments, the Deep blazed with red-white light, and in another twenty minutes, we could see the arclamps of six more cruisers, advancing on us from Mormontown.

 

 

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