((continued from the last night of the Oiling Festival, see last few posts. I do ramble on don’t I?))
I’m falling in utter darkness.
One sharp bump on my bottom off of stone, and I land in cold water with a splash – and am submerged. Pushing to the surface, my head breaks through and I spit out a large quantity of filthy water. Blech. Fortunately, whatever I have landed in is not deep and I can stand upright with my shoulders above water. I try to remain still and listen for pursuit.
Muffled voices from above, but cannot discern what they are saying. Soon all is silent and dark and wet. Not to mention cold. I fumble about in the darkness and spot a soft patch of foul smelling earth and haul myself up upon it. Reclining for a moment, winded, scared, wet and filthy, I try to clear my head to consider my options. Shouting for help will not do, I have no desire to be rescued only to be captured.
Though full of adrenaline, I still feel quite inebriated. Head swimming, I take stock of myself. Dull aches throb in various places, foretelling future bruises, a few stinging spots for the abrasions, but nothing appears broken. Some relief. In the darkness I can see nothing, so I attempt to sharpen my other senses and learn of my surroundings.
Everywhere I hear drips and the sounds of running water. The smell is most foul. Fantastic, I must have ended up in the sewers. What was that saying? “Wherever one is headed to in New Babbage, one always ends up in the sewers…” or some-such rot. Tall tales fill my head – of criminals and more abstract horrors that live beneath our feet.
I hear a sharp sound, somewhere to my left. A scratching? I strain my ears to hear. A squeaking? What on earth… I hear something, several somethings scrambling this way. Oh God what now! I reach for my damaged Aetherpistol and instinctively flick the charging lever, only to be rewarded by a violent electric shock. Reflexively, I toss it into the water. It emits a momentary blue flash and a wet electric pop, and sinks out of reach. Shaken, and very aware something foul this way comes, I return to the water and back to the opposite side in an attempt to climb the bank. It is much steeper than the other side, my hands and feet can get no purchase on the sodden earth.
Suddenly my wrist is seized by something. I feel a sharp, pointed pressure and shriek in pain. Something has me! Quickly I try and dislodge whatever it is and find wet fur. Some sort of animal has me. Panic. The pain in my wrist becomes excruciating with only my thick leather cuff saving my delicate wrist. Thoroughly outraged, I swing around wildly and attempt to swing the thing off.
As luck would have it, I am right next to a brick wall and I feel a dull thud and switch to thrashing the creature mercilessly against it. Tenacious, it holds on, applying more pressure. Gritting my teeth, I summon all of my strength and bludgeon the creature until I hear the horrid wet crunch of bones and a warm liquid soak into my sleeve. The creature is now still, though still attached. With my other hand, I pry its jaws free and rid myself of the revolting animal, tossing it randomly away from me. I massage my poor aching wrist back to life while keeping sharp for more dangers.
Sure enough, it was not alone. A chorus of squeaks approaches, no doubt smelling the blood of its fallen brother. I scream and fumble blindly for a way out, lest I be eaten alive.
I rush as quickly as I can through the thick, foetid liquid, the squeaks quite obviously following me. My hand brushing along slimy bricks. My boot finds something solid – a ledge about waist high. I pull myself bodily upon it, splashing and fumbling on the slippery surfaces. Standing now mostly out of the water, I run. My hand brushes along the wall, following it until it disappears and I turn left without thinking. The water level is receding, thankfully, and I am able to move much faster. That is until I hit an opposing wall. Oof. More bruises. The squeaks still behind me, I turn right and follow the wall with as much energy as I could muster.
The squeaks finally recede into the distance as I tear through the tunnels. I reach another intersection and turn left, purely on instinct and hope that I will not inadvertently double-back to those horrible creatures.
I stumble into a wider tunnel, I can feel a mild stale breeze on my face and a sense of being in a larger space. Though even fouler smelling than before, it is preferable to the claustrophobic beast-filled trap I was in. Fortunately, the beasts seem reluctant to follow. Whether that is a good or bad omen concerning the way ahead, I don’t know.
Putting a hand against the wall, I retch violently, removing the last of the alcohol and fright from my poor stomach. Probably improving the “water” I have been treading in. Hands on my knees, bottom against the wall, I spit repeatedly and gasp for breath. Oddly, I feel a bit better.
My hands are filthy with muck that feels like machine grease and probably is. Nevertheless, I smooth the hair from my face leaving it a filthy mess to match the remains of my poor dress. I look left then right. Though not quite certain, I think I spy a light down the right passage. A pale orange light, about a hundred and fifty metres head. Finally something!
Hearing a distant thud from the opposing direction, cloaked in darkness, the decision is made for me. I trudge awkwardly down the smelly tunnel, eager for that vain hope of light. The tunnel appears to be long and straight and my progress is apparent from its growing glow. I’ve had nightmares like this. Lost in a dark and wet place, my only hope a tiny light in the distance. No time for musing, I must focus.
After some minutes of stumbling through muck, I make it. I look up at the rusty lantern, obviously electric, suspended by a chain. With the glorious gift of vision I can confirm that yes – I am most definitely in the sewers. The walls are ancient looking bricks, or maybe just appear ancient with their thick coating of goo. The less said about the liquid I am standing in, the better. Some things are best forgotten.
The lamp is hanging over a large circular entrance. Beyond it I spy another lamp. I clamber up and into the new passage, which ends abruptly in an empty stone room. I stomp my boots, trying in vain to remove the muck. I look about – it’s an empty stone room. Looks quite recent though. No other exits are apparent until I look up and see a grate. I can discern no light above.
I try to jump and reach it. First attempt is most pathetic. The second and my fingers brush the metal surface, only just. I recognize it is futile to try.
“HEEEEEELP!” I shout. “I Say! HEEEELP!”
My pleas are met only with silence from above. A tired sigh escapes my lips. I have to get out of here, fun is over! Every second I spend down here increases my chances of getting eaten or brutally mauled by some unknown horror. I realize I don’t even know where I am. I look about for anything useful, I spot a spade in a corner and run to it. On closer examination, though definitely in good condition, I have no idea what I would use it for – apart from a bludgeon. I discard it with a clang. Next to it I spy a little box. To my great delight, its a box of dry matches! Not believing my luck, I tuck them in my belt and I turn to look back the way I came. From my elevated place, I spot a sign on the opposing tunnel wall. Though filthy, I can just about read it its corroded brass characters.
“<-- Clockhaven | Port Babbage -->“
Ah, well at least I know which way is which. That’s a help. I remember the road is positively littered with manholes, I’m always tripping over them. If I can find one and climb out…” With renewed hope, jump back in the muck and proceed right. I slog through the muck, no longer caring for my own cleanliness or the condition of my clothes. I’m pretty sure it’s a total loss. I resolve to burn my clothing when I get home.
I walk for some distance, details becoming harder and harder to discern with the pale lamp fading behind. I enter a larger chamber. Ah this should be an intersection. I look left and see a tunnel sloping down into blackness. Not going that way. I look up and see a faint outline. It could be a manhole, but its useless. Feeling about I can find no hand holds or ladder rungs on the slippery walls. How do other people get out of here?
I throw my hands up in frustration, spraying muck everywhere, and continue along the dratted tunnel. With my luck, I’ll end up in a canal. The light is even dimmer now, thanks to a right-ward bent in the tunnel. As I was about to lose hope in the fading light, I trip over some soft earth and barely prevent myself from being pitched into the filth again. Flailing around for the wall to steady myself, I note there is a gaping hole in the brickwork.
Striking a match from the box, I am temporarily blinded by the flash. After a moment of adjustment, I note the earth is spilling out in a pile, bricks splayed everywhere around and the earth-pile leads up to what appears to be wood. I can climb that!
Elated, I toss the match, scramble up the soggy slope haphazardly, and make it – eventually – to the wood. I sit on the sodden summit, feeling water ooze through my clothes to my cold bottom. I strike the wood with a fist and am rewarded with a hollow “thud” – the space above is hollow. Probably some cellar. I strike another match and note it is mostly solid, looking like a floor – apart from a square patch that doesn’t match it. I peer closer and find it’s a wooden board. A tentative push with my hand reveals it to be un-affixed. Discarding the match, I put both hands to it.
Surprisingly, it comes up easily, though with a great outpouring of dust and dirt right on to my face. Eyes closed and stinging, I push the board out of the way, let loose a hoarse coughing fit, and shake my head to dislodge the dirt from my hair.
Once recovered I stand up in the curious position of having my top half in a building, and the bottom underground. Grunting with the effort, I haul myself up into the tiny black space. Panting and absolutely filthy, I attempt to stand and bump my head, then squat back down, lighting another match.
Great, I’m beneath a set of stairs. Two walls appear to be solid brick. The one to my right, however, appears to be merely wood panels affixed thick vertical beams. Sick to death of being trapped below ground, I begin to slam my weight into the wood panels. Soon, I am attacking them with the ferocity of a cornered animal, which by now I feel I am. After a few good slams and a terribly smarting shoulder, it begins to give way. Nails squeak and wood cracks as the wall gives in to my demands. I pour the last reserve of my energy into the panel and it flies inward, sending me reeling after it.
With a hoarse cough, I collapse. What hell. My vision clears and my wits come back to me slowly. I realize I’m sitting on a rather nice looking Persian rug and I groan to think of how I will upset its owner. Unable to do anything else, I lay down its soft surface and rest a bit.
I rest for a good ten minutes. Slowly it dawns on me that either no one is at home, or whomever lives here is deaf as a post. I did cause quite a racket getting in. Either way, I had better be leaving. I could leave a nice note with my details, and offer to pay the damages. In the dark gloom of the room, I spy a desk and I clamber towards it. On its surface I am grateful to find a lamp. I light it with my one remaining match and look around …
… at my own shop.